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Your First Time: Kayaking Gear

An essential accessory primer to get started right

Digital Vision/Thinkstock

The great thing about kayaking is that it’s a one-time investment. No lift tickets and no (or relatively few) day passes are required. Just get out the boat, put in and start paddling. For the most part, our nation’s abundant waterways and coastlines are free to enjoy.

You will, however, need a few key accessories to optimize your experience. A good PFD (Personal Floatation Device), for example, can make all the difference. Sure, you can recycle that ratty, fraying old orange life jacket that’s been kicking around the garage forever, but an afternoon of chaffing and smelling like mildew could convince you otherwise.

Consider a paddling-specific PFD, which will be much more comfortable and allow greater freedom of movement. You can always buy a $40 PFD that has no articulation and is uncomfortable, or you can spend $75 to $150 and get a nice one. Look for a high-back design that won’t ride up, and that better accommodates kayak seats while providing provide greater breathability on hot days.

There are many types of kayak paddles to choose from, too. Make sure the length and blade size is right for your boat, paddling style and the type of water you'll be on.

A few more key accessories—a leash to hold onto said paddle, a safety whistle, a reliable boat cart and a good bilge pump—will help round out your experience. Click through to the slideshow for a list of top products.

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Pro kayaker Steve Fisher does some 3-D filming in the rivers of northern Minnesota. Courtesy Red Bull

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