This column was first published December 3, 2005

It’s that time of year again when the dreaded search begins for that perfect Christmas present.

It’s difficult shopping for those outdoor types on your shopping list, isn’t it? Unless you’ve been paying close attention to what they’ve been accumulating over the past year or two, you’re up the creek when it comes to picking something that’s useful and not redundant.

I can’t help you with the redundant part, you’ll have to drop a few hints and figure out whether he or she has some of the items I’m about to rattle off. Or maybe you could use the following as a checklist and casually ask during the next few weeks just what he or she doesn’t have. That way you might arrive at something satisfying and practical.

This week I’ll offer up some possibilities for that paddler on your list. I’ve used the NRS catalog as a starting point because this Moscow, Idaho, company is primarily a source for anything associated with kayaking and rafting. You can purchase items online ( or go to one of the following stores in our area that are dealers for NRS: Bangor Ski Rack, Cadillac Mountain Sports in Bar Harbor, and Aquatera Adventures in Bar Harbor. And while the items here may be NRS-specific, you’ll likely find a similar item at your favorite outdoor outfitter.

 Bags ‘n things

This first one came from Epic Sports, and it’s one of the most useful items I have. By that I mean that it goes with me on all my watery outings. It’s a small dry bag about 6 by 9 inches that has a roll-down top and buckle closure. It’s the perfect size to hold my wallet, cell phone and car keys. It’s made by Sea to Summit.

No matter how dry your kayak manufacturer claims his hatches to be, you’ll always get some moisture (and sometimes a lot) inside. Anything I stow below deck goes into a dry bag, and this little guy has always done his job and kept my wallet dry.

While I’m on the topic, there are many sizes of dry bags available. Several in the small to medium range are better than one big one. Remember, there is only about 7 inches or so of height in the hatches (depending on your boat) so a large bag with 11-plus inches of diameter is going to be too big. And anything longer than about 24 inches is going to be difficult to stuff into that hatch opening. If your paddler is a canoeist or rafter, don’t worry about larger sizes, there are fewer space restrictions.

A mesh bag is also very useful — the bigger the better. They’re great for hauling all your gear to or from your boat at the launch or campsite. They serve as a great place to stow wet gear on your way home. Best of all, a mesh bag takes up very little space when you’re not using it, and you can pick one up for around $15.

If you want a bag to store and transport your paddling gear, the NRS Purest Duffel (large $35) is a proven performer. It’s rugged and has a zippered mesh top to allow moisture to escape, while the bottom is coated to keep your vehicle’s trunk or back seat dry. I’ve used one for two years and it’s flawless.

Here’s one more suggestion in the packing category. If your paddler takes along a cell phone or other electronic gizmo while on the water, consider something like the Aquapac line of soft-sided cases. They come in a variety of sizes to fit your phone, PDA, radio, GPS or camera as well as larger sizes to fit a camcorder. Aquapac claims their bags are waterproof to 15 feet. They have a clear flexible plastic front so you can see inside.

I found one at L.L. Bean’s outlet store in Ellsworth recently, and have used it on several outings for my cell phone. Since my phone is not a flip-open style, I can operate it right through the bag. The same could be said for the bag that fits a VHF radio.

While these bags will keep your electronics dry, they won’t provide much protection from bumping and banging around. For that you’ll need something from Pelican Case or Otter Boxes. They are rugged and waterproof and come in a whole range of sizes. If you can, go in person with the item you want to box and make sure it fits the container. These items range in price from $12.50 to more than $250. Most of the smaller, practical ones are in the $20 to $30 range. I have a couple that have clear tops so I see what’s inside.

On-water clothing

Maine’s ocean water is cold, even in the summer. Our lakes, rivers and ponds are also cold until midsummer, so it stands to reason that anyone venturing out on these waters should dress appropriately for the water temperatures. Even if one doesn’t capsize, it’s easy to get splashed and wet, thus setting up a scenario for potential hypothermia.

Dressing for an outing requires good planning, knowing what the weather is going to do and having the appropriate garments. How your body reacts to exercise is key in knowing what to wear, but here are a few ideas.

Start with a base layer that is not cotton. A synthetic material that transports body moisture away from the skin is good. Check out a rash guard shirt, for example, that is good for any temperature. NRS offers them in Microlite and Hydrosilk and they run from $25 to $42.95. Then try an insulating layer like Kokatat’s Outer Core (wicking velour inner, smooth knit outer for quick drying) or NRS’s Wavelite for midweight insulation ($55 to $80).

Over the top you’ll normally need a splash jacket and pants, dry top and-or dry bottom or dry suit, depending on your trip and the weather. Remember, your personal floatation device will provide insulation as well, so don’t overdo it. You can run the risk of hypothermia if you overdress and overexert.

A lot of people swear by wet suits. I’ve paddled in Hydroskins and found that they do not breathe. I get a clammy feeling (and chill quickly) when I stop paddling. The same is true for Neoprene wetsuits. They are good for keeping you protected in an immersion in cold water, but in the air after exercise you can chill quickly. I find the Hydroskins great for pool practice sessions when you’re in and out of the water.

Hydroskin pieces run from around $45 to $135 while wetsuits will run from $85 to$140.

Paddling tops come in a variety of offerings. Some are urethane coated and don’t breathe. There are splash jackets (neck and cuffs are not waterproof) with breathable membranes that help let moisture vapor escape, semi-dry tops (with latex gasket cuffs but not the neck) and dry tops (gasketed cuffs and neck). For cooler, wet weather, a semi-dry or dry top is great. On a recent trip we ran into blowing rain and snow, and the hooded semi-dry top I have kept me comfortably dry and warm. The wrist gaskets keep water from running up your arms.

Whatever your choice, make sure you pick a breathable fabric top. One of my early-on splash tops is not breathable and I used to get almost as wet on the inside from perspiration as I would have if I’d taken a dip.

The same advice goes for the bottom of your outfit. Breathable is best. Gaskets on the ankles or not is your choice. Gaskets keep you dry but make getting into your pants a chore.

You’ll find prices on splash tops and dry tops run the gamut from $65 to upward of $379, while pants go from $75 to $188, depending on style.

At the top of my list for protection against cold water immersion is a dry suit. Most have gaskets on the neck, wrists and ankles and a waterproof zipper to allow you to get into the suit. NRS offers Kokatat in a few models ($405 to $988) and a couple of its own ($450 to $605). In recent years other makers have begun offering dry suits in the sub-$400 range. There are styles with hoods, socks and relief zippers, all features you should weigh in making a choice. With the NRS Extreme, for example, you’ll pay $125 for the socks and relief zipper.

Don’t forget your extremities. There are several glove styles in the catalog. I have the 2 mm ones and for most circumstances they’ve worked well. They will not keep your hands dry, however. Pogies also are useful in keeping your hands protected from the elements while allowing you to keep your bare hands on the paddle.

And for your feet I recommend waterproof socks and knee-high mukluk-style Neoprene boots. The high boots allow you to get out of your expensive boat near shore so you won’t scratch it.


Up to now you’ve probably fainted at the prices of these items, and rightfully so. Buying a kayak can be half or less the cost of the rest of the Barbie Doll outfit. But Barbie does need the accessories.

Paddlers never have enough tie-down straps. They’re available from 1 foot to 20 feet ($7 to $10). I’ve found the 12-footers are the most useful all round.

And with the shorter days and longer nights, what outdoors person would be without a headlamp. Princeton-Tec has an Aurora that I have found useful around camp and the home with its three different light outputs, and it’s not a budget breaker at $29.95. For something a little more night-piercing the Princeton-Tec Yukon or Eos at $38.95 each might tickle your fancy.

If your outings are on the ocean, don’t forget to take along a strobe light to be used in an emergency. The Princeton-Tec Aqua Strobe uses two AA batteries. It is lightweight and waterproof and comes with a lanyard and Velcro strap to attach it to your PFD. It costs $37.95. Hand-launched flares are also a welcome gift for any ocean paddler. They have an effective shelf life of three years and are a must for emergencies.

How about a soft-sided cooler? The smaller one in the NRS catalog is 14-by-9-by-10 inches and will squeeze into a kayak hatch provided the cooler’s not jammed full. It’s also good for land-based picnics. I’ve kept food cold for more than 24 hours with a couple of those gel-ice blocks you freeze. It’ll cost you $20 and it comes with a carry strap and zip-out clear plastic liner.

Any boater could use a bilge pump. If you opt to buy one, don’t forget to buy the pump float to go with it. Should your paddler drop it overboard the float will keep it on the surface. Plan on spending about $29 on the pump and $8 on the float.

And who couldn’t use a go-anywhere chair like the Crazy Creek Chairs. These fold flat, are easily stuffed in a kayak hatch and are great for that rest ashore between paddling legs or at night around the campfire. They run $28.

Lip balm ($2.50), Z-Cote zinc oxide ($4.75) and sun lotion make good stocking stuffers and they’re practical. Who has enough Nalgene bottles? They make a great gift and come in handy all year. I like the wide-mouth version because you can scoop ice into it to keep your drinks cold. The bottles run $7 to $9. I didn’t see one in this catalog, but keep your eyes open for a Neoprene insulating jacket for the one-liter Nalgene. This will keep your beverage cold for a few hours sitting on your kayak deck.

That about does it. Paddles, PFDs, paddle floats and spray skirts are more personal-choice items paddlers most likely would want to select for themselves.

I hope your Christmas is a merry one, your New Year is happy and your stay safe on the water.

Jeff Strout’s column on outdoor recreation is published on Saturdays.