Top 8 Paddling/Camping Gear Picks of 2010

Monday, 20 December 2010
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Packing the boat on a cold day. Photo Credit: David Johnston

We all know that paddling/camping and shopping for gear go hand in hand and anybody who has visited their local camping store can testify that it can be intimidating at times. Never before have there been so many options and items to purchase. For example, my local camping store has 24 different types of headlamps for sale and that doesn’t include the 22 hand-held flashlights also available!

To help you out, I have made a list of my top 8 pieces of paddling camping gear for 2010. This list represents to me the best gear of it’s type for design, usefulness and durably in the field. It’s all gear that if I had to replace tomorrow I would most likely replace with the exact same thing.


If you are looking for another great top 10 paddling gear list then click on over to Bryan Hansel’s website paddlinglight.com. I stole the idea from him.


MSR Dragonfly

8) MSR Dragonfly Stove
If you are looking for a high quality stove that is reliable and throws out a huge amounts of heat then look no farther then the MSR Dragonfly Stove. I have been using mine for years and works great. My only beef with it is that it is as noisy as a jet hovering overhead. The offshoot benefit is that I appreciate the sounds of nature even more once the stove is turned off.


MEC Merino Long Underwear

7) MEC Merino Wool Long Underwear
After many years of playing in the outdoors wearing smelly (but warm) polypropylene long underwear I finally made the switch over to Merino wool and it was one of my better gear decisions of 2010.

It’s warm, doesn’t itch and after a couple of washes it’s the softest thing ever. It does take a bit longer to dry then polypropylene (which is basically spun plastic) but the comfort factor far outweighs any drying issues in my mind.

There are lots of manufactures on the Merino Wool band wagon now which gives you the ability to shop around for the best price. I bought my stuff from Mountain Equipment Co-op purely from the convenience factor with the store just down the street but other companies like Icebreaker is also a sure bet.


Icom M35

6) Icom M34 VHF Radio
Icom is known for its high quality communication equipment. I picked up the Icom M34 handheld VHF radio 2 years ago and it hasn’t failed me yet. Its waterproof, submersible, floats and the lithium-ion battery lasts forever.

For those reasons the radio is always on and always attached to me PFD when I’m on the water.

If you are in the market for a new one you could look at the M34 or their newer model, the M36 which has similar features but also has a noise cancelling microphone for when you are trying to talk and the wind is screaming.


MSR Hubba Tent
5) MSR Hubba Tent
A couple of years ago I was looking for a small, lightweight tent for just myself to use when I’m teaching courses. A friend suggested that I give the MSR Hubba a try. When the fly is separated from the body the whole thing packs down extremely small leaving lots of room still in my kayak.

For me, living in a small tent hasn’t been a problem. Since all of my gear is waterproofed already I just store everything outside in the vestibule and only bring in what I need throughout the night. Also since the footprint is about the same size as what I would imagine my coffin to be, I never have a problem finding a flat piece of ground to sleep on.

With rock solid construction and very simple pole design, I can have the Hubba up in just a couple of minutes which is a key advantage in a rainstorm.


Kokatat Expedition Dry Suit

4) Kokatat Expedition Dry Suit
Here is what I tell my students thinking about a dry suit, “Once you get over the pain of charging that much to your credit card, you will realize it’s the best piece of gear that you own”

I’m a big fan of Kokatat products and in particular their dry suites. Over the past 10 years I have bought and sold several suits slowly upgrading to the Gore-Tex Expedition Dry Suit. The key feature of this model is the integrated storm hood which really makes all the difference on stormy, rain soaked days.

Also Kokatat has some of the best customer service in the industry. When your suit’s integrated sock gets a pin hole in it because you accidentally stepped on a stick and you think the world has fallen apart they are there to help you out and get your up and running in no time.


North Water Sea Tec Towline

3) North Water Sea Tec Tow Line
After several years of refining their designs, North Water finally hit it out of the park when they released their Sea Tec Tow Line several years ago.

Two reasons why I love this piece of rescue kit. The bag is huge making it easy to deploy the rope and even easier to put it away when done.

The other thing I love about it is the attention to design detail and quality hardware. They use stainless steal/marine grade hardware throughout so it won’t rust out in salt water. Also the carabiner isn’t a typical climbing one that many other manufactures use. North Water uses one with an eye insert (used in sailing) which keeps the carabiner from flipping around and coming unhooked while under tow.



Aquapac DSLR Waterproof Case
2) Aquapac SLR Case
Over the past couple of years I have become interested in paddling photography. After our point and shoot camera died a sad death we decided to purchase a digital SLR camera since the quality of the photos were much better.

The problem was that to use the camera I would need a waterproof case. After becoming despondent when I discovered that hard shell dive camera cases for my camera were upwards of $600, I was quite pleased to stumble upon the Aquapac SLR Waterproof Case.

Over the years I have been very pleased with it. You can read the review of I wrote a year and a bit ago. Since writing the review my love for the case has grown considerably as it’s allowed me to take some great shots that I know I wouldn’t have been able to take with out the bag.

Of course the biggest downside is that the large water drops that appear on the lens often get in the way. My trick is to shoot a whole pile of photos and fully expect to throw 50% in the computer recycle bin. I also regularly treat the lens with RainX which help keep the drops to a minimum.


NeilPryde Split Finger Glove - Open Palm
1) NeilPryde Split Finger Glove – Open Palm
If you are the type of person who likes to get out and paddle in cold conditions, I’m sure you have experimented with many glove/mitt combinations trying to keep them warm. I know I have. At one point I was out paddling in yellow cleaning gloves taped to my forearms with medium success until I had to get a friend to help me get them off.

Several years ago I found a pair of gloves that (for me) solved the problem of cold hands while paddling in the winter. Neilpryde is a manufacture of windsurfing equipment and wetsuits. They also make an ingenious glove called the Split Finger Open Palm Glove. It’s essentially a neoprene mitt with the palms cut out. It allows you to keep your fingers warm yet still get a positive group on the paddle shaft.

The mitts keep my fingers much warmer compared to gloves and there is much greater dexterity since I can easily manipulate my fingers out through the hole in the palm when I need them.

On warmer days I just fold the gloves back against my forearms allowing me to paddle. If my fingers get cold then I quickly slip them over my hands. It’s a great system.

Of course the biggest draw back to them is that if you find yourself swimming; the big hole in the palm allows water to flush in and freeze your fingers. That being said after trying everything from gloves to pogies to denial it’s still the best combination and works well even on the coldest days. To keep the water flush to a minimum, just ball your hands up in tight fists while you wait for help. It makes a big difference.

There are a couple of places to purchase palmless mitts. Try your local windsurfing shop or visit Mountain Equipment Co-op who rolled out a set this past spring based on the suggestion to their designers by my friend Liz.



David Johnston

David Johnston

David Johnston has been introducing people to the sport of sea kayaking for the past 15 years. He is a senior instructor trainer with Paddle Canada and teaches for several paddling schools in Ontario, Canada. Full Bio.

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