Help w/ right gear for kayaking class

My wife and I are taking a basic kayaking course this coming weekend and need to purchase some gear. We’ll probably go to REI to get most of these things but we’re a bit lost. There seem to be lots of options.

We’re both beginners but plan on making kayaking a lifelong pursuit. We’ll be kayaking on the Columbia River and the weather will be about 45F. We’ll be out for several hours.

The course outline suggests the following gear:

  • Tennis shoes or river sandals with wool socks or wetsuit booties
  • Sunglasses with retention device (i.e. Croakies, Chums, etc)
  • Sunscreen (SPF 30), lip balm (SPF 15)
  • Sun hat, rain hat, and/or fleece hat
  • Synthetic top and bottom (thermal underwear, heavier wt. for cooler weather)
  • Rain coat and rain pants
  • Nylon shorts and/or swimsuit
  • Water bottle (1 quart)
  • Towel and change of clothes for ride home


    I’m guessing we don’t need a full drysuit which is quite expensive. Does anybody have suggestions on exactly what gear would meet the suggested requirements?

    Should we be looking a drytops? Wetsuits? Booties? Would river sandals be ok?

    Please be specific :slight_smile:

    Thanks in advance!

Hi Ben and welcome

Since this is a baginning kayaking class I am going to assume they are supplying boat, pfd, paddle, and helmets if needed, paddle float and pump?

Are the conditions such that you can get to shore quickly to change if necessary?

Reason I am asking this is that I would hate to see you spend money on stuff based only on what you feel you need for this lesson. You need to dress for immersion so water temps are more important than air temps as water can suck heat from your body much much faster than air can. but if you can make do with a lot of things you already have in my opinion this would be better than spending money without some experience.

A beginning class probably will not have you wet exiting and working on self rescue skills. More than likely, you will be getting used to the boats, learning about forward strokes, maneuvering the kayak and then going for a nice paddle.

So regarding clothing: Question number 1: what are the water temperatures?

do you have wetsuits? what about bicycle stretch neo pants and tops? wicking nylon exercise gear? polypro long underwear? (cotton does not insulate when wet, takes forever to dry, and is not recommended at all…please read that again) You notice that the list specifically states synthetics and nylons? there is a reason for that!

You can layer with synthetics and stay quite comfortable with a windshell/rain suit (see below)

wool socks? What about rain pants and top? You can get a cheap set at Wallyworld (go as lightweight as you can) that would be more than adequate as rain protection. Same for synthetic long underwear. If you have a pair of old tennis shoes or water shoes (again 7 bucks at wallyworld) use them and the only thing I can think of at REI and again this is assuming colder water temps is a pair of long waterproof socks which woudl help in keeping your feet dry getting in and out of the kayak. And you will always use them.

extra set of dry clothes nearby! if you do take a swim, which for kayakers and canoers is more a question of when and not if, make sure you have a dry set of clothing nearby. Not a bad idea to have some hot liquid like hot chocolate or tea in a thermos nearby either.

If it was me, I would make do with most of what I already had or could borrow, keeping always in mind the water temperatures, and your ability to get to shore and into warm clothing.

the hats, sunscreen etc, are self evident. A good wool cap or hat will keep you nice and toasty.

Pleanty of time to collect good gear that is thought out as part of a system that allows layering, and works for different conditions. I woudl not rush out and buy a bunch of stuff especially if some salesperson pushes it. At least not until I knew more than that salesperson anyway.

Good luck. You guys will have a blast.


Hi Ben

– Last Updated: Feb-09-09 6:54 AM EST –

Enjoy the class. If it's with AC, I'm guessing they may supply a farmer john/jane wetsuit, paddling jacket, neoprene booties, paddling gloves if you want them, and possibly even a dry suit. I'm guessing the water's about 50 F this time of year.

I agree with Brazilbrazil. Go with what you have in the near term. I think instuctor will provide all the water safety gear, including protection against cold water immersion, except for underlayers if dry suit. I'd call and ask about the wet suit & paddling jacket, or dry suit, and booties.

In terms of buying stuff now that you'll need later, if you don't have good thermal layers that don't absorb water, and you want some for this trip, you can't go too wrong IMO with a pair of Duofold Varitherm polypro pants, and a couple Varitherm shirts. Price is nice, about $15-20 per. They make good underlayers under a dry suit, which I'm sure you'll buy later. Just don't put them in the dryer. Best price is at if you had time for mail order. GI Joes probably if local brick & mortar.

In 50 F water I get by with one or two of the thin varitherm shirts under a drysuit, but I run relatively hot. Most people add a microflees or wool shirt over the varitherm (or other baselayer.) I only add the thicker shirt in winter, mountain lakes where the water is closer to 40F. When thinking underlayers for DS, you have to dress primarily for water immersion, secondarily for the air. Ideally the air temp roughly matches the water temp, which it does on the PNW coast.

Another idea, luxury really for this trip, is a Sea to Summit dry bag. I think 8L is a nice size. You could put small items in it that you want to take with you in the boat. You will definitely need dry bags later. Peak used to carry them. I like the little bit thicker lined ones versus the really thin ultra-sil. The ultra-sil is more for backpacking IMO where the weight advantage maters.

Couple ideas, anyway.


Do they rent dry suits?
If so, that’s the way to go.

beginner class
It is most likely to start you off with the good old “wet exit”. Wet exit is where you exit your kayak upside down in the water. If you imagine yourself being fully submerged in the water, at whatever cold degrees it is, you have good imagination :slight_smile:


  1. Ask instructors what they would recommend. Wetsuit is a must, drysuit is more convenient, but more expensive to rent, if possible at all. Of course, if you don’t ask around, it will never happen. When you talk to your instructors, make sure to mention any special circumstances - you get cold, never get cold, get seasick, hate water, etc.
  2. Underlayers for the above
  3. Have something for your head - neoprene hood will keep you toasty, any synthetic covering will be better than nothing.
  4. Dont’ forget to have a good breakfast before the class. I had a couple students konk out on me because they were trying to loose weight and deemed cup of coffee and half a muffin proper breakfast before spending half the day in and on 55F water.

    And, go over their list one more time.

    Have a change of dry clothes, put thermos with some hot beverage in the car for when you get off the water.


– Last Updated: Feb-09-09 12:50 PM EST –

First, even in a beginner class that may not be practicing rescues you may be handed a wetsuit before you actually get on the water. My guess is that much of the clothing mentioned is for the time on dry land when you are standing on shore in maybe a stiff cold wind having the basics explained to you.

Best if you call them to find this out, of course. Or spend the bucks and rent a drysuit if that's an option and you'll be getting wet (just wear your layers under it).

Great point on the hood. A full diving hood is nice this time of year, or a wool or poly baklava.

Ask them about gloves - either their list isn't updated for winter or they plan on supplying some full finger neoprene gloves.

The bathing suit or any other layers may end up being worn under a wetsuit, so I'd suggest that you want something with very flat or non-chafing seams. Anything that isn't cotton should be fine for something like this.

As to socks, wear a really good wool pair or two, or a polypro layer then wool. You'll be soggy but have a chance at not too cold feet.

I gotta think that you might have some of this kind of thing around if you do other outdoor activities.

The one thing I would add to that list pronto is some quick energy stuff - the fancy goo and electrolyte replacement stuff, a couple of those really decadent Sweet and Salty nut bars, that kind of thing. There's a good chance you'll have at least one little pocket in your PFD you can cram that into, and eat on the fly.

How're the cars being handled? You may want to pick up an otter case or an around the neck little dry bag for your car key.

Also, grab a notebook and pencil to write stuff down at breaks, or in the car on the way home. You'll find that right and left can become terribly confusing when you are just starting out and try to remember how the paddle and the kayak worked together a day later at the dinner table.

February Oregon kayaking gear
Assuming your class is outside in Oregon this time of year:

  • Tennis shoes or river sandals with wool socks or wetsuit booties

    Wool or synthetic socks - needed for warmth. Any old tennis shoe will do, if big enough to fit over your socks plus drysuit booties.

  • Sunglasses with retention device (i.e. Croakies, Chums, etc)

    These are needed. You probably own some sunglasses, they will do. A retention device is required for kayaking.

  • Sunscreen (SPF 30), lip balm (SPF 15)

    Yes, even in winter. You can put the sunscreen on your lips, you might already own some.

  • Sun hat, rain hat, and/or fleece hat

    Sun hat can be the same as rain hat. This time of year, you need the fleece cap the most. They might supply a hood, which will suffice.

  • Synthetic top and bottom (thermal underwear, heavier wt. for cooler weather)

    You could substitute other synthetic or wool, but long underwear is best. Need more than one layer.

  • Rain coat and rain pants

    The shop should supply a drysuit this time of year. No other rain coat or pants are needed, but some sort of hat/hood and paddling gloves are essential. Shop should supply the gloves.

  • Nylon shorts and/or swimsuit

    Not needed in winter, unless you are inside in a pool.

  • Water bottle (1 quart)

    Commercial bottled water also works, just be sure to bring fluids.

  • Towel and change of clothes for ride home

    Just for comfort.

    Most importantly, bring a positive attitude, have fun.

Good news!
So I called the great people at Alder Creek Kayak & Canoe in Portland and it turns out that (at least for the Basic Kayaking Skills class) all paddling clothing is also included with the gear.

They will have drysuit, neoprene booties and paddling gloves. Yay!

Thank you everyone for your great advice and for taking your time to answer my question. This really is a great community of paddlers.

I’ll still go up to REI on Friday and purchase a nice set of synthetic thermal underwear and a nice synthetic fleece shell to wear under my drysuit.

Does anyone use a neoprene balaklava to keep their head warm or would a wool stocking cap suffice? What about a nice rain hat like the Seattle Sombrero from OR (Outdoor Research)?

Thanks again!


Lot of opinions on hats.

– Last Updated: Feb-10-09 4:04 AM EST –

Partly a personal choice.

I have an OR sombrero and never use it now for kayaking. I wear it occasionally on land. It doesn't work very well for rolling.

I totally like this setup.

NRS Mystery hood. Can disconnect the chin strap to put ear plugs in and out (Docs pro ear plugs, vented. Good for keeping the cold water out of your ears when rolling or in surf. Peak used to carry them.), or occasionally lift the ear flaps if it get's warm. Thin enough to fit under a helmet or under a brimmed hat, but warm enough for 50F water.

The surf shops often have a one piece neoprene version with a little brim on the front, that some people like, too. It's a little thicker and a little warmer. AC will have them in their rental gear. I'm sure they'll let you try one.

OR Sun Runner cap. Got mine at REI. I love this thing. Light, has a bill for the front, curtain to keep sun, wind, and rain off my neck. Rolls well. My wife sewed a heavy duty chin strap on it for me. Also great in the summer on a lake or river when it gets hot. Nothing keeps the sun off my neck like this thing. Some Blue Lizard sun screen on my face and I'm good to go. (Watch out for sun screen or especially bug spray on neoprene gaskets of dry suit. It can dissolve them. All the more reason to rely on cloth to protect the neck.)

An OR sombrero will keep blowing rain off your face a little better, but in heavy blowing rain you will still get wind burned cheeks. No way around that, and it's stimulating anyway :).

I'll bring my hats to B&B tomorrow and to the pool session Wed.

I'm sure there's other good opinions and suggestions out there.


edit: Google 'neoprene surf hood' to get an idea of the little bit thicker neoprene version of the mystery hood that I'm talking about above. Here's one with a velcro chin strap, actually. It may not fit under a helmet as well as a mystery hood. You won't need a helmet until you're in surf, or rock gardening, or anticipating wind above 20 knots(rescues in high wind and chop can get you knocked in the head by another boat.)

I don't see balaclavas around here much. I think they're intended for colder conditions than 50F water, 40F air. I thought about buying one when I was rolling in mountain lakes in the winter, but have a Hydro Flex neoprene hood that I use. Then again, the balaclava might be handy in blowing rain to keep the cheeks warm.

By the way, the wool cap would work fine for this weekend if you don't find exactly what you want on Saturday.

AC courses
bring some fleece, if you have it but otherwise tnhey will dress you for the occasion.

the course will teach you what you need and BTW- they sell it @ AC! go figure!

have fun. I started that program over 20 years ago!


If you are getting wet
It is still likely to be the kind of dump where you can basically cheat it and not have your head under water for the kind of time that would be involved in a roll. That said, a basic relatively lightweight neo hood will be a constant companion paddling for much of your year there, so if there is something like a Mountain Surf, NRS or Kokatat hood available you might as well pick it up.

Only problem with wool caps is that don’t always stay on well when youp head is upside down. But they work fine.

Are morons running this class???

– Last Updated: Feb-10-09 11:33 AM EST –

They're going to take beginner kayakers out in 45 degree temps and - I assume - similar water temps and they don't require dry suits or at the very least wetsuits??? I strongly suggest that you find another outfit that it more responsible than that, as this seems ridiculously dangerous. Heck, the paddling clubs around here wouldn't let people on trips held under those conditions, dressed like this outfitter suggests. Whether the outfitter plans on people getting wet or not, stuff happens, people end up in the water and especially with beginners, you need to be prepared for that.

If you're going to take this class, at least prepare yourself for it properly, even if the outfitter isn't bright enough to insist on it. A wetsuit is really marginal in those conditions, but it's better than nothing. See if you can rent or borrow one, or better yet, a dry suit.

If you plan to paddle in similar conditions on your own, invest in a dry suit, as you'll need it.

I think you missed a post
As suspected, the outfitter will be supplying drysuit, booties and gloves. OPer called them.

Website wasn’t current…
So this all started from some ambiguous copy on the website. I’m sure the Alder Creek offers top-notch instruction, however the text on the class description does not explicitly say they provide drysuits or even wetsuits. It does say “all paddling gear provided” but then goes on to list in the “items you will need on the water…synthetic top and bottom…”

As far as the weather goes, I’m looking forward to a nice February plunge in the Columbia River.

Crisis averted :slight_smile: I appreciate everyone’s input.

Kayaking websites
Manufacturers and some outfitters in this activity are notorious for poorly updated websites. It seems that most of them can paddle or keep that stuff current, not both.

That list read like a summer list, or at least a warmer weather one. I suspect it is just that, and they have never gotten around to updating it for seasonal adjustments.

Neoprene hood & hearing
My heavy neoprene hood works very well for cold-water immersion. The problem is that it dramatically reduces my ability to hear, so it’s not good for classes or group activities. Just something to consider when you’re trying them on.

Alder Creek kudos
These guys throw in use of drysuit, booties and gloves for the price of the lesson (I figure this is a loss leader for them). You won’t find safer, better or better value instruction anywhere. However, be forwarned, you might get hooked, their enthusiasm is quite contagious. They got me hooked with their beginners course a couple years ago, and now I happily drop at least a thousand at their store every year.

I live far enough away from Alder Creek (100 miles) that I tend to forget about them for “every day” equipment purchases. Flatpick is right though, they have a good selection, and very knowledgeable people. For a new boat purchase I wouldn’t go anywhere else. They take good care of ya.

Them are some words…

That makes more sense
If I had known it was Alder Creek, I would have assumed as much.