What Kayaking Gear Do You Need?
Have you and your family decided to get started kayaking this summer, but just have no clue where to start? What whitewater boat? What whitewater kayaking gear? With so many decisions out there, getting started is half the battle. In fact, I remember scouring the Internet for a comprehensive guide that told me what I needed and what was the best …
This is our personal, what we use and wear when we go kayaking. What you end up buying and using depends entirely on when and where you decide to kayak and your personal preferences.
Included is gear for both cold weather kayaking and warm weather kayaking. Even though every kayaker has different needs and preferences, there are certain items of gear that are universally understood to be the absolute best and you really can’t live without them. We really hope this list will make everything easier for you!
Whitewater Kayaking Boat Guide
Best Beginner Boat
Jackson Kayak Fun: This boat comes in all sizes for all ages. It’s perfect for the beginner in that it literally does everything … river running, surfing, playing, and learning to do it all well, but you don’t have to worry about growing out of the Fun. It’s meant to do everything well and it truly does. It tracks well, it surfs well and it’s easy to maneuver. The Fun eases beginners into all the different disciplines and is a great boat to develop all skills for even the experts. I know pros who paddle the Fun. And for family paddling … the Fun is the Boat!
Sizes: Fun 1 (XXS), Fun 1.5 (XS), 2Fun (S), Fun (M), 4Fun (L)
Best Freestyle Boat
2016 Jackson Kayak Rockstar: This boat makes even me look good, or at least decent and that’s saying something amazing! It is the ultimate surfing machine and like the Fun above comes in a size compatible for all boaters. The 2016 JK Rockstar is hands down the best playboat ever made!
Jackson Kayak Shooting Star: Kids can surf and throwdown in a JK Fun 1 or a Fun 1.5, but if your young paddler is ready to step up his game, there is nothing better than the Shooting Star. In fact, it’s the smallest playboat ever made and was designed for Dane Jackson when he was young.
Best River Runner/Creekboat
Jackson Kayak Zen: I love, love, love the JK Zen. I don’t flip, and when I do, it’s like all I need to do is think “roll”, and I’m up before I know it. And fast, this boat is crazy fast. It’s the boat of choice for those of us who are trying to improve our skills and for expert boaters who demand performance and know how to use it.
Jackson Kayak Side Kick: For up and coming little river runners, Jackson Kayak makes the Side Kick, a super stable, and surprisingly quick boat. It’s designed to bring your young rippers into tougher waters and keep them dry.
Whitewater Kayaking PFD Guide
Best Freestyle PFD
Kokatat Orbit Tour PFD: This low-profile PFD is comfortable, rugged and durable. The Orbit is perfect for SUP and freestyle kayaking because it’s not bulky AT ALL and doesn’t get in the way when throwing down tricks. Brody, Kenny, Dally and Susie wear the Orbit.
Kokatat Maximus PFD: This easily adjustable PFD is designed for all whitewater disciplines, with input from Dane Jackson and Eric Jackson. The Maximus is hands down the most comfortable PFD on the market and our absolute favorite! Dan, Kady and Grady wear the Maximus.
Best Rescue PFD
Kokatat Maximus Centurion PFD: This is a badass Type V rescue vest … massive flotation, ridiculously comfortable and with all the bells and whistles you’d expect from a top of the line rescue vest! Dan, Grady and Brody all wear this when creeking or when taking the rest of us on river runs that push our limits to the max!
Best Youth PFD
Astral Otter Youth PFD: Our kids are mini sized, and we use this for our 6-12 year old kids. It’s hands down the best PFD for small kids between 50-90 lbs. The Astral Otter PFD is super comfortable and takes a beating!
Whitewater Kayaking Guide For Staying Dry
Best Dry Suit
Kokatat has the best reputation in the business and they stand behind their products with a lifetime guarantee! We swear by all their gear and after years of buying competitors products and having them not last even one year, we are total converts … the extra money up-front actually saves you money in the long run!
Kokatat Gore-Tex Idol Dry Suit: The Idol is the newest dry suit in the Kokatat lineup and it offers the versatility of both a dry suit as well as a dry top/dry pants combo. It’s a 4-season suit for paddlers who don’t just paddle in the summer! Brody and Grady both use this dry suit in the colder weather and have the option to use it as just a dry top as well.
Kokatat Gore-Tex Icon Dry Suit: For the boater who is hard on their gear and yet expects it to keep performing year after year after year … this one’s rear entry with a front relief zipper! Kenny uses this one!
Gore-Tex Meridian Dry Suit: Kokatat’s most popular drysuit, the Meridian is the definitive whitewater paddlers’ drysuit! With a rear drop-seat (for women) and a front zippered pocket, you cannot go wrong with this sweet drysuit … it’ll keep you dry in the wildest of waters! Kady uses this one in the purple!
At Kokatat, you can also custom order the dry suit of your choice, if you have a paddler who wants to keep charging as the temperatures drop … but when you have 12 kids, financially that is not a feasible option. So, our kids typically wear their bomber Kokatat dry tops (see below) and a swimsuit … they are tough! 😉
Best Dry Top
Men’s Gore-Tex Rogue Dry Top: This is a four-season dry top for paddlers who push the limits year round. It’s comfort, durability and unrestricted range of motion make it the dry top of choice for Dan, Grady, Brody, Kenny and Dally. Plus, it’s … Gore-Tex! That alone means it will last forever.
Women’s Gore-Tex Rogue Dry Top: Kady loves her Rogue dry top and has used it for three years already. Susie also uses this dry top, primarily because of the color even though she’s more of a 3-season paddler, but the Gore-Tex is a gift that keeps on giving all through the spring and fall and she loves how warm and dry she stays! But … the color!!
Kokatat Hydrus 3L Stoke Dry Top: We opted for the Kokatat Hydrus dry top for the younger kids to save money versus buying them all Gore-Tex. This is still a very durable, long-lasting dry top. We are still using the first ones we ever bought back in 2010. Cardy, Maddy, Rowdy and Emmy use this dry top.
Best Shorty Dry Top
Kokatat Gore-Tex Trinity Shorty Dry Top: You may think, as we once did, that a shorty is not worth the money, but it’s is priceless on those warmer days when you are throwing loop after loop, trying to perfect your technique and not wanting to get out of the water every few minutes to drain your boat! It’s also invaluable for those warm spring days when you are paddling the spring run-off and experience the first unfortunate swim of the season … it’s nice to protect your core body temp! Dan, Susie, Grady, Brody, & Kady all paddle in the Trinity … all summer long! Kenny & Dally are the next in line for a nice upgrade!
Best Base Layer
Kokatat Polartec Power Dry Outer Core: Again we turn to Kokatat for our base layers, as the Kokatat fleece is the softest, warmest fleece on the market … again backed by their lifetime guarantee. So warm, so soft … great as winter PJ’s too! 🙂 Every single paddler in the family dons this luxury piece of gear!
Whitewater Kayaking Gear Guide
Best Kayak Gloves/Mitts
Kokatat Neo Kayak Mitt: As surprising as it might seem, these pogies actually keep your hands warm when the air and water temperature combine to make unflattering paddling conditions. We started out wearing gloves, but quickly switched to pogies so our hands would have direct contact with our paddles.
Best Kayak Booties/Shoes
Kokatat Portage Booties: We use these booties for creeking and possible scouting, as they have more tread on them than the booties we use for freestyle kayaking.
Kokatat Seeker Booties: We love this booties for freestyle! Hands down … I told you we were serious Kokatat converts! If Kokatat makes it, we buy it!
Best Kayak Paddle
We are BIG time Accent Paddle lovers … the paddle blades are the best on the market, and they truly stand behind their products. We use Accent Paddles for kayaking as well as SUP because Accent is an innovator in the paddle world, in both technology, engineering and performance!
Accent Pro Fluid: Grady’s paddle of choice for it’s high performance in both freestyle and creeking.
Accent Pro Core Helix: Brody’s paddle of choice because it “slices through the water”.
Accent Premier Fluid: Dan, Susie, Kenny and Dally all use Premier Fluid bent-shaft paddles. It’s the same blade as the pro version that Grady uses, but it’s made of fiberglass instead of carbon. The younger kids all use the straight shaft version of the Premier Fluid paddle in custom lengths for their size.
Best Kayak Helmet
As a family we are all over the place, each having our own favorite. I will list who wears what helmet and for what and why. In this area, a good fit is the biggest factor in determining which helmet to buy.
Dan: Shred Ready Shaggy for freestyle and river running and the Shred Ready Full Face for creeking.
Susie: Predator Lee Helmet for freestyle and river running Shred Ready Full Face for almost creeking.
Grady: Shred Ready Half-Cut for freestyle and river running and the Shred Ready Full Face for full-on creeking.
Maddy & Emmy: WRSI Current Kayak Helmet
Best Spray Skirt
Absolutely no question … we use Snap Dragon, always have, always will. We trust their product implicity and they are constantly striving to improve. Additionally, they stand behind their product and they strive to make the best skirts for every type of paddling there is.
Snap Dragon Armortex EXP: We use Snap Dragon’s newest spray skirt with a rubber rand for a water tight seal to stay dry while playboating.
Armortex EXP with Implosion Bar: We use this Snap Dragon spray skirt with the added implosion bar for big water or big drops.
Snap Dragon Whitewater EXP: The younger kids all use the neoprene reinforced spray skirt. The reinforcement on the rim is important for kids, because without it, that’s where the spray skirt will develop leaks.