Akayak and the right kayak gear and accessories allows you to be in the great outdoors and on the water comfortably, safely and more often. Having a good kayak is not enough. To thrive, you need all the proper kayaking gear and accessories to match your kayak, the waterway, the environment and weather conditions, and the type and length of adventures on which you will be happiest.

I’m going kayaking, what do I need?

Well, it depends. On warm and sunny summer afternoons at the lake, you may need just a paddle, life jacket and just a few safety items compared to what you may pack for a week-long kayak camping trip on the ocean or a run down a class III whitewater river. The gear and equipment you need to go kayaking depend on many different factors, like: the type of kayak, the waterway you’re paddling, the conditions, the temperature of the water and air, the distance and duration you’ll be paddling, and why you’re out there in the first place. There is a basic essentials list for every type of kayaking and then there is all the extra stuff—the fun stuff and the gear and equipment making life on the water or around camp more comfortable and enjoyable.

The Basics

The kayak gear and accessories basics list could be as short as a paddle and a life jacket. But this is still not enough to satisfy basic safety requirements in many regions, nor is it best practice. Check your local regulations to be sure.

If you want to keep your lunch dry, the basics list just got longer. If you want to stay dry or catch a fish, even longer still. The basics list here is required by law and/or recommended in most regions and should be considered the bare minimum. Most kayakers always have more with them. Add to your basics list from the specific kayak gear and accessory lists below.

PHOTO: Eddyline Kayaks
PHOTO: Eddyline Kayaks

Recreational Kayak Gear

Recreational kayaks are typically used in protected waters and for shorter trips, usually less than a full day. Recreational kayak gear is typically less rugged and less expensive than the kayak touring gear required for bigger adventures in more adverse conditions.

At one time, recreational kayak gear and accessories were synonymous with cheap gear to go with cheap kayaks. But don’t be fooled, these days there’s a lot of research and development put into designing this stuff and, while typically not as expensive, it can be very functional.

Reputable paddling brands are making good quality recreational kayak gear and accessories. For example: Recreational kayak life jackets are designed with flotation higher on your back, so it rides above the high seat backs; paddle builders balance weight and durability with fair prices; and better recreational technical apparel may keep you dry but may not be as flashy or breathable like the fancy technical fabrics which are three times the cost. You get the idea.

There is an almost endless range of recreational kayak accessories you can stuff inside your cockpit and hatch or strap to your kayak deck. What do you need? First figure out when, where and how you’ll be using your recreational kayak most often and then dive into the links below to get yourself comfortable, safe and enjoying every minute of being on the water.

Delta Kayaks
PHOTO: Delta Kayaks

[ Everything you need for recreational kayaking ]

Photo: Necky Kayaks
Photo: Necky Kayaks

Touring Gear

What’s the difference between recreational kayaking gear and accessories and kayak touring or sea kayaking gear and accessories?

For one, touring kayaks and recreational kayaks are quite different requiring different gear and accessories. For example, touring kayak spray decks are smaller than recreational spray skirts, if recreational paddlers use them at all. Secondly, kayak touring implies you’re going somewhere, often for longer than a few hours, maybe a weekend, or maybe a month.

Kayak touring gear and accessories may look similar and offer the same functionality as rec kayaking gear and accessories, but it’s manufactured with premium materials, it’s lighter, more durable, more comfortable, breathable, more expensive and generally better quality. The general thinking is, if you’re going to be using it or wearing it for longer periods of time you’ll want a better version of whatever it is. Also, if you’re out for longer and paddling in more adverse conditions, there are kayak touring gear and accessory items on our list recreational kayakers may never need on sunny afternoons on the lake, like VHF radios, drysuits and helmets. Kayak touring amps up the adventure and gives us a good excuse to go shopping in the Paddling Buyer’s Guide for more gear and accessories.

Photo: Necky Kayaks
Photo: Necky Kayaks

PHOTO: Vibe Kayaks
PHOTO: Vibe Kayaks

Kayak Fishing Gear

Shopping for kayak fishing gear is first like shopping for recreational kayak and touring kayak gear. Then add all the extra kayak fishing gear and accessories specific to finding, catching and managing fish. Kayak fishing life jackets have extra pockets and fishy colors; kayak fishing paddles tend to be adjustable with innovative angler features; and kayak fishing technical apparel offers features, color and fit for anglers.

What kayak fishing gear and accessories do you need? The very basic kayak fishing gear is a rod or fishing pole holder and a fancy version of a milk crate to store tackle trays and hold other gear and accessories. After that, the sky’s the limit, really. If it swims, there is kayak fishing gear to catch it. If you can put it on a bass boat, there is a way to mount it on your kayak.

PHOTO: Confluence Watersports
PHOTO: Confluence Watersports

PHOTO: Pyranha
PHOTO: Pyranha

Whitewater Gear

Running rapids, dropping waterfalls, and surfing river waves requires a list of specialized whitewater kayak gear and accessories. You’ll want a life jacket with a greater range of motion and features, neoprene spray skirt, protective helmet, durable paddle, and sticky river shoes. Anyone kayaking rivers should also carry a throw bag of rope, whistle and rescue knife as basic whitewater kayak safety gear. Whitewater technical apparel is designed primarily to keep you dry and warm on and off the river. What you need to wear on any given day depends on water and air temperature.

PHOTO: Confluence Watersports
PHOTO: Confluence Watersports

PHOTO: Pyranha
PHOTO: Pyranha

Kayak Camping Gear

The best part about kayak camping is you don’t have to carry all the gear on your back. In whitewater kayaks, you have to be miserly with gear, however kayak camping with full-sized expedition touring kayaks can be quite comfortable. Kayak camping with some buddies sharing the load among a few boats is truly luxury in the great outdoors.

You’ll need a tent, tarp or other type of shelter and a sleeping bag. For sit-inside kayaks, make sure your tent poles and other awkwardly shaped items fit through your hatches and you have trustworthy dry bags or cases for everything. Kayak camping kitchen stoves and pots must also be small enough to fit through the kayak hatches. Sit-on-top kayaks can be loaded up for kayak camping using dry bags and cases. Either way, food should be packed in sealed bags and again in small drybags, organized by day or type of meal. After a few trips, you’ll figure out your own systems of what to bring on quick overnighters and multi-day trips.

PHOTO: Pexels
PHOTO: Pexels
  • tent, tarp or other type of shelter
  • sleeping bag
  • Sleeping pad
  • dry bags or cases
  • camping kitchen stoves with fuel
  • pots
  • Kitchen utensils (mug, plate, bowl, spork, etc.)
  • Water purification system
  • Personal hygiene (toiletries)

Complete Kayak Gear and Accessories List

Explore our online Paddling Buyer’s Guide for a complete roundup of the latest kayak gear and accessories for recreational kayaking, kayak touring, kayak fishing and whitewater from the top paddling brands.

PHOTO: Confluence Watersports
PHOTO: Confluence Watersports


Life Jackets (PFDs)

PHOTO: Confluence Watersports
PHOTO: Confluence Watersports


PHOTO: Confluence Watersports
PHOTO: Confluence Watersports

Nate Eades by John Niebling


PHOTO: Old Town & Ocean Kayak
PHOTO: Old Town & Ocean Kayak

Best Kayak Gear & Accessories

The best kayak gear and accessories are specifically manufactured by paddling gear and accessory brands and typically sold in specialty canoeing and kayaking shops, rather than Walmart or other box-store sporting goods stories. The best kayak gear and accessories are also designed specifically for their intended use or, in some cases, are the best because they serve many functions.

The best kayak gear and accessories also tend to be the most expensive. Why? Superior materials cost more but result in quality kayak gear that is lighter, more breathable, more comfortable while still being more durable. Better kayak gear and accessories have more features with a higher-quality fit and finish. Some of the best new kayak gear and accessories are those designed specifically for women and kids because it fits well, welcoming more people into kayaking.

After that, “best” boils down to personal preference and what’s available—the best life jacket, for example, is the one you have on when you need it.

  • Breathable
  • Light
  • Durable
  • Value
  • Fitting
  • Functions
  • Matched to your needs, exactly what you need

The best kayak gear and accessories are always improving as materials and designs evolve. What’s the best, or the best you can afford now, may not be the best the next time you need it or when you move to the ocean or take up whitewater kayaking.

Cool Kayak Accessories & Gear

There’s what you need, and then there’s what’s just damn cool to have. Like long-lasting, lightweight lithium power for lights and other electronics. Or really good-fitting child and infant life jackets they will actually wear. Carbon fiber anything is just plain sexy, but paddles… ooh la la. The only people who don’t think waterproof and breathable drysuits are cool must paddle south of the Mason-Dixon line or have never tried one. Truck drivers are cool; truck drivers pull trailers; therefore trailers are cool, even kayak trailers. 10-4?

Gear and Accessory Brands

There are kayak gear and accessory brands who just make technical apparel, paddles, PFDs and accessories. Some specialize just in kayak fishing accessories. More recently, kayak brands themselves are transitioning into making gear specifically designed to fit with their boats and others. Look for kayak gear and accessory companies who stand behind their products with solid warranties. You will find the best kayak gear and accessory brands for sale in specialty paddling retail shops.

Gear and Accessory Reviews

Here you have 20 years of kayak gear and accessory tests and reviews by the editors and friends of Paddling Magazine. Good kayak gear and accessories will last and paddlers have never really cared too much about style it just gets more tested. Even the older stuff shown here is mostly still available through specialty retail paddling shops or in your buddy’s closet.

Where to Buy Kayak Gear and Accessories

Kayak gear & accessories in the Paddling Buyer’s Guide

The Paddling Buyer’s Guide has the widest selection of kayak gear and accessories with thousands of products from hundreds of trusted kayak gear and accessory brands. Shop by category and filter by just about anything that would be a deal maker or breaker. Then click through to buy direct or find a dealer near you. Shop now.

Kayak gear & accessories at REI

Wander into the paddling section of an REI or shop at REI.com and you’ll be able to get just about anything—not everything from every brand but something in almost every kayak gear and accessory category from good kayak gear and accessory companies. If you can’t find what you’re looking for at REI, wander into the neighboring local paddling shop, they will probably have the rest.

Kayak gear & accessories on Amazon

Can you buy kayak gear and accessories on Amazon? Yup, more people do every day. Most core kayak gear and accessory companies wish their stuff was sold only in specialty kayaking shops where knowledgeable sales teams can outfit paddlers with expert advice, not Amazon. Shopping on Amazon for kayak gear and accessories? Be wary of inflated consumer reviews and knock-off, lesser-quality fakes of authentic paddling brands. Buy from trusted retailers on Amazon. Pay attention to return policies. Double check shipping fees. And don’t go try gear and accessories at your local paddling shop and then buy in on Amazon… nobody likes that. Support local retail.

Kayak gear & accessories at Walmart

Yes, you can buy kayak gear and accessories at Walmart. You can also buy toilet paper, shovels, tires and shitty power tools. Walmart sales staff don’t know what kayak gear and accessories you need, they are not paddling experts, they sell baseball gloves and potted plants. A rollback is not the same as a back deck roll. Lots of avid paddlers started here but soon find themselves looking for better. See above, the basics for recreational kayak gear and accessories and be sure to at least pick up a life jacket.


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