Kayak Accessories Guide: What Every Beginner Needs

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If you have been planning to go kayaking for the first time or have recently ventured into it, perhaps you might be looking for the best accessories to add to your rig. Of course, there is a wide selection on the market, but selecting the right ones can be a challenge.

As any kayak veteran will tell you, the right tools and accessories can make all the difference when it comes to this exhilarating sport. As your level of experience increases, you will gradually pick the accessories that enhance your experience. But everyone needs a little bit of guidance in the beginning.

So, what are the top must-have kayak accessories for beginners?

  1. Paddle
  2. Life Vests (Personal Floatation Device or PFD)
  3. Dry Bags
  4. Floatation Bags (Buoyancy Bags)
  5. Helmet
  6. Wet Shoes (or Wet Socks)
  7. Paddle Float
  8. Rescue Kit (Compass, Map, Mirror, Whistle)
  9. If Fishing: Add Anchor, Tackle Box, Rod/Reel, Cooler, FIsh Grips, Net
  10. If Camping: Add Backpack, Mess Kit, Sleeping Bag, Tent
  11. Unknown Weather: wetsuit/drysuit, cockpit cover, gloves, spare clothes, hand bilge pump

What are the best kayak accessories?

1.  Paddle.

A good sturdy paddle is definitely a must-have kayak accessory. The first criterion to consider while buying a paddle is your height. A very common mistake that most beginners make is getting a paddle that is too long. This can make the paddling uncomfortable and cause exertion quickly. Likewise, some beginners buy paddles that are too short. This can cause you to bang the paddle against the sides of the kayak with each stroke. If you are hitting the kayak on the downward stroke, your paddle size or stroke methods need to be evaluated.

An easy but effective way to figure out the right paddle – stand straight and pull up the paddle next to you vertically. Reach up your hands and grab the ends with your fingers. if you can comfortably hold the ends without reaching too high or bending your wrist that is a good fit. Another method is to use a chart like this one from Werner:

Source: Werner Paddles

The second thing to consider is the quality of the paddle. When you are starting out, buying a high-end paddle can be a pinch to your wallet. But the quality and the performance of a dirt-cheap paddle is just not worth the pain.

seaside-paddle-Xtreme-IITry your hands on a paddle like the X-Treme II Kayak Paddle from SeaSense. With features like adjustable paddles, folding options, and variable locking positions, it adds spice to the paddling experience. You can see it on Amazon here. It looks exactly like my Field and Stream but at one-third the cost. If I could go back to the beginning, I would buy the X-Treme II at under $40 instead of the Field and Stream I bought from Dick’s Sporting Goods for $99.

Last, you want a paddle that is lightweight. Irrespective of the level of expertise, a paddle that is lightweight is a joy to use. Swinging back and forth is effortless, and you don’t exhaust yourself as easily. My shoulders are always the first muscle group to show signs of fatigue during a kayaking trip. A good paddle lessens the work on your shoulders. Kayaking is a great workout, as I discuss in THIS article, but using unnecessary energy on your paddle stroke is not an efficient use of your muscles. You get a more effective paddle stroke (push yourself further) with proper gear and technique. My wife and I sometimes race one leg of the trip. I don’t want to be “working harder and not smarter” while wearing myself out quicker. The proper paddle design and use come in handy when trying to set your PR (personal record or best time) or just beat your wife 🙂

2.  Life vest.

A life vest is a required kayak accessory for any kayaker. Where I live, there is a Sheriff who patrols both on foot at the docks and in a boat on the river. He will stop kayakers and ask to see certain things. If you aren’t wearing a life vest, he will ask where it is. If you do not have one on your kayak, you will get a ticket. The same goes for having an emergency whistle and an invasive species sticker on your kayak. Check your local area for specific rules.

Keep in mind that a kayak life vest is designed differently from others. The back of these life vests is higher up so as to accommodate the outline of the seats. Each vest is going to fit each paddler different. You need to try on your vests to determine the best comfort and fit. I have several types but my favorite is the Onyx MoveVent Dynamic. You can see it on Amazon here. So far, this vest gives me the most range of motion with the least amount of friction. By friction, I mean that sometimes when I paddle, the insides of my arms rub against the outer edges of the vest. Over the course of thousands of paddle strokes, this causes very uncomfortable chaffing. This is why it is KEY that you try on your vest and simulate paddling in the store.

I also like to have multiple pockets for keys, cell phone, and other accessories. Keeping things in my shorts pockets is too cumbersome to get out while seated in my kayak. Remember Kayak 101 Rule #32: eliminate any unnecessary movements that may lead to trouble while in your kayak.

The Onyx is a U.S. Coast Guard Approved Type III Life Jacket / Personal Flotation Device (PFD). There are 5 categories of PFDs, but most paddlers should use a Type III or V USCG-approved PFD.

  • Type I: Offshore Life Jackets. These are geared for rough or remote waters where rescue may take a while. Though bulky, they have the most buoyancy, bright color and can turn most unconscious people face up in the water.
  • Type II: Near-shore Vests. Calm inland waters, where fast rescue is likely, is the intent of these PFDs. They will turn some unconscious wearers to the face-up position but not all of them. They are bulky but less so than Type I.
  • Type III: Flotation Aids. These are suitable for most padders where there is a chance for a quick rescue. They offer freedom of movement and the most comfort for continuous wear. Type IIIs are designed so wearers can put themselves in a face-up position, but they may have to tilt their head back to avoid being face down in the water.
  • Type IV: Throwable Devices. Cushions or ring buoys are designed to be thrown to someone in trouble and provide backup to a PFD. They are not for nonswimmers, rough waters or the unconscious. The USCG does not require these for canoes or kayaks.
  • Type V: Special-use Devices. These are specialized PFDs for specific activities. To be acceptable by the USCG, they must be used for the activity specified on the label. Varieties include kayaking, waterskiing, windsurfing, hybrid vests, and deck suits.

3.  Dry bags.

3 free dry bags from a health fair.

Dry bags are also an essential accessory while kayaking. Five-liter dry bags can comfortably hold your essentials such as a phone, wallet, and snacks. On the other hand, ten-liter dry bags work great for gear, clothes and other accessories, including a full-sized towel if you take a spill. We currently use some free bags we picked up at a health fair at work. When they’re free, why not make use of them, right? But when they wear out or we need to add more to our fleet, I’m getting a Marchway. They are very affordable and have a great reputation. You can see one here on Amazon.

The dry bags are typically made of nylon and come in different shapes. Some have shoulder straps and waist straps, which come in very handy while camping or hiking. Dry bags from Marchway are examples of excellent dry bags for a kayak outing and they come in multiple sizes and colors.

4.  Floatation bags.

It is also one of the must-have kayak accessories for beginners. It is especially important if the kayak is not equipped with bulkheads. As light and buoyant as they seem, kayaks are not the best floaters when filled with water. I remember the first time I flipped my kayak. I wasn’t expecting it at all. I paddled a little too close to what I thought was a small waterfall. But the downward force the water was creating as it was spilling down next to my kayak caused me to tip towards the waterfall. It took no time at all for my kayak to start taking on water on that side and within seconds, I was flipped.

Luckily I was able to stand up. The current was not strong enough to knock me off my feet either. But trying to grab my paddle, kayak, and hydroflask while managing to stand up in the current was a challenge. I got everything back together and began the process of flipping my kayak upside down to get a majority of the water out. That’s when I learned not to get too close to waterfalls.

Had I not been able to stand up and compose my gear, I could have been in for trouble. This is where buoyancy bags (floatation bags) come in handy. Helping to keep the kayak afloat after taking on tons of water is crucial is regaining composure after a spill. A kayak with float bags will stay above water and be easier to rescue and less likely to get pinned underwater on a rock. Typically, only a very large boat like the Green boat, Karma Unlimited, and Stinger have bow float bags but practically all boats without bulkheads will benefit from stern flotation.

I like the NRS kayak float bags. I don’t use anything to secure them but they have 3D ring attachments if you want to tie them down. Mine stay in once I blow them up and put them in place. You can check them out on Amazon here.

5.  Helmets.

Irrespective of the experience, all kayakers are expected to don helmets. This is one accessory that works directly to protect your noggins. Getting hit on the melon with your own paddle or by others is very common while out in the water. It also protects you when you experience a capsize. Most important here is the comfort and fit. You won’t wear a helmet if it isn’t comfortable.

Secondarily is a reflective or eye-catching color that can be seen if you are in trouble. Tontron is a very common and popular brand who offers dozens of different colors and sizes.  See the chart for colors and dimensions below. You can see the different versions here on Amazon.

Tantron helmet options on Amazon

6.  Wet shoes.

Wet shoes are also a must-have accessory for kayaking. They have rubber soles made for gripping on wet conditions and are typically made of neoprene.  Despite what people might tell you, do not wear trainers or God-forbid, flip-flops while kayaking. They simply aren’t safe. Trainers (or tennis shoes) tend to absorb and take on a lot of water when you capsize. This makes them heavy and requires more energy to kick during swimming. Sandals can get snagged and endanger your toes if pulled off in an unusual manner.

Depending on your personal preference, you can go two ways with wet shoes.

  • Neoprene water shoes for a slip-on and slip-off ease of use are very popular. We usually refer to them as water “socks” but whatever. A basic pair like these (on Amazon) will only set you back around $10.  This particular brand has a thick rubber sole, which protects your feet from being hurt by sharp objects. They are super lightweight, flexible, and compressible for easy packing. Did I mention that Amazon has about 40 different colors/patterns…literally?
  • Wet shoes that actually look like shoes, like these at Amazon, are much more rugged and protect your feet more than the water socks. They are still only $20-ish and can make scouting around during the out-of-kayak part of your trip more enjoyable. When we go kayaking at Pillar Falls in southern Idaho, we always get out and hike around the boulders and rocks. These shoes are much more capable of handling that type of terrain. I would only use the water socks if I had no intention of getting out of the kayak and scouting around.

7.  Paddle float.

This is a great accessory for the times when you make a not so graceful spill into the water. Quickly inflate it and use it as an outrigger to perform a self-rescue. Although an experienced kayaker may not need a paddle float on their list, we still think this is a must-have kayak accessory for beginners as your safety is paramount.

One of the things I like about my Riverstones paddle float is the way the paddle blade is in an outside mesh pouch instead of between the two inflated sections. This design allows the paddle to be somewhat functional in case you need to turn into a wave prior to removing the float. Which way the blade is facing in the pouch really has little bearing if you are using a quality paddle with a common dihedral design (gives almost equal power and control to both faces.)

A great video showing how to perform a paddle float self-rescue:

8.  Other accessories for added safety.

When you are first getting into the kayak sport, it can be easy to get lost in the thrill of it and lose track of where you are in the water. Although it is not recommended that you kayak in open waters alone as a beginner, if you do and find yourself lost, that is the scenario we are talking about here. For such a wayward episode, you need to have a compass and a map in your gear. These tools can easily fit into your life vest for easy access.

Another safety accessory that is a requirement kayak accessory is a whistle. You can use it to communicate with your fellow paddlers or signal for help in case of an emergency. A whistle with a signal mirror combo like the ones from UST, here on Amazon, are great options. Pack it and forget it…until the Sheriff asks to see it.

What kayak accessories do I need?

The accessories that you need will be determined by factors such as the duration of your outing, weather conditions and the activity that you will add to your trip. Where I live, in southern Idaho, the following kayak accessories are mandatory:

  • Life Vest
  • Whistle
  • Invasive Species Permit

Although paddles are required for kayaking, they aren’t legally required. You won’t get a ticket from the Sheriff if you don’t have one…but he may look at you funny.

If you plan to go away for a weekend for camping and fishing, you will be needing kayak accessories such as an anchor, dry bags for storing your gear and camping essentials. You might also need to pack a cooler, although it is not a kayak accessory per se. I will pen an article about kayak fishing and kayak camping accessories in a future article so only a brief overview is offered here.

But if you plan to go hiking, dry bags that double up as a backpack will be a great accessory.

Fishing expeditions require a different set of kayak accessories. A good anchor system is a must, and so are life vests, fishing paddles, fish grips, and kayak carts/carriers. If you like to take a step further, add a fish finder to your gear and add finesse to your game. Again, only a brief overview in this article.

If the weather conditions tend to be unpredictable, you will need accessories such as wetsuits, helmets, and gloves. By all means, invest in a dry suit, If you want to make a splash in style. This will keep you completely dry even if you take a dip in the water, unintentionally or otherwise. Whereas wetsuits are meant for cold weather to keep you warm if you spill.

Equip yourself with safety essentials such as a kayak knife and a rope bag in case of emergencies as well.

Are kayak drain plugs universal?

A straightforward answer to this question is, it depends. Some manufacturers make universal drain plugs that seamlessly work for all kayaks. Since kayak drain plugs are considered an accessory item, we’ll discuss them quickly.

Universal kayak drain plugs are available as a kit. Some of the best universal kayak drain plugs are made by H2O and can be found here on Amazon.

On the other hand, some kayaks required a specific type of drain plugs to work. In general, most kayaks drain plugs to fit into the two types – coarse thread drain plug and fine thread drain plug. On rare occasions, some may require unique drain plugs. But every purchased kayak should come with drain plugs already installed. If yours does not for some reason, determine if you can use an H2O plug or if you will have to buy a specialty plug. The manufacturer’s website for your kayak should have that information.

What is the best cooler for a kayak?

Perhaps one of the most enjoyable kayak accessories is the kayak cooler. Just because you are in the middle of the water or somewhere outdoor doesn’t mean you have to fill your belly with a warm beverage, or worse… lukewarm beer. Why eat a soggy sandwich and stale lunch and drink awful tasting beverages when you can enjoy chilled drinks and a crisp fresh sammich?

The best cooler for a kayak is one that is compact, easy to transport but most importantly, keeps your food and beverages at the right temperature. When you’re looking for a cooler to accompany you on your kayak trips, consider the following features:

    • Holding capacity.

Evaluate if you need a small cooler to hold a few cans and a sandwich while you are out for a night or a day trip. If so, a portable backpack cooler from Icemule with a softshell is a great option (Amazon link to see it). It is well insulated, capable of keeping your drinks chilled up to 24 hours and collapsible as well.

Conversely, if you are a regular camper or a hiker with your kayak, you might want to invest in a cooler than can hold your drinks for a couple of days. A good option is the hard-shell coolers like the Arctic Zone Titan (Amazon link). These are also great to store your snacks and sandwiches. It can be strapped down or tied down behind your seat without adding considerable weight.

    • Temperature.

This should be the deciding factor while buying a cooler for a kayak adventure. You need your drinks to stay chilled as long as your trip lasts. The material of construction greatly determines the cooling temperature and therefore, the performance of the cooler.

Generally, soft shell coolers will keep your beverages cool up to 24 hours. On the other hand, hardshell coolers can maintain their cooling capacities for up to 72 hours, which is more than enough to keep you satisfied for three nights or days, depending on your activity.

The color of the cooler can also optimize its cooling capacity. On water bodies, you are exposed directly to the sun, which means that lighter colors will reflect the sunlight and can enhance the performance of the cooler. Never buy something painted or colored black if you want it to stay cool. Black absorbs heat. If possible, also try to cover your cooler to give it a little shade. Again, with something that has a reflective property.

This is just one of the reasons why I prefer a sit-in kayak instead of a sit-on-top kayak. My Swifty Perception has storage front and back where I can store coolers, dry bags, camera bags and other items that will never be touched by the sun.

    • Closure of the cooler.

Latches provide better security than those with zippers. They are also more durable than their counterparts. Zippers can be annoying and may not be secure unless they are of premium quality. The Arctic Zone mentioned earlier has a patented, “flip-open” zipperless lid that allows for quick access but keeps it securely closed until access is needed.

    • Waterproofing element.

An often overlooked component by many folks, but waterproofing on a cooler is important. Most people immediately assume that the exterior of the coolers is waterproof. But there are some coolers which do not have this element.

However, you need a cooler that is waterproof for a kayak adventure as there will be constant exposure to water. Getting weighed down by a soggy piece of equipment is nothing to rejoice about. This criteria of waterproofing points out another reason why I like the Arctic Zone. It has five layers to protect the contents, as illustrated in this image:

5 Layers of Arctic Zone Titan Cooler

What is the best tackle box for a kayak?

  • the Ready2Fish tacklebox organizer is lightweight, holds plenty of tackle and has a sturdy hard shell. 

When it comes to essential accessories for kayaking, there’s a whole different list of needs for kayak fishing. Tackle boxes are an absolute necessity when it comes to kayak fishing expeditions. They keep all your gear in one place, reduce the clutter and keeps the gear organized. They are also very helpful when you want to go camping or hiking.

So, what is the best tackle box for a kayak? It is one that fits snugly into your kayak and is easily portable but has enough space to hold all the accessories you need.

First, consider the materials used to make the tackle box. they are either a hard shell or a soft shell. Hardshell tackle boxes can withstand the natural elements as well as wear and tear. They hold a lot of things, are easy to clean, and are also durable. The downside is that some components of the box can break or damage easily.

Softshell tackle boxes are typically made of nylon. They can also double up as a backpack, which is great. They can hold a good number of tools and gear. But they do not hold up with wear and tear of natural elements like their plastic counterparts.

The next thing is the size of the tackle box. It does not matter how much tackle the box can accommodate if it does not fit into your kayak. Look for a box that has internal compartments so that you can organize more effortlessly. Carefully evaluate your fishing gear, the length of your activity and the size of your kayak while deciding on the best tackle box for a kayak.

The last factor that is important concerning a tackle box is portability. Smaller boxes and those with soft shells are easier to transport than those who are bulkier. Unless you are fishing with a partner, you might have to compromise portability for capacity and vice versa.

I don’t fish much but I do have a tackle box. You can see it on Amazon here. It holds enough to get the job done and only cost about $15. It is very lightweight and fits nicely in my kayak. Here’s an example of how you can set it up to hold your tackle with it:


Final thoughts.

No kayak adventure or activity is complete without a great selection of accessories. The right accessories can enhance the fun and thrill while adding an element of practicality and efficiency.

Apart from making your trip more fun, each of these accessories adds to the overall safety, which is paramount. Although kayaking is an exciting activity, there is no denying the amount of risk involved. Therefore the right accessories are a crucial part of it.

Our compilation of the must-have kayak accessories is the result of comprehensive research. We are confident that these recommendations and suggestions will enable you to gear up for your next kayak expedition.

Items in this article can be found for review at Amazon.com