Paddling Season Gear Bag, Part 1

C&K samples new gear in time for the 2016 paddling season

With the Memorial Day Weekend past and the ‘paddling season’ officially here, this C&K editor-at-large is hitting the water to put some new gear to the test. Here's his first round of reviews.

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MSR Freelite 2 tent
How do you improve a wildly popular tent design? Make it lighter. That was MSR's approach as it pared down and streamlined its bestselling Hubba Hubba two-person tent and created the Freelite 2 ($440), the company's lightest double-wall shelter. As a paddler, I've accepted the weight penalty associated with spacious floor plans and full-coverage rain flies. But with the Freelite 2, I discovered you can have both. Stuffed, the tent is practically pancake flat, weighs three pounds and takes up negligible space in a canoe pack or sea kayak hatch. With a single pole, the partially freestanding Freelite pitches fast. Two stakes stretch out the floor to in the foot of the tent create around 29 square feet of useable space. While there's certainly room for two people, the space is best for couples or a human and canine companion. Unlike some ultralight shelters, the Freelite fly extends all the way to the ground, offering plenty of protection when I was hit by an early season thunderstorm last week. Full mesh ceiling panels offer good ventilation and two doors are huge convenience. MSR provided a footprint with our test sample; it's a wise investment given the Freelight's gossamer floor fabric.

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Ultimate Ears Roll speaker
At first I questioned where a Bluetooth speaker fits in my paddling kit. I remain hard set that such entertainment items don't mesh with my backcountry ideals, but for day paddles and fitness outings, this fully waterproof speaker is a worthy addition to my sea kayak's deck. Smaller than a personal pizza, the UE Roll ($100) bungees securely in place and connects wirelessly to your favorite media device. Sound quality is impressive, whether you're rocking out, listening to NPR or tuning into a playoff game.

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SealLine Blocker dry sacks
Veteran dry bag manufacturer SealLine has finally embraced a concept that should've been logical: a rectangular drybag. SealLine's new Blocker ($14.95-24.95) and BlockerLite ($16-27) have square sides, meaning they fit better in in angular spaces, such as canoe packs and the center hatch of tandem kayaks. According to the manufacturer, this accounts for a 20 per cent increase in packing efficiency—a huge benefit for long weekends and expeditions alike. We were duly impressed. Stuffed with first aid supplies, our 15-liter Blocker made the most of available space in a Duluth-style canoe pack. Packed in a sea kayak, the shape works particularly well positioned against bulkheads; old-school, curvy dry bags still reign elsewhere in the hatch. Both standard and lightweight Blocker drysacks are constructed of slippery material. Though both styles remained dry in a splash and rain test, we recommend playing it safe and selecting the standard model for stuff you can't imagine getting wet, such as your sleeping bag. Watch C&K's video review of drybags.

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Voormi Short Sleeve Merino Tech-Tee
We're big fans of Colorado start-up outdoor apparel manufacturer Voormi for their made in USA craftsmanship and innovative wool-blend fabrics. This lightweight merino T-shirt ($70) boasts Voormi's exceptional attention to detail, including a comfortable cut and seams. More importantly, proprietary "Dual-Surface" merino wool wicks moisture from the skin, blocks UV radiation, and does not retain odors—even after five days on the river. Need we say anymore than that?

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PackTowl Nano
A towel certainly fits into the luxury items of a packing list. For years, I've used my shirtsleeve or a bandana, but PackTowl's compact Nano ($10) barely takes up any space in the pack and does a far superior job of removing excess moisture from, say, a dog's furry coat. A few impressive stats: The 19-square-inch microfiber towel absorbs twice its weight in moisture, dries 90 percent faster than cotton and weighs less than an ounce.

–Check out more GEAR tips, reviews, and news on CanoeKayak.com