We're well inside the two-weeks-till Christmas mark. Need some last-minute gift-giving inspiration for that paddler on your list? Here's a few of C&K's favorite gear goodies — our picks for the easily stuff-able, box-able and shippable paddling items to help get you through the dark days of winter and back out onto the water.
Sperry Top-Sider knows a thing or two about traction on wet surfaces. The deck and water shoe manufacturer celebrates its 80th anniversary in 2015. With the men's Voyager Low, Sperry has produced a durable, no-frills, tennis-style shoe that's perfect for open-decked boats—think canoes or fishing kayaks. Its unibody upper is fully waterproof; the sole is perforated with wave-shaped sipes to dispel water and improve traction; and the dense heel absorbs shock like a sneaker—all assets whether you're tracing the water's edge or walking the portage ($120, sperrytopsider.com)
— Read our River Shoe Review putting six of the latest whitewater-ready shoes to the test.
As whitewater paddles continue to become more durable, they are breaking less, and the breakdown in the back of your boat is staying how you like it more often—broken down. One recent release is Adventure Technology's Carbon Geronimo, made with AT's proprietary Duraweave with Innegra material. This river-running model combines big blades that power off drops with a tough carbon-reinforced bent shaft to create a paddle which weighs only 36 ounces (four ounces less than its stalwart high-end AT2 Superlight). If rapids aren't your thing, AT's Innegra polymer is being woven into a customizable medley of mid-range fiberglass and carbon paddles, all of which withstand abuse and are less likely than other composites to break completely when cracked. (Ergo: $375; Straight: $290, atpaddles.com)
Often the thought alone of changing back into warm, dry clothes can help motivate a brisk winter paddling adventure. One of the fastest routes back to comfort comes in the form of your favorite hoody. The Howler Brothers Shaman Hoodie caught our eye for its classic sweatshirt-soft feel (read: cotton, blended with poly/spandex) with a stylish woven yoke straight from the spirit world ($95, howlerbros.com).
For paddlers looking for a versatile crossover, in-the-boat layer, we liked ExOfficio's waffle-knit IsoClime Hoody. Packing warmth without weight or bulk, the 80-20 poly-cotton layer also has the quick-drying, breathing (and odor-resisting) chops to serve as your under-shell base insulation. ($90, exofficio.com)
The baseline requirements of light weight, ease of stuffing into a drybag, and quick-dry comfort also factored into our picks for the better half of the paddlers on your list—though we also placed a premium on the next-to-skin feel. Fabric technology now delivers softer and stretchier layers to replace the old scratchy poly tops stuffed away. Athleta's Polygiene-treated Fast Track Half Zip adds other extras to that list, from a reflective front and torso-gripping silicone dots on the hem, to hand-warming thumbholes and integrated stink-busting antimicrobial silver salts that will turn into your go-to winter baselayer ($74, Athleta.com).
For layering up, we couldn't ignore ExOfficio's Irresistible Neska. You'd have to go looking (and spending) a whole lot more to find a comparable natural woven layer in terms of weight and warmth. The Neska offers a worthy synthetic alternative to wool with a super-soft chenille feather-fleece that packs easy and stretches through layered strokes. ($68, exofficio.com)
If you want to take full advantage of fancy quick-drying garments, you might want to think about a fully ventilated boating gear bag. Gili's giant BOAT Bag provides 360 degrees of breathability, and a multi-colored vinyl mesh build that won't leave you with a soaked bag. Keep an eye out for this small Colorado startup, whose next generation of bombproof duffles upcycle materials from trashed banners and billboards. ($85, gilibags.com)
If your new year's resolution is to shed weight, the easiest place to start is with your gear. At a crazy-light 5.6 ounces, Helly Hansen's Odin Minimalist Jacket packs only the features you'd need in a stowed, emergency weather paddle-touring shell, with 2.5 layers of the Nordic manufacturer's proprietary waterproof-breathable fabric sealed with an Aquaguard waterproof front zip. Once you're paddling faster and lighter, you can start worrying about those other extra holiday pounds to trim. ($220, hellyhansen.com)
Wanna get away? Nothing inspires a paddling adventure to warmer climes quite like the image of an idyllic hammock camping scene. Therm-a-Rest's Slacker single takes you there, lounging in rip-stop poly comfort that provides a softer, more hydrophobic, and better wicking cocoon than the nylon builds of typical nylon travel hammocks. Then it stuffs into an attached pocket for an easy-stowing 20-ounce package. Clip the well-thought Bug Cover into the Slacker's suspension points for complete critter seclusion during the aggravating dusk and dawn hours. ($69 for the single hammock, and $79 for the Bug Cover, thermarest.com)
While you're soaking in the rays, check out Smith Optics' new line of ChromaPop sunglasses. The designers got downright geeky, drawing from neuroscience to create a polarized lens that supposedly eliminates "color confusion" in the brain. Unaware that colors were ever problematic, we were slow to convert, testing out the ChromaPop Waywards on a recent paddling trip in Baja, Mexico. Sure they were crystal clear and functioned as a kind of real-time Instagram filter, but it wasn't until one of our testers started speaking to an unusually radiant plate of huevos rancheros — "Look at those peppers! Aren't those beans glowing?"— that we started to believe. Maybe these glasses do allow you to see auras. (Waywards w/ ChromaPop $209 chromapop.smithoptics.com)
Holding the camera in your hand is sooo 2013. We like the Big U-Shot from Xsories to get that awesome high or low angle, not to mention the perfect ever-necessary, proof-you-paddled selfie! The all-aluminum telescoping shaft extends from 11.41 to 37 inches, providing plenty of reach to maneuver your camera into position. The Big U-Shot also comes with a standard quarter-inch screw that mounts to most cameras. (GoPro users need the universal tripod adapter — we advise that you stick to the smaller POV cameras and point-and-shoots.) With a foam handle and anodized finish in 12 vibrant colors, the Big U-Shot makes a great stocking stuffer for the shutterbug on your list. ($49, xsories.com)
— Read our recent tips for Photography from your Kayak.
Perspektiv Backpack, sporting a few key features that caught our photo editor's eye: First, it opens from the shoulder-strap side, making for a much smoother gear-grabbing motion when speed matters (bonus: It keeps the straps and back clean). The slim and sleek design also means there's little to snag trees. The rugged semi-rigid build and an outer that repels sand and water (it comes with a pull-out rain cover too), plus plenty of stash pockets (including room for a 15-inch laptop), makes it a dependable pack for photographers schlepping gear to get the best paddling perspectives. ($249, thule.com)