Congratulations! You made it through another year. Thanksgiving - if you live in the states - is behind us, and that means one thing. YES! It is time for another edition of the Paddling Otaku Kayaking Christmas list.
This year I spent most of the month of November doing a minimalist purge, and so clearly it is time to start thinking about new gear. So without making you wait any longer, here is this years list. From least expensive to most expensive, with only one item above $1000 (in the past people complained that the list was too dreamy.... ie. expensive) In about a week we will have the 'stocking stuffer' list, where everything is under $25.
Sea Kayak with Gordon Brown volume 3 $29.95(us) - I haven't seen this yet, I have a dream that in the future I am asked to review a new volume. Gordon Brown (who I have called the Yoda of Kayaking) is the Paddler I aspire to be, and Simon Willis is the film maker I aspire to be. I better get to work, and it will start with watching this video.
Suunto M3 Compass $34.95 - Repeat after me. You don't need something fancy. This compass does everything you need. Luminous Bezel, workable baseplate, Adjustable declination. I have been teaching Map and Compass for close to a decade, and this is the only compass I will use.
Gigapower torch $39.95 - Okay, I am not sure why I need this, which is tough for a minimalist to say, but it is so awesome! Essentially a blow torch that works off an isobutane canister made beautifully by snow peak. Use it to light Campfires. Or Cigars.
Ultimate Outdoor Map Kit $39.95 - The age of buying paper maps is (almost) over. With Free downloads for charts available for just about everywhere, round out your planning with tops printed 8.5x11 - which works perfectly for a kayaker. I am a big fan of this software when used in conjunction with National Geographic Adventure paper (which should also be on this list, but I am out of room!)
The New Black Diamond Spot $39.95 - I don't own this headlamp, I am still using the more expensive storm, BUT this is a killer. 130 lumen's (brighter than the storm which is ten dollars more) Spot light, Diffuse lights, Red lights, Dimmable. Lockable. Almost double the brightness of similarly priced petzls
Sea to Summit taper dry bag $54.95 - This choice is simple. Changed. My. Boat-packing-life! I know they say to use many small bags, but it just doesn't work for me. This one bag replaced two 20 liter bags that I used for clothes. I wish they made a smaller one for the tight in the bow (it could go in front of this one). The tip is eVent so you can squeeze air out, and it makes packing so much faster!
REI Allstar suit $79.95 - Another product I am itching to try. I paddled the inside passage wearing REI Powerdry mid weight base layers under my dry suit. They were awesome. This is the one piece version which means no gap at the back. Patagonia makes one also in Expedition weight, which for me is too heavy under a dry suit.
Spyderco Delica $100 approx. - I have been carrying this knife for over 20 years, and it has never let me down. Easy to sharpen, cuts anything. Flat in a pocket. You can find wild variations on price, so shop around (I saw it as low as $65!)
Astral Sea Wolf PFD $185 - I am loving this new PFD from Astral (Well, newly redesigned, and new for me) Comfortable, easy to adjust, and feature laden. I don't think there is a better touring PFD on the market.
Any Primaloft Jacket $99 to $199 - Whether you choose The North Faces Thermoball or Redblaze, Patagonia Nano Puff, Mountain Hardwear Compressor or the REI Revelcloud. If you are a paddler and need insulation for around camp. Nothing is warmer, packs smaller, or is more water resistant than primaloft. Can I get a sleeping bag please!
GoPro Hero 3+ $399 - You knew it was coming, right? I thought this was going to be a minor update, and invested in it just for the better battery life. I love it so much I am selling my Hero 3 black to buy another +. It is that good.
Werner Ovation (Special Edition) $480 - $570 This all carbon paddle looks like an upgraded Camano, a paddle near and dear to my heart. It has a slightly smaller blade than the Kalliste, they claim it is the lightest paddle they have ever made and it is 4 ounces less than my already unbelievably light straight shaft Kalliste. I am in love and I have never met her.
Kokatat Custom Dry Suit $1170 (depending on choices) Everyone knows that I love my Kokatat dry suit. Kokatat is now offering a feature where you can completely customize any aspect of the suit, from size through zipper covers and colors. I wish this existed when I got mine. I pieced together the suit of my dreams and it raised the price from the standard by around $150, which really isn't that bad considering all you get. If I were doing it again today - and if I was I would still get a Kokatat! - I would do it this way. Something else worth checking out while you are at Kokatats site is the Maximus Prime PFD, I didn't want to include it on the list because I haven't seen it in the flesh yet, but it looks interesting enough that I will seek one out and try it on.
So that is the wish list for this year. If you still need more ideas here are the lists from last year and the year before. As I mentioned above, in a week or so I will post my stocking stuffer list. Until then, have a great season, and keep paddling.
This is something that made the rounds during the last outdoor retailer. But first let me point out a few things about myself and sleeping bags. I am a pretty traditional guy when it comes to sleeping. I think it may be the single most important part of any trip, because if you aren't sleeping well, you aren't going to be having fun during the day. Currently I use a Thermarest Prolight 4 (which is now called the Prolight Plus) which is a four season self inflating pad. I also use an REI Lumen, which is a 25º EN rated synthetic mummy sleeping bag. Nothing crazy in that sleeping kit. In fact, pretty old school. I have spent a lot of nights in that system, and it has served me well. But I think some changes are brewing. I wasn't thrilled with my pad on the last expedition skills camp. I woke up a couple of times during the night with sore shoulders - I am a side sleeper. So I think it is time to go to something thicker. But I don't like blowing up my own pad. So while I am researching new pads, check out this from Sierra designs.
A zipperless sleeping bag.
This is a pretty simple design, a mummy bag that is a bit roomier, with a blanket that can fill the hole. The blanket is attached to the bottom of the opening. Giving you the ability to open or close it as much as the environment dictates. But because of the design. If you want to roll over you do, leaving he bag where it is. You sleep in it like a bed, not like a mummy bag. Available in 15º and 30º for $399 and $349 it is on par with other bags with these specs. And the specs are 800 fill dri down. The weights are pretty low as well. I don't know if it is EN tested or not.
I want to see this in the flesh, but I am very intrigued. You can see the blue sleeping pad sneaking out in the images above, like the big agnes bags, there is a pocket for a standard size sleeping pad. I don't know if there is insulation above the pad or not.
I wish there was a synthetic version for paddlers like myself, and I also wish the 'blanket' that you use to close up the bag was detachable. If it were, I could change it out - warmer, or cooler - as the environment dictated.
This should be available first quarter of 2014, I for one, will be checking it out.
As someone that is very active in the outdoors, something that has always bugged me is the lack of thought that kayakers - and touring or sea kayakers in particular - get from the major manufacturers of camping gear.
For instance. Garmin makes hundreds of GPS units. They make watches for runners, hikers, and climbers. They make swimming watches and tactical watches. They make dash mounted GPS for boats, and air craft. But they have zero devices for kayakers. Yes, there is a 'nautical' mode for the Garmin fenix, but it does little beyond working in nautical miles and knots. Their is a sailing watch that they market as sailing and kayaking, but most of its features are sailing specific, and doesn't really offer anything the fenix doesn't offer and it costs more.
GoPro is similar. they offer an array of mounts, but nothing that works well on a PFD. I would love a PFD lash tab mount! I would love a magnetic kayak mount, where the magnet goes inside the boat and holds the camera on the outside of the boat.
About a week ago I was talking with a REP from Camelbak. I asked him if I could use the stowaway on my kayak (the stowaway is skiing specific) or if I should just use the unbottle. He told me to wait a minute and came back with this:
This is the Camelbak Cortez - named for the sea of cortez near the Baja Peninsula, land of great warm weather paddling! - and it is a kayaking specific insulated reservoir bag. It comes with a reservoir and is designed to be easily attachable to your bungies or deck rigging with four clips. It also offers insulation for the reservoir, and the tube, as well as a bite valve protector.
The coolest thing - besides the water inside - is that the underside as large rubber patches that make the bag a little sticky. Making it less likely to slide around on the deck of your boat. I told him on the spot that it would be going to Alaska with us next summer. It isn't available yet, but should be in stores at the end of January or the beginning of February. Priced around $60us.
While I am super excited for what looks like an awesome product - I only got a few minutes with it, before it was hidden away again, it had a large tag that said 'prototype' on it - I am even more excited to see that a mainstream outdoor manufacturer is catering to kayakers. I will be getting one of these as soon as possible, and will offer up a full review when I do. Thanks CamelBak!
This past weekend was the 3rd annual Paddling Otaku Expedition Skills Camp. It was just myself and one other paddler, who will be joining me on next summers Alaska Glacier Awareness Project. It was a great weekend, but a few pieces of gear that have been hanging around for quite a while took their final trip.
It got me thinking about gear that has come and gone, I tend to get attached to my gear, and while I embrace change, parting with a loved piece of gear is always tough. Recently I retired my Astral Buoyancy 300r and replaced it with a new Astral Seawolf. I decided after years of using a rescue (type 5) vest that I wanted to simplify and go to a type 3. I hemmed and hawed about the decision for quite a while, almost buying its rescue version bigger brother the Green Jacket. This was the first multi day trip I have done with the Seawolf and really enjoyed it. I still haven't completely decked it out with my gear. but it performed really well. I will do a full review in the coming weeks.
I remember when my first kayak went to someone else's home. I sold it to use the money to step up to my Delta, and I couldn't love my Delta more, but seeing my old, rotomolded perception shadow leave on someone else's truck made me sad. So it was a tough weekend to lose three pieces of gear on one trip.
The first piece I knew was not going to be able to last much longer, but I was still sad to see it go. It was the old blue duffel bag I have used for food storage for close to 15 years. It fit perfectly inside my kayak, and though it wasn't waterproof it worked perfectly with a thick plastic bag inside of it. It has been chewed by mice, rained on. dropped and dragged, and it was finally too far gone to make the trip. My wife put it immediately in a garbage bag so I wouldn't have the chance to change my mind. I wrote about this bag before, and after trying a couple, and researching many I haven't been able to find anything to replace it. There is one last option that someone recommended which I am going to look into. I am very optimistic.
The next piece of gear to say good bye will take some explaining. On my NOLS instructor course there was another instructor candidate who was already an established instructor. He had previously taught backpacking courses but wanted to slide into paddling. I learned a trick from him when we shared a tent, which was, the pee bottle. Now, this may gross you out, but peeing in a bottle on a cold night - so you don't have to get out of your warm bag - is awesome. But take my advice. Put the lid on REALLY tight! You can also use it in your kayak so you don't have to go ashore to go to the bathroom. So it is a really useful tool. It does gross/freak some people out, but it shouldn't. Going to the bathroom is one of the only things I can guarantee you do. It is something we all share. So I am sharing this bathroom tip. So this past Saturday I was getting into my bag, it was very cold, and I reached for the old white nalgene bottle I use - wide mouth is key! - and as I grabbed it, it literally exploded in my hand. Fortunately it didn't have anything in it.
The last item that bit the dust this trip was a tent. A tent that I have loved for 6 years, that I got from an REI Used Gear sale - I think for $40 dollars. I never found anything wrong with it, it was practically a steal. It was the REI Cirque 2 ASL tent. ASL stands for All Season Light which is the REI way of saying, more than a 3 season tent, but not quite a 4 season tent. It is listed as a two person tent, but is so small it is really a one person tent. It is - or was - my go to solo in bad weather tent. A feature I have always liked is that in the top of the tent, in the rain fly there is a small window. It lines up with a large, close able vent. So it can let some light into the tent, which is really nice. Unfortunately, setting up the tent I saw that the window was separating from the fly, and by the end of the trip it was almost completely gone.
This is going to be the hardest - and most expensive piece of gear to replace. I will probably wait until January to start the hunt. The timing was actually pretty good, as I am in the middle of Minimalist November, meaning I have to part with an item from my life, every day, and the number of items each day corresponds to the date of the month. So on the 10th of November I have to give away 10 things.
For me it reinforces that I shouldn't be too attached to the gear around me. It may come and go. But it serves a purpose, it doesn't define me.
If you have been reading here for a while there are a couple of things you may have noticed. I like finely crafted short films. As can be witnessed here and here. I think whitewater culture is fascinating, and am in fact a little envious of all the great whitewater films that are made, like this one, or the one embedded below.
I have said before that I want to make sea kayaking as cool as whitewater. But I am starting to realize it can't be. The young women in the video above are very cool - is that term even cool anymore? They are very high energy, and boisterous, and young and attractive. I would also never sell them short by saying they are anything less than highly skilled paddlers. I am none of those things, and thats okay (well, I am a pretty good paddler). While I am envious of whitewaters ability to translate well to the medium of film - and I will continue to make sea kayaking films that I hope capture some of that feeling - I am coming to realize that the two sports are two very different undertakings.
While the whitewater kayakers are young, outgoing, risk takers, that is not what most sea kayakers are. We are different, and different is okay. I think the serious sea kayakers in the world are a different lot. We are older, perhaps a little wiser, and a little more zen. We don't have to ride tandem off a waterfall - not that there is anything wrong with that - but are happy to enjoy a beautiful swell on a coast, or waiting to watch a glacier calve. I think we are far more likely to see a sea kayaker meditate before or after a paddle, or do yoga on a lunch break.
Tomorrow morning I head out for a weekend of paddling. There won't be any waterfalls, or surf. There will be a couple of long days in the boat, to give a newer paddler the feel for what an expedition is like. A paddler who will do an expedition with me next summer. I will also shoot some video with the new Hero 3+ which will lead to a more detailed review. There will be a nice dinner by a camp fire on a cold night. There will be some meditation. There will be very little hijinks. And that is okay.
I know it is short notice, but starting tomorrow I am doing the Minimalist Challenge for the month of November, which I read about here. Essentially it works like this:
On the first day of the month, you pick one thing to give away, donate, throwaway, etc. I am going to take a picture of it, and post it to the Paddling Otaku Facebook page. On day two of the month I choose two things. On day three I choose three things. Until the end of the month when I have to choose 30 things to get rid of.
If you are interested in joining me, head over to my Facebook page.
What does this have to do with paddling? Only a little. I am a firm believer in the "Bruce Lee/Jeet Kune Do" school of kayaking. Which is essentially, take what works, and throw the rest of it away. I teach a very simplified form of paddling. I also feel the same way about gear. If I get something new, I am replacing something old. One in, one out. I try hard to do this in my life. I am not always successful, but I try.
So that is how it relates to paddling. Being a minimalist is something that I find stress relieving. When I can't find something I don't have far to look for it. I have very little clutter. It makes everything more simple, and a simple life is a good life. For me anyway. So if you would like to give it a try, head over to Facebook.
I have dropped kayaks. Many kayaks, under my charge have been dropped. There was the wooden one, made by Fox Lane Boatworks. A beautiful boat. I dropped it from a roof rack onto pavement, unloading the boat from my roof. It bounced on a cold winter morning, and I commented on how durable the boat appeared to be. At the time I was trying to get work instructing for them. I didn't get the job.
I don't know how many fiberglass boats I dropped on rocks while moving them on NOLS courses. Fewer than the students dropped, that is for sure, but I have definitely dropped my share. Generally from about knee height, so not that bad. Fiberglass does pretty well when dropped. But I have done some repairs post course with NOLS. Mostly small cracks, no big deal. (On a side note, if you want to test gear give it to NOLS. I worked three courses one summer and destroyed a brand new TNF sleeping bag. 90 days. That was its life)
I have paddled a lot of traditional plastic boats as well, but I never really worry about them. You could probably run your rotomolded poly boat over with a truck, kick out the dents and go paddling.
The boats that live in my back yard are close to the house on a home made wooden rack. Directly next to them is a tree that is probably 3 feet in diameter. My thinking is that they would be protected should something unfortunate happen. But about a week ago we got a night of big wind. The following day I went back there to check on things and I found this.
I have had people look at thermoformed boats, and for some reason decide that they look brittle. Meaning easy to crack. I have dropped my delta from knee height and done zero damage. I have had an 800 pound bear stand on the back deck of my kayak and cause no damage - I was hoping for claw marks! After the bear I slid my Delta down a 40 foot rocky beach to the water, while we carried Sarah's fiberglass boat. Yeah, it got scratched up. But it is fine. But when I saw the scene above I got nervous. We need this boat for AGAP 2014, we don't have the resources to replace a boat, and I have just completed extensive repairs on another boat. I don't want to do that again. But when I got up close I was amazed. First, the branch that fell in the windstorm was about 10 feet in length and about 4 inches across. It weighed around 25 pounds. There was zero damage. It fell from a pretty big height. I am not sure exactly how high, but at least 20 feet. That is a lot of force.
Now clearly, if I just spent time repairing a boat, they can be broken. The Delta I repaired was damaged in shipping and I think one of two things happened to it. Option one is impact from a fork lift. The other option is that a loaded pallet fell on it. My confusion on that situation is that the damage was pretty extensive on both sides of the bow. I suspect a great deal of force was dropped on the deck of the boat. There was probably just nowhere for the force to go. But that situation whatever it was, was out of the ordinary.
In my experience is rotomolded poly boats are the most durable, But I think thermoformed is a close second. Take a hammer to a fiberglass boat and see what happens. Of course, Fiberglass is easier to repair, so at the end of the day I don't think it makes that much of a difference. I think most of the big boat companies make incredible products. But don't tell me Thermoformed isn't durable.
So, if you are a mac user - and I happen to know that 18% of you are - you can now download the latest version of OS X for free. It's called Mavericks. It is named after this:
So why am I giving you this information? For this simple reason. If you have Mavericks installed on your mac, you have a new app that has previously only been available on iPads. That app is called iBooks, which means you can read any books in the iBook store. Including mine. So go check out Forward - it's free and viewable on your Mavericks installed Mac.
You may have already seen this, it really all occurred about a week ago.
These are three Boy Scouts of America troop leaders destroying a natural formation at goblin valley state park. I should actually say these are three former BSA scout leaders, as BSA has rightly removed them from scouting. This isn't the first public relations nightmare that BSA has had this year either. At one point early in the year BSA affirmed that it would not allow openly gay youth to be scouts, which caused an uproar. Then when they changed their minds - hoping to calm people down - they angered their own people, and all of it played out in the media. I would think at this point the BSA are just hoping to end the year quietly.
I have a long standing love/hate relationship with Boy Scouts of America. Scouting has a great tradition in both the United States and in England before that. From what I can find on the BSA website there are about 2.7 million scouts in the US. I applaud any organization that can get that many people into the outdoors. I love that. On average about 30,000 scouts will go to Philmont scout ranch yearly. That is a great number - for comparison in 2011 NOLS graduated 'more than 16,500 students'. I have two dear friends that had amazing experiences with BSA, one even working at Philmont Scout Ranch. I earn a little bit of my income teaching Wilderness First Aid and Leave No Trace to scouts, and the people I meet are hard working, attentive students, with a real desire to be as good as they can in the back country.
So what is there to hate about BSA? Well, frankly, a lot. While I applaud the number of people they get active in the outdoors, I hate that they do it so poorly. A lot of the problem is that there is a great deal of variation from troop to troop. Some troops do very little in the outdoors, and some are very active. The reason for that is that the level of activity is determined by the troop leaders, which are generally volunteering parents with little or no training. It is people with little or no training in the video above. I can guarantee that no one in that video is a Leave No Trace Master Educator, as all NOLS instructors are.
When I look at the gear list for Philmont Scout Ranch I cringe a little - keep in mind that Philmont is the pinnacle of scouting trips. A compass is listed as optional. Clothing is mentioned but no mention of what the clothing should be made out of. I am hoping the scout leaders bringing their students to Philmont know not to bring Cotton. I found three different gear lists on Philmonts website, presumably for three different types of activities. One list has "pack cover - trash bag acceptable" and one list "pack cover - trash bag not desirable". One also lists "no pancho's" and another list "rain gear or pancho" and the store sells pancho's. How is that for a mixed message? I could go on significantly longer about things they do wrong, but they are having a bad enough week. (I did eventually find a fourth gear list that said no cotton!)
Maybe it is time to have a standard curriculum for Troops? Maybe it is time for some form of systemized education, and training program for scout leaders? How about to be a scout leader you have to do more than put on a uniform? Maybe scout leaders should be told "if you are wearing that uniform you represent the Boy Scouts of America, and your actions need to be in line with the goals and values of Scouting." In retrospect though that wouldn't work. The scout leaders in the video above weren't in uniform.
Addendum - Between the time I started writing this post, and finishing it, the original video was pulled from youtube. I found an alternate host, but at some point I am sure it will be gone too. I am also sure pulling the video is on 'the advice of counsel'.