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Posted by on December 7, 2012

In celebration of our Anniversary our staff would like to present to you our first annual Gear of the Year Awards! We had the opportunity to review dozens of amazing outdoor products over the course of the year thanks in large part to our great sponsors. These awards represent the most exciting, innovative, and utterly mind-blowing paddling gear that we were able to get our hands on! Without further ado, here is the “Gear of the Year”:


Kayak of the Year:

Current Design Vision 120SP

The 2012 Current Design Vision 120SP is one of the most exciting light-touring kayaks to come through the shop in recent years! This kayak is quick, steady, and highly maneuverable with solid secondary stability that makes lean-turns and edging a dream. The outfitting is fantastic with a comfortable seat, padded thigh braces and ample deck rigging. The fore and aft hatches can easily store a weekend’s worth of camping gear and having both bulkheads is a rare feature on a 12-foot-long kayak. We also continue to be impressed with the superb craftsmanship of the Vision line. The Vision 120 SP is constructed using a hybrid (fiberglass-aramid) layup that weighs in at an astounding 32lbs. This is a good 10lbs lighter than almost any other 12ft kayak on the market and helps to make car-topping and shoulder carrying a breeze!  This combination of exceptional performance in a lightweight layup should put the Vision 120 SP high on the list of the smaller paddler looking to get into a kayak that can be easily managed both on and off the water!

Full Review of the Current Design Vision 120SP

Paddle of the Year:

Bending Branches Navigator

The Navigator by Bending Branches is a beautifully crafted wood paddle which is guaranteed to impress on both looks and on-water performance. It’s constructed from the highly-durable and aesthetically pleasing black willow with elongated touring blades that have an incredible purchase and fluidity on the water. We found that the Navigator provided a clean, silent, and buttery smooth entry-and-exit with each paddle stroke. The Navigator has a light swing-weight which prevents fatigue and causes little stress on your arms and shoulders. This paddle is highly recommended for a paddler looking for a touring paddle with an aggressive purchase without straining your shoulders.

Full Review of the Bending Branches Navigator Paddle


Kayaking Apparel of the Year:

Astral Seawolf PFD

New for 2012, the Astral Buoyancy Seawolf PFD represents the cutting edge of lifejacket function and style. The Seawolf may be the most comfortable PFD that I’ve ever donned thanks to the “tectonic” construction which provides for a completely unrestricted paddling motion. The thing that blows me away most is its feather-light weight; after wearing it for a few minutes you’ll forget that you have it on! The Seawolf sports many useful accessory features including a large “clam-shell” pocket, reflective accents, and tow-belt compatibility but it’s missing a dedicated knife lash point. I really loved the idea of the fleece “hand-warmer” but found that it was a little too small to fully cover my hands. Finally, the fashion appeal of the Seawolf (especially the Black/Black) earns it added style points!

Full Review of the Astral Sea Wolf PFD


Kayaking Accessory of the Year:

Seattle Sports Super Deluxe Bilge Pump

The Seattle Sports Super Deluxe bilge pump, with its neon float and see-through body, is definitely one of the coolest-looking kayak pumps on the market! This pump has a super smooth pumping action and I really like the feel and grip provided by the over-molded rubber handle. The pump sports an over-sized aluminum shaft that seems sturdy enough to take the abuse associated with fervent bailing and an impromptu water fight. Furthermore, the clear pump body is unique to this model and allows you to watch the internals of the pump in action. I’m not yet prepared to comment on the long-term durability of this pump but Seattle Sports is an excellent company that warranties the materials and workmanship of their products for a period of 1 year.

Full Review of the Seattle Sports Super Deluxe Bilge Pump


Kayak Camping Gear of the Year:

Biolite Campstove

The BioLite Camp Stove is unlike anything else I’ve ever seen in a backpacking stove! For starters, this stove doesn’t use traditional canister or liquid gas fuels. Simply fill the chamber with twigs and light them up like a small camp fire! The stove’s unique thermo-electric technology converts heat from the fire into electricity that powers a fan to make the fire burn more efficiently. Excess power from the generator supplies a USB port which can be used to charge small electronics while the stove is running! It packs down to the size of a 1L Nalgene bottle and weighs in at just over 2lbs which is substantially equivalent to many traditional backpackers’ stoves when one considers that fuel for this stove can be obtained en route. Kayak campers will especially appreciate this “portable campfire” and can look forward to leaving their old stove, solar charger, and fuel bottles behind on their next trip!

Full Review of the Biolite Campstove


Therm-a-rest Alpine Down Blanket

The Therm-a-rest Alpine Down Blanket is an ultralight, down-filled comforter rated to keep you warm in temperatures down to 35F and bring the “… comfort of home deep into the backcountry”. This blanket is filled with box-baffled, 700-fill goose down which helps to make it exceptionally light (1lb 5oz), highly compressible, and toasty warm. The best part about the Alpine Down Blanket is that there are so many ways to integrate it into your backcountry sleeping arrangements. The elasticized foot box, long side baffles, and perimeter snaps allow you to integrate it with most Therm-a-Rest mattress pads. However, I really enjoy curling up with the Alpine Down Blanket in my hammock. It’s amazing how much more comfortable it is to sleep in a hammock with a blanket like this than in a sleeping bag!

Full Review of the Therm-a-rest Alpine Down Blanket


Thus concludes our 2012 Gear of the Year Awards! Hopefully next year we’ll be in the position to hand out some sort of physical award (I’ve always wanted to hand out medals) but I hope that the stamp of approval will suffice for now! We’re always looking for exciting and innovate outdoor gear to test out and review for our readers so if you have any ideas feel free to send them our way!

Happy Gear Shopping!

-Kayak Dave


Note: Not all of the items are new to 2012 but we deemed that they were worthy as “new discoveries” to our staff this year.

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