Essential Gear

Outside magazine, Travel Guide 1997-1998

Essential Gear

Have you ever driven a memorable rental car? Generic sedans are okay for poking around a strange city, but they rarely qualify as your dream vehicle, and are often a bit frayed around the edges. Rental outdoor gear is much the same. Shops that rent kayaks, bikes, and dive gear look for cheap durability first; in most cases performance and up-to-date features just aren't on the list. Why not take your own stuff? It's easier than you think.
By Jonathan Hanson

A folding sea kayak emerges in pieces from one or two duffel bags — which check on any airline as excess baggage — and assembles into an expedition-ready craft in 30 minutes. How expedition-ready? Folding kayaks have crossed the Atlantic Ocean and rounded Cape Horn. Feathercraft makes the most technologically advanced folders, with aluminum frames and Cordura/Hypalon skins. The K1 Expedition ($3,780) mimics the dimensions and feel of much-less-portable hardshell kayaks. Unique to folding kayaks, front and rear hatches ease access to your gear. The Klepper Aerius 1 ($3,400), with its wood frame and cotton canvas deck, is as old-fashioned as the Feathercraft is modern. Traditional materials don't imply outdated capabilities, however — those two feats of seamanship mentioned above were both accomplished in Kleppers. Arch-rival to the German Klepper is the French Nautiraid ($1,250-$2,950), another wood-frame design. Complement your folding kayak with a four-piece Little Dipper or Camano sea-touring paddle ($291-$464) from Werner, which will fit right in the duffel with the boat. Aqua-Bound Technology also makes fine paddles in four-piece versions ($99-$230). A good water shoe to bring along for boating is the Hi-Tec Piranha ($50); it's lightweight and fast-drying with a Durabuc synthetic-leather upper, a neoprene tongue, and an open mesh toe for better drainage.

If you own a hardshell sea kayak, and are driving to your launch site, check out Yakima's new HullyRollers kayak saddles ($110 per set with straps). Pivoting urethane wheels make it easy to roll your boat up onto the roof — even onto tall sport-utility vehicles. The wheels then lock to form a rigid, supportive cradle.

Not impressed with a sea kayak that fits in a duffel bag? How about a bicycle that you can travel with as carry-on luggage? The Brompton T5 ($962) is a cunning English-built machine that folds to a compact 23 inches square by 10 inches wide. Drop the pretzelized 26-pound package into its nylon cover and stash it in the overhead bin. The five-speed Brompton even sports a simple rear suspension. I also like the Bike Friday New World Tourist ($995), which checks as a suitcase and includes water-bottle cages as standard equipment. Bike Friday also makes an off-road model. If you like the idea of a folding bike, but not the appearance, check out the Montague Urban ($900). With full-size, 26-inch wheels and a traditional diamond-shaped frame, it won't collapse as compactly as the Brompton, but it looks and rides just like a regular bike.

If you'd rather bring your favorite bike but are terrified of trusting it to the airlines, ship it in the Trico Sports Iron Case ($299). No, it's not really iron, but it is virtually crush-proof, and the disassembled bicycle (road or mountain) is held utterly immobile by layers of thick foam. So go ahead — pack up your titanium-framed wonderbike, and then scrawl inflammatory remarks about baggage handlers on the outside of the case.
For transporting bikes by car, there are two good ways to go. If you prefer the out-of-the-way-on-the-roof approach, the Thule Aero Foot 400 rack ($177 for the complete system) has mounts available to fit practically any vehicle you could name, and the Thule Ultimate upright carrier ($100) doesn't require wheel removal to carry the bike. The easy-access approach is a hitch-mounted rack, such as the DraftMaster DM-4 ($399), which carries up to four bikes right off the back of your sport-ute.

For helmets, sleeping bags, tents, paddles — just about anything else you might need to transport — take a look at what is likely the best roof-rack trunk on the market, the Packasport ($645-$925). Available in many sizes and custom colors, the Packasport is reinforced with aluminum and Coremat foam, uses all stainless-steel hardware, and opens from the rear for three-sided access.

You can rent dive gear in virtually any reefside resort in the world. But do you really want to use a chewed-up mouthpiece, or a mask 100 other people have cleared their noses in? Make sure your underwater view is memorable with the Mares ESA ($129-$139), the first six-window dive mask in the world. I also admire the SeaQuest Tetra ($78), with its side-mounted purge valve for easier clearing.

Fin technology is steadily duck-marching onward. The asymmetric blades of the Tusa Cetus by Tabata USA ($79) may look crooked, but they produce a perfectly flat down-kick stroke that increases power and reduces fatigue.

A snorkel is pretty much a snorkel (even when they cost nearly $35). But I like SeaQuest's Sidedraft ($33), which has an extra-large reservoir to keep residual water out of the way. A choice of mouthpiece sizes guarantees comfort.

Until now, the first stages of all two-stage regulators were made from chrome-plated brass — durable, corrosion-free, but heavy. Scubapro's new MK20 Ultralight ($342) is constructed instead from a special aluminum alloy with a hard, ceramic-like finish. It's half the weight of conventional first stages. The G500 second stage ($300) is a good match — it's 15 percent smaller than other Scubapro regulators, yet retains full features. Not as lightweight as the Scubapro, but just as advanced, is the Mares Ruby ($799), which uses a synthetic ruby in the first stage poppet valve to insure lifetime performance.

Buoyancy compensators keep getting more comfortable, and one of the best is the SeaQuest Balance ($480), which employs a triangular load-distribution system that would do credit to an internal-frame backpack. Swiveling buckles allow the shoulder straps to settle to the best angle, and plush padding cushions the load.

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