Choosing The Right Gear
What do you need?
In some water sports, accessories, clothing, and gear enhance your performance. For recreational use, they simply make you more comfortable and enhance safety.
Start by defining your needs with these questions. What sport will you be using it for? Where will you be using it? What kind of weather conditions? How long will you be on the water? How far will you have to carry gear?
To be properly outfitted, you should assume that someone will get wet, and that it will
be colder, and warmer, than you expect. Carry extra clothing in a waterproof bag. Don't forget about your cell phone and camera - they need protection from the water too.
(Shop Water-Proof Bags)
Apparel needs vary depending upon the sport, weather, and temperature of the water. In general, though, they should protect you from wind, sun, and cold if necessary, dry quickly, and fit comfortably, allowing for ease of movement when active. Layers work best for a long day of changing conditions and activities.
Fibers and fabrics play a big part in satisfying the above needs. They are of primary importance in the abrasion resistance of the garment when subjected to a rough pool deck, or rubbing against the inside of a kayak, rock surfaces, or brush.
- Cotton is used in tee shirts, swim shorts, and pants. It is soft and absorbent, but takes a long time to dry and is very heavy when wet.
- Nylon is the most popular fiber for water sports, and is used for water shorts, blended with Lycra for swim wear, and coated, for water repellency, when used for paddling jackets and pants. It is popular for its strength, abrasion resistance, and quick drying properties, but does degrade in UV light. Smooth nylon/Lycra knits are roughed up when abraded, but do not lose their strength.
- Lycra is blended with other fibers to make fabric that will stretch but return to shape. It allows for a comfortable, form fitting garment. High heat will degrade the fiber, so it should not be put in the dryer, and chlorine will eventually break it down.
- Neoprene is a gas-blown, closed-cell rubber foam that provides the ultimate insulation. The air bubbles in the rubber help insulate, and can't be saturated. Because it fits snugly, and it must, the little water that does get in is warmed quickly by your body and remains warm. It completely sheds water and wind, is available in different thicknesses, and is used for wet suits, shorts, tops, footwear and headwear.
- Polartec Thermal Stretch has 4-way Lycra stretch for close fit and freedom of movement. Because of the nylon face (protection from abrasion, wind, and water) and polyester thermal lining (wicking and siphoning properties), garments have excellent thermal insulation for sports such as surfing and warm water diving. It is more comfortable than standard 2-3 mm neoprene for diving, and is neutrally buoyant. Inside, brushed polyester velour is soft and insulating. Improved knitting technology results in a more waterproof and more breathable fabric.
Paddling jackets and pants keep the water out, but also keep the heat and perspiration in since they seal tightly at the neck, wrist, ankle, and sometimes the waist. These fit like outerwear and are usually worn over one or multiple layers, depending on the temperature. Features to look for include: Seals at the neck, wrist, ankle, and waist. These are created by rubber gaskets, lightweight Lycra blend fabric, or lightweight neoprene, or a combination of these for maximum protection. Velcro closures with double folds and gussets effectively seal out the water. Sealed seams on the coated and treated fabrics that make up the body of the jacket or pants. Fabrics vary in weight; the heavier ones are warmer, but allow less ease of movement. Anatomically shaped seat, knees and arms are more comfortable for sitting, kneeling, and moving. Pockets of zippered mesh keep items accessible, but they will get wet. Those with a Velcro, double fold closure made of coated fabric are not as accessible, but will keep items dry. (Shop Paddling Clothing)
Wet suits and skins provide protection from cold (wet suits) and sun (skins), but do not keep you dry. Wet suits are made from neoprene and are heavier weight; skins are a Lycra blend that protects from sun and water spray. Both fit snugly for ease of movement, so flat locked seams will keep chaffing to a minimum. Other details to look for are: Inserts and gussets, in the underarm and crotch, take the seaming out of these high abrasion areas, and allow greater range of movement. Anatomically shaped seat, knees and arms for comfort when sitting, kneeling, and moving. Easy zipper access, generally in the front, however, shortalls (sleeveless and knee length) often zip up the back. It is important that the design allows you to put it on without help. (Shop Wet Suits)
Socks, made from polyester fleece, acrylic, olefin, or wool can be worn with sandals or water shoes in cold or wet weather. Since they will get wet, their ability to insulate when wet, absorb little moisture, and dry quickly is important.
Hats keep you cooler in hot weather, and warmer in cold weather while protecting your face from the sun. Straw, cotton, polyester fleece, and nylon are the most common materials, but if you are depending on it for warmth, cotton is not a good choice. Specialty models have flotation in the brim (not for you, for the hat) and/or are part of a head layering system. (Shop Hats)
Gloves should have a good gripping surface on the palm for paddling, and dry quickly. Neoprene and/or synthetic fleece will insulate, while mesh will breathe and be cool in hot weather. (Shop Paddling Gloves)
FOOTWEAR BOOTIES, in neoprene, or mesh and neoprene, give you maximum support and protection. Neoprene soles are easier to get into a flipper, but rubber soles offer more protection and better traction. Ankle straps provide a more secure fit. (Shop Paddling Booties)
Water shoes (aqua socks) make a good land/water shoe that dries quickly (no more
squishy tennis shoes), and protects your feet from rocks. The new generation are really worth trying.
(Shop Men's Water Shoes) (Shop Women's Water Shoes)
EVA (closed cell foam) is a good insole cushion, but this softer material will break down faster than rubber, and hold water. The fit should be tight, in whitewater use, so they aren't pulled off by the current. Mesh with a 4-way stretch is the most comfortable, but also more expensive. Added layers of mesh or neoprene help to reinforce the high stress areas of heel and toe.
Sport sandals are not just for water sports. There are models designed for hiking, basketball, trail running, and more. As sport sandals have moved into activity specific models, the need for protection and support has led to built-up models that are neither a sandal nor a shoe. Hook-and-loop adjustable closures, on tubular nylon webbing straps, still dominate, but a latch-buckle system is more secure in wet conditions. Most sport sandals have anatomically designed foot beds to keep the foot snugly in place, and athletic shoe cushioning systems for comfort. Many feature enclosed toes, heel, and/or forefoot, padded support for comfort and protection, and heel counters to keep the foot centered. Recycled rubber is being used to produce lug soles with aggressive tread patterns for hiking, and "sticky" rubber soles grip wet surfaces and rock with ease. (Shop Men's Sport Sandals) (Shop Women's Sport Sandals)
PFD's (Personal Flotation Devices) Federal Regulations require the use of a PFD. You must have at least one Coast Guard approved personal flotation device (approval rating is marked in the label) for each person in your recreational boat. Consider it inexpensive life insurance. Oh, yeah, they even have them for your dog. Many dogs love to go boating and these life vests have a most useful handle at the top! (Shop PFD's)
- TYPE 1 - The most buoyant, it is designed to turn most unconscious persons from a face down position to a vertical, slightly backward position. It is required for commercial boat use and is suitable for all waters, especially rescue might be delayed.
- TYPE 2 - Also designed to turn the wearer to a vertical, slightly backward position in the water. The turning action is not as pronounced as with a Type 1, and it will not turn as many persons under the same conditions. Usually more comfortable to wear than the Type I, it is appropriate where there is a probability of quick rescue; such as areas with a lot of boating, fishing, and other water activities.
- TYPE 3 - Designed so that after the wearer places themselves in a vertical, slightly backward position, it will maintain them in that position, without turning the wearer face down. The most comfortable to wear, it is usually the best choice for water sports, such as skiing, hunting, fishing, canoeing, and kayaking.
- TYPE 4 - These cushions or rings are designed to be grasped and held by the user until rescued. It is only suitable where there is a probability of quick rescue, and isn't recommended for non-swimmers.
- TYPE 5 - Approved for restricted use only. There are no Type 5 PFD's approved for use, as the only form of flotation, on recreational boats.
Buoyancy figures are based on the average body weight of 12 pounds (in the water). That's really all you weigh since most of your body is water! Effective buoyancy is the amount of "extra" flotation above that 12 pound average that is provided. For example: a PFD with a buoyancy of 15.5 provides an "extra" 3.5 pounds of effective buoyancy.
Fit should be comfortable and snug, but don't alter it to fit; find one that is right for you. If your stomach is larger than your chest, be cautious about the PFD riding up, and sitting around your ears when in the water. Crotch straps prevent the PFD from being pulled from your body, under extreme conditions. They should be removed if you aren't using them.
There are two general categories of paddles; whitewater and touring. The choices between feathered or un-feathered blades, how long the shaft should be and how the blade should be shaped are all determined by you, your boat size, and your intended use. (Shop Paddles)
- Whitewater paddles have shovel shaped, spooned blades, feathered at an 80-90deg; angle to one another. If you paddle rocky rivers, look for a synthetic paddle, or a wooden one with edge protection. (Shop Whitewater Paddles)
- Touring paddles are designed for flat water, or ocean paddling in a steady rhythm, for hours at a time. Usually longer than a whitewater paddle, the blades tend to be narrower, asymmetrical, and may or may not be feathered. (Shop Touring Paddles)
- Canoe paddles are designed for the wider beam of canoes, and the more upright position of paddling. Canoe paddles have a single blade, either flat or rounded, with the shafts available straight or bent. Traditional canoe paddles are wood, but graphite should be considered if weight is an issue. (Shop Canoe Paddles)
Blade types are many and varied. What's best depends on the type of paddling you will be doing, your physical strength, and the type of water you will be paddling in.
- Size is most important. The larger blades provide stability and power, and are good for low stroke rate activities such as whitewater. The smaller blades are best for high stroke rates such as day-long cruising on flat water.
- Shaped, curved, or spoon blades will grab more water than flat ones of equal size, but cost more. Asymmetrical spoon blades with ribs and "dihedral" foils (added to eliminate flutter caused by wide spoon blades that grip the water too well) are most efficient but even more costly. Feathered blades are preferred by about 75% of all kayak paddlers. The disadvantage is that one hand must control the blade angle by twisting the shaft slightly with each stroke, which can lead to tendonitis. Feathered touring paddles will be at a 70-90deg; angle, and whitewater paddles at 80-90deg;.
Length of the paddle from tip to tip is based on the width of the boat and your height. If the boat is 24" wide or less, reach directly overhead (comfortably) with one hand. Any paddle that comes within the span from wrist to fingertips will do to start. This is us ually about 7 feet for an adult male, or 210 centimeters. For kayaks wider than 24", three times the kayak's width is a sensible minimum overall paddle length. Eight feet for a 32" wide touring double kayak is common. Paddles for touring kayaks are longer since shorter paddles require an increased stroke rate.
High and low Angle
In sea kayak touring there are two common, yet very different, paddling styles, Low Angle and High Angle. These styles correlate to the angle of the shaft in relation to the surface of the water. Low Angle is the most common paddling style. It is a more relaxed touring style and relaxed cadence. Low Angle designs have longer and narrower blades designed to pull through each stroke with the right amount of surface area for good power while maintaining a smooth forward stroke. High Angle paddling is typically a more aggressive style of paddling with a faster cadence and a larger variety of strokes being used on each paddle outing. High angle designs have short wide blades for a powerful catch and stroke with a slight dihedral for smooth linking strokes. High Angle designs work best when used with shorter paddle lengths of 205cm - 215cm. The combination of shorter paddle length and a shorter wide blade allows the right amount of balanced blade area to enter the water sooner, supporting a faster cadence, without having to over extend the upper arm.
Swing weight is important, especially with touring paddles. It’s the dynamic weight you lift during a stroke. A paddle with a good swing weight will reduce fatigue, be well balanced, and have light weight blades. In contrast, a paddle with heavy blades will offer an undesirable swing weight and may fatigue a kayaker quickly. Be aware that published weights do not indicate swing weight. Two paddles may publish the same weight yet have very different swing weights. One may have weight savings in the blades with a good swing weight, while another has all the weight savings in the shaft with a less desirable swing weight. A simple test of swing weight is to hold a paddle horizontal with one hand and tip it from side to side. It should be light and balanced. Compare several paddles and note the difference in swing weights. Werner paddles have carefully distributed weight to be well balanced and offer a light swing weight. For even lighter swing weights we offer all our Performance models in a light weight carbon fiber construction. You're smart, you do the math. On any outing it doesn't take long for a few ounces to quickly add into pounds.
- PFD or personal flotation device is not an option, but a necessary piece of equipment. Some places require them, but they are always advised. (Shop PFD's)
- Rescue throw bags, a rope coiled inside a small nylon bag, are thrown (the bag) while holding onto the rope end. The weight swiftly plays out the line, and it can be thrown a good distance. (Shop Rescue Bags)
- Drybags are rubberized bags that keep your gear dry, and are available in different sizes from fanny packs to large bags. Some of the larger ones have carrying straps so you can wear it like a backpack. (Shop Dry Bags)
- Mesh storage bags, duffel style, help to transport, and store wet gear without mildewing. (Shop Mesh Bags)
- Hipboards, or seat sides, in river and sea kayaks give you bracing to prevent lateral sliding. (Shop Braces)
- Back braces provide support for the back as well as a brace that, when using the foot braces, keeps you correctly positioned in the boat. (Shop Seats)
- Spray skirts are used on river and sea kayaks to seal out the water. Worn at the waist, the "skirt" seals over a lip on the opening of the kayak. They are generally made of neoprene and/or nylon. (Shop Spray Skirts)
- Bilge pumps are used to pump out water from a river or sea kayak and are much more convenient and effective than bailing. (Shop Kayak and Canoe Pumps)
Rules of the water
- Always, always wear a life jacket.
- Prepare for weather changes. Cold is cold, but being wet and cold can cause you to lose valuable body heat 35 times faster than when you are dry.
- Sun can also be a problem. Reflected glare from the water can hurt your eyes and cause you to burn faster. Good sunglasses, sunscreen, and a hat can help to keep you comfortable.
- Don't discard waste, food, or trash in the water. Shorelines and areas near the water are often fragile; take care when using them.
- If you fall overboard into rapid water, position yourself sitting in the water with your feet in front of you (to protect your body from rocks) and face downstream (so you can see where you are going). Attempt to position yourself upstream of and behind your boat, holding on to the upstream grab loop.
- Drinking and boating don't mix.