Kayaking Gear

Rivers, Lakes, and Oceans

From kayaking in Yosemite to finding the most dog-friendly kayaks, we’ve tested kayaks by paddling all over California for the past 10 years.

We know the best way to test a piece of gear is to simply get outside and take it with us on the open waters. While we love testing while out on the lake, we also conduct controlled tests at home when comparing products side-by-side to have a consistent setting. After months of testing, we rate and score each product based on various metrics most important to that type of gear.

Use this page to find your next piece of kayaking gear, no matter where your paddling adventures take you! If you’re new to kayaking or just want a top-level look at our recommended gear and tips, the below articles are for you.

Taken from behind as a woman kayaks through narrow canyons.
Three kayakers approach white water turbulence.
A single kayak floats on a pristine lake in the foreground and a giant waterfall cascades down a cliff-face in the distant background.

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Our Go-To Kayaking Packing List

If you’re just looking for a quick list of our must-have kayaks and gear, these are the products we use the most on our kayaking adventures.


Taken from behind, a woman kayaker holds her paddle overhead as she floats in her yellow kayak on turquoise water.
  1. Life Jacket: The Kokatat Hustle PFD (personal flotation device) allows full range of motion, has pockets, and the bright color is highly visible.
  2. Sun Hat: The Sombriolet Sun Hat is water-resistant with UPF 50+ material, a drawstring, and a stiffened brim. Perfect for those with scalps.
  3. Sun Shirt: The Mountain Hardwear Crater Lake Hoodie is long sleeve and made of lightweight, moisture-wicking, UPF 50+ material.
  4. Wetshoes: The NRS Kickers feature neoprene warmth, reinforced heels and toes, and a naturally wide toe box.
  5. Waterproof Kayaking Jacket: The NRS Riptide Splash Jacket is lightweight, with a storm hood and vented neck.


An orange kayak sits at the edge of the water, with the stern grounded on land. A blue waterproof duffle bag and rope sit on top.
  1. Paddle: The Bending Branches Whisper Paddle is lightweight and highly adjustable.
  2. Dry Bag: Marchway Floating Waterproof Dry Bags are made of ripstop tarpaulin PVC, come in multiple sizes and colors, and are affordable.
  3. Cell Phone Dry Bag: This cell phone pouch has a waterproof roll-top closure, comes in multiple sizes, with clear material, at an affordable price.
  4. First Aid Kit: Well-Strong’s waterproof first aid kit features a roll-top closure, dual waterproofing, 116 pieces, and is intended for water sports.
  5. Emergency Whistle: The Vargo Titanium whistle has a 100+ decibel volume, durable build, and reflective lanyard.


Kayaking Accessories

Kayaking FAQs


Whether you have your own kayak, you’re renting, or borrowing from a friend, make sure you have a paddle and life jacket when you go kayaking.

Other things you should take kayaking, include water and snacks, a dry bag for your keys, wallet, and phone, and water shoes.

Take sunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses, and wear clothes that are suitable for immersion.


Different types of kayaks offer different perks. Here’s a brief breakdown so you can choose the best features for your paddling goals:

Sit-On-Top Kayaks: More leg room, easier to get on and off of, expect to get wet. 
Sit-In Kayaks: Require putting your legs into the boat (which may make some people feel claustrophobic), you can stay dry in a sit-in kayak by using a water-tight skirt.

Narrow Kayaks: Faster 
Wide kayaks: More stable
Long Kayaks: Better at tracking (moving on a straight path)
Short Kayaks: Better at turning

Plastic: Most common, very durable, affordable.
Carbon Fiber: High-end, very lightweight, more brittle, expensive.


Yes, you should always wear a life vest while kayaking. Even if you’re a good swimmer, life jackets are essential gear when paddling. 

Zip or buckle it so that your life jacket fits snugly. Check that the tag says it’s approved for paddling and that it provides the right amount of floatation for your water conditions.

Learn more about Personal Floatation Devices (PFD) and take the FREE Paddlesports Online Course by ACA.


Strap your kayak to the roof of your car or haul it using a kayak trailer. Inflatable and foldable kayaks are also great options if you need to put your kayak inside of your car.


Modern inflatable kayaks work well for casually paddling on lakes and rivers. They might not move as efficiently as traditional kayaks, but they’re much more portable and easier to store.

Our Kayaking Experts

Mimi McFadden
Founder & Editor-In-Chief

Mimi McFadden Headshot

Mimi loves being on the water and any opportunity to go kayaking. This year she has plans to go on a glass-bottomed kayak, which will let her check off an item that’s been on her bucket list for a long time. Possibly relatedly, she’s had recurring nightmares of hammerhead sharks. Nonetheless, Mimi’s always excited for kayaking trips and loves testing out gear, though sometimes finding out that a dry bag isn’t really waterproof isn’t always the best news.

Suneel Jain
Partnerships & Management

Suneel Jain author headshot

Suneel used to make paper boats and sail them down the gutters when it rained. He’s learned that’s just littering and stopped, and now gets his time in the water during trips kayaking. He’s gone kayaking in Tomales Bay, Lake Tahoe, and during trips to Mexico and Greece. He’s more of an expert on what beginner kayakers might need in this case.

Jodelle Marx
Editor & Content Manager

Jodelle author headshot.

In another life, Jodelle must have been a water creature: she takes every chance to be out on the water. You can look to Jodelle for all things water sports, from kayaking and paddle boarding to finding the best swimming holes or waterfall hikes.

She first kayaked in middle school and was enamored with the freedom that comes with gliding across open water. Now, Jodelle mostly paddleboards alpine lakes with friends. Her dream is to have a paddle-boarding dog.