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Kayak Touring: Outfitting Tips

Kayak touring is one of the most blissful ways to travel. It is a wonderful adventure that can range (depending on your skills and desires) from a relaxing afternoon outdoors to an adrenaline-inducing activity. Anywhere there is calm water, a mild river current, or open ocean, kayak touring is an excellent activity. Touring kayaks are more comfortable and easier to steer than whitewater kayaks, and they are more stable and lighter weight than open canoes. Renting gear is easy in places where kayak touring is popular; however, if you are looking to become an avid sea kayaker, consider purchasing your own gear. Whether you’re in the Great Lakes region or in the Northwest exploring Puget Sound, kayak touring is a wonderful way to spend a day on the water!



Kayak Touring Gear

Back paddle a bit though, and let’s talk about outfitting. There are many different types of each category of gear, but the basics you will need to get started are a kayak, paddle, PFD (personal flotation device), spray skirt, splash top, and a helmet if you are expecting rough water. – C



Not all kayaks are made equal. If you are a beginner, or planning to do recreational kayaking (mellow water), you very likely won’t notice much difference in the quality, so don’t go out and spend your entire savings on the fanciest one you can find. A more important thing to consider is how well the kayak fits you and your body type. A few features that are key are the outfitting (is it comfortable? Can you envision sitting in it all day? Can you get in and out easily?), the rudder, (is it easy to turn? Does the rudder move smoothly when you press on the foot pedals?), the storage space (are you planning on doing longer trips or just short day travel?), and lastly, the recommended weight range. With the weight range, you want to be somewhere in the middle, including the weight of the gear you plan to carry. If your gear weighs 15 lbs, add that to your weight and see if you still fall into the middle-range. Another consideration is whether you want a single or a double kayak. Double kayaks are quite fun when both paddlers are good, or if you plan to have a kid along for the ride. They are also nicknamed “divorce boats,” so unless you have a partner with whom you communicate well and will still like at the end of a day of paddling through wind with water whipping in your face, or if you tip over (worst case scenario, yes, but always a possibility). For a great, in depth article about picking a kayak based on skill and purpose, click here (LINK TO



The main differences in paddles are the materials used to make them, the blade shape, the feathering, and the length. The length is based on your height and arm span. A paddle that is too long with put unnecessary stress on your shoulders. A paddle that is too short will prevent good technique and reduce your effectiveness. Know the specifications of the boat for which you are planning to use the paddle because the width of the cockpit is the most important factor. If your paddle is too short and doesn’t reach over the edges well, kayak touring will be frustrating rather than fun.


Blades: Touring kayak blades come in a couple different shapes, primarily curved and flat. A curved blade is more advanced and will give you better purchase on each stroke. It also cuts through the water better and is easier to use for bracing. A flat paddle will work fine for recreational paddling, but if you plan to do anything challenging or long, get a curved blade.


Materials you can choose from in broad categories are wood, carbon fiber, plastic and aluminum. Wood is pretty. It works well too, but it takes a fair amount of care to keep it well-maintained. Carbon fiber is lightweight and durable. It’s also much more expensive (hundreds more in many cases). If you can get your hands on an affordable carbon fiber paddle, buy it. Plastic paddles are mostly for beginners, but there are varying levels and types. There are also some composite paddles that have carbon fiber blades and plastic shafts, or plastic blades and aluminum shafts, or some combination of carbon fiber, plastic, and aluminum. Know what your planned activities are and how long you plan to paddle most days. A less expensive paddle is perfectly suited for a shorter day of recreational touring. If you are planning a kayak expedition, splurge on an awesome paddle.



Get one that is US Coast Guard approved Type III or V. Make sure that it is comfortable. Look at the weight recommendations and the dimensions. Make sure you have full range of motion both for paddling and for swimming. Type V pfds are designed for rescue, so if you have any interest in taking others out, it’s not a bad idea to have a quick release and tow rope option.


Spray Skirt or Spray Deck:

Most of them are made out of neoprene. Some are made out of a waterproof nylon. Either is fine. Check that the waist size fits you when you have all your gear on and that the cockpit size fits your boat. You don’t want the spray skirt to be too loose, however it will be frustrating if it’s too tight and you struggle to get it on every time. A good test is to think about whether you would be able to get the skirt on by yourself if your hands were freezing.


Splash top or drytop:

Just as the names suggest, a drytop will keep you completely dry when it is paired with your spray skirt and you are sitting in your kayak. They usually have a rubber gasket, or at the very least a tight-fitting neoprene gasket. For big waves, open ocean, or cold weather, a drytop is highly recommended. A splash top is perfect for protecting you from getting misty on a windy day or if the weather is warm and you are lucky enough to be paddling in the tropics. For flat water paddling and recreational touring, a splash top, or even a rain coat, will suffice.


Helmet: most touring kayakers and sea kayakers don’t wear helmets. Conditions and destinations will determine whether you choose to or not. Basically, if your head gets in a fight with a rock, it will lose. Sea cave exploring and rough water near shore would be the main places to consider wearing one. Also, they help keep your head warm.

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