Essential Kayak Accessories For Whitewater Kayaking
December 07, 2022
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 Werner Desperado Whitewater paddle. At a little over $200, this straight shaft paddle is incredibly durable and has a time tested blade design. Another great option for your money is the Werner Strike, fiberglass straight shaft paddle, as it’s relatively lightweight and offers a mid-sized performance blade design for around $300. If you’d prefer a bent shaft paddle with bigger blades you should consider the Werner Powerhouse (shown below). At about $415 it isn’t inexpensive, but it does offer balanced power strokes in a quality bent shaft whitewater creeking and river running design. In terms of brands, we find that Werner and Aqua Bound build the most durable whitewater blades, and they both really stand behind their products!
LIFEJACKET OR PFD
A personal floatation device (PFD), commonly called a lifejacket, isn’t only a really good idea, but is required by law in most locations. 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. The Stohlquist Edge kayak lifejacket (PFD) (shown below) features a harmonized US Coast Guard/Transport Canada Certification to make it legal in both countries.
When starting out, there is no reason to get a top of the line rescue lifejacket since all Coast Guard approved PFDs maintain a minimum amount of floatation, at least 16 pounds, to 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 under $200.
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.
Great options for your first spray skirt are the Level 6 Jack Skirt or the Seals Shocker Skirt (shown below), either under $150. Both neoprene skirts offer a stretchy bungee rand for ease of getting the skirt on or off your cockpit rim yet snug enough to keep water and splash out of your kayak when rolling.
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 (shown below), which will run you less than $140.
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 on your portages, 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 Men’s Paddle Wetshoes (shown below) and the Women’s Paddle Wetshoes are both zippered neoprene booties for under $65. The Men’s Brewers and the Women’s Brewess water shoes are perfect on your favorite river as well as looking stylist for the after paddle dinner get together. And if you prefer sandals, check out the new Astral PFD sandals for Men and for Women.
Float Bags are air filled bladders that you place inside the back of your hardshell kayak. Their purpose is to displace water when you flip the kayak over and take a swim. Float bags keep your kayak from filling up with water making it difficult to drag into an eddy and they are essential for an easy self rescue or assisted recovery on the river if you get separated from your kayak and gear during a “yard sale”.
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 (shown below).
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 Outerwear from top brands like NRS, Level 6 and Kokatat.