The Ultimate Guide to Kayaking

One fun activity everyone can learn to do is the kayak. How to kayak, however, is not a stroll in the park. Learning to kayak can be slow and tedious, but the process pays off tremendously. 

Nothing beats the exhilaration of gliding across a glistening stretch of water in a kayak. The feel of your paddle cutting through the water as the burn in your muscles after a productive kayaking session is also unmatched. 

If you want to know what it feels like to be a kayaker, you will need some help. In this post, you’ll find the ultimate guide to kayaking, from everything you need to get started to safety tips.

Kayak Gear and Clothing

One of the first things you’ll need to start your kayaking journey is the right gear and clothing. In this article, we’ll assume you’re using a classic kayak with a single cockpit and one or two hatches for stowing your gear. 

Clothing and Footwear

The clothing you wear when kayaking depends on the weather and water temperature. Here are a few suggestions for proper kayaking clothing:

  1. Cotton is best when you’re kayaking on warm and sunny days.
  2. Swimwear and non-cotton clothing like nylon and polyester fleece are lightweight and resilient – best for absorbing water and drying quickly. 
  3. In icy conditions, wear a wetsuit or drysuit. Polyester fleece and neoprene have insulating properties that keep you warm in cold temperatures.
  4. Neoprene footwear protects your feet while kayaking
  5. Depending on the weather, you may need a lightweight fleece jacket/vest or a spray/rain jacket and pants
  6. Paddling gloves

Essential Kayaking Gear

  1. Kayak
  2. Coastguard-verified personal floatation devices like life vests, jackets, or belts (1 for each paddler)
  3. Paddle
  4. Flashlight or headlamp
  5. Bilge pump
  6. Spray skirt for colder days
  7. Compass 
  8. Emergency flares or strobe
  9. GPS or compass

Personal Items: 10 Things to Pack When Kayaking

  1. A water bottle
  2. Snacks
  3. Watch 
  4. Waterproof mobile phone or a waterproof phone cover
  5. Signaling whistle
  6. Sunscreen and sunglasses
  7. First-aid kit
  8. Sun-shielding hat
  9. Dry bag (for items that need to stay dry)
  10. Paddle leash

What To Know Before Buying a Kayak: How to Pick a Good Kayak

Before you purchase a kayak, there are a few alternatives to consider. You could:

  1. Borrow a kayak from a friend 
  2. Rent a kayak at rentals close to your kayaking location – there are often outfitters close by, so you’ll skip the hassle of transporting a kayak. 
  3. Sign up for a class or a tour- these provide you with all the gear you’ll need, and they come with in-depth instructions from trained kayakers.

Buying your kayak can be overwhelming. There are so many options on the market that first-time buyers don’t know where to begin. 

Here’s a list of things to consider before buying a kayak to make your decision process more manageable:

1. Seating choice(sit-in or sit-on-top)

Kayak seating styles are either sit-in or sit-on-tops. Sit-on-tops kayaks allow kayakers direct contact with sun rays, winds, and waves. As a beginner, sit-on-top kayaks are more accessible. They are more stable and easy to maneuver around. These kayaks are great for recreational kayakers, although they’re slower than sit-in kayaks.

Sit-in kayaks have a closed hull that helps more experienced kayakers enjoy easy navigation and speed. Sit-in kayaks offer better dryness and protection from the water than sit-on-top kayaks. Determine what kayak style will suit your experience and preferences before purchasing.

You may also consider how many seats you want in your kayak. If you intend to make duo trips with a friend or partner, there are many 2-seater kayak options.

2. Kayak material and length

Longer kayaks cut through the water faster and deftly. They are easier to navigate but are often too much to handle, transport, and store. Lighter kayaks are easier to handle but typically do not last long. Kayaking experts at recommend 25-28kg as the optimal weight range for an ideal kayak.

3. Paddles

Your paddles are your most important asset while kayaking on the water. With the right paddle, you can transform your experience on the water into a truly incredible one. Buying the right paddle is just as important as buying the right kayak. Choose a good-quality, durable paddle with the right length, design, and weight.

4. Cost 

Your budget is a significant determinant of the kayak you purchase. Consider your budget and decide if you’ll need to adjust it to find a suitable kayak or not. Kayak costs vary depending on the materials, features, and sizes.

Launching, Posture, and Paddle-Hold

You start your kayaking trip by launching from a gently sloping shoreline. You’ll need to protect your hull (bottom piece of your boat) and avoid dragging it while launching. 

This is how to launch your kayak:

  1. Have a friend help you carry your kayak to your launch location.
  2. Set down the boat in shallow water perpendicular to the shoreline ( note that longer kayaks or straight river launches will require a parallel launch. Speak to instructors for situation-appropriate guidance)
  3. Put your paddle blade under the deck line in front of the cockpit
  4. Stand over your kayak with both legs on either side of the cockpit
  5. Grab the cockpit and settle into the seat
  6. Lift your legs and slide them forward into the cockpit
  7. Set both feet comfortably on the foot pegs
  8. Grab your paddle and get kayaking!

How To Hold a Kayak Paddle

How you hold your paddle will determine the effectiveness of your stroking techniques. This is one of the first lessons from any kayak instructor. 

Below is how to hold a kayak paddle correctly:

  1. Grasp the paddle with both hands, leaving enough space between your hands.
  2. Raise the shaft above your head, ensuring that your elbows are bent at 90 degrees.
  3. When you lower your paddle. Ensure that your blades are in line with each other
  4. Keep the longer edge of each blade on top for easy movement in the water
  5. Ensure that the curved side of the blades faces you
  6. Relax your grip and lay your fingers gently on the shaft

How To Operate A Kayak?

When you’re just starting kayaking, it’s best to start small—first paddle on a calm body of water, keeping your boat stable. You’ll need to know basic techniques for entering and exiting your kayak and maneuvering and paddling.

1. Entering and Exiting Your Kayak

Entering your kayak may seem simple, but it can be challenging for beginners. Start by putting your hands on either side of the hull. Spread your legs in the cockpit and sit straight, flush against the kayak seat. Place your feet against the foot pegs, keeping your legs slightly bent at the knees.

To exit your kayak, release your feet from the cockpit and stretch your legs. Place your hands on both sides of the cockpit and slowly lift yourself until you can sit on the back deck. Pull out your legs and lift them from the cockpit, then stand and step away from the kayak.

2. Basic Strokes and Paddling Techniques

The most basic strokes for kayaking help you move forward, backward, and sideways. You’ll also be able to turn and prevent yourself from capsizing. These are the basic kayaking strokes you’ll need for a successful kayak trip:

1. The Forward Stroke

This is the basic stroke that helps you start moving forward. It has three phases that require careful application and technique.

  • The catch phase: Strengthen your torso, and immerse your paddle blade fully on one side of the boat next to your feet in the cockpit.
  • The power phase: move your blade behind you and rotate your torso as the blade moves. Push against the shaft with your upper hand as you move forward.
  • The release phase: when your hand reaches behind your hip, slice your blade out of the water. Repeat this technique to keep moving forward.

2. The Reverse Stroke

This stroke is great for braking or moving backward. The technique is the opposite of the forward stroke. Immerse your blade in the water at your hip. Push forward till the blade is beside your feet. Slice the paddle blade out of the water.

3. The Sweep Stroke

This stroke helps you turn in the water. Immerse your blade on the opposite side of the direction you want to turn (blade on the right to turn left and vice versa). Make an arched sweeping motion rapidly to turn from the front to the back of your boat.


Kayaking is such an incredible sport that has so much to offer. As a beginner, you’ll get to explore the wonders of kayaking and experience beautiful get the most out of this new hobby, you’ll need the right gear and valuable tips and tricks, which we have shared in the article above.