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We love the trail, but canoeing and kayaking in the backcountry is its own kind of freedom: It’s just you, your boat, and a world of water to explore. Whether you’re riding the currents on a river or gliding over a glassy mountain lake, these six products will help you get your paddle on faster, easier, and more comfortably than ever before.
Advanced Elements AE1007-E
AdvancedFrame Convertible Elite
Inflatable boats have long been a solution for storage-challenged paddlers, but they don’t perform quite as well as hardshell craft. The AE1007-E narrows the gap with two key design features: a stiffer-than-normal floor and aluminum ribs, which help with speed and tracking. We appreciated the stability on the choppy waters of the Colorado River. The kayak carries enough gear for a two-nighter, and it inflates in 10 minutes via a foot pump ($39, sold serparately). Its high-back foam seats are comfy during long paddling days. Buy Advanced Elements AE1007-E AdvancedFrame Convertible Elite now for $999.
Seattle Sports LocoDry Andalé Navigator Roll Duff 35L
Forget top-loading drybags, which make gear hard to access. This duffle-style model has a wide mouth for easy gear grabbing, and it’s tough, with 600-denier, urethane-coated polyester. At 35 liters, it will easily fit most tents, sleeping bags, and clothing, and it kept all of that dry after we dropped it in the water near the Green River’s Gates of Lodore. We also like the Roll Duff’s multiple tie-down points and its cross-body strap with a silicone pad, which makes it comfortable on portages. Buy Seattle Sports LocoDry Andalé Navigator Roll Duff 35L now for $110.
1 lb. 6 oz.
This PFD offers impressive comfort, thanks to stretch polyester and foam panels with slits that allow it to flex with your body when you paddle. The Proteus has four pockets (two zippered for things like sunscreen and pocketknives; two fleece-lined for your hands). The rear panel ends halfway down the back to accommodate a seat rest. Buy Kokatat Proteus now for $119.
2 lbs. (M/L); XS-XXL
NRS High Tide
Changing layers is a pain with a PFD on, which is why we like this airy shell. Its proprietary 2.5-layer, waterproof/breathable material kept us from swamping out in temps up to 70°F. Thanks to its generous cut, the High Tide didn’t limit movement when we bent forward for strokes, and its two 7-inch pockets on the upper arms are accessible when wearing a PFD. Buy NRS High Tide now for $150.
15 oz. (M); m’s S-XXL
Aqua-Bound Sting Ray Hybrid
Save your arms with this lightweight, flatwater kayak paddle, which has medium-size, resin-and-fiberglass blades and a carbon shaft to reduce swing weight. The Sting Ray breaks down into two pieces for easy transport, and the click locks held strong even when we were pushing off from ice floes in Alaska’s Resurrection Bay. Buy Aqua-Bound Sting Ray Hybrid now for $150.
1 lb. 15 oz. (82 inches); five sizes
Pelican G40 Personal Utility
In the event of a capsize, the first thing you’ll probably worry about after safety is your valuables. The waterproof G40 case can fit your phone, wallet, and other small electronics (in a compartment under the phone tray), and it floats. A ’biner attachment keeps it close at hand, and rubber bumpers and an EVA lining protect everything inside. Buy Pelican G40 Personal Utility Go Case now for $40.