stuff I like, the stuff I don't
like, and why.
Ostensibly this is the page where
people go to buy kayaking gear from me. I say ostensibly because
I think in six years I haven't sold many items over the internet.
My business is set up to provide gear for the people who build
with me, I also take orders from people who like my site and want to
support what I do. Buying from me supports all the things I
am actively involved in: environmental conservation, sustainable
agriculture, traditional kayaking. When you buy products from me
I'm going to reccomend the products I think you need for your paddling
lifestyle. Theres no upsell, no bull. I stock as much
gear as I can afford and the rest is filled with a weekly order.
The process takes 2-4
weeks. If you need stuff faster than that you can go through one
of the big outfits.
Regardless, I've prepared
as an information resource to help you wade through the myriad of
products on the market to make smart choices with your money, whoever
you decide to buy from.
A bit about me: I've
kayaking for thirteen years, I kayak 3-5 days a week. I do all
sorts of kayaking. Whitewater, surf kayaking, wilderness ocean
touring, kayak fishing, a bit of racing, and the occasionally glide
down a calm river to soak up the scenery. As you might
expect I've learned a lot over the years, some of it not so
obvious. I've bought a lot of crappy gear, and a lot of gear I
didn't need. What you see here is my top choices for different
gear. Some of it I sell, some of it is from other
companies. I am a dealer for Snap Dragon, Kokatat, and Spirit
Line. These American companies that take their
responsibility to paddlers very seriously, and that is reflected in
quality and customer service. In the places where I paddle,
anything less could be fatal.
want a PFD to be comfortable, adjustable, secure, bouyant, and have
lots of pockets. This is the Ms Fit Tour by Kokatat, don't
let the name fool you, lots of guys buy this PFD too! The Ms Fit
has sooooo many things right. The shape is ideal and doesn't
chafe despite it's generous flotation. Buckles at the waist and
upper chest make sure it's not going to come off at the worst moment,
and easily adjustable shoulders and sides make fitting simple.
The pockets are ideal, two expandible mesh zip pockets that zip upward
with coil zippers, and a lanyard with a D ring inside each
pocket. The radio pocket also has lanyard and inside the main
zipper there is yet another pocket perfect for sunscreen.
The reflective strips are so bright that I once had a buddy yell "Dude
get out of that cave NOW! there is a huge sea lion right next to you, I
can see the EYES!". This vest is so perfect that I'm
convinced that kokatat only offers other pfd's so people will take them
seriously, I can't think of a reason to own anything else.
Things that have happened to me with other manufacturers PFD's
Pocket zipper zipped itself open and lost a 400 dollar gps.
Tight pocket with flap opened a bit on side and forced a camera out,
Main zipper and buckle both blew out while I was being worked in heavy
whitewater, PFD came off.
Chafing areas so bad that I was nearly crying at the end of 25 mile day.
Unless you live in Florida, most people begin kayaking with some sort
of neoprene to help keep them warm and add safety in case of a brief
dunk in the water. The neozip John and Jane are designed to be
comfortable and allow the user to urinate, which is very
important. The common Farmer John that you see is the NRS
version. This poorly designed John has ridiculous kneepads that
interfere with the fit of the boat and painful ankle zippers that cut
into the back of your leg. Skip it and get the Kokatat
version. The important thing to understand about a John is
that it's not a cold water swimsuit. When paired with a fleece
shirt and a drytop it can provide significant immersion protection for
a quick rescue, but then the clock is ticking, the garmet is soaked and
you are losing heat fast. Similarly your body sweat will soak a
John in a few hours making this a poor choice for anything other than
summer in colder climates. Make sure you practice getting cold
and wet with the immersion system you choose to avoid any
surprises. Many people have found that in a real emergency the
John wasn't the protection they thought it was.
An insulating heavy fleece is a good choice paired with a farmer John
and drytop. The Kokatat outercore, shown above, is very nice and
I own several, but if you are on a budget, don't sweat it, just grab
any old fleece you don't mind getting wet.
You want a full dry top if you plan to be in surf or whitewater, or
doing much rolling, which you should be doing, rolling is a part of
kayaking! This is the Kokatat Rouge and Helix, similar dry
tops, the Rouge in Gore-Tex and the Helix in Tropos (coated
nylon). The Rouge is breathable and has a longer life, but
is pretty expensive. The Helix is a lot cheaper. I would
NEVER buy a coated drysuit, but for a drytop, I think the Helix is a
pretty good choice. I go with the Gore-Tex stuff when I can
afford, it pays for itself and is more comfortable.
I don't trust the NRS drytops and the crunchy fabric annoys me.
I've never gotten along with the super heavy (read strangulation)
gaskets on the Stolquist tops. My limited experience with IR tops
was with a top that had this weird neck that was neither watertight,
nor comfortable, it leaked like a sieve.
Paddling jackets have latex at the wrists but a more comfortable, and
not quite dry, neck closure. They are also a bit lighter than a
full dry top. The neck on these jackets is fine for rolling and
even easy surf and Class 3 whitewater. The trickle of ice water
can get old in a hurry, however, when practicing rolls or
rescues. Personally, I can live with that, I like paddling
jackets. The Reaction, on the right, is a coated, non
breathable top with a very reasonable price tag. You can get a
lot of kayaking done in this jacket, it's a great value.
The Tec Tour, on the left, is a Gore-tex jacket, again meaning
breathability and more longevity. This Jacket is designed with
touring kayakers in mind it's super reflective strips, sleeve pockets,
hood, compressible waist are all things you want as a touring
kayaker. Can you make a cheaper Reaction top work,
absolutely. This jacket isn't designed for people who are trying
to make up their minds, it's designed for people who know what they
want. You'll know if it's right for you. A VERY nice jacket.
Now for the big one, the Drysuit. I'll be thorough here because
these things ain't cheap and you don't want to screw up the
Don't buy a cheaper 'paddling suit'. They cost 2/3 of what
a drysuit does and aren't nearly as good. You'll regret
Don't buy a coated fabric drysuit, again they cost 2/3 the price but
last 1/3 as long.
DON'T TRIM THE NECK
GASKET, you can stretch the gasket by
putting it over a pot from the kitchen, only trim as a last resort.
Do buy a suit with attached Gore-Tex socks, you will HATE ankle gaskets.
Do get the Relief Zipper, unless you want to take off the suit whenever
you need to pee. Tricky on the water. Women, I have
been told NOT to get the drop seat. Many very experienced women
paddler say it is uncomfortable and difficult to operate. They
suggest the lowered front relief zipper and using a cup device that
allows you to pee called a Freschette.
Do work with someone who has experience fitting drysuits and knows what
to order. Kokatat will make a lot of custom modifications if you
know what to ask for. Don't just look at the sizing chart and
order a suit, work with someone who sees and fits a lot of these suits
to get the best fit. Make sure you can bring the suit back if it
doesn't work (in a reasonable amount of time), and see if you can
borrow a suit.
Do buy a Kokatat suit. I tell people, when you buy a new Gore-Tex
Drysuit from Kokatat, it's like joining the drysuit Mafia. They
will take care of you if there are any problems with the suit. A
buddy of mine has a 13 year old suit that is still going strong, he
sends it back for patching every couple of years, and honestly, he
needs a new suit, but Kokatat keeps fixing it, they even replaced the
zipper. Contrast that with the experience of another buddy
of mine who had his Palm Drysuit zipper rip open in the surf and he
almost died because of it. No customer support from Palm, no
apology, and they didn't even return his calls. In
conditions where you need a drysuit it is the difference between ice
water and dry skin, life and death. I trust Kokatat.
Now for a matter of personal opinion. When you look at the suits
you will see the Swift-entry suits, a blank suit with exposed zippers,
and the Meridian suit, which has flaps that cover the zippers and an
attached tunnel at the waist. The thinking with the
Meridian is that the flaps protect the zippers and the tunnel keeps
water out of the sprayskirt. Great you say, I'll take that
one. Not so fast, for some people I think this is the right
suit, hard core whitewater guys and serious expedition paddlers becuase
you can only get the expedition extras in a Meridian. For the
rest of us I think the Swift entry is a much better choice, allow me to
make my case.
Why do you want a drysuit in the first place? because you are
tired of fighting your way into cold wet neoprene and all the layers
that go with it. It's not a great system and it's a pain in the
ass. No, you want to zip snug and warm into a drysuit and dive
into ice water with impunity. This is where the Meridian is not
quite as good. For me the flaps are annoying and don't really
protect the zipper that much anyways, and the tunnel is tight which is
fine for people who slide into it in a fancy polartec one piece drysuit
liner, but if you are like me and you just want to zip up over your
street clothes for a quick surf session, then the Meridian forces your
shirt up leaving a cold naked waist. Then you have to
fumble with the tunnel over the skirt, which is an extra step.
Sure the tunnel keeps out more water, but seriously, not much
water. I surf and run whitewater constantly in a Swift-entry and
water in the cockpit is pretty minimal. So I guess my
bottom line here is that the Meridian is more trouble than it's worth,
and it costs more. So I recommend the Swift-Entry with relief zip
and socks (GFER) Customized to fit you, and with a sleeve pocket
added. Trust me here, I know what I'm talking about.
Whew! now that we're past Drysuits let's talk about another decision
you want to get right, what to wear on your head. First, think
about what you are trying to accomplish. For a bit of extra
warmth the strap cap (left) is great, keeps the wind off your
ears. For anything more than that you need a tightly fitting
hood. This has been one of my pet peeves with kayaking companies
over the years. They make these great looking hoods and then you
capsize in them and no matter how fast your roll the hood fills with
water and then, assuming you make it upright again, ice water slowly
drools out of the hood. Sort of the opposite of what you want
right? Worse than no hood at all. Until recently I've sent
kayakers packing for the surf shop when they asked for a kayaking
hood, but now, Kokatat has two nice hoods that actually do a
pretty good job of preventing the cold flush. The bill cap
(middle), and the balaclava (right). I have been in love with my
balaclava since it arrived, and a friend showed up with a bill cap the
other day and I was like "holy crap, this think actually
works." And they are a lot more comfortable than my old
Footwear is another plae it's easy to get tripped up. There are
all sorts of enticing paddle shoes out there with semi rigid soles,
zippers, and buckles. You want to avoid all this stuff.
Your foot needs to be flexible and supple to be comfortable in the
kayak, so I reccomend either 5mm surfers booties or for warmer
expeditions, a simple aquasock like the Teva Proton, pictured above.
A tow belt is an often overlooked piece of vital equipment. Seasickness
or fatigue can incapacitate a paddler with startling suddeness.
You need to tow them home. A tow belt needs a strong line,
a quick release, a shock absorber, an easy way to stow the line, and a
clip that won't corrode. The North water belt, (right) is a
sturdy piece of equipment with all the right features and more rescue
versatility at the cost of a higher price and more bulk. Less
well known is the Kokatat tow belt, which is MUCH more compact and the
line is very easy to stow. This is actually important, as anyone
who has been dragged into a rapid or surf praying not to be decapitated
will tell you. I like the Kokatat but both belts are well built
and well thought out.
Sorry about the tiny picture, that's what I could get off the
internet. Anyways, this is your sprayskirt, it needs to stay on
your boat in the conditions you paddle. It also needs to be easy
to put on. Only one skirt does both, the Snap Dragon. Snap
Dragon has all sorts of custom skirts but generally I sell either their
Ocean Trek, or for really hard core people (class 5 whitewater or 10ft
surf) the River Trek reinforced EXP. I had this skirt for 7
years before it got stolen from my
Insanely durable, easy to put on, almost implosion proof, and
Custom built Greenland size at no extra charge. Snap dragon sells
intense skirts than this one but frankly, I've never needed it, even
in serious water.
Spirit Line Baidarka Bags $61
If you are in a kayak
without bulkheads you must have
flotation. These innovative float/gear bags are the only
bags I've ever seen that
They're big, which is
important because if your bags are less than huge
they won't provide anything more than emotional support in a real
swamping. Seperate float and gear chambers and excellent quality
Paddle Rescue Float $35
There is alot of
bickering in the pro community about
whether or not paddle floats are useful. They scoff and tell you
that you can't really use a paddle float to do a solo re-entry in rough
conditions. Maybe it's the floats they're using. This float
is simple, functional and bulletproof.
Whether it's to bail out a bit
of water from normal seeping, or trying
to empty a swamped kakak, you need a pump. The Aquabound is the
best pump, the Harmony is the worst. Make sure you practice
whatever heroics you are planning with your pump, you might be
surprised at how hard it is to empty a swamped boat this way.
Other things I carry with me
all. I'm a serious minimalist, so if
you have less stuff than this I'd be concerned. Remember, it's
your brain, not your gear that keeps you out of trouble, be safe!
Sunglasses or Hat
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