The Best Random Paddling Gear Tested on the Water and Beyond This Winter

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Here’s an exclusive Paddling Life random swag sampler for your gear testing pleasure this spring…

Coyote Raft Bimini
The Coyote Raft Bimini from 4 Corners Riversports takse the bite out of the desert sun. We tested it on a six-day, 100-degree raft trip down Utah’s Desolation/Gray Canyons, and came away calling it a lifesaver. While the large umbrellas on all the other five rafts had to be folded up in the wind (with two breaking), the Coyote Bimini kept us – and equally important, our precious ice coolers – made in the shade.

The key to its bombproofness is three aluminum arms that extend up and over the rowing area and fasten on each corners to male-ended cam straps coming off the frame. This makes them not only uberly secure, but infinitely adjustable. Raft angle change and sun now at your back? Loosen the front and tighten the stern. Kid or spouse whining up front because their toe’s in the sun? Like a mullet, loosen the back and tighten the front. We found it the perfect clothes drying rack for everything from shorts to towels, and it offered great nooks to hang sunglasses and ballcaps (who cares it made us look like something out of Sanford and Son). It also worked great in the rain when a sudden squall had everyone else pulling out raincoats. Sized to fit any raft frame 48-78″ wide, each arm is made of double-walled 7/8″x.058” satin anodized aluminum tubing, eliminating oxidation, with each bend reinforced with 3/4″x 058” drawn mill aluminum tubing. The only thing stronger is your horseshoe stakes. The frame joints are held together with 1/4″ stainless steel button clips, letting you easily remove it from your raft for storage or transport. When collapsed it’s about 66 inches long. It adds 18 lbs to your raft, but that’s paltry compared to the sun blisters you’ll avoid.

The eight feet of shade itself is courtesy of bomber, 11-oz Harbor Time fabric, which is stronger, more hydrophobic and more abrasion resistant than Sunbrella fabric used by other bimini makers. With a five-year warranty, the acrylic-coated polyester marine fabric also features a unique color coating, eliminating rub-off, and is water, mildew and UV repellent. And it rolls and stows away easily for when you have to put it down and run the gnar. It was even the envy of a commercial trip passing by, whose oarsmen were toiling away sans shade. “Coyote Bimini from Four Corners in Durango,” I replied when queried about our private boater convenience. $525, www.riversports.com

SportRX Prescription Goggles
Okay okay, so this isn’t a “paddlesports” product. But we ski and snowboard also, on snow that turns to water, and these things rock. When it comes to schralping powder, the vision-challenged among us have always had trouble seeing the trees instead of the forest; contacts are crummy in the cold and wearing glasses beneath goggles cumbersome. SportRx solves that via prescription lenses that let you see the forest and the trees, and every bump in between. Simply send in your RX to SportRX’s professional opticians – who work with such popular name brands as Smith, Oakley, Anon, Spy, Electric and Dragon — and they’ll custom embed your prescription into a fog-proof lens so you’re seeing 20/20 while hucking 720s. Plus, the lenses offer an enhanced field of vision, letting you take in everything peripheral (like that snowboarder slashing the hillside on the left) as well as the obstacles in front of your prescription lens. www.sportrx.com

Chaco Mega Z/Cloud Sandal
Zorro is alive and well with the Mega Z, whose one-piece, Z-shaped strap system secures your foot to the sandal top like mud to its bottom. While a soft cushion tops a high-density polyurethane midsole for comfort and sturdiness, and 3.5mm tread lugs offer frog-like traction, what stands out is the Z strap, made from 32mm webbing. It’s all one piece, disappearing into the midsole and popping back out to tighten another area of your foot. Tighten them one by one and cinching is a snap. On various stretches of the Colorado River, including Class III-IV Westwater, these proved simple and comfy, and more importantly, stayed snug when wading through the water to unload gear. “They stayed on when a wave knocked me out of the raft in Sock It To Me,” says one tester. “That’s the true testament of a river sandal.” $115, www.chacos.com

Hala Rado
More and more, people are taking stand-up paddleboards on rivers as much as bays and lakes. And those boards are different: they favor inflatables for durability, shorter lengths for maneuverability and even upturned bows for combating waves. The inflatable Rado from Hala hits all three fronts – tough, nimble and stable, all at once – with a few more river-friendly features as well. The board’s stability and rigidity come from drop-stitch construction (tiny threads resisting the air pressure inside) and six-inch thickness; more volume means more confidence. Meanwhile, its 10’10” length and rocker (a slight, banana-like bend) from tip to tail keep it quick, easing turning and surfing waves. It also comes with a patent-pending, spring-loaded retractable fin; hit a rock and it sinks back inside the hull, preventing you from “supermanning” forward off the board and into Instagram history. e tested the Rado on both the Class II Yampa and Colorado rivers of Colorado, and it was the perfect fit. Hardly experts, we still caught eddies behind rocks, ferried out to surf small waves – confidently pressuring the 1.5-inch raised stomp pad on the stern — and easily docked at the hot springs on the Pumphouse run. $1,299, www.halagear.com

Orange Screw
Sure, Deadman anchors work great in the sand for tying up a raft. But how about in harder ground? Enter the new Orange Screw, a plastic ground anchor with screw threads that screw into the ground for solid purchase. Simply pop off the plastic sleeve, put it in the hole on top for leverage, and twist it into the ground. Then biner your rope into the hole on top and Voila! Instant anchor, for raft, tarp, tent and more. With a U.S. patent, made from 100 percent recycled materials, and tested in the likes of the Grand Canyon, they’re available in two sizes. Info: www.orangescrew.com

Stillhouse Whiskey
Making its debut in Colorado, award-winning, American-made spirit Stillhouse is the perfect complement to the boating lifestyle—sip the charcoal-filtered booze around the charcoal-filled campfire while telling the carnage tales from the day on the river. Stillhouse is a clear, all-natural, gluten-free whiskey that comes in six flavors (Original, Apple Crisp, Peach Tea, Coconut, Mint Chip and Red Hot) and is packaged in a proprietary, portable, indestructible stainless steel can; allowing for it to travel where glass can’t go, like on river trips. Founded by entrepreneur Brad Beckerman and produced by Stillhouse Spirits Co. in Columbia, Tenn., it’s available in two sizes: 750 ml and a 375 ml flask-sized. At 80-proof (40% ABV), Stillhouse Original is made with a proprietary sour mash recipe yielding a mellow flavor and smooth finish. Flavored options (69-proof; 34.5% ABV) include Apple Crisp, Peach Tea, Coconut, Mint Chip and Red Hot whiskeys. $24.99 (750 ml); $13.99 (375 ml), www.Stillhouse.com www.Stillhouse.com

Wilderness Systems A.T.A.K. 120
Far more than just a fish kayak (it’s also great for standard rec paddling), Wilderness Systems’ A.T.A.K. 140 is now available in a more compact package in the 12’3” 120. A continuation of the 140, the sleeker model maintains all its same core attributes – including an open customizable, stable platform, and wind-shedding deck – with a few new bells and whistles as well. Rocker has been increased to better negotiate moving water; a secondary transducer scupper has been added to accommodate electronics (including side-scanning technologies) while utilizing the Helix MD™ Motor Drive; and a quick-release cam lever allows its uber-cush AirPro MAX seat to be adjusted fore/aft on-the-fly. We tested it on Colorado’s Stagecoach and Steamboat lakes, drawing oohs and aahs from those in lesser craft. We also muttered plenty of our own such incantations out on the water. It stayed stable when the wind chop arose (as it always does there in the afternoons), maintained hull speed for bee-lining across small bays, and turned easily to retrieve lures snagged on lake-bottom logs. It was also easy to bring Java, the dog, along on the aft platform. $1,699, www.wildernesssystems.com

Sweet Protection’s Rocker HC Whitewater Helmet
I’m not sure why it took me so long to wear a helmet with a face guard on our local Class V Fish Creek, especially when all the younger bucks were doing so, but this year I showed up in Sweet’s Rocker Half Cut and immediately felt better protected than ever (not that I wanted to tip over). It’s built from Sweet’s Thermoplastic Laminated Carbon (TLC) shell technology, combining the elasticity of injection-molded thermoplastic with the rigidity and strength of carbon fiber. All this means they can fine-tune it, like you your line through a rapid. It’s softer in the crown area, which is better for impacts due to its rigid spherical geometry, and stiffer along the sides where the more angular parts of your noggin’ benefit from the rigidity of carbon fiber.

Another nice touch: its Occigrip tensioning system, that provides a secure fit, no matter how bad the trashing. And a molded expanded polypropylene liner adds more shock-absorbing properties, dampening the energy of a crash, while a Coolmax liner keeps you from overheating. Our only beef? You don’t have quite the peripheral vision of an open-face helmet, but we’ll take that trade-off hands, and face, down. $249.95, www.sweetprotection.com