Kayak Gear, Clothing & Best Paddling Destinations Guide
If you are searching for a way to get away from the crowds, see a familiar place through new eyes, and get closer to wildlife, kayaking is the ticket. With everyone opting to road trip and head outside this summer, it’s time to exchange your gas pedal for a paddle. You can power your next adventure one paddle stroke at a time via kayak on a liquid road trip. If you are new to kayaking, don’t worry, we’ve got you covered in our kayak gear guide. Not only is kayaking easy to learn and rentals readily available, but kayaking also has many health benefits. We will also answer your questions of where to kayak near me!
The ultimate kayaking guide is a valuable resource for beginner kayakers as well as avid paddlers. There are tips and tricks from experts, local outfitters, and more.
Health Benefits of Kayaking
To improve or maintain your fitness, you need to be active; however, as we age or experience injury, many of us seek low-impact exercise. Kayaking is an ideal solution for those looking for a cardiovascular exercise with low impact to sensitive joints such as knees and hips. Plus, paddling a kayak is an excellent way to gain upper body and core strength.
Being on the water, away from the busyness of everyday life and closer to nature, is a stress reliever. Find your zen while kayaking. The sound of your paddle strokes coupled with the local birds or nothing at all can be very meditative.
Beginners Guide to Kayaking
Although you can watch how-to kayak videos, nothing beats learning by holding a paddle in your hand. Learning to kayak is easy, but best done in-person. If you don’t know a family member or friend who can show you the ropes, learn the basics by renting a kayak from an outfitter. Your rental and/or tour may include a lesson and/or a guide who can give you pointers along the way, explain kayak terms, and help you with all the necessary kayaking gear for beginners.
Kayaking Gear Guide – Which Kayak is Right for You & the Destination
The right kayak for you depends on your level of skill, where you are kayaking, and if you are solo or in a pair. Here are the basic types of kayaks:
Sit-in, or sit-inside, kayaks are used for river, lake, and sea kayaking trips. To prevent water from coming into the kayak, a skirt may be placed around the paddler to seal the cockpit. Thus, these kayaks are particularly useful in cold water destinations. Sit-in kayaks are very stable. However, the con of sit-in kayaks is the ease of getting in and out of the kayak, which can be a bit more difficult, especially in the middle of a lake!
Sit-on-top Kayaks are popular for rentals, especially in warmer lakes, rivers, and ocean trips. These kayaks are very stable and easy to get on and off. Sit-on-top kayaks are ideal for day trips and beaching.
Solo vs. Tandem
All kayak types come in solo and tandem models. Your ideal choice should depend on two things: if you will be going alone or with another paddler and the weight of the kayak. Tandems are larger and can be more difficult to steer – but you also have the power of two people paddling. Solo kayaks are much lighter and easier to transport than tandems.
Inflatable kayaks are growing in popularity because they are lightweight, strong and portable. The technology to make inflatable kayaks has continued to improve, making them a great alternative to a traditional kayak that is safe, sturdy and reliable. They are a great choice for rivers with small rapids, as they bounce easier off rocks than a hard shell kayak.
A kayak paddle is a two-sided paddle allowing the paddler to utilize both upper body strength as well as his/her core muscles. Most kayak paddles come apart in the middle for easier transport. They can be made from plastic, wood, metal, or carbon fiber. Prices vary depending on the material, weight, and brand. Many experienced kayakers recommend getting a paddle leash for when (not if) a capsizing or messy put in or take out event happens.
Kayaking Equipment – It’s More than Just the Vessel
If you plan on transporting your kayak, you will need tie down straps and/or a roof rack for your vehicle. Visit a kayaking outfitter near you for selecting the right kayak, tying down the kayak, and securing the other necessary kayaking equipment: life vest and a waterproof drysack. These two essentials in kayaking safety prepare you for the inevitable capsizing occurrence.
What to Wear for Kayaking
The attire for kayaking depends on the weather conditions where you will be paddling. The basics are good water shoes, SPF clothing, a hat, quick dry apparel, and neoprene gear/wetsuit.
The best kayak footwear assists with your put in (launching the kayak) and take out (returning to dock/land) of the kayak. Both of which can be dangerous with a slippery surface or jagged rocks. Most seasoned kayakers choose sandals that have durable soles and toes; plus, they dry quickly. Some reputable brands are Keen, Teva, and Merrell.
Avid adventurers know that you must prepare for the weather. Many kayak trips expose paddlers to the sun; so, sun protection is crucial. SPF sunscreens can help protect, but the best combo is to use sunscreen as well as SPF clothing. Many designers make lightweight, quick-dry, long sleeve shirts for water sports lovers. Also, wearing a hat is wise; however, choose appropriately for the amount of wind and other elements.
The rest of your kayaking outfit is determined by the setting in which you are paddling. If you are in warmer temperatures, paddlers only need a bathing suit and/or quick dry shorts and top. However, if you are paddling in colder waters like many mountain lakes, rivers, and white water rapids, paddlers opt for neoprene apparel from tops, wetsuits, socks, and gloves.
Kayak Camping Gear List
If you plan on taking your time or doing a longer paddle, you may want to consider kayak camping. Some of the best wildlife and mother nature’s masterpieces come out after everyone else has returned his/her kayak and is heading back home. Kayak camping is a great way to break up a longer trip as well as to get back to basics. Although there are many camping niceties, you want to stick to lightweight, waterproof items as you will be getting wet and under your own power.
Stick to this simple gear list:
- Lightweight tent with rain fly
- Camping pad(s)
- Lightweight sleeping bag rated for the temperature
- Small gas stove
- Camping pot, cup, and utensils
- Dehydrated food
- Water filter
- Pocket knife or leatherman
- Drysack for all of your gear – The best have backpack straps to assist in hauling to campsite
- Extra set of dry clothes and camp shoes – Wash out your clothes at the end of each day with an extra set ready for you. Don’t forget to dry out your kayaking shoes at camp at night.
- Lighter for lighting the gas stove is starter doesn’t work as well as if campfires are permitted
Kayak Safety Equipment
Regardless of what type of kayaking you select , make sure that you are a competent swimmer. Not all, but most kayak trips include at least one spill. For safety, many recreation areas require every kayaker to wear a personal floatation device (PFD). Although cell service is available for some kayaking trips, you may want to investigate purchasing a satellite communication device for any emergencies that occur outside of cellular service.
Best Places to Kayak in the United States
Once the kayak gear and kayaking clothing is covered, the next question is often: where to kayak near me?! Here are some favorite kayaking destinations across the US, as well as routes and outfitters along the way.
Flatwater River Kayaking
Crystal River, Florida
For a dose of real Florida, away from Disneyland and the neon lights of South Beach, head for Crystal River in Northern Florida. You can get close to nature by paddling alongside manatees, alligators, and countless bird species. We recommend private and small group kayak tours in Crystal River with Nature Coast Eco Tours.
For scenic kayaking with a high probability of wildlife sightings and gorgeous views of the Tetons, head to Jackson, Wyoming. A favorite paddle there is Oxbow Bend on the Snake River, ½ mile below the Jackson lake dam. The highlights of this paddle include stunning scenery, grand views of the Tetons, and perhaps sightings of moose, river otters, bears, and more. It’s a relaxing paddle with little to no rapids, perfect for the whole family!
Although Napa is world-renowned for its wine, the Napa River in California is a great spot to kayak with or sans wine. If you are looking to beat the crowds for a smooth, calm paddle, escape to Napa River for kayaking. Rent a kayak or SUP or try a guided tour to experience this local favorite in Napa Valley.
New River, Jefferson, North Carolina
The New River has a paddle for everyone. From relaxing day-trips to 5-day camping trips, the New River is very scenic. In fact, it is an American Heritage River. Rent a kayak for your paddle trip from local favorite and trusted outfitter Zaloo’s.
Flatwater Lake Kayaking
Lake Tahoe, California/Nevada
For an amazing scenic paddle with pristine nature all around you, head to Lake Tahoe. This may be one of the most scenic lake paddles on earth. However, be warned: the water looks very inviting, but it is rather chilly. Experts recommend layers and neoprene socks.
Boundary Waters Canoe Area, Minnesota
To escape the crowds, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) is a perfect spot. You can decide to kayak or canoe through endless routes covering multiple lakes without traffic jams. This is an ideal destination for kayaking and canoeing, as well as camping. For all your gear rental and insider’s information, head to Sawtooth Outfitters on the east side of the BWCA in Tofte, or Ely Outfitting Company in Ely, MN on the western edge of the wilderness.
Page, AZ – Lake Powell
Even though Arizona is known for being a dry state, it has some amazing lakes. Paddling Lake Powell near Page, AZ offers incredible views of the red rocks surrounding the lake and calm, refreshing waters. A local favorite is paddling majestic Antelope Canyon. For the best in tours and/or rental, check out Lake Powell Paddleboards and Kayaks.
Kane‘ohe, O‘ahu, Hawai‘i
For calm, protected sea kayaking in O‘ahu, He’eia State Park right on Kane‘ohe bay is a local favorite. Its pristine reef provides a great backdrop for so many marine life sightings such as sea turtles (honu), dolphins, rays, tropical fish, and more. Check out Kama‘āina Kayak and Snorkel Eco-Ventures in Kane‘ohe for rentals and insider’s tips.
Everglades National Park, Florida
Uncover the beauty of the Everglades National Park up close and personal via kayak. Witness manatees, alligators, dolphins, and numerous birds like nowhere else. For the best gear and route information book with Everglades Florida Adventures.
Laguna Beach, CA
For an unforgettable paddle along an amazing coastline, Laguna Beach is the ultimate. With a 25,000-acre marine preserve, you are bound to spot abundant sea life, including sea lions, dolphins, and whales. For outfitters with both rentals as well as guided tours, check out La Vida Laguna and Laguna Ethos.
River Kayaking with Rapids
For some of the best river kayaking, take a full day or half-day to paddle along the Arkansas River in Colorado. The river offers exciting rapids surrounded by the beauty of the Rockies – this area boasts 14 peaks over 14,000 feet! Locals recommend inflatable kayaking, which you can rent or book a guided trip with Dvoraks Expeditions.
With an epic backdrop of the red rock canyons of Moab, Utah, you can’t go wrong with a kayak adventure whether on the Colorado or Green Rivers. These paddle trips are worth writing home about for sure. Learn more adventures in Moab including pack rafting and canyoneering in our Moab podcast!
Upper James River, Virginia
The Upper James River in Virginia has some incredible kayaking, rafting, and float opportunities. Enjoy the great mountain scenery and small class I and II rapids, depending on the section you chose to float. Whether you want to rent gear, get a shuttle, or a tour, a trusted local outfitter is Twin River Outfitters.
Deschutes River, Bend, Oregon
The Deschutes River near Bend, Oregon is an adventurous spirit’s choice for river kayaking with gorgeous views as well as rapids. To gear up and get local knowledge about the river and Bend, hit up Bend Kayak School.
Power Your Next Adventure via Kayak
After getting our expert tips, tricks, and recommendations of the best U.S. kayaking destinations and kayak gear guide, it’s time to exchange your gas pedal for a paddle. Power your next adventure via kayak. Ready, set, paddle!