The 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 boats 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 this page 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 been 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.


You 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, lost.
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.

$110                                                             $114

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.

$405                                                                  $219

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.

$409                                                                 $174

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 investment.  

 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 it.  

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.

$25                                           $35                                        $36

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 surfers hoods.

$45                                           $25                                          $40

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 car.  Insanely durable, easy to put on, almost implosion proof, and cheap!  Custom built Greenland size at no extra charge.  Snap dragon sells more intense skirts than this one but frankly, I've never needed it, even in serious water.


Spirit Line Baidarka Bags $61 each
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 aren't garbage. 
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 nylon. 

Paddle Rescue Float $35 each
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
Enery Bars
Duct Tape
Twenty dollars

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