The Best Whitewater Kayaking Gear of 2020! (Buyers Guide)

Table of Contents

What Kayaking Gear Do You Need?

Have you and your family decided to get started kayaking this summer, but just have no clue where to start?  What whitewater boat? What whitewater Kayaking Gear? With so many decisions out there, getting started is half the battle.  In fact, I remember scouring the Internet for a comprehensive guide that told me what I needed and what was the best …

This is our personal Kayaking Gear list. What we use and wear when we go kayaking.  We know that the gear you end up buying and using depends entirely on when and where you decide to kayak and your personal preferences.  

Hence, our most comprehensive Whitewater Kayaking Gear List.  We’ve included gear for both cold weather kayaking and warm weather kayaking.  And, even though every kayaker has different needs and preferences, there are certain items of Kayaking Gear that are universally understood to be the absolute best.  We really hope this list will make researching and purchasing easier for you!

Whitewater Kayaking Boat Guide

Best Beginner Boat

Jackson Fun 1
Emmy having a blast in her Jackson Fun 1 Kayak!! Fun times!

Jackson Kayak Fun:  This boat comes in all sizes for all ages. It’s perfect for the beginner in that it literally does everything … river running, surfing, playing, and learning to do it all well, but you don’t have to worry about growing out of the Fun.  It’s meant to do everything well and it truly does.  It tracks well, it surfs well and it’s easy to maneuver.  The Fun eases beginners into all the different disciplines and is a great boat to develop all skills for even the experts.  I know pros who paddle the Fun.  And for family paddling … the Fun is the Boat!
Sizes: Fun 1 (XXS), Fun 1.5 (XS), 2Fun (S), Fun (M), 4Fun (L)

Best Freestyle Boat

2016 JK Rockstar
Throwing huge air in the BEST playboat ever made – the Jackson Kayak 2016 Rockstar!

Rockstar 4.0:  This boat makes even me look good, or at least decent and that’s saying something amazing!  It is the ultimate surfing machine and like the Fun above comes in a size compatible for all boaters. The JK Rockstar 4.0 is hands down the best playboat ever made!
Sizes: S, M,L

Jackson Kayak Shooting Star: Kids can surf and throwdown in a JK Fun 1 or a Fun 1.5, but if your young paddler is ready to step up his game, there is nothing better than the Shooting Star. In fact, it’s the smallest playboat ever made!! For information of teaching kids to love to kayak, check out our Top 10 Ways to Teach Kids to Love kayaking.

Best River Runner/Creekboat

Jackson Kayak Zen
Grady about to drop into Cauldron on Lake Creek in the JK Zen!

Jackson Kayak Zen 3.0: I love, love, love the JK Zen 3.0.  I don’t flip, and when I do, it’s like all I need to do is think “roll”, and I’m up before I know it.  And fast, this boat is crazy fast.  It’s the boat of choice for those of us who are trying to improve our skills and for expert boaters who demand performance and know how to use it.
Sizes: S,M,L

Jackson Kayak Side Kick:  For up and coming little river runners, Jackson Kayak makes the Side Kick, a super stable, and surprisingly quick boat.  It’s designed to bring your young rippers into tougher waters and keep them dry. 

Dally Jackson Kayak Sidekick
Dally paddling the Jackson Kayak Sidekick!!

Whitewater Kayaking PFD Guide

Best Freestyle PFD

Kokatat is the brand of choice for virtually ALL river wear!!

Kokatat Ronin Pro: This low-profile PFD is comfortable, rugged and durable. The Ronin Pro is perfect for SUP and freestyle kayaking because it’s not bulky AT ALL and doesn’t get in the way when throwing down tricks. Brody, Kenny, Dally and Susie wear the Ronin.

Kokatat Maximus Centurion PFD: This easily adjustable PFD is designed for all whitewater disciplines, with input from Dane Jackson and Eric Jackson.  The Maximus is hands down the most comfortable PFD on the market and our absolute favorite! Dan, Kady and Grady wear the Maximus.

Best Rescue PFD

Kokatat Maximus Centurion PFD
Kokatat is the only gear we trust in freezing cold rivers … Dan’s wearing the Maximus Centurion PFD.

Astral Green Jacket: This is a badass Type V rescue vest … massive flotation, ridiculously comfortable and with all the bells and whistles you’d expect from a top of the line rescue vest!  Dan, Grady and Brody all wear this when creeking or when taking the rest of us on river runs that push our limits to the max!

Best Youth PFD

Maddy Kellogg in the Astral Otter
Maddy padddling the Locust Fork in Alabama!

Astral Otter Youth PFD: Our kids are mini sized, and we use this for our 6-12 year old kids.  It’s hands down the best PFD for small kids between 50-90 lbs.  The Astral Otter PFD is super comfortable and takes a beating!

Whitewater Kayaking Guide For Staying Dry

Best Dry Suit

Kokatat Idol Brody Kellogg
Brody in the Idol, Kady in the Trinity Shorty and Kenny in the Rogue!!

Kokatat has the best reputation in the business and they stand behind their products with a lifetime guarantee!  We swear by all their gear and after years of buying competitors products and having them not last even one year, we are total converts … the extra money up-front actually saves you money in the long run!  

Kokatat Gore-Tex Meridian (Men’s):  The most popular  drysuit, the Kokatat Meridian dry suit has been the choice of dedicated paddlers worldwide. Dan, Grady, Brody, Kady, Kenny & Dally all own this drysuit and it has never failed them! 

Kokatat Meridian - Kady Kellogg
Kady’s ready to jump into the Colorado River on her Shaboomee SUP! 🙂

Best Dry Top

Kokatat Rogue Dan Kellogg
Dan and Emmy on the Hiwassee River in TN!

Men’s Gore-Tex Rogue Dry Top: This is a four-season dry top for paddlers who push the limits year round.  It’s comfort, durability and unrestricted range of motion make it the dry top of choice for Dan, Grady, Brody, Kenny and Dally. Plus, it’s … Gore-Tex! That alone means it will last forever.

Kokatat Rogue - Susie Kellogg
Decked out in Kokatat! Check out Susie’s beautiful, blue dry top … amazing color!!

Women’s Gore-Tex Rogue Dry Top: Kady, Maddy, Emmy, Elly and I love our Rogue dry tops and we’ve been using them  for years  and years already. The Gore-Tex is a gift that keeps on giving all through the spring and fall and I love how warm and dry I stays!  And the color is the BEST!

Kokatat Dry Top - Cardy
Cardy sporting his Kokatat Hydrus Dry Top in bright green…colors to keep your young paddler visible on the water.

Kokatat Hydrus 3L Stoke Dry Top: We opted for the Kokatat Hydrus dry top for the younger kids to save money versus buying them all Gore-Tex. This is still a very durable, long-lasting dry top. We are still using the first ones we ever bought back in 2010. Coby is now the only one using it, but Cardy and Maddy used it for years before it got passed down to him!

Best Shorty Dry Top

Kokatat Gore-Tex Trinity
Grady on the Pigeon River in TN. Shorty’s are so perfect for the southeast rivers.

Kokatat Gore-Tex Trinity Shorty Dry Top:  You may think, as we once did, that a shorty is not worth the money, but it’s is priceless on those warmer days when you are throwing loop after loop, trying to perfect your technique and not wanting to get out of the water every few minutes to drain your boat! It’s also invaluable for those warm spring days when you are paddling the spring run-off and experience the first unfortunate swim of the season … it’s nice to protect your core body temp!  We all, well most of us, paddle in the Trinity … all summer long!  

Best Base Layer

Kokatat Polartec Power Dry Outer Core: Again we turn to Kokatat for our base layers, as the Kokatat fleece is the softest, warmest fleece on the market … again backed by their lifetime guarantee.  So warm, so soft … great as winter PJ’s too!  🙂  Every single paddler in the family dons this luxury piece of gear! 

Whitewater Kayaking Gear Guide

Best Kayak Gloves/Mitts

Kady Pogies
If your drysuit ever looks like this, it’s a good time to grab your Kokatat Pogies!

Kokatat Neo Kayak Mitt: As surprising as it might seem, these pogies actually keep your hands warm when the air and water temperature combine to make unflattering paddling conditions. We started out wearing gloves, but quickly switched to pogies so our hands would have direct contact with our paddles.

Best Kayak Booties/Shoes

Kokatat Portage Booties: We use these booties for creeking and possible scouting, as they have more tread on them than the booties we use for freestyle kayaking.

Kokatat Seeker Booties: We love this booties for freestyle!  Hands down … I told you we were serious Kokatat converts!  If Kokatat makes it, we buy it!

Best Kayak Paddle

Accent Paddles - Kenny
Kenny having a blast on the NOC hole!

We are BIG time Accent Paddle lovers … the paddle blades are the best on the market, and they truly stand behind their products.  We use Accent Paddles for kayaking as well as SUP because Accent is an innovator in the paddle world, in both technology, engineering and performance!  

Accent Pro Core Helix: Per Accent, “The Helix offers outstanding control during draw strokes, surfing or setting up your next big trick. The Helix is constructed with CNC foam core blades layered in carbon and fiberglass to offer a buoyant feel on the water. With our Advantage Grip Technology, it brings all the benefits of bent shaft technology in straight shaft construction. Our Advantage grip helps relieve forearm fatigue and maintains correct hand to blade powerface orientation. The Helix is the top choice for the advanced paddler.”

Accent Rogue Advantage: Per Accent, “The Rogue Advantage is the most powerful whitewater paddle in our lineup. With our Advantage Grip Technology, it brings all the benefits of bent shaft technology in straight shaft construction. Our Advantage grip helps relieve forearm fatigue and maintains correct hand to blade powerface orientation. With its large powerful blade outline coupled with advanced high performance dihedral brings control and precision. The compression molded blades are made using NASA grade tri-axial weave fiberglass for superior impact and torsional strength.”

Accent Rage Advantage: The Rage Advantage brings all the benefits of bent shaft technology at an affordable price. Our Advantage grip helps relieve forearm fatigue and maintains correct hand to blade powerface orientation. Forgiving medium power blade outline with advanced high performance dihedral offers control and precision. Built with durable fiberglass reinforced blades and a high performance carbon shaft, this paddle will instill confidence from the beginner to advanced paddlers on the next river adventure.

Best Kayak Helmet

Sweet Protection is at the top for the best Whitewater Kayaking Helmets!
Maddy and Cardy surfing in BC at Trail Wave!

As a family we were all over the place in the helmet department, but recently we have all come to love Sweet Protection. Their customer service is next level and the comfort and durability of their lids are incomparable.  

Sweet Protection Strutter and Full Face!

Sweet Strutter:  The helmet of choice for all of us, 15 & up!

WRSI Current Helmet: The helmet of choice for Rowdy, Emmy, Elly and Coby. It’s a fantastic helmet for both kids and adults alike.

Sweet Arbitrator Full Face: Only a few of us have the Sweet Protection Full Face because it is extremely expensive, like $329 expensive. But, in my opinion, the absolute comfort far exceeds any other full face out there, so it is worth it’s weight in gold.

Shred Ready Full Face: This is what the majority of us wear to paddle the rough stuff as it is durable and fits our budget!

Best Spray Skirt

Dally - Snap Dragon Spray Skirt
Snap Dragon makes skirts to fit every size boat in the Jackson Kayak aresenal … I wouldnt trust anyone else!

Absolutely no question … we use Snap Dragon, always have, always will.  We trust their product implicity and they are constantly striving to improve.  Additionally, they stand behind their product and they strive to make the best skirts for every type of paddling there is.

Snap Dragon Armortex EXP: We use Snap Dragon’s newest spray skirt with a rubber rand for a water tight seal to stay dry while playboating.

Armortex EXP with Implosion Bar: We use this Snap Dragon spray skirt with the added implosion bar for big water or big drops.

Snap Dragon Whitewater EXP: The younger kids all use the neoprene reinforced spray skirt. The reinforcement on the rim is important for kids, because without it, that’s where the spray skirt will develop leaks.

Ultimate Whitewater Kayakers Gear List


Whitewater Kayaking FAQ

How Do I Choose a Whitewater Kayak?

The most important factor to take into account when choosing a whitewater kayak is the kind of whitewater you will likely be paddling. Rivers vary widely – slow peaceful rivers with class II waves to extremely rocky creeks with waterfalls. If you are wanting to play in waves all day and throw tricks you will likely want a play boat. If you want to kayak rivers with high flows, a river-runner is your best bet. And if you are going to up your game and run steep creeks with wild water and/or waterfalls, you will want a creek boat.

How do you get into whitewater kayaking?

The best thing to do is find a local kayaking club and join it. It is never a good idea to paddle alone and learning solo is incredibly difficult. And, many clubs will likely have access to used equipment like boats that you can try out before investing in your own. Barring a club, contact a kayak dealer in your area and ask for a referral to a coach.

What are the best whitewater kayaks?

Hands down Jackson Kayaks are the best whitewater kayaks for all ages, siz and ability. Eric Jackson started creating the best kayak possible for both himself and his kids and took the company to the next level. Jackson Kayak designs, builds, and manufactures leading whitewater, fishing, and touring kayaks right here in Sparta, TN, in the good ole USA.

What equipment do I need to start whitewater kayaking?

To start whitewater kayaking, you will need, at a minumum, a kayak, a paddle, a PFD (lifevest), a spray skirt, and a helmet.

14 thoughts on “The Best Whitewater Kayaking Gear of 2020! (Buyers Guide)”

  1. I’ve been thinking of going white water kayaking in the near future and its a good thing I found this blog! I didn’t realize how many different boats their are for different scenarios. Thanks for giving me some direction as Im a noob this has def helped with my idea on white water kayaking!

  2. I love that the first part you mentioned Jackson kayaks as perfect for beginners because of their ease of use and maneuverability. Kayaking is an activity that is definitely meant for the family. My brother is taking us on a kayak outing to the river next Saturday. I’ll surely check and make sure that we acquire the best equipment available for this fun little family adventure.


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