A Canoe & Kayak Guide to the Basic Gear Needed to Go Canoeing & Kayaking

Want to go canoeing & kayaking? Like all sports and outdoor activities, there is some specialist equipment and clothing that you’ll need to stay safe and comfortable on the water. To make sure you get kitted up properly here’s a guide to the basics that you’ll need to go canoeing & kayaking all year round…

Despite their diversity and wealth of disciplines there are some essential pieces of equipment and gear that are fundamental to all aspects of paddlesport and those are a boat, a paddle and a buoyancy aid, or as it is sometimes known a personal flotation device or PFD for short.

Those will get you on the water but to stay comfortable and to really get the most enjoyment out of your time on the water you’ll need to add a few more bits of kit, such as a wetsuit, some thermals and a paddle top. A helmet is a must if you plan to paddle on any kind of moving water.

As a rough estimate, you should be able to fully kit yourself out with a boat, paddle and kit for around £400. But there’s no need to go out and buy everything straight of the bat, as most local canoe clubs will have gear that you can borrow or buy as you get started.

Where Do I Get Gear From?

Apart from your local club, there are few places you can find canoeing and kayaking kit for sale. The best option is always to seek out and visit your local canoe shop. Most retailers will keep a large range of sizes and styles but more importantly will be a mine of useful and helpful advice and information. They’ll advise you on makes and style and make sure that you get the correct fit on any kit you decide to buy, especially important on things like buoyancy aids and helmets. The Internet is also a source of info and gear to buy. There’s always plenty of kit on sites like E-bay and many canoeing and kayaking related websites have classifieds sales sections. There are some bargains to be had but be careful on what you buy as things like warranties don’t extend onto second-hand kit and we’d advise against buying safety equipment, again like buoyancy aids and helmets second hand.

Paddle

Apart from your boat, this is the single most important piece of kit. It’s your means of propulsion, your steering system and your brakes! Kayak paddles have a blade at either end of a central shaft and come in either right-handed or left-handed versions and the blades are set at an angle known as feather. The length of your paddle will depend on what type of paddling you’ll be doing and your height and size. Basic paddles will usually have plastic blades on an aluminium shaft but as you move up the price scale strong, lightweight composite materials such as fibreglass and carbon are used.

A canoe paddle has a single blade and a T-grip or scrolled grip at the other. Again a basic paddle will usually be constructed from an aluminium shaft with a plastic blade but many canoe paddlers favour paddles made from traditional materials such as wood.

Buoyancy Aid

A buoyancy aid is an absolute must. As the name suggests a buoyancy aid will help you stay floating on the surface as you actively swim. This is not to be confused with a lifejacket (as used by sailors etc), which will always keep you floating on your back. A buoyancy aid keeps you floating but makes moving about in the water easier. Your buoyancy aid should fit you snugly and always be properly done up and secured.

Wetsuit

When you’re learning you’re going to find yourself taking the occasional dip so a wetsuit, made from insulating neoprene rubber is a good idea. A long-john version, with no arms, is ideal for canoeing and kayaking as it gives more manoeuvrability. If you’re paddling a Sit-on-Top kayak on the sea though you may want to opt for a full version.

Paddle-top

A paddle top or cag as they are often known is an outer shell that keeps the elements out. These are worn over the top of your thermal layers and wetsuit. Cags come in as many versions as there are paddling disciplines but a basic cag will usually be made of a waterproof and breathable material and will have neoprene cuffs and neck to keep the spray out. For touring and sea kayaking some cags come with hoods for added protection from the weather and cags for dynamic disciplines, such as whitewater paddling will have latex neck and wrist seals to keep the water out even if you capsize and roll!

Paddle-bottoms

Trousers, pantaloons, strides; these days many paddlers don’t bother with a wetsuit at all but use a combination of paddle top and bottoms to keep them warm and comfy. Made from the same material as cags, often with reinforcing on the knees and bums to prevent wear they will usually have a neoprene waist and neoprene, or latex cuffs on the ankles to keep the wet stuff out.

Thermals

A good base layer will help keep you toasty, it wicks moisture away from your skin through its material. These are usually made from manmade fibres or natural materials like wool. Avoid cotton as it stays wet, doesn’t wick and will keep you cold if it gets wet. If it’s chilly then a fleece layer over the base one will seal the deal and keep you comfortable even on the coldest of days.

Dry-suits

Paddlesport-specific dry-suits are a relatively new thing but they have become understandably popular, as the represent the ultimate in dryness and comfort and eliminate any nasty cold spots around the waist and kidney areas. These will usually have a large watertight zip across the shoulders or chest and have latex seals on the neck and wrists.

Helmet

You’ve only got one brain, so it’s best to protect it from harm! If you’re paddling on moving water then a helmet will keep your bonce safe from knock and bumps from knocks and bumps. It should cover your temple area and down to the nape of the neck. It should fit you snugly and, obvious as this sounds, the strap should always be done up securely.

Spray-deck

This isn’t essential when you first start but if you paddle a closed cockpit kayak then as your skills and confidence increase you will want a spray deck to keep your boat dry. It’s worn around the waist like a skirt and then seals over your kayak’s cockpit rim to create a watertight seal. Basic and touring versions are usually made from nylon and tough Cordura and performance decks are made from neoprene.

Canoe

In the UK there’s a slight misnomer as we refer to all craft as canoes, but this strictly speaking is incorrect. A canoe is derived from the craft used by early Native American hunters and is used for carrying people and gear. Modern canoes are made from plastic or composite materials but you can still buy canoes made from traditional materials like Cedarwood and birch bark. Canoes come in all sorts of shapes but an average canoe is usually between 15 to 16 feet long. Kneeling is the traditional position top paddle a canoe but all modern boats come fitted with seats for comfort.

Kayaks

Descended from the hunting boats of the Inuit people, you sit in a kayak and use a double bladed paddle. Kayaks come in all sorts of sizes from long, narrow racing boats to tiny freestyle boats, only as big as a paddle!

Sit-on-Top Kayak

As the name suggests SOT’s are made from a solid piece of moulded plastic with air inside for buoyancy. They are fantastic to learn on as they are so easy to use and there’s no fear of feeling enclosed.

Inflatable Kayaks & Inflatable Canoes

The boat-in-a-bag concept has become very popular in recent years, mainly because modern inflatable boats offer great durability, performance and versatility. Id storage space, or transporting your canoe or kayak is an issue then an inflatable kayak or inflatable canoe is a good option.

Touring Kayak

Touring kayaks are designed for day’s spent cruising the waterways of the UK, from coastal estuaries to your local river or lake. They are very stable and of moderate length to give them both forward speed and manoeuvrability. Many will have storage hatches to keep your packed lunch, flask, camera, and binoculars in.

Sea Kayak

Sea kayaks are designed to cover distance at sea while carrying plenty of gear. Available in both plastic and composite versions a sea kayak will usually have bulkheads and hatches for stowing gear, deck lines and a skeg or rudder.

General Purpose Kayak

General-purpose kayaks are perfect for beginners or intermediate paddlers who want to get a variety of uses out of their kayak. A good general-purpose boat, as the name suggests, is a jack-of-all-trades. It won’t outperform a specialist kayak for any of the particular disciplines, whitewater for example, but it will be able to do some of everything fairly well! So you can take your general-purpose boat out for a day’s touring, but it’ll also be fine if that includes a little whitewater. Or a bimble on the sea with a little surfing thrown in for added fun factor. General-purpose kayaks are also an ideal first boat for beginners, as you may not know what you want from kayaking yet. With a good general purpose kayak, you can try a    little of everything and the boat will perform well enough to give you a good feel if you want to really pursue a particular discipline.

Whitewater Kayaks

Whitewater kayaks come in all sorts of shapes from mega-short freestyle boats to longer river running boats built for speed and safety and everything in between. Whitewater boats will have bulkhead footrests, backrests, hip pads and thigh braces (all often adjustable) and will also sport safety features such as grab loops and central foam pillars.

The Expert – Paul Robertson – Brand & Marketing Manager Palm Equipment & Dagger Kayaks

“Like most other outdoor sports, the clothing and equipment available for canoeing and kayaking has come of age. Materials, cuts, features and even colours have all developed to best suit the type of paddling and of course the weather!

When getting started, many people spend ages choosing the right boat and the gear is almost an afterthought. My advice is to spend a bit longer over your kit, learn what it can do for you, try it on and then buy the best you can afford. After all, no mater which craft you paddle, you’re going to enjoy being on the water a whole lot more if you are warm and comfortable. The key item everyone should have is a buoyancy aid (PFD). Make sure this fits and allows you to move freely, a top tip is to sit down when trying as if you are in a boat. Also, don’t forget to allow for layering, and on this note, don’t think of paddling as just for the summer. Winter days can be beautiful and the addition of a few accessories like gloves, boots and hats will let you enjoy the seasons wherever you paddle.”