In honor of next weekend’s annual FIBArk whitewater festival in Salida, we’re going with a boating theme for this week’s High Gear guide. Fair warning, as avid rafters and paddlers, this may not be our only rafting/paddling gear guide. This week, we’re looking at things that will either keep you warm, take care of your feet, keep you dry or keep your beer cold. Here are four things we think could be good additions to your rafting or paddling paraphernalia.
Kokatat Hydrus and Rogue dry tops
If you are going to raft or paddle in rivers and creeks filled with snowmelt, you’re going to want to stay warm and dry. For a cold rafting morning or, let’s face it, any day in a kayak, you’re going to want a good dry top. They Hydrus top by Kokatat is an excellent entry-level option. It’s lightweight, waterproof and breathable, and Kokatat boasts that 90 percent of its annual revenue comes from products designed and manufactured in its California facility. The Hydrus dry top has two-layer latex and neoprene gaskets for the neck and wrists and a standard two layer waist to fit over and under any kayak skirt. It has a convenient self-draining (i.e. not waterproof) chest pocket that will easily fit a waterproof camera, GoPro or rafting knife and gloves. For those seeking something a step up, the Kokatat Rogue dry top features a similar design but with reinforced, stronger material on the shoulders, elbows and forearms. The Rogue top also includes three-layer Gore-Tex waterproofing.
“There’s no better top on the market,” said Matty Wade, owner of Ten Mile Creek Kayaks in Frisco. He said the Rogue is a better option for the diehard paddler, while the Hydrus is still a strong choice for a serious paddler who might be working on a tighter budget. Both come in a variety of colors. If the neck gasket fits to tight initially, Wade recommends placing a football in it overnight, or for a few days, to stretch it out. Ten Mile Creek Kayak in Frisco stocks Kokatat apparel. A full list of products can be found on the company’s website at www.kokatat.com.
Retail: Hydrus: $275; Gor-Tex Rogue: $435
NRS Women’s HydroSilk Shirt, longsleeved
A dry top will keep you from getting soaked, but you need a good layer under it for extra warmth. Start with a versatile base layer like the NRS HydroSilk. Available in men and women’s cuts, the HydroSilk is form fitting while still being comfortable. It’s made of a nylon-spandex blend that’s quick-drying and breathable, and it’s tough enough to be worn by itself as a rash guard, with the added benefit of a higher neck and UVF-50 rating to keep the sun off.
As a base layer, it wicks the sweat away to keep you warm and dry under your dry top or splash top (less sweaty river funk is always nice). With its close fit, the HydroSilk doesn’t interfere with the gaskets on your dry gear and it’s long enough to stay put and not bunch up around the waist. NRS added a few feminine touches to the design, too, so you don’t feel like you’re paddling in your boyfriend’s gear.
You can buy a HydroSilk shirt at Colorado Kayak Supply in Buena Vista or order one through Alpine Quest Sports in Edwards or www.nrsweb.com.
Engel DeepBlue Cooler, 80-quart
Not just any cooler will do when you are embarking on a multi-day rafting trip or camping in untamed wilderness fraught with bears, raccoons and other crafty critters. You need something with a large capacity, good insulation and beefy features to keep your food (and beer) cold and safe from inquisitive fauna. Enter the Engel DeepBlue series. Available in 25-, 35-, 65-, 80- and 123-quart capacities, there’s a size to fit your boat, trailer or adventure. The 80-quart cooler fits great in our 14-foot river raft and is built tough enough to be our seat when we rig up our oar frame.
The rubberized clasps on the cooler are immune to bumps and dings and won’t scrape your legs if you rub up against them. The cooler has built-in handles on the ends for single-person carrying, as well as plastic and rope handles to share the load between two people. It also features pre-drilled holes in the front corners that can be bolted or padlocked shut to keep out hungry critters. But the best thing about this cooler is its ability to do what a cooler should do: keep your food and drinks cold. With minimal opening and closing, a couple of blocks of ice will last eight to 10 days.
It’s worth the trip to Downriver Equipment Co. in Wheat Ridge to get one of these monsters, and it’s worth the price for a cooler that could potentially last the rest of your life.
Retail: $380 for 80 quart
Teva Churn and Churn Evo
I’d been using my Chaco Z2 sandals as my go-to river footwear for years, to the point that the soles were coming loose and the straps wouldn’t slide anymore. I sent them in for repair and found myself without river shoes, so I investigated something new. I wanted a closed-toe, burlier shoe for jumping in and out of the boat on rocks and along reedy shores. I debated between neoprene booties and shoes; the former keep your feet warmer, but the latter are much better for side hikes and layovers.
I decided on the lightweight Teva Churn Evo. I have narrow feet, and the Evo is a bit wide for me, but the bungee system pulls snug without dangling laces to catch on things. The benefit of a wider shoe is that there’s room to wear waterproof or neoprene socks to add warmth without smashing your feet. The Evos also have the added bonus of fold-down heels with a shock-absorbing pad. They are made for the lazy camper who wants slip-ons for a late-night bathroom run without destroying the heels of the shoes. The fast-drying, mesh upper and super grippy soles of these shoes are perfect for getting your feet soaked and still being able to scramble around the boat with an element of grace.
Rivers Clothing Co. and Ten Mile Creek Kayaks in Frisco carry or can order these shoes. They are also available in a men’s version, called the Churn.