Kayak and Canoe Gear

Kayak and Canoe Gear You Need To Paddle


Paddle, PFD, Sprayskirt, Wet/Dry Suit & Safety Gear



You need a paddle to make the boat go, stop or turn. You will be doing upwards of 50 strokes per minute or 3000 strokes per hour or over 20,000 strokes on a full day. There are many things to consider when choosing a paddle – shaft and blade material, shaft diameter, bent or straight shaft, weight, high angle vs. low angle, blade shape and general aesthetics.

Materials: Blades and shafts are made from wood, aluminum, plastic, fiberglass and carbon. Each material has benefits and weaknesses. Aluminum is less expensive but cold to the touch and hard to form into a decent blade shape; it’s best used as an inexpensive shaft material. Plastics are easy to form into good blade shapes but are poor choices for shaft material due to strength and flexibility issues.   Most cheap paddles are a combination of an aluminum shaft with plastic blades. The ferrule (the connection point of a two piece paddle) and the blade to shaft connection point (either riveted or compression fitted or glued) are the most important construction issues of an inexpensive paddle. Weight and blade shape also matter here. We sell the Cannon Escape as a great low weight, inexpensive paddle. Fiberglass shafts make a paddle lighter and more comfortable to grip; and mixed with a plastic blade you get a mid price-point paddle with lighter weight and a comfortable feel.  The Werner Skagit or Cannon Nokomis are good choices here.

Most of the best paddles are made of fiberglass or carbon. Not only are these materials lighter, stiffer and more aesthetically pleasing, they actually last longer too. And remember – when you are doing upwards of 20,000 strokes in a day – saving even a few ounces is worth it! Check out the Werner Camano, Shuna or Ikelos paddles for great examples of the performance category.  Disclaimer: once you’ve tried something in this category, it’s very hard to go back!

For the discerning paddler, a wood shaft combined with carbon blades makes a statement and will make you stand out on your next paddling trip. Wood shafts have a soft feel and just the right amount of flexibility, while carbon blades are stiff, strong and lightweight.  Saltwood paddles has this category all figured out, and they are made locally here inPortland,Oregon.

Some fiberglass and carbon blades feature a foam core for buoyancy as well as a stiff, lightweight feel in the blades. For overall toughness, compression molded fiberglass or carbon paddle blades cannot be beat. The toughest and longest lasting paddle we sell is the Werner Powerhouse.

Blade shape: Flat, spoon and dihedral are the terms to pay attention to concerning blade shape. Flat blades slice through the water but spill energy off the sides of the blade making them less efficient than other shapes.  Adding spoon to the blade makes for a stronger catch but the trade off is slicing the blade through the water is not as smooth. The dihedral is the longitudinal ridge down the center of the blade. This ridge adds stiffness and keeps the blade from fluttering but too much causes water to spill off the blade and makes it harder to slice the paddle when blending strokes.

High vs. Low Angle: Most all blades are in the 600 to 700 cm. sq. size range. High angle blades tend to be shorter and wider than their low angle counterparts, making each shape right for different environments and paddling styles. Generally speaking, whitewater and aggressive touring paddlers prefer high angle shapes while cruising paddlers enjoy the smoothness of a low angle blade.  High angle blades require more energy per stroke over the course of a day but make it easier to blend strokes and brace and roll.  Low angle blades are well suited for longer days of continuous forward paddling; you’ll be able to eat up the miles without having to put out as much effort.  Personal preference dominates here, both high angle and low angle blade shapes have their benefits and drawbacks, make the right choice for you and your paddling style.

Bent vs. Straight Shaft: I have a personal bias toward straight shaft paddles…30 years ago we were just happy to have a paddle. Bent shaft paddles help people with wrist issues as they conform to your natural body position and keep your wrist straight. They also help keep your hands in the proper position on the shaft. Straight shaft paddles are less expensive, and allow for hands to grip the shaft in different configurations.

Shaft Diameter:  Most high end paddles are available in small or regular shaft size. Using the charts can give you an idea about which shaft size will be best for your hands. Having a correctly sized shaft reduces fatigue while paddling.  The most important thing is that the shaft be oval  or “indexed” where the hand grips are. This allows you to get a correct blade position no matter what is going on.

Paddle twist: Should you have 0, 30, 45, or 60 degree twist and should it be right or left dominant? In the old days we used 90 degree right hand paddles. So the non working blade could slide through a headwind. Over time we have learned that the most natural position is less than 90 degrees. Today, most beginners use an offset between zero and 30 degrees, with 30 being the most common and comfortable offset for most paddlers. Good two piece paddles have adjustments in 15 degree increments, try a variety and then choose the one that feels best to you. As for right or left control…99% of whitewater paddlers go right control, even the awesome 10% of the world who are left handed! Touring paddlers with two piece paddles have multiple options, mess around and figure out what works for you. Then stick with it so you get repetitive memory built into your stroke.

Paddle tips:

  1. The catch is most important, make sure you extend the blade forward and get all your potential power.
  2. If you want to pass someone in front of you – increase your cadence and shorten your stroke. Most everyone has too long of a forward stroke.
  3. Relax your grip, especially your upper hand. This reduces fatigue, injury and blisters!


PFD’s – Personal Floatation Device

Floatation, fit, pockets and comfort make a modern PFD a real life saver.

Flotation: All Coast Guard approved adult jackets have at least 15lbs 6 oz of buoyancy. Some high float jackets have up to 25 lbs of buoyancy. For most people jackets in the 15 to 18 lbs range are sufficient but if you are running high volume rivers the NRS Big Water Guide is a great choice at 22 lbs.

Fit: There are many shapes and styles of PFDs these days. Almost all of them have multiple adjustment points and are easy to fit. The arm holes should be big for the mobility a paddler needs and if you are swimming the jacket needs to stay in place so you ride high in the water. If your boat has a high back seat get a high back PFD. If you are a busty woman get a PFD with proper cut outs so you are comfortable.  Most importantly, try on a bunch of styles and find the one that’s the most comfortable for you and your purposes.  We’re all shaped and sized differently, so make your own determination and trust what you feel when it comes to selecting a PFD.

Pockets: It is great to have easy access to snacks, sunscreen, lip balm or rescue gear, just be careful about carrying too much gear – you are reducing the positive buoyancy of the PFD.

Comfort: Get a jacket that fits you! If your PFD fits well you will wear it and it can do its job.  If your PFD is uncomfortable, you might not have it on all the time which prevents it from doing what it is designed to do!  Most jackets come in xs, sm-med, lg-xlg and universal sizing. The PFD has to fit and be worn to be useful.

PFD tips:

  1. You life jacket does not work unless you are wearing it!
  2. In case the zipper fails make sure your PFD has a back up buckle.
  3. If you have a rescue jacket – get training.
  4. Infants wearing PFD’s float on the surface but their big head to small leg ratio may cause them to float in a position other than face/head up. Test it out before it becomes an issue.


Wet/Dry Suits

What should you wear when paddling? We live in thePacific Northwest and 9 months of the year it can be rainy and cold plus our water is always on the cool to cold side. In the winter, it is not unusual to paddle in 40 degree with water temperatures below 50 degrees and maybe even down into the 30s. In spring and fall we can see days in the 70′s but the water can still be 50 degrees and colder. Only for a few months in the summer do we get 60 to 70 degree water temps and air temps up to 100 degrees.

Our basic dressing gauge is as follows: When the water and air temp adds up to 120 degrees or less, wear a drysuit. When the combined temp is 120 degrees to 150 degrees wear a neoprene layer on your torso and legs and a Kokatat Gortex drytop to provide your outer layer of protection.  When the combined temp is 150 degrees or more, wear nylon or neoprene shorts and a paddle jacket. Please remember that these temperature ranges are general guidelines and each person has to make adjustments for their personal experience. We also suggest various thicknesses of fleece or wool layers under the suit to adjust for your personal body heat situation.


Paddle wear tips:

  1. Adjust your poly layering to be more comfortable under a drysuit.
  2. Black outer layers absorb solar rays. They can be quite hot on a sunny but cold day.
  3. Do not leave your drysuit in a hot car unless you want the latex seals to melt.
  4. Use zipper lube and 303 or seal saver to keep your drysuit in serviceable condition.

Safety gear:

Whitewater: In addition to a boat (w/floatbags), paddle, PFD you also need a spray skirt and Helmet.  These are the big 5 you always have to have. In addition you need proper immersion wear, a throw bag, whistle, knife, water and food. A small first aid kit, a way to start a fire  plus a pin kit (at least 2 carabiners, 2 prussic  slings to go with your throw bag) are also recommended.

Touring: In addition to your boat (w/floatation), paddle and PFD you may also need a spray skirt and a Helmet, depending on the environment you paddle in. You also need a whistle, bilge pump, paddle float, compass, tow system, food, water, knife, deck light,  first aid kit and charts. It is always a good idea to have a fire starting kit.

Additional Items all paddlers should bring: A repair kit adequate for the trip you are on, a warm thermos of drink, a signal mirror or flare system, a space blanket and for really remote adventures a satellite phone.

Alder Creek is a paddle specific shop. We sell all the gear you need to paddle and nothing else. Everything we carry has a purpose and we stock and sell what we personally use. Qusetions? Call us at: 888.285.0464

Written by Dave S.