How to Stay Warm and Keep Canoeing in Winter

On first examination taking your canoe out in winter can seem like an uninviting, even daunting prospect. Certainly, they’ll be days when it’s wisest to stay indoors, put the kettle on and settle down with a copy of Paddler to read, but with the right gear and a little planning winter really can be the most wonderful time of the year for getting out in a canoe. Just imagine quietly gliding along the surface on a perfect, crisp winter’s day, with no cloud in the sky and the landscape shimmering silver under a dusting of frost or snow in the soft winter sun.

Canoeing in the winter also means that you’re more likely to have the stretch of river, lake of loch to yourself, and there’s definitely an extra feeling of satisfaction in knowing that you’ve braved the elements to squeeze a little more time with Mother Nature out of the year, while the rest of the country sits huddled under their duvets.

Winter Precautions

There’s probably no need to point out that the consequences of getting wet and cold in winter can escalate very quickly. Wearing kit that’s appropriate to the conditions is a must, as is carrying a little extra gear to deal with conditions if they deteriorate. You’ll also need to do a little extra planning and forecasting to make sure you get the best out of your winter voyages. This is all common sense stuff and provided you take all necessary precautions there is no need for the cold to put you off paddling in winter conditions. Here’s a few basic safety precautions to help minimise the risks of taking to the water when it’s cold.

Top Tips for Staying Safe on the Water In Winter

  • Have a quick exit route in place for if somebody is getting too cold as a result of an accidental dunking or otherwise.
  • Carry spares of dry warm clothing.
  • Carry an exposure/survival bag as well as your usual safety kit (whistle etc)
  • Take proper provisions including, food and thermos flasks with a hot drink.
  • Avoid paddling alone and tell somebody where you’re going.
  • Keep an eye on the forecast beforehand, be aware of incoming weather patterns and look out for any sign of deteriorating conditions while you’re out on the water.
  • Days are shorter so a head torch is a valuable addition to your kit bag, just in case.
  • Light-weight emergency bothy shelters are a useful addition. They provide respite from the elements in emergencies and for impromptu tea stops!

What to Wear

As the old adage goes, there’s no such thing as bad weather just bad clothing. Open canoeing in the winter can be breathtaking. Early morning snowy days and blustery winds can make for a stunning and challenging day out. And being suitably protected from the elements with the right gear means you can really enjoy your winter paddling experiences without frozen or soggy limbs. We’re going to look at some top tips for choosing the right kit to keep you warm whilst open canoeing this winter.

It’s All About Layers

It’s all too easy to put the biggest jacket on and off you go. The problem with having big chunky layers is that that you can’t change your temperature easily. So you range from hot to cold really quickly. The trick to staying comfortable whilst paddling, and at rest in cold conditions is adding layers that you can put on and take off as you go.

Base Layers

It goes without saying the base layer goes next to the skin and for winter conditions having a thicker skinned thermal can work really well. Your base layer needs to wick moisture away from your skin and out through your other layers. Avoid cotton as it won’t do this and will stay damp, which means that as soon as you stop working you’ll cool and get cold very quickly. Manmade materials and natural materials like merino wool are ideal for base layers.

Mid Layers

When it’s cold adding an extra layer on top of your base layer is a must. Having an extra -mid layer, or even two, in your dry bag is always advisable during the winter. These are usually of the fleece or wool variety. Mid layers need to be quick draining and able to still work thermally when wet. Things like Buffalo and Paramo jackets are brilliant at this. A popular choice is a fleece, or lightweight down gilet, as this is ideal at keeping your core snug whilst giving you plenty of freedom to move.

On Your Bottom Half

The trick with thermal leggings is to get them long enough in the body to go up your back, or hunt out a pair of fleecy salopettes, or similar. We’ve even seen people use an old pair of braces to keep their leggings up. You tend to move around a lot while canoeing and you want to avoid them sliding down and exposing your lower back and kidney area, which can be really uncomfortable over a period of time. Make sure whatever you choose will keep you covered in that area and avoid the cold spots.

One-piece thermal suits

There are some fantastic all-in-one fleece suits, which can be great as they eliminate any cold spots and are very warm. Make sure you can get access for any toilet breaks, though, as stripping off by the side of the water in winter is not a pleasurable experience!

Jackets

The trick with any bit of kit is to have something that’s adaptable for anything the odds may throw at you. The outer is key to keeping out the elements. Some paddlers wear mardale which are lined inside with a waterproof outer layer. These tops are great if you are not getting that wet. Great for dry crisp days, but can be a bit tough in high periods of rain. A good combination is to have a waterproof outer. And leave the warmth to the base and mid layers. There are many different tops, some with hoods and some with latex seals. Here are a few top tips for choosing a waterproof touring top.

Top tips for Choosing a Winter Canoeing Jacket

  • Get a hood – When the weather picks up the chance to batten down the hatches is important. Having one that packs away along with a stiff wire peak is very useful in high winds.
  • A good neck seal – Paddling with latex all the time can be uncomfortable most touring cags have a velcro option. This allows you to get a good seal when things pick up. With out being suffocated.
  • Useful pockets – Having handy pockets for gear and the odd useful snacks can be handy. Make sure that that you can get at your pockets with a buoyancy aid on.

Dry trousers

Dry trousers don’t only need to be comfortable but also heavy wearing. Whilst open boating the wear spots are generally on the knees and bum patch. In terms of warmth and keeping dry, having socks can help keep your feet warm and dry. However, socks to take a fair amount of hammering from the odds. They tend to be the first part to deteriorate. It’s also worth having a bit more room for extra layers underneath. This is important especially on the socks. As adding a pair of socks underneath your trousers can help keep your feet warm on the coldest days! Having a bib on your trousers is a must for both comfort and practicality, again it also helps keeps the trousers sitting high eliminating any cold spots.

Hands and feet

There is nothing worse than cold hands and toes. They feel it the most with circulation being poor at the very ends. A personal favourite for the feet are seal skinz socks. These socks are great for keeping your toes warm but not sweaty. Unlike neoprene socks seal skinz are more like regular socks but with a waterproof membrane. Ideal for going close to your skin to keep the heat in, under your dry trousers.

Rubber Gloves

OK, they don’t look cool but rubber gloves are top notch for winter paddling. They keep the heat whilst still giving you access to your fingers. Making tying knots and unclipping dry bags nice and easy. An alternative option are mitts. These allow quick access for any rope work whilst keeping your hands warm.

Buff it up

We all know how much heat you lose out of your head. Carrying a hat makes sense but items such as buffs can be great for adapting. Ruffled up to keep your neck warm along with keeping the wind out when it picks up. If one piece of kit can do several jobs then you’re laughing!

Keep Warm and enjoy

Nothing beats being out and about in wild weather wrap up well and you can have some great days on the water! Take the time to shop around with your gear, and bare in mind that it needs to fit with your thermals on. Being comfortable on the water can make boating so much more enjoyable. So wrap up and get out there!

Carbon Pyranha Jed Freestyle Kayak Review

Paddler Verdict

We didn’t need to paddle the carbon version of the Jed to know that it is a great design for a freestyle kayak: we were already well aware of that from our time paddling the plastic Pyranha Jed Eye and loving it. To be able to experience the exaggerated version of this loose, fast and aerially-inclined freestyle hull, though, has been an absolute pleasure, and it was clear to us that (in the right hands, of course) this kayak could very easily be the formidable world-beating competition machine that Pyranha intend it to be.

It’s true that most of us will never need to consider buying a carbon freestyle boat like this, and for the majority of recreational play-boating purposes this is complete overkill, but for those elite paddlers who need an uncompromising, fine-tuned kayak to really push for their optimum performance, the carbon Jed will undoubtedly prove to be popular. For the rest of us, it is at least a shiny thing of beauty to behold.

Review

We were seriously excited when we first saw a composite version of Pyranha’s latest freestyle kayak, the Jed (Eye), glistening away on its stand at the Kanumesse trade show in Germany, and had to work hard to fight the urge (the pull of the Darkside, if you will) not to pinch it there and then. The Pyranha Jed – the normal plastic one – burst onto the freestyle kayak scene earlier this year to much critical acclaim from paddlers from across the spectrum of ability. A version constructed from super-tough and super-light composite materials was always talked about and was an inevitability at one stage, but details of when weren’t forthcoming at first. Having resisted the contemplated act of grand theft kayak from the trade show in Germany when this much-anticipated construction was eventually unveiled, it wasn’t long until we were able to get our hands on one to try out: and opportunity that we exploited most enthusiastically for a good few weeks!

We’ve steadily worked our way across the country with our composite Jed, taking in the big waves of the Thames Weirs before heading on up to the whitewater course at Nottingham for some play hole action, putting this shiny and lightweight incarnation of a very popular freestyle kayak through its paces in a variety of paddling features.

Construction

  • The main advantage of composite constructions, in this case, carbon and Aramid, for freestyle kayaks over their plastic counterparts, is the reduced weight and increased the rigidity of the hull. This, as a general rule, makes the kayak much, much more responsive and moves easier to initiate. The carbon Jed is absolutely no exception to this rule: the stiff hull and feather-light construction combines beautifully with the Jed’s performance features to make this kayak truly formidable in the world of freestyle kayaks, and an absolute joy to paddle.
  • This is not to say, however, that a composite freestyle kayak is the right thing for everybody. As the responsiveness is improved, so is the price, to almost double that of a plastic one. And that’s just the standard version, without the optional customised graphics! This is quite a lot of hard-earned to be shelling out if you’re casually or even fairly enthusiastically, into a spot of freestyle at your local venue at the weekends. Then on top of this, the chances of breaking your beloved whitewater plaything are also greatly increased if it’s made of carbon.
  • As much as a freestyle kayak made of composite materials can feel light and uber-responsive on the water, accentuating the features of the hull shape to a high degree, it won’t actually make you a better paddler, or allow you to do things you can’t do in an ordinary plastic one. The benefits offered by composites merely enhance what is already there, and allow you to be as good as you can be: everyday in a composite boat could prove to be a lot like your best day in a plastic one.
  • Equally, though, the added responsiveness goes both ways, and the results of a wrong edge in a rigid carbon kayak are even more inevitable than they are in an ordinary model.
  • It is for the above reasons that high-end competitive freestylers who are out training every day of the week, year round, require carbon boats. Only once you’ve got so good that the slight flex – and it is slight – and (more considerable) added weight in a plastic freestyle is actually holding you back and inhibiting your performance that the extra spend is worth looking into, but until then, plastic freestyle kayaks continue to serve the majority of us very admirably.

The Ride

Testing the composite version of the Pyranha Jed Eye, we were reminded of all the excellent features that make its plastic forerunner such a great freestyle kayak, all accentuated by this lightweight, rigid construction. The Jed will respond intuitively to every subtle move you make and thanks to the hard (also referred to as single) rail hull deign is incredibly loose and has plenty of pop making initiating aerial moves delightfully easy.

This loose hull with plenty of pop means that the Jed lends itself well to the fast, clean snappy and dynamic moves that characterise freestyle today, but this isn’t all. A slightly narrower hull means that edge-to-edge transitions are snappy (facilitating that awesome responsiveness), and combined with the hard rail means that you can get over an edge and really drive this boat. The carbon Jed tears it up on a wave: it’s incredibly fast, and combined with its loose hull this can be harnessed to link big moves fluidly.

A slicey bow and stern mean that moves from basic spins all the way up to mind-boggling and world-beating aerial stunts are easy to initiate in a hole, too. Once again the snappy edge-edge transitions and loose responsiveness come into their own here, and allow you to throw the Jed around with precision and control. The volume is well-distributed, and the kayak feels balanced on the water.

Fixtures and Fittings

As is quite normal for custom composite freestyle kayaks, the standard outfitting is fairly basic, allowing for a paddler to completely customise the fit to suit their individual needs. For this, Pyranha provides plenty of handy foam that is pre-perforated to easily cut down to the right size and serve as foot blocks. There is a Connect 30 seat, complete with adjustable hip pads that can be easily padded out as much as necessary.

Because of the construction, it would be very difficult to be able to fix ratchets for the back band, and this would unnecessarily add weight anyway. The system used instead for tightening the back band is a strap that pulls through two metal tabs and locked off against its own tension to pull the back band forward. This can’t be adjusted from sitting in the kayak, so requires a bit of trial and error to get right. Although it at first seems to be secure once adjusted, we found on more than one occasion that it would lose tension while paddling, meaning that you’d suddenly find yourself with not as much support at the back, which could be annoying.

It’s important to bear in mind, though, that it is not fair to expect the easy usability and adjustability of outfitting on carbon boats to be like that of plastic boats, which we are accustomed to being able to swap around between paddlers at will. Fitting out a carbon boat will be the labour of many days and a lot of experiment to get just right: these are not ‘off the shelf’ items! The result though is a boat freestyle kayak that fits you like a glove is stiff, strong and very lightweight allowing you to push your performance as high as the aerial moves you’ll be pulling!

Custom Options

Every carbon Jed is made to order, which gives you a lot of control over the custom options, particularly when it comes to graphics. Not all are included in the standard price, but Pyranha is happy to offer quotes when you place your order.

JetBoil Flash Cooking System Review

This system lights with the click of a button and in just over 2 minutes provides two cups of boiling water for cocoa, coffee, instant soup or a gourmet freeze-dried meal. The newly designed burner secures the igniter, protecting it from bumps along the road. Flash is designed to be one of the safest cooking solutions out there. The cooking cup clips onto the burner, preventing accidental spills, and the fuel canister tripod ensures overall stability. The insulating cosy has a color-changing heat indicator that signals when contents are hot.

RRP: £69.95
More Info: www.jetboil.com

Specifications

  • Colour: Carbon
  • Item Weight: 14 oz (400 g) *System weight does not include pot support and fuel stabiliser.
  • Volume: 32 oz (1 Litre)
  • Boil Time: 16 oz (0.5 Liter) = 2 minutes, 30 seconds (Avg over life of Jetpower canister)
  • Water Boiled: 12 Litres per 100g Jetpower canister
  • Dimensions: 4.1″ x 7.1″ (104 mm x 180 mm)
  • Stabilizer Weight: 0.9 oz (27 g)
  • Power: 4,500 BTU/h (0.9kW)

Features

  • 1.0 Liter FluxRing® cooking cup with insulating cosy
  • Adjustable stainless steel burner
  • Push-button igniter
  • Color-change heat indicator
  • Drink-through lid with pour spout & strainer
  • Bottom cover doubles as a measuring cup and bowl
  • Compatible with all Jetboil accessories
  • Able to store a 100g Jetpower fuel can
  • Fuel Canister Stabilizer included
  • Pot Support and Jetpower fuel sold separately

Paddler Verdict

It’s very well constructed and will really appeal to those looking for space and weight saving. We can certainly see that it would be great for overnight trips, where you don’t mind sacrificing the ability to cook more ‘traditional’ camp fair for the speed and diminutive size of the Jetboil. It would also be a great backup for coaches, guides, group leaders and the like, who want to be able to carry the necessary gear to produce hot drinks should they be needed. A few tea bags, cuppa soups, coffee & dried milk sachets and some water and you could practically set up your own riverbank hot-drink café.
The Jetboil is certainly an innovative look at outdoors cooking and in certain situations provides a great, effective and efficient solution. But it is somewhat limited when compared to traditional systems.

It started life with a simple idea. Fed up with heavy vacuum bottles and clunky stoves, Jetboil founders Dwight Aspinwall and Perry Dowst set out to make outdoor cooking easier. They discovered that the secret to a fast and friendly design lies in increasing heat transfer efficiency. Alternating between lab and mountains, a series of designs were subjected to intense experimental and field testing. The result was the PCS.

It’s a tall one-litre pot/cup constructed from aluminium, with a hard anodised cooking surface and insulating neoprene, that then locks on to a ring of heat-conducting baffles attached to the pot’s base, that then attaches to a small gas bottle (it will fit most modern canisters). A Piezo starter then ignites the stove and once lit the baffles channel the flame precisely where it’s needed and produces a fearsome heat that results in a pot of boiling water in just over a minute. The fact that it’s all self-contained and removes the need to carry additional pots and pans makes it an attractive option for those looking to save weight and space, sea kayakers doing long crossings for example. In fact, the PCS system was used, in conjunction with Jetboil’s additional hanging stand system, by Patrick Winterton and Mick Berwick, to brew up and cook while afloat, on their groundbreaking sea kayaking crossing to the Faroe Islands earlier this year.

On the downside, though it’s size means that it’s very limiting and is best suited to boiling up water and reheating pre-packed food. You’re going to struggle to pan fry a steak, or even a rasher of bacon, in there that’s for sure! It’s also hard to control the temperature and it really didn’t want to know about simmering. It was all about the full-on, furious burn. Jetboil by name, Jetboil by nature! It’s a bit on the expensive side, though, especially when you consider that you can pick up a lightweight camping gas stove and pan set for around half the Jetboil’s price.

Liquidlogic Stomper Whitewater Kayak Review

There can be no denying that the Stomper, the new boat from American company Liquidlogic, is a fast boat: before it even went into production a prototype was paddled to victory in the Teva Mountain Games over there in the states, which would have required it to hold a line well through some very big water, as well has having the precision to make the fastest lines. We couldn’t wait to give one a go and see what we thought for ourselves; and by the sound of it we weren’t the only ones: we lost count of how many people stopped to talk to us by the side of the rivers we were testing on to ask what we thought. There is a lot of buzz around this new boat, and looking at it you can see why, it is a true river-beast and, with its high sides and massive rocker, placed side-by-side with any other boat its comparative chunkiness becomes apparent, and you soon appreciate the reason for its name. This boat truly looks like it’s made to Stomp!

RRP: £899.99
More Info: www.liquidlogickayaks.com

Features

  • Semi-Planing Hull = effortless turning in any situation Design
  • Chamfered Edges = carving edges that snap into eddies but don’t trip you up Design
  • Smooth Transition Rocker Profile = gives the Stomper its speed Design
  • Rounded side wall = incredible stability Design
  • Crowned Deck = quick and easy surfacing from under water Design
  • Big Bow Rocker = get your bow up and over anything Design
  • New Seat System = easier access to the stern of the boat for storage Design
  • Bad Ass Outfitting = the most comfortable outfitting in the industry Design
  • Aircraft grade aluminum security bars Design
  • Industry leading Aquatuff plastic

Specification

Stomper 80

Length: 249cm
Width: 65cm
Height: 38cm
Volume: 302L
Weight: 21kg
Paddler Weight Range: 50 – 95kg

Stomper 90

Length: 259cm
Width: 68cm
Height: 40cm
Volume: 340L
Weight: 21kg
Paddler Weight Range: 77 – 122kg

The Ride

The Stomper is a boat that you may have to paddle for a little bit to get accustomed to, and you’ll probably find that this takes a different length of time depending on what you’re already used to paddling – if it’s a Jefe Grande it will be less than if it’s a boat of a less similar design, with squarer edges and less volume etc. – and what style of boater you are: the Stomper requires an aggressive style of paddling, which you’ll have to learn to adopt pretty sharpish in order to be able to command this beast! Other things, like how deep the boat feels to sit in, can be perturbing at first, but persevere and you’ll cease to notice these things as strange and begin to relish the downhill power at your disposal.

This power comes from the large amount of volume in the stern and extreme rocker profile keeping the boat riding high and fast. All of our testers were incredibly impressed with how well this boat holds a line down big water, and it has amazing punching power through holes. The width of the stern and the very soft chines also make this craft a forgiving one; so long as you’re maintaining positive forwards paddling position you’re unlikely to find any of the edges, which are soft almost to the point of rounded, catch. Needless to say, this thing is incredibly fast, once you’ve got it going, and then not a lot is going to stop it.
The Stomper boofs well, and even landing swirling boily water from a height does little to encroach on the high waterline: this boat just continues to skip – well, stomp – over the surface. We can confirm that when you do end up either stuck or enjoying yourself side-surfing in a hole the Stomper is incredibly stable in there, but for when it all goes wrong it is also incredibly easy to roll! There are some really fantastic features to this boat, and in the big water you can be completely secure in the knowledge it will look after you, but we do feel the need to stress that this boat requires you to really boss it around or you’ll suffer the consequences.

On their initial runs in it, some of the testers were finding they’d turn and edge the boat to drive it towards an eddy, only to sail past it and drop into the next bit sideways. The answer is to really get your weight over and aggressively engage that edge, body forward and really dig in or you will miss eddies that would be far easier to make in a hard-railed boat, and find yourself still in the flow but set up badly for what is to come. The problem is that this boat wants to do what it excels at power downstream. If you don’t really assert yourself, you’ll find that that’s exactly what it does. Be dynamic and the Stomper will respond!

Fixtures and Fittings

There can be no arguments with the ‘Bad Ass’ outfitting employed by Liquidlogic boats: is it a kayak seat or an armchair? No need to differentiate, it’s got the practical use of the former and the comfort of the latter: more than just a lot of cushioning, once you’ve adjusted the outfitting specifically for yourself you’re extremely snug with excellent contact between your hips, legs and the boat, meaning edging is incredibly responsive. This gives you more control and helps with ease of rolling, as well as making these great boats for long days out on the water. With the five metal grab handles mounted one on the nose, one on the stern and three around the cockpit there’s plenty to grab or clip, making the boat easy to rescue and haul around.

Conclusion

The Stomper is very much a product of the country of its birth, where big water and bigger waterfalls are, if not the norm, not difficult to find. Down river this boat is astoundingly fast and buoyant; paddling it it’s easy to see how it won a competition to get down a chunky section of river in the fastest time. It can certainly handle drops, too, that very ample rocker gives it lift, and the boat resurfaces quickly or, more often, stays afloat completely.

Not only this, but it’s stable and forgiving to boot, handles well in a hole and is easy to roll. But will it be everybody’s boat of choice for eddy-hopping down classic UK runs every weekend during the winter? Possibly, some people, especially if you’re less confident, will really appreciate how much this boat looks after you and how effectively it will get you from the get-in to the get-out without incident. We feel that others, though, may find that for blasting down UK water looking for micro-eddies and tight sneak lines the Stomper’s enthusiastic zeal for powering in a resolute downstream direction is a little bit more than is needed for an average weekend on British water. But get the Stomper on the big volume steep creeks where it was developed and we’re fairly sure it won’t let you down.

What the Designer Says: Shane Benedict of Liquidlogic

The Stomper is a reaction to demands of our own team paddlers and our friends on Facebook of all things. Everyone wanted us to do a boat that was a blend of the Jefe and the Remix series that had a flatter hull design. Right away that combination gives you a very nimble shape that maintains speed, boofs like a champ, and is easy to use. We also upgraded the outfitting with more storage in front of the seat and better access to storage behind the seat. You
gotta love Bad Ass Outfitting.

Peak UK Explorer One Piece Paddling DrySuit Review

Paddler Verdict

The Explorer One piece certainly boasts some very nice features and styling. The build quality is top notch and it balances durability and robustness with comfort and performance. A paddling suit is a high ticket piece of kit and we want to see the attention to detail and well thought out design married to quality manufacturing and performance and comfort and we’re very pleased to report that the Explorer One Piece delivers on all fronts. Simply put this is an excellent suit!

RRP: £599
More info: www.peakuk.com

Features

  • X4 mid-heavy weight nylon with 25m waterproofing
  • Unique patented design with easy entry and easy pee fully waterproof leg entry Tizip system
  • Articulated cut with bent elbows, bum and knees
  • Reinforced X4 elbows, knees, bum and ankles
  • Zip opening outer neck with large hood, super-stretch neoprene inner cone neck with elasticated tension strap
  • Latex inner wrists with AquaOut outer seals
  • AquaOut outer waist with X4 fabric inner & elasticated draw-cord
  • Double front zip pockets for easy access whilst wearing a PFD
  • X4 breathable fabric, waterproof & stretchy socks
  • Zip trouser and sleeve pockets with sewn drainage
  • Fully taped dive quality seams

The Explorer is a suit that’s predominately going to appeal to sea kayakers but its wealth of features, levels of comfort, cut and easy to get on zip placement is also going to make it popular with touring kayakers and canoeists looking for an all-year round suit to protect them from the elements.

We’re already fans of Peak UK’s Explorer but it’s been a while since we used one and the latest 2014 incarnation had the test teamers clamouring to get it into their kitbags. The team at Peak have used a raft of feedback on the previous version and used that to help them hone the design. They’ve also got their subtle but distinctive styling down to a fine art and the latest Explorer is no exception. The simple red colour way on top married to an understated grey/black bottom looks great, and the reflective taping and detailing adds another level of style and safety. Peak generally cut their patterns to fit a little closer than other brands on the market but don’t be mistaken into thinking this impedes performance and paddler movement. It simply means that there’s less spare material flapping around and a closer fit means their garments work extremely well with thermal layering underneath. And the articulated seat, knees and arm sections means that a full range of dynamic movement is possible.

Suited & Booted

Peak’s unique under-leg-entry system is well tested now and has proven to be both robust, have longevity and be very easy to use. We think it really makes a difference in terms of comfort too. You really can’t feel the heavy-duty TiZip when seated in a kayak and not having the zip across your chest or shoulders makes the suit feel really free to paddle in. The new hood system is a big improvement over previous models and something that we think will help to further endear the Explorer to sea paddlers. It’s far more heavy-duty (but still comfortable when down) fits really well and gives a good level of protection whilst still allowing for good paddler visibility.  The outer neck opening is zipped, so you can attach ventilation and the inner neck seal is a neoprene gasket with an additional elasticised tension strap for when capsizing or swimming is likely. Much to their chagrin we made our testers take a few deliberate, prolonged swims in the Explorer One Piece and even without the strap done up super-tight we found it to be very proficient at keeping the wet stuff out. It’s very comfortable too, with no hint of rubbing, or salt rash on long paddles. That’s a valuable quality on a piece of kit that can be worn at hours, even days, at a time. There are latex seals on the cuffs, as you’d expect, with neoprene outer cuffs. The Velcro tabs on these have had a bit of a redesign and work really nicely. The double waist seal also sports improved Velcro fastening and this too is simple and very effective.

All the seams on the Explorer are now dive quality adding to the protection it provides. The fabric built in socks are generous and we liked the shape as they provided a comfortable fit for a variety of foot sizes and didn’t squeeze our plates of meat when worn inside outer paddling boots.

The chest pockets are nicely placed so they are still accessible when wearing a buoyancy aid and there’s a useful zipped pocket on both the arm and trouser leg too.

Reed Chillcheater Aquatic Pro Sea Kayaking & Touring Buoyancy Aid Review

The Reed Chillcheater Aquatic Pro is a truly excellent sea kayaking and touring paddling buoyancy aid. Before adding any equipment it is clean, low profile, non-inhibitive and extremely functional; perfect for general canoe or kayak touring use, even including easy whitewater (up to grade 2 is highest recommended by Reed Chillcheater).

For pushier sea kayaking trips it has all of the safety features and utility you need, too. There is as much storage as is possible without undermining the low-profile design. We don’t feel that the Aquatic Pro is missing a single detail, and all the detail it has is nicely done.

RRP: £91
Find out more:  www.chillcheater.com

Specifications

Small/Medium

Chest: 84 – 97cm
Waist: 74 – 91cm
Weight: 30 – 60kg

Large/X-Large

Chest: 99 – 112cm
Waist: 84 – 104cm
Weight: 50 – 90kg

XX-Large

Chest: 114 – 119cm
Waist: 99 – 112cm
Weight: 80+kg

Features

  • 210 denier outer shell with tear resistant PU reinforced coating.
  • PVC, soft profiled foam, providing a low-profile design for unrestricted movement.
  • 8 point strap adjustment system on the shoulders, side and waist belt to keep the vest in place.
  • Neoprene padded shoulders and upper back for comfort.
  • Front zip for non-corroding nylon teeth and slider.
  • Full reflective ‘3M’ piping on front, back and shoulders.
  • Front stretch flare pouch with velcro retaining loop.
  • Two secure zippered front draining pockets over soft pile lined neoprene hand warmers.
  • Large and secure back pocket for top feeding camel back drinks holder or large rocket flare. Adjustable for a low profile.

Front & Sides

  • Front-entry system is incredibly easy on. All zips and clips are at the front so very accessible. Side and shoulder torsion straps tighten to a great fit and tuck away easily into pockets.
  • There is no-ride-up whatsoever.
  • Exceedingly clean and low profile.
  • Vertical side zipped pockets are decent sized, and open all the way meaning it is incredibly easy to put things in and take them out.
  • Handy whistle attached on a stretchy string on one side (left when wearing) and useful clip attached with a cord on the other.
  • Flare pouch on front with retaining loop is handy, and an important safety consideration for more ambitious sea kayaking trips.
  • Decent-sized, non-zip side pockets are fleece-lined. We’re big fans of touches like this on all sea & tour gear.
  • Both front and back panels exceedingly well cut, allowing for utterly unimpeded movement.
  • Added reflective piping on back, front and shoulders adds to an overall vibrant and safety-conscious design, suitable for a sea adventure.

Back

  • Handy zip pouch for top feeding hydration pack.
  • Webbing and retainer loop with reflective detail very nicely conceived and executed. Could house a large rocket flare.

Pyranha Nano Compact Whitewater River Running Kayak Review

The Nano is a short river running boat with a playful nature. Influences from the Shiva, Jed and Burn make for a super manoeuvrable, compact boat with creek potential. It has the ability to run harder lines as well as open up play spots on your favourite river.

Aspiring paddlers will enjoy taking the Nano down their local run, eddy hopping and pushing the technical aspects of the river. The Nano is stable and easy to roll to inspire confidence and hull allows plenty of play opportunities.

More advanced paddlers might like to take it on steeper, more demanding rivers that they know to push themselves a bit harder, or explore parts of the river that a bigger boat can’t reach. The flatter hull will also allow them to play on features on the way down, rock splat and spin.

RRP: £949
More info: www.pyranha.com

Specifications

Medium
Length: 218cm
Width: 66cm
Volume: 259L
Weight: 19.6kg
Paddler Weight Range: 55-90kg

Large
Length: 224cm
Width: 67cm
Volume: 302L
Weight: 21kg
Paddler Weight Range: 80-110kg

Features

  • Progressive Rocker: For super manoeuvrability and soft boof landing.
  • Full-Length Rails: Engage quick turns and snap into tight eddies.
  • Stern Volume: Keeps you riding high over features.
  • Compact Size: Easy to transport, portage and walk in.
  • Anodised Bow & Stern Rescue: Pyranha Connect rescue points, made by the UK climbing specialist DMM who manufacture our security bars with the same process that has held them at the forefront of the climbing market for years.
  • Connect Grab Handles: All our grab handles are made using climbing grade webbing, as we only want webbing that you could trust in a climbing harness in our kayaks.
  • C4S Seat: Longer, more ergonomically shaped seat pan provides a 3-way adjustable system that gives a bomb proof seating position.

Paddler Verdict

The Nano is a very interesting feat of niche-spanning on the part of Pyranha. They’ve looked at their various ranges and identified in the Shiva, Burn and Jed three models that are performing three different functions exceptionally well. Rather than messing with a successful formula for any one of these, they’ve taken elements of all of them and blended them together, perhaps just to see what happens, and created a kayak that will be different things to different people.

If you are a casual grade 3-4 whitewater paddler who finds time and money limit you to mostly local runs, having one of these could be a great way to spice up your paddling life and improving your dynamic river running skills by going on tight eddy-hopping missions and stopping to play on your way down.

If you are more of the ‘aspirational’, or at least very competent and experienced, boating class, and want a slightly smaller kayak that isn’t too much effort to lug up the side of your favourite creek but then also offers the precision, control, acceleration and boof work that you require of your creek boat, then once again the Nano could be one you’d consider adding you your fleet.

We’ve thoroughly enjoyed our time paddling the Nano, and with the above uses in mind, it is a truly successful design. Time will tell if it really catches on, and we’d hazard a guess that this will prove to be many people’s ‘second kayak’ as opposed to their go-to weapon of choice for all whitewater kayaking; given how much fun it is to paddle this compact, playful river running kayak, though, we’d be more than happy to be proved wrong.

The Nano is the new ‘compact river runner with creek potential’ from kayak manufacturers Pyranha, which they think will really appeal to that ‘aspirational’ market of whitewater kayakers that want a fun, light and easily transportable boat to take down their favourite steep creeks, alongside the considerably larger grade 3-4 whitewater kayaker market that wants a stable but playful river running kayak in which to progress. It is inspired by three of Pyranha’s most popular and successful current models: the Shiva steep creeking kayak, the Burn river running kayak and the Jed freestyle kayak. The Nano blends features from all three to create a whitewater kayak into an exciting package that offers something for everyone.

It is a testament to how relatively few ‘compact river runners’ have emerged in modern whitewater kayaking that whenever there is a new one it draws a comparison to those that have gone before it, whether it warrants it or not. Inevitably, then, the Nano has had various parallels drawn between it and shorter whitewater kayaks of days gone by. In some ways these comparisons are fair: the Nano is both a kayak and short. This is really where the scope for such generalisation ends. There are other similarities, of course, but these are circumstantial: no kayak is created in a vacuum (strictly metaphorically speaking, of course), and every new design draws on ideas and features already in circulation. It’s just that in this case, the Nano draws on much more contemporary kayaks than those that a cursory judgment based on length alone would suggest…

Nano – The Steep Creeker

We’ve paddled the Nano from the points of view of both elements of Pyranha’s target audience. To put that ‘creek potential’ to the test we had to go in search of some serious gradient. Here we found that the Shiva-inspired bow, complete with progressive rocker, gave this kayak an almighty boof, and we were delighted with how easy it was to keep that bow up over drops, and riding high through holes. Unfortunately, the Nano must obey the laws of physics, and there is no getting away from the fact that has quite a bit less volume than larger boats, meaning that even the perfectly landed boof on aerated water will see you sinking down at least a little. The Nano resurfaces so predictably, though, that this never seems to lead to any loss of control, and that raised front deck sheds water efficiently, meaning very little loss of forward momentum.

And, weighing it up, the benefits of a kayak this size come out on top against the downsides: its length and progressive rocker, combined with those full-length hard rails taken straight from the Jed blueprint make for an incredibly snappy turner and provide an almost unparalleled level of intuitive manoeuvrability and control. We think that this is extremely beneficial, given who the Nano’s creeking performance capability is aimed at if you really know what you’re doing, when in those tight steep creeks, it’s all about control and precision. The Nano, when paddled in the aggressively dynamic way it wants to be, offers these up by the truck loads.

We found all of this was nicely complimented by the Nano’s acceleration: also an important feature in tight, steep creeks. A couple of well-placed power strokes are all that is needed to get the kayak up to speed. There was absolutely none of the sluggishness off the line you might expect from a boat this short, and it maintains its speed nicely through features too.

Nano – The River Runner

Many of the features that make the Nano a great steep creeker for the experienced also translate well into being a fun and playful river runner for the less so. As well as the performance bow and rails that offer precision and control in technical whitewater, along with great boofing and predictable landings, the Nano also provides a very stable and predictable ride on all gradients and grades of whitewater. Easy to roll, and reasonably forgiving on the edges, the Nano would be an absolutely ideal boat for practising river running skills at venues such as the Tryweryn in North Wales, or any of England’s artificial whitewater courses. In this sort of setting, you’d really be able to make the most of the snappy and controlled manoeuvring offered by the Nano and develop your dynamic paddling in a playful and fun kayak that you know will look after you.

Although it is at the lower end of the volume spectrum for whitewater river running kayaks, thanks to the high deck profiles it actually packs quite a lot for a boat of its length. The medium/large size actually has more volume than the medium sized Pyranha Burn, for example. More importantly than physical number of litres, the volume in the Nano is well distributed, with a large proportion of it given to keeping the bow riding high and dry, but with plenty left for the squared-off stern, which in shape and style looks very much like a Shiva and a Burn got it together…and had a baby! All of these things add up to a kayak that is more than capable of punching the odd meaty hole, and there isn’t that tendency for back looping that you might expect from a short kayak like this, with instead a clean breakaway and nice stable, predictable handling style through turbulent water.

Nano – The Play Boat

We didn’t forget to look at the Nano from the perspective of the third of the holy kayak trinity that is a creek, river and play, all of which are represented by the choice of influences on the design. While we don’t want to over-emphasise this, we thought it was worth mentioning that those long rails and subtly-curved ‘semi-flat’, in Pyranha’s words, hull makes the Nano quite good fun to surf and spin on any wave or play hole you happen to pass by. This added playfulness of nature just makes the Nano even more fun for taking down rivers you know well for an indulgent ‘play run.’

Fixtures and Fittings

The Nano comes with all of the safety features – grab handles, central step-out pillar, hull stiffener, rear foam buoyancy, fully-adjustable foot plate – that we see in the rest of Pyranha’s performance whitewater kayak range. The standard is still Pyranha’s staple Connect outfitting, which we have always been huge fans of, it’s been doing Pyranha owners well for a few years now and is robust and adjustable to an impressive, and comfortable, level of connectivity.

Pyranha Kayaks Shiva Whitewater ‘Creek’ Kayak Review

The Shiva has a rounded hull, soft stern chines, a high bow rocker and loads of volume in the bow and stern.

These features give you softer landings on big drops, rear driving force when you want it, awesome boofability and resurfacing capability. The rounded and high deck, with a high centre of volume, counters a low centre of gravity for easy rollability.

If you are running big drops and pushing harder lines the Shiva is the one you want.

RRP: £949
More info: www.pyranha.com

Specifications

Small
Length: 219cm
Width: 61cm,
Volume: 147L
Weight: 21kg
Paddler Weight Range: 40-70kg

Medium
Length: 220cm
Width: 62cm
Volume: 185L
Weight: 15kg
Paddler Weight Range: 55-90kg

Large
Length: 222cm
Width: 63cm
Volume: 223L
Weight: 15.5kg
Paddler Weight Range: 80-110kg

Features

  • Length & Deck Profiling: Retains speed and slices through features on down river missions.
  • Low Volume Slicey Ends: For pivots and squirts in eddies and initiating all your vertical moves.
  • Rocker: Smooth and forgiving for sweet surfing sessions.
  • Forgiving Edges: Once engaged, the edges provide grip and control for carving on the wave.
  • Low back deck and cockpit: Super easy to roll.
  • Anodised Bow & Stern Rescue: Pyranha Connect rescue points, made by the UK climbing specialist DMM who manufacture our security bars with the same process that has held them at the forefront of the climbing market for years.
  • Connect Grab Handles: All our grab handles are made using climbing grade webbing, as we only want webbing that you could trust in a climbing harness in our kayaks.
  • Stout Seat: Longer, more ergonomically shaped seat pan provides a 3-way adjustable system that gives a bomb proof seating position.

Paddler Verdict

We first heard about the Shiva creek kayak from Pyranha Kayaks just ahead of the Outdoor Retailer’s show over in the US where it was announced, and all the way back then we were excited to try out this boat that Pyranha were describing as an ‘all out creeker.’ Our patience was rewarded when we got hold of one of a limited number of pre-production Shivas and ever since we’ve been having a grand old time trying it out all over the UK’s waterways. It became clear to us pretty quickly that the boat we were paddling – named after the Hindu god of destruction, incidentally – was quite a departure in terms of design from the square-edged affairs of the likes of the Burn, Everest and Karnali. The Shiva is a round-hulled and beefed up creek boat that absolutely loves running the steep stuff.

We found the Shiva to be incredibly forgiving; the wide stern and rounded edges without a rail in sight means that a second of sloppy edging or a missed stroke can often go unpunished. It’s also fast. The high-riding hull skips over everything in its path and boofs drops and ledges without you hardly having to do anything.

It feels almost as if this boat is fitted with some sort of dynamo that keeps it firing forward on a horizontal trajectory, however far towards the vertical the river below it goes. From this point of view, we can see exactly why Pyranha are marketing this boat as an ultimate steep creeker: if you were throwing yourself down some near-vertical creek dropping off at an alarming rate of m/km and needed a boat that maintains angle of trajectory and speed through big drops and punches through big holes as if they were minor ripples then you’d probably want to be in a Shiva. For a run like the Etive in Scotland it is ideal; just drop after drop requiring a bit of speed and a boof. When your steep creek suddenly flattens out and is inundated with several hundred extra cumecs of water from tributaries on both sides, though, don’t sweat! The boat will hold its line through big water no problem: Shiva the Destroyer isn’t one to be bossed around by huge waves.

You’ll find, though, that Shiva the Destroyer needs bossing around a lot when you get the boat onto tight and technical boulder garden rapids. The only driving edge is behind you, so those paddlers used to snappy boats with long rails might be in for a shock initially. You can really help yourself though by ensuring that you give yourself the best trim possible, and will probably find that to do so you’re putting the seat further back than you would in another boat.

The Shiva responds to dynamic paddling, where you want to go and paddling positively. Even with all of this, though, some of our testers felt that in these situations the Shiva can be a tad unwieldy compared to others. But in reality we are are talking purely about the sort of water that you’d be unlikely to be taking the Shiva on anyway, the general consensus among the testers was that the Shiva does what it is designed to do incredibly well, and will undoubtedly become the favourite of many steep creekers really wishing to push themselves on the steep stuff out in far-flung destinations, perhaps on the other side of the Atlantic; but also those boaters addicted to vertical Gs who spend their time in the Scottish highlands and Welsh hills looking for steep runs and kayak free-fall. What you probably wouldn’t do, though, is own this as your one boat that you do everything in, because its specialist ‘steep-creeking’ nature makes it just a little bit over-kill for the more mundane of UK rivers.

Fixtures and Fittings

The Shiva uses Pyranha’s Connect 30, fully whitewater spec, outfitting that any of you familiar with their range of whitewater boats will know well. We’ve always found it comfortable, easy to adjust and durable: with proper care Pyranha outfittings will last the lifetime of the boat (which does not so say that others won’t, though). The Shiva is no exception, even with testers of different sizes hopping in and out, we were able to make quick changeovers on the bank and still be comfortable. The Shiva sports the customary yellow strong weave plastic reinforced fabric handles, as well as an extra bolted on metal safety handle just in front of the cockpit. It makes you feel secure knowing that all of Pyranha’s broach loops are made by climbing hardware manufacturer DMM.

Conclusion

After trying the Shiva out on a variety of different runs all over the UK, we’d be inclined to agree with Pyranha when they call it an ‘all-out creeker.’ This high-riding, displacement-hulled beefy boat is ideal for when you want to push yourself to make those really tricky lines, knowing that the forgiving hull shape will look after you, and when you want to start running some of those bigger drops knowing that you’ll resurface quickly and on-line ready for whatever you have to boof or flair next. For those looking for a boat of this kind, we think that Pyranha has produced something rather special for you in the shape of the Shiva.

We can hardly criticise the Shiva for doing exactly what it says on the tin: it is an all out creeker, designed for steep and vertical water. You just have to be careful to read and understand the label, though, because with the Shiva more than some other boats, you regret it when you take it out of its natural habitat.

As a specialist, the Shiva slots in well to Pyranha’s range of whitewater kayaks, which all serve various river-running functions, and if you’re an intermediate to advanced whitewater paddler, looking for a confidence-inspiring kayak to take that next step and push yourself to go steeper, then we think you could really get along well with Shiva the Destroyer.

What the Designers Say:

Graham Mackereth, Robert Pearson & Richard Taylor of Pyranha Kayaks; There are two specific aspects that we believed held the key to a successful design; to be confidence inspiring for the kayaker, and to have a high-performance envelope. Often these two aspects are at polar opposites and the challenge lies in combining them together.

We think we have achieved a special blend of both key design ingredients to produce a kayak that will allow all abilities to enjoy paddling but also feel confident to challenge themselves.

As the last true round-hulled creeker from Pyranha Kayaks, we looked back at the original M and Micro series for inspiration. The Shiva takes some design cues from these hulls combining a round hull shape with a high tucked rail in the stern to give it that Pyranha Kayaks performance feel.

Pyranha Kayaks Loki Whitewater Kayak Review

The Loki is designed to revive the classic moves that we learned when we played the river the first time.

If you want smoothly linked cartwheels, a smile on every eddyline and enjoy serious vertical time then this is the boat for you.

The Loki is loose and fast on the river and ocean waves. Vertical moves are more controlled and impressive than in a short boat. The Loki is a great downriver play boat, its extra length means more speed, making eddies and must make ferry glides easier and more controlled.

RRP: £849
More info: www.pyranha.com

Specifications

Small
Length: 219cm
Width: 61cm,
Volume: 147L
Weight: 21kg
Paddler Weight Range: 40-70kg

Medium
Length: 220cm
Width: 62cm
Volume: 185L
Weight: 15kg
Paddler Weight Range: 55-90kg

Large
Length: 222cm
Width: 63cm
Volume: 223L
Weight: 15.5kg
Paddler Weight Range: 80-110kg

Features

  • Length & Deck Profiling: Retains speed and slices through features on down river missions.
  • Low Volume Slicey Ends: For pivots and squirts in eddies and initiating all your vertical moves.
  • Rocker: Smooth and forgiving for sweet surfing sessions.
  • Forgiving Edges: Once engaged, the edges provide grip and control for carving on the wave.
  • Low back deck and cockpit: Super easy to roll.
  • Anodised Bow & Stern Rescue: Pyranha Connect rescue points, made by the UK climbing specialist DMM who manufacture our security bars with the same process that has held them at the forefront of the climbing market for years.
  • Connect Grab Handles: All our grab handles are made using climbing grade webbing, as we only want webbing that you could trust in a climbing harness in our kayaks.
  • Stout Seat: Longer, more ergonomically shaped seat pan provides a 3-way adjustable system that gives a bomb proof seating position.

Until recently, you would have been forgiven for thinking that you had simply imagined hearing that Pyranha Kayaks were bringing out a new river play kayak called the Pyranha Loki: it was announced as being imminent quite some time ago, but no kayak ever appeared. Being the perfectionists that they are over there at Pyranha, they didn’t want to go into production until they’d got the  design of the Pyranha Loki Whitewater Kayak just right; and after several complete design overhauls, plenty of tinkering and tweaking and a whole lot of prototypes, they were finally happy; the Pyranha Loki, which we excitedly rushed straight to the nearest whitewater we could find while it was practically still warm from the oven, was eventually born.

We  thoroughly put the Pyranha Loki Whitewater Kayak through its paces at the whitewater course at the National Watersports Centre in Nottingham, which is a fantastic testing ground for getting the feel for what this boat can do; but for good measure we also took it right across to the other side of the UK to Anglesey in North Wales, to give it a go in a slightly different environment, much more of the marine variety.

The Ride

Our initial gut reaction, which has only been reinforced the longer that we paddle this kayak, is that Pyranha have succeeded in what they set out to do, which was to create a pedigree play boat for making all of the classic moves really easy, but that can handle itself on a river; enabling you to play on your way down and saving you having to drive to a hole! Its length and continuous rocker profile aid this a great deal, giving you the speed to move from feature to feature. Moving across the flow to get back to the eddy to paddle up for another go is no problem at all, either. Whether it’s down river, or eddy hopping back up, the Pyranha Loki is fast and forgiving meaning you’ll hit those must-make eddies.

As a play boat, the Pyranha Loki is a perfect kayak for getting the feeling of throwing descent sized ends. If you’ve got the general idea of how to get these, but have always found that you struggle to get them in some other play boats despite other kayakers making it look frustratingly easy then the Loki might be the boat in which you find you can finally crack it. We found the ends to be both easy to initiate and very stable. The key ingredients here are those low volume slicey ends, which make vertical moves in the Pyranha Loki as straight forward as the horizontal movement in kayaks with less of a penchant pointing their bows skyward at the minutest suggestion.

In the hole, the rails won’t trip you up, but at the same time, they are sharp enough that they’ll really help you get up on edge when you need to and drive the boat to where you want it to be. This balance of forgivingness and control makes this the ideal boat for less experienced paddlers to really work on developing their moves, but intermediates and experts will still enjoy the responsive performance of this boat.

Get the Pyranha Loki on a wave and its super-friendly, loose hull makes it’s a joy to shred up any wave on the river or ocean! That non-flat hull with continuous rocker really comes into its own here; all that it wanted to do was to sit down the face of the wave and constantly keep on the move, ripping as it went. And this is not to mention the fact that if you get the hull moving on a wave it will blunt all day long, should you want it to. When we were testing off Anglesey, although the wave at Stanley Embankment wasn’t at it’s best the Pyranha Loki allowed us to carve up the wave getting it right up onto it’s side.

The Pyranha Loki is in every sense a ‘new school play boat.’ One of the challenges that needed to be cracked when creating it was providing the foot room needed without compromising the hull shape that makes it do what it does so well. This has been done successfully and really pays off.

Fixtures & Fittings

The Pyranha Loki comes with Pyranha’s Connect 30 Outfitting, which we’ve always found is easy to adjust to a good fit. We were happy to find that after getting off from a longish session on the water, the boat was still as dry as a bone straight out of the box, without any prior bolt tightening required. We couldn’t knock the overall build quality at all.

Conclusion

Getting the Pyranha Loki right must have been somewhat of a conundrum for the design team ay Pyranha Kayaks: trying to create a boat that excelled at vertical moves and shredding waves, without going too far and compromising all of the down-river capability. The Pyranha Loki achieves this balance really well, and all its design features are in perfect equilibrium. Fast and forgiving when you’re going down-river with the flow, easy-to-initiate and stable verticals and a natural surfer all in one. What does it all mean? The Pyranha Loki is a fun machine! It takes us back to the days when paddling was all about messing around on the river trying to link as many cartwheels as possible in really long slicey boats. The Pyranha Loki isn’t designed to do cutting edge freestyle moves – it’s all about getting out on the river and enjoying yourself, pulling the moves you’d watch on VHSs in the early ‘90s. And what’s more, the Loki is a boat for everyone: whether you’re still mastering your technique, or a seasoned expert the forgiving nature and easy initiation will guarantee you a good time on the water.

Big Dog Force Whitewater River Running Kayak Review

Semi-Displacement or Semi-Planing, call it what you will but the Force will speak for itself on the river. The Force is a “Full-On” river runner with a semi-displacement hull, excellent volume distribution, raised rails, rigid deck pillar and plenty of rocker. The Force can charge, boof, flare, carve, slide and re-surface with the best of them. In fact, the only limiting factor to the Force’s performance is the paddler sitting inside! Fast, safe and responsive, the Force is everything you’ll need from a ‘proper’ River Runner.

“While the volume distribution and rocker profile of the Big Dog Force whitewater kayak lends themselves well to bouncing down volume runs and steeper water with bigger drops thrown in, the high waterline and manoeuvrability really come into their own on more technical stretches and low water runs. Time and time again it’s proved to be a pleasure to have out on the water, responding intuitively to good handling, and politely looking the other way for short episodes of sloppy technique”

RRP: £849
More Info: 
www.bigdogkayaks.com

Specification

Force 7.7

Length: 231cm
Width: 65cm
Weight: 18.5kg
Volume: 232L
Paddler weight: 40 – 90kg

Force 8.0

Length: 244cm
Width: 65cm
Weight: 19kg
Volume: 253L
Paddler weight: 80 – 125kg

Features

  • Rotomoulded adjustable tank seat, with integrated hull stiffener.
  • Twin Ratchet Backband.
  • Vacuum formed adjustable thigh grips.
  • Full Plate Footrest
  • Built in rotomoulded one step pillar.
  • 5 Big Dog Grab points

Paddler Verdict

The Big Dog Force is one of those kayaks that wherever you take it within the UK you feel like you’ve made the right choice in a boat for that trip. It can handle all the steep that this country can muster, all the volume as well as the technical.

In short, it does exactly what it says on the tin: it runs rivers! Time and time again it’s proved to be a pleasure to have out on the water, responding intuitively to good handling, and politely looking the other way for short episodes of sloppy technique, so that the consequences of a slip-up are rarely too embarrassing. When we say it’s the ideal UK boat, we don’t mean to discount it from trips further a field, we’re sure it would serve you admirably on your summer Alpine adventures and so on, it’s just always refreshing to paddle a boat that really lends itself to our domestic waters. Its attractive price tag only adds to our feeling that among whitewater river runners this kayak from Big Dog is a force to be reckoned with.

The Ride

The Storm sits in Big Dog’s range of whitewater kayaks between the river play kayak the Flux, and the DropZone designed for dropping down steep creeks, as its name suggests. The Force is the pedigree river runner of the family, but don’t mistake this for meaning that it’s not up to the task when that horizon line signals a drop off at vertical or near-vertical angles, there is enough rocker on this thing that you can nail a textbook boof every time the occasion requires.

The semi-displacement hull provides a really comfortable and functional blend of stability with nippy manoeuvrability: while there is plenty of forgiving play in the primary stability, once you get your weight over an edge and engage those raised rails and you’ll snap straight into that eddy, or carve smoothly around that hole. Edge-to-edge transitions are really very smooth, thanks to the hull shape, but to make the most of this boat’s potential for sharp, snappy turns you have to move your body to engage those raised rails.

Also, a product of this particular hull shape is the fact that the Force is willing to benignly overlook the odd bit of sloppy paddling, and there is no overly-zealous tendency for edges to catch if you miss a beat.
We had no problem with the speed of the Force, which it retains through big water, and allows you to charge drops and punch through holes with ease.

We’ve been paddling the medium-sized 8.0 Force, for which all of our testers fell within the generously recommended paddler weight range. The overall volume was ample for those paddling and the type of water we had it on, and distribution was excellent. Even laden with rescue gear and other kit for a day’s paddle the waterline was sufficiently high that we’d ride over most things, and we were pleased with how quickly and under control we’d resurface from drops.

While the volume distribution and rocker profile lend themselves well to bouncing down volume runs and steeper water with bigger drops thrown in, the high waterline and manoeuvrability really come into their own on more technical stretches and low water runs. It made an excellent Upper Dart boat, for example, even in desperate levels, but still handles well on the likes of the Etive in Scotland.

We did stick it on a few waves as we progressed down-river, and the carving nature of the semi-planning hull meant that it actually surfed surprisingly well for a kayak that is so decidedly in form and function a river runner. Just an extra added bonus there!

Fixtures & Fittings

Paddler’s test boats’ outfitting always gets put through its paces on and off the river: the boat gets swapped round, sometimes mid-run, so if there is any inefficiency in the effective adjustment of footrests and back bands then it is quickly highlighted. The Force never showed itself up, though, in this department. Moving the bulkhead footrests backwards and forwards even on-the-fly is quick and easy, and then you’re good to go, feeling snug, with a quick cranking up of the ratchets. We didn’t feel the need to adjust the position of the seat for the sake of our paddling position – the boat is good and roomy so no need to go too far back – although if you want to move it forward or back it’s straightforward to do so.

We’ve paddled boats that are perhaps a touch more comfortable to spend longer days on the water in; despite being adjustable, the thermo-moulded thigh grips seemed reluctant to form to our thighs properly. This wasn’t so much of a problem that we felt the outfitting wasn’t doing its job, though: the body/ boat contact is in fact, excellent and affords a lot of the all important control for the assertive edging you need to get the most out of the Force. You’re just not too sorry to get out for a stretch of your legs after a while, is all; something that is true of most whitewater kayaks, to varying degrees.

The Force has a full compliment of inbuilt safety features that fully qualify it for running even the pushier stuff. Bulkhead footrests, five metal grab points and a built-in ‘onestep’ pillar combine to mean that this is a boat that you wouldn’t think twice about taking on any level of water that you yourself can match in ability, safe in the knowledge that you’ll be looked after it all goes a bit wrong.