What kind of schwag do you bring on a 60-mile canoe trip in the Canyonlands? Whatever you can get your hands on, and that is up to the task. PL (in company of 12 kids and eight “grown-ups, if you can call us that) whiled away the dog days of August down the Green River in Canyonlands National Park. While we tested out a slew of canoes and paddles that you can read about in an upcoming issue of Canoe & Kayak magazine, we also put an array of accessories to the task, from newschool firestarters and firepans to SUPs and sleeping bags. Here’s the rundown...
Igloo Marine Ultra94 Cooler
Like a good boat, the Igloo marine Ultra 94 has volume in all the right places. While some coolers measure volume by the outside dimensions, with Igloo, it’s all storage, meaning more beer, brats and ice. This baby comes with bombproof Pebax hinges (so you won’t be fixing them with coat hangers and duct tape); hybrid latches that stay shut, and comfort grip handles that take the pain out of lugging it around. Best yet, however, is the company’s new technology pairing the shell’s high-density plastic with an Ultratherm Insulated body and UV inhibitors, as well as Cool Riser Technology, which minimizes surface contact and allows under cooler air flow. Vernacular aside, this means we had ice for our margaritas on day five, after each day crested 100 degrees. It comes with a snap-on seat cushion, which our kids loved, and fit perfectly width-wise into each canoe in our test. Bonus: integrated fish measuring ruler on the lid, which the kids used to measure sticks.
Tilley Airflow Hat
When it’s 100-plus in Canyonlands, who you gonna call to cap off your noggin’ and keep the sun at bay? The Tilley Airflo. Made from Nylamtium®, this baby (the LTM3, to be exact) works, plain and simple. In fact, we lost it for a few days, only to find some kid (we won’t name any names, John) had absconded with it as his own. When I thought I saw it in a canoe later, I snagged it back, only to be reprimanded from one of the gals along, who also had a Tilley. Made from Tilley Nylamtium®, a strong water- and mildew-resistant lightweight nylon, the Airflo is designed with a medium brim that snaps up Aussie style, with ¾" polyester mesh in the crown for keeping things cool. It also has a UPF factor of 50+ (rated according to ASTM D6544 and D6603 for you techno hat nerds). Other bonuses: the chin straps rest out of the way atop your head if you don’t want them, and aren’t a total nuisance under-chin when you want to wear them; it floats (for when my wife accidentally dropped it overboard); and it comes with a “secret” pocket atop your head for that $20 to go toward an ice-cold pitcher when the trip’s done. Plus, believe it or not, it’s guaranteed for life not to wear out, and insured against loss. PL Tidbit Hint: How to find out if you have it on the right way? Look inside: if the wording is right-side up, that’s the way you put it on. $76, www.tilley.com
Aquapac Mini Electronics Case 108
To nab that quick vid footage of the kids wallowing in mud and great blue herons taking flight, we relied on the Aquapac ini Electronics Case 108, which turns your existing phone into a waterproof phone. What we liked: Everything works normally through the case, and you can talk and hear with nary a problem (except for the rambunctious kids running around). Just as importantly, the case also kept dirt and sand at bay, a godsend with the rapidly re-appearing sandbars after the river’s 50,000-cfs high. At first, we took it out of its case every time we videoed a cannonball. When that got too cumbersome for quickies, we left it in its case to shoot (duh, like you’re supposed to). And the results worked so well that we couldn’t tell the different.
While we opted not to test the feature, the case supposedly floats if you drop it in the drink, and can be submersible down to 15 feet. Normally we’re suspect of gizmos that miraculously “waterproof” anything hinting of technology. But its high-frequency welded seams and easy-access, rustproof, injection-molded Aquaclip that opens and closes the case by twisting two levers had us singing a different iTune. $30, www.aquapac.com
To keep everything from pajamas to pita bread dry, we tested the new storage barrel from Harmony, which fit perfectly on the floor of each canoe (it would up in a different spot every day...maybe people liked to rig it?). Made of polyethylene, with an odor-proof compression seal, the container has side-mounted handles for easy carrying and a pop-top lid with galvanized clamp seal to keep water at bay. Available in two sizes (30 L $69.99; 60 L $84.99), it beat the heck out of the Rubbermaids and homemade wanigan boxes everyone else was toting. It also comes with a customized harness with padded shoulder straps and back pad, sternum strap and waist belt ($54.99 for 30 L; $84.99 for 60 L) for carrying, allowing you to strap it onto your pack for long gear shuttles to camp or portages. In an ironic twist, it was also where our daughter, Casey, decided to keep her barrel of monkeys. www.harmony.com, $69.99/$84.99
Want to impress your friends (and get a fire started in a rainstorm)? Enter the Exotac Nanostriker, a ferrocerium firestarter gizmo that measures just 3.4 inches long and weighs just 0.6 oz. By brushing the striking tool, a tungsten carbide insert, against the ferrocerium and magnesium rod, the result is a spark thaty burns at nearly 5500 degrees F. Simply aim it toward ample tinder and break out the marshmallows. Also available in ultralight and XL versions. Bonus: it also makes a great nighttime spark for kids. www.exotac.com, $26.95, $32.95
Big Agnes Seedhouse SL1 Tent
This tent was poor Dave’s -- a single, 24-year-old surfer from SoCal -- sole sanctuary from the kids on the trip. He came along as the trip’s photographer, and while we were all blessed with child on the trip, and immune to their tantrums and energy, he was thrown to the wolves. No matter. The SL1 kept bugs at bay as well as it did kids, save for when they surrounded him one morning singing Justin Beiber’s “Baby, Baby,” causing him to wake-up and run into straight the river.
The three season, free-standing backpacker weighs just 2 lb., 6 oz., with a commanding 22 square feet of floor space. This means it packs up small as a Bocce ball. The first four nights he only used the body’s lightweight nylon/polyester mesh without the fly. And he marveled at the star-gazing and ventilation. When it came time to set up in a hurry, the DAC Featherlite NSL pole system with press fit connectors, lightweight hubs and plastic clips proved its worth in spades, be it battling the flash of bugs that came from 8 – 9 p.m. the first two nights, or the storm on night five. When the storm hit, up went its silicone-treated nylon rip-stop fly, with a 1200mm waterproof polyurethane coating and seams taped with waterproof, solvent-free polyurethane, which kept the rain’s fury confined to the waterfalls pouring out of side canyons. $249.95, www.bigagnes.com
Keen Newport H2 Sandals
What did we equip our two daughters, ages 12 and 8, with to survive the rigors of rattlesnakes, rough rocks and the river? The (thank God) toe-covering Newport H2 sandals from Keen. No stubbed toes, no errant cacti shish-kebobs, and no gooey marshmallows falling off their sticks and onto their toes. In short, they took everything a kid can dish out, from clinging to slickrock with the grippy, non-marking rubber outsole to avoiding civilizations of crypto-biotic soil. What we liked best about them, of course, is the patented toe-protection cup. But the elastic cord lace and adjustable hook and loop strap was also a plus, letting them actually put them on and take them off by themselves. The polyester webbing also dried quickly after 10 hours in the water, as did the hydrophobic quick-dry mesh. The only downside was how pretty the colorful, girlish design looked, only to get completely coated when the kids wallowed in mudholes.
NRS River Wing
Canyonlands in mid-August? You kiddin’ me? You need shade. For that we relied on an old stand-by: the NRS River Wing, made of 40-denier ripstop nylon with factory-taped seams. While the 190-square-foot canopy (17' x 16' at its widest) worked great for shade, its real merit came on night five when a rainstorm hit and we moved the spaghetti cook crew under its protection. Without it, everyone would have high-tailed it to their tents. With it, we still had a party. We adjusted its button-lock, tempered aluminum poles to their highest height (10' with four 2-foot sections and four 3-foot sections), providing ample head space for cooks and hungry clinger-ons. While we found it hard to figure out the adjustable tensioners on the tie-down cords, it was nothing a few tried-and-true trucker’s hitches couldn’t cure. We’d also lost some of the stakes along the way (it comes with six steel and six plastic), forcing us to rely on water jugs, tamarisk limbs and a lone deadman buried in the sand. But those improvisations (like the ability to use oars in place of tent poles) worked perfectly, keeping the rain away and revelers awake. www.nrsweb.com, $369.95
NRS Bill’s Bag
What river runner worth his or her salt doesn’t have one of these babies? The time-tested NRS Bill’s Bag has been around for 30 years, making it the perfect dry-gear-hauler for us to flop down in the bottom of a canoe each day. Made from a 21-oz PVC/polyester body and offering a whopping 6,500 cubic inches of storage capacity (enough for my daughter’s blankie and little lion thingy), it fit perfectly sideways in the 30-inch-beamed canoes, with the 34-oz rounded bottom barely sticking above the gunwale. Lighter loads – like the bag not carrying our tent, sleeping bags and pads – get cinched down with four compression straps. Our bags were a bit tried-and-true – we’ve had them for years, and they’ve survived countless river trips – so the adjustable backpack harnesses and padded shoulder straps were a bit worse for the wear. But the rrubberized grab handle was as bomber as ever for the daily fire pail line ashore. And the true proof was in the dry-as-a-bone pudding; the StormStrip closure system (three rolls, please, before fastening) kept the muddy Green well at bay. www.nrsweb.com, $69.95
Kelty Hula Shadehouse
Veteran canoeist Cathy from St. Louis brought this baby, and it earned its keep from day one, keeping sun off the kids building sand castles and a “hot tub” in ankle-deep water by the shore, and again during the trip’s mambo rainstorm on day five. Because it’s freestanding, it sets up in a snap (faster than the River Wing) for uber-fast deployment, rain or shine. The key is the hula -- an angled hoop design that looks like a halo and angles down to provide added low-sun-angle or rain protection. While it weighs 12 lbs., 11 oz. packed (a bit much if you’re expecting many portages), it offers 100 square feet of protected area, rising to a maximum 78 inches high, a Godsend when things get hot or rough. What we liked best: its freestanding design with quick clip and pole sleeve construction…so you can get back to happy houring quickly. www.kelty.com, $239.95
Yakima Rack n’ Roll Trailer 78
If you’re short on both hauling and storage space, this is the ticket to still playing the yahoo. You can haul virtually whatever you want to, including every toy in the garage (unfortunately, no kid-hauling attachment). We loaded it with three 17-foot expedition canoes hitched to a 2001 Ford Explorer from Salt Lake City to Moab, Utah (including a few dirt roads to get to the shuttle drop-off). It passed with flying colors, and we even still passed cars with it on the Interstate. Two canoes fit easily side-by-side on its 78-inch-wide Yakima crossbars, with another – and even a couple of drybags -- on top.
The standard tongue typically allows proper clearance for a single 17-foot boat or two 16-foot boats (i.e. sea kayaks and canoes). The tongue extension kit makes the standard tongue longer and lets carry up to a single 22-foot boats or two 21-foot boats. Once we hit washboards, the trailer’s built-in shock absorbers absorbed the blows, providing four inches of wheel travel (as much as our cross-country mountain bikes). There was no swaying, no jiggling loose (hint: crank down the cam straps), and nothing you fear from hauling a trailer. In Moab, we used the locking levers in case anyone else thought it up for grabs while we were on the river. While it means one more set of shuttle keys to keep track of, it’s welcome insurance, kind of like having a bombproof roll in event of a capsize.
Afterward, we took it home (this time with the addition of law-abiding red survey tape hanging from the back) on Interstate, two-lane highway and even a dirt-road shortcut. Total mileage: 843. There, its other features shined. The carrying handle turned it into a hand cart for final, fine-tune maneuvering in the driveway. In a nifty design touch, its wheels and tongue remove in seconds, meaning you can store it upright on your garage wall or even stash it in crawlspace when not in use. We did that after storing it under a giant willow tree for a few days, where a freak aphid hatch drifted onto the two canoes still covering it. The verdict: Thumbs (and tongues) up! ($2,299, www.yakima.com)
Weight: 160 lbs. unloaded
Dimensions: 78" wide X 132" long X 22" tall
Capacity: 250 lbs./300 lbs. w/ HD shocks (8008110)
Length: 11 feet (with standard tongue). Tongue extension kit adds 3 feet.
Ball size: 1 7/8” (works with Class I, II & III hitches)
NRS Big Earl
Usually we don’t like to use inflatable and rigid in the same sentence as it could be construed as perverse. But you can with the new NRS Big Earl, an inflatable SUP that rolls up compactly (thanks to three removal fins...a brilliant feature) for storage and transport. But its main merits are on the water. The kids liked it so much that us grown-ups had to bargain with them for our turn.
Key to its allure is its drop-stitch construction, which joins the two surfaces together with hundreds of sturdy threads, allowing inflation via a Leafield C7 valve to 12-15 psi for rigidity (K-Pump 100 included). We found the textured, grooved deck pad to offer great riding control, even in the muddy, slippery water of Canyonlands.
Fin-wise, you can use two and keep one as a replacement, or rock with all three, which we did. While we didn’t get it on any waves (the only knowck against Stillwater Canyon), they offered great purchase for stern pivots and tracking. For carrying, you grab a webbing strap recessed in the center, which came in especially handy when carrying it to the Mineral Bottom put-in. If you want to go with gear, two webbing handles on the front and four stainless D-rings offer gear attachment points – just beware of your toes brushing against them if you’re riding barefoot.
And feel free to abuse it to your ehart’s content: it comes with a three-year retail and commercial warranty, with repair kit included just in case. ($995, www.nrsweb.com)
Big Agnes Cross Mountain/Yampa Sleeping Bags
For our bags, we went with the uber-sweet Big Agnes Cross Mountain and Yampa with integrated full pad sleeve. With anything else overkill for Canyonlands in August, they offered perfect packability for canoeing as well as temperature control. And even if we would have tossed and turned form the heat, we wouldn’t have had to fear rolling off our pad. Both come in a rectangular shape, which offer great foot and shoulder room, and have built in pillow pocket fit my black fleece pants to a T. Seventy-inch YKK #8 zippers were the bomb, especially in Canyonlands sand, and even let you mate together left and right zip bags (if your kids aren’t along). The Cross (short staple synthetic A-Shingo™ insulation with 97% recycled content; shingle construction utilizes a patented anchor system to create more trapped air space and eliminate gapping) has a Nylon rip-stop shell, the Yampa (650 fill goose down) a down proof, nylon microfiber rip-stop shell, both with a water-repellent surface treatment. While both stayed relatively dry on the trip, the synthetic is still our choice for paddling trips. And above all you gotta love the price...about the same as our jet boat shuttle per person back up the Colorado. (Cross: $119.95-$129.95; Yampa: $159.95 - $169.95, www.bigagness.com)
Switch Boreal Shades
The future’s so bright you gotta wear shades. That’s certainly the case in Canyonlands, and helping our pupils in that regard was the new Switch Boreal, the only full-frame sunglass with Switch Vision’s patented Magnetic Interchange Lens System. It let us switch on the fly, from lighting varying from bright noon sun to red glows of sunset. The thicker temple and 8-base wrap design design stayed firmly in place when it needed to (i.e. after a surprise dunking of the paddleboard), with their paltry one-ounce weight and airy design a godsend in the heat. Not that style matters so much in the bowels of a canyon, but they’re available in frame/lens color combos of Matte Black/True Color Gray with Silver Reflection; Lagoon/True Color Gray with Silver Reflection, Tortoise/Amber with Bronze Reflection, and Cactus/Amber with Bronze Reflection. All also come with a Low-Light Rose Amber lens, Switch Vision lens pod and microfiber pouch (which proved especially handy in wiping off errant water drops from the kids’ squirt guns). ($119-$189, www.switchvision.com)