Gear Up! Kayak Touring
by Greer Hitch
Sweat drips from your nose as the morning mist drifts above the water. Your smooth strokes cause the water by your boat to boil gently, while rocks jutting from the shore rise like warriors from the crashing waves, strong and solid.
A kayak tour is a trip for the senses and the soul. Whether it's on a lake, river, or ocean, you can experience that much needed mental break. Head out for a day, a week, or a month. Just make sure you take along the gear that will make your trip all the more enjoyable.
Things to consider in selecting a touring kayak are size, rudder, and hull shape. If you're planning on heading out for weekend trips, you probably don't need a super-long boat. A boat such as the Perception Carolina Airalite would do the trick. If you're finally tackling that month-long expedition along the Canadian coast, get a long boat—like the Perception Eclipse 17.0 Airalite—with the capacity to hold all your gear . Make sure to also take into account your size in relation to the boat and whether you want a rudder or not. If you have to battle crosswinds or a current, having a rudder makes paddling in line much easier.
Hull shape is a little more complicated. To cut a long story short, a streamlined hull tracks better but can be more tippy than a wide one. A keel (fin-like ridge along the bottom of the hull) can help you paddle a wide kayak in a straight line. Consider the shape of the bow and stern (front and back). A more pronounced bow and stern, such as on the Perception Carolina, will battle waves but will be susceptible to cross wind. A low-sitting bow and stern, like the Prijon Calabria is aerodynamic in the wind, but you’ll be eating waves.
If you're not used to calling a "life jacket" a PFD (Personal Flotation Device), get used to it because they are not meant to save your life, but to enhance your safety factor. Just as my old trip guide used to say, "Safety is no accident." A high-cut PFD is ideal for kayak touring because it doesn’t compete with the spray skirt (more on that later). Lotus and Kokatat both have a wide variety of PFD's for all sizes and shapes.
Your paddle is not an optional piece of gear. Unless you’re an expert, stick with skinny, asymmetrical blades, save some money, and get a basic touring paddle like the 230cm Seven2 Iso. As you become experienced on the water, move on to a high performance paddle with a light and stiff carbon fiber shaft. With their light weight and feathering options, these paddles help you conserve energy and reduce fatigue.
If you'd rather not haul a boat full of water along with you on your trip, invest in a spray skirt. This keeps your cockpit dry and comfortable, even if you're getting bombarded with waves. Touring skirts are usually somewhat stretchy and made of nylon, which is light and easy to adjust. Neoprene skirts should come out in only sticky situations and fit tightly like a wetsuit, which makes them better for short-term use. Combination skirts are made of both neoprene and nylon, giving you a nice balance.
When you go on a kayak tour, you're in the water, which surprisingly means you're going to get wet. Even when it's warm out, you can still get the chills from being in the water for extended periods of time. Kayak clothing should be comfy, somewhat stretchy, and most importantly, not cotton! Synthetic materials and new wool products retain heat, insulate while wet, and dry quickly. Remember, cotton kills!
Layer so you have options when the temperature changes. On top, wear a paddling jacket. This should be waterproof, breathable, and have a waist cinch to keep water out. If whitecaps make their appearance or rain begins to fall, seal up the sleeves and neck of these hardcore jackets and your core will stay dry. The Kokatat Gore-Tex Paclite Pullover is a good beginning jacket with splash closure at waist and wrists.
You’ll want base layers of insulation under your paddling jacket. Marmot, Patagonia, and Lotus Designs all make comfortable and warm lightweight base layers that should make their way into your dry bag (see below). If you're heading into sunny conditions, make sure to have some polarized sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat for comfortable, glare-free paddling.
To keep your new gear sparkling and functional, make sure to pack it in a dry bag, which is, just as the name suggests, a bag that keeps everything dry. A waterproof compass (preferably one that floats) such as the Suunto MCB Amphibian, is a convenient touring tool and is sufficient for rivers and smaller lakes. On open water, where proper navigation is essential, a nautical chart and a strap-on compass like the Suunto Orca is a must. If you happen to take a dreaded dump in the water make sure to have a paddle float on-hand, which is an inflatable bag that turns your paddle into an outrigger, so you can get back into your kayak.
Most importantly: be safe, be smart, and have fun.