Gear Guy

Ocean Kayak Prowler 13     Photo: courtesy, L.L. Bean

Q:

Which kayak works best for a mature (55+) outdoorsman?

What kayak would you recommend for an older guy who has lower-back problems? Also, any suggestions on resources for people over 55 who still want to stay active? John Sherborn, Massachusetts

A:You don’t specify what kind of back problems, John, so I’ll have to wing it a little. But I take it that in general you’re not comfortable sitting in confined positions, or when you can’t move around much. Kayaks pose some challenges here, as they tend to be a little on the cramped side (which is desirable, as a snug fit helps you control the boat), and they force you into a sort of legs-straight-out position.

Still, there are some options. One is to get a sit-on-top kayak. These have the obvious advantage of a roomy, spacious sitting area—literally, you sit on top of the kayak (well, in a small depression, but not in an enclosed cockpit). That makes the boat easy to get into and out of, and offers a much less confining sitting area. You can shift around more and hopefully be more comfortable. A good example of such a boat is the Ocean Kayak Prowler 13 ($769; www.oceankayak.com). It’s a good-sized boat—13 feet in length—so it’s big enough for a long day trip, with room for extras such as lunch, clothing, and a camera. It comes with a backrest, of course, but for $65 you can add an Ocean Kayak Comfort Pro backrest that’s taller and offers more support. Might be a useful option for you.

You might also look at some of the “sit inside" kayaks that have oversized cockpits, again because I think having extra room will be advantageous. Dagger’s Echo 12 ($700; www.dagger.com) is such a boat—a comfortable, stable kayak that has an extra-roomy cockpit that’s easy to get into and out of and doesn’t feel like you just slid into a plastic tube. No optional seat with the Echo, but you should be able to find a comfortable position.

As for over-55 resources, I should think there’d be plenty in your area. From what I understand, the area around Sherborn (located 18 miles southwest of Boston) has all sorts of open spaces and hiking trails. There might well be a chapter of the Appalachian Mountain Club (www.outdoors.org) in your area. And, if so, they’re sure to organize regular hikes for a variety of fitness levels. I dunno how your back would hold up on a bicycle, but the same thing would apply. You could find a club (inquire at your local bike shop) and go from there. You might consider a recumbent bike, sort of the two-wheeled equivalent of a sit-on-top kayak, as they’re much easier on one’s back than a traditional bike.

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