10 Kayak Hacks and Tips

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There’s nothing quite like the feeling of floating just a few inches above the water in a kayak. Whether your next paddle trip is for a couple of hours or several days, these tips and hacks will make your time out on the water even better.

1. Reflection Protection

Hat, sunscreen and bandana on kayak

To protect yourself from the sun’s rays, you know you need to slather on the sunscreen before you hit the water. But don’t forget the sun’s reflection off the water, which can reach places you normally don’t think about, like the underside of your chin and nose, the backs of your arms and in your ears. Use a combination of sunscreen and protective clothing like a bandana or Buff to keep skin protected, and set a timer to remind yourself to reapply liberally at least every two hours. (See our article on How to Choose and Use Sunscreen for more helpful tips.)

2. Organize the Little Things

organize the little things

It can be tricky to keep track of all the little items you need regular access to when you’re out on the water. Keep your sunscreen, lip balm or a bag with snacks secure and close at hand by using hook-and-loop tape squares. Attach the loop side to the inside roof of your hull and the hook side to the objects.

3. A Little Love for Your Legs (and Feet)

Cushion your legs

The shape of most boats doesn’t allow for much wiggle room when it comes to your legs. For comfort on long paddles, use a dry bag under your knees to change the angle of your legs to provide some relief and prevent them from falling asleep. Heels can also benefit from some extra padding, since they can bruise when pressed into the boat for extended periods. Put a chair cushion or foam pad under your heels, then use it as a sit pad in camp.

4. Paddle Stash

How to stash your paddle

You’re not always paddling when you’re out on the water. Sometimes you’re fishing, sometimes you’re enjoying a well-deserved snack. Rather than trying to balance your paddle across your lap (and possibly losing it), rig cordage and straps on the side of your boat for quick and convenient storage when you want both hands free. Tie cord around the lip of the cockpit and attach two hook-and-loop cinch straps along one side about 4 inches apart. Simply secure the straps around your paddle when you’re ready for a break.

6. Simple Storage Access

Tie a string on your first bag

Kayaks can hold a surprising amount of gear. However, once they’re packed, it can be challenging to reach the bags crammed all the way at the front. A little forethought can save you from having to pick up your boat and shake it to get things out. Tie a string to the first dry bag you load in (and make sure the string stays accessible when you load the rest of your gear). When it’s time to make camp, simply pull the string to retrieve your gear.

6. Floating Fridge

Keep your perishables at the bottom

If you thought fresh food was only for car campers, think again. If you’re headed out on a chilly salt water paddle, take advantage of the cold water and store produce and other perishable food in the bottom of your boat where the temperature will keep items refrigerated. A crisp salad on a kayak camping trip? Yes, please!

7. Helping Hands (and Handles)

Add a handle

Boats can get heavy when they’re loaded down with gear, particularly for longer trips. Make your own haul handles with some PVC and a kayak strap then recruit your adventure buddies to help pull a heavy boat out of the water.

8. Clip It Good

Add clips

The uses for cord and a carabiner are nearly endless. Rigging a bowline to your boat lets you anchor it to shore when you come in for a lunch break, and the carabiner makes securing it fast and easy. If you want to get out and fish shallow tide flats, tether your boat so it doesn’t float away by clipping the carabiner to your PFD. Note: If you’re headed out on saltwater, avoid aluminum carabiners as the salt corrodes the metal.

9. Avoid Rock Bottom

Kayak resting on log

The rocks and gravel of many beaches can be rough on boat bottoms, especially if they’re made of fiberglass. Driftwood, worn smooth by the elements, makes the perfect stand-in roller to protect boats as you haul them out of the water.

10. Don’t Forget to Do the Laundry

Make your dry bag a laundry bag

When the smell of sweat and sunscreen get a little too strong for your trip mates, transform your dry bag into a washing machine.

  1. Turn your dry bag inside out.
  2. Fill bag partway with water and add a couple of drops of biodegradable soap.
  3. Add offending clothing, seal top and shake vigorously.
  4. Remove clothes, scatter soapy water according to Leave No Trace principles (be at least 200 feet away from water sources), and refill with clean water.
  5. Return soapy clothes, seal top and shake until clothes are thoroughly rinsed. Repeat with clean water as needed.
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