A good kayak, although essential, isn’t enough for a spectacular – and, above all, safe – day on the water. You need kayaking gear and accessories that match that new boat of yours.
That got me thinking:
What are the best kayak accessories that can take your vessel and kayaking trips to a whole new level? How can you distinguish between kayak essentials and non-essential “bells and whistles” and incorporate a little bit of both when rigging your kayak?
So, I sat down, put together all the information and compiled this list of must-have kayaking gear for 2021 to help you out. Be sure to check it out!
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Best Kayak Accessories: Top 21 Kayak Essentials For 2021
1. Kayak Paddle
You’re not going anywhere without your kayak paddle, so I figured we should get that one out of the way first. A kayak paddle will be your primary means of propulsion, after all.
It’s one of those essential pieces of kayaking gear – along with a PFD – every paddler needs.
I switched to the AQUA BOUND Manta Ray Carbon Kayak Paddle some time ago and couldn’t be happier with my choice. It retains a lightweight design while still offering some much-needed stiffness with its carbon-reinforced blades, features adjustable feathering, and breaks down into two pieces, making storage easier.
You’ll find more fantastic kayak paddles options – and an in-depth buying guide – in my round-up of best kayak paddle reviews!
Oh, and one more thing:
Do you know how to paddle a kayak?
You could get the best kayak paddle in the world – but that wouldn’t make much of a difference without proper paddling technique.
2. Kayak Life Jacket (PDF)
I was torn between a paddle and a PFD when deciding which one gets the first spot on my list as the single most crucial piece of kayak equipment. PFDs ended up second, as you can tell – but then I figured I’m not making this list in order of importance, anyway.
Again, your list of kayaking essentials can be as short as a paddle and a kayak life jacket (PFD). Technically speaking, that’s all you need to get started.
So, once you’ve picked out a paddle, take a second to choose a kayak life jacket – you’re going to need it. Seriously, it’s a must-have piece of boating equipment and a safety required by law.
Try to find a PFD that’s well-made, easily adjustable with variable waist and shoulder straps, and fits you well without being too tight. I’d recommend the Onyx MoveVent Dynamic Life Jacket – but feel free to check out my best kayak life jacket round-up for more suggestions!
3. Kayak Anchor
Kayakers are all about exploring and moving forward; it’s in our nature. But every now and then, you’ll find a place so beautiful that you’ll want to stick around for a bit.
Maybe out kayak fishing and you’ve found the perfect fishing spot. Or perhaps you need a break from paddling and want to enjoy the view for a moment. Either way, you’ll need something that can prevent your kayak from slowly drifting away.
And no, a DIY kayak anchor – a massive cinder-block tied to a rope, for example – won’t cut it.
You need a proper kayak anchor.
It’s one of those must-have kayak accessories for kayak anglers and river kayakers.
My vote goes to the Complete Grapnel Anchor System, a complete kayak anchor kit that comes with a folding four-fluke anchor, 25-foot rope, and an in-line buoy with stainless steel attachments. It even comes with a storage bag.
You’re free to check out my best kayak anchor round-up for more recommendations, though!
4. Kayak Trailer
Some of you can afford to forget all about kayak trailers. If you live by the water, have a kayak roof rack system installed, or drive a pickup truck that turns into a kayak-mobile when needed, you’re good – but others?
Not so much.
Let me spare you the trouble:
Hauling a kayak on top of a sports car or a coupe doesn’t work. You need a kayak trailer.
On that note, when choosing a kayak trailer, make sure that it has the right capacity, meaning it can accommodate the size, weight, and the number of kayaks you’ll be hauling.
Otherwise, the kayak trailer won’t be of much use.
I highly recommend the Malone MicroSport XT Trailer. It boasts a corrosion-resistant frame, has an 800-pound capacity, and can fit up to four 19-foot kayaks.
You can check out my round-up of best kayak trailers for more suggestions, though!
5. Kayak Roof Rack System
I might be repeating myself, but that’s because I can’t stress enough how important it is to think about how you will haul your kayak to your paddling destination.
It’s the not-so-fun side of kayaking that’s easy to overlook when you’re distracted by your shiny, new hard-shell ‘yak. But here’s the thing:
If you can’t get the kayak to the water, you won’t be going kayaking any time soon.
So, unless you opt for a kayak trailer, you’ll need a kayak roof rack system. You have quite a few options worth considering – J-cradles, stackers, saddles; you name it.
Thule Hullavator Pro Kayak Carrier is one heck of a kayak roof rack system; be sure to check it out.
Oh, and take a look at my best kayak roof rack system round-up. If the Hullavator doesn’t fit the bill, you’ll find lots of alternatives there!
6. Kayak Cart
Let’s say you’ve managed to load your kayak onto your new kayak trailer or roof rack system – and you arrived at your destination.
I think we can all agree that hard-shells aren’t the most lightweight things out there. The bigger your kayak, the more trouble you’ll have getting it to the water – unless you’re made of muscle, that is.
That’s where a handy two-wheel kayak cart comes in:
It’s not a piece of kayaking gear per se, but a kayak cart is still an excellent way to get your boat to the water without carrying it yourself. These small, highly portable “devices” make it possible to load the kayak onto the frame and pull it to the launch spot without too much hassle.
TMS Kayak Cart – with a 150-pound capacity, folding frame, and large tires – will make your life easier if you prefer paddling in remote areas.
You can also check out my best kayak carts round-up for more recommendations!
7. Kayak Storage Rack
Hull deformation, fading, mold, theft – or a family of raccoons that decided to move in – are real risks your ‘yak faces when it’s not stored correctly. Extreme temperature changes, UV rays, and moisture – well, Mother Nature in general – can do a number on your kayak.
It’s not like you can slide it under the bed or throw it in the closet when it’s not in use, though. I’m talking real, actual, dedicated storage – as in, a kayak storage rack.
If you’ve got more than one kayak and enough floor space, be sure to check out the RAD Sportz Deluxe Freestanding Kayak Storage Rack. It has a two-kayak capacity, padded arms, and you can use it for indoor and outdoor storage.
That’s far from your only option in terms of kayak storage ideas, though. Maybe a wall-mounted kayak storage rack – or one that hangs from the ceiling – is more your thing?
Make sure you check out my top kayak storage ideas guide for more great recommendations!
8. Spray Skirt
If you own a sit-on-top, feel free to skip this one; a spray skirt won’t be a useful piece of kayak equipment for an open deck. That said, if you have a sit-inside kayak, you should make sure to include a spray skirt in your list of kayak essentials.
For recreational purposes, a spray skirt improves comfort by preventing rain and splashes from getting you wet. It allows you to do rolls in whitewater kayaks, run rapids, and tackle waterfalls. And when sea kayaking, it makes sure your kayak doesn’t fill up with water and that it stays afloat in heavy seas with large waves.
While we’re at it, remember that the spray skirt should not only fit you but your kayak, too.
Have you ever heard that kayakers should dress for the water and not the weather?
It’s the golden rule of kayaking and one that becomes even more vital when the temperatures drop, and you have both water and weather working against you.
Now, a wetsuit – a specialized skin-tight full-body suit usually made of thick neoprene – would be your first line of defense.
It won’t keep you dry. However, it will use the thin layer of water trapped between you and the suit as insulation to slow down heat loss. And if the temperatures aren’t too extreme, a wetsuit could be more than enough.
On that note, check out the Hevto Guardian (I) Warrior wetsuit:
It’s a full-body wetsuit made of 3-millimeter neoprene bonded with two additional layers of nylon, and it’s rated for water temperatures between 50 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit.
For more great recommends, make sure you check my best wetsuit for kayaking round up review.
When you think about kayaking, your mind probably jumps straight to the warm summer breeze and sun on your skin. But again, some of us enjoy kayaking in the winter months, too – provided that we have the right kayak gear for it.
Whenever you find yourself kayaking in severe weather and the temperature sits below 60 degrees Fahrenheit, you will need to upgrade from a wetsuit to a drysuit.
As you can tell from the name, a drysuit works a bit differently:
It forms a water-tight seal, with a layer of air trapped inside, to keep you dry and, in turn, warm. You’ll need to add a few insulating layers underneath for thermal protection – but when staying dry equals staying alive, a drysuit is your best bet.
I’m a big fan of the Crewsaver Atacama Sport Drysuit. It’s a front-zip drysuit made from a three-layer, breathable fabric, with neoprene neck and wrist gaskets, built-in dry socks – and a drysuit liner.
Check out my best kayaking drysuits roundup for more great recommendations!
11. Paddling Jacket
To add to the previous points, “cold and wet” are no one’s idea of fun – yet you’ll still find people kayaking in winter. We’re all mad here, huh?
All jokes aside, though, if you’re going paddling in cold and windy weather, you’ll want to add a paddling jacket to your kayak gear.
This piece of kayak equipment comes under many names – paddling jacket, spray top, splash jacket – but its purpose remains the same:
It’s an outer layer that prevents water from soaking through and offers some protection against the wind.
Throw it on over your wetsuit as an added layer of thermal protection, and you’re good to go – even in not-so-stellar conditions.
The WindRider Paddling Spray Top is one heck of an option. It’s made from PVC-coated nylon, with soft-but-tight neck and wrist openings complete with Velcro adjusters and barrel lock waist closure for a better fit.
12. Kayak Shoes
I’ve seen people go paddling in tennis shoes. Others choose to go barefoot. And some, believe it or not, kayak in flip-flops – which is a whole different kind of “wrong.”
You might be one of them for all I know, but believe me when I tell you:
Paddling in “regular shoes” is one of the worst choices you could make.
For one, it ruins the shoes. Two, it makes your feet smell horrible. And three, it puts you at risk of slipping and injuring yourself when getting in or out of the kayak.
In short, it’s time to get a pair of proper kayak shoes that are made for on-the-water sports – as in, neoprene boots.
The NRS ATB Neoprene Kayak Shoes are an excellent example of what I have in mind. They’re made of neoprene, thick enough to keep your feet warm and comfy, and designed for all-terrain traction.
You will find more excellent options, and a detail buyer’s guide, in my best shoes for kayaking round up.
13. Kayak Helmet
A helmet is considered essential – mandatory, even – safety gear in many different sports. And whether you’re surprised to hear this or not, kayaking is one of them.
Sure, a kayak helmet might seem a bit overkill for a leisurely paddle on a calm lake.
But if there’s even a slight chance of head-on encounters with logs and rocks, you’d be a fool not to get yourself a kayak helmet.
Whitewater kayakers, I’m looking at you.
A kayak helmet is what makes a difference between potentially fatal traumatic brain injuries and a bruised ego. Enough said.
As far as “brain buckets” – yes, that’s what they’re sometimes called – go, the Tontron Kayaking Helmet is one highly recommended option:
It features an ABS outer shell, which will protect the brain from head-on impacts, and a soft EVA liner to cushion the shock further. Plus, it includes removable ear protectors and has 11 vents to ensure breathability.
14. Kayak Gloves
I wouldn’t consider kayak gloves an absolute must-have; they don’t fall in the same category of kayak essentials as a PFD or a paddle does.
But they’re nice to have – especially if you often find yourself kayaking in icy cold waters or are known to suffer an occasional blister or two from long-distance paddling. I’m sure any seasoned kayaker would agree with me on that.
The thing is, your hands are your primary points of contact between you and your kayak paddle – and they take quite a beating whenever you’re on the water. Blisters, cuts, frostbite, you name it.
So, have you thought about getting a pair of kayak gloves – the Brace Master Kayaking Gloves, for example? The high-quality leather palms will give your hands something to look forward to – and you’ll have a much better grip on the paddle, too!
If the Brace Masters aren’t too your taste, take a look at my best kayak gloves review, you’ll find lots of alternatives there!
15. Dry Box
I wouldn’t even bring my lunch onboard a kayak without a waterproof dry box to keep it in, let alone something more valuable than that.
So, in that sense, a dry box is an essential piece of kayaking gear to bring with you on every outing.
And before you get a chance to ask, yes, waterproof dry bags work fine for storing spare clothes and things like that and can double as a makeshift throw bag – but unlike a dry bag, a dry box will give you more organized storage space – just don’t try and use it to save anyone!
I’m currently using the Plano Dry Box, I have modified the case to keep my fish finder battery dry and I’m more than happy with its performance. Granted, I haven’t had a chance to test if it’s 100% waterproof yet, but it does keep the moisture out – and that’s been more than enough so far to help extend the battery life.
16. Kayak Float Bags
Kayak float bags are pretty much big sacks of air – nothing to write home about – and yet, they play a rather important role.
How’s an air-filled sack an essential part of kayak equipment, you ask?
The answer’s right there in the name. These air-filled bags – known as kayak float bags – fit into the kayak’s bow and stern compartments, where the bulkheads usually are, to add to the kayak’s buoyancy.
Sure, you could leave those spaces empty – and believe me, I know the idea of spending hard-earned money on a bag full of air sounds silly. But unless you need that space for storage, it’s better to fill it up with air.
It leaves less space for water, adds buoyancy, simple as that.
On that note, check out the NRS Kayak Float Bags. They’re made from 10-gauge Urethane to ensure reliable, leak-free performance and are designed to fit in the kayak’s stern compartment.
17. Kayak Bilge Pump
So, what’s your current strategy for removing excess water that fills up your ‘yak after a capsize or in nasty waves?
Let me answer that for you:
You need a kayak bilge pump, my friend. It’s an easy-to-use and potentially life-saving piece of kayak equipment.
I mean, what’s the alternative – using a bucket?
Yeah, I didn’t think so.
Even a little bit of water sloshing around your kayak can be annoying – but larger amounts can affect the kayak’s stability and, in turn, your safety.
It doesn’t matter what the conditions are; a kayak bilge pump – and, preferably, a bailing sponge – should be a no-brainer. It’s the bare minimum in terms of kayak safety gear. I strongly suggest that you make a bingle pump part of your personal kayaking safety requirements.
So, may I interest you in the Seattle Sports Paddler’s Kayak Bilge Pump?
It’s lightweight, easy to store underneath your kayak seat for quick access, and it’s neon yellow, meaning it will be hard to miss in an emergency scenario.
18. Scupper Plugs
Scupper holes, tiny holes you see at the bottom of your sit-on-top kayak, work as drains and get rid of excess water that may pool at the bottom. This feature, known as self-bailing, is exclusive to sit-on-top kayaks.
So, if you have a sit-inside kayak, you can skip this one – but if not, consider grabbing a pair of these bathtub-plug-like kayaking accessories known as scupper plugs.
You’ll likely leave the scupper holes open for the most part – under normal conditions. But there will be instances where you’ll want to bypass the kayak’s self-bailing feature – if you’re taking in too much water, for example – which is where scupper plugs come in handy.
The H2o Quality Kayak Drain Plug Pack might be a great choice, but be sure to double-check if the 0.75-inch, molded nylon plugs fit your kayak’s scupper holes.
If you choose to use scupper plugs, though, keep a kayak bilge pump on hand just in case.
You may think that sunscreen doesn’t exactly count as “kayak equipment,” and you’d technically be right – but:
The UV rays – as in sunlight – are out to get you.
Premature aging, skin cancer, and eye damage are some of the side-effects of prolonged UV exposure. And while sun cream alone won’t be enough, you should still make it a part of your sun protection strategy – even on cloudy days.
You want to stick to sun cream formulas that are water-resistant and have an SPF rating of 30 to 50. Oh, and reapply it every 40 to 80 minutes!
I highly recommend giving Banana Boat Ultra Sport sunscreen a shot. This broad-spectrum, 50 SPF formula offers protection against UVA and UVB rays. What’s more, it’s designed for active individuals and can resist sweat and water for up to 80 minutes, meaning it’s an excellent choice for outdoor activities – including paddling.
20. First Aid Kit
You probably wouldn’t go on a camping trip without a first aid kit in your backpack. Well, it’s the same for boating. It’s like an umbrella or a spare tire:
You don’t need it for the most part – but boy, will you be glad to have it on hand when you do.
There’s a lot of info regarding what you should include in your kit. No two paddling first aid kits will be the same – although some guidelines do exist.
It generally comes down to where you’re going, who you’re paddling with, and your experience, among other variables.
If you’re unsure how to put together a paddler’s first aid kit, you can get a pre-made one, like the WELL-STRONG Waterproof First Aid Kit. It comes in a water-resistant bag and contains a total of 104 hospital-grade medical supplies.
21. Drinks Bottle
You need to drink water – and lots of it – even more so when you’re working out. And believe me, kayaking can be one heck of a workout.
As with any outdoor activity where you might not have constant access to fresh, drinking water – but need to up your hydration levels – your drinks bottle will be your best friend.
You could go with disposable, single-use water bottles – but we both know what that means for the environment. Even if you don’t throw them straight into the water, plastic waste will inevitably end up in the ocean, anyway.
So, why not give Brita’s Filtering Drinks Bottle a try instead?
It’s BPA-free and can replace around 1800 single-use bottles per year. What’s more, this drinks bottle comes with a built-in water filter that reduces chlorine levels with each sip.
So, you’re not only doing something for the environment – you’re doing your body a favor, too.
Top Kayaking Accessories Of 2021: Summary
I’m sure you can tell by now, but not all of the best kayak accessories on my list are absolute must-haves:
Some are crucial pieces of kayaking gear safety-wise. That would include a kayak paddle, PFD, and a helmet, depending on where you’re paddling. Others, such as gloves or a kayak cart, are there to make your day on the water more comfortable.
It’s up to you to decide which kayak accessories you need right away, which ones might come in handy in the future, and which you can forego entirely.
So, choose wisely – and as always, stay safe! Happy kayaking adventures!