Friday, November 29, 2013

The 3rd annual Kayaking Christmas

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.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Another Product I am excited to see

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.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

CamelBak Cortez

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!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Saying goodbye to well loved gear

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.

But I loved that tent.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Whitewater vs Sea Kayaking

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.

Webisode #2 "All Roads Lead To The PNW" from TiTs Deep on Vimeo.

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.