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 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!


Paddling the Concord River in Massachusetts

Thank you so much to reader, Jared, who after reading my last article of off-season paddling on Great Marsh, asked for some more trip ideas. This one should work for Jared and anyone else in New England who wants to extend the paddling season while enjoying some history in addition to natural wonder.

For many paddlers, this cool weather has marked the end of the boating season. It shouldn’t. New England is packed with awesome reaches on which to drop a boat well into winter. Most notably of these is the Concord River in Massachusetts – the sight of first battle of the American Revolution and the shot heard around the world. Flowing East just sixteen miles from Northwest Boston, the Concord offers late-season paddlers plenty of mellow water sheltered from wind by towering oaks, willows, and birch. The water is cold so you’ll definitely want to take extra care on your trip but the calm conditions and proximity to shore are such that a drysuit is not required but a good pair of paddling gloves is a VERY nice thing to have.

Approaching the Old North Bridge on the Concord River.

Trading traditional New England landscapes for a trip through history makes for some seriously awesome paddling this time of year. For a short trip upriver to the bridge made famous by Longfellow’s poem, Concord Hymn, put in from the public launch off Lowell Road. From there it’s a short, quarter-mile trip past bronze flood plains to the Old North Bridge, where Minute Men and British Soldiers first met in battle.

The Old North Bridge, with my canoe landed nearby.

Located in Minute Man National Park, Old North Bridge is a stunningly preserved/refurbished piece of history. Arching high over the water, to see it from a kayak or canoe is to enjoy a vantage not shared by thousands of others who visit the park each year. Making things even better, landing on either shore is permissible and offers quick, easy access to cross the bridge without the hassle of lines and a crowded parking lot.

A Farmer-Soldier, atop the votive stone at Minute Man National Park. The beginning of Longfellow’s Concord Hymn, “The Shot Heard Around the World.”

When you’re paddling the Concord River, you can extend the trip by traveling downriver a mile or so, under an old stone bridge and through Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge. For such a suburban location, the quiet and solitude is surprising. Undeveloped shores lined with tall grasses, scraggly old trees, and leaning willows lead into the town of Carlisle and beyond to Little Meadow Conservation Area. With a current gentle enough to paddle against on the return trip, a trek downriver will provide a great day out on the water, enjoying some history and New England November beauty.

Paddling through Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge in Concord, MA.



Paddling the Perkiomen in Pennsylvania

kayaksA few weeks ago, our Collegeville, PA store staff posted an eye-catching photo on their Facebook wall of a huge group of people paddling the Perkiomen Creek.


After counting 30 different paddlers, I figured there had to be a story so I called Tim Swavely who handles local outreach in Collegeville. On August 3rd, “The Perkiomen Creek Sojourn” was organized by the Perkiomen Watershed Conservancy. The day-long paddle/water quality study session turned out to be a fantastic way to get people on the water and help them understand the history, current conditions and importance of the Perkiomen Watershed to the health of the greater Philadelphia area.

Tim ensured the Collegeville store’s fleet of rental kayaks was available and handled all the put in and take out logistics. He also supervised the paddling party atop his stand up paddleboard. Originally scheduled for June 8, the sojourn had been postponed due to the rainiest June on record. “In a normal summer, paddling the Perkiomen would have been impossible because the water level would be too low. Not this year, we had an incredible day (despite even MORE rain) and learned everyone learned a lot. I particularly enjoyed the looks I got from people as I followed along on my SUP. Folks had no idea you could use a stand up paddleboard on a lazy river so it was cool to let people know what the sport is all about.”

Stopping to conduct water quality tests for the Perkiomen Watershed Conservancy.

In addition to just paddling the Perkiomen, the 31 paddlers conducted an invertebrate study to assess the health of the Perkiomen which feeds into the Schuylkill River, a major source of drinking water. According to Tim, the team assisted with an invertebrate study. Certain invertebrates can only live in high quality water, so finding them is obviously a good thing. “We learned how to tell if leeches were present simply by picking up rocks,” Tim explained. “We also brushed off the invertebrates into a cup and analyzed them under mini microscopes.” During the course of their assessment, the sojourn group discovered that an invasive species of crayfish had arrived and was eating the native crayfish. Information like this is invaluable to the Perkiomen Watershed Conservancy and was fascinating for everyone in the group.

Paddling the Perkiomen is a great way to spend a day with lots of great scenery and sightings of great blue herons, green herons, bald eagles, chimney swifts, kingfishers and rough winged swallows. If you’re interested in a checking out Perkiomen Creek yourself, please give Tim in our Collegeville store a call at 610-226-3995.