Gear Up: All the right stuff for watersports

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine

Family Vacations Guide

Gear Up: All the right stuff for watersports

Some things are meant to be taken littorally: Part of putting together the perfect aquatic adventure is keeping the family safe, dry, and happily occupied. Here are our top choices in the latest water gear.


Watertight Travel

Waterproof Bags When schlepping a family's worth of gear, Seattle Sports's Rapids Waterproof Duffel ($139) is unparalleled. With its welded seams and waterproof zipper, it'll keep gear dry, even if it accidentally lands in the drink. Made of heavy-duty 18-ounce vinyl, with 5,460 cubic inches of interior space, this king-daddy water bag can hold long, bulky items like fins. For things you need in a hurry--food, drinks, diapers--Seattle Sports's Weatherproof Pockets make fine duffel sidekicks. Sizes range from 10" x 7" ($22) to 14" x 10" ($31). For small valuables, the Otter Box 3000 ($20) is a brightly colored 8" x 4" x 2" crushproof plastic container that's watertight to 100 feet.



Lotus Locean, Kokatat OutFIT Plus The law requires boaters to wear a personal flotation device (PFD). These three adult vests offer excellent flotation without the straitjacket feel: The Type III Lotus Locean ($114) has eight adjustment points for a snug fit and a side zipper for easy on, easy off. Kokatat's OutFIT Plus ($119) is another rough-water PFD, great for touring. A Type III approved by both the UL and the Coast Guard, it's made of tough 500-denier Cordura nylon. In addition to a front zipper and adjustable shoulder straps, this jacket's low-cut neck and deep armholes ensure comfortable security. For women, Kokatat's MsFit Vest ($100) has built-in contours and baffled seams, so it doesn't flatten the chest. Like the OutFIT Plus, this high-quality Type III has shoulder pads to cushion that kayak-carry and stretch-mesh side panels to ease mobility.

Kokatat WindStopper Nothing looks more miserable than a shivering, blue-lipped kid--or adult. Kokatat's new WindStopper long-sleeved top ($124) blocks out wind, dries quickly, and breathes. It has Velcro wrist closures, a bungee waistband, and zip-front pocket. For children, there's the Kokatat Youth Squirt short-sleeved top ($44) and pants ($45). Made of lightweight nylon taffeta with a urethane coating, both sport a bungee waistband and adjustable Lycra cuffs and collar.


Kids' PFDs

The U.S. Coast Guard divides PFDs into five categories, ranging from Type I, for offshore use in potentially hazardous sea conditions, to Type V, for special-use devices like boardsailing vests and inflatable collars. But the two classes a parent should consider for kids are the Type II "Near-Shore Buoyant Vest" and the Type III "Flotation Aid."

Kids' PFDs For a child who can't swim, like an infant or toddler, buy a Type II, which will turn unconscious wearers face up in the water. Geared to inland water, it usually has a collar to keep the child's head from being submerged. The Stearns Infant's Heads-Up ($26), for children less than 30 pounds, has a foam-filled rounded flotation collar, plus an adjustable belt, leg strap, zipper front enclosure, and grab strap. The foam is soft and pliable, and the fun pattern will make kids actually want to wear it. Stearns also makes a child's model in the same design and price for 30- to 50-pound kids.

If your brood tops 50 pounds, can swim, and won't be in hazardous water conditions, fit them with Type III PFDs, made much more comfortable without the neck collar. For children 50 to 90 pounds, consider the Lotus Half-Pint ($66) or Harmony Youth Wave ($46). The Half-Pint, with its tough 500-denier Cordura nylon shell, fits over the child's head like a vest and uses a side buckle to open and close. The Youth Wave zips up the side at an angle, for easy de-vesting. Extrasport's Silver Side Zip Junior ($66), for kids 70 to 90 pounds, also sports a side zip, plus a large zippered front pocket. Its seven adjustment points assure a close fit.

Stearns Youth Shorty Suit, Sea & Sea MX-5


Wetsuits and Footwear

For kids spending time in the water, Stearns's two-millimeter neoprene Youth Shorty Suit ($36; ages 10–17) traps in body heat. A back zipper makes it easy to put on, and a Velcro neck closure keeps water out. The similarly featured adult version ($48) comes in sizes small to XXLarge.

Nike Aqua Sock Classic Comfort is also high on the list when it comes to footwear. Five Ten's redesigned Water Tennie ($89) has an extra-sticky rubber rand and a clingy outsole. A polyurethane insert lends running shoe–style support. Nike's Aqua Sock Classic ($25) is more the traditional reef slipper, with a stretchy mesh top and a nonmarking rubber sole that grips wet surfaces.


Kids' Water Shoes

Until kids are born with fins, armoring them against the marine elements is a necessity. Whether they're stomping on broken shells or gripping the deck of grandpa's Sunfish, the right aquatic footwear really does make a difference.

Kids' Water Shoes Columbia's new Whidbey Youth Sandals ($25; youth sizes 13, 1–6) grip tighter and last longer, thanks to a channeled rubber cupsole. The Whidbeys have a quick-drying synthetic Nubuck upper and adjustable Velcro enclosures. Teva's new Spoiler Buckle sandal ($48; children's sizes 8–6) sports a waterproof suede upper. Soft interior nylon webbing prevents blisters, while a heel insert cushions landings.

Even toddlers can wear L.L. Bean's new Water Shoes ($19.50; toddler sizes 5–9, children's sizes 10–13 and 1–8), with a solid rubber grippy bottom and a protective mesh/foam upper. The similar Nike Baby Aqua Sock II ($22; children's sizes 2–10) has four-way stretch mesh, an EVA sock liner, and small lugs on the rubber soles. (Nike also makes the Aqua Sock II in sizes 10c–6y, $28.)

For larger sizes (10y to 6) and a stiffer upper, try Hi-Tec's Monsoon Jr. ($36) and Phoenix II ($40). Both are soled with sticky rubber and have a neoprene lining, center zip, and EVA sock liner. On top, the Monsoon is more Durabuck leather; the Phoenix, more mesh. But both are sturdy and grippy enough for climbing rocks and other slick surfaces.

Young river rafters and kayakers will appreciate the heavy-duty traction rubber outsole of NRS's Tread-3 Zippered Wetshoes ($26.50; adult sizes 2–3). The bootie-style shoes have a three-millimeter Dupont neoprene upper that extends up the calf, and toe and heel caps for extra protection.


Cool Stuff

Snorkeling gear gets kids into the water faster than you can say "Jacques Cousteau." U.S. Divers's Java Mask has a skirt designed for most six- to 12-year-old faces; its Tonga Snorkel's mouthpiece is also pintsized. The combo costs $17. Force Fin's Fab Force SK ($111) snorkeling fin will fit both adults and children. Weighing only 1.5 pounds, these fun-patterned flippers have a Lycra foot pocket and nonskid sole made from recycled tires. Swimmers can use the Force Fin Slim Fins ($100) at home for training, then pack them for vacation snorkeling.

Murrays Barz Sport Goggles For Kodak moments above and below the surface, Sea & Sea's new MX-5 ($190) will not disappoint. Housed inside a rugged polymer case, it's waterproof to 120 feet. Everything's automatic--focus, flash, and film advance--and an LCD window provides a low-battery warning and frame counter.

Sailing a fast cat or kayaking whitewater demands clear vision, and that means goggles. Murrays's Barz Sport Goggles ($100) allow you to customize fit for teens and adults. The goggles' antifog-coated, UV-inhibiting poly-carbonate lenses let them filter sunlight without steaming up. The yellow and amber poly-carbonate lenses of Costa Del Mar's Hydros ($109) are also polarized--a big plus when piercing sunlight hits the water's surface--and the thick nylon strap and sealed gaskets keep splashes out.

Don't let your kid go out on a boat without a distress signal. The Jet Scream Whistle ($7) by Survival, Inc., is a low-profile screamer designed to outshriek any other noise. Or for a higher-tech approach, the Motorola TalkAbout 280 SLK ($190) is a two-way, 14-channel radio with about a two-mile range. Its rechargeable battery lasts 12 hours. This model also rings when someone's trying to reach you--giving kids their own cell phone.  Michael Verdon

Photography by Clay Ellis and Douglas Merriam

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