By Ryan Stuart
Just like water, the paddling industry never stands still. R&D departments busily experiment with new designs, materials and production methods in the quest to cut costs and improve performance. So where’s my rocket-boat then? Well, while we’re not quite there yet, but in the meantime, here are some of 2014’s most exciting innovations, including kayak gear to look forward to.
How can plastic boats ever compete with composite layups? Jackson Kayak posits an answer with the Rockstar Competition. The diminutive playboat sports a plastic hull stiffened with a carbon-fiberglass frame. Equipped with lightweight outfitting, the boat weighs just 27 pounds—comparable to a heavy carbon-hulled boat. But unlike full composites, the plastic hull can take a beating and retails for a relatively modest $1,400.
Steering New Directions
Pyranha is not the first to try to blend a rudder and skeg, but it is the first to do it this well. Debuting on Venture’s Jura and Islay models this spring, the Skudder drops out of the hull bottom like a retractable skeg, micro-adjusting with a pull-cord. Once fully deployed it sits free of the skeg box, becoming steerable from the toe pedals like a rudder. “It ends the eternal debate of which is better,” says Pyranha US Head of Operations Brian Day. “Now you can have both.”
Getting stuck up the creek with a broken paddle continues to become less likely. Adventure Technology built its new line of whitewater paddles with Duraweave, a proprietary blend of Innegra, a polymer, and fiberglass or carbon, creating paddle shafts that are tougher than other composites and, more importantly, remain in one piece even when severely cracked. Meanwhile, H2O Paddles figured out how to add carbon to its injection molding process, adding stiffness and cutting weight on the blades of its new SuperTour TPX. The touring paddle weighs 27 ounces, the first molded paddle to crack the 30-ounce barrier. ($350 straight shaft, $400 bent)
Down Goes Down
Because down feathers lose 30 percent of their insulating value in 80 percent humidity, convention held that synthetics owned paddle-camping. But a slew of water-repellent down treatments are rewriting the rules, including those in the 32-degree REI Flash sleeping bag ($260). Coated in a hydrophobic nano-film, the feathers actually float on water, maintaining loft in moist environments without impacting their competitive advantages (weight, warmth, compressibility) over synthetic fills.
When the sun don’t shine, solar panels don’t work, prompting two companies to introduce hydrogen fuel cells to the backcountry. Brunton uses mini, refillable hydrogen gas canisters to power its Hydrogen Reactor, producing the equivalent of 15 AA batteries or five smartphone charges ($150). Adding water to a myFC PowerTrekk puck releases hydrogen gas that the base unit turns into enough power to charge cameras, phones and GPS units ($149 for base unit).
Recreational boaters and commercial operators alike have long favored rafts made from durable Hypalon rubber. Now NRS is working with a comparable material on its Patriot Line of rafts that could bring Hypalon-like performance at a lower price. XR-Mariner stands up to time and abuse like Hypalon, but unlike the stretchy synthetic it can be welded as well as glued. The polymer material itself is 10 percent cheaper, and welding, once NRS buys the equipment, will cut man-hours to build a typical raft from 60 to 20, promising even bigger savings.