Pack Like A Pro: Making First Descents With Kayaker Benny Marr

Pack Like A Pro: Making First Descents With Kayaker Benny Marr

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(Photo Credit: Thomas Fahrun Photography)

Whitewater kayaking legend Benny Marr has more than 20 years of experience in the field. During that time, he has made epic first descents of rivers all over the world, taking on some of the gnarliest waters found anywhere on the planet. Now, he shares with us some insights into his favorite gear, his approach to packing, and the one jacket he takes on all of his adventures.

Gear Institute: Hi Benny! Tell us a bit about what you’ve been up to recently, and where you’re going next.

Benny Marr: I just returned from a first descent expedition in Papua New Guinea spending 12 days in a deep river gorge on the island of New Britain. Of 13 scouted gorges only a handful were run-able, we spent most of our time portaging the rest, often using a hammer drill to set anchors bolts to ascend out of and rappel into river level. It was a hell of a mission!

Next up is Northern BC and Alaska for more multi-day adventure, and later in the year I hope to find the ideal flow for a cascading waterfall in Quebec. Its not a first descent, but a drop I have always wanted to run.

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(Photo Credit: Ben Marr/GoPro Selfie)

GI: Amazing! Sounds like you have quite a full plate at the moment. When you head out on your adventures, what are some pieces of gear that you always take with you?

BM: I always carry a titanium spork no matter where I go. It is extremely light, fits in my lifejacket pocket, and makes meal time so pleasant. Using sticks gets really old. I also take MSR Deep Dish bowls for meals, as eating out of tuna cans gets really old too. For cooking, I generally take a JetBoil or MSR stove. Each is a dependable source of heat for preparing food and water purification, particularly on shorter trips were fuel doesn’t need to be budgeted. I also usually take tablets or a water pump for water purification purposes. Sometimes the water is clean enough to drink, other times it is just the opposite. Water can carry all sorts of nasties, dehydration on a long trip is a risk that needs to be mitigated.


GI: And what are some of your favorite pieces of gear from your sponsors?

BM: I really like my NRS Ultralite Wing. It’s a light tarp that packs small and is a great shelter in warmer conditions. But when temps are expected to be colder though, splitting a tent between two boaters is a better option.


My Sweet Protection Intergalactic Drysuit is another favorite of mine, Most of the year I paddle in cold water and the suit is comfortable and dry. It keeps me warm for the entire day, and more importantly ready to be on either side of a rescue situation. Keeping warm while you are working to help someone or waiting to be helped is important.

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A GoPro is a must. After all, if you don’t have proof it didn’t happen. I’m kidding of course, but a GoPro camera is pretty much essential gear these days.


All of my gear is important, including the boat, spraydeck, and paddle. Those items need to be of trustworthy design and durability; after all, you don’t want to be in the middle of a difficult section of whitewater worried about gear failure. That said, the Werner Breakdown Paddle is a permanent fixture in the back or front of my kayak. Paddles break, it happens, having a back up paddle can keep you on the river instead of hiking out.


GI: Do you have any advice for anyone packing their gear for a paddling adventure?

BM: Travel light! Consolidate as much as possible. Use a boat bag that you can stash your paddles in to avoid extra bag fees. Look at the airline restrictions before you go, and plan for them.

When I pack for a river trip where I need to fit my sleeping gear, dry clothes, food, first aid, and camp equipment into the boat, I try to distribute the weight as evenly as possible, and defintely avoid overloading the stern. That way the boat can take the extra weight and still maneuver through current as it was designed to do. Packing the bow to counter the added stern weight can help preserve performance too.

I also tend to place one big bag in-between my legs for easy access while in the kayak. That bag carries my heavy camera gear, snacks and lunch, and whatever else I anticipate using during the day.

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GI: Do you have a favorite jacket or shell you always use on your trips?

BM: I prefer the Sweet Protection Jailbreak rain jacket. Its an awesome shell and wind breaker for use around camp. It offers excellent rain protection, dries fast, packs small, provides lots of warmth for sleeping on a chilly, windy night, and it has a hood that can cover up your face/head to keep warmth in and bugs away.

GI: Do you prefer a hardshell or soft? Why?

BM: Both! On colder trips I bring the shell plus a down layer for added warmth, I usually tuck my down layer into its hood and use it as a pillow, because pillows are awesome.

Thanks to Benny for sharing his insights with us. Good luck on that upcoming waterfall drop!

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(Photo Credit: Ben Marr/GoPro Selfie)