We pulled up to the boat launch in the dark of the morning with a pickup truck loaded with nine kayaks complete with paddles, spray skirts and PFD’s. But these kayaks all fit in the bed of the truck and barely poked out the top. And that’s because each of the kayaks were folded up into 33″ x 13″ x 29″ boxes. There was no roof rack or unruly stack of boats that had to be strapped down to the truck. We then started to unfold the boxes and formed them to the shape that would be much more useful on the water.
For three days we paddled the waters of the Everglades in Florida, drifting past crocodilians sunning themselves on the shore. This trip, sponsored by Oru Kayaks, Kammok, and BioLite was an opportunity to test these products on a real adventure in the wild. We paddled nearly 19 miles our first day, followed by shorter distances each day that followed. The first night we camped on unique platforms called Chickees that were suspended above the water to keep us safe from curious crocs. On the second night we stayed on the beach of an island that was rumored to beyond the reach of the ravenous reptiles.
The experience was incredible and the weather held pretty well, which is a mixed blessing while testing gear. But most of what we were testing was not intended to deal with foul weather anyway. Here’s what I liked from the trip:
Oru Kayak Coast XT
The Coast XT is Oru’s premium product and is a 16’ sea kayak design inspired by the traditional boats used in the Arctic. It’s 25” wide and weighs 34 pounds. It can take a maximum load of 400 pounds and accommodates paddlers up to 6’6”—I’m just under 6’ myself and fit fine. The adjustable footrest, backrest and thigh braces were perfect for dialing in the fit. There’s even 180 liters of storage space available in the hull, which includes the float bag space in the bow and stern tips. And with Oru’s origami-inspired design, the boat actually comes apart along a top deck seam, making it easy to pack efficiently. There’s a single small rear hatch for quick access while on the water but we also found items like water bottles and snack bags easily fit right behind the seat or between our legs too.
The first stint from our launch point in Chokoloskee put a pretty stiff crosswind against us and it was quite the effort to keep the boats pointed the way we wanted to go. There were a number of other times where the wind was solid and I think my right arm got more of a workout over the course of the trip to counter the wind pushing us around. But this would be the case no matter what boat was being paddled. A rudder and a sail might have made it easier. Overall, the boats handled great and even in December the days were warm and we often paddled without our spray skirts. With a little bit of rigging the boat allowed me to mount a Pelican case containing my Canon 5D for quick and easy access.
Kammok Sundra Tent/Hammock
We actually had a few Kammok products to test out on this trip. Our very first night, before launching our boats, many of us slept in the Roo hammock with the Koala Underquilt and Firebelly over quilt—no sleeping bag—while surrounded by the Dragonfly Insect Net. This worked fine in the warm southern Florida climate. The next night on the Chickee we were able to suspend a few hammocks between the 4×4 poles of the shelter while others set up the Sundra tent configuration on the platform. The last night we were all in the Sundra’s since there were no trees or anything to suspend hammocks from.
BioLite Stoves, Lights & Power
To cook and power our gadgets while on this trip we carried a few products from BioLite. The company was founded on the idea of helping households in developing nations wean themselves off of indoor wood-fired stoves, which usually fill the house with smoke and cause all sorts of other problems. BioLite has designed a number of products that allow users to collect electricity either by burning wood or directly from the sun using solar panels. This helped us to power lights at the campsite and recharge our gadgets as well.
We had their Basecamp Stove with the Pizza Dome accessory, which worked wonders for dinners, while the Camp Stove with the Portable Grill and Kettle Pot served up small portions and boiled water. We also had the Powerlight Mini for our personal illumination and the SiteLight for the group areas. The Charge 10 and 20 were handy for charging phones, lights and my watch (see below).
Voormi River Run Hoodie
I wore this hoodie for the whole trip. Made of merino wool, it was comfortable and cool against my skin while out paddling and even let some breeze through too. The large draping hood kept my neck from getting burned and easily fit over my truckers hat. The lightweight (100g/m2) Rocky Mountain sourced wool feature’s Voormi’s own Dual Surface blend weave, which is incredibly durable. It also has thumb loops for that extra coverage over the wrists or just to keep the sleeves in place. I’ve worn this piece on winter days in the mountains and summer days on the water, and have found it to be very versatile and comfortable.
Mustang Fingerless Traction Gloves
As someone who doesn’t paddle enough to build up good calluses on my hands, a pair of gloves was essential for staying comfortable (and functional) on this trip. These gloves fit great and did the job perfectly. They drained and dried quickly so my hands weren’t perpetually wet during the day, and helped tremendously with grip on the paddle, eliminating the need to squeeze too tightly and avoiding grip fatigue.
Polar M400 GPS Watch
The M400 GPS watch accurately tracked our trip and the battery even held out for 18 miles over 8 hours, albeit just barely. Thanks to the BioLite USB charge station, I was able to charge the watch for the next day’s journey. Naturally, it was completely waterproof and was plenty comfortable to wear while moving the paddle back and forth. The M400 can pair with a smartphone to put incoming text messages and notifications on your wrist, which was very convenient. But since we were away from cell service for most of the trip, that feature didn’t do much out on the water. The watch also has a heart rate monitor, but I didn’t put it to the test on this trip.