If you’re just getting into whitewater kayaking it’s important to start your river adventures with the right selection of quality kayak accessories. Of course you need a kayak, or at least need to borrow one from a friend, but there is a bit more required for a fun day on the water.
The following is a list of kayak gear that will make your river adventures both safe and enjoyable. Most of these items are best if properly fitted to you, which usually means purchasing them for yourself early in your life as a whitewater kayaker.
As far as kayak accessories go, a whitewater paddle is probably the most important. Paddles take a ton of abuse and are needed to successfully navigate down the river. While durability is paramount, it is also important to consider paddler fatigue, as you’ll be holding it up and swinging around all day.
Fiberglass paddles are more durable than carbon, but heavier. Straight shaft paddles are stronger than bent shaft paddles, but aren’t as easy on your elbow and shoulder joints. It really comes down to use, preference and budget when choosing the right paddle for you.
A quality entry-level paddle, which will last so long you’ll probably eventually hand it down to your friends, is the Aqua-Bound Shred Carbon paddle. At under $200 this straight shaft paddle is incredibly durable and has a time tested blade design. Another great option for your money is the Werner Sherpa fiberglass straight shaft paddle, as it’s relatively lightweight and offers a performance blade design for only about $250. If you’d prefer a bent shaft paddle you should consider the AT Hercules. At about $335 it isn’t inexpensive, but it does offer great value for a quality bent shaft whitewater paddle. In terms of brands, we find that Werner Paddles build the most durable whitewater blades, and they really stand behind their product!
LIFEJACKET OR PFD
A personal floatation device (PFD), commonly called a lifejacket, isn’t only a really good idea, but required by law in most places. A properly fitting Coast Guard approved PFD will keep you afloat when you take a swim out of your kayak. Swimming is part of whitewater kayaking at all levels, so don’t stress over it and be prepared, by wearing a quality lifejacket while on the river.
When starting out kayak accessories, there is no reason to get a crazy expensive PFD with a ton of bells and whistles, as all approved PFD should keep you afloat. A quality basic lifejacket like the NRS Ion, for just over $100, is a great option for all types of whitewater kayaking. If you want something with a little more comfort, durability and a few more features, the Stohlquist Rocker is a great option at only about $150.
One of the best ways to stay in control of your kayak on the river is by keeping the water out of it. A quality spray skirt will be appropriately sized for both your specific kayak and your body. The better the fit on both, the least amount of water will get in your kayak.
Generally the higher the cost the more durable and watertight the skirt will be. Some lower cost skirts are actually best for beginner kayakers, as they are generally easier to get on and off the boat. If you have additional questions, be sure to check out our post on how to choose a kayak sprayskirt.
Your head is important and rocks hurt. Because whitewater is created by water flowing over rocks, you should always protect your noggin with a proper whitewater-kayaking helmet. The most important thing is to make sure the helmet fits you properly and stays in place, even when in turbulent waters.
A great all around helmet, packed with scientifically proven safety features, is the WRSI Current, which will run you less than $100.
Having good traction on wet slippery rocks is key to having a good day on the river, as you will need to get to, from and around the riverbanks during your whitewater adventures. Comfort and protection from sharp rocks, felt even more when carrying a kayak, are also important factors when picking the right kayak footwear for you.
Properly fitted kayaking booties are your best option, but quality river shoes or sandals will work as well. The Stohlquist Tideline neoprene bootie is a great starting point, at under $50. The Astral Brewer shoe and the Chaco Z/2 sandal are also great options, and will set you back around $100.
Float Bags are air filled bladders that you place inside the back of your kayak. Their purpose is to displace water when you flip the kayak over and take a swim. They are essential to easy safe self and assisted recoveries on the river.
You’ll want to get a set of float bags, one for each side of the rear pillar in the back of most whitewater kayaks, like the NRS Split Bags, for about $70.
Now that you’ve got the essential kayak accessories, it’s time to get out on the river, have fun and keep learning. You’ll be impressed with the amazing places whitewater kayaking will take you. If you want to expand your kayak gear, be sure to check out our great selection of kayak clothing from top brands like NRS, Stohlquist, and Kokatat. Also, check out our post to learn more about how to dress for kayaking.
Stay safe and paddle on.