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Best SUP and Kayak Gear

March 28, 2016

  • by
  • Peter Reese
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Wander the world’s waves in confidence, paddling partner.  The products Active Junky’s taken to the water, starting in Baja, put your outing on an even keel from the first stroke.

Kokatat Tropos Otter Jacket:  Paddle like you belong there

Kokatat Tropos Otter Jacket Starting at: $118.80

This big water, cruising and downriver brand owns the details in every piece they offer.  Whether breaching whales, strong winds or beach breaks jeopardize your comfort, fully seam-sealed Otter splashes through challenges small and leviathan.  Active Junky found the comfort rivaled the jacket’s protection, with quarter-zip venting, a soft pile collar lining and zoned Tropos fabrics managing interior humidity and exterior assaults.  Adjustable splash cuffs and a gloves-on adjustable (and stowable) hood toggled between sunny runs and darkened skies as the bungee waist adjusted when needed.  Jacket volume is moderate to accommodate all but the burliest boaters.  Remember not to leave shore without their paddling gloves; Neoprene Lightweight Glove gives fingerless freedom while Neo Cozee Glove is superior in cooler waters.

Tester Comments:  While recent Baja paddling didn’t mean horizontal sleet or rain by the bucketful, being protected during both whale watching skiff outings and windier island crossings was in Otter’s wheelhouse.  This jacket is more like the bombproof, alpine ascent jackets frequently field-tested by Active Junky with a beautiful balance between light weight and heavy-duty performance.  High marks to the brand as well for shoulder mobility without sloppiness.

Best For: Sea kayaking along with tamer recreational canoe outings, SUP sessions as a back-up in marginal weather

Wetsox Round Toe Water Sock:  Stand tall, cruise warmly

Active Junky likes making the fewest possible pieces of gear accomplish the mission. As such, adding a water sock into the SUP mix seemed excessive as paddling barefoot or in sandals seemed perfectly fine.  Enter cooler waters, harder in-and-out toed footwear and more abrasion popping up and down on the board.  Wetsox’ round toe glides into footwear and fins; Some paddlers and kite boarders may wear them solo depending upon local conditions.   Four sizes tailor the fit as interest in cold(er) water pursuits mushrooms to open up new fresh- and saltwater locations.  Expedition and adventure travel aqua folks – including kayakers -- may want to take a pair along for more on- and in-water options.

Tester Comments:  Keeping feet clean and protected while kayaking, hiking and paddle boarding was the sock’s mission.  With enough padding to cushion against sandal straps, moving kayaks, setting up camp and even hiking became pleasurable.  Wetsocks doubled as reliable sun protection even on searing days in the cockpit without the spray skirt engaged; Untanned ankles normally fall prey to early season extended sunshine.  Thicker versions suit colder climates where water temperatures dip into the 50s.

Best For: Board and paddle sports in cooler water and weather 

Check out Wetsocks Round Toe Water Socks >

Patagonia Stretch Terre Planing Hoody:  Making oceans smaller

Patagonia Stretch Terre Planing Hooded Jacket Starting at: $107.10

This is the kind of piece that makes you want to keep paddling even as others turn back to shore (minding weather and safety conditions, of course).  Patagonia’s board shorts fabric drapes the paddler with silky, UPF50+ protection even before launching.  Testers couldn’t deny Terre’s credibility as a legitimate piece despite the shaka-provoking mellow looks.  Central are three design features Active Junky rated highly; 1) An adaptable drawcord hood that snaps to stow, 2) thumb-looped sleeves with generous stretch and non-binding shoulder and 3) zippered front and pockets for adjustability with noncorrosive security.  Further inspection revealed Terre’s kite harness friendliness even though testers never unfurled a sail. At 9.2oz with DWR coating, this jacket wins for on-board features and all-around wearability in most moderate to warmer conditions.

Tester Comments:  Defend your interests as you explore on the water, no matter your method of flotation.  Rather than slathering on massive amounts of sunblock, the UPF 50+ fabric guarded against extended sun exposure.  Big water crossings and motorboat sorties to track migrating whales meant wind as well.  No worries with plenty of ventilation to guard against overheating.  And generous, laid-back style to prevent looking touristy or paranoid;  The hood was a favorite element to toggle between warmer and colder scenarios.

Best For: Surf, SUP, beach and bonfire from early until full moon

Patagonia Men’s R1 Short John:  Enough is plenty

Patagonia Men’s R1 Short John $139.92 - $155.82

Warm water is about freedom, mobility and enough protection to avoid extremes.  As in, getting chilled or overheating.  Patagonia’s wise product guides pointed Active Junky to this model designed for years of on-water movement.  Inside, the brand’s 100% recycled polyester jersey lining complements a durable exterior face fabric by accelerating dry time.  At a highly packable 19.2oz, the 1.5mm neoprene Short John ranges beyond 65-75 degree waters when combined with R2 socks and gloves (and the Terre Planing Hoody) for intermediate-level SUP outings.  Paired with the open-arm design, flatlock seams make extended distances possible.  Zipper closure is secure with a generous pull to seal the deal on this reasonably priced essential.

Tester Comments:  Call it your baselayer for water-borne adventures.  Easy-zipping Short John jumped in when snorkeling off the sharp volcanic shore of Carmen Island, stand-up paddling the coastline of Danzante and making the open-water crossing by sea kayak from Puerto Escondido.  Pull on wetsocks, add a wind or pullover neoprene top and go colder than the 1.5mm would handle on its own.  This featherweight style is a travel necessity in warmer climates or when the wearer is comfortable with minimal insulation.

Best For: Warm waters, athletic paddling and riding

Outdoor Research Men’s Phuket Boardshorts:  Righteous riding

Outdoor Research Phuket Board Short $36.41 - $49.50

Though not as recognized on the waves as taking the summit, Outdoor Research makes a more-than-respectable run at general-purpose board shorts.  Not created for getting thrashed at Mavericks, Phuket flows into mellower SUP sessions with a moderate 10.5” inseam and athletic profile.  Active Junky grabbed the 5oz pair in large measure thanks to a Velcro gusset fly closure suitable for ultimate Frisbee and monumental bonfires.  Nylon and elastane guarantee fast drying and flexible comfort as do zip thigh pockets with drain holes; Rear darts make the look anything but sloppy.  Named after a mountainous island in Thailand’s Andaman Sea, mid-rise Phuket earns a place on your next ocean excursion.

Tester Comments:  Phuket is an ideal travel pair, combining athletic performance with a design worth wearing on water, cruiser bike, day-hiking trail and local marketplace excursions.  Packability is exceptional as is in-sink washability and quick drying.  Combine this piece with casual slacks, sandals and a cotton/poly short-sleeve top for total travel flexibility.

Best For: Casual wear, recreational SUP and sit-on-top kayaking

Bluesmiths Spartan Board Shorts:  Rule beyond the watery realm

So where and when is it acceptable to wear board shorts?  With Bluesmiths UPF 30 Spartan, the answers are “unless someone stops me” and “until they frost up.” The Schoeller multistretch fabric (treated with Cold Black Odor Control) brought flow to paddling, walking and hanging out in a 20 ¾” design that simply felt right.  Made in Canada but destined for all-year wear on Maui’s North Shore and beyond, three-pocket Spartan dominated board, beach and dune-side Happy Hours. Active Junky confirmed the premium price equaled truly tailored fit and style without equal. Don’t forget to add the LANE short-sleeve hydrophobic water shirt or KANAHA long-sleeve version and call it good. Or kilohana.

Tester Comments:  We’re beginning to think this short should be standard issue for serious water pursuits.  One fan we met makes them an all-summer (and beyond) pair even off the water.  At the risk of going off the deep end – well within Spartan’s capabilities – we’re going to elevate this to “investment grade” status and urge the water-borne to save up and step in. 

Best For: Committing to more days in the sun and in the water

Check out the Bluesmiths Spartan Board Shorts >

CamelBak Cortez:  A new definition of water line

CamelBak Cortez Quick Link Hydration Pack

Strapped to kayak or SUP, this specialist hydration pack puts a paddler’s best interests on deck.  Built around the much-lauded Antidote reservoir, the insulated tube cover helps keep drinking water cold. A stay-put bite valve cover means lake, river or ocean water is kept at bay even when paddling in chop.  Testers valued the streamlined profile of Cortez that still accommodated stowage of a light windshell under the top bungee.  Dual grip strips kept Cortez from drifting but didn’t attract dirt, grime or sand.  For kayak and SUP owners, this 3L package delivers critical hydration in a well-conceived, durable module that confirms the brand’s belief in the potable and portable – on land as well as sea.

Tester Comments: Few pieces of gear attracted as much attention (bordering on envy) as the Cortez.  Through calm, fair weather cruising and eye-popping rollers on a three-mile open water crossing to Carmen Island, hydration kept flowing.  Clipped high on the sea kayak’s spray skirt, Cortez replaced inconvenient water bottles for the entire trip thanks to legitimate 100oz capacity.  The bite-to-release cover and flow control valve prevented seawater incursion as fluid intake improved dramatically over recent trips to Chile.  Now’s the time to reclassify this one as an essential for day-tripping and extending expeditions.

Best For: Kayak and SUP owners, adventure travelers planning to rent anywhere in the world

Images via Row Adventures

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