Hand and Footwear
Footwear Buyer's Guide
For lack of anything better, neoprene wet suit booties are the ubiquitous answer for most kayaking footwear. Sandals can be dangerous in a kayak (foot entrapment), don't protect the sides of drysocks, and aren’t comfortable anyhow in a kayak (your heels will rub against the inside of the hull). Most water shoes have soles that are too bulky in the toes and heels to fit in a kayak (at least if the kayak is the right size for you). And unless you have narrow feet, a lot of wetsuit booties are too narrow -- especially when worn over top of dry socks. The Kayak Academy features all of the widest booties available (and some standard and narrow ones too) including some with very thin soles for use in low volume kayaks, and if your kayak’s still too cramped for these we also carry neoprene socks with or without soles for kayaks so tight no bootie can be worn in them.
One piece of footwear that is often misunderstood is Kokatat's "Launch Sock". While you could use them for getting in and out of your boat -- hence the name -- their real use is around camp. Wear these dry sock inside your wetsuit booties to keep your feet comfy on land rather than packing a bulky pair of shoes.
Hand-wear Buyer's Guide
Besides warmth, gloves protect your hands from UV rays (skin cancer), chafing/blisters, and cuts from barnacles and sharp fiberglass coamings. So be smart and have gloves to wear for any kind of weather you go out in. For 4-season paddlers, we recommend owning three to four types of gloves: finger-less gloves in warm/hot weather, thin (1 - 2 mm) neoprene gloves for cool days and nights, 3mm neoprene gloves for cold weather, and neoprene mitts when it's so cold that even neoprene gloves don't keep your hands warm enough. Pogies (a.k.a. paddle mitts) are a one-size-fits all solution which makes them a good piece of emergency gear in case you or someone in your group forgets their gloves or finds the gloves they brought aren't warm enough. Neoprene pogies are warmer than paddling gloves. The downside of pogies is if you capsize and wet exit you'll likely be swimming bare handed in the cold water.
The best neoprene paddling gloves have smooth, bare rubber on the palm side for grip, Lycra lining on the inside, and claw-like curvature to the fingers. Read on to learn why.
There are two basic types of paddling gloves: ones you'll enjoy wearing but don’t last long (especially without maintenance such as described below), and durable gloves that don’t work for paddling -- they'll last forever because you'll never use them. However, you can about double the life of a good pair of neoprene paddling gloves by smearing a thin sacrificial layer of AquaSeal Adhesive on the wear points (i.e. the seams at the crotch of the thumb, finger tips, and palm/wrist) before they turn into holes. For best results, apply this layer after the first day you wear the gloves -- when you can just start to see some signs of abrasion or tearing of neoprene at seams. Ideally this smear of adhesive should be paper thin so it won’t feel lumpy.
All good paddling gloves wear out fast from the abrasion of your paddle rubbing on them and getting pinched between your spray-skirt and coaming. When glove makers try to improve the durability, they generally cover the palm with Lycra or synthetic leather material which ruins your ability to grip a paddle. In an attempt to fix the slipperiness, glove manufacturers put "grip dots" on the palm, but these dots usually make the gloves even more slippery when trying to grip a paddle shaft (these dot's can improve grip for some materials, but not fiberglass or graphite paddle shafts). The NRS's Maverick Gloves are a classic example of this. The Maverick gloves are on its fourth generation. Of all the paddling gloves that gripped well they were the most durable gloves ever made; yet the number one feedback people gave NRS was that the Maverick gloves wore out too fast. So NRS "improved" them by changing the palm to a slippery but more rugged material. Experienced paddlers wouldn't buy the new style Maverick and yet the inexperienced people still complained that the wore out too fast. So for 2020 NRS "improved" them more, now they are so stiff and slippery that you have to grip hard which means they will last forever because no-one will use them.
Lycra's slipperiness is an asset on the inside of gloves because it makes the gloves easier to pull on and off - Lycra or fleece on the inside is essential. Yet even with Lycra on the inside, if a neoprene paddling glove is truly “easy” to put on and take off, it's probably too big for your hands. Gloves that are too big will be uncomfortable when gripping a paddle and not as warm as they could be because more cold water will flow in and out of them. For optimum warmth, a paddling glove needs to -- "fit like a glove". However, if gloves are too tight your hands will get cold due to lack of circulation, and the gloves will become too painful to wear after an hour.
For warm to hot weather paddling it’s nice to have a thin finger-less glove that keeps the sun off the back of your hands and gives a little blister protection from the paddle. Years ago paddlers wore bike gloves, but the padding in bike gloves gets in the way of gripping a paddle and the water destroys them. When they first started making kayak specific finger-less gloves they failed to get the grip and comfort right. Recently Stohlquist’s Finger-less Barnacle glove, Contact Glove, and Sun Glove have finally met the mark. All three designs have there place and the K.A. on-line store features all of them.
For warm to cool or shoulder seasons 1-2 mm full fingers gloves are the best choice. They are lightweight and offer the most finger dexterity. On cold saltwater and rivers they are always good to keep handy in a drybag. This thickness is the minimum we recommend for our classes on the lake, river and saltwater unless it is late July and August.
For cool to cold seasons choose neoprene gloves, the thicker they are the warmer they will be, but the thicker gloves are the stiffer they will be. Paddling gloves need to be easy to wrap around a paddle shaft. Good 3mm neoprene paddling gloves look funny - like claws - because they need to be pre-curved in order to easily wrap around a paddle shaft. Without this curved shape your finger muscles get fatigued and your forearms ache from fighting the springiness of the neoprene (i.e. if you try to wear diving gloves while paddling). The thicker the neoprene the more curved they need to be, and 2mm-3mm is the practical limit to neoprene glove thickness for paddling. SCUBA divers often use neoprene gloves that are thicker than this but you wouldn't want to paddle with them.
For paddling in extreme cold conditions, there’s three things that are warmer than neoprene paddling gloves: neoprene mitts, pogies, and dry-gloves. Neoprene mitts are warmer because all your fingers are together and there is less surface area exposed to the weather and evaporative cooling. The drawback to mitts is there are some things you can't do while wearing mittens such as carry a kayak by its toggle lift handle. Pogies (a.k.a. paddle mitts) are mitts that you wrap around the paddle shaft and seal there with hook and loop system. The advantages are your fingers and thumb share the same protected space which for neo. pogies is even warmer than a neoprene mitten on your hand, and you grip the paddle bare handed inside the pogies so there's none of the slipperiness of some gloves. Pogies tend to last forever, and one-size-fits all which makes them a good piece of emergency gear in case you or someone in your group forgets their gloves. Dry glove system have bracelet like pieces that attache to the wrist gaskets on a dry suit and the open end of the rubber dry glove. These male and female bracelets join and seal with "O"-rings when you suit up. Dry gloves are complicated to install and a bit clunky to paddle in, so we recommend trying the neoprene paddling gloves, neoprene mitts, and neoprene pogies first. For dry glove systems, try searching commercial dive supply shops.