Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Minimalist Kayakers Manifesto

There are a couple of 'agendas' I have been trying to push with this website. The first and most important is that people need to seek kayak instruction. Yes, you can buy a kayak, a paddle and pfd and go paddling and have a good time, but it is so much better when you actually know what you are doing. The second, is that it doesn't take an amazing amount of skill to camp from your kayak, and it is in fact easier than backpacking, and more adventurous (unless your form of backpacking is ultralight in the winter, in the mountains and solo.)

A third agenda is that you can do this, and be a minimalist. Now, don't let that word 'minimalist' scare you. It really just means simple. Keep things simple. I like kayak camping because of its simplicity. I like that for the month I was on the inside passage I had two changes of clothes. That all the food I was going to eat was already in the boat. That we lived by the cycle of tides and sun. This is what I mean by simple. I wasn't distracted by phone, or email, or television. There was no office chatter, and no gossip.

Yes, there is gear involved. But here are some guidelines to be a minimalist kayaker on an expedition, or a day paddle.

Find out what works for you, and stick with it. I update gear when it is at the end of its life, or newer tech has so surpassed the performance of what I am using that it would be silly not to upgrade. A good example of this is sleeping bags. My sleeping bag is coming to the end of its life, and it has performed well. But as it comes to the end of its life I am starting to look at treated down. Down sleeping bags have been exceedingly rare in use with kayakers, but for the first time paddlers - myself included - are looking at them for paddling. Technology has caught up.  When I do upgrade, the older piece of gear goes away. If it still has some life in it, it gets handed to a friend who is just starting out, or sold.

This also means that I am never wondering what gear to pack or what to wear. I have summer paddling clothes, and I have winter paddling clothes. The only question is when do I switch between the two. I have a bilge pump and a paddle float and I always pack them and they are always in the same place.

Don't be a slave to technology. I love GPS. I carry one on long trips - a Garmin Dakota 20 that is probably 5 years old - and I use it when appropriate, as a check for map and compass. Not only doesn't it replace map and compass, but I am also not lusting after a much newer one. At the end of the day (or the paddling trip) all GPS's do the same thing. The ability to make a waypoint, and get distance and direction to the waypoint. Adding maps are nice - which my dakota does - but is far from necessary. I don't need one that takes pictures, geotags video, knows if it is being held sideways or vertically or anything else.

Spend more, less frequently. I buy beautifully made gear. I use it for a long time. I replace it when it is dead. I like things that are well crafted, and made with care. My four primary pieces of gear are proof of this. I swear by Delta Kayaks, Werner Paddles, Astral PFD's and Kokatat paddle clothing. Yes, I spent $400 on my paddle. Here is the history of my paddle purchases. I bought a $60 paddle with my first boat and used it for a year. I bought (actually received as a gift from my girlfriend - now wife) a  carbon Werner Camano, I used it for nine years, and it is still my back up paddle. My current Werner Kalliste is five years old, and it probably has another five years in it. My Werner paddle was made by hand in Sultan Washington, and you can have it when you can pry it from my cold dead fingers.

When buying gear, plan for 'the big trip'. Don't buy gear thinking, 'oh before I do that big trip I have always wanted to do, I will upgrade to a better.....' Because you know what? It will become the thing that keeps you from doing the big trip. I bought my Delta knowing in the next few years I would do the Inside Passage. When it was time to do the passage, I had a suitable boat. When my tent died I bought a four season tent, knowing it was way more tent than I would need 99% of the time. But I also knew I wouldn't have to buy another tent for the Inside Passage. Which also means when it is time for this summers trip to Prince William Sound I don't have to worry about boat or tent, or anything else.

Don't Buy "gee-gaws" or anything else that is unnecessary. A gee-gaw is that super cool, keychain headlamp bottle opener. Buy things that you actually need, that serve a purpose. Things that improve safety or quality of life. If you are packing a headlamp, you don't also need an 800 lumen flashlight - no one needs an 800 lumen flashlight! Think about what you are buying, and packing. If you think you might need it, don't bring it. Bring the things you know you will need.

Don't buy something just because it is the latest and greatest, buy it because you know the purpose it serves and why it serves you well.  There is a whole new wave of ultra-light free standing tents on the market. They are amazingly light. But you know what? They don't suit the kind of weather I paddle in. So while I can admire the beauty of the design, they serve no purpose for me. I upgraded from the Hero 3 to the 3+ because I needed the extended battery life. It served a purpose that will directly benefit me on extended trips.

Minimalism can apply to your paddling as well.  Much like Bruce Lee taught with Jeet Kun Do, I try and break everything down to its simplest movements. If I am doing more than is needed I am wasting energy. A good indicator of wasted energy is noise. IS your paddle making a lot of noise as it enters and leaves the water? You are wasting energy. I should be smooth and fluid and simple.

As I write this, I am sitting in a room without furniture. When my son moved out, he took our couch and coffee table, and we never felt the need to replace them. But I am sitting comfortably on the floor, next to a warm fire. I have everything I need. I don't own a lot or material possessions, and I do consider myself a possession minimalist. But I have the things I need to do the things I love. I don't have a quiver of boats, but I have one boat that I love that I use a lot. I try and extend the rules above to the rest of my life, and it is really very easy. The fewer possessions I have, the happier I generally am. I am pretty frequently trimming the amount of clothes I own, and I give away a lot of books and other possessions.

We have been trained to believe that happiness is possession based, and it simply isn't true. You don't have to have much, if what you have suits your needs, serves a purpose, and performs well.


  1. Hi Otaku!
    I'm doing a talk on Green Paddling at a public library next month, and will have an e-note available for the teenagers attending. The e-note will have my own notes on affordable gear to make. It will be given to the teens for free and they'll be allowed to share it on the condition that they do not sell copies. May I include part of this blog post on minimalism, if I show you what I use and list you as the author of your words with a link to your website?

  2. Absolutely Paula, Whatever you need.

    Just send me a copy of whatever you create. Good luck. Thanks for asking.