|The Garmin E-Trex GPS.I’ve been looking at GPS units for a while, waiting for one that was (1) cheap, (2) easy on batteries, (3) waterproof, and (4) cheap. Did I mention cheap? I’ve been playing with it for a year now, and I like it. The last time I looked at cheap GPS units was over a year prior to my purchase, and performance at the low end of the scale has greatly improved since then. The eTrex acquires satellites in 45 seconds from a cold start, logs 500 waypoints and is absolutely intuitive in use. Until they come out with a similarly sized unit that does detailed coastal mapping, this is it for me. Available from Amazon, REI, West Marine and many other suppliers for under $125. One nit: It doesn’t float. Tie it to your boat, or attach the lanyard to something that does float. I keep mine in a floating case I bought from West Marine when in the kayak. I had the accessory bicycle handlebar mount ($17) but gave it away as the water seal wasn’t as good, and the tiny O-ring kept falling out. I used this unit for about three years. It’s still working well, but is now in the hands of my friend John who is using it for kayaking and verifying the milage in his Honda Insight. Engineers, you know?|
|The Garmin GPSmap76S. Suggested by Kees van de Meij, who notes that the screen is larger than that of the eTrex, it has more options (including mapping), and it floats.|
|The eTrex Venture and Legend.Based on the success of the original eTrex, Garmin has come out with a number of enhanced versions. The first included an altimiter- handier for mountaineers than for kayakers. The new Venture includes mapping capability at a reasonable price (around $180), and the Legend, which I purchased, offers only slightly less in the way of features (8Meg versus 24 Meg of memory) for about $140. You can get CDROMs from Garmin with detailed maps of various regions.
Waterproofing is improved over the original model and reportedly so is satellite tracking ability. The new models also have WAAS capability, which allows for extremely precise navigation down to a few feet.
Incidentally, if you’re planning on buying a GPS unit you should take a look at two sites: One is http://www.smallboatgps.com– a really good resource for GPS users from a fellow folding kayaker. The other, suggested by Dave Kruger, is http://gpsinformation.net, which according to Dave will tell you more than you ever wanted to know.
|The Ritchie Kayaker Compass.One of a few units designed specifically for kayak mounting, and the one I use. Available from just about any outdoor or marine supplier. I have mine mounted on a plate from REI that snaps onto the boat’s deck rigging.|
|Sunto Orca Compass.Handier than the Ritchie. If I saw this one first I would have bought it. It’s cheaper than the Ritchie, too. About $35 from kayak and outdoors stores.
GPS is optional- but compasses are mandatory!
|The Primex Canoe/Kayak cart.I haven’t tried all the carts on the market- and there are quite a few- but this unit does pretty much everything I need. The tires are large and sort enough to carry a fully loaded double Klepper over rough terrain. One nit: The tires are inflatable, and do eventually need pumping up. It might not be a bad idea to carry a mini bicycle pump on a long trip. Test your pump before you head out on a trip, as the tire valve is a bit hard to reach. You can get these almost anywhere kayaks are sold. (I own two!)|
|Folding hand carts.
Many folding kayaers like to use these carts for moving their bags through airports, train stations, or just from the car to the launching point. Here’s the popular Wesco Mini-Mover at a good discount price.
|Long Haul Bags, from Mark Ekhart at Long Haul Folding Kayaks. No matter what brand of kayak you buy, you’ll probably find a set of Long Haul carrying and storage bags a good investment- particularly if you ever ship your boat via the airlines. My first set came with a Klepper I purchased from Peter Schwierzke at the Western Folding Kayak Center, and since then I’ve purchased a number direct from Mark, including one custom made bag. The bags are made of tough nylon ballistic cloth and can survive any mistreatment an airline can dish out. Mark can custom make bags in nylon and hypalon or a mix of the two.|
Paddles: See the Paddles page
|One of the most productive areas of kayak improvment seems to be seats. I’ve seen a lot of home-made replacement seats for Kleppers and Folbots in particular, but none work as well as the Long Haul seats seen here. They work particularly well with the Klepper doubles and of course are supplied with the new Long Haul double as standard equipment. I have a pair, and use them in both my Aerius I and Aerius II. One of my seats, an early model, is similar to the seat shown on the right, and the other has the lumbar pad as shown on the left.
The seats also work well in older Folbots, and they make great camp seats, too. I haven’t tried them in a Nautiraid but I suspect they’d work well in some of those boats as well.
|Your first accessory- maybe even before you buy a paddle- should be a well-fitted PFD. Folding Kayaks typically have deeper hulls and higher seatbacks than hardshell boats, which can make it difficult to get comfortable with a PFD- I find that the padded back of most of my PFDs interferes with the seatback on my Kleppers and my Feathercraft.
In the past I’ve used an inflatable PFD in flat water, but I never quite trusted it enough for heavy surf or other difficult conditions. In 2004 I bought a Lotus Mildwater, pictured at left. Notice the mesh back- this makes it much easier to sit in these boats. I’ve been using it exclusively for kayaking and sailing since then and I’m very pleased with the comfort, fit and flotation. If I was paddling blue water extensively I’d probably go for something with more flotation, but for mostly sheltered inland waters and the coastal Great Lakes this has been more than sufficient.
|Floatbags.Regular kayak bags are too narrow for most folders; what you want is a bag designed for whitewater canoes, like this Harmony nylon bag I found at REI. Such bags generally cost from $30 for a vinyl bag to $50 for nylon, so this Harmony looked like a good deal at $34. A bag this size will stay in place and secure your cargo bags when you’re camping.
My favorite floatbags are the ones that come with every Feathercraft boat. They have easy-to-repair vinyl bladders inside an abrasion-resistant nylong envelope. You could probably make your own version for other boats based on an inexpensive vinyl floatbag.
|SOLAS Parachute Flare.This is the one to carry if you’re venturing offshore. Actually, you should carry at least two in a party for serious offshore kayaking. It reaches an altitude of 990 feet and burns for 40 seconds. Not cheap- it sells for $40-$50- but when you fire it you WILL be seen. From most marine suppliers.|
|Skyblazer flares.They’re pretty cheap- $20-24 for three flares- and I carry a set in my PFD. But if I was going to be a couple of miles from shore I’d take the SOLAS unit above. (Actually, I’d take two) I’ve heard and read stories of these little flares fizzling, particularly after immersion or a long time in storage. I’ve also heard stories of burned fingers, so this year I purchased a 12 gauge flare pistol (about $35 from marine suppliers). Again, for offshore kayaking I’d suggest the more powerful 20mm flare pistol ($130 or so) which can still fire 12 gauge flares.
Most of my padddling is on inland lakes and rivers that are small enough that I don’t need a flare. But when I paddle Lake Erie- even if I’m staying close to share- I take the flare gun.
|VHF RadioIf you go where other ships do, or you take trips where the need for rescue is a possibility, you should carry a VHF marine radio. See the January/February 2001 issue of Folding Kayaker for a discussion of why you need a radio. The unit shown here is a Raytheon 106e in its charger. It’s a real submersible radio- 1 meter for 20 minutes. What I used until recently was a Raytheon/Apelco 501 that I bought used. It’s waterproof, but not submersible. I kept it in a waterproof case tied to the deck until late this past summer, when I lost it in a sailboat capsize- the only item I lost, aside from a favorite pair of sunglasses.
The ideal radio would be a small, submersible radio that attached to the shoulder of your PFD and had Lithium-ion or other modern batteries for long life.
|Rescue Knife.A kayaker needs a knife to cut through tangled lines in an emergency. It should be safe, with a blunt tip, and have a serrated edge to cut lines quickly. The Gerber River Shorty fits the bill and is a favorite of many sea and river kayakers.|
|Patch-N-Go patch kits. I received a sample of this material a few weeks ago, and I was pretty impressed. It’s tough, flexible, and seems to stick to anything. Recommended for permanant repairs on inflatables, waterproof gear, dry bags, and most anything that needs to be waterproof. I’m plaeased to say I can happily recommend the 10 mil Patch-N-Go material for permanant, or at least long-term, hull repairs on folders, having watched a patch for well over a year now. Available from a number of vendors, including Alpackraft, The Boat People, and others. Mark Ekhart of Long Haul ordered a dozen kits, according to the maker, and I’ve been meaning to phone him to get his impression. I recently got a note from Patch-N-Go CEO Don Kirchberger telling me that Zodiac USA, who provided boats for the Katrina rescue effort, has reported great success using the material to repair rips caused by storm debris, fences and so forth.
Chris Calatrello has writen a detailed report on using Patch-N-Go to repair a drysuit- you can read it here. It’s a 1.4meg PDF, so if you’re using a dial-up connection you might want to keep that in mind. (I’ll convert it to HTML eventually).
|Black Dog Kayaks makes custom sea socks for only $99, and has sold a number to Folnbot Cooper owners. As a lot of Feathercraft owners can attest, a sea sock is a great safety and comfort accessory.|
Binoculars are both useful and enjoyable on a kayak trip. Besides being useful for navigation they add another dimension to nature viewing from a kayak.
If you bring a pair along on a boat, make sure they’re truly waterproof– not just water resistant. Otherwise you can bet they’ll get water inside, fog up and be rendered absolutely useless. Merely being labeled “Marine” doesn’t mean they’re waterproof; Tasco, for instance, makes two models of “Marine” binoculars. One is covered in heavy yellow rubber but cannot take any sort of immersion. The other, the “Offshore” model, has a less impressive looking black rubber coating, but can take repeated immersion without taking on water. These are my favorite binos for kayaking, by the way.
Look for binos with individual eye focusing rather than the more common central focusing knob. This is a little less convenient, but all really waterproof binos focus this way.
I think the best all-around size for binoculars is the standard 7×50 or 7×42; bright enough to be useful in low light, but still easy to hand hold. Compact 8x20s are okay in bright sunlight but less useful in dim light. Avoid all under-$80 binos that claim to be waterproof. They’re not. Here are some sample binos:
|The aforementioned Offshore Waterproof Marine Tascos (About $129). Also available is a version with included compass ($199). These are particularly useful for navigation. I’ve been using the non-compass models for about five years now and I’m still happy with them… although on my last trip they somehow go a good amount of water inside.i Baking them in the sun helped, but I couldn’t get them clear until I brought them home and was able to dry them overnight in a 200F oven. I should really have sent them to Tasco.|
|Fuji XL/Comps.A particularly good deal at $199. Fuji is one of the best names in marine binos, and these come with built in compass and a floating neck strap. Seen in some marine stores.|
|Steiner Marine 10x50s.At around $450 they ought to be darn near indestructible, and so they are. 10x is on the high side for hand holding, but they are a favorite of NATO. From Amazon and other suppliers.|
|Canon 8×32 Waterproof Binoculars. Under $140, compact, reasonably waterproof, but by no means immersible. A good compact budget choice if the size of the Tascos is too much for you.|
|Pentax 8×28 DCF MP Binoculars.
Also suggested by Kees van der Meij. He writes: “It’s nitrogen filled and should be at least as waterproof as the Optio. Also it’s by far not as bulky as for instance the Steiner you mention. Optical quality is quite good (I also have a Leica Trinovid 10×42, so I know more or less what to expect in binoculars.)”
Can’t argue with that!
This section is terribly out of date, and will soon be updated with current digital cameras. Really.
|Nikonos, by Nikon.This is the classic diver’s camera, and for years it was my favorite film camera for kayaking. It’s completely waterproof, tremendously rugged and takes standard 35 mm film. I prefer the older Nikonos II and III models; strictly manual (exposure and focusing), needs no batteries, and built like a tank. It’s not widely known, but the Nikonos was a favorite camera of many Vietnam-era combat photographers for its ruggedness and imperviousness to water and humidity.
The II and II are generally available used for between $200 and 300 with the standard 35 mm lens. The earliest models- the Calypso and I- are collectors items that bring a high price. The II (shown here), while having a stronger top than the III, has a wind mechanism that reportedly isn’t as quite strong as that on the III. That doesn’t seem to be a real flaw in practical use, though. What it means is that after 20 years of regular use they’ll probably need some shutter repair. (I currently own two Nikonos IIs.)
Later models IV and V add automation and higher cost, and the IV, which uses a gasket rather than an O-ring for sealing, has a reputation for leaking mainly due to inattention by users who didn’t take the time to seat the gasket properly and didn’t pay attention to worn out gaskets. Of course this is less of a problem for kayakers, who don’t need a camera pressure tested to 250 feet, than it is for divers. Both the IV and V are electronic shutter cameras with auto exposure and require batteries, and both are much more vulnerable to damage if you let water get inside. There was also the very expensive Nikonos RS, a full underwater autofocus SLR. It was complicated and very expensive and was soon discontinued. Nikon announced that it was discontinuing the V as well this year, but there are plenty of used cameras and spare parts around.
There are dozens of fine waterproof digital cameras on the market now, and rather than list them all I’ll suggest you click on the preceeding link to see some of them. I may have specific recommendations here later.
Kayakers should own a weather radio of some sort. I have amateur radios in my car and kayak that receive weather band information, so I always listen before going out on open water. I also generally check with a web-based service like www.accuweather.com. before going out.
|Yaesu VR-120.This is my new favorite companion on trips. It’s not just a weather receiver- it covers everything from 100 KHz to 1.2GHz! That includes everything from navigation beacons through all broadcast radio and TV and up into the microwave region. On a recent trip I used it for weather info, accurate time (via stations WWV and CHU), news via the BBC and NPR and just some casual music listening with an earphone before turning in for the night. It’s tiny, runs on two AA cells and can be connected to a larger antenna for improved short wave listening. With a simple device I built called a DDDF (Double Ducky Direction Finder) it can be used as the heart of a tiny radio direction finding system, too! I bought mine from Amateur Electronics Supply for $120. (Details on the DDDF coming soon, weather permitting)|
|Weather One Alert Radio A compact unit sold at REI and elsewhere for about $40. It’s very handy, and weather resistant, which means it’s fine for boat use so long as you don’t actually drop it in the water.|
|GE 72946 TV Weather Radio. GE makes great portable radios, and this one has surprisingly good weather station reception for the money- it’s under $20. It’s not weatherproof, but it would be a handy radio for use at home or a campsite.|
|Oregon Scientific Portable All Hazards Weather Radio. Also available in many camping stores. This unit gets mixed reviews; performance is said to be good, but one shop owner I spoke with doesn’t carry it any more, saying he thought it wasn’t rugged enough for backwoods use. Available from REI and others. About $50, though recently (12/00) I’ve seen it discounted under $10 at an Office Max. At that price I’d buy it.|
|Not strictly weather related, but a great toy for playing with in the wilderness. Stephen McGreevy’s WR-3 receiver is designed for listening to the sounds of the earth generated by lightening, aurora and other natural phenomena. Read all about it at http://www.auroralchorus.com/ (Tell Steve where you read about it!)I’ve experimented with building receivers for natural radio for years, but the WR-3 is compact, rugged and works well. Mine comes along on all backwoods trips now.|
A few of my favorites.
|Hennessy Hammock. Throw away your tents, bivvys and fliysheets. This tiny package weighing 2.5 to 3.5 pounds is the best solution I’ve found for sleeping anywhere you can find a couple of trees. Far more comfortable than a sleeping pad. Available direct and from some suppliers like REI. There are a few other camping hammocks out there now, but none of them compare in function.
That’s my blue Hennessey at left, on North Manitou Island, and Rob’s green Hennessy peeking out from behind a tree.
|Gaz Turbo 270 Stove. This stove and its predecessor have been my favorites for the last 25+ years. It’s cheap ($25), Gaz fuel is available everywhere, and it never fails. You can even add a piezo igniter that gives you instant ignition every time. Available at just about every camping store in the world.|
|Candle lantern. The example shown here is from REI, but just about every camping store sells a version of these spring-loaded telescoping candle lanterns. They’re all descended from a novel French made mountaineering candle lantern that I don’t think is made any more- I bought mine around 1969. Silent in operation, and a candle outlasts many batteries. If you add one of the accessory reflectors you’ll be surprised at the amount of light it casts. Generally $15 and up.|
|Infinity LED flashlight from CMG. Tiny, waterproof, high output, available in red, green, white or blue, and runs for 40 hours on one AA cell, not two or three or some expensive lithium cells. From REI and various mail-order operations. List price is almost $18, but I found suppliers selling it for as little as $12. The first improvement in flashlights in decades. Get the white light version. I need another… Rob borrowed mine on our last trip and it’s with him in Alaska right now…. (Rob’s back. I’m still waiting for the flashlight)|
|Petzl Tikka headlamp. From REI and others. Three white light LEDs that run a long time on a pair of AA cells. Great for night paddling, reading in the tent or hammock and setting up camp- it is surprisingly bright! I bought mine with the 2001 REI member divident on a whim and use it often. It’s also handy for resetting circuit breakers in the basement. There’s another, never version that uses a retractable cord instead of the elastic band seen on this model. There are a number of improved models out now, including the Tikka Plus, with 4 LEDs and three brightness settings.|