My family and I are fortunate to live on Long Island, near plenty of water ideally suited for paddling. We have two kayaks and a canoe (if you’re curious, the Ocean Kayak Malibu Pedal is my favorite), and at the bare minimum, all you really need is a kayak and a paddle to go kayaking. But to make the experience on the water as safe and enjoyable as possible, there are some kayaking accessories and clothing you should spring for, too.
These are the things I use every single time I yak, having assembled my kit via trial and error over the course of many outings. If you hit the water outfitted in much of the same, you’ll save yourself the experience of being a quarter mile offshore before realizing that, say, a good sun hat is a great idea when you’re paddling in the middle of a summer heat wave. (And yes, the towel’s essential.)
Paddling is about performance apparel, not about fashion. Columbia’s Low Drag Offshore shirt has sun protection rated at UPF 40, it’s lightweight and breathable, and it dries fast when splashed or soaked with sweat.
My legs are often in a kayak cockpit and pretty hairy anyway, so I don’t worry about the sun as much on my lower half. I usually wear a pair of Catch Surf Waikiki Heritage Trunks, which are basically classic board shorts, but not quite as long as those from most brands, but you can wear whichever you’d like from Orlebar Brown or Patagonia. In case you were wondering, my wife likes a Body Glove Paddle Suit, which is essentially a one-piece bathing suit with long sleeves, so she’s covered from waist to wrist. As for our son, he wears a Snapper Rock Long Sleeve UPF 50 Rash Guard.
Out on the water, there’s nowhere to hide from the sun, so a hat is critical under all paddling conditions. I use a Headsweats Boonie Hat because its large brim provides me plenty of shade and because it’s light and breathable, which is important for me, as my head definitely sweats when I’m hard at the paddles and pedals. I also occasionally wear one of their Ultra Bands for added sweat catching, or I’ll slide it down over my neck to block the sun there.
If you are participating in a water activity that brings you any appreciable distance offshore, you should be wearing a life jacket. I don’t care if you’re an Olympic swimmer — if you get injured or sick, your swimming chops are gone, and a personal flotation device is all you have to count on to keep you above water. I own a few life jackets, but the Astral Ringo PFD is my current favorite for paddling thanks to the wide range of motion it allows for my arms.
The other piece of kayak equipment I always have on hand is a small air horn, and the first time you see the bow of a cabin cruiser coming your way fast, you’ll know why. You can’t take it for granted that other boaters will see you, and you can’t always paddle fast enough to avoid danger.
If you spend a long time out on the water in hot, sunny weather, eventually that sunblock you applied before launching will wear out. I don’t like the greasy feel of sunblock on my hands, so when I can’t easily wash them, I use a BodyGlide Sun Sunscreen Stick. The container looks and works just like a stick of deodorant, but instead of rolling it under your pits, you roll it just about everywhere else.
You should expect a fair amount of splashes and drips and such when kayaking, but in the event of an accidental full-scale soaking, I recommend you have a towel onboard. I always paddle with a Rumpl Shammy Towel at the ready because it rolls up and packs away easily when I don’t need it, and it absorbs a crazy amount of water when I do.
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