Of all outdoor activities, I love to paddle the most. Canoeing was my first love, but kayaking is a pretty close second.
For that reason, I have tried and tested a lot of paddling gear (and paddleboats!) over the years, on day paddles as well as multi-day adventures.
A few years ago, Gemma and I also managed an outdoor retail store together. Selling kayaks and canoes and recommending paddling gear was literally our job.
During the holiday season, we helped many people find the perfect paddling themed gifts for their family and friends.
With all this in mind, this post shares what we believe to be the 15 best gifts for paddlers. I’ve grouped the items in three categories – inexpensive (less than $50), midrange ($50-100) and then luxury ($150+) to provide options for all budgets. All monetary amounts are Canadian dollars.
Gift ideas for kayakers and canoeists
This list features a range of useful, fun and thoughtful items for paddlers. While this post was written with kayak and canoe paddlers in mind, many of these ideas are applicable to stand up paddleboard paddlers as well as other watersports enthusiasts.
Of course, the ultimate gift for some paddlers would be a new canoe or kayak…but I’ve tried to be realistic. If you have the budget to give a brand new paddleboat then go for it!
If none of these ideas suit, don’t panic. A gift card for your favourite local outdoor store is a solid alternative choice.
In fact, some paddlers would actually prefer that. They may be saving for a specific kayak or paddle and your gift card would contribute to that dream purchase!
Time to start the list, starting with the best gifts for paddlers $50 or less.
Published December 2022. This post includes affiliate links. If you make a purchase via one of these links, we may receive a percentage of the sale at no extra cost to you.
Best gifts for paddlers – Less than $50
Paddling themed artwork
Brighten up someone’s home with a paddling themed piece of artwork, such as this watercolour canoe print (painted and printed in Ontario) or this colourful canoe paddle print.
Or how about a piece of artwork depicting a favourite paddling place, like this vintage Algonquin Provincial Park print?
Gift the spirit of the season with these lovely handmade maple wood canoe ornaments or this set of mini canoe paddle ornaments.
For general nature themed artwork, I really like HelloYellowCanary’s prints. We have the ‘100 Species of BC’ animal print framed in our living room.
This tubular piece of fabric can be worn in many different ways. The most obvious is around the neck for sun coverage or warmth.
Alternatively, a neck gaiter can be used as a headscarf, sweatband, face mask, hair tie, beanie hat and more.
On hot days, paddlers can utilise their neck gaiter as a cooling device by dipping it into the water and wearing it around the neck.
The most popular brand of neck gaiters is Buff, which has lead to this name being used by many people to refer to this type of item.
Shop neck gaiters: MEC | Amazon
On multi-day paddling trips, I always bring a pair of lightweight merino wool gloves. I like to wear them on cold mornings, before I have warmed myself up with some paddling.
Some kayak paddlers swear by paddling specific gloves, which are typically fingerless. These may be able to prevent blisters forming between their first finger and thumb.
Cold weather paddlers will love insulated gloves. Neoprene varieties usually have silicone on the palms to help prevent the paddle from slipping. For the warmest paddling gloves, you may need to increase your budget to $70-80.
With no shade available on the water, paddling in the summer months can be HOT.
Sun hats are designed to provide maximum shade and feature a wide brim all the way around the entire head.
Look for a sun hat with a SPF rating, to help protecting the paddler from harmful ultraviolet A and B rays.
I like Tilly hats (wide brim, Canadian made, floats, guaranteed for life) while Gemma likes her Sun Bucket hat made by Outdoor Research (quick drying, UPF 50+).
While it may not be the most exciting of paddling gift ideas here, dry bags are always useful. This suggestion is an ideal stocking stuffer and/or add-on to a larger gift.
Dry bags keep items safe and, yep, you’ve guessed it, dry while paddling. Produced in many different sizes and colours, dry bags are also commonly used for multi-day hiking.
Small dry bags are used for storing clothes and gear, while larger packs can be utilised for hauling many items on portages.
Outdoor Research sells my favourite dry bags on the market – most are plain but OR’s feature some pretty funky patterns
Waterproof electronics case
Continuing on a similar theme to the last suggestion, this item helps keep electronics dry when paddling.
The pictured electronics case is specifically designed to protect cell phones and small electronics from splashes and quick ‘dunks’ (not full submersion).
This product is available in four different sizes and has transparent panels to allow use of the item inside.
Rashguard or sunshirt
As already mentioned, sun protection is crucial when paddling as there is no shade available while on the water.
Another protection method (besides using a sunhat, sunglasses and sunscreen) is to wear a rashguard or sunshirt.
These clothing items are usually long sleeved and have a high SPF rating to help block harmful UV light. Nylon and polyester are common materials.
Paddling themed puzzle
For most people, winter is a non-paddling season. A puzzle is a good way to while away that long waiting period!
There are many paddling themed puzzles around, such as this 1000 piece Moraine Lake version or this 1000 piece lakeside scene.
When I buy a puzzle, I look for those with ‘random cut’ pieces, like this 500 piece ‘Day at the Lake’ puzzle. This means that every puzzle piece looks a little bit different.
Inspire your paddler friend or family member with a book.
Consider a book with paddling stories from home (like Paddling Pathways) or abroad (such as Paddle to the Amazon or Paddle to the Arctic).
For the paddler who enjoys a bit of history, this book explores the connection between the canoe and the making of Canada as we know it today.
Alternatively, look for a specific guidebook for a canoe trip that you know is on their paddling bucket list (Bowron Lakes, Temagami, Algonquin?)
If their ‘to do’ isn’t so defined, find a book with a broader range, such as Kevin Callan’s ‘Top 60 Canoe Routes of Ontario.”
Best gifts for paddlers – $50 to 100
Useful for launching, landing and portaging, water shoes also keep feet warm while paddling.
On summer day trips, I usually wear flipflops. Gemma prefers to wear her Teva Hurricane Drift sandals for better support (they are super light and dry in seconds too).
Depending on the type of multi-day trip, I may bring my Neoprene booties or lighter water shoes. Both have good tread, perfect for portaging or landing on rocky beaches.
Kayak crib board
This is a very specific recommendation but I think you’ll understand why!
One of the most unique paddling themed gifts I have ever seen is GSI’s Kayak Cribbage Board. These shaped resin pieces are hand painted and includes six pegs for keeping score as well as a peg storage compartment.
Back when we managed an outdoor retail store, there was also a canoe version. At the time of writing, however, I haven’t been able to find any stores currently selling it.
Best gift for paddlers – More than $100
Splash top / paddle jacket
A splash top or paddle jacket is an ideal gift for the shoulder season or occasional river paddler.
This shell outer layer provides lightweight protection from the elements, perfect for potentially rainy spring days and chilly autumn afternoons on the water.
Paddle jackets can be useful for summer trips too, when thunderstorms sometimes appear out of nowhere.
Personal Flotation Device – PFD
For safety, every paddler must have a PFD. Lighter and less bulky than life jackets, PFDs are designed for recreational paddling.
This is an ideal gift for someone just getting into paddling OR a more experienced paddler looking to upgrade/replace their PFD.
One super important aspect to this gift, however, is that you will need to physically visit an outdoor store with the giftee (a gift card is a good alternative if this is not possible).
PFDs all fit a bit differently and it is crucial to get one that is the right size. And being safety equipment, PFDs cannot usually be returned or exchanged (that was a firm policy at our store).
Annual park pass
Give a paddler the gift of a year of endless exploration! Not only a way to save money, annual park passes can be a fantastic source of inspiration for a paddler.
An annual Parks Canada Discovery Pass provides the holder with unlimited admission to more than 80 national parks for 12 months, including amazing paddling destinations like Kejimkujik and Jasper (Maligne Lake).
Depending on your giftee’s location, a provincial or territorial park pass may be a better fit. Seasonal or annual passes are available in Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Newfoundland, New Brunswick, Quebec and Northwest Territories. Provincial parks are free for day use in Alberta, BC, PEI and Nova Scotia.
While any paddle will do the job, a paddler’s life can be made much easier with a better quality paddle.
This is particularly true for kayak paddles, which are produced in many different styles and materials.
The weight of a paddle can make a huge difference, especially to long distance paddlers. Carbon fibre is the lightest but most expensive material. Carbon blends offer a cheaper alternative.
Before purchasing, you’ll need to know the paddler’s height and kayak width OR the length of their existing paddle.
For the kayaker who seems to have it all, look into a Greenland paddle. These propeller like paddles were developed by the Inuit in the Arctic and provide better control with less physical strain.
Shop: MEC kayak paddles | MEC canoe paddles
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One half of the Canadian/British couple behind Off Track Travel, Canada. Jean Robert (JR) is up for anything, but you’re most likely to find him either snowboarding, fishing or building something. Gemma and JR are currently based in the beautiful Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada.