TOP 6 BEGINNER WHITEWATER KAYAK GEAR ESSENTIALS
Life can be rough as a beginner kayaker. Few want to invest heavily in a sport that they are just starting, but when it comes to kayaking, your gear can make all the difference. Many will start kayaking with the basics or old, outdated gear, and this can accentuate the already steep learning curve. Going for a long, cold swim (as all beginners will at some point) without the proper attire can deter one from continuing with the sport. I know from personal experience that your gear can make learning how to kayak more fun, safer and easier. I put together this list of my top gear choices for beginner kayakers with both cost and effectiveness in mind. It covers your six essentials and will give beginners gear that they can learn in and rely on for years to come.
In my opinion, the Dagger Mamba is one of the best boats a beginner could purchase. Dagger designed this boat as a class I-V, intuitive river runner. Don’t be scared off by the idea of the boat being beginner friendly as you start to progress in the sport however. As a beginner, this boat will help you learn basic techniques such as proper edging, eddy-catching, surfing and ferrying. It is stable and forgiving and has Dagger’s super-comfy contour ergo outfitting. As you progress, the boat will without a doubt keep up with your ability level, all the way to class V expeditionary boating and steep creeking. It's got enough volume in the right places and plentiful rocker to stomp any river. There are not many boats on the market that truly paddle class I as well as they do class V...the Dagger Mamba happens to be one of them.
Other Great Alternatives: Dagger Axiom, Jackson Zen, Jackson Fun, Pyranha Burn
Werner has been making high quality paddles for 50 years now and the Desperado is no exception. For $169.95, you can get a great paddle that will last for years and it comes standard with Werner’s reputation for bomber durability. The plastic blades are injected with Carbon-fiber for a better swing weight and extra strength. The downside to this paddle is that it the black blades can make it difficult to see when chasing it down after the inevitable swim. Less pricey options include the Werner Rio and AT Titan, both of which are great values in their own rights. Fiberglass paddles, such as the Werner Sherpa and Powerhouse and AT Hercules and Geronimo, are a step up in price, but also offer increased performance due to lighter weights and stronger blades.
Other Great Alternatives: AT Titan
The IR Kling on is a bungee style spray skirt that provides a tight, dry fit on a variety of boats for a reasonable price. The bungee fits tight on a variety cockpit designs and the apron (extra neoprene that extends beyond the bungee) covers any screws or holes in the cockpit rim to keep your boat as dry as possible. Though the skirt offers a dry, tight fit, it is also easy to get on and off, which is a great feature for beginner paddlers. Though not the cheapest option, the Kling-On is a great skirt for beginners and advanced paddlers alike.
Alternative Options: Snapdragon Reinforced EXP, Snapdragon Trek EZ
As a beginner, you WILL swim. A lot. To make the inevitable a little more bearable, I strongly recommend a dry top, especially if you are learning where the rivers run via snowmelt. A dry top is designed to keep you warm and dry when in your boat. In the event of a swim, a dry top will keep a majority of the water out and make a long swim more comfortable, which can make a huge difference for a beginner. The Hydrus material used in the construction of this top was designed in collaboration with Gore-tex, a leader in waterproof material construction and design. The result was a waterproof, breathable material, that if taken care of will give owner’s many years of excellent service. The top also comes with Kokatat’s unrivaled customer service and lifetime warranty.
Alternative Options: Immersion Research Arch Rival
WRSI stands for Whitewater Research Safety Institute and you know a company with a name like that, they have to make a good, safe product. Founded by the family of a kayaker who passed away due to a head injury, this helmet was designed by working with Johns Hopkins Medical Institute to make a safe helmet at an unbeatable price. The Current is lightweight and is available with or without vents for breathability. The multi-impact plastic shell is designed to take a hit and protect your melon at all times. It comes standard with foam shims to outfit it to fit any head size or shape and an easy to adjust one-strap retention system that tightens down on the back of your head in order to keep the helmet from riding up and exposing your forehead. For only $79.95, there is not a cheaper insurance policy for your head.
Alternative Options: Sweet Wanderer
The YTV was designed as a vest for freestyle kayakers as it allows for maximum mobility and is very low profile. Unlike many PFDs, the YTV is comfy and you hardly notice that you’re wearing it…until you swim. The YTV has 16 lbs of floatation to keep your head nice and dry, even in the worst of swims. Because it is low profile, it makes it easy to move and execute those first rolls. Astral uses a 3 piece foam construction in their PFDs, allowing the inner foam to conform to fit a variety of body shapes.
Alternative Options: NRS Ninja, Stohlquist Rocker, Astral Sea Wolf
This list may not be perfect and it may be expensive. Kayaking is somewhat unique in that gear can make a huge difference for a beginner. Being comfortable in your gear leads to confidence, which is essential in learning to kayak. Sure, you can go on Craigslist and pick up a beater set up for a couple hundred bucks and pick up the sport. The gear included on this list are things that will make the steep learning curve a little more manageable. I have known many people who have tried to get into boating, had a bad experience and quickly bailed. Having gear you can rely (as well as a good crew, good technique and a host of other things) makes the chances of a bad experience that much lower. None of the items listed are beginner specific either. These are all items that will last for many years of kayaking and progressing if taken care of.