Buying Right: A Few Essentials for the Well-Prepared Paddler

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Review, May 1997

Buying Right: A Few Essentials for the Well-Prepared Paddler

By Jonathan Hanson

Since sea kayak accessories don't change fashion with the seasons, you'll be owning your gear for a good long time. Choose wisely.

The paddle affects your efficiency and comfort more than anything aside from — and perhaps including — the kayak itself. What paddle do you need? The best you can afford. That said, there are specifics to sort out. Paddles range from 220 centimeters to 260 centimeters in length; a shorter kayaker needs a short stick, natch, and vice versa.

The biggest design variable is blade width. Wide blades (seven or eight inches) provide more power and stronger bracing, while narrow blades (four or five inches) catch less wind and are easier to use for long periods, reducing the chance of injuries. And since you'll be wielding it all day, get a lightweight paddle.

A good entry-level laminated wood paddle, such as the Sawyer Sea Feather ($146; 541-535-3606), with its seven-inch blades, will weigh around 40 ounces. My favorite all-arounder is the Werner Little Dipper ($205; 800-275-3311), a 35-ounce fiberglass model with four-and-a-half-inch blades. The Eddyline Swift ($239; 360-757-2300) lets you choose from three blade widths, the lightest and narrowest of which weighs just 28 ounces and has five-inch blades. One further note: Always carry a spare, but don't economize here. If you lose your main stick, you'll likely be in rough conditions — just where quality counts most.


Seda L33 PFD
The spray skirt keeps both paddle runoff and passing squalls out of your boat. All-nylon versions from Seda (800-322-7332) and Kokatat (800-225-9749), which cost between $35 and $70, work just fine, but better still are hybrids like the Sea Tour from Snap Dragon ($112; 206-957-3575), which combine a taut neoprene deck with a comfortable nylon chest tube. A nice extra for your spray skirt is the Kayak Safe ($20; 415-381-1421), a pull loop that releases you in a wet exit but stays attached to the boat so you can keep track of it.

Blowing cash on mundane necessities like personal flotation devices is no fun, but one full day of kayaking will convince you comfort is worth paying extra for.

Spyderco Clipit
So pick a channeled foam PFD rather than a slab-sided model. Good ones, such as Seda's L33 ($59) and Extrasport's Gold Label ($75; 305-633-2945), are tailored to slip over a spray skirt. As for fit, look for unhindered shoulder rotation. And forget fashion — buy the brightest color you can stomach, for safety.

Water can breach even the best cargo hatches, so stash your stuff in dry bags, which coincidentally provide backup flotation. I prefer Dry Sacks from Seattle Sports Company ($7-$20; 800-632-6163) and the heavy-duty Black Canyon bags from Cascade Designs ($27-$41; 800-531-9531).

And should you become inextricably tied to your boat in rough waters, you'll appreciate a folding knife that can be opened with one hand. I like the Spyderco Clipits, such as the Delica ($45; 800-525-7770). You won't be sorry you spent the money.

Photographs by Clay Ellis

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