7 gifts for the kayaker who has (almost) everything

Having trouble thinking of creative Christmas gift ideas for the kayaker in your life?

We’ve put together a list of seven interesting, unique, where-in-the-world-did-you-find-this gifts that every kayaker will love.  Some are cheap, some are pricey, but they’d all be a fun addition to your kayaker’s arsenal.

All of these items can be purchased online, most of them at our two favorite kayak stores – Austin Kayak and REI.

1) Greatland Laser Rescue Laser Flare – $109.95

The Greatland Laser Rescue Laser Flare from REI

The Greatland Laser Rescue Laser Flare from REI

Safety first, right?  Well, this is unquestionably a safety device.  But it’s also a high-powered laser, which makes it so much cooler than other safety equipment.  Flares, Glo-sticks and whistles all have their place, but when it comes to being rescued in style, you can’t go wrong with a laser.

Completely waterproof, the laser can be seen from over 20 miles away. It’ll also drive your dog crazy.

Buy this for the kayaker in your life and, even if they don’t trust it as their main emergency device, they’ve still got an awesome laser to play with.  A classic win-win.

2) Topeak iPhone Dry Bag – $29.95

The Topeak iPhone Dry Bag

The Topeak iPhone Dry Bag

One of the great dilemmas of the past decade – as we’ve watched cellphones become more important and more expensive – is what to do with them when you’re kayaking.  It’s always a good idea to have a phone with you, but at $700 for a new smartphone, who can afford to risk it?

You can always throw it in the bottom of your dry bag and hope it doesn’t get crushed or soaked, or you can double bag in Ziplocs and watch as it overheats.

Or you can buy the Topeak iPhone Dry Bag, which allows you to view and use your phone while it’s in a waterproof case.  You can even use your rear-facing camera with the case on.

For 30 bucks, it’s cheap insurance for an expensive investment.  And if you need to use your phone while on the ‘yak, you can do so without fear.

3) The Oru (Oragami) Kayak – $800

Perhaps opening up the sport of kayaking to apartment-dwellers worldwide, the Oru Kayak is a plastic, folding, origami-ish kayak that’s lightweight and extremely portable.

They’ve raised over $350,000 dollars for this project on Kickstarter and early reviewers are thrilled with the product.

It’s a full 12 feet, watertight, durable and comes with a warranty.  I’ve watched the video several times and still can’t quite figure out all the folding involved, but it doesn’t look any more complicated than my inflatable.

4) Brunton Solaris 4 USB Solar Panel – $199

You can file this one in the category Completely Unnecessary but still Totally Awesome.  It’s a portable, waterproof solar panel made by Brunton with built in USB ports.  Advertised for kayakers, hikers and especially campers, this mini power station is ready on a (sunny) moment’s notice to charge your phone, camera or GPS device.

Burton Solaris 4 USB Solar Panel

Burton Solaris 4 USB Solar Panel from Austin Kayak

The panel folds up to fit into a small space or backpack, and as long as you have your USB charging cables, you have virtually unlimited power for your gadgets – until nightfall, of course (then you better hope you have your laser).

If you like multi-day paddling trips, this may be a good purchase.  Use your cameras during the day, charge them up from your campsite at night and set out the next day with a full charge.

5) Hobie Island Conversion Kit – $1,809

Hobie Adventure Island Conversion Kit

The Hobie Adventure Island Conversion Kit from KO Sailing

At over $1,800, this gift idea is for the high-net-worth readers only.  If you have a 2007 or newer Hobie adventure kayak, and there are lots of used ones out there if you want one, this conversion kit allows you to turn your kayak into a small but stable sailboat.

Hobie Kayaks already have the inserts molded into the hull, so adding the sail and the outrigger hulls is fairly easy.  The sail is big enough to generate some serious movement but small enough to remain maneuverable while seated in the kayak.

The outrigger hulls are retractable, allowing you to pull them in tight when you are ready to dock or if you want to switch back to paddle-power, and a twist and stow rudder is included as well.

If you’ve got some money and an interest in sail-yaking, give this kit a shot.

6) Wildcat Light System with Bug Lights – $139

Wildcat Light System with Bug Lights

Wildcat Light System with Bug Lights from Austin Kayak

This kit comes with two sets of kayak lights: A green set designed to attract fish to your kayak, and an amber set to keep mosquitos away.

Sounds like a cool idea for kayak anglers, if it works.  But even if it doesn’t, it’s a great way to dress your kayak up for the Christmas season.

The lights are waterproof and come with all of the necessary assembly hardware.  The green lights, according to Wildcat, have a frequency that was specially calibrated to penetrate deep into the water.  The frequency of the amber light is designed to discourage mosquitos and other bugs from getting too close.  And again, they look awesome.

7) YakAttack ParkNPole Stakeout Pole – $75

YakAttack ParkNPole Stakeout Pole from Austin Kayak

YakAttack ParkNPole Stakeout Pole from Austin Kayak

This gift is perhaps the most practical one on the list – an 8-foot stakeout pole.

This pole is light and long and can be used for more than keeping your kayak in place.  Flip the pole over and use the handle as a foot for pushing off in shallow water.

Stakeout poles are a must for anyone interested in kayak fishing, snorkeling or photography.  This one would also make for a great extension for a GoPro camera.

The benefit of this pole over others is that it floats, it has a solid, fiberglass construction and is thin enough to fit on the kayak without cutting into your seating space (unlike some PVC stakeout poles).

How to set up a geocaching travel bug in 7 easy steps

Geocaching, if you’ve never tried it, is a fun addition to a day of outdoor adventuring.  It’s sort of like a treasure hunt, except instead of maps there are GPS coordinates, and instead of treasure there is, well, personal satisfaction.

In a nutshell, geocachers seek out small boxes of goodies that have been hidden by other cachers all over the world.  If you’ve never played, you’ve probably never noticed – but they are there, everywhere.  There are little boxes hidden in trees in the mall parking lot, under the log in that park where you walk your dog, at the beach where you went last weekend.  And you didn’t see them.  That’s by design.  One of the central conceits of geocaching is that it’s not supposed to be seen – the caches should be hidden out of sight, and cachers on the hunt stay out of sight of non-players.  (If they get spotted, weird things happen.)

Armed with a GPS device or smart phone, cachers find the area, then dig around for the cache.  It’s fun.  You should try it.

Dropping a travel bug in a geocache

Dropping off a travel bug in a north Florida geocache.

One optional component of geocaching is the “travel bug.”  Travel bugs are trackable items that you can hide in a cache.  Other cachers will pick up your travel bug and move it to another cache, then it will get moved again, and again, again, again.  The whole time, your travel bug is tracked online, so you can watch it as it criss-crosses the country and, potentially, the world.

Setting up a travel bug is easy, cheap and an interesting add-in to the geocaching game.  I set up a travel bug with the URL to this site, and I’ll be tracking it as it makes it’s way to the Pacific Ocean (that’s the mission, but more on that later).

If you’ve thought about launching your own travel bug, here’s the process in seven simple steps.

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6 essential tips for starting out with a GoPro Hero2

“I wish that I knew what I know now, when I was younger.” Four months younger.

Four months into life with the GoPro Hero2, there’s a bunch of things I wish I knew when I started.  Overall, I love the camera – it’s lightweight, waterproof, good quality and a great value.  But I’ve lost some good video because of stupid mistakes, and I’m hoping by imparting some of this hard-earned wisdom on other GoPro enthusiasts, I can save them some trouble.

If you have any additional tips, I’d love to hear ’em.

1) It’s a really wide angle lens

The obvious hurdle with the stock version of the GoPro Hero 2 is the lack of a screen on which to view the video you’ve just captured.  There are plenty of reasons why the GoPro doesn’t have one, and it really doesn’t need one.  But if you’re used to any other camera on the market, it’s a bit of an adjustment to move to a camera without any sort of viewfinder.

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Review of Baja Dry Sack from SealLine

Keeping things dry on a kayak is no easy task.

For a long time, I used a very small, quasi-waterproof box to protect a few valuables – my phone, my wallet and a key to my car.  The dry box prevented things from getting soaked, but at the end of a day on the water, everything inside was, at best, moist.

I’ve been poking around for a while, looking for something that I could trust to protect my ever-expanding set of techie stuff with which I kayak.

I had three criteria:

1. Fairly cheap (no $150 waterproof duffles)

2. Big enough to hold an SLR camera, a cellphone, snacks and some extra clothing

3. It needs to float and be really, truly waterproof

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5 best FREE iPhone apps for hikers

When Apple first released the iPhone, they ran an ad campaign that promised, “There’s an app for that.”  That was an iffy statement back then, but today, there’s not just one app for that, there’s dozens.

So let’s cut through some of the muck.  I’ve listed five free apps that I use regularly on the trails.  I’ve tried many others, but these are five that have survived every app purge of the past few years.

I’d love to discover more, though.  So if you have apps that you use that you think I should try, leave them in the comment section!

1. AllTrails

There are a ton of trail-finder apps on the market, and they all do different things well.  I’ve tried most of them, and AllTrails offers the best selection of nearby trails and is, without question, the easiest app to navigate.

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