O utfitting the cockpit of a kayak can make all the difference for those who are struggling with their roll, unable to paddle consistently, and worse, spending a lot of time on shore trying to stretch out cramps.

“It’s pretty obvious who spends the time outfitting their boat properly,” says Billy Harris, a pro-kayaker and white­water instructor.

Luke Vollmerhaus of Aquabatics Calgary agrees. “Outfit­ting is what keeps you comfortable and in control of your boat,” he explains.

Adjust your seat placement

To get yourself situated properly, begin with your seat since it determines the placement of the rest of your outfit­ting. Most kayak manufacturers send out boats with seats centred, but depending on your size and boat model, you may need to do some adjusting by moving the seat back­wards or forwards, and likely adding a foam foot block.

Build foot blocks

To build a foot block, use a large piece of mini-cell foam, which you can buy from your local paddling shop or in the Paddling Buyer’s Guide. You may have to cut it down or add foam shims. In the end you should be sitting frog-legged, with your legs slightly bent at the knee and feet resting on your foot block.

Person sitting in kayak
When your foot blocks are adjusted properly, your legs should be bent at the knee.

“Foot blocks are an integral feature of many playboats , providing a solid point of contact for your feet,” explains Mark “Snowy” Robertson, head designer at Dagger Kayaks. “Taking the time to correctly adjust, trim and configure your foot block can make a big difference.”

Adjust your thigh braces

Once your seat and foot block are locked in, adjust your thigh braces. There’s no right or wrong placement; some people like them high up on the leg towards the thighs, while others paddle with the braces cupping the knees.

Thigh braces pressed against someone's leg.
Adjust your thigh braces according to your own preference.

If you’re having a hard time keeping your legs flexed, Harris suggests placing a foam wedge under your knees. “It can be really helpful, especially if you’ve been finding that your feet are falling asleep,” he explains.

Tighten your backband

Tighten your backband when you think your thigh braces are in the right position. The band should sit on your lower back, just above your hipbones, and should be just tight enough to make you sit up straight.

Add or remove foam from hip pads

One of the most important aspects of outfitting your whitewater kayak is the hip pads. “Sit in the boat without any hips pads, then determine how much room on either side of your hips you want to fill,” says Snowy.

The pads should sit on and above your hip bones, follow­ing the natural curve of your hips. Most kayaks come with fabric pockets, which allows you to add or remove foam.

Add float bags

Last, but certainly not least, are floatation bags. While they don’t affect how you fit in your boat, they are an im­portant piece of outfitting—especially if you are a newbie.

Someone placing floatation bag behind seat of kayak
Be sure to outfit your kayak with at least one floatation bag.

“Float bags take up space in your kayak to displace water when your boat fills after swimming,” Vollmerhaus explains. “More than anything, they are there for the safety of the person rescuing your boat after a swim. At least one is necessary as a simple courtesy to the paddlers with you.”

Outfitting your kayak takes patience, time, and a bit of trial and error, but at the end of the day, you reap the rewards. Once you have it dialled in, spending all day in your boat will be a pleasure, not a pain.


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