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.
The Buckshot Pro by Outdoor Tech lives up to its name, shooting wide to hit a number of basic electronics needs for paddlers. Compact and water resistant, the device features a USB port at one end that will recharge your gadgets and easily converts into a lantern/flashlight. The other end is a wireless Bluetooth speaker, which packs an impressive punch of size-to-decibel output. Even if you tend to shy away from playing music in the backcountry, there are plenty of opportunities to give the speaker playtime whether it's getting fired up at the put-in or making a post-trip derig a little more enjoyable. (www.outdoortechnology.com, $79.95)
There's a quiet revolution in the works that could redefine how paddlers secure their glasses on the water–and how they holster their beverages. Thanks to the Denver-based startup NexStep Products, eyewear retention technology just took a big step forward. The company's signature NexStrap attaches to your sunglasses, cinches behind your head and clips around in front of your neck to help ensure that your favorite pair of shades will stay attached to your body even if you roll or swim (video). And there are accessories to boot; the simple, durable clips attach to a koozie that hangs in front of your chest. Lean over to strap something down in your boat and the can will stay upright. That's innovation. Oh yeah, and they also stuff into stockings well. (nexstepproducts.com, from $11.99; all online orders are being doubled from now until Christmas)
Extend your paddle-camping season and look good doing it. The stylish Softshell Regular Trousers from men's apparel company Swrve are fleece-lined, breathable and water-resistant. We took them out on a 25-day Grand Canyon trip in November and they were a go-to garment for cold nights around the fire. The trousers also held their own in the daytime; the four-way stretch fabric made scrambling on side hikes easy and their water repellency allowed our tester to avoid getting out the rain pants in moderate precipitation. And after a wash, they were an easy choice for the post-trip celebration on the town. (swrve.us, $150)
When SteriPEN's ultraviolet (UV) purification technology first hit the market in 1999, it was the biggest leap forward in backcountry water treatment since gravity filters. The device is 99.9 percent effective against the full spectrum of pathogens (unlike most pump filters which don't remove viruses) and avoids the foul taste associated with chemical treatment. The updated SteriPEN Ultra is sleeker than the classic model and charges through USB instead of taking AA batteries. Simple instructions are giving through symbols–think emoticons–to tell you whether treatment was successful. Turn it on, place it a liter of untreated water, and stir for 90 seconds. One charge will treat up to 50 liters of water, but it's still a good idea to bring a backup bottle of chlorine or iodine in case your batteries run out. (www.steripen.com/ultra/, $99.95)
The first thing you notice about Reed's Chillcheater Aquatherm Touring Cag—a pullover, anorak-style shell—is its impeccable construction. The stitching is robust, the buttons well placed, and the fabric without flaws. UK-based manufacturer Reed's is wildly popular amongst British sea kayakers, and it is steadily gaining traction on the North American side of the pond. The touring cag is designed for shelter from the elements, but not quite full immersion protection. It's the type of garment I reach for four times out of every five on the water.
Reed's innovative Aquatherm fabric is unique. On the outside, it feels like the rubbery, rain-impervious foul weather gear preferred by sailors. On the inside, a soft weave that wicks perspiration. Paddling full-out in 40- and 50-degree temperatures, I had no problem with condensation. What's more, Reed's says the 0.5-mil Aquatherm fabric provides insulation equivalent to a two-mil neoprene wetsuit—a big, life-saving difference compared to typical hard-shell paddling jackets.
The smooth, tight-fitting wrist seals are impressively dry, as is the neck closure, which can be opened wide for ventilation. The hood can be removed for more clement weather—a nice feature that minimizes bulk. A double tunnel forms a watertight seal with your sprayskirt. There's little not to like about the touring cag, except, perhaps, the hassle of ordering one in from the UK. But trust me—it's worth the wait, especially if you're looking to impress a serious sea kayaker on your holiday shopping list. –Conor Mihell (www.chillcheater.com, $250)
Could there be a better tent to give (or receive) for the holidays? Big Agnes turned heads this year when it released its mtnGLOW series of tents—backcountry shelters with an inconspicuous string of tiny LED bulbs sewn into the rafters. At first, we wondered how tent lighting could improve upon time-tested headlamps and candle lanterns. But Big Agnes' innovation is impressive. With a minimal addition of weight and bulk, mtnGLOW sets a festive mood for a cozy night. It makes every night feel like Christmas Eve.
We tested the Big Agnes Tumble 3 mtnGLOW Tent, a simple, three-person, three-season dome with an impressive amount of floor space. I spend a lot of time in hoop- and wedge tents–bombproof designs with restricted headroom. More vertical walls and a whopping 47-square-foot footprint impart the Tumble 3 with a refreshing sense of airiness. This is an honest three-person tent. Of course, the two-pole design isn't suited use above the treeline, but it's perfect for the moderate conditions of a typical summer canoe or sea kayak trip. The Tumble 3 weighs in a barely six pounds.
Besides the AAA battery-powered LEDs, which afford enough light to read by, other favorite features include an array of interior pockets and clever, closable "eyebrow" vents in the fly. Gripes? The vestibules are small and the fly can channel rainwater into the tent door if you're not quick and careful upon entry. –CM (bigagnes.com, $329.95)
–Check out MORE GEAR reviews, insights and news on CanoeKayak.com.