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Kayaking is the perfect combination of exercise, nature, and adventure. And it happens to be a great activity, whether in the heat of summer or the crisp air of cooler months.

But if you’re new to the paddle life, there are some things to prep for — and of course, plenty of gear to collect to ensure a successful outing.

Here’s what you need to know to have a good row.

The prep stage is often the not-so-fun part of any excursion, but it’s absolutely vital. Check the following off your list at the outset:

Water and route research

The best kayakers research their routes before they paddle out. Stick to small ponds and lakes that don’t have strong currents. Also, stick to bodies of water that don’t have powerboat traffic. They can create a lot of waves, which really aren’t good for kayaks.

Weather

Weather can make or break a kayaking trip. Generally, wind speeds below 10 knots (about 12 mph) are safe for beginners. Anything stronger than that might make it tough to properly navigate. You should also stick to sunny days since they’re a lot better for visibility.

Trip length

Kayaking can be super soothing for the body and mind. But it can also be super physically demanding. Start off with shorter trips until you build up the stamina needed for longer treks.

Most folks can stay out for about 1 to 2 hours before getting super tired. But it’s totally OK if your trips are shorter than that! It’ll still be an awesome adventure.

Beach terrain

Steep or rocky shorelines are tough to launch from. Opt for beaches or grassy areas that have a gentle slope until you get the hang of things. You can also try to launch from a dock, but this requires a bit more balance.

P.S. Always know where you’re going to land before you head out. Getting out of your boat can be just as tricky as getting in.

Kayaking is a very safe activity if you follow the rules. But still, there are some risks that you should keep in mind. Here are some big do’s and don’ts.

  • Never go it alone. Kayaking solo is always a risk. But it’s especially dangerous for beginners. Go out with at least one other person, and DO NOT separate from them — even in areas that seem super safe.
  • Don’t go too far out. Never let the coastline leave your sight. This seems like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how far you can travel in a short amount of time. You should also bring a waterproof GPS with you, just in case you get lost.
  • Wear a life jacket. Even if you can swim. Seriously. They keep your head above water, in case your arms are too tired from paddling. Life jackets also provide added insulation in cold weather. Pro tip: Attach a whistle to your vest to call for help.
  • Stay calm. If it suddenly gets stormy, don’t panic! You can adjust your paddling technique to help you get back to shore in windy weather.

You may want to hold off on buying a kayak until you’re 10/10 positive you want to do it on the reg. Here’s how you can dip your toes in the water before taking the plunge.

  • Class. An introductory class is a wonderful way to kick off your kayak adventure. You’ll learn everything you need to know about the gear, paddling, and safety.
  • Borrow. Ask friends or fam who may have a kayak if you can borrow theirs. Better yet, maybe someone has a two-seater and can take the trip with you!
  • Rent. On-the-water rental spots are dope because you don’t have to worry about transporting your kayak to and from the water. Rental places can also give you tips on the local area.
  • Tour. Hit up your parks department to see if they have any free community classes available. You can also scout local businesses to see who offers the best experience.

Now that you have the preliminaries down, here’s all the gear you’ll need.

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Print Illustration by Maya Chastain

Paddle

Obviously. You don’t want to get caught up a creek without a paddle. When choosing one, consider the following:

  • Length. Generally, bigger boats and taller folks need longer paddles.
  • Materials. Plastic or nylon blades are usually the most affordable. But they tend to be heavier and less precise than fiberglass or carbon-fiber blades.
  • Cost. You can get a great paddle for under $100. But you might have to shell out more buckaroos for quality brands and materials.
  • Shaft type. Paddle shafts come in all shapes and lengths. A slightly bent shaft might improve performance, but everyone is different.
  • Blades. Symmetric blades are a top choice for whitewater rafters. But beginner kayakers might prefer asymmetric blades, which are designed to offer a smoother, more relaxed ride.

Spray skirt

Spray skirts are protective covers that you wear around your torso. Their main function is to keep you dry and warm. They each consist of a deck, tunnel, and rand. The deck is the skirt part that comes out from the tunnel to cover your kayak’s cockpit (where you put your legs and butt). The rand holds the deck down and fastens over the lip of the cockpit.

Some skirts have shoulder straps, which provide extra rain and splash protection. You can also find brands that have pockets, which always come in clutch. BTW, there are lots of different kayak sizes. Be sure to get a spray skirt that fits your boat’s unique dimensions.

Bilge pump

Don’t let your kayak turn into the Titanic. Bilge pumps are designed to help remove water from the bottom of the hull (aka the bilge). The ones that are meant for kayaks are compact, lightweight, and easy-to-use. You can find a kayak-friendly bilge pump at your local boating store or online.

Personal floating device

A personal flotation device (PFD) is a MUST. According to the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG), life jackets should be the right size, in good condition, and appropriate for the intended use. Also, always stick to brands that have the USCG’s stamp of approval.

Swimwear

Lots of folks like to wear a bathing suit in hot weather. Any bathing suit will do, but some peeps prefer supportive, sporty suits that were designed for active use. A rash guard is also a great idea because they’re fast-drying and help protect you from the sun.

Kayak-appropriate clothing

Here’s how to stay comfortable in all temps:

  • Dress for the water temperature, not the air.
  • Opt for abrasion-resistant fabrics that stave off wear and tear.
  • You may want to wear a dry suit or wetsuit if it’s crazy cold out.
  • Metal zippers and hardware can rust. So, stick to a rugged plastic.
  • Don’t wear super-tight clothing. Even if you’re wearing lots of layers, you still need to have a full range of motion.

Rain jacket

Kayaking in the rain can be a literal drag. Wearing a rain-soaked shirt can weigh you down and ruin your ride’s vibe. Thankfully, a high quality rain jacket can keep you nice and dry. Look for a jacket that has gaskets around the neck and wrists to help keep water out.

Sunglasses

Protect your peppers with some snazzy shades. You can get a stylish and affordable pair online or at most sporting goods stores. Opt for a pair that has UV protection and glare reduction lenses.

Hat

The ideal hat for kayaking will keep the sun off your face and won’t fly off in the wind. Baseball caps and bucket hats tend to be cheap and effective.

Proper footwear

Kayak shoes should provide protection and stability. The goal is to keep your toes warm and avoid any scratching or bruising inside the hull (so, no sandals). You can get a decent pair of kayak shoes for under $20, but you might need to spend a bit more for a long-lasting pair.

Snacks

Even if you’re planning for a short trip (1 hour or less), you should always bring a snack with you. The best nom noms are easy to store and eat while out on the water. Here are some tasty options:

Drinking water

Gulping lake water isn’t always a safe way to quench your thirst. That said, bring a solid supply of clean drinking water with you. A reusable bladder bottle is a sweet option — they fit inside the hull better than rigid containers. For longer trips, you may want to bring some water purification tablets. But keep in mind, these don’t filter out salt.

First aid kit

You don’t need to turn your kayak into a floating hospital. But you should def stock up on the essentials. Here’s what the American Red Cross suggests you keep in your first aid kit:

  • 2 absorbent compress dressings
  • 25 adhesive bandages in assorted sizes
  • 1 adhesive cloth tape (10 yards by 1 inch)
  • 5 antibiotic ointment packets
  • 5 antiseptic wipe packets
  • 2 packets of aspirin (81 milligrams each)
  • 1 emergency blanket
  • 1 breathing barrier (for CPR)
  • 1 instant cold compress
  • 2 pairs of nonlatex gloves
  • 2 hydrocortisone ointment packets
  • one 3-inch gauze roll (roller) bandage
  • 1 roller bandage (4 inches wide)
  • five 3-inch by 3-inch sterile gauze pads
  • 5 sterile gauze pads (4 inches by 4 inches)
  • oral thermometer (nonmercury and nonglass)
  • 2 triangular bandages
  • tweezers
  • emergency first aid guide

PSA: Your first aid kit won’t work if everything is soaked. So, store your stuff in a waterproof storage container.

Sunscreen

Protect your skin with a top-notch SPF. Even if you don’t plan on taking a dip, opt for a waterproof sunscreen. Be sure to reapply it throughout the day, even if it’s cloudy.

Waterproof bags

Reusable, waterproof bags can keep your stuff safe from water damage. They come in lots of shapes and sizes, so chances are you’ll find one that fits your needs and your kayak. Some peeps use an airtight tackle box to store food and first aid gear. If you have one of these, be sure it’s securely fastened to the boat before you head out.

FYI: Make sure you get a bag that can be attached to your kayak… Unless you want to see your stuff sink to the bottom of the sea like The Heart of the Ocean.

Kayaking is a crazy fun activity that offers lots of health perks. It’s a great way to get a solid workout while spending time in the great outdoors.

But like any water sport, it’s super duper important you follow the rules and know your limits. Start small with a short paddle on a safe local lake or pond. And remember, don’t kayak alone until you’re a pro.