Grand Canyon Gear Review

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The Grand Canyon is the grand daddy of all river trips featuring three weeks of raging and river-running. The big water, bigger canyon and, hopefully, good friends, all add to its mystique. If you’re lucky enough to get on a trip, you’ll need the right gear. Paddling Life’s Nick Hinds was one of the lucky few this year, testing out everything from coozies and cutlery to fleece and flip-flops. Here’s what he and a few loyal testers found out:

Jackson 4 Fun Kayak
In my opinion, this is the best river-running playboat on the market. This sucker not only surfs way better than its’ 06 predecessor but carves up green waves and blunts crisply. Other sweet features: outfitting and foot comfort. “You mean I get to sit on a bean bag and go kayaking instead of being locked in a Chinese foot torture?” Thank the boating gods for Jackson’s Happy Feet! And with a variety of sizes, the 4 Fun’s a nice ride if your weight matches up to your leg length. I couldn’t flat wheel it but I’m only a buck eighty. Most people who can fit in this big guy’s boat top 200 lbs, so no worries throwing it around. I loved it in holes, too (as long as they’re big enough), and its planing hull was perfect for lunchtime PBJs.” Info

– NH


Sperry Topsider
So I looked a little preppy? What’s the big deal when you’re in the Big Ditch? These babies are hand sewn using Tru-Moc Construction for all the wear and tear the Grand can muster. Plus, they’re stain and water resistant (perfect for that cross-dress party) and use rust proof eyelets, perfect for three weeks of water. The shock-absorbing EVA Heel Cup adds to their comfiness. “Besides being stylish, which didn’t really matter down there, they were pretty damn functional,” says trip tester Rich Gibson. “They dried out fast and dished up great traction on wet rocks during day hikes. But I’d recommend wearing socks until they’re broken in. I chafed my Achilles a bit, but it was nothing a little bag Balm couldn’t fix.” Info

LED Wand Nite 12L5
The Durable LED Wand Nite 12L5 lasts as long as its name. ”It’s a sweet light,” Gibson says. “It has a strong beam, which I used to avoid cactus on late-night leak sessions.” While Gibson tested its floatability accidentally one night, he never did test its claim that it’s submersible up to 1,000 feet. “It also has a great strobe light feature which yields a mile visibility for emergencies,” he says. “We just used it as a disco ball.” The Wand also includes a signal marker, spot beam and led insert that can be attached to a pfd as a beacon. “The only drawback?” asks Gibson. “Removing the cap to turn it on and off was awkward; it should be redesigned with a switch on the side.”


Gaia Duffel
The duffel-style dry storage from Gaia mixes practicality with style. You don’t need the latter on the Grand, but you definitely need the former. “It worked awesome,” says Grand gear guru David “El Gigante” Maris, who tested it when his bag was on a raft that flipped in Hermit. “But the zipper was a little tough to close. A little T-zip gel lube helped. I had to double check the seal, as sometimes it didn’t close on the first zip. But it survived two submergings – one very extended.” This owes itself to its 100% waterproof protection from the double-coated material and air tight zipper. “It was also easy to carry either as a duffle or backpack thanks to the handle strap,” says Gigante. “Everyone grabbed it first to carry to camp.” Info

Freestyle Watch
Freestyle’s Precision watch was designed by surfers to withstand abusive saltwater so it held up well in the Grand’s punishing silt-filled waters. It also held up well to salt on margarita night. Water pressure isn’t a problem either. Not that any of our testers got that deep even when swirl-o-grammed, but the company says it performs at depths of 200 meters. “Plus, that night vision feature came in handy when I found myself exhausted (read: loaded) and couldn’t believe it was only 9:30 p.m.,” says Giganti. “And the alarm helped me wake up before dawn (I don’t know why I wanted to do that…oh yeah, to get back to my own tent). The only downside is that it seemed a little bulky – the knobs hit my wrist sometimes when in action.” Info

Gaia Cell Phone Case
The original purpose of the Gaia cell phone case is to protect a phone with foam and padded waterproof materials. Gigante pushed the envelope. “I included some additional safety supplies with the cell phone and it proved a tight fit, possibly ruining a survival lighter,” he says. “I may have overstuffed it a bit, but the clear front face and padded back were good features.” Info

Otter Box
There are plenty of flats on the Grand, and for that we were thankful for OtterBox’s iPod Nano 2nd generation & 20GB cases. It toughened up our iPods just like the Grand did to our calloused hands, making them waterproof, dustproof, and more importantly, drop proof. Which is good, because one dork on our trip (there’s always one) dropped it into Havasu Creek like a complete idiot. But we were still able to crank Dave Mathews while hiking one of the coolest canyons in the country. Even though our fingers were blistered and cracked from paddling (and playing horseshoes) we could still punch all the buttons we needed through the protective case. Info

Big Agnes Seedhouse Superlite
Twenty-one nights in the Grand Canyon is hard to beat. So is a light, user-friendly set-up like the Big Agnes Seedhouse Superlight one-man tent, which kept out everything from rain to scorpions. Couple that with a Crystal 30-degree bag and Mummy REM sleep pad, and you forget all about having to run Crystal Rapid the next day. Unless, of course, a 40 mph wind kicks up and tosses your entire set-up across a sandy beach, plastering it with grains (my dumbass forgot to stake it down). Then you’re stuck plucking each pellet out individually, wasting valuable beer drinking time. But the Superlight was easy to shake out, and stayed clean without the typhoon winds. The fly’s open area also creates a great stash space, and the pole system is such that I could even figure it out the first night well after Happy Hour — far less of a chore than taking down the groover.
As for the bag/pad combo, I’d never used an air core pad that slides into a sleeve on the underside of a bag. I was warm and toasty every night, except for that time I passed out in the dirt around the fire. Once I did manage to somehow roll off the pad, but I’m a pretty creative sleeper (meaning I flop like a fish when I’m drunk). All in all, the simple, lightweight set-up was pimpin’ for paddlin’ the Grand. Info

–Alan Panebaker

Men’s Hot Chillies Microfleece
This long-sleeve shirt was excellent for the length of this trip. Most early mornings and nights after the sun went down, I was snuggled by a fuzzy insulator (which was good since my fiancé often ignored me). The stench that usually attaches to my fleece after 20 days of use is revolting at best, but even though nothing could stop my 20-day BO, this baby didn’t reek too bad. With extra stretchy material in the underarm and torso, it also didn’t impede any crucial horseshow movements or 12-ounce curls.
–NH

Women’s Hot Chillies Core Shirt:
Lucie found the Core Shirt to be a survivor (just like her after getting tossed from a raft). Let’s just say a “friend” got sick on it after over-indulging around the campfire. It sat for two weeks in a plastic sealed Ziplock before being washed. No smell remained. She loved the style and function of this piece. Thank god my foray (I mean my friend’s foray) into the gin didn’t ruin it as she’s sure to use it this winter. Note to self: Never substitute wine for juice in a gin and juice concoction. Snoop Dogg would have been pissed.
– NH

Crazy Creek SOT Kayak3 Full Air Seat
A hundred and twelve clams might seem like a lot for a chair on the Grand, but considering that it also works on our family sit-on-top back home, Crazy Creek’s Kayak3 Full Air Seat, complete with On Air Comfort Technology, was worth every back-saving penny. While conforming to the contours of kayak seats, it also works great as a stand-alone seating system, with an ergonomically shaped back with specially formed lumbar support. Four brass swivel-clips secure the seat to any sit-on-top with attachment cleats, and a zippered pocket on back with drain holes fit a few extra cold ones perfectly (even though it was designed to accommodate a 70-oz. hydration unit). Made from 600-denier coated polyester, the seat stood up to everything we could throw at it—even the errant horseshoe (if not, we could have relied on the included repair kit). Info