This year, I’ve seen lots of water time and used lots of new gear and plenty of old classics, too. Some gear stands out as the best of the year and even as a lifetime pick — I couldn’t see ever changing back. Out of all the gear I use, these are my top 10 picks.
1. Trails Illustrated BWCA Maps — These two maps show the entire Boundary Waters Canoe Area in a compact package. They do have their faults, like the border is covered with a dark line that makes navigation slightly difficult there, a winter sled dog trail shown as a portage and a few missing campsites, but the advantages of having the entire BWCA with plenty of detail on only two pieces of paper outweighs the mistakes. These are the only maps I’ve used this year in the BWCA. Price: $9 to $12 Get it: Western Half and Eastern Half. See my BWCA Trails Illustrated maps review.
2. Kokatat Meridian Gore-Tex Drysuit — Lifetime Pick — When you paddle on cold water in cold climates, like I do, a drysuit improves the experience ten-fold. It also extends the paddling season right up to the point where the water freezes. Without a drysuit, paddling during winter wouldn’t be close to safe. The Meridian has all the right features, a front entry, fabric socks, a relief zipper and sprayskirt tunnel. It’s made from Gore-tex, so it breaths. Price: $999 to $1065 Get it: Kokatat’s Gore-Tex Meridian Drysuit w/ Relief Zipper
3. WaayCool Kayak Handlines — I like catching fish, but I don’t like fishing in a kayak or canoe when it involves rods, gadgets and the multitude of ways to modify a canoe or kayak to turn it into a fishing boat. When I paddle, I want to paddle. That’s why I like WaayCool’s Kayak Handlines. It stays out of the way until you hook something. This handline is simple; 3 millimeter nylon rope is wrapped around a plastic handle. On the end of the rope, there’s a swivel to hook a leader to. You clip the rope to your kayak with a carabiner and a bit of bungee and go paddling. After awhile, you catch something. Price: $30 to $54. Get it: WaayCool Handlines
4. NDK/SKUK Romany ’98 Used — They don’t make them like they used to, and in this case, that might be a blessing. My old NDK Romany weighs a ton, uses fiberglass technology that became outdated when I was in high-school and did I mention weighs a ton? But, the hull design is amazing. It tracks, it turns, it surfs, it rolls, it’s big enough for a week-long tour and it fits like a glove. I haven’t found a kayak that makes me smile more — even its big brother, the Explorer, doesn’t do it for me. Price: $1,600 to $2,400 used (inspect it before you buy, because the quality control can be lax). More info: Sea Kayaking UK
5. Integral Designs SilTarp 2, 8-Feet by 10-Feet — It weighs only 14 oz. and it’s big enough to make a shelter for two. When the bugs die off, this is my shelter of choice. It replaces my tent. In the morning, if it’s raining, you just pack up everything under the tarp, which keeps it all dry. When you’re ready to get going, put on rain gear and take down the tarp. You’re on your way without getting anything but the tarp and rain gear wet. On still days, there’s enough ventilation to avoid condensation. Plus, it feels like a mansion compared to tents. Price: $145 Get it: Integral Designs Sil Tarp 2, 10-Feet x 8-Feet. My SilTarp review.
6. Sea Kayaker Magazine — Lifetime Pick — With paddling and adventure magazines going the way of the dodo (RIP Paddler), it’s important to support those that remain, and Sea Kayaker Magazine is still around. This magazine is consistently good. In fact, I can’t find a single issue that I didn’t enjoy and I’ve been reading it since 1997. I really enjoy the adventure stories, the accident reports and the kayak reviews. The adventures are always inspirational, the accident reports show the victims point-of-view and then analysis by a different experienced kayaker, and the kayak reviews use three different opinions plus show the kayak’s station plans and KAPER numbers for comparisons to other boats. I really hope Sea Kayaker stays exactly like it is and that you subscribe to it so it doesn’t follow National Geographic Adventure and Paddler to extinction. Price: $23.95 Get it: Sea Kayaker Magazine.
7. Adventure Medical Kits Ultralight / Watertight .9 — If you don’t want to make your own first aid kit, then this is a good choice. The .9 kit combines a good combo of supplies into a small package. When I’ve carry this kit, I supplement it with a few extra items, like Burn Gel and a NuMASK. Price: $36 Get it: Adventure Medical Kits UltraLight / Watertight .9 First-Aid Kit
8. Silva Starter Compass — Lifetime Pick — Other compasses may get fancier with sighting mirrors and adjustable declination, but I like things simple. This compass has both metric and imperial scales right where you need them. It acts as a protractor on a chart or map. It fits inside a pfd pocket, and, because it’s small, it stays out of the way. My Brunton Eclipse might be more accurate, but the best compass is the one that’s with you. This one is always with me. Price: $12 Get it: Silva Starter 1-2-3 Compass
9. Seals Sprayskirts Pro Shocker — I’ve owned two Seals neoprene sprayskirts since I started kayaking. The first one, I bought from my whitewater kayak, used it for touring and it’s still going strong. The second I picked up in 2009, because I needed a slightly different fit for a new boat. The Pro Shocker is made from 3.5 mm neoprene, which dries quickly, so putting it on the next day doesn’t feel miserable. The top is reinforced with aramid fabric (if it was made by DuPont, we’d call it Kevlar). All the seams are stitched and glued, and the tunnel fits tight enough to keep out water. Plus, it’s made in the USA. Price: $149 Get it: Seals Sprayskirts
10. Grease Pen — A grease pen fits in your lifevest, doesn’t stop working because of water, writes directly on the deck of your kayak or map case, and it lets you jot down course bearings, distances or even poems so you don’t have to remember them. I like this one, because it’s small and has a pocket clip. When you wear out the grease, you just crank the top and new stuff come out. Price: $6.99 Get it: Black Listo Marking Pencil