Touring Kayak Gear Guide

Before you decide to hop in a touring kayak for the first time, let our gear guide teach you everything you need to know

Before you get started in a touring kayak, there’s a few things you should know about the gear you’ll need. Here’s the low down on what you need to know before you get started:

Paddle length. Paddle length depends on your style of paddling, torso size, how high you sit in your boat, and the width of your boat. Length also dictates your stroke rate—longer paddles result in more torque, but a slower stroke rate. Touring paddles usually range from 210 to 230 cm in length.

Blade size. Think of paddle blades as ice cream spoons—larger spoons yield big chunks of ice cream with more effort, while smaller spoons (i.e. your typical mid-size blade) chip away with less effort (think consistent, low-angle strokes for first-time touring paddlers).

Shaft shape. Bent-shaft paddles are intended to align the wrists for comfort and injury prevention, while conventional straight shafts are typically lighter and less expensive. An oval cross-section in the grip for your dominant, control hand allows you to know intuitively that the blades are properly oriented. Smaller diameters are better suited for paddlers with smaller hands. Two-piece designs, or breakdown paddles, allow the paddler to quickly adjust the blade’s feather angle and sometimes the paddle’s length.

Weight and feel. Composite materials, such as carbon fiber and fiberglass, are lighter than the plastic and aluminum basics, but come at a price. Fortunately, they can be molded, woven, and manipulated in different blade and shaft combinations at various price points. Traditional wood paddles are stronger and heavier than most composite paddles, but manufacturers have also found ways to combine wooden shafts with composite blades.

 

THE ESSENTIALS 

1. The Paddle
Beginners simply need a lightweight paddle with durable blades to help them master stroke basics. Consider a two-piece breakdown, which will stow well for transport and will rig to the back deck as a great spare once you’re ready to progress to a higher-performing paddle. Try the Glass Oracle by Adventure Technology Paddles.

AT Glass Oracle Touring Kayak Paddle

Pictured: AT’s break-down, two-piece Glass Oracle comes with a lightweight carbon-fiber shaft and wide, fiberglass blades, which help boost stability and cope well with newbie abuse. ($235-$300, atpaddles.com)

2. Self-Rescue Equipment

Once you’re ready to head away from shore, make sure you’re carrying the two vital pieces of gear should you capsize and need to perform a self-rescue. First, you need a paddle float to fashion the outrigger necessary to climb back in from the water (it’s also a great tool to help you learn to roll).

Harmony Dual Cell Paddle Float Touring Kayak

Pictured: Harmony’s Dual Cell Paddle Float comes with a hands-free inflation valve and automatically locks onto your paddle blade when it fills with air. ($70, harmonygear.com)

Once you’re back in the boat, you’ll need a bilge pump to empty the swamped water inside. We suggest Seattle Sports Paddler’s Bilge Pump to help dry out your kayak.

Seattle Sports Paddler's Bilge Pump Tour Kayaking

Pictured: Seattle Sports Paddler’s Bilge Pump stashes easily behind your seat or lashes quickly onto to your deck. ($20, seattlesportsco.com)

3. Beating The Elements

Be ready for variable elements with a protective splash top. Beginners who don’t want to drop lots of cash on high-end materials like Gore-Tex have plenty of comparable options at lower prices. Try Kokatat’s Stoke Dry Top.

Kokatat Stoke Dry Top Touring Kayak

Pictured: Kokatat’s Stoke Dry Top features their new Gore-Tex-like waterproof and breathable Hydrus fabric, and comes with a lifetime warranty. ($260, kokatat.com)

 

Finally, If you’re planning on spending a lot of time out in the elements—and not just in your boat—invest in a versatile camp-to-hike paddling jacket like the NRS Sea Tour. ($180, nrsweb.com)

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Pictured: The NRS Sea Tour jacket provides protection for kayakers, whether in the water or on the trail. ($180, nrsweb.com)