Gear Review

20140216-205716.jpg03/13/2014-  Well it’s been almost two weeks since finishing the circumnavigation trail (CT).  Time spent catching up with family and friends has been nothing short of exhausting and exhilarating.

We’ve also spent days cleaning and putting up gear.  Amazing how dirty, gritty, and smelly your stuff gets after exposing it to saltwater for 4 months.

Now’s a good time to talk about how our gear selections performed.

 

We broke our gear down into eight “Systems” to keep things organized.  I’ll discuss only the major items in each system.

Links are provided for easy navigation to the particular webpages.  Shoot me an email if, over time, you discover any dead links.

Here we go…

1- Transportation System

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Kayaks  We chose Perception Essence 165 sea kayaks with skeg (discontinued) and paddled them the entire trip.  These roto-molded yaks took a beating in the shallows, oyster beds, and rocks of the CT.  We’re not sure how anyone could paddle the entire way around Florida in a fiberglass or composite boat without punching a hole in the hull.

Likes:

  • The super-stable hull design.  Even in the most adverse conditions the yaks performed well.
  • The Zone EXP Seating.  So comfortable especially since sitting in our yaks all day long became the norm.
  • Cockpit design.  The fit just felt right.

Dislikes:

  • They were heavy at 59 lbs. (but hey it’s plastic right?)-  We were amazed how many times we had to lug our yaks around.  We got tired of the workout.
  • Pearling in the bow when loaded-  This became a problem especially when paddling in confused seas and big swells.
  • Tended not to track well-  We both noticed this early on.  I believe, for long distance paddles, a rudder has value.  Not to start the whole “skeg vs. rudder” debate here just my personal observation after “edging” my yak for 1515 miles.  Jim still loves the skeg!

Paddles Werner Camano straight shaft*

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Likes:

  • Low angle paddle design
  • Lightweight
  • Toughness and quality

Dislikes:

  • The Adjustable Ferrule/Smartview design–  The close tolerance on the end shafts of this two piece paddle caused it to get stuck together often due to saltwater exposure.  Many times we couldn’t disassemble our paddles and had to wait to run them under hot water in order to break them free.  Also, the low profile shaft button would stick in the down position requiring us to use our fingers to pop it back up before it would fully function.  Hmmm…….

Snapped paddle

* Note- Jim originally started off with a custom made and engraved wood paddle.  It snapped during a rough surf landing on day 63 at Keywaydin Island.  Bummer.

2- Safety System

PFD’s–  The Kokatat MsFit for me and the NRS cVest Mesh Back for Jim

Likes:

  • Comfort
  • Lots of pockets

Dislikes:

  • None listed

Satellite Communicators– Jim carried the Delorme InReach

Likes:

  • Robust construction
  • Excellent mapping quality
  • Ability to link with smartphone
  • Messaging capability

Dislikes:

  • Expensive subscription plan
  • Poor battery life when tracking at 10 minute intervals
  • Couldn’t get device to accept/sync tracking duration changes

I carried the SPOT (Gen2) Messenger with a basic subscription plan- no tracking capability.  That meant I had to manually send OK or Custom messages.

Likes:

  • Compact and lightweight
  • Rugged construction
  • Simple to use
  • Easy to use online interface

Dislikes:

  • Track function limited to every 10 minutes per 24 hour period- That’s why I refused to spend the extra money for the additional subscription feature.
  • Device failed after only 1485 miles but the company sent me a brand new replacement!

VHF Radio’s–  Jim used the Standard Horizon HX280s radio.  I carried the Uniden MHS125 (now MHS126). Channel 68 was our normal talk around channel.  Early on we discovered the need for a hand signal if we got too far apart and needed to talk.  Holding a paddle straight up in the air meant- “Turn your radio on”.   Ingenious!

Likes:

  • Exceptionally long battery life- We normally kept the radios turned off unless in an area with heavy commercial boat traffic or when crossing large bays.
  • Scan feature-  The radios were easy to setup in order to monitor multiple channels.
  • Float feature-  Good piece of mind even though we kept our radios tethered in our PFD radio pocket.

Dislikes:

  • None noted

Flares– We carried the Orion Sky Blazer II Areal flares.  These are compact and perfect for kayaking.

SkyBlazer II

Likes:

  • Self-contained, waterproof, and buoyant

Dislikes:

  • Expensive
  • Expiration date

First Aid Kit– The three biggest threats we faced were wound infections, stomach distress, and muscular pain.  We made sure we had plenty of hydrogen peroxide, Betadine, Neosporin, Imodium, and Ibuprofen on hand.  Tweezers and a large safety pin for digging out splinters or sand spur barbs and Benadryl tablets for insect bite reactions came in handy.  Oh, and band-aids and sunscreen of course.

Likes:

  • Compact- about the size of a pint size freezer ziploc bag.

Dislikes:

  • None noted

3- Clothing System

Paddle Clothes– We typically wore shorts, short sleeve tech shirt, long sleeve nylon angler shirt (by World Wide Sportsman), booties, and wide brim hat.

Camp/Town Clothes–  We carried a base layer for chilly nights, pair of zip off pants, extra short and long sleeve shirts, rain jacket, and wind shirt.

Likes:

  • NRS Kicker Wetshoe–  Bombproof!  Protected our feet from getting ripped to shreds on the many oyster beds.
  • Marc’s Tilley hat and Sea-to-Summit paddle gloves.
  • Jim’s Riverz Scout hat, fleece pants, vest.
  • Mountain Khakis Granite Creek Windshirt (no longer available)-  We rave about this shirt!  Lightweight and very compressible.
  • Crocs Classic Clog Shoe-  The perfect “off water” shoe.

Dislikes:

  • Footwear that didn’t dry out.  Sandals are a big no-no!

4- Cook System

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Stoves– We each used MSR Whisperlite International stoves.  Canister stoves may work just fine doing segment paddles but not on a thru paddle due to availability.

Likes:

Dislikes:

  • Dealing with clogs due to sand and saltwater corrosion.

Cheap bamboo place mat (or sushi mat)–  Cooking on the sand was a pain until we started using a place mat under our stoves.

Likes:

  • Provided a rigid cook surface on the sand.
  • Kept your stove and fuel bottle off the sand.
  • Easy storage.  Shake it off and roll it up until next use.
  • Inexpensive and easily found at any Wally World.

Dislikes:

  • Would mold if stored wet.

5- Sleep System

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TentMarmot Limelite 2P*

Likes:

  • Footprint and gear loft included
  • Withstood big winds
  • Tent fly door window-  Found ourselves looking out often
  • Quality construction
  • Easy to set-up
  • Great price ($219 USD from REI in 2014)

Dislikes:

  • The low placement of no-see-um netting on header/footer walls-  Not good in beach environment.  Allowed sand to blow in.
  • Main tent zip doorway is backwards.  Hinges left instead of right.  Conflicts with fixed tent fly door.
  • Doorway holdouts hard to use. Should use “pin and circle” type closure findings not press tabs!

Sand easily gets inside due to low placement of no-see-um netting

*Note:  I originally used a 1 person MSR Hubba tent.  It’s a great tent just too small for kayak camping.  Plus the tent fly began to fail.  It was 5 years old.

Jim started out with a North Face Pebble tent but dumped it since threading the tent poles made for difficult set up.

Sleeping Bags–  We both carried mid-weight bags. I took along a Cocoon 100% silk liner since I sleep cold. Came in handy when the temps dipped down into the upper 30’s and lower 40’s. I also slept in the liner when staying in “questionable” motels.

Likes:

  • Everything

Dislikes:

  • None noted

Pillow– Cocoon Hyperlite Inflatable Travel Pillow.

cocoon travel pillow

Likes:

  • Light and compact
  • Great quality.  Lasted the entire trip.

Dislikes:

  • Uncomfortable if over-inflated.

Sleeping Pads– I enjoyed the Therm-A-Rest ProLite Plus (R)  while Jim used the Klymit Static V  Pad

Likes:

  • Had the Therm-A-Lite Prolite Plus since 2008.  Still works great with no leaks!
  • Klymit is comfortable and packs down nicely

Dislikes:

  • None noted

6- Technology System

Smartphones– Apple iPhone 4 and 4s with LifeProof cases.  We used Verizon and had great coverage except in the Everglades where nothing works anyway.

Likes:

  • Easy to use
  • Wide availability of apps

Dislikes:

  • The new iOS 7 battery life sucks.  So bad we could literally watch the power deplete before our eyes.
  • Some third party power cables would not fit the LifeProof case charge port.  Be Aware!

Smartphone Apps-  We relied on these apps during the trip:

  • Sea Tow–  Used it everyday to check tides, weather, weather radar, and weather alerts.  Wow, wow, wow!
  • WordPress–  It’s how I was able to update the blog.  Simple yet robust.
  • AudioBoo–  We were blown away by the sound quality of the audio updates and it’s free!
  • Twitter–  Twitter became the best way to get pics and updates out fast.  Many times we did this right from the kayak.
  • Google Maps–  From dropping pins to finding the nearest grocery store Google Maps was the way to go.
  • Google Earth– We used it to scout potential stealth camping spots up ahead.  Better viewing on the iPad mini than the iPhone.  Beware- Terrain can be deceiving.  What you think is a nice beach shoreline may actually be a vertical wall due to distorted depth perception.

Tablet Device I took along an iPad Mini (wifi only) in a LifeProof caseGood purchase for this trip.

Likes:

  • Larger screen easier to use than iPhone especially when researching route in Google Earth.
  • Served as backup device for photos.

Dislikes:

  • Wifi only model meant limited use.
  • iPhone 4 not setup for mobile hotspot (didn’t want to loose my old unlimited data plan).

Solar ChargerOrange Joos–  We loved this solar charging option but it MUST  be kept in a waterproof case! Why?  To protect the micro USB port from corrosion.

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Likes:

  • Compact.  We kept it leashed to the rear hatch of our yaks.
  • Charged multiple devices.  Would charge our iPhones a couple times if internal battery was fully charged.  Used USB charger for re-chargeable batteries.

Dislikes

  • Micro USB port is flimsy and fragile.  Exposure to saltwater will render it useless due to corrosion!  Placing it inside a waterproof iPad E-Case solved the problem.

7- Navigation System

GPS Devices– I carried the Garmin GPSMap 78 and eTrex 20 as back-up.  Jim used the Garmin GPSMap 78sc on a Ram Mount deck holder.

Likes:

  • Quality
  • Ruggedness
  • General ease of use
  • Color screen

Dislikes:

  • Battery life.  We usually got 1 to 1.5 days of use from a set of re-chargeable or alkaline  batteries.  Switched to lithium batteries towards end of trip and got 4-5 days use depending on how much we accessed the device.
  • Not being able to remember how to access the tide table function.  Too many hoops to jump through.

Trail Maps–  Free online trail maps and Top Spot Fishing Maps

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Spiral bound trail map set

We had a local FedEx Print shop print an entire trail map set for each of us.  I choose to laminate individual map segments while Jim had a spiral bound map booklet produced. The booklet was nice since he could write notes on the pages.  Jim kept it dry inside a waterproof map case strapped to his deck for easy viewing.

We were both happy with our choices

I also purchased two Top Spot Fishing Maps for- The Ten Thousand Island (N204) and the Everglades (N206) sections.  We liked the extra detail these maps provided.

Top Spot Map

8- Storage System

Deck Bags– Having a convenient place to hold valuables, phone, snacks, etc. is important on a thru paddle.  I preferred the Sea to Summit Access Kayak Deck Bag with zipper front and interior dry bag.

marc deck bag

Jim used the Seal Line Kodiak Deck Bag with roll up front closure and clear top view window.

jim deck bag

Dry Bags– We carried an assortment.  The lightweight sil-nylon dry bags worked great.  The thicker, heavier Big River Dry bags are nice but are really overkill for kayak touring.  Anything larger than 13 liter won’t fit inside the front hatch.

Food Containers–  Jim used the Bear Vault BV450 Solo Bear Canister to store his food in. He liked it since he could carry it to camp and leave it out without fear of critters getting inside.

The BV450 is the only one that fits in the front hatch!
The BV450 is the only one that fits in the front hatch!

I used a 13 Liter Big River Dry Bag to store my food and just secured it inside the front hatch of my yak at night.  Never once had a problem with animals.  Oh, and raccoons never chewed through our hatch covers.

big_river_dry_bag_orange

We carried between 4-10 days worth of food depending on which section we were in.  Crushing and repackaging some dinners (like Ramen Noodle blocks or Knorr Pasta sides) then transferring to quart size Ziploc Freezer bags helped reduce bulk.   The Ziploc bags were perfect for carrying out trash.  Remember, leave no trace!

Water Storage– We liked using the MSR Dromedary Bags (6 and 10 Liter size).  The most water I carried- 7 gallons in the Everglades section.

Be aware, the flip spout on the filler cap can accidentally pop open.  I found out the hard way and lost half my water one day.  Jim purchased the MSR Spigot cap which made it easier filling water bottles.  The spigot never opened accidentally.

Miscellaneous

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Camp Chair-  Alite Monarch. A great purchase!

Likes:

  • Easy to assemble
  • Kept us off the ground
  • Just the right height when cooking on the ground
  • Perfect sit around the campfire chair
  • Lightweight
  • Packed down and stored easily in the yak

Dislikes:

  • Can be a little tipsy especially in sand
  • No side pocket flaps to hold a drink
  • Damage to frame tubing (flaring out) if not properly seated in center hub

Mosquito RepellantThermaCELL.  We were blown away at how well this appliance worked against mosquitoes and no-see-ums.  The bugs were usually gone within 10 minutes of turning the device on. Of course we carried 100% DEET too.

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Sitting PadTherm-A-Rest Z Seat.  We used this little pad as extra insulation in our chairs, as a knee pad when loading and unloading the kayaks, or when crawling in or out of the tent.

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Tarp–  We each started out carrying sil-nylon tarps but dumped them early on.  Only used Jim’s once.

Monocular–  Vortex Solo 8X36 This was a great purchase!  Used it to scope out potential camping spots in the distance, elusive Tiki bars, and all the talent on the beach.

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Likes:

  • Compact
  • Came with lanyard
  • Waterproof, fogproof, rubber armor, and adjustable eye cup
  • Perfect lens magnification for viewing from kayak

Dislikes:

  • Attached metal belt clip corroded

Fire Log–  We learned this little trick while paddling the Big Bend section from our friend Gus Bianchi.  It’s a no muss, no fuss way to enjoy a fire especially on all those spoil islands that tended not to have any firewood laying around.  We carried them often.

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Well, that’s it.  Jim and I learned a lot during this long distance paddle. Here’s hoping you found this review useful. If you have questions, contact me HERE.

Advance Around,

Marc

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