4 Necessities for Kayak Navigation

Essential kayak navigation tools

Part 1 of 3 in our series on journeying

We’ve tried a lot of gear and found that most of it was just more useless stuff to carry around. Just a few basics are needed to get started, and here’s a short list of some must-have’s for kayak navigation:

  1. Compass
    This one’s kind of a no-brainer, but here’s the thing: a cheap one works just as well as a costly one for kayak navigation. They’re easy to lose, so why throw money into the water? We give enough sunglasses to Neptune already, he doesn’t need our compasses too. Pick up a small one that you can tie onto your PFD.
  2. String
    Any old string will do. Use this to plot a course from Point A to Point B underway, when you don’t have access to a parallel ruler. Really, kayakers go such short distances that you’ll never need a parallel ruler unless your name is Frieda.A string will work fine.
  3. Grease pencils
    You can’ have too many of these since they’re so easy to lose. Use a grease pencil to make notes on a waterproof

    Waterproof charts are best for kayak navigation

    Kayak charts have to be large-scale

    chart or on the deck of your boat. Buy them online or find them at Staples, Joann’s, or Michael’s.

  4. Charts
    There are lots of choices here. Pick up a Pocket Chart at your local boating store, buy a chart kit for your area and copy the pages you need as you need them, or download free charts from NOAA using a navigation software.(For those of you who are joining us for the Paddle Through Time navigation trip to False Cape, you’ll need NOAA Chart 12207). If you’re going to download free charts, consider picking up a laminator so you don’t end up with a useless, sodden mess on your deck.

Which nav tools do you find indispensable?

— Jay Gitomer

Brrr! How to enjoy the cold?

 Image credit:  Courtesy Kongsfjord International Scuba School

Image credit: Courtesy Kongsfjord International Scuba School

Check out this advice from a Arctic scuba diver. I would not want this guy’s job!

I do not have the mindset of that tough Norwegian diver. If I have to wear 15 lbs of clothing under my dry suit, I feel like I can’t move in my boat & I’m just uncomfortable.

What do you think about paddling in the winter? Can any amount of clothing make up for icy hands & chilly thighs?

— Jay Gitomer

Keeping Warm (& looking good), Pt. 9: Shopping Sources

It’s easy to walk into REI and drop a bundle on cute rashguards and such. But where the fun in that? Where is the challenge? There are better prices and a better selection in other departments. Women’s bike clothes are mostly suitable for paddling, and you can find cuter styles at better prices. Ditto for yoga clothes. So shop widely.

Here are a few links to places that have that sort of thing at good prices. For those who like to shop in person, don’t overlook the big box stores; Target and, yes, Walmart have some nice styles. And depending on your neighborhood, TJ Maxx, Marshall’s, and Burlington Coat Factory often have large activewear sections. Also, since we’re always on the highway going to one paddling adventure to another, we pass lots of activewear outlets. Build in shopping time to score some bargains on the road. This is easier to do if you’re driving with female paddling partners. Did I even need to type that?

6pm: www.6pm.com

Great prices. They carry Roxy, Columbia, North Face, and lots of other stuff. The sales are great.

Swim Outlet: swimoutlet.com

Some bargains. Great selection of all the cool women’s outdoor brands, including Roxy and Shebeest.

Activewear USA: http://www.activewearusa.com/

Click on the link to On Sale. The other prices aren’t great. The selection is good, though.



— Jay Gitomer

Keeping Warm and Safe, Pt. 8: Helmets

I bought my first helmet nearly 10 years ago and never gave much thought to it. I was at a symposium and was signed up for an intro to surf class and the class required a helmet. I went to the outfitter nearby and pulled a blue one off the shelf (my kayak was blue and I wanted to match). I pulled it over my head. It fit and I bought it. Fortunately, I got lucky. Unbeknownst to me, I bought a whitewater helmet that was well padded, comfortable, had ear covers, and provided complete head protection – a feature I really like.

So now that I know more about kayaking and paddling in surf and other rough water conditions, how would I go about selecting a helmet? In other words, what features are essential when selecting a helmet?

Basically, there are two types of helmets to choose from and three primary features you should consider.

The two main helmet types are – a full cut helmet 20150119_151420(my preference) where the head is fully covered-ears and temples, or the half cut helmet 52da51e3__SDHCDUOGW.LEFTwhich sits on top of the head and doesn’t cover the ears or temples. The latter tends to be more comfortable and looser fitting and from my point of view is much prettier. The former provides greater coverage and for us risk-averse Babes seems safer. Having said this however, I see half cut helmets being worn by white water paddlers and sea kayak surfers alike.

The three critical helmet features to consider regardless of helmet type are: the material of the outer shell; the interior lining or padding, and the strap system to keep it on your head. Let’s start with the outer shell.

At the time of my helmet purchase nearly 10 years ago, most of the helmets were made of a hard plastic. Today, you can get them in plastic, carbon, kevlar, carbon kevlar. You name it. And the styles and shapes are countless.

When selecting your helmet’s shell, think about where you will be paddling and from what you need to protect your head. Helmets made from carbon and Kevlar are the strongest and hardest material while plastic is less so.

While my uneducated purchase of a whitewater helmet years ago was a good choice in terms of head coverage, the outer shell is made of plastic, so it probably doesn’t afford me the best protection in severe conditions. Even though, it has served me well and I have had no problems (cracks, chips, etc.) and most importantly head injuries. However, as I have evolved as a paddler and find myself in more extreme conditions, I find myself in the market for a helmet with a stronger shell.

The second element of the helmet is the padding or liner. The lining is really important because if you have the unfortunate experience of actually banging your head (unpleasant to say the least) you want to make sure that the liner will absorb the shock and direct it away from your head to the shell. According to experts, there are two types of lining in a helmet – the foam that rests against the shell which is responsible for redirecting shock from any impact and the softer inner layer that touches your head.

When it comes to fit you want a helmet with a snug fit but not a tight fit. If it feels like it’s squeezing you, it’s too tight. If it feels like you can spin it, it’s too loose. A good fit is when the liner is slightly compressed with no space between your head and the foam.

The third element of the helmet is the strap system. In my experience this is just as important as the shell and lining. Make sure your straps fit nice and flat against the side of your face and that the buckle and adjustment system are easy to manipulate so it gives you a nice snug fit. Although, most buckles are made of plastic, make sure it is not the cheaper brittle kind of plastic that could easily break or over time become affected by use and not hold a clasp. I can tell you there is nothing more nerve wracking than to feel your helmet slip backwards off your head as you are about to take a wave or just as scary, feel that the buckle is not securely fastened.

Finally, there is another element that is frequently a consideration for us Babes. That is the fashion element, specifically – color and style. There are a multitude of companies out there now that offer all sorts of styles and colors. Some helmets even come with glitter. My latest favorite helmet company is Shred Ready: shredready.com. I like them not only because they offer a multitude of helmets types for kayakers – style and materials, including the very sexy Vixen a0c7830b__vx_fgreen_left– their version of a women’s helmet, but also because their products are of exceptional quality, they have a helpful fit guide and they have a range of prices which gives us Babes lots of options. And we all like options!

So do some exploring. See what’s out there. These tips should help you pick the right helmet for you!

— Kerry Pflugh

New Babes class at Paddlesport 2015!

Babes with Blades is excited to introduce a new class at Jersey Paddler Paddlesport 2015 this year! The class is called The Proper Paddler: Body Mechanics for Women, and it’s going to be packed with seriously useful stuff masquerading as silliness and fun.

In the short term, proper body mechanics impact your stability, balance, and comfort in your boat. In the long term, they’re important to the health of your spine and joints. This class will show you how  your body works holistically, and how one small change has a ripple effect throughout your body.

We’ll be sitting on the floor to experiment with different grips, positions, and postures, and you’ll be able to feel the positive effects immediately.

This is an active class in which you will be trying new things and moving around. It’s going to be a lot of fun, and you’ll leave with some new good habits that you can use the next time you get into your boat.

We know a lot of you are going to be at this popular event, & we hope to see you there!

Body mechanics class for women kayakers

Did you know that a tight grip on your paddle limits your torso mobility?

— Jay Gitomer

Keeping Warm, Pt. 7: Hats

So many hats… so much hat-head. Here’s a run-down on the hats that are out there and why you might choose one over the other. Plus, a short note on hair management.

The Classic Baseball Hat

It’s a winner. These hats are easily available and fairly cute. They seem to breed in the back of my car, but on the rare occasion that I can’t find one, they’re $3 at Walmart. Good for keeping the sun off your skin and out of your eyes, and okay for light rain protection.

The Foreign Legion Hat

sun_hatLike a baseball hat, but with light fabric hanging down to protect the neck and hair. I have two of these and I love them. They’re great for those hot, sunny days that reflect a lot of rays on the water. They’re not good for cooler rainy days, because they just get wet and stick to your neck in a clammy embrace. Brrr!

The Cowboy Hat

I love cowboy hats, and every time I’m in some rural convenience store and see a rack of cheap ones, I walk out the door with one on my head (yes, after paying for it). It soon ends up crushed under the mass of gear in the back of my kayak wagon because, even though they’re adorable and provide excellent sun protection, they’re not comfortable on the water. A little breeze grabs the brim and tugs it out of kilter or into the water. How did those cowboys do it? They must have glued them onto their heads.

Various Kayaker Hats

I lose hats, so I don’t buy the expensive kayak-specific types.

or_hatHowever, a lot of people like this Oregon Research style, and some of them even look good in it: http://www.outdoorresearch.com/en/or-gear/hats.html?cat=2184

And, of course, there is the ever-popular Tilley hat. They float, they’re crushable, they have a lifetime guarantee, they’re suitable for exploring the Amazon, and they come with a 4-page instruction manual. I dotilley want to explore the Amazon, but I never want to own a hat that needs an instruction manual. Life is complicated enough. But here’s a picture of one, in case you do want a hat that requires an instruction manual.

Protecting your hair from the sun and general hat-head drama

Every woman knows to keep the sun off her face, but women with longer hair also need to protect their hair. Ponytails break the strands, so tying it into a pony and sticking on top of your head under your hat isn’t great for it, either. My hair management practice is to stick it onto the back of my head in a French twist and secure it with some big U-shaped pins. I use bent DPNs—double-pointed knitting needles. They’re less than $3 for a pack of 5, they come in colors, and I don’t care if I lose them. Then I jam a hat over the whole shebang.

For post-paddling, who knows what the hair situation will be? It might look okay or it might look like hell. So I carry a few Buff headbands in my car. A headband will hide a lot of hair horror.

— Jay Gitomer

Keeping Warm, Pt. 6: Gloves

I’ve tried them all! So have many of you, based on the number of stray single gloves I see in the backs of your kayak wagons. However, I have found the answer, and today I’m going to share it with you.

I don’t like gloves; I find them uncomfortable. But I wear them all year round; in the winter, obviously, for warmth, and in the summer for sun and skin protection. However, I’ve found two products that work great for me, and I’m going to tell you why. I’m not particularly endorsing my choices (well, I am, but not for money—I haven’t gotten any free products to review,sadly), but maybe my explanation for why these things work will help you with your next purchase.

First, here’s what didn’t work for me.

Anything labeled KAYAKER GLOVES. Despite their gasp-inducing price tags, none of them kept me warm or allowed truly free use of my hands. I want to be able to feel the paddle, especially in surf when there’s a good chance I’ll be upside down and a little disoriented at some point. Why add any factor that can foster anxiety? The worst are those thick ones with the built-in curve to the fingers. You might as well be wearing a cast.

But for the usual paddle, it’s only warmth that matters, and none of the kayaker gloves kept my hands warm. In addition, they were generally uncomfortable. Lastly, they usually have neoprene in them, and those of you have been reading up till now know that I’m not a fan of neoprene. Particularly in gloves, because neoprene smells and I don’t want that on my hands. It’s just gross.

I do have one pair of kayaker-specific gloves that I wholly recommend. It is these:



I wear them all year, except when the water is really cold. I like them for sun protection and blister protection in the summer, and for a little warmth in mildly cold water. I have medium-sized hands and short fingers, and these fit me well. I suspect that a person with a differently-shaped hand might have problems with the edge of the half-fingers chafing or causing blisters, so a different brand or style might be better for someone else. However, the half-finger concept is great. I like that they give some protection without interfering with my ability to use my fingers.

In very cold weather, I’ve tried wearing dishwashing gloves over thin cloth gloves with my dry suit. What a terrible idea. The dish gloves did keep my hands dry, but they were extremely uncomfortable and, of course, they did nothing to help with warmth. Plus, ugly.

So what does work? I’m a huge fan of these gloves:

2014-12-29 12.35.35


Serius All-Weather Gloves, men’s. These are great. First of all, they’re warm. Second, they are surprisingly comfortable. Third, they have a little clip to keep them together, so it’s hard to lose them. I’m a chronic glove-loser, but I’ve had my Serius for about three years now. They’ve held up well; the Serius graphic is coming off and they’re getting a little worn around the seams, but they’re still perfectly functional. You may have noticed that I specified the men’s size; the men’s and women’s are the same glove, but I don’t know what women the women’s sizes are meant to fit. Pygmies, apparently. They are tiny. Tiny! I couldn’t even get the ladies’ small onto my hands. It was like the OJ trial all over again. The men’s medium is a good fit—not too tight, not too loose. I had a man-hands complex about that for a while, but I’m over it now.

— Jay Gitomer

Keeping Warm, Pt. 5: Dry Gear

There are lots of blogs about dry suits, so I won’t go into the details of tunnel vs. no-tunnel or neoprene vs. latex seals. I’m just going to focus on women-specific aspects of choosing dry gear.


First, the relief zipper. Yes, it’s the first question we all ask: how will we pee? I’m going to write a whole post about that later, (but it’s a worthy topic!), but for now, just know that you will not enjoy having to unzip and rezip regardless of whether you choose the front or the rear zipper. This is a matter for outrage. More on that later.


When I bought my first dry suit, I really wanted it to look decent when I wore it. What a fool I was. Err on the side of caution and buy a bigger suit than you think you need. Not massively huge, but enough to allow for the occasional weight swing and to give you lots of room to layer on clothes underneath it.

If you’re top-heavy, take a look at the men’s sizes. Compare the measurement charts and you’ll see that women’s dry suits are vastly larger in the hips than the bust. That might not be the way you’re shaped, so keep an open mind and buy the size that is shaped most like you.


Do spring for a model with Goretex socks. If your body is dry but your feet are wet, you will be cold. I layer thick wool socks under the Goretex socks and my feet stay warm in the coldest water.

Dry Tops & Dry Pants

You might not want or need to lay out the considerable amount of lettuce required to buy a dry suit. Before I bought a dry suit, I picked up a dry top and a pair of dry pants. It was cheaper, and it seemed like a good alternative. It wasn’t.

You’re supposed to roll the pants and top together at the waist. I don’t know who that works for, but it didn’t work for me. They never stayed rolled together. When I swam, I got wet. So I was uncomfortable until I swam, and then I was cold and uncomfortable.

But dry tops are a handy piece of gear to have. I use mine in conjunction with neoprene leggings on days when the water is cold and I might go over, but I expect to be rescued quickly if I can’t reboat by myself. So that would be a day when I’m with a group of people I trust to be able to help me, and also if the shore is very close, and/or it’s cold but not that cold.

Used dry tops are available pretty frequently. Check the local white water boards; I got mine for almost nothing, and it’s top quality and was barely worn when I bought it. It’s great for the conditions I described above, and I also use it on rainy days that are a little too cool for my paddling jacket.

Dry pants, well, I have a pair and I’m not a fan. This is a piece of gear that is useless when you’re in your boat and doesn’t work that great when you’re in the water. Plus, they’re not comfortable. So that’s a big lose on all counts. If you’re still thinking that dry pants might work well for you, try to borrow a pair for a day on the water before you commit the cash. And if you’re still interested, try to find a pair with Goretex socks built in. Dry pants without dry socks are pretty useless because if your feet are cold, you’ll be cold all over. I’d recommend putting your money toward a dry suit or at least a dry top and a pair of very thick neoprene leggings from the start.dr

— Jay Gitomer

Keeping Warm, Pt. 4: Outer Layers

No base layer will keep you warm on a windy day. Protection from the wind is the key to staying warm, winter or summer.

Lots of people wear neoprene Farmer Janes. I don’t find them warm at all, not on their own. To me, neoprene is the worst of both worlds; it doesn’t let your skin breathe, and it’s cold when the wind hits it. Since it’s worn close to the skin, you’re wet the entire time it’s on your body. Neoprene is good for divers because it traps a thin layer of water against the body; that layer of water warms up one time and then stays there. But paddlers aren’t underwater, or at least we’re not underwater very long. So I don’t see the point of wearing it in a kayak. Plus, it’s a pain to store and keep fresh. All that said, I do have neoprene leggings, and those are great because my legs are not exposed to the wind.

My favorite piece of outerwear is a paddler’s jacket from LL Bean. This jacket is basically plastic, so it keeps the wind off and sheds water. It has a zipper at the neck and Velcro tighteners at the wrist that re a big help in controlling body temperature. I keep it behind my seat in the boat so I can put it on quickly if I need it. It’s seen a lot of wear in the four years I’ve had it, and if it ever falls apart, I’ll buy another just like it.

In addition to the usual emergency clothing bag in my hatch, I also carry a dry bag with a large, warm Goretex coat, as well as a stocking hat, scarf, and knit gloves, and place it right on top of my other gear for easy access. If you’re like me and you get cold easily, pack something similar and put it on as soon you stop for any beach break. It’s easier to stay warm to re-warm yourself.

The jacket is a nice Columbia hand-me-down. The hat, scarf, and gloves are acrylic knit from Walmart—less than $2/item. I wanted acrylic because these things are not worn on the water, but they do spend months at a time in a dry bag soaking up hatch odors. Acrylic can go in the washer and dryer. Easy and cheap, and I don’t care if they get lost.

— Jay Gitomer

Keeping Warm, Pt. 3: Mid-Layers

I just layer on base layers, so I really don’t use mid-layers too much. Using base layers is the easiest, cheapest, and most comfortable way for me to stay warm. It has to be really cold for me to put on a mid-layer, and that means that a dry suit will go over all of it.

My favorite mid-layers are wool sweaters. I get them from Goodwill or raid the closets of my relatives. I like them because they’re comfortable, cheap, and I don’t care if they get ruined. Are you seeing a trend here? Sadly, the only cashmere I own is a holey old sweater from my great-aunt’s closet.

For the lower body, I have a pair of neoprene leggings that do the job. Yes, I know that I’ve already complained about neoprene, but in this case, it works well because it’s on a part of the body that isn’t exposed to the wind. They’re not much good on beach breaks, but since they’re not usually entirely wet, they do okay. Mine are Level 6 women’s from a white water shop. I find that white water shops are the best for getting advice on cold water gear; they’ve tried it all and can make good recommendations.

— Jay Gitomer

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