The Old Sea Dog’s Gear Locker [40]

By Norm Sanders

Sooner or later in the career of an , ardent sea kayaker there is a temptation to participate in an overnight paddle, camping on a remote beach. The OSD is of the firm opinion that it is well to embrace the temptation. His most enjoyable kayaking experiences were generated on extended trips. All well and good for those who come from a bushwalking background, you may say, but many sea kayakers have done only limited camping. The OSD has observed that many neophyte campers, whether kayak-borne or on foot, can have a miserable time due to lack of proper gear. Give them the right equipment and their level of happiness skyrockets.

So, what is proper gear? There are as many opinions as there are campers and books have been written on the subject. Here’s the OSD’s much abridged and admittedly biased list.

Probably the most important item is shelter. A simple fly (a lightweight tarp) is excellent in calm conditions where bugs are scarce. However, bugs are seldom scarce and some form of protection is almost always needed. Slightly more complicated than a fly is a Bivouac Bag, a waterproof cover for a sleeping bag which sometimes has a mosquito net arrangement over the head. Few sea kayakers use Bivvy Bags, preferring tents instead.

Because kayakers are by nature a contentious lot, they always sleep in solitary splendour, each to his or her own “2 person” tent. The only exception to this phenomenon was when the kindly and generous OSD shared his 3 person dome with the penurious student, Nick Gill, in times gone by.

Tents can cost a very big bundle, like $1800 for that Rolls Royce of portable comfort, the Bibler Torre. (Admittedly suited to much harsher conditions than the NSW coast can throw at camping kayakers.) A more practical model for paddlers is the Sierra Designs Clip Flashlight at $350. Several Club members favour the Salewa range of tents, which have similar price tags. However, there are many very serviceable cheap dome tents which cost less than $100. They are heavier than the expensive models, but this is not a great disadvantage for kayaking. One noticeable a difference is that the cheap tents have fibreglass poles, while the up-market models sport much lighter hi-tech aluminium alloy poles. Fibreglass poles are quite adequate.

Self supporting tents such as domes are the best for camping on sand where pegs have frustratingly little holding power. (Although special sand pegs are available.) The OSD just lashed out on a new REI Half Dome ($US 125) which he loves. He packs his tent in a dry bag and loads the poles into the kayak separately. This makes the package easier to slide through a hatch. There is a danger that separating out the poles might cause them to be left behind, an occurrence which plagues our editor.

Unless it is very warm indeed, some sort of sleeping bag is needed inside the tent. Down bags are best for sea kayaking, because of their low volume when packed. Synthetic-filled bags can be just as warm, have the advantage of retaining performance when wet, and are cheaper. Unfortunately, they are bulkier.

Temperatures can dip below freezing on the coast in winter, so a good bag is a must. (The OSD and his mates once encountered minus 6 degrees while camping at Dalmeny.) Mummy type bags are warmest for their weight, but the OSD prefers a rectangular bag which can open out when the weather warms up.

A good down bag can cost from about $350 to $800. (The $800 bag would be far too warm for most uses.) However, a keen eyed shopper can sometimes score a much better deal. One club member found a Mont down bag in an Op Shop for $5. The OSD himself just bought along Mamut (Austrian) down bag for $15 at a Cash Converters in Canberra. The down was a bit clumpy, so he sent it off to Remote Equipment in Melbourne (03 96702586) for rejuvenation. It came back all clean, shiny and fluffy with lOO grams of new down for a top up. Remote Equipment charged $115 for the work. They also repair tents, install zippers, and generally restore old gear to like new condition.

If you are really tough, you can sleep directly on the ground. How tough you’d need to be is best indicated by the fact that even Dave Winkworth avoids this activity and, like the rest of us uses a sleeping pad. The cheapest is the ubiquitous blue foam model. They don’t go flat, do the job, cost less than $20, but take up a lot of room. Most sea kayakers favour the Therm-a-Rest, a self inflating, foam filled air mattress made in the USA. The OSD himself has a three-quarter length Ultralight which rolls up into a tiny ball and weighs a mere 600 grams. He pads the area under his legs with an unfolded Crazy Creek chair after it has supported him around the Trangia in the evening. The Ultralight costs about $140 in Australia, which causes some to buy the much cheaper Spanish Artiach mat which sells for $90. The Artiach seems to work fine.

Next major item is something to heat food. A simple, traditional billy over a fire is fme if there is dry wood and time to get the fire going. However, fires are prohibited in some areas during the dry season and a stove is more convenient at any time. Some anti social kayakers use the deceptively named “WhisperLite” pressure stoves, but most adhere to the responsible, efficient Trangia metho stove which costs about $100. These stoves are easy to use, quiet, and come as a unit complete with a frying pan and two cooking/eating bowls. WhisperLite owners sneeringly point out that Trangias don’t work well at high altitudes, but, since most sea kayaking is done at sea level, this is a gross canard.

Trangias come in two sizes, but, beware, only the small size will fit through a round VCP hatch. Salesmen will try to sell beautiful, expensive fuel containers along with the stoves, but the OSD has successfully used 500 ml PET Coke bottles ever since his Sigg container corroded through and sprung a leak. While on the subject of containers, the OSD and many others use 1.5 or 2 litre PET bottles for carrying water. These bottles are cheap (free), obtained from any recycling bin, and can be col- lapsed to make more room when empty. Make sure to get mineral water bottles rather than cola bottles to eliminate un- wanted aftertaste. Aftertaste is also a problem with the other sea kayaking favourite, the cask wine bladder. (Pull off the plastic spout for filling.) The OSD HA TES the faint afterglow of stale wine, and has learned to wash it away with a swig of Fishkiller’s ubiquitous Lambrusco.

Wearing apparel can also fill a book. Mona, the OSD’s long suffering partner, often observes that “All you guys ever talk about is thennal underwear .” In a nutshell, the OSD uses poly thermals, Polartec fleece pullover and pants, and REI Elements breathable rainwear.

Tents, sleeping bags and clothing should all be stowed in dry bags. Even VCP hatches can leak if not pressed down firmly and most kayaks let water in somewhere. Bags not only keep gear dry, but can act as flotation if the kayak gets holed. Buying a bunch of commercial bags can get expensive. The inventive John Caldwell solved this problem several years ago by purchasing several pairs of vinyl rain pants. He cut off the legs and had them heat-sealed at one end. He loads in his gear, twists the end shut and then secures the bag with a loop of bungie cord.

The OSD was a little less imaginative and made his dry bags from waterproofed nylon, stitched on a sewing machine with the seams waterproofed with seam sealer. All dry bags, whether home made or purchased, should have small enough diameters to pass easily through hatches. Many US dry bags are made for Yank kayaks which have hatches suitable for loading the mandatory three burner Coleman stove.

Where do you get all this stuff! Outdoor stores are springing up everywhere. Paddy Pallin was the pioneer in the field. Also good are firms like Jurkiewicz (and Second Wind for pre-loved gear) in Canberra, Mountain Equipment, Patagonia, and Kathmandu. Watch for sales, and ask for a discount. (Try mentioning the NSWSKC. Sometimes it helps.)

For a real mind-blowing experience, go to Recreational Equipment Incorporated in the US has the biggest range of gear ANYWHERE. It is a co-operative which now turns over $US5OO million per year. Anyone can shop there, but members get a discount. In general, take the US price of an item, double it, and this will be the cost in Australian doJlars when it arrives (in five days!) The OSD, being truly OLD, joined REI in 1954 and has a very low membership number which causes great respect when he phones in an order.

Happy Camping!