Best Paddling Accessories for Comfort in the Cockpit

Whether you’re goal is adventure or serenity, a few hours in a kayak can put a  grin on your face from start to finish. Unless of course, you’re not comfortable for one reason or another. As we look ahead to warmer days and our first paddling trips of the season, I asked two of our most prolific paddlers within the EMS family for their thoughts on the little things that make a huge difference in the quality of your time on the water. Some of them are obvious, but easy to forget. Others may not be necessary if you’re just messing around in a recreational kayak for an hour or two. That said, it’s always good to know about the different kinds of paddling accessories available to you that can make kayaking even more fun.

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“I’m not one for too many accessories,” says Justin Chase, a regular contributor to this blog. “but I’m a pretty big fan of small dry bags.” Loksak super durable zipper closure bags are available in a 4-pak of assorted sizes and are great for making small creature comforts much easier to deal with.  If you’re bringing a camera, phone, tablet or something else that’s absolutely, 100% got to stay dry (handled roughly, dry pouches can get ripped…) and not get crushed, a dry box is the best bet, and also available in a variety of sizes.  ‘Bombproof’ protection  is cheaper than replacement.

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Once you have your valuables in individual plastic bags, you may want to get them out of your way in the form of a dry bag or a deck bag. The Access from Sea to Summit above lashes to the deck so it’s out of your way yet easy to get into when you need your camera or snacks.  Snacks are always important to bring along. In the immortal words of Brook Burke: “Bonking on the far side of the lake with 2 miles into a headwind back to the car is NO FUN.  Paddling is like cycling, hiking and running- you’re not just floating, you’re working.  Feed the fire.”And once you’ve fed the fire, you’ll want to quench your thirst so Brook also recommends an Insulated Steel Water Bottle to keep water cold.  Get one with a loop top, tie a cord to the loop, and use a keychain size carabiner to clip it into the seatback strap.  That will prevent it from rolling too far into the boat, keep it out of the way in the seating area, and prevent loss as well.  Drink frequently.  The first signs of dehydration are headache and yellow pee, so drink often enough to pee often.

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While keeping stuff out of the cockpit makes things much more comfy, Justin Chase’s best piece of advice to people is choose your paddle carefully. “It’s often more important than the boat,” he says. “If the kayak is the pack, than the paddle is the boots. Choose carefully. Length, gauge, material, blade size, etc all make a huge difference in the day.” At Eastern Mountain Sports, you’ll find paddles ranging from the two-piece $400 Werner Kalliste Carbon Paddle to the $100 Sunlgass paddle from Bending Branches that’s made from fiberglass.

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Justin is also  a big fan of a properly fitted PFD like the KOKOKAT Bahia Touring Vest with front pockets for cameras and maps. Brook Burke from ems.com agrees and adds: “A PFD is like a seatbelt, but more comfortable to wear and with more choices to choose from. There is simply no good reason to accept the risk of not wearing one!”

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One of the best ways to feel comfortable in the cockpit of your kayak is to be confident in the fact that you are visible to other boaters, especially in high-traffic areas that are popular with power boats. Reflective tape is always good but to really stand out, consider the Seattle Sports Hydrostar Multistrobe. The wide suction cup  makes it easy to mount to any deck for hands-free, worry-free illumination.

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Now let’s talk about sun protection. First and foremost, DON’T be the person who forgets their sunglasses at home. I don’t care if you have to keep a pair of fold-up Ferrari sunglasses from the ’80s in the pocket of your PFD. Whatever it takes to keep the magnified glare of the suns rays out of your sensitive eyes, DO IT. Next is lip balm with an SPF ratingwaterproof sunscreen, and bug repellent.  Nothing mars the memory of a beautiful sunny day on the water than blistered lips or cooked hands.  Beware of deet-based bug repellents that can stain or possibly damage some sportswear fabrics.   Don’t forget- if you’re wearing shorts in a sit insdie kayak, the sun can still fry your upper thighs. For additional sun protection, consider one of our long-sleeve Techwick shirts so you don’t have to worry about your arms getting burned. Techwick is light weight, dries fast and feels like a second skin without overheating you. Floppy sun hats may look goofy, but it’s not nearly as embarrassing as having a pair of ears that look like fried pork rinds because your cool-looking baseball cap left them exposed to the scorching sun. Just make sure your sun hat has a good chin strap prevent unplanned windy sprints.

Screen Shot 2014-04-10 at 5.22.54 PMFor comfort on land, in the water and on the water, nothing beats a good pair of water shoes. Can you get by with sneakers, flip flops, sandals or even bare feet? Of course you can. But water logged sneakers are no fun, flip flops are prone to floating away, sandals leave you open to scrapes and bare feet are just begging for trouble from every angle. A quality pair of water shoes that fit well, drain quickly, and protect your soles from natural and man-made pointy objects that hurt will make you a happy paddler for years to come.

What are YOUR favorite paddling accessories? Leave a comment and share your wisdom!