Gear Up! Kayak Touring
The most fun you'll ever have with your butt below the water lineby Todd Cox
It's that moment when the sun peaks over the horizon and false-dawn becomes the genuine article. Itís the booming of the breakers that you feel rather than hear. Sometimes itís the utter silence as a moose lifts its head and tries to figure out what kind of strange duck is blue, 15 feet long and wears a yellow rain hat. Itís kayak touring. Itís the outdoors at its best.
Contrary to popular belief, touring doesnít have to be an epic trip around the point of Nova Scotia. Anybody who knows which end is up on a map and compass and has a reasonable helping of common sense can take up kayak touring, usually close to home. Goofing around a small lake or along a slow river can be gratifying and exciting.
Kayaks The key points to consider in selecting a touring
kayak are size, rudder, and hull shape. Length affects how many daysí
worth of gear you can carry and is usually proportional to how big a paddler
the boat is designed for. Weight affects how much youíre pushing along
with each stroke. A rudder will improve the boatís ability to hold a straight
line, and can be offset to compensate for crosswinds or current.
Perception Shadow (bottom), Prijon Yukon Expedition (top)
Hull shape is, was, and will be the topic of entire books. The Cliff's Notes version is that sleek is better than tubby, a keel (fin-like ridge along the bottom of the hull) is desirable for holding a line, and the shape of bow and stern (front and back) will vary depending on what you plan to do. A higher bow and stern, such as on the Perception Shadow (bottom), will break waves but will catch more wind. A lower bow and stern, like the Prijon Yukon Expedition (top) wonít get blown around much, but youíll be breaking waves with your face.
A PFD (Personal Flotation Device) is like a seatbelt for the water. You wonít be safe unless youíre wearing one. For kayaking, itís important that your PFD be fairly high cut so it doesnít interfere with the spray skirt. Lotus and Kokotat both make excellent kayaking PFD's for people of all sizes and shapes.
The Kokatat OutFit Tour Life Jacket. Fit is life for PFDís. This is a place you shouldnít try to cut costs. An uncomfortable PFD can ruin a trip.
You'll be moving real slow without one of these. Choosing a starter paddle can be as simple as getting a basic 230cm touring paddle. A paddle with long skinny blades will give you the most efficient stroke. Unless youíve already got a well-developed high angle stroke, stick with the skinny blades.
The Werner Skagit Tour 2-Piece paddle, an introductory paddle you can grow with.
Itís possible to save some money by getting a more basic touring paddle,
and on a day or overnight trip youíll barely notice the difference. The
longer the trip though, the happier youíll be with that light
and stiff carbon fiber paddle. If you can swing it, a spare paddle for long
trips isnít a bad idea either.
The AT Paddles Xception OS Carbon is the Porsche of touring paddles; it's fast, has powerful acceleration, and is incredibly lightweight.
The Harmony Clearwater spray skirt will fit almost any boat; not to mention its killer price.
An oft-overlooked aspect of kayaking is the spray skirt. The spray skirt keeps the inside of your cockpit dry no matter what kind of conditions you happen to be paddling. Touring skirts will generally make heavy use of nylon for comfort and ease of adjustment. Neoprene skirts are nice for extreme hairy conditions, but fit like a wetsuit so they generally arenít as comfortable for long distances. Combination skirts using both neoprene and nylon are an excellent balance.
No matter how good you are, youíre going to get a little wet while kayaking. Being wet means youíll get cold deceptively fast, even in summer. Your kayak clothing should be comfortable, easy to move in, and retain its warmth even if you get soaked. For this reason, synthetics are an absolute must, and cotton shouldnít be anywhere near you when youíre paddling.
Layering is paramount. On top, youíll want a paddling
jacket. Paddling jackets should be waterproof, breathable, and have a waist
that cinches down to keep water from splashing up into the jacket. As conditions
get tougher, the sleeves and neck of the hardcore jackets can seal up so that
even if you fall in the water youíll remain dry inside. The Kokatat
Gore-Tex Paclite Pullover is a middle-of-the-road jacket with splash closure
at waist and wrists.
Kokatat Gore-Tex Paclite Pullover (L), Lotus Core Skin Shirt (R)
Underneath your jacket, youíll want layers of synthetic insulation. Marmot, Patagonia, and Lotus all make top-notch lightweight base layers that should be part of your repertoire. Last, but not least, for your head a pair of polarized sunglasses and a wide brimmed hat will make you happy in the sun and rain.
Suunto Orca Kayak Compass
Along with a good map in a waterproof bag, a waterproof compass (preferably one that floats) such as the Suunto MCB Amphibian is sufficient for rivers and smaller lakes. On open water, where navigation is more life and death, a proper nautical chart and a strap-on compass you can keep a continuous eye on like the Suunto Orca is a good idea.
Friends and Brains
As with any outdoor activity, the unexpected can and will happen when youíre kayak touring. Anticipating, training, and being prepared for common problems will usually see you out of trouble, but when the unexpected happens, thereís no substitute for a cool head and a partner to help you out.