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.
Handwear 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 four or five types of gloves: finger-less gloves in warm/hot weather, thin (1 - 2 mm) neoprene gloves for cool days and nights, 3mm neo. gloves for cold weather, and neoprene mitts or dry-gloves when it's so cold that neo. gloves don't keep your hands warm. 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.
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 won't want to use them. However, you can about double the life of a good pair of neoprene paddling glove by smearing a thin sacrificial layer of AquaSeal Adhesive on the wear points (i.e. the crotch of the thumb) 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. 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. 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 rare exception, they are dipped to coat the neoprene for "better" durability rather than having Lycra on the palms. However, 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 glove needs to -- "fit like a glove". If gloves are too tight your hands will get cold due to lack of circulation, and they will become too painful to wear after an hour.
For warm weather paddling it’s nice to have a thin fingerless 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 fingerless gloves they failed to get the grip and comfort right. Recently Stohlquist’s Fingerless 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 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 neoprene paddling gloves look funny - like claws - because they need to be curved in order to easily wrap around a paddle shaft. Without this pre-curved shape your finger muscles get fatigued and your forearms ache from fighting the springiness of the neoprene. 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 neo. 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. The drawback to mitts is there are some things you just can't do while wearing mittens. 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 some designs is even warmer than a regular neoprene mitten, 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 a bit complicated to install and sometimes clunky to paddle in, so we recommend trying the best neoprene gloves, mitts, and pogies first, but for extreme cold weather paddling, or anyone who has a hard time keeping their hands warm, dry-gloves are the warmest option.