Is a down puffy overkill for après paddling? Heck no, but many paddlers shy away from feathers since damp down quickly loses its insulating loft. That’s why Outdoor Research’s Floodlight Jacket was love at first zip. This is an 800+ fill goose down puffy with an important difference—it’s also waterproof. OR uses Pertex Shield, a fusion of tough face fabrics with a waterproof-breathable polyurethane laminate, as well as taped seams and bonded (rather than stitched) baffles to shield the Floodlight’s responsibly sourced down from showers, sodden forests and soggy kayakers. Super soft lining, fleece-lined pockets and a roomy, wire-brimmed hood complete the cocoon. No more shivering through shoulder season shore lunches—the minute we’re out of our boats, we cuddle into this incredibly cozy puffy to ward off chills from sweat, wet and wind. | www.outdoorresearch.com
When your core is warm, it increases blood flow to your extremities. Cold hands and feet? Zip into a fleece vest like Patagonia’s Classic Retro-X Vest. The Retro-X outclasses other vests with hip throwback styling, and outperforms the competition thanks to a windproof-breathable barrier between its fuzzy fleece exterior and moisture-wicking mesh lining. Zippered chest and hand pockets and a stand-up collar add utility as well as panache. The vest’s high-pile polyester fleece warms our hearts—not just because it’s a great insulator, but also because it’s made from recycled soda bottles, manufacturing scraps and worn-out outdoor wardrobes.
Long before I could afford a drysuit, I saved up for a quality paddling jacket. Today, descendants of this jacket continue to be staples in my touring kit. Why? Because a versatile touring jacket like Level Six’s updated Chilko is often the best fit for all but the coldest weather and water, or heaviest conditions. To find a jacket that can go the distance, I look for a few key features. The material needs to be breathable for summer showers yet robust enough to handle spring deluges; a hood is a must, a removable and stowable hood is even better; and a double-tunnel design mates with my skirt tunnel for a drier seal around the waist.
The Chilko offers all these features and more. Level Six’s eXhaust 2.5-ply nylon fabric is waterproof, breathable and lightweight for an athletic fit without a lot of bulk. Reflective details throughout increase visibility in low-light conditions. Our testers loved the vented, generously sized hood, which zips cleanly away for days when we just needed wind or light rain protection. Adjustable neoprene closures at the wrists and neck aren’t as dry as latex gaskets, but they’re more comfortable and add versatility for off-water wear. The deep neck zipper allows venting in warm weather, while zipping up the high, microfleece-lined collar feels like snuggling into a protective scarf. | www.levelsix.com
The yellow rain slicker reimagined and re-engineered, the shiny rubbery face of Columbia Sportswear’s new OutDry Extreme Platinum Tech Shell hints at the downpour-proof dryness we enjoyed as puddle-jumping tykes. But while those rubber raincoats of old grew clammy the minute you started sweating, the OutDry Extreme has the light, well-ventilated comfort we’ve come to expect from modern waterproof-breathable rainwear.
Founded in the Pacific Northwest in 1938, Columbia knows a thing or two about rain gear—the brand was the first to integrate Gore-Tex in their parkas in 1975. Since then, Gore-Tex and similar microporous membranes have remained the standard in waterproof-breathables, by keeping water out while allowing vapor to escape. The formula is simple: sandwich the fragile waterproof membrane between a comfortable next-to-skin layer and an outer fabric treated with DWR (Durable Water Repellent). But DWR coating doesn’t last forever, and a soaked-through Gore- Tex jacket is every bit as soggy feeling as sweaty rubber.
OutDry Extreme does away with that problematic outer layer, placing a tough-yet-breathable polyurethane waterproof membrane on the outside of the jacket. The result is a shell that never wet out, no matter what we threw at it. A single ply of wicking fabric on the inside kept us feeling cool even in sticky summer heat. Plus, we love the unique look of Columbia’s bright colors and contrasting exterior-taped seams. If you want the tailored fit, premium features and breathability of a performance shell, combined with the no-fuss, permanent waterproofness of a rubber slicker, this is the jacket you’ve been waiting for. The OutDry Extreme line includes jackets and pants for men, women and kids. | www.columbia.com
When it comes to insurance policies, preparing for inclement weather is a lot like safeguarding our homes and cars—we want something that’s economical and hassle-free, out of sight but always there when we need it. Enter the NRS High Tide splash jacket. The jacket has all the features needed for a changeable weather day on the water, at a price entry-level paddlers can afford. A peaked hood, adjustable cuffs and gripper shock-cord hem prevent ride-up and kept us covered. The High Tide’s relaxed fit and simple, quarter-zip anorak design means it’s equally suited for use in camp or even drizzly dog walks around town. NRS’s breathable HyproTex fabric has a supple feel that’s great for humid summer adventures. This lightweight shell had our back in rain, spray and wind, yet it’s also super packable. Reaching into your hatch for the High Tide can make good fortune shine on your next paddling adventure, even if the sun does not. | www.nrs.com
Expanding on their groundbreaking SwitchZip drysuit technology released last year, Kokatat debuted three new pieces for spring 2016, including a lightweight paddling suit, anorak and the expedition-ready Radius Drysuit. SwitchZip is a fully separating watertight zipper around the waist, allowing top and bottoms to be worn together as a full suit, or on their own as a paddling jacket and pants. The zipper’s location also eliminates the need for a dedicated relief zipper, reducing the weight of Kokatat’s Gore-Tex expedition suits.
I’ll admit, when I first fumbled with the unfamiliar waist zipper on our demo Radius, I was skeptical. Years of training had limbered my shoulders and strengthened my fingers for the more familiar over-the-shoulder drysuit tug-of-war. In contrast, donning the Radius top and bottom was like slipping into pajamas, but the SwitchZip mechanism took a bit more practice. Aside from an awkward struggle pulling my slim-fitting neoprene skirt over the lump of the SwitchZip closure, the fit in my kayak was exactly as promised. The zipper disappeared into the gap between seat and backband, and my torso felt wonderfully unrestricted. Even better, bathroom breaks were a breeze.
Kokatat makes top-quality paddling gear with all the bells and whistles, and the Radius is no exception. I never felt sticky inside the breathable Gore-Tex Pro suit, which is reinforced with tough Cordura fabric in high wear areas like seat and knees. The Gore-Tex socks and latex neck and wrist gaskets kept me bone-dry during rolling and surfing sessions. One of my favorite features was Kokatat’s new fleece-lined outer collar and removable storm hood. Buttoned up snugly, the hood fit over my face like a Bedouin head scarf, blocking stinging wind and salt spray. | www.kokatat.com
This article originally appeared in the Adventure Kayak Early Summer 2016 issue.
Subscribe to Paddling Magazine and get 25 years of digital magazine archives including our legacy titles: Rapid, Adventure Kayak and Canoeroots.