We’ve been polling our readers since 2005 about the kayaks and equipment that they like best. Their choices have always resulted in a list of products that are well designed, durable, and highly functional. Our questionnaires have been open-ended, not multiple choice, so the selections are entirely up to our readers. If there’s a bias built into the survey, it favors the equipment that has been on the market for a while , earned some recognition and proven its worth. Many of the winners here have been Readers Choice award winners in the past. A few have been the sole winners of a category in all of the years that we’ve conducted the survey. While there are new products, good products, coming out every year, they’ll need time to gain the favor of sea kayakers and measure up to the standards of the “classics” that make up our list of winners.
Sea Tec Tow Line
North Water Paddle Sports Equipment
The Sea Tec Tow Line is a repeat winner as the Readers Choice for the best towing system, and with good reason. Its 30-foot floating polypropylene line is tucked in a wide-mouthed-bag that pays out without fuss and packs back in quickly. The bag is oversized when open, so there is plenty of room to swallow up handfuls of line. When filled, the bag rolls up and Velcros tightly in a compact package not much wider than the waist belt attached to it. The system is simple, yet North Water has made a number of improvements to it. A tail of line has been added to allow you use a deck-mounted towing point instead of the waist belt. Flotation has been added to the bag so it will sit high in the water when it’s necessary to use it to throw the line. Over the years the bag voted best by our readers has only gotten better. Next year North Water will be introducing its Dynamic Tow Line series, building on the success of the Sea Tec with even more improvements.
$ 124.95 CDN
Seals Spray Skirts
Seals has taken over the top spot for spray skirts. The Extreme Tour has a 4-mm neoprene deck with a forward perimeter trimmed in Sealtex edge guard, a neoprene material with an abrasion-resistant fabric on the outside and grippy rubber dots on the inside. The tunnel has three sections: a 2-3/4” lower band of neoprene coming up from the deck and 4” middle band of waterproof breathable fabric, and a 3” waistband at the top of neoprene, fabric and Velcro cinches . The elastic suspenders are removable, though even with them on I can do a full layback. The neoprene-to-neoprene seams are glued, blind-stitched and taped. The other seams are stitched and taped inside and out. The grab loop has an extra bit of webbing with a buckle that makes it easy to clip the front of the skirt to you PFD to keep it out of the way while walking. The 3/16” bungee is stitched to the edge of the deck. Releasing the skirt with one hand is a bit of work andis best matched to a strong kayaker. The Extreme Tour has a positive, nearly air-tight seal. Pushing the deck in as hard as I could didn’t implode it. Like the name says, this is a spray skirt for extreme conditions.
Solution Gear Access Deck Bag
By Sea To Summit
The Access deck bag is another new Readers Choice winner. It’s tapered profile will divert rather than collide with wavesn breaking over the deck. There are two methods of attaching the Access: Velcro trips to close around deck bungees, or webbing with buckles to anchor the bag to deck fittings or perimeter grab lines. The straps are the best way to go—they keep the bag from shifting, won’t yield to waves and make the zipper easier to operate with one hand. A stiff plastic sheet keeps the bag’s arched shape so you can see inside and shuffle things around to get what you need. The water-resistant zipper does a good job of keeping water out of the Access, and inside is a dry bag that provides the necessary protection for things that have to stay dry. The dry bag has a Velcro patch to anchor its front end. Its roll-down closure takes two hands to open and close, but if you’re too busy with the paddle to spare both hands, it’s not likely you’ll want to open the dry bag. As a rule of thumb, your essentials should be on your person, but there are lots of things that you’d want to have handy during a long passage and the Access bag can provide a compact, easily accessed place to carry them.
By Cascade Designs/SealLine
The Kodiak dry bags are back as our readers’ favorite. What’s not to like? The top of the bag has a stiff plastic band and sleeve that assure the roll-down closure is crease-free and watertight, the full-length window offers a view of the contents, and the ingenious purge valve lets excess air out so you can pack more gear aboard your kayak. The valve is made of soft materials so it won’t create a point of wear at its perimeter. To test the valve I turned the bag inside out, sealed the top and squeezed hard. No air whispered through the valve or the roll-top, a good indication that water won’t be able to get in.
After over a decade of use, a few gasket and sock replacements and scores of factory applied patches, my old Kokatat Dura drysuit came to the end of its long and useful life. I stepped up to the Meridian, another Gore-Tex drysuit with a few more features. The entry zipper has a flap that covers and protects the zipper. The waist has an overskirt to overlap a spray-skirt tunnel for a more water tight seal. Like my old suit, the Meridian has a relief zipper and Gore-Tex socks. The waist band on the skirt tunnel is much more effective than my old suit’s draw cord in keeping the suit properly situated on my waist. The punch-through neoprene wrist and neck over cuffs are much more comfortable than the scratchy Velcro covers of the Dura . After I trimmed the wrist and neck gaskets to fit me, I felt right at home in my Meridian. I’ll be wearing it for years to come.
NRS Farmer John
The NRS Farmer John is the only wetsuit to win the Readers Choice award. I’ve had mine for ten years now and it is still in great shape. Over the years there have been some improvements—for comfort’s sake—in the Farmer John’s fabric and construction, but the form and function are very much the same. The armholes are cut with paddling in mind. Chafing isn’t a problem. Zippers at the ankle make it easy to put the suit on—something I’m always grateful for with my big feet—and the plastic YKK zippers on my old suit still work smoothly. The Farmer John cut makes it possible to layer with 3mm of neoprene protecting the core and groin. I’ve worn a variety of tops over and under the Farmer John to suit a wide variety of conditions. The Farmer John is available in 2mm or 3mm neoprene. It’s a good foundation for the apparel you need to protect yourself from cold water.
By Standard Horizon
Submersible VHF radios have come down in price so you can equip yourself with a basic model for under $100. The HX851 has enough extra features to make it well worth the extra dollars. First of all, it floats, so your investment won’t vanish if you happen to drop it in the drink. (If you do drop it, it has a glow in the dark band and a water activated strobe to help you find it.) It’s rated waterproof to one meter for 30 minutes, so it’ll survive a roll if it’s on your PFD. It transmits at 1, 2.5, or 6 watts. It is equipped with GPS so it can display your position and navigate to as many as 200 waypoints. The GPS, while quite basic in comparison to dedicated navigation units, also works in conjunction with the HX851’s DSC (Digital Selective Calling) feature. Upon registering the radio, it has a unique identifying number that will, with a press of a distress button, send your location and your identity to a rescue coordination center. The HX851 can be, quite literally, a life saver.
The Hubba Hubba by MSR is a winning option among Sea Kayaker readers for a durable, two-person, three-season tent. Its all-in-one, hub-and-pole frame is freestanding and sets up quickly to create a roomy 43 cu. ft. of inside-space from a 4-pound 8-ounce package. The tent compacts to take minimal room in a deck hatch, but stretches to allow 7’ by 4’1″ of floor space, plenty of room to sleep two adult campers comfortably with gear. The Hubba Hubba’s all-mesh canopy has two doors and offers breezy ventilation and protection from insects. The nylon floor and rainfly are shielded with MSR’s Durashield polyurethane and silicone coating for added protection against water, sunlight and overall wear-and-tear. Two vestibules add weather-shielded storage and cooking space, and also work to keep water from getting inside the tent. Durable aluminum poles and factory-taped seams add to the Hubba Hubba’s ability to endure alpine elements. Accessorize with MSR’s separately sold Gear Shed ($169.95) to add 26 sq. ft. of weatherproof storage space, or lose some weight and pack-size by pairing the Hubba Hubba rainfly with an optional footprint ($39.95) for a minimalist setup that weighs only 3 pounds when packed. In January 2014, MSR will release the Hubba Hubba MX to improve on its already best-selling classic backpacker tent design.
Like any kayak-worthy electronics, Garmin’s GPSMap 78 has a JIS7 (IPX7?) waterproof rating (submersible to one meter for half an hour) and floats. It uses a technology known as HotFix to predict where it will find satellites, reducing the time it takes to get a fix on your position. Its waterproof battery compartment includes a microSD card slot that allows you to add nautical charts to the device’s built-in global map. The color screen is transreflective (transmissive + reflective) to optimize visibility in different lighting conditions. The WAAS (Wide Area Augmentation System, currently operational only in North America) GPS receiver is designed to pinpoint your location to within 3 meters—a fraction of the length of a kayak—95 percent of the time.
ACR R esQLink PLB-375
By ACR Electronics
The ResQLink PLB 375 is a waterproof personal locator beacon that is small enough to keep in a PFD pocket. To activate it, you need only deploy its antenna and press the on button. The distress signal and your position are transmitted to a satellite and relayed to a rescue control center. Help is soon on the way. A built-in strobe light pinpoints your location when rescuers arrive. The ResQLink PLB-375 is rated waterproof to 5 meters for an hour but you don’t want to let it get away from you. It will float with an optional case, but a tether will keep it secured to your PFD. There is no subscription fee involved and if you use it to get rescued, ACR will replace it for free.