What follows is Part IV in C&K Editor-at-large Alan Kesselheim's collection of field-tested, functional gear that has the potential to elevate your trip and serve you well, standing up to the rigors of continual use and the gamut of weather. Read Part III: What to Carry, Part II: Light My Fire, and Part I: Shelter, where he first breaks down the criteria and scope for gear deemed "expedition-worthy," most notably the items’ durability, design and weight. A few items stand out for their quality and impact on the success of an extended trip. Read all of Kesselheim's Expedition 101 series: Inspiration // Gear Decisions // Food Planning
PART IV: Comfort and Safety
— Story and Photos by ALAN KESSELHEIM
NRS Surge PFD: NRS is known for no-nonsense functional river gear at reasonable prices. The front-entry Surge life vest fits the bill nicely. It provides 16.5 pounds of flotation in a flexible (seven-panel) life jacket that won't over-bulk you. In other words, it's comfortable and well ventilated. Plenty of arm motion, thin flotation layers in the back, commodious pockets and a lash point for the safety knife. It really feels like you wear it–rather than being shackled by it–and the heavy-duty Cordura fabric is durable enough to last decades. (1.75 lbs., Coast Guard Type III rating; $129 — BUY NOW)
Kokatat Proteus PFD: Kokatat knows life vests, and they keep tweaking a line of solid designs. The Proteus, for example, maximizes freedom of motion with a low-cut, streamlined fit, while providing plenty of floatation (16 lbs.) to qualify as a Type III jacket. Rear floatation is located higher up the back, with a mesh section on the bottom for more comfort against seats. Snug pockets provide adequate storage and nice hand-warming on scouts. My only caveat is that attaching a safety knife is somewhat awkward. Sweet, all-around touring PFD. (Type III; $119 — BUY NOW)
Helly Hansen Lifa Active Baselayer for women and men: When it comes to staying warm while active, baselayers are the key. HH has been at this for decades. Their Lifa line features lightweight, two-layer insulation which fits like a glove, wicks moisture, and ratchets up comfort on cool days. The half-zip V-neck helps adjust warmth. Long sleeves, an elastic waist and full neck coverage make for all-day snug comfort while allowing for the full range of motion for rigorous travel. ($35-$70 — BUY ON SALE NOW)
SealSkinz Winter Hat: On an expedition, you never know when hypothermia weather will swoop in. What you do know is that, at some point, it will. When the weather turns, you'll want this winter cap. SealSkinz knows how to deal with those raw conditions. The winter hat features a snug, adjustable fit, fold-down ear flaps, micro-fleece lining and an outer layer that is both waterproof and breathable. When those days come (and some trips are mostly those days!) you will be SO glad you have the SealSkinz hat. Guard it, because everyone on the trip will be after it. (waterproof/breathable; $50 — BUY ON SALE NOW)
NRS High Tide Splash Jacket (pictured on bow paddler): What I like about the High Tide jacket is its versatility, especially on a longer expedition where gear that serves more than one purpose is essential. This splash jacket can gracefully handle many situations, including a wet ride through standing waves, breaking surf, or all-day drizzles.
And it's comfortable to wear, unlike some corset-like apparel suited only to extreme whitewater conditions, meaning the High Tide can double as your off-the-water rain jacket. Waterproof/breathable material keeps you dry. Hook/loop closures on the wrists keep water from draining through. A drawstring waist cinches the jacket snug. And a bomber hood sheds waves and weather. Even comes with a couple of zippered sleeve pockets for this and that. Good on the water, good in camp, double duty. (HyproTex material; $149 — BUY NOW)
Therm-a-Rest Lite Seat: I know, I've gotten soft. But, hey, when you're in the saddle all day long, for weeks at a stretch, a little padding on that seat is no small thing. The Lite Seat rolls up small enough to stash in your coat pocket, but rolls out into an 11" x 15" cushion. I add a strap to hold the pad in place and tend to inflate it fairly soft. If it's too tight, it feels tippy. At only a couple of ounces, it adds almost nothing to the load, but provides all-day tush comfort. The pad doubles as a seat cushion around camp or at lunch stops and can come in handy as a back cushion on portage packs. (3 oz., polyester outer fabric; $19 — BUY ON SALE NOW)
KEEN EvoFit Water Shoe: I risk being labeled a traitor to tradition, but I've come around from the old-style water bootie, to a shoe akin to a sandal. Gasp! Sorry about that, but even an old water dog can learn a trick or two. I've done 40 days in the tundra with water shoes, with good success. Here's the thing. The EvoFit is beefy enough to hold up to weeks of abuse with rugged construction and reinforced stress points. The lacing is adjustable, comfortable and snug. The sole has solid grip even on algae-coated river cobbles. No big deal that they get wet, which they will on a daily basis, and they hold up to the punishment of portage trails. If bugs are an issue, couple them with a pair of water socks. (Aquagrip outsole; moisture-wicking uppers; $130 — BUY NOW)
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