by Ben Natusch
Everyone has a few favorite pieces of gear that they trust to keep them safe or to make the day more enjoyable. When paddling technical creeks that are close to your ability level it is important to use gear that you can trust. Here are the boats, paddle, skirt, helmet and PFD that I trust to keep me safe on the creeks and to help maximize the fun level.
Liquid Logic Stomper 90 and Wavesport Recon 93
These have been my two favorite creek boats from the past few years. I have spent many days in each of these boats and really love the way they paddle. They both have a lot of rocker that helps them climb up and over holes, rocks and anything else that gets in your way. They have fairly fast hulls and both boats are very predictable and easy to keep on line. They both have comfortable outfitting and plenty of storage. The cockpit area on both boats is well thought out and provides easy places to stash a water bottle and a throwbag for immediate access. Both of these boats fit my paddling style well and have given me the confidence to run some of the hardest rapids I’ve ever run.
Adventure Technology AT2SL (Super Light)
I have been paddling with AT paddles for many years. They have been my go to paddle for everything from river running and playboating to pushing my limits on the creeks. I really like AT2 paddles. They are balanced really well, feel great in the water, and are a great all around paddle. My favorite part about the AT2 paddles is the way they feel in the hand. AT uses a bent shaft with a big oval grip that fits my hand perfectly. Over the years, I have paddled with the AT2 Standard, the AT2 Flexi and the AT2 Super Light. The AT2SL is my favorite of the three and the paddle that I have been using for the past few seasons. It is the lightest of the three and falls between the other two in stiffness. It is stiff enough that you can get plenty of power on a stroke when you needed and the paddle feels solid. It also has enough flex to provide a little cushion and to protect your body from repetitive injuries, especially early in the season when paddling muscles are just starting to get back in shape. I prefer to paddle with a 194cm paddle with a 15 degree offset. The 194cm is long enough to give me some power on my strokes but short enough to get a fast cadence for playboating. The 15 degree offset helps moves feel the same on both sides without starting to feel like a left hand control paddle.
Snapdragon Whitewater EXP Armortex Reinforced Spray Skirt
The Snapdragon Whitewater EXP Armortex Reinforced spray skirt is the model that I have been using for the last several years. While this skirt is not the easiest model to put on, it has never imploded on me. Once this skirt is on the boat, I can trust that it is going to stay there until I remove it. It is not hard to remove for a wet exit when necessary but never comes off prematurely. The skirt does a great job of keeping water out of the boat and is very durable. The Armortex deck is incredibly durable and the edges are reinforced to protect from wear caused by the paddle shaft hitting the edge of the skirt. I’ve been using this skirt for several years now and have been very impressed with it.
Sweet Protection Rocker Fullface Helmet
I’ve been really impressed with Sweet Protection helmets for a long time. While I normally use a Strutter for river running, playboating and teaching, I prefer something with a little more coverage for creeking. The Rocker Fullface gives me that extra coverage. This helmet fits me really well, stays in place, and provides protection I can trust.
Stohlquist Descent Rescue PFD
I started wearing the Stohlquist Descent a few seasons ago. It fits me really well and is comfortable to wear during long days of paddling. It really stays out of the way when paddling and it is easy to forget you are wearing it. The vest stays in place when swimming or being lowered on a rope. It has some convenient pockets. In the front pocket of my vest, I keep 2 caribiners, 2 prussic loops, a pulley, a small bag containing gloves and a cpr shield, a snack or two, and a knife. There is a stretch mesh pocket on the front where I often keep a camera. I outfit the rescue harness with a Stohlquist Retract cowtail. The bungee keeps the cowtail out of the way until I need it and allows me to quickly clip it back out of the way when I’m done so I don’t have a cord dangling in the water looking to wrap around my body or paddle or to get snagged on something. I switch out the caribiner to a Black Diamond Magnetron Gridlock so that I have a locking caribiner that is quick and easy to open with either hand. Using a locking caribiner prevents it from accidentally clipping to something and reduces the chance of a rope getting unclipped.