Get Paddling: A Beginner’s Guide to Kayaking Gear

Kayaking is a fantastic way to enjoy the great outdoors. With a variety of kayaks and gear to choose from, starting off may seem a bit overwhelming. Here’s our guide to help you get out on the water.

Choosing a Kayak

kayaks sit on top vs sit inside copyWhere you’ll be kayaking is the biggest factor in determining what type of kayak is best for you. Will you be paddling with a friend around open bodies of water such as lakes, taking long all-day kayaking trips, or cruising solo around the beach? Will the water typically be warm or cold? Will you be getting in and out of your kayak frequently while on the water? Figuring out exactly how and where you’ll be using your kayak will help you decide which type to start with, and whether you’ll want a single or two person model.

There are two basic types of kayaks: sit-on-top, and sit-inside. Sit on tops are stable, open kayaks that are easy to jump in and out of, and can be used for a variety of recreational activities. Sit insides have a closed cabin for your lower body, and come in a variety of wider and narrower shapes.

If you are just learning how to kayak, we recommend a sit on top kayak because of their general stability, holes in the bottom called scupper holes that allow water to drain out, plus they are very easy to get in and out of. And while sit inside kayaks will keep you a little more dry, accidentally flipping over can cause all kinds of issues as your kayak will be filled with water.

Shorter, wider kayaks will give you great stability, while longer, narrower ones will give you more speed. The exact shape and size of your kayak all boils down to your own skill level and personal preference.

If you still can’t decide, check out Old Town’s Guide to Choosing a Kayak, or REI’s very detailed How to Choose Kayaking guide.

Gear You’ll Need

After you’ve settled on the perfect kayak, you’ll need all the necessary gear to go along with it. Most if not all of these accessories won’t come with your kayak, so be sure to get everything you need before you’re out on the creek without a paddle.

Paddles come in a variety of lengths, materials, and sizes. In general, taller and stronger paddlers will want longer paddles, while short paddlers will be better off with shorter paddles with a smaller paddle face. If you’re buying your kayak in a sporting goods store, a staff member can probably advise you on the best paddle to choose based on your height, experience and budget.  PaddleTV has a great short video on where to start, and once again REI has lots of specific information on choosing the right paddle.
Life Jacket
Even in the calmest waters, always be sure to have a life jacket available for every person in the kayak. Some state laws even require that you have life jackets on board, so it’s best to error on the side of safety.

Roof Racks or Trailers
If you’re not within carrying distance of where you’ll be kayaking and you don’t have a truck, consider getting a roof rack or a small trailer for transporting your kayak.

Sunglasses are important to protecting your eyes out on the open water. Even while wearing a hat, sunlight reflecting off the surface of the water can damage your eyes without the proper protection. Popticals offer total UV protection, polarization, and have a unique design for compact storage to keep them safe but still accessible when not being worn. We recommend frames that provide full coverage like PopH2O and PopGear.

Find a Great Local Spot

If you don’t know exactly where your adventures will take you, is a wonderful resource for finding new places to explore. If you’re just learning how to kayak, we recommend starting off in shallow, calm waters first. And if you have a sit inside kayak, definitely learn what to do if you flip over and practice it a few times in a controlled environment.


Kayaking is a wonderful sport that you can enjoy with your friends and family. Your arms may be sore after the first few outings and you may even flip over a few times. But you’ll find after just a few times that your arms will feel stronger, your balance will improve and the more you’ll enjoy every time you hit the water.