Nov 06

A Guide to Kayaking Kit

Title

Your kayaking kit is what makes all the difference to you on the water, but there are so many questions floating around: Which boat should I use? What should I wear to stay warm? There are many different answers depending on the person. No two people are the same on the water. Also, you will find that some club kit fits you worse than other kit you can borrow, so it this you want to invest in first. You should also look at the diferent brands around and ask opinions on them. So what kit should you use and where should you place your quickly dwindling student loan?

Keeping Yourself Warm

The Wetsuit Option

Wetsuits are great for if you thing you are likely to be spending a fair bit of time with the mermaids. Good all-rounders; they keep your entire body warm and are little faff. A cag should always be worn with a wetsuit to act as a wind breaker; this doesn’t have to be an expensive one just something to keep the wind off. Don’t forget, paddlers often wear fleeces or other thermals on or under their wetsuit for extra warmth. It’s worth getting a good quality thermal rashvest for under your wetsuit, and, if you’re still cold, a polyester fleece for over the wetsuit.

What’s more, there’s plenty of wetsuits to choose from. Pick something that’s not too restrictive so you can still move your paddle properly.

Wetsuits at AS Watersports

The Semi-Dry Option

The key parts of this are dry or semi dry trousers and a good Cag. Even if you’re wearing a westsuit, a good dry cag with some thermals will make a world of difference. This option is versatile and often used by those paddlers where swimming has become a less likely occurrence, i.e. intermediates and safety. Underneath the trousers and Cag, you can layer up from anything from £50 thermals to £5 pound thermals from sports direct. Neoprene shorts, rather than a full wetsuit, are a club favourite if you’re not expecting to swim too much. If you are moving up from the wetsuit option, people often reap the benefit of purchasing the dry trousers, as this takes the direct shock of the water or the wind, keeping you warmer for longer and wearing it over the wetsuit. However, if you take a cheeky swim you will find water seeping in at the waist.

Some drysuit trousers at AS Watersports
A dry cag at AS Watersports
Neoprene shorts at AS Watersports Full length trousers are also available.

The Dry Suit Option

The mecca for all paddles is to be able to hop off the river and – in 007 style – hop out of their dry suit unveiling their tux underneath. The dry suit is the ultimate investment for paddles and typically comes in at around £450 though this varies: If you are lucky you may get one cheaper; more expensive ones may set you back a grand! Insure that when you purchase one it has feet as feetless ones are not as dry as the name suggests. Also bear in mind that these, like all kit, will become less effective as they get older.
The popular Typhoon drysuit at AS

Keeping yourself safe

Footwear

What to wear on your feet is often overlooked. However it is one of the most important parts of kit. Flimsy wetsuit boots just aren’t up for the job, the last thing you want is to be running on the bank feeling every rock under your foot or climbing out of the river slipping on the slime. Footwear should have plenty of grip, be sturdy and allow you to run and climb over tough terrain. It is possible to buy specially designed tough soled kayaking boots like the Astral Brewer shoe. However it’s also perfectly acceptable to buy tough trainers or walking shoes. However be sure that these aren’t going to reshape once they dry out or fall off if you swim. Finally neoprene socks are amazing; you don’t know what you are missing until you have tried them.

Those lovely warm neoprene socks at AS

Helmets

Helmets range in price from £40 to £180. Personally if I can flex a helmet with my hands I don’t want to put my head in it, because I don’t want a rock doing the same thing to my skull. Try lots on and spend time fitting it with padding to fit you exactly. We all have completey different shaped heads so you will need to find the one that fits you. You should be able to wobble your head energetically without the strap done up without it falling off. You should also try pushing up the front of your helmet; it shouldn’t move to expose your forehead.

The mid-priced shred-ready is popular as it is easily adjustable and fairly sturdy.

Buoyance Aids (BA)

Arguably the most important bit of personal safety equipment, your BA should be comfortable, tight fitting, and unrestrictive. You should think about getting a BA with a safety harness; although when you begin kayaking you may not need to use it, as you do more paddling you will use it more often. A safety harness is a strap built into the BA that allows a rope to be attached to your BA during rescues. No need to worry about it now though.

Spend time fitting out your BA – where are you going to put you whistle, food, slings and knife? This is vital. Your whistle should be within reach of your mouth so that you can use it without your hands, it should not ever be hidden away in a pocket. Food is also important. It’s always a good idea to carry some chocolate or cereal bars in your BA to keep your energy levels up on the river when you begin to flag. Keeping your energy levels up will help to keep you warm; it is as important as wearing thermals or wetsuits. Slings, karabiners and other safety kit should be easily accessible in a zipped pocket, and not anywhere you are going to get tangled with them. Finally, your river knife should be where you feel comfortable with it. Some people like it in a sheath on the outside of their BA whilst others prefer it in an easily accessible pocket.

A Palm Fxr BA at AS displaying pockets and harness

Knife

River knife, you say?? River Knives are a must, especially if you carry a sling or line, have but hopefully you will never need it for anything other than cutting your baguette open in the Alps. Firstly non-locking flick knives are a big no no, secondly your knife has to be able to be opened with one hand or accessible with one hand. This is where a sheath knife comes into its own; however some lock folding knives are able to be opened with one hand. If not, attaching duct tape to the back of the blade so you can open with your hand and teeth is very important. Question for you to think about though – do you feel comfortable opening the knife with your teeth? Many people do many people don’t. Also bare in mind that laws apply to knives! You can only carry them on the river really.

Throw lines

The ideal for a first throw line is one which is at least 20m. However, many beginners will struggle to accurately throw this length of rope, in which case, use a 15m. It’s important that you practice and you are confident throwing the rope you carry. If you’re starting out, it’s a good idea to clip your line in your boat using a karabiner so it doesn’t go swimming down the river wihout you.

Karabiners

Although they look the same they are have specific and important differences.
Wire gate karabiners or snap gates are great for quickly getting a sling on a boat but can’t be relied on to stay shut.
Screw gate karabiners cover all bases. They lock and can be used for anything apart for putting a pulley through.
Petzl Williams karabiners are large karabiners that can be used in many different scenarios, furthermore they are the only karabiner in which a pulley can be put through.

Things you need to kayak with

Paddles

Firstly, paddles have different lengths and the suitable length you should use depends on three factors: height, strength and the type of kayaking you will be doing. For white water, shorter and not so strong paddlers should have shorter paddles, while taller paddlers and gym-goers should have longer paddles. When buying paddles, look out for the size of the blade. For example the Werner Powerhouses have a 40% larger blade surface then the Sherpers, so are better at putting in extra power but also at tiring you out. Also the type of blade differs. While Sidekicks and Powerhouses are both great blades they are different. As mentioned above, the powerhouses are more powerful but the Sidekicks are better for play boating because of the shape of the blade. Finally some blades have a bent shaft (cranks). These are designed to reduce strain on your wrists but this means the paddles are more expensive than straight paddle shafts. Professional paddlers use both straight and bent shafts (lol shafts). Finally get bright coloured paddles! (Or make them bright with stickers.) If you lose them in a river, the brighter, the better.

There’s a huge range of paddles around so try out as many types as you can to get the feel of what suits your paddling style. Although the AS paddles page is basically a love letter to Werner, lots of people in the club paddle with different makes of blade.

Spray decks

Spray decks have different sizes both in skirt and in waist, ensure you get the right size. The sizing depends on which brand you buy so ask when you buy and fit it to your boat.

Boats

Boats have to fit and be comfortable. If you’re just starting out, it’s really important that the boat you buy doesn’t have too much volume. Larger volume boats like the Pyranha burn and Mambas are great for doing big volume water and tricky stuff, however rivers like the loop quickly become boring and larger volume boats will encourage a lazy paddling technique. For learning on club level rivers, a smaller ‘river runner’ is more suitable. These are smaller volume boats like the Axiom, Z1 or Outlaw. Remember, always check the weight range guides for a certain boat, you don’t want to paddle a small axiom if you are above 68kg or a large burn if you weigh under 75kg. Like paddles, there’s a huge range of boats out there so try as many as you can if you’re looking to buy.
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