Littler Paddler Essentials

The best whitewater gear for kids

(Jessica Averett)
whitewater rafting gear for kids for youth

5 Essentials for Little Paddlers

Whether in a canoe, kayak, or a raft, going out on the water is something that everyone in the family can enjoy. But that doesn’t mean that it’s always easy: Getting kids ready for a couple of days on a river is like prepping them for a road trip, but even trickier. Get the right kind of gear, and everyone will have a lot more fun.

NRS Wetsock 2.0
Keen Newport H2 Sandals
MTI Children’s PFD
Jackson Fun 1 Kayak
Oakiwear One-Piece Boating Suit

Whitewater Kids: NRS Wetsock 2.0

NRS Wetsock 2.0 whitewater rafting gear for kids
(Courtesy of NRS)

We don’t normally advocate wearing socks with sandals, but we’ll make an exception for these neoprene beauties. Featuring titanium adhesive and flat-locked seams, the Wetsock provides the perfect combination of comfort, cushioning, and warmth without unnecessary bulk. Toss them on your little one’s feet for chilly morning put-ins or cold water wading along the shore. (If you can’t find these specialty socks, choose fast-drying Merino wool. It will absorb 30% of it’s weight in water, keeping your feet warmer and drier longer.)

Whitewater Kids: Keen Newport H2 Sandals

Keen Newport H2 Sandals whitewater rafting gear for kids
(Courtesy of Keen)

The old-school design of the Newport has stood the test of time—not just for the kiddos, but for moms and dads too. The rubberized toe box is a genius idea for protecting your kids’ piggies from stubbing on rocks and logs on all their water-filled adventures, and the webbing uppers allow for quick-drying breathability. After years of using these shoes in our family, I can only come up with one complaint: They sure do stink after a while. Luckily, the entire shoe is machine-washable.

Whitewater Kids: MTI Children’s PFD

MTI Children’s PFD lifejacket for kids whitewater gear
(Courtesy of MTI)

It goes without saying that kids need a personal flotation device if they’re going on the water. For children 30 to 50 pounds, the MTI Children’s PFD is a great option. Designed with comfort in mind, the crotch and waist straps provide a secure fit without riding up, while the front zipper only goes halfway up the chest, allowing your child to have complete freedom of movement. Made with rugged fabric, it’s durable enough to stand up to adventures through riverside brush.

Whitewater Kids: Jackson Fun 1 Kayak

Jackson Fun 1 Kayak whitewater rafting kids gear for kids
(Courtesy of Jackson)

There’s not a cuter sight on the water than seeing your little river-rats-in-training in their own kayak. However, that much cuteness does come at a price, and this little boat sports a hefty one. But don’t let the cost deter you: A weight range of 30 to 80 pounds means your child can use this boat through his or her childhood. As Jackson’s first kid-specific kayak, the Fun 1 is a great way for your budding kayaker to learn how to paddle, roll, or even pull some tricks.

Whitewater Kids: Oakiwear One-Piece Boating Suit

Oakiwear One-Piece Boating Suit whitewater rafting for kids boating suit
(Courtesy of Oakiwear)

This handy dandy waterproof suit is built for any and all adventures of the wet and wild variety, from cool-weather boating trips to puddle-jumping in the backyard. The suit is easy to get on and off, even over shoe, while the hood stays in place and doesn’t fall into the eyes. Even sized with room to grow, it’s lightweight and bulk-free. Best of all, it’s easy to clean: When my son Canaan was around a year old, he wore this suit almost non-stop through a particularly rainy spring, and it still looked brand-new by the end of the season.

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