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EJ in full dress

It has been a while since I have done a review on the gear I am wearing.  Figured it was about time for another one as gear has been improving and I have some items that I am really enjoying!    It is important to note that there are many great items and brands out there making good stuff.   I have my pick of anything I want to use for the most part and am very selective as I spend too much time on the water and expect my gear to perform well at all times, last a long time, and be comfortable, dry, effective, safe, etc..

My paddling consists of many hard hours on the water.   I paddle hard.  My boats and my gear get “accelerated R+D and Wear testing” to say the least.    Averaging close to 4 hours per day on the water 300 days per year I put 10 +  years of the average paddler’s usage on my equipment in one year.     About 75% of my paddling is in a play boat flopping around on the water, in holes, on waves, etc..  6 months of it is in cold weather/cold water and 6 months in mixed conditions.     About 25% of my paddling is in a creek boat or river running boat, usually on class 4-5+.
I am pretty picky in that I really don’t like being cold, I don’t like being wet, and I don’t like being uncomfortable for no reason.   I can handle the worst conditions and paddle in them, but I like to be prepared enough to know that I have what I need and I am not suffering due to poor equipment choice, or simply leaving it behind.
I will start at the feet and go up:
Shoes- I have worn many brands of river shoes over the years.  I wear Son-R technology water shoes by Sperry Top-sider now.   They have several options and I have four different pair, not necessarily because I need all four, but because I like having the perfect shoe for each situation.
  1. Bungee- this is the easiest slip on, slip off shoe around.   Works great on bare feet or over a drysuit bootie, or neoprene socks.   I use this playboating mostly, because it isn’t as secure on the feet as the other models.   For Creeking this shoe can come off your feet in really muddy situations.      I love this shoe because it takes 2 second to put it on and it has the Son-R soles, very versatile and comfortable and fits in my playboat.

    Son-R Bungee by Sperry

  2. Buckle- Same as bungee basically but it can’t come off your feet like the bungee- so is appropriate for expedition or creeking as well.   Good soles that really work well for walking on rocks, in the water, in the mud- sticks, whatever.
  3. Bearing Bootie– for cold weather this bootie does the trick- Son-R soles on a classic neoprene bootie with buckle to keep it secure.

Here is a video we made about these shoes…


Socks- I don’t normally wear socks unless it is cold and i have a dry suit on- then I wear Patagonia Midweight Merino Hiking sock– perfect for dealing with sweat on hard hikes into your favorite run and still keeping you warm while sitting in your kayak or swimming around in the water.


There are many great fleece options by different companies.   I am using the Kokatat laying system.   I definitely don’t skimp on my fleece layers.  I have fleece pants, two fleece shorty tops, two long sleeve tops, and two full suits.  I also have rash gaurds, but am not too picky about them.  I actually like using tank tops for rash guards in hot weather under my shorty dry top.


  1. Full Suit for cold weather paddling: I use this one:
  2. Pants:
  3. Long sleeve top:
  4. Short Sleeve Top: cold water:
  5. Rash Guard:  anything that you can tuck into your shorts
  6. Board Shorts:  I like ones that are baggy enough to “hike up” to go to the bathroom instead of untying and pulling down.  this is obviously less critical for women.    Lots of options and brands that work.   I have some Patagonia ones that are good and some that are too tight around the leg.   Quicksilver seems to always work.

Playboating Gear:

Dry Tops: I always wear a dry top playboating, no matter what the air or water temperature is.   I wear a shorty when warm, long sleeve when hot.   The reason is because getting water in my boat is more annoying to me than wearing the gaskets that keep the water out.   I like being dry and not having to empty out.  If you are not playing hard and getting water in your boat from the skirt tunnel, then you can skip the drytop in hot weather, warm water.

Kokatat:  why?  Dane and I worked with Kokatat to make a new set of gear with them for the 2013 season.  We have been using them all year in prototype form.   I used IR gear before that that I really liked it and liked the people there as well.   Making kayaks in the USA, I really wanted to get my gear from a USA manufacturer and Kokatat is your only option. Some of the PFDs by Kokatat are made overseas, however.   Luckily for us, they are the best gear makers and designers as well!   My reasoning for Kokatat now is that we could customize the gear for our needs, made in the USA, Gortex, and colors that we really like.  Bright colors that are safe, fun, and photograph well.

EJ and Dane in their new Kokatat/Jackson Gear

All of this gear available January of 2013 in production form.

  1. Long sleeve dry top:   Kokatat/Jackson line- great tunnel closure, gortex material, comfortable neck and wrist enclosures, durable for the long haul.
  2. Short Sleeve Dry Top:  Kokatat/Jackson line – I wear this all summer- can’t live without one!   Of course I like dry decks for playboating, not top/skirts if I can help it.  Much drier and much more comfortable.   I send my Kokatat stuff to SnapDragon to make into a Dry-Deck.
  3. Pants:  Kokatat Tempest paddling pants- have socks built in so work perfect in cold weather.
  4. Spray Skirts:  Mountain Surf Rand skirt still holds the record for the driest and most durable skirts.  Snap Dragon makes the most durable skirts today and made in the USA.  Their bungee skirts are the best in the business, but still not as dry as a really good rand skirt.   Their new Rand skirt prototypes are sweet and I have been using them this summer.   Looking like a Snapdragon version of the Mountain Surf skirts, I expect that this will take the place of Mountain Surf for a Made in the USA skirt that is top notch dry.   IR has some good skirts as well and has improved their rand skirts dryness.  They have a dry bungee as well that was good but I had them pop off a couple of times in scary places.   I am using my old Mountain Surf or my Snap Dragon Rand Skirt prototypes now to keep my boat as dry as possible.

PFD:  goal- safe, comfortable, easy to get on and off, easy to adjust, and looks good, and durable

Astral has lead the market for years now with a good playboating PFD in the Willis. Great jacket.   The main things I wanted to improve were increasing the floatation, padding on shoulders and back and lighter weight when wet.

I asked Kokatat if Dane and I could make a new PFD for them, as we were making the tops, etc..  and I wanted to see a higher floatation life jacket that was more comfortable with the floatation spread our more, and the shoulders padded nicely for boat carrying.     This Life jacket has been my new favorite since I got the final prototype at CKS paddlefest this past May.  17 pounds of floatation makes it safer than creekvests, but at the same time it isn’t bulky, in fact, most people think it has less floatation looking at it.   It matches the Jackson/Kokatat tops, of course, or you can get it in standard Kokatat colors.   This is first available to the public in January, sorry!

New Maximus PFD by Kokatat

Helmet: I wear the WRSI- Trident composite helmet.   Safety first- this helmet is designed properly with two hard layers, plus foam in between and a liner as well.   It looks good, stays on well, and fits well, so I am happy with it.   I have recently gotten Nick Turner, the owner, to embed Jackson Kayak logos for some team helmets which is quite slick.    Good stuff.    I also like that the liner is adjustable for going from winter to summer with or without a scull cap.

Scull Cap for winter paddling or cold water paddling:

  1. I used Glacier Glove for a long time and really like their scull caps.  their .5mm with the built in stretch chin strap does the trick for me most of the time.   warm enough and low profile.
  2. I got a Kokatat one this winter that I used and really liked as well without the chin strap,

both do the trick- avoid scull caps with chin straps/buckles.   The Glacier glove is built in and works great, add on ones will rub you raw!

Gloves/Pogies- I used to only wear pogies but the gloves have improved dramatically over the years and Glacier Glove makes the best kayaking gloves.  They grip the shaft well, don’t make your hands/forearms tired from being stiff, and keep you warm in the most extreme weather.    I wear these Glacier Gloves for my paddling.


I will provide a list and review here the items that I don’t use playboating, but use for creekboating.   The Fleece, shoes, scull caps, gloves, etc. are the same, but there are some specific equipment needs for creeking that are listed below.

Dry Suit: A dry suit is a piece of safety gear, comfort gear, and performance gear.   When creeking or river running remotely in cold water or weather, or both, having a dry suit is not only important for your own safety, but the safety of others.   With a dry suit you can enter the cold water to assist in the rescue of other people, without one, you might not be able to help somebody needing help as you would become hypothermic too quickly.    It also allows you to scout differently (jump in the water, swim across in front of drops, and generally be able to hang out and stay warm).    If you swim it can be the difference between doing a self rescue and becoming incapacitated from the cold.    When doing multi-day trips it keeps your underlayers dry for the next day, eliminating the need for as much fleece and improving your experience.

I have had many different dry suits over the years from different brands.   I got my first one in 1984.    This is one of the greatest inventions of all time!   To be able to jump in the water and get out dry is amazing.   To comfortably swim in 32 degree water is both a safety factor and a comfort factor.   Nothing is close to a dry suit.    Having your entire body contained into a “greenhouse” is an issue, however, unless the material breathes.   Gortex is the only truly breathable material that dry suits are made out of.   I have used non-Gortex suits and while they might look good and generally function well, you get wet from the inside, instead of the outside.    Kokatat makes Gortex suits which make them functional for hiking and spending lots of time in them.    However, the Kokatat suits have a front entry zipper which allows water to go into the kayak through the skirt tunnel too easily.   for playboating it makes them not very functional.  For creekboating you get more water in the boat than you would with a rear zipper.    This is why Dane and I specified the Rear Zipper entry on the Gortex suits to make the suit not-only dry, comfortable, and more flexible for paddling, but to keep the water out of the boat when paddling.      The downside is that you have to reach around to the side over your shoulder to zip and unzip it.   This moment of stretching (or asking a friend) to get in and out of the suit is worth the comfort and performance for hours on the water.

Look for the Kokatat/Jackson Dry suit in January of 2012.    If you need a dry suit before that- you have to choose between Gortex and Rear Entry.   for a Gortex suit get the Kokatat Meridian.   If you want rear entry and can’t wait until January and can deal without the Gortex, get the IR Double D drysuit.


A good PFD has plenty of floatation to keep you on the surface.   Tons of “technical” add ons to a PDF that doesn’t float you high isn’t going to keep you safe if you swim.    Before you buy a PFD, look at the floatation provided!   Many of the best selling ones only provide around 15 pounds of floatation, while some are over 17 and it makes a big difference.

Maximus Prime by Kokatat for 2013

I had been using the Kokatat Ronin Pro which has over 17 pounds of floatation for the medium/large size.   It is easy on/off, comfortable, and easy to adjust.  I used the “Green Jacket” before that which only has 15.5 pounds of floatation for all sizes.    It is also a very well designed PFD, but I like more floatation for safety.    I am now using my new “Maximus” PFD which is available in January of 2013 and has 17 pounds of floatation and better padding for the back up to the nape of the neck as well as the shoulders.    Dane and I use this 17 pounds of floatation PFD for all of our creek-boating today.        It takes comfort, adjustability, mobility, and padding against impact to the next level.   The Maximus Prime is the Type 5 version of this vest with the rescue belt.

Helmets: Some think that all helmets are created equal.   That simply isn’t true as many are better than others in protecting your head.   Hand made, mini-cell lined helmets are not safe and would never pass a helmet certifying test.    I have been guilty of wearing substandard helmets for years, and so have my kids.    After learning more about helmet performance I decided I should lead by example and wear something that is truly designed and manufactured to work right.    WRSI makes a safe helmet with a triple liner (foam, plastic, and then the foam/material liner) all inside of their shell.   I use the WRSI “Moment” full face.   I wear a full face when the water is shallow and manky and tipping over would be a bad thing.    A full face isn’t always the right equipment in my opinion, however, as they create other issues.   When creek boating visibility and communication on the creek are also safety matters.   Full face helmets make communicating directions, commands, and information in general more difficult.   People can’t hear you and you can’t hear them as well.   This creates a completely different safety issue.   Also the extra coverage reduces visibility to some degree making your awareness a little less.   For these reasons, I wear my “Trident” helmet on many creeks where communicating and seeing are more important than protecting your face from impact on rocks.   That sounds dumb, perhaps, but the extra protection of a full face rarely creates more safety than getting good directions and being able to give them.   Remember when you are wearing a full face that others might not hear what you have to say!    Tipping your helmet up or down while talking to expose your mouth is a way to improve the communications.

Elbow Pads: Wearing elbow pads isn’t just about protecting you elbows, it is about giving you other ways to brace in tight spots besides using your paddle or hands.   Once you start wearing them you will find that you can brace your arms into rocks on narrow slots as a technique, without it hurting.    Without them, you need to keep your elbows out of the way and sooner or later that isn’t going to happen.   More creekers have chips in their elbows from forgetting or just not wearing them than you can count.   I use the EVS “Option” pads because they are easy on, easy off, provide plenty of protection, and stay in place, plus they are lightweight when wet.

Float Bags; Float bag are an important piece of gear if you are going to swim.  Eventually you are going to swim if you creek enough.   A boat full of water weighs about 600 pounds!   Put in stern float bags and the same boat is down to about 300 pounds.   That is a big difference.   the boat is less likely to get destroyed when running rapids full and it is much easier to get it to shore and rescue it and yourself.     I use the “Creek float”

Jackson Kayak Creek Float

I designed because it is a single horseshoe shaped bag that displaces way more water than the traditional wedge shaped bags that don’t wrap around the stern.     However, if you are doing multi-day trips or just want to carry lots of extra gear, you need to be able to store gear in the stern too.   The Creek floats only allow you to put a small dry back on one side.   I use  the FUTA “Stow Floats” by Watershed when I am bringing gear with me.

Futa Stow float

Throw Bags:    Throw bags are critical equipment for creek boating.   Our rule is that if you forget yours on a creek you carry somebody elses.  This is because bringing one isn’t for your safety but for other’s safety.  Forgetting it is to endanger others, so this assures that those who forget them get one to use anyhow and those who brought them are protected.   Of course having extra’s and assuring everyone has on is the way to go.     I have two bags a small bag for our local creeks that don’t require a big portage needing a long rope and a big rope for expedition or when you might need one.    Longer isn’t safer, however, as a short rope is easier to handle, throw, retract and throw again if you miss, etc..    So, bringing a big rope on a narrow low volume creek with no portages isn’t necessarily better.  I use the Astral throw Pouch with 46′ of Spectra rope.     For my long rope I use an NRS Pro Rescue Throw Bag
Carabiners: Bring three beeners with you on a long run.    This isn’t a safety article so you can look up what to use them for if you don’t know, but I like the Modified D quick loc by omega. One is minimum.
Tow ropes – many people have two ropes for dragging boats into shore after a swim… I don’t recommend using them on creeks as you are endangering yourself more than creating a safety situation   A release mechanism isn’t enough to prevent yourself from getting into trouble.   I suggest skipping this accessory.
Watch: A wrist watch was long regarded by me as something that is not a critical piece of equipment.   Good to have to know what time it is so you know how long before dark, but that was it.   I have had more than one watch die on me during a kayaking trip.   Water gets in, or battery dies, or it just stops.    I have used Swiss Army, Omega, Sunuto, Timex, Freestyle, and many others.     I have been surprised at how some of the more expensive ones are the least waterproof.     My latest watch the Casio Pro Trek is not an inexpensive watch, but like the G-Shock is is designed for the elements and is ready for action. 

PRW2500-1 Triple Sensor Solar Atomic watch

It is an information center on your wrist.   Thermometer, altimeter, compass, barometer, stop watch, record button to collect where you were and are going, and it has perpetual battery life (built in solar charger to keep batteries full!)   These tools have been done without for years on creeks.   However, many issues people have had would have been averted had they known where they were going when hiking out (compass), how much altitude they have left to drop before the take out on an unfamiliar run, what the weather is doing, what to wear (water temp/air temp) etc..

EJ Likes his Pro Trek by Casio









Wearable: The latest trend in getting footage is using GoPro cameras.    This isn’t a fad, this is media as we know it changing forever!   For the first time in history we can all be video makers and be the stars of our own videos and photos.    The wonderful thing about GoPro cameras are how easy they are to use, and how versatile they are.   Put them on your helmet for a POV view of what you are doing, or put them on your bow pointed at you to see yourself in action.   I am so fired up on the footage we are getting that I have recently put a GoPro mount on every kayak I make!   I am also working on an elevated mount for additional angles.    Recently GoPro created a Wifi-backpack and remote for the cameras which allow you to film yourself, turning them on, off, changing settings, etc.. with a remote.   I use this for playboating and set a camera on the shore, or when I put my camera on the very bow of my boat where I can’t reach it.     I use the “GoPro Hero 2” with a Wifi Backpack. Here is a video made with just GoPro footage:


35 MM for video and photos: We use the Canon 7-D because it has the best video quality, is easy to use, and takes awesome photos.   Nikon makes a camera that has some features like time lapse that the 7D doesn’t have, but the video is worth it to have the 7D..   Get a couple of lenses- long and short, and a couple of big memory cards, and a watershed Dry bag and liner for it and you are ready.      I am not going to do a toutorial on using it here, but there are plenty of those out there.    Photos are appreciated years later, videos, too!

here is one video using this camera by Nick and Dane:


OK- So now we are up to the two main pieces of Gear that people need for kayaking- Boats and Paddles.

Kayaks: Let’s get the obvious out of the way.   I own a kayak company, design the whitewater kayaks with David Knight and it is my job to promote and sell them so I can stay in business.      With that said, I design what I enjoy and think others will enjoy and at the end of the day I paddle the boats like enjoy most for each situation.    Here is what I paddle and why:

  1. Tandem KayakDynamic Duo- I can’t say enough about how fun it is to paddle the Dynamic Duo.    Friends, family, kids… this kayak makes your local river a blast and allows you to paddle with people who couldn’t come with you otherwise in their own boat.   It is a whole new dynamic to the sport.     It is super stable and easy to paddle.    Here is a video of it in action:   [youtube][/youtube]
  2. Playboat- 2013 All-Star This is our 5th Generation of the Star series since we began in 2004.   The most decorated freestyle kayak of all time winning more medals than any boat in history this next generation is as big of a step forward as we have had in a long time.   It blew my mind on Garberator Wave on the Ottawa when nothing else could catch it or play it well, the new All-Star was so fast, loose, and easy to get in the air that it made the wave so much better.    It is a little bigger than the last one giving me bigger air in holes and more retentive than before as well.   I made the switch from the 2011 Rock Star my favorite boat before this one, another great option if you are looking for a used boat.    you can watch the All-Star promo video here:   [youtube][/youtube]
  3. River Runner-Creeker-  Zen 75Before the Zen river running boats were a bit nondescript.   I paddled the Hero most of the time as it was sporty and fun, but still wasn’t a great surfer (many people claim their boats are good surfers but there is a HUGE difference between what a boat could do and what they were doing.    We decided to put the highest performance hull on the Zen we could and the results were amazing.   The boat is so fast and is zips in and out of eddies like nothing before it.  When surfing you can spin and grind and it is so much easier to surf than a rounder bottom boat.

    Me and my Zen- a gopro shot

    By this spring, we were all using the Zen for everything- we loved the way it came out of drops with speed and the bow down.   It controls so much easier than previous boats at high speeds as well that it made extreme racing much easier and the results showed. (3 of the top 5 at Teva Mountain Games Homestake race and 1st-4th in the South St Vrain Extreme Creek Race.    I am taking the Zen 75 to Austria to race in the 2012 World Extreme Racing championships and am more confident in this boat than anything before it (raced the Villain Last year)  Here is a video of the Zen in Action: [youtube][/youtube]

  4. Creeking: I paddle the Zen and the Hero now, and am patiently waiting for the Karma!!    The Hero, I paddle when I am in low volume southeast whitewater and I want a short sporty creeker.   It is my boat of choice on so many creeks and I find that I have company in that boat with Clay and Stephen always picking it too.   Once the Zen came out, however, we got spoiled by the high performance hull that is so fast and really defines the run.    We designed our 2013 boat with a Zen hull and creekboat deck, the Karma.   This boat has all of us fired up for this fall.  We had lots of good runs in the prototype already and can’t wait for it to come out.   For me, the Karma will be my creekboat in 2013.

Paddles; Paddles are an important buying decision.   I prefer bent shaft paddles as they are easier on the wrist, forearms, and give you more torque to control the blade angles.    I also believe you want some flexibility in your kayak paddles to lower the impact on your shoulders and joints in general.   Lightning Paddles are my first choice as they have the most bend in the shafts, have the most flexible blades, have big blades, and are super durable.   They also look cool, I think.     There are many different versions of Lightning paddles and I import only the ones I think are best, the Flowtec blades.   They are pressed foam blades (like you make a snowboard or ski) and have graphics laid in them.    The flowtec paddles don’t give off carbon splinters like the cut carbon blades that you can buy from Lightning, Werner, etc..  and are more durable.   I like the Chlorophyl blades the best for ones that you can buy and love my custom Jackson logo ones that I had made for some of the Team.

Chlorophyl Blades


I used AT paddles for many years- specifically the AT2.   This was a great paddle and still is.  The durability has been all over the map as it has been through many management changes, however.    It is still a good design.  The Werner bent shaft paddles are also good paddles, but the bend isn’t enough for me, personally to want to use them.


Most of you may well know who I am and I don’t need an introduction.  If you are just learning to kayak and want to get a better feel for the reviewer my son-in-law, Nick Troutman, made this “short history of EJ” video to check out:


I hope you find this “What EJ Uses and Why” article helpful.    There are many other little things I could review- if you have anything specific you want to see, email me at ejackson@

jacksonkayak  dot com.


See you on the River!



EJ at take out of Ottawa after a day of teaching