Top Tips for Camping Trips

The canoes and kayaks are a remarkably versatile craft, and they can open the door to a variety of adventures for you. One of our particular favourites is to pack up the tarp, bung in the bivi and cram in the camping kit, before heading off for a weekend of paddling and camping fun with our paddling mates, partners, kids dogs etc.

Don’t worry we know we used the ‘Bush’ word above but we’re not going to insist you grow a beard and then bang on about every little detail of a ‘Ray Mears’ style survival camping epic, after all half the fun of going on camping adventures is discovering how you like to do things. What this article will do, we hope, is to give you a few pointers to help make your first forays into wilderness canoe or kayak camping fun and enjoyable. First of all, before you head off on a multi-day canoeing adventure in the middle of some wild and woolly location, it’s well worth making sure you’ve got the basics covered with a few practice day trips on more familiar and local waters. These will give you a good idea of how far you can comfortably paddle in a day, the best way to load your boat and give you great practice at navigating, portaging, launching and landing etc.

Plan Ahead

Failure to plan is planning to fail as the saying goes. Putting some extra thought into your camping adventure before you go will help make your trip smoother and will help to eliminate many simple problems that could otherwise cause you problems. Talk through what you want to get out of the trip with your paddling partners for the trip and then decide on a location. If you’re planning on camping for a few nights in different locations then using OS maps and resources such as Google Earth to work out and identify possible camp spots will avoid any last minute camp-spot scrambles in the dark!

The weather conditions will play a part, so check the forecasts in advance and discuss what sort of conditions that you are all happy to put up with, or decide on an alternative plan, just in case. The Internet is an invaluable source of good, reliable forecasts. We usually keep an eye on the BBC website or www.metcheck.com but there are loads of others.

Backwoods & Camp Cooking

Maybe it was being in the Scouts, but we love cooking in the open, there’s just something about rustling up a backwoods banquet that makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, and not just from the camp curry! It’s easy to get swayed by the lure of freeze-dried food or pre-prepared food in foil packets, but resist, just because you are cooking outside doesn’t mean that you must live on boil in the bag type meals. It is often easier, cheaper and certainly a whole lot tastier to prepare fresh meals. These can be cooked right there on camp, or with a bit of planning, you can cook things like stews, sauces, chillies and curry at home and them freeze them ready to be reheated on the camp fire or stove. An old sea kayaker trick is to get cuts of meat vacuum packed by the butcher and then frozen. These then act as extra cold blocks to keep your perishables fresh but then defrost ready for you to have fresh meat during your camping trip.

Pack some seasoning and a few spices, as these are great for adding a little zing to your dishes and can turn bland dishes into something far more appealing.

If you are cooking on an open fire then use the heat from the embers rather than putting food directly into the yellow flame, as the flame will result in whatever you cooking getting blackened by soot.

Going Dutch

One of our favourite ways of cooking on an open fire is to use a Dutch oven. These can be used to prepare fantastic slow-cooked meals, and even to bake bread. It’s basically a large iron pot that you sit on hot coals and then lay coals on top. They’re a bit bulky and heavy for carrying in a kayak, even a sea kayak, but if you’re on an open canoe trip they’re brilliant.

Tasty Camping Tip

Check out the following websites for great camp trip recipes:

www.backwoodscooking.com
http://www.go-camping.org/cooking-recipies.html
http://www.campingexpert.co.uk/CampingRecipesCategory.html
http://www.free-recipes.co.uk/cook-book/c-recipes/free-camping-recipes

How to Light a Fire

A good fire requires good wood, so you’ll need to head out into the woods to collect a supply. Cooking on a fire with poor quality wood can be very slow and frustrating. The most common mistake is using wood that is not dry enough. It goes without saying that you should never cut wood from a live tree, what you’re after is dead and fallen branches and any driftwood you may be able to find. Avoid cutting any dead branches from around your campsite, or along the waterfront, in fact anywhere it may have a visual impact on anybody else who may travel your path. If the bark has fallen or is about to then this is a good indication that the wood is dry enough to burn. Deadwood that’s suspended off the ground, caught in other branches, for instance, is better as it’s usually dryer than wood found directly on the ground.Successfully starting a fire (without the aid of petrol or a blowtorch) is a right of passage for outdoor folk. Start small in both the size of the fire and the size of wood that you’re using. Begin with a bundle of small twigs; add any other available tinder (dry pine needles etc). Light these with either matches or a lighter, or with your flaming tinder (see below). They’ll burn quickly, so add more twigs and small sticks as they do. As these catch alight too, slowly increase the amount, and size of wood that you’re adding. Be careful not to suffocate your fire and always keep plenty of space for air to be drawn in as you add more wood. If you’re using a fire pit don’t be tempted to builds a massive pyre. What you’re aiming for is a solid base of really hot embers as these are best for cooking on. We sometimes carry a very small amount of charcoal briquettes with us as when added to a fire they produce a good bed of glowing embers.

Successfully starting a fire (without the aid of petrol or a blowtorch) is a right of passage for outdoor folk. Start small in both the size of the fire and the size of wood that you’re using. Begin with a bundle of small twigs; add any other available tinder (dry pine needles etc). Light these with either matches or a lighter, or with your flaming tinder (see below). They’ll burn quickly, so add more twigs and small sticks as they do. As these catch alight too, slowly increase the amount, and size of wood that you’re adding. Be careful not to suffocate your fire and always keep plenty of space for air to be drawn in as you add more wood. If you’re using a fire pit don’t be tempted to builds a massive pyre. What you’re aiming for is a solid base of really hot embers as these are best for cooking on. We sometimes carry a very small amount of charcoal briquettes with us as when added to a fire they produce a good bed of glowing embers.

Handy Bush Craft Hint – How to use a flint and steel

Getting the Spark

  • Hold the flint in your left hand, the steel in the right.
  • The aim is to shave off some steel off with the flint, so a sharp edge is needed on your flint. Make sure this is the case.
  • Keep the flint still and aim to lightly scrape the sharp edge at an acute angle with the steel by moving the steel vertically down.
  • Take note well timed flick of the wrist is required here, not brute force.

Catching the Spark

Place your tinder on top of the flint, about one or two millimetres back from the edge that you are striking. Tinder needs to be fine and bone dry. Real bush crafters will often use a ‘char cloth’. This is a swatch of fabric, usually cotton, that has been converted by heating at high temperatures, in a low oxygen, setting (in a tin) into a slow-burning fuel of low ignition temperature, which makes it ideal for catching a spark and igniting.

  • When a spark is caught, it will glow a dull red… Gently blow on it and it will glow brighter and get hotter.

From Ember to Flame

  • Make a small pile, like a bird’s nest from suitable material – straw is great for practice with
  • Place the glowing charcloth, or tinder into the pile, put your back to the wind, raise the pile and blow gently into it for as long as you can.
  • If you run out of puff and need to take a breath, lower the pile nest to waist level, as this will allow you get lung full of clean air, not smoke, but still keeps air moving through the tinder.
  • Keep up the blowing until the pile produces flame and then start to add larger pieces of tinder and then wood to build your fire… Try not to burn your eyebrows off!

Cooking with Fire

Although modern camping stoves are very efficient and quick they don’t exactly invoke the romantic image of the wilderness camper. There are environmental issues to consider when building and using a fire, but when managed correctly they can fulfil the green, efficient and romantic roles superbly. After all, nobody looks forward to sitting around the blue flame of a hissing gas stove, sipping a dram, swapping stories and singing ‘campfire’s burning’ do they? A wood fire is certainly special, but we always stick a small, lightweight gas stove in too, as a backup and for making a brew as soon as we hit camp.

Fire Pit or Fire Box

For environmental reasons and efficiency, we like to use a firebox to contain our fire. A firebox is a lightweight folding metal box, which contains the fire and usually has a handy grill on top. Many have legs, or they can be used rested on rocks prevent damage to the ground.If you’re opting for an open fire then you’ll need to prepare a fire pit.

If you’re opting for an open fire then you’ll need to prepare a fire pit. Ideally, you’ll use a folding spade or entrenching tool to do this, but it can be done with a paddle if need be. Start by cutting a rectangular shape on the ground and then carefully removing the top layer of turf and placing it to one side. Now dig out a pit about a foot deep, again carefully placing the soil to one side. Make sure that there’s no chance of your pit and fire damaging any roots. Line the sides of your pit with rocks or two large logs, and then set about building your fire. Carrying a metal grill to lay over the fire is a useful, or you simply sit your pots in the embers once ready. Once your fire has burned right down, pour some water into the pit to make sure it is entirely out. It is possible for fires to sit smouldering away under the earth before bursting forth and causing huge damage. Add some of the soil, pour in a whole lot more water and then stir, just like porridge. Once you’re sure it’s all stone cold put the removed solid back in the hole and then stamp down, finally replace the turf and then pour some more water over the whole thing. The idea is to leave as little trace as possible. We have to say a firebox is a much less work.

Packing You Gear

If we’re on a canoe trip then we usually take a large 100-litre dry bag, with carry straps, to carry all the equipment we need for camping, then a smaller bag with all our daytime equipment in, such as waterproofs, spare clothes, snacks, first aid kit etc. If we’re in a touring or sea kayak then we’ll split this into smaller dry-sacks to fit into hatches and then keep daytime gear in a deck bag in front of the cockpit.

You need to have a plan when packing, rather than just bunging it all in and it’s best to make sure that you pack the things that you’ll need first near the top so that they’ll be easily accessible when you arrive and need to set up camp.
In the top of our smaller daytime dry bag we’ll pack the first aid kit, waterproofs and snacks, further down are lunch and spare clothes; the items that may need during the day but not necessarily in a hurry. In the top of the larger dry bag will be the water and pan (and gas stove if we’re using one), so there is always a chance for a last cuppa Rosie before we get underway in the morning and then first thing when arriving at camp in the evening, next in is the tarp or tent, so we can get it up in a hurry if we need to. Then come things like sleeping bag, sleeping matt, bivi bag, spare clothes and food. Choosing what to take with you is never easy and the only experience, over a few trips will tell you what you need. As we try to take as many multi-functional items with us as possible and make a mental note of the gear that we end up using a lot during a trip, and the things that rarely make their way out of our dry bags This allows us to plan and pack more efficiently for future trips, leaving excess gear behind.

Camp Set Up Hint

Keep you head torch and fire-lighting kit at the top of one of your bags, especially in the shorter months, because if you arrive at camp at dusk, or after dark, it will be the first thing that you’ll need in order to find everything else, and it’s no good having your stove handy for a brew if your method of lighting it is at the bottom of your bag. Head torches are much more practical for outdoor living than hand-held variety, as you can still use both hands to put up tents, erect tarps light the fire etc. Be sure to always carry spare batteries and a spare bulb for your head torch too.

Choosing and Setting Up Camp

Once you’ve completed your day’s paddle and reached your chosen camping spot then it’s time to utilise a different set of skills. Firstly unload your dry bags or barrels secure and then the canoes or kayaks well above any high water or tide line. Or carry them to camp to use as wind breaks, or to set up tarps from. Next set about getting out the stove and get some water on for a hot drink, it really is amazing how much a hot drink can improve flagging morale. Now look for a good place to pitch the tent or stretch out the tarp, look for sheltered places with the flat ground to sleep on and no obvious dangers, large dead branches in the trees above or very close to the high water mark are both obvious no no’s for instance. Sandy beaches can be inviting, and can definitely be comfy, but we find that it ends up in everything, from zips to cameras to sarnies, so we prefer hard-packed flat ground or large flat rock shelves. If everything has gone to plan your tent or tarp should be up by the time the tea water has boiled, so sit down and enjoy your cup of cha. If you have the option of an open fire, prepare the fire pit, or break out your fire box, and collect some wood ready for when it gets dark, be sure to collect sufficient as searching for wood in the dark is no fun. Once this is taken care of you can now start to prepare dinner, hygiene is important when outdoors, so be sure to wash your hands before starting to handle food, and before you eat. We tend to carry a bottle of disinfectant gel, as it’s a quick, easy and efficient way of keeping hands clean in the outdoors. With dinner was done it’s time to swap boating tales around the campfire if you have one, and maybe enjoy a wee nip, a glass of vino or maybe one last brew before hitting the sack for a good nights kip. One boating acquaintance of ours always insists on bringing along a vintage bottle of port on canoe trips, for just such occasions!

Camping Tip

If you’re paddling a canoe it can be used as a great wind shelter, simply prop the canoe up on its side by lashing the handle end of the paddle to the centre yoke and digging the paddle blade into the ground. You can even tie your tarp to it to make a great shelter for the night! Kayaks can be used for a wee bit of protection from the wind too.

Pitching a Tent

Tents come in all shapes and sizes and you really need to have practised putting up your chosen model before your trip. A riverbank, in the rain and dark, are not the place to try pitching it for the first time! Choose the flattest area possible and avoid and natural hollows, they may look inviting and offer protection, but in the wet, they will be magnets for water. Make sure you’re tents outer layer or fly sheet as it’s called is pegged out tightly enough, so that it doesn’t touch the inner tent, even in strong winds. If possible make sure that you’re tent is properly and securely pegged down. If the terrain doesn’t allow then use heavy rocks to tie guy lines to instead.

Knocking up a Tarp

Tarps are brilliant and they can be erected in all manner of different ways. They can make great shelters to sleep under, but more commonly they are used as a communal area to shelter from the elements. Think of your tent as your bedroom and your tarp as the kitchen come living room (and bar). For a really simple tarp. Tie a rope between two trees. Now lay the tarp over the line and then secure the four corners by pegging them out with a guy line and peg. There you go a shelter. You can use kayak and canoe paddles and even boats to make more elaborate tarp shelters.

The ‘Ray’ Way

If you’d like to learn more about wilderness camping and bushcraft then we’d highly recommend going on a course. There is now a wealth of companies offering such courses and the skills you’ll learn will come in handy on future paddle-camping adventures. Oh, and did we say that they are incredible fun too?

Further Reading

The Camping Book by Ed & Kate Douglas
Path of the Paddle by Bill Mason
Song of the Paddle by Bill Mason
The Wilderness Paddler’s Handbook

Whitewater Kayaking in the French Alps

We love gear testing, but we hate doing gear tests! Why? Well, gear testing involves putting stuff through its paces out on the water, using it for its designed purpose and generally using and abusing it to see if it stands up to every day use and is good for the job. Putting together a gear test, on the other hand, involves photographing said gear out there in the wilds and in some suitable location. The trouble is, much as the Paddler testers love to get their mugs in front of a fisheye getting the planets of sun, water and paddlers to align in the UK is nigh on impossible. So what to do? Well during another après cancelled due to rain photo shoot coffee the suggestion came up that maybe we should just load up a van with a shed load of gear and go somewhere hot! Seemed like a reasonable idea, a quick chat to the gang at our sister publication Climber revealed that they had the same problem. A plan was hatched, forces were joined, the powers that be were convinced and that was it. Sorted! We loaded up a bunch of deviants, otherwise known as the Paddler and Climber test teams into a hired LWB transit and we were off… French Alps and the sunshine here we come!

Two Minutes to Midnight

Well one minute actually, that was the time our ferry was due to leave Dover. After a frantic loading session and a gathering of the gang we’d made the drive down to Dover to catch the graveyard shift ferry. The plan was to catch an hour’s ‘shut-eye’ at sea and then take it in shifts to push on through to dawn, and finally our intended destination of L’Argentière la Bessée. Alpjim and Wiggs where driving the van, Black dog and myself were in the CK wagon and Kate and Toby from Climber were piloting the Climber car, with Alex asleep in the back for most of the journey! The rain seemed to have followed us across the channel as we worked our way down the auto-routes fuelled by espresso, cola and the sounds of Led Zeppelin and the Beastie Boys ringing in our ears, well at least in our car. The boys in the van only had one CD and I think by Lyon it was sending them a bit doo-lally. It’s a long old haul but eventually we found ourselves winding along mountain roads and craning our neck to look down at mountain streams with a promising amount of water in them. As afternoon started to look a bit like evening we finally rolled in to the Camping Les Ecrins campsite on the banks of the River Durance.

Out of the Frying Pan…

To get everything done we’d be working to a fairly tight schedule over the next few days, but Wiggs and Black Dog where in no mood to rest. Despite a full day at work, followed by a ‘through-the-night’ 20-hour journey they where dead keen to fire it up and hop on the Gyronde before the six o’ clock curfew. Jim decided to drop us off and then go to sleep, Jim is a wise man! The rest of us piled in to paddling kit. As we disembarked we could hear the river rumbling ominously with the sounds of boulders being rolled along. Late afternoon runs are always higher as the rivers are swollen with melt water and it was honking. Enthusiasm was less in evidence as we carried our boats down to the put in. Was this really such a good idea? As we peeled out of the micro-eddy it was like grabbing hold of a passing freight train. No time to warm up you had to be on it instantly. No matter how many times you paddle in the Alps, the speed of the water always takes you a little by surprise on the first run of the trip. Black Dog paid the price for hesitation with a short, but nasty swim and we all received a lesson in humility and patience.

Time to Go to Work

The following morning the rigours of the previous day faded as the bright, hot sun shone down upon the campsite. It was tempting to sack off the gear testing till later and head out on to the rivers, but much as we wanted to, there was work to be done. We unloaded the huge pile of boxes and kit bags on to a ground sheet and set about sorting it all out in to categories. It was a useful exercise and having a schedule and plan of action was key to squeezing as much out of our time as possible. First up was a spot of modelling for the boys. I’m not saying they’re vain, but when the tins of water-proof hair gel started to appear out of buoyancy aid pockets I had to tell them that it would only be their hands in the shots as we were kicking off with a head to head throw-bag test. We rattled through the product shots, and once that was done it was time to shoot sequences for a throw-bag technique article. This was more like it and the test teamers threw themselves in to character with some fine acting that would have put Laurence Olivier to shame. They became the ultimate ‘Rescue Rangers’ as they threw line after line out across the river. Standing around in the baking sun in boating gear can get a bit warm, so when it was announced that the next job was going to involve them swimming they seemed more than keen to volunteer. Again and again they entered the river and took textbook swims down the bouncy waters of the Durance, while groups of bemused German boaters in full wetsuits and motorcycle helmets looked on. Self-rescues and throw-line rescues were acted out, and it was practice that would come in very handy later in the week!

Later Onde

As well as gear and technique articles we also wanted to paddle and photograph a selection of the regions classic whitewater runs for a series of river guides. This meant that we got to paddle some sweet rivers and still pretend that we were working! First up was the River Onde, a fast and fun run that’s a ‘club’ favourite to kick off any trip to the area. It’s a great little run with the hardest rapid close to the start. Nothing too serious though, it’s generally graded as a three, but its speed is not to be underestimated and eddies can be few and far between. It’s fairly narrow and tree lined most of the way down, and as the sun dappled the water it was a joy to nip in to ‘one-boat’ eddies and leap frog our way down. As the shadows grew long it was time to head back and hook up with our Climbing friends and head out to the local restaurant for some well-earned tucker and a glass of the local cider.

3-1

Things were going well, the ‘jobs to do’ list was getting ticked off and the weather and water levels couldn’t have been better. A tasty day of shooting, boat testing and river running on the Upper and Lower Guisane was on the menu for the day. We’d start with the scenic Upper section for hors’derves and after a quick break continue on to the meatier main course of the lower. Test teamer Steve is a fit sort of bloke and enjoys all sorts of weird and painful pastimes when he’s not in his kayak. Biathlons, triathlons, cycling, or running, up mountains those sorts of things. He’s currently working on a series of articles about staying fit for paddling, and recovering from injuries, so before each river he’d try a few of his tortures… I mean exercises on us. Core muscles of iron and washboard stomachs here we come!

The Upper Guisane is another favourite with visiting canoe clubs and with its breathtaking mountain views and open nature we can see why. The rapids are all fairly gentle, with one steeper section just after a right-hand bend, and we spent some time doing multiple runs of rapids for the camera. Next up was the lower. It starts off with a rather un-pleasant man-made drop under a road bridge called Shelob’s Weir. This can be sneaked, or portaged, on the right. There then follows some great bouncy water until you get to the second larger man-made barrage. This is a large sloping affair and is usually easily portaged on the right. Water levels were reasonably high and there was a clear green tongue running down the drop, over a curler and through two holes. It looked good to go and although I’ve walked past this on many an occasion Steve and I decided that this time we’d run the line. Jim and Wiggs took the portage and set about placing safety below the drop, just in case. As it turned out it was well placed, I entered the top of the drop exactly where I wanted to be and the line down was sweet. I busted through the curler and the first hole and went deep on the second, a bit disconcerting as I was in a big boat. I came through but got stood slightly on my tail and heading right. I wasn’t quick enough to adjust my edge and got slammed into the protruding rock shelf and pinned. I was stable, but didn’t feel like the boat was going anywhere so took the call to pull the tag and eject. Wiggs was there with a perfectly aimed line and I was on the bank. Safe and sound but with dignity slightly dented. The boys quickly recovered the boat and we were on our way again, Steve having seen my efforts had decided that the dry line was in fact the preferred option… Halftime score Paddlers 3 Lower Guisane 1.

The bouncy water continues for a while before things start to steepen up and take on a more serious note. We were running a swift read and run style and as Wiggs dropped over a significant looking horizon line he gave a right hand river signal. Steve was behind him and headed hard right but to no avail, he was upside down and taking a horrible head-ruddering into a vicious boulder choke. Jim was also upside down and I could tell by the way his boat was floating that he was no longer in it. I was out and running down the bank, bag in hand and I could see Wiggs on the opposite side of the river doing the same. I nearly ran in to a dazed looking Steve who having ditched his boat and paddle had made a self-rescue up the bank. Wiggs had nailed yet another great throw and bagged Jim at the very limit of his throw bags length. Both were out, but both had lost boat and paddle. Fortunately there’s a good path that run’s along this section all the way to the take-out at Briancon, so they began the walk of shame. Wiggs and I decided to continue as a pair and see if we could recover any of the boats and gear. The river continued to provide good solid whitewater and we eddy-hopped our way down scanning the banks as we went. Jim’s boat was lodged on a shingle bank not to far from the incident site and it was easy for the guys walking out to recover on their way out. We finally found Steve’s boat a fair way down, pinned against a rock on river right. We exited and with Wiggs on a line managed to clip to it and recover it. Unfortunately it was on the opposite side of the river and in a particularly awkward place to get it back across to the other side. We decided that discretion was the better part of valour and hauled it up the bank and tied it off to a tree. We would bushwhack in later and recover it then. After what was actually a pretty enjoyable paddle out we waited in the late evening sun for the boys to appear. As soon as they did it was off to the local hospital to get Steve checked out as he’d taken a big bang to the head and clearly had a mark on his forehead and temple. He felt fine but you can’t take any chances with head injuries so off he went. One clean bill of health later and it was off to the campsite with out tails between our legs. Our Climbing buds had taken pity on our sorry state and prepared us a lush dinner as we regaled them with ‘making like a fish’ stories and took turns to don the swim hat of shame. Final score Gyronde 3 Paddlers 1!

Bring Me Sunshine

Next day was scheduled to be a gear testing day and a visit to the famous Rabioux Wave on the Durance, followed by the ‘Sunshine’ run in play boats, down to the town of Embrum. The Rab as it is usually known had been pretty trashy due to the high water levels and had handed out a few beat downs over the previous week or two, but it was just starting to work as we arrived and moves could be pulled with a bit of luck and some good timing. Despite aching bodies the boys did a good job of getting stuck in and as they warmed in to it some nice rides where had. After another runny cheese lunch it was off down the gentle waters of the Sunshine run for plenty of wave-wheeling, eddy-line cartwheel and even some nice play hole action. Mellow was the order of the afternoon.

Once we’d got back to HQ Jim decided that it was time to put the water-proof Olympus camera through its paces and the best way of doing that was with some underwater squirt boating shots on the crystal clear lake. We where knackered but it was a good giggle hanging upside down, or getting the boat under and posing for Jim as he sat on the bottom of the lake. The shots turned out great, so we retired happy to enjoy the generous helpings of swim beers that had been cooling in the river all day.

Whose Line Is It and Big Boys Toys

The morning was spent testing throw-lines. Throwing them, re-throwing them, measuring them, checking knots, taking them apart, inspecting stitching, you name it we did it. The test-teamers know a thing about gear and they take this stuff seriously, especially when it comes to safety equipment. So with the throw-line test done and a bunch of other head to head gear tests under our belts already, the rest of the day was all about getting some great shots of the ‘Big Boys’ boats that we’ve been testing for a forthcoming feature. We took it in turns to run a short section that had some nice river moves and a few cheeky play spots. We paddled hard until the sun dipped and the light started to fade then called it a day.

Guil We Go…

Our last day was spent on the most excellent River Guil. It is an absolute classic and its various sections present the paddler with a varied, but always fantastic, range of whitewater. The sun shone, the river glittered and we had an absolute blast from put in to take out. The rapids are enough to keep you on your toes and they’re interspersed with lots of free-riding, rock spin, splat, grind potential. Despite taking a long time over setting up images and running things over again we came to the end all too soon. After carrying the boats back to the van for the last time we got changed and started to prepare for our long drive home. We’d been discussing a possible feature about how not to run rivers/do rescues when a Czech group came in to site trying to rescue a swimming comrade. They managed to tick pretty much every ‘Don’t’ box on the list and we watched from on high as they finally re-united paddler and ridiculously small play boat. The swimmer and at least two other members of the group had bare feet. All were in freestyle boats, all had lines but most left them in the boats as they ran over the rocks like headless chickens and finally the rescuee put his arm through the loop of a throw-bag and then wrapped the line up his arm before jumping in and being dragged across… Nice! Think we’ll write that feature ASAP. The funniest thing was Steve calling down to the beach below where swim-boy was standing waving then making the international fish gill sign to our damp and sheepish brethren below.

That was it, the Paddler Editorial Alps Trip Done. Looking at the mountain of images and the list of features and tests that we have in the bag to bring you in forthcoming issues it certainly seems like a success, but the thing that will really stick in my mind is just how much fun you can have just enjoying flows with the bros on a sparking river with the sun beating down overhead… Anyone fancy Italy next year?

Canoe & Kayak Guide to the River Tees

We’re fortunate in the UK to have a breadth of fantastic whitewater rivers, and all with their own unique characteristics, character and flavour. On any given weekend you could be off paddling to Wales, Scotland, the South West or north of England, When the rains come we really are spoilt for choice for quality whitewater runs. Most weekends the question we ask as river runners are not, ‘what should we do?’ But more commonly, ‘where should we go?’ This month we look at one of the UK’s classic runs with a wealth of great whitewater, from waterfalls to fun wave trains that will provide great sport for all levels and abilities; the River Tees.

The Tees rises on the eastern slope of Cross Fell in the Pennines and then flows eastwards for about 85 miles before finally emptying out into the North Sea. The Teesdale Valley, through which it flows, is a wealth of picturesque views and quaint tea-shops
, and a popular destination for lots of varied outdoor enthusiasts including paddlers, mountain-bikers and walkers. In it’s very upper reaches the Tees leaks out of the Cow Green Reservoir and then cascades down the rocky, and much revered, Cauldron Snout Rapid. Although it has been run a handful of times the steep, rocky waterfall usually only attracts walkers looking for a good spot to sit with their thermos flasks, and the over ambitious university groups, who like to go up and add their thoughts on possible lines to the stirring pot. The river passes through the Yorkshire Dales and then cascades over the spectacular High Force; from here onwards the Tees offers a great playground for challenging experts, introducing paddlers to whitewater and everything in between.

The river passes through the Yorkshire Dales and then cascades over the spectacular High Force; from here onwards the Tees offers a great playground for challenging experts, introducing paddlers to whitewater and everything in between.

High Force to Low Force

2.5 km
Grade: 3/4 (5 high water)
Map: OS 92

This popular section has one of the most spectacular put ins in the UK. You can park at the High Force Hotel, on the B6277 road from Middleton on Tees. Here you may have to buy a river permit for £5. This covers your parking and access to the land leading to and from the river, (note – it’s not uncommon for estate Ghillies to check that you have a permit as you cross the land). It is possible to park in a lay-by further down, but you do miss a bit of the run. For the get out you can leave a car parked a lay-by, marked by a red telephone box. Cross the road and you will see the footpath, please park considerately.

This section is short, but there are plenty of surf waves and eddies to play on and a few bigger rapids of note. It can take 30-minutes on a high water blast, or all-day, depending on experience, skill level and the type of group you are paddling with! With the impressive High Force roaring in the background the river warms you up with some good, fun grade two rapids, which soon picks up to grade three. There are plenty of rocks to dodge and a few fun surf waves to play on. If the river is low then it could be a bit of a scrap here, and in high water the Tees fills up with big waves and stoppers along this section. In those kinds of water levels though it’s certainly not for the inexperienced or the feint hearted, as a swim could go on for miles.

By the time you’ve got a feel for the river, and used to paddling on water the colour of Yorkshire tea, you’ll arrive at the first rapid of note, the Dog Leg. A grade three plus in most water levels, a grade four at higher levels. At normal flows the river is condensed down a right-angled rapid (hence the name) on river left*. In really high flows though water flows round the island in the middle creating very, very big whitewater, for experts only!

Generally though the Dog Leg can be inspected and portaged on river right. For the more advanced paddler you can eddy hop down and boat scout. This rapid is great to hone your river running skills and is well worth running several times, as it’s easy to carry your boat back to the top.

Below here the river widens out, but the rapids don’t stop with more rocks and a few narrow rocky-slots to negotiate. Here the river runs parallel to the main footpath, which is part of the famous Pennine Way, on river right. From here the horizon line begins to drop away and this marks the approach of the highlight and crux of the trip Low Force, an impressive looking, two-tiered, waterfall. It’s easily inspected and portaged on river right, and it’s possible to get a great vantage point to watch your fellow paddlers test their mettle. This is a great finale to the trip, and you’ll definitely want top break out the cameras!

The first drop is a rocky slide drop, which often has a deceptively sticky hole awaiting the unwary. Keeping your bow up and some forward momentum is certainly a good idea. If you’re not sure then this drop can be easily be portaged or protected and you have 20-meters before the main drop. The main fall is a clean four-foot drop into a deep pool. It’s a great fall for parking and playing, and is a reasonably safe learning environment for practicing your fall running skills too! You can run the drops as one or separately. If the sun is shining you will most definitely get an audience, so make it look good! Low Force falls into a big pool and you can pick up the pieces at the bottom, if necessary, easily enough. Just downstream from Low Force is a good grade three rapid, which can catch paddlers who have relaxed too early out. It’s generally run down the left hand-side, but in higher

Low Force falls into a big pool and you can pick up the pieces at the bottom, if necessary, easily enough. Just downstream from Low Force is a good grade three rapid, which can catch paddlers who have relaxed too early out. It’s generally run down the left hand-side, but in higher flows there are also lines down river right too. You can get out river left under the blue footbridge, and then follow the footpath through the woodland and into the fields next to the road, where your vehicle awaits.

Barnard Castle to Winston

12km
Grade: 3/4
Map: OS 92

This section begins in the scenic town of Barnard Castle. The put on is visible at the road bridge, where there is ample parking. The get out is again easy at Winston Bridge. If the water levels are low then this section could be a bit rocky, and you might want to consider other options. If the High Force – Low Force section is a bit high for you then this is a good option.

This section of the Tees is carved through the limestone valley and creates some really fun whitewater. Just below Barnard Castle you’ll pass a mill, which marks a river-wide reef. Further down you will arrive at Abbey Rapids, a good grade three rapid, ideal to run and to play on multiple times. The whitewater continues through the limestone gorge with some ‘on-the-fly’ waves and stoppers to keep you entertained. Once out of the gorge you’ll come to Whorlton Falls, proceed with caution here, as there is a river wide reef that is undercut. From here onwards you’ll come across some good playspots, so take your time. Egress is at Winston Bridge.

The whitewater continues through the limestone gorge with some ‘on-the-fly’ waves and stoppers to keep you entertained. Once out of the gorge you’ll come to Whorlton Falls, proceed with caution here, as there is a river wide reef that is undercut. From here onwards you’ll come across some good playspots, so take your time. Egress is at Winston Bridge.

Other Rivers in the Area

Washburn

A narrow fast damn fed river near Blubberhouses. That provides fast grade three whitewater. It only releases on certain dates. To find out when it’s releasing www.yorcie.org.uk

The River Wharfe

Situated a bit further south the Wharfe is another great grade three run with a good grade four to finish at Conistone Falls.

The River Kent

Heading towards Kendal, a popular run when there’s little whitewater a great blast in high water and very scenic.  Online

Paddling Guide HERE

The River Mint

Whitewater sport just north of Kendal

The River Swale

Another classic of the region with many different sections, to choose from including the classic Keld Gorge section.

The River Ribble

A relaxed run near Clithroe.

Useful Info:

High Force Hotel – http://highforcehotel.com/

Canoe & Kayak Guide to the Loop section of the River Dart

The Loop (New Bridge to Holme Bridge/Dart Country Park)

The middle Dart or the Loop as it’s more commonly known is one of the most popular runs in the UK. It’s fun rapids, mellow nature and beautiful surroundings make it justifiably loved. It’s an ideal river to cut your whitewater teeth on and has a real sense of adventure for canoe clubs and groups. For experts, it offers some fun paddling and some great little playspots. As the level gets higher these play spots get better and better and in super-high water, the Loop become a roaring freight train of big wave trains, holes and fun.

The Run

Launch your boat from the slabs at the bottom of the steps at Newbridge and then head under the bridge and away. There is a fun little play-spot within sight of the start. In low to middle levels, you can surf around in here and maybe even hit the odd cartwheel. But in high water, it becomes a fantastic wave hole with a big breaking pile. Down stream, the river bends to the right and there is another low shelf that forms a shallow sticky hole. There are big eddies on river left at most levels. From here it drops away in a series of easy red-and-run rapids, mainly wave trains but with a few boulders thrown in for good measure. Eventually, you’ll come to a small rapid with a big eddy on the river left, where a road comes close to the river, just before the river turns right. The eddy-lines here are pronounced and great to practice tail-stands. Around he corner lays another fun boulder rapid, which then leads down into some grade 2 water before the River Webburn enters on the left. Where the flows of the two rivers converge is also a good spot to practice eddy-line move and it’s a favourite haunt for squirt-boaters. In certain flows, right where the Webburn drops in forms a small hole that is good for practising sins in.

Downstream, the river bends to the right and there is another low shelf that forms a shallow sticky hole. There are big eddies on river left at most levels. From here it drops away in a series of easy red-and-run rapids, mainly wave trains but with a few boulders thrown in for good measure. Eventually, you’ll come to a small rapid with a big eddy on the river left, where a road comes close to the river, just before the river turns right. The eddy-lines here are pronounced and great to practice tail-stands. Around the corner lays another fun boulder rapid, which then leads down into some grade 2 water before the River Webburn enters on the left. Where the flows of the two rivers converge is also a good spot to practice eddy-line move and it’s a favourite haunt for squirt-boaters. In certain flows, right where the Webburn drops informs a small hole that is good for practising sins in.

By now you should be nicely warmed up because the first of the bigger drops approaches. You’ll see an island appear in the middle and an obvious eddy beneath a cliff on river right, just above the right-hand chute. This signals the Washing Machine. Run the right-hand chute as close to the island as you can for a clean run down a green tongue or head over the middle of the ledge that forms the Washing Machine and boof for a few more thrills. In high water, the lines stay the same but the hole becomes a huge beastie that can give a fun ride if you’ve the coconuts to drop in. Below the river opens out a bit and this is a popular lunch/brew stop for groups. In high water a great surging surf wave can also form in the middle of the flow.

More fun rapids follow until you’ll finally reach a narrower section with some high granite outcrops on river left. If you’re so inclined these have seen many a paddler clamber up and then perform a super-hero sea launch, with varying degrees of success. From here the rivers flattens out until you reach a large pool on a right-hand bend. This signals Lover’s Leap, probably the best rapid on the run. It’s named after a steep cliff at the bottom of the rapid, where, legend has it, love torn lovers would throw themselves off into the icy waters below. Enter on the right and negotiate your way down this short but fun rollercoaster ride until you finally avoid the cliff at the bottom and eddy out in the large pool on river right. When playboats were longer it was all the rage to ferry back out into the flow above the cliff and then dip the stern until your boat was perfectly splatting the cliff, surfing vertically on the pillow wave before sliding off and rolling back up.

Below here is a long section of fun water that has a few play holes and wave trains depending on the water level. Eventually the river take a significant turn to the right and don a rocky rapid and this signals the approach of Triple Falls. This varies depending on the level. In lower levels it is three small rapids, the top one being the most ‘fall’ like, but in high water they all blend into one bug stonking series of big waves and holes. The best thing is that there is a path the runs along the river right back, so you can yomp back up and do it again, and again. A great little play hole forms at middle levels, with eddy service on both right and left and it’s not uncommon to find paddlers queuing here to take their turn. Things calm down a bit from here on in and after a section of bimbly water you’ll come to the Spin Dryer. This is basically a fast green tongue of water that slams into a rocky outcrop at the bottom with a large swirling eddy of doom on the river right. Stay middle right and be ready to low brace of the cushion wave if you have to and you’ll be fine.

From here it’s a fun section of wave trains down until you go under the bridge at Holne. Many people choose to take off here, but we recommend continuing down the next short section to take out at the River Dart Country Park. You do have to pay a small fee to park there but it’s worth it, A: for the fact that it keeps the narrow road at Holne clear of parked cars and B: the section down to the park still has some fun features to paddle including the fearsome Holne Weir and the purpose built Anvil play hole just before the take out. It’s a brilliantly fun run for all abilities and we guarantee that once you’ve run the Loop you’ll return again, and again and again.

Info:
Grade: 3
Get in: New Bridge car park.
Get Out: Take out at the River Dart Country Park
Levels: Check the rock ledge on river left at New Bridge. If the water level does not reach the ledge, then it’s is low and the Loop will be a scrape. If most, or all of this, is covered then the river is at a medium or high level. If water is flowing through all three arches on the bridge at New Bridge and the ledge well under water, it’s very high and you’re in for a fantastically fun ride.

Canoe & Kayak Coaching Tips – Dry Land Boating

As we move through the boating seasons the environment provides some varied challenges for us, as coaches, and for our students. During the colder months, we are often limited by short, dark days, and sometimes, the unbearable cold! As coaches, we often need to alter our day out on the water depending on the weather and the bitter cold it can sometimes bring. Our ability to have something up our sleeves that we can coach when it gets cold, or when our group want to cut their losses and head to a warm steamy café. We need to have some other methods to turn to so our group can benefit from our coaching, even in the comfort of a café or pub…

We all know that if we are not warm and comfortable the ability to take in information drops right off. So our students may be spending lots of time on the water, but their ability to absorb our coaching will be almost non-existent. This can leave our students, after a session on the water, cold and dispirited from not having improved from their time on the water.

For students who are new to the sport, the colder months are a tough time to learn, and only the really enthusiastic keep going. For our newcomers, it’s perhaps not just the boating element that is new to them. The outdoor environment will possibly be new too and can affect them massively if they are not used to it. Their kit will most probably not be as good as yours, as paddling is an expensive sport. The list goes on, younger paddlers to feel the cold even more acutely. As coaches, we need to be aware of how effective our coaching session is. Here are a few ideas to help you adapt your sessions so that they will help your students continue to develop, but without the traditional on the water sessions, in really cold conditions

Using Video

The use of video as a learning tool has been popular for years now, video cameras are now waterproof and at a reasonable price. The use of the video is ideal for showing paddlers exactly what movements they are doing, as students sometimes think that they’re doing a movement correctly when they are not. During the colder months, if you’ve got a group who want a session but don’t want a full day. Spend a morning at a site capturing video footage of them doing a set skill, capture lots of footage, and even film yourself and use your boating style as a model. This way you can compare your boating against theirs. Take the footage and a laptop to a corner in a pub or anywhere that provides good hot chocolate and review your morning’s work together. By using the footage you can review and get them to understand their movements. The learning continues you see, only now in the warm!

Core Stability Boating

This is great with kids and the BCU offer modules in this. If you’re into your Pilates and using a gym ball then why not combined them with some boating movements. A little imagination is required for this, but it is good fun as you often fall over lots. Get your students to sit on a gym ball with their legs out in front and do a sweep stroke. Get them to sit on their ‘edge’ on a gym ball and alter their posture. If they know a rapid well get them to imagine it and then make specific moves down the rapid while seated on the gym ball. This works well with club sessions.

Practical Dry Land Sessions

For open canoeists and whitewater paddlers, bank based skills are endless. ‘Throw-bag Olympics’ is a great warm up for paddling and can be as intense or as light-hearted as you like. Create hoops to throw into, or dangle bags from trees to hit. If it’s sea paddling your teaching then get the charts out and have a look at working tides and the technical aspect of sea paddling. If you’ve got an advanced group as peers get a wipe board out and discuss leadership strategies and spread your equipment out and go through appropriate gear.

There are endless amounts of coaching sessions that you can run that don’t require you and your students to be on the water for the whole day. It all depends how creative you want to be. If you’ve got some students that you see on a regular basis, why not sit them down and come up with a development plan? It’s important as coaches to be able to adapt to our student groups and the environment that we put them in. Sometimes we have to throw in the towel to Mother Nature on our original plan and opt for a dry-land Plan B.

Canoe & Kayak Coaching Tips – Are We Over-Thinking?

As canoe & kayak paddlers I think we can be quite thoughtful creatures. Every time we go paddling we have to weigh up the options. Risk, ability, the challenge and fulfilment we will gain. We go through all the ifs, the buts and the maybes. The pros and the cons. We play it over in our head so many times it almost becomes a bigger deal than it was originally. So I ask you, as paddlers do we sometimes over think?

To coin a phrase from a well-known trainer company ‘Just Do It.”  Our routine of over reflection can sometimes simply overwhelm our senses. How many times have you sat at the top of a rapid weighing up the possibilities of it going wrong? Whether you feel up to it or whether it’s the day to give it a go? The problem with asking all these questions is that at some point we have to find the answer? How often do we put it off until next time? How often do we convince ourselves we are not up to the task? This little voice is there nagging away inside our heads until it brushes all logical thought out the window overwhelms us. Overriding any emotion or thought that’s quietly telling us that we can do something.

Over thinking causes a downwards spiral. There are too many variables in paddling to consider them all. It would take forever; this dynamism is usually what attracts us to the sport in the first place. The sheer randomness of things that can takes us by surprise creates excitement and therefore fun and reward.

The Right Questions

In order to avoid over-thinking and driving yourself mad with ‘can I?’ and ‘Cant I?’ questions. We must start off by asking ourselves the right questions. If you ask the wrong questions, after all, you will inevitably get the wrong answers.

Do I Have the Skills to Make This Happen?

This is pretty standard, and I’ve often heard paddlers say things like; “On a good day I can make it!” Well if that is so then let’s make it a good day! Or perhaps that voice is whispering to you ‘It’s a 50/50 chance.’

Is The Gamble Worth It?

If you find that you do have the skills to tackle something, if they are applied. Then the next step is to decide whether the gamble of giving it a go is worth it. This comes into the, ‘What’s the worst that can happen?’ category, and when people ask themselves this question they often think of physical injury, and yes, this is an important consideration. But the aspect that often gets over looked in those scenarios is the psychological effect. What I mean by that is the psychological effect of it going well, as well as the effect of it going badly. How will the outcome actually make you feel? If the thought of a swim makes you want to sell all your paddling kit, for an alternative lifestyle playing mini-golf at weekends. Then the risk is too high! Likewise is the risk of any physical injury.

The Difference Between Can I? And Will I?

The last question that we need to be clear about needs to be a direct one! The question ‘Can I?’ Can allow you to bluff an answer. Something like, ‘Yeah possibly’ or that ‘On a good day’ again. It allows that little, nagging rascal in your head to get the upper hand. The little doubt demon will take control.

Will I?

Will I do it? The answer is either yes, or no. There is no stepping around it, no sneaking the answer with an explanation. You have weighed up your ability with the environment around you. You have weighed up the risk both physical and psychological. By asking yourself, ‘will I do it?’ you will automatically answer whether ‘you can do it?’ too.

Get Rid of The Nonsense!

By keeping things clear-cut you can move on much quicker. Get rid of the clutter, the air of possibilities. If you wanted a hobby where you knew the outcome each time then building model aircraft, or worse, Ikea furniture, would be a good start. But even that isn’t a given from my experience.

You must understand that we do need some level of thought process and I do not wish to imply that we should just blast through challenging conditions. However if we don’t know then we must find out. Otherwise how else will we gauge where we are? To wrap this little episode up I will leave you with a nifty quote from a guy who I can’t quite remember, although I am sure he’s a clever chap. “If not now, then when? If not you, then who?” Have a think about it…or not!

Canadian Canoe Group Test

Whether you’re thinking about replacing that old faithful boat, that’s seen one season to many or taking the plunge and purchasing your first canoe, the choice available to the recreational canoeist can be bewildering. To give you a better idea of what’s available we’ve put a dozen of the most popular boats on the market through the Paddler Test Team wringer and combined what we found with some useful buying tips and a little technical info to get you started on quest to find the right boat for you.

Venture Canoes Ranger 14

Length: 450cm
Width: 90cm
Weight: 32kg
Material: Triple layer CoreLite HD Polyethylene
Features: Tough PU gunwales, plastic or webbing seats as standard, moulded end deck incorporating comfortable carry handle and a wooden centre yolk
Price: from £649 (plastic seats)
Info: www.venturecanoes.com

The Paddle

The Ranger 14 is a great little boat and it provided a really stable platform with great secondary stability, which made it forgiving. Its short length made it very nimble and manoeuvrable and it would be a great boat for kids, or for someone looking for a solo boat that’s a little easier to store. For a short boat it still tracks well and would be right at home cruising up the local canal with the dog onboard. It’s construction is bomber, but it’s a little on the heavy side. Finishing is solid, but our test Ranger, as with the other Venture boats we tested, had wooden/webbing seats and the testers didn’t like the fact that they were fixed in with metal plates rather than wooden dowels as it prevents easy customization to get the seat spot on for you. The other niggle was raised screws on the gunwales, although this was a common problem among many of the boats tested.  Overall the Ranger is a fun, user-friendly, little boat and at the price certainly represents good value for money

Venture Canoes Prospector 15

Length: 464cm
Width: 91cm
Weight: 33kg
Material: Triple layer CoreLite HD Polyethylene
Features: Tough PU gunwales, plastic or webbing seats as standard, moulded end deck incorporating comfortable carry handle and a wooden centre yolk
Price: From £699 (plastic seats)
Info: www.venturecanoes.com

The Paddle

This was a popular boat with our testers who felt that it made a really nice solo boat. Its excellent initial stability and god secondary stability made it spot on for poling and for learning and perfecting new skills. As a tandem it paddled well, but we felt it really came in to its own as a solo. Forward speed was good and it would be a great boat for loading up and taking on multi-day trips.

As we’ve already mentioned with the Ranger we’d like to see the raided screws on the gunwales addressed and weight was leaning towards the hefty side, which could make car/trailer loading and portages a bit harder, but it’s a tough package and performs well so we were happy to live with that. At under £700 for the basic spec it provides a lot of performance and durability for the price.

Venture Canoes Prospector 16

Length: 508cm
Width: 91cm
Weight: 35kg
Material: Triple layer CoreLite HD Polyethylene
Features: Tough PU gunwales, plastic or webbing seats as standard, moulded end deck incorporating comfortable carry handle and a wooden centre yolk
Price: From £729 (plastic seats)
Info: Info: www.venturecanoes.com

The Paddle

Like its smaller brother the 16-foot version of Venture Canoes Prospector provides a very solid and confidence inspiring platform, making it ideal to learn skills, such as poling. The extra length gives it good versatility and our test team felt that it paddled well as both a solo and tandem. Its high gunwales made it a relatively dry boat and it performed well in wind. It shared the same niggles as the other Venture boats in the shape of weight and metal seat plates, but our test boat also had a degree of flex in the hull, which would certainly effect its speed and performance.

This would be a great choice for those looking for a versatile family boat that dad can have a bit of fun in paddling solo, but will still provide a stable ride when loaded with a paddling partner, kids etc.

Mad River Reflection 15

Length: 467cm
Width: 84cm
Weight: 26.5kg
Material: Royalex
Features: Gunwales in wood or IQ Systems, bow and stern cane seats, shaped ash carrying yoke and bow and stern carrying handles
Price: £1,150
Info: www.wwc.co.uk

The Paddle

The Reflection was originally one of Dagger Canoes’ most popular designs and had now been given a re-birth by Mad River by popular demand. It fits the gap for a light touring style boat in their range well. It can handle a bit of gear too, so it would make a good ‘multi-day’ boat and it had a very stable hull for poling. Our testers reckon that it would be OK on a bit of the rough stuff too. It paddled well and tracked great, but we found it a little sluggish in the turn. It was OK as a tandem, but our testers felt that it would make a better solo boat. Outfitting was good and there were some nice touches and attention to detail.

Mad River Explorer 16

Length: 488cm
Width: 84.5cm
Weight: 32.5
Material: Royalex
Features: Gunwales in wood or IQ Systems, bow and stern cane seats, shaped ash carrying yoke and bow and stern carrying handles
Price:
£1,200
Info: www.wwc.co.uk

The Paddle

The Explorer was popular with the test team from the off and they enjoyed paddling as a solo and as a tandem. It has great secondary stability making it excellent for learning and performing more advanced strokes and skills, and for inspiring confidence in the less experienced. It tracks very well indeed, but was still very manoeuvrable. This makes it a great first boat for beginners looking to learn their skills, but also for the more experienced enthusiast looking to push themselves and do more advanced moves and trips. Again the outfitting was good, but we did have an issue with the gunwales on our test boat, as they didn’t allow water to drain out easily when emptying the boat. Having said that we did like the seats and the rest of the outfitting was light, but tough.

Guide to Buying a Kayak Paddle

A kayak paddle is just a paddle, right? No, not really. Just like with all bits of kit for our sport, a lot of clever people spend a lot of time designing what they hope will be an ideal paddle for a very specific purpose. We’ve been at the stage for a long time where you most probably wouldn’t choose to use the paddle you take on whitewater on a touring trip, and you certainly wouldn’t do so the other way round. This article is designed to help you know exactly what to look for in a paddle – whether it’s for whitewater kayaking or kayak touring use – when you go out to buy one for yourself!

Whitewater as opposed to Touring Paddles

There are a few fundamental differences that make a kayak paddle suitable either for whitewater kayaking or for kayak touring. The most obvious are blade shape and shaft length. Whitewater paddling is aggressive, and requires ‘high-angle’ strokes, where each time you plant the paddle at as steep an angle as possible, engaging maximum trunk rotation and body movement; an ideal stroke is almost a ‘scoop’ with the shaft angled as close to vertical as possible. This gives you maximum power, allowing for quick acceleration and maintained speed through holes. The best sort of paddle for this aggressive style is one with an asymmetric blade that has plenty of surface area without being too long. You need to be able to switch from one side to the other quickly in order to maintain a high stroke rate, so ideally whitewater paddles shouldn’t be too long, between 190cm and 203cm is the norm.Kayak touring paddles, on the other hand, are generally longer – usually between the 210cm and 240cm mark – and have much longer, narrower blades generally suited to a more relaxed and maintainable ‘low-angle’ style of paddling perfect for long periods of time spent paddling your kayak at as steady pace.  the

Kayak touring paddles, on the other hand, are generally longer – usually between the 210cm and 240cm mark – and have much longer, narrower blades generally suited to a more relaxed and maintainable ‘low-angle’ style of paddling perfect for long periods of time spent paddling your kayak at as steady pace.

Obviously, these are general lengths, and choosing the right length for you is an important consideration to make when buying a paddle (see ‘Sizing Your Paddle’ box). Often a manufacturer will make a model of the paddle in a selection of standard lengths, and will sometimes offer a bespoke custom-build option, which will allow you to choose the length, materials and feather (see ‘Feather’ box).

Feather

The feather of a paddle is the angle at which the broad side of the blades is offset from being parallel with the length of the shaft. A feather of 0 degrees means that the blades are completely parallel, whereas a feather of 90 degrees means that one blade is rotated 45 degrees clockwise – and the other the same amount anticlockwise – of the shaft meaning they are at right angles to one another; as well as, incidentally, interchangeable between left and right handed provided the blades are symmetrical. Once again, choosing the correct feather for you is a matter of preference, although with two piece split paddles – most commonly these are of the touring variety – you can often adjust the feather.

The feather of your kayak paddle determines how much you have to cock your wrist for each stroke, and should compliment your trunk rotation to give you excellent control. For whitewater paddling, which requires you to be dynamic and rotate a lot, the standard feather is around 45 degrees, but sometimes even as low as 30, depending on preference; although touring feathers are not radically different. Experiment, and work out what’s most comfortable for you!

Cranked shafts are an excellent way of combating sore wrists caused by paddling: the kinks where you put your hands greatly reduce the action in your wrist as you paddle. Almost invariably a pair of ‘cranks’ will set you back more than a straight shafted paddle – and this goes for touring and whitewater – but the many people who have made the leap from straight shafts to more wrist-friendly cranks will swear to it being worth the extra expense.

Sizing Your Paddle

Taking that whitewater and touring paddles are different lengths as a given, there are a few considerations to take into account when sizing your paddle. The biggest deciding factor is your height: as a general rule of thumb taller people will be most comfortable and be more likely to develop good technique with a longer paddle, and vice versa with shorter people and shorter paddles. Then there are other considerations, like discipline – a freestyle paddler might favour a shorter paddler than a whitewater paddler who likes running rivers – and style: if you’re a predominantly whitewater paddler choosing a touring paddle, then you’re likely to import your more aggressive and dynamic paddling style into your touring, so may find it less of a shock to the system if you opt for a shorter, more ‘high angle’ paddle.

If you have a particularly wide or long kayak, you may find it is more unwieldy in the water if your paddle is too short.

Things like individuals’ specific proportions make a difference too, so the following is merely a rough guide – we strongly recommend you trying out a kayak paddle of a particular length before buying:

Whitewater Kayaking

Height Ideal Paddle Length
Up to 160cm 188cm – 194cm
Up to 170cm 191cm – 197cm
Over 170cm 194cm – 203cm

Source: Manufacturers’ Guidelines

Kayak Touring

If you favour a more aggressive, ‘high angle’ style of paddling more like that used by whitewater paddlers, then deduct about 10cm -20cm from the suggested length ranges. If you have a particularly wide boat (more than 55cm at the widest point) then err on the side of a longer paddle.

Height Ideal Paddle Length
Up to 160cm 210cm – 220cm
Up to 170cm 215cm – 230cm
Over 170cm 220cm – 240cm

Source: Manufacturers’ Guidelines

Just a quick word on shaft diameters: they do vary, and it does make a difference. Be intuitive when choosing; you want a shaft on which you can make a secure hold without having to grip too hard, so naturally a larger hand will require a slightly thicker shaft diameter.

Blade Shapes and Sizes

Almost all blades on high-end and specialised paddles are asymmetric: they simply work better, allowing a smooth transition into the water and ensuring as much of the blade’s face is working for you when the paddle is planted in the water at the angle that suits you and your style of paddling. Asymmetric blades also have a concave (drive) and convex (non-drive) face, which ‘scoops’ the water with each stroke affording you maximum efficiency. The only real advantage of symmetrical blades is that they can be used either way up, so therefore by left or right handed kayak paddlers.

The size of the blade is, once again, largely a matter of preference. The principle underpinning the decision about whether to opt for a larger or smaller blade size is the same with whitewater and touring paddles, although the specific consideration is different: the larger the blade, the more resistance there is to your stroke. If you’re a big, beefy touring paddler who’s no stranger to the gym, then a large blade size will be a huge advantage, allowing you to cover distance very efficiently. If you’re less well-endowed in the brute strength department, a smaller blade is always a trade-off between efficiency and becoming tired and achy too quickly. You might have more fun if you make that trade.

For whitewater kayakers, however, strong you are a larger blade is going to decrease your stroke rate. Granted you’ll have plenty of power for punching those holes and what have you, but you have to decide how much control and finesse you want to sacrifice for that power, and maybe consider opting for something smaller.

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There is a lot of jargon surrounding materials and construction of paddles, although it isn’t difficult to get an idea of which material is the highest performing and offers the best lightweight: in durability ratio; all you need to do is look at some prices and specs of varying models and you get a fairly good idea. For those of you who haven’t already done this – and didn’t just know anyway- here’s a rough guide to paddle materials:

Carbon: Lightweight and durable, carbon is the most desirable material for a performance whitewater or touring paddle, and naturally the most expensive.

Fibreglass: A good second, and much more affordable. Often even if the shaft is carbon, you will find that blades are made of this. Still strong, and not overly heavy, fibreglass makes for a good paddle and if you search around you’ll find you don’t necessarily have to pay too much.

Thermo-moulded Foam: This material is growing in popularity as something from which to construct blades. It has the advantage of being very lightweight, but also very strong.

Plastic: Cheap kayak paddles often come with plastic blades. Cheapness is the advantage on this occasion: it’s not an ideal material, particularly for a whitewater blade, although sometimes plastic blades prove surprisingly durable. Not necessarily to be ruled out as a budget option.

A- Z Open Canoeing Terms

Open Canoeing is a great fun but there’s an awful lot of jargon that goes on. So the Canoe and Kayak team have put together an Open Canoeing jargon Buster.
So if you’re out canoeing on open water or in the whitewater; whether it’s poling or lining you will find the answer here.
A B C D E F G I J K L P R S T W


A
Air bags

In an open canoe, airbags like in a kayak become very handy indeed. Because the canoe can cope with a variety of conditions having air bags in the boat allow it to be easier to empty when full of water. It also helps in whitewater as it keeps the boat afloat and prevents the boat from getting pined and wrapped.

B
Barrels

Canoe barrels are a common use of storage whilst journeying in your canoe. They’re very durable and very dry. A great way for transporting your esseintials down the river.


C
Centre Tharwt

The centre thwart is a piece of wood shaped to the canoe that sits under the inwhale of the canoe and is normally found in the centre of the canoe at it’s widest parts. The centre thwart is designed to hold the shape of the canoe, without it the boat can flex and is slightly weaker in a whitewater situation. The centre tharwt can also be removed for solo paddling.


D
D-rings

D-rings are D shaped rings that are very useful for clipping your gear onto. The D-ring normally comes with a fabric patch allowing you to glue the patch to the hull of the boat. This is very useful for clipping in airbags and other items. A poling session in the lake district

E
End Grabs

End grabs are usually fitted to the canoe when fresh out of the wrapper. However paddles sometimes like to fit extra ones at the very end of the bow and stern. This helps paddles grab the boat quickly in case of a swim.

F
Freeboard

The freeboard is the distance from the waterline to the gunwales.

G
Gunwales
(pronounced gunnels)
The Gunwales lie along the length of the top of the canoe from bow to stern.

I
Inwhale

The trim that usually caps the top of the canoe. The Inwhale lies on the inner side of the canoe. These can be made from wood, vinyl or aluminium. Out on the dewent

J
J-stroke

The most common and one of the foundation skills for manovering a canoe. The J-stroke is a fundamental strokes. That’s normally the first stroke you’ll learn when taking up open canoeing. It’s called a J-stroke because it forms a shape of a J.

K
Keel line

A line running the length of the canoe from the bow to stern along the centreline on the underside of the hull.

L
Lining

When running a river it’s common (in the UK) that the river will be too shallow or have to many obstructions to run down the river safely. So you can attach a line to the boat and walk alongside it like a dog on a lead. This saves time portaging and is quick and affective.

P
Painter

The painter is a length of rope, usually two sections of floatation rope. One is tied to the bow and the other stern of the canoe. As a guideline the rope is usually a third of the boats length. The painter is one of the most useful pieces of equipment on your open canoe. It can be used for lashing rafts together rigging up your tarp or hanging a food bag to ward off the bears.

R
Rudder

A rudder can also be added to the stern of the boat if required. For

SCanoe sailing in the lake district
Sail
A sail can easily be improvised for open water paddling when the wind picks up. From a tarp to an umbrella free energy is a great way to travel.

T
Trim

Trim is esseintial to creating a stress free, canoe journey. Open canoes can be caught by the wind very quickly and can leave you in spinning around a lake. By constantly altering your trim to the conditions, allows you to work with the wind or river and not against it.

W
Waterline

The water line is a mark where the water comes up to on the boat, or where the boat sits in the water.

A Canoeing & Kayaking Guide to the River Wye

The wonderful River Wye is part of British canoe & kayak paddling heritage. It’s meandering and occasionally tumbling waters, flowing through idyllic countryside and spectacular wooded valleys are a delight to explore by canoe and kayak. It’s the perfect setting for a river trip and thousands of people take their first paddle strokes in a canoe or kayak every summer. Here’s our guide to the best sections of this classic canoe & kayak touring river…

The River Wye is the fifth-longest river in the UK and just like its bigger neighbour, the River Severn it rises on the Welsh mountain Plynlimon before flowing through the Welsh marches and on into England (for part of its lower course it actually acts as the border between the two countries). Along wiits route, it travels through many towns and villages including Rhayader, Hay-on-Wye, Hereford, Ross-on-Wye, Symonds Yat, Tintern (with its historic abbey) and Monmouth. As it was born alongside the Severn so it once again rejoins it, 153 miles later, as it eventually flows out into the Severn Estuary at Chepstow. The River Wye itself is a ‘Site of Special Scientific Interest’ and one of the most important rivers in the UK for nature conservation. Much of its lower valley is also designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Natural History

Thanks to William Gilpin and his book ‘Observations on the River Wye’, which was published in 1770, the Wye Valley became an irresistible draw for eager visitors and became the birthplace of British tourism, as we know it today. The area is steeped in history, it witnessed the beginnings of the industrial revolution and there are signs of man, near the famous Symonds Yat, that date back to nearly 15,000 years ago! It’s home to a wealth of rare fauna and flora too. Peregrine falcons and goshawks patrol the skies and deer and wild boar inhabit the woodlands.

Sections

We’ve broken the river down into its three most popular and picturesque sections. In its upper reaches there is some really nice paddling and even higher-grade whitewater really high up, but unfortunately, its popularity as an angling river means that access is often fraught. That’s no reason not to paddle it if you fancy, though, but it’s the Wye’s beauty as a touring river that we’re interested in here, and from Glasbury down there is undisputed public access until the confluence with the Severn. There’s also decent paddling from Monmouth, which takes in Tintern, all the way down to Chepstow, but the river is wide and often shallow and weed-strewn, so we’ve opted to leave that out too.

Glasbury to Hay-on-Wye to Hereford

Distance: 30-miles
Time: Two days The Wye from Glasbury is perfect for family trips and those looking for a gentle touring trip with serene surroundings. The river is mostly flat but there

The Wye from Glasbury is perfect for family trips and those looking for a gentle touring trip with serene surroundings. The river is mostly flat but there are a few small riffles and faster flowing sections to add a bit of excitement. After about five miles you’ll come to the lovely Hay-on-Wye, famous for its bookstores, and known as the Book Capital of the UK, tourists come from all over the world too. It’s a great place to spend a few hours and good spot to finish if you just fancy a short jaunt on the river. If you’re planning on paddling all the way to Hereford then you’ll need to pick a spot to stay overnight. There’s a good pub at Whitney-on-Wye and a few descent campsites within this stretch.

Hereford to Ross-on-Wye

Distance: 23-miles
Time: One to two days

This section is usually less popular and very quiet. It flows in big meanders and the countryside is more open than the lower wooded sections. Just after you

This section is usually less popular and very quiet. It flows in big meanders and the countryside is more open than the lower wooded sections. Just after you start look out for Hereford’s Cathedral on your left. The paddling is gentle and relaxing in nature and it’s a fantastic section for a family weekend trip and to practice those canoeing and kayaking skills. If you’re experienced and fit you might want to paddle the whole section in a single day, but our advice would be to take your time and savour the slower pace of life that this section of the Wye provides. We guarantee that you’ll feel the stresses and strains of daily life literally draining away with every dip of your paddle. There’s plenty to see too, including the derelict Wye Invader, a 150-foot Dutch barge originally floated upstream to become a floating restaurant, but now left beached and unwanted. It’s an interesting but somewhat forlorn sight. The dramatic red sand stone cliffs just above Holme Lacey, perched itself on a cliff, are definitely worth a photo or two. Just below here is a campsite with a handy shop, should you wish to buy snacks or drinks, or even pitch up for the night. The usual overnight stop for this section though is Hoarwithy where there are two campsites to choose

Just below here is a campsite with a handy shop, should you wish to buy snacks or drinks, or even pitch up for the night. The usual overnight stop for this section though is Hoarwithy where there are two campsites to choose from, and even more importantly a rather fine village pub in the shape of the New Inn.In the morning, once you’ve shaken off the joys of the New Inn and cooked up breakfast it’s time to take to the Wye again and complete the trip to Ross on Wye. The paddling continues in the same vane as the river weaves its way downstream. Just after you get back on you’ll pass under the

In the morning, once you’ve shaken off the joys of the New Inn and cooked up breakfast it’s time to take to the Wye again and complete the trip to Ross on Wye. The paddling continues in the same vane as the river weaves its way downstream. Just after you get back on you’ll pass under the Sellack suspension footbridge, so don’t forget to wave to any walkers overhead!Finally you’ll come to Ross on Wye. Ross is bustling with pubs and nice restaurants but the take out just past the rowing club is right

Finally you’ll come to Ross on Wye. Ross is bustling with pubs and nice restaurants but the take out just past the rowing club is right by the Riverside Inn.

If you’ve opted run the whole section in a day with the intention of doing the Ross to Symonds Yat section the following day you may want to carry on downriver a little further to just past Wilton Bridge. The White Lion on the right hand bank just after the bridge will allow camping by arrangement, but also has rooms on offer too, and makes a great place to stay overnight.

Ross On Wye to Symonds Yat

Distance: 15-miles
Time: One day (4-5hours)

Get in at the rowing club by the Riverside Inn or there is parking in a lay by near Wilton Bridge and the river can be accessed easily from here. This for us is the quintessential section of the Wye and as it flows through the steep sided wooded valley as it nears Symonds Yat it is simply breathtakingly beautiful. It is also the most popular section with canoe hire customers, so if you are planning on visiting in the summer months be prepared to share the river with a lot of other people. If you want a quieter trip then winter and autumn are also lovely times of year for a trip. Parking at the take out at Symonds Yat East can be limited at peak times and you will have to pay a fee. There is alternative parking, also for a fee, on the opposite bank at the caravan park just before the Ye Olde Ferrie Inn. The river is slightly more challenging in this section with a few fast flowing sections and of course the fun of Symonds Yat Rapids at the end. Keep an eye out for Goodrich Castle, built in the 12th century, now a ruin, but still an impressive sight. Soon you’ll pass a three-arch stone bridge that carries the nearby road across the river. This is Kerne Bridge and a popular starting point for many trips and a good alternative if you want a shorter day on the water. There is a purpose built launching point on river left. There’s also a good

The river is slightly more challenging in this section with a few fast flowing sections and of course the fun of Symonds Yat Rapids at the end. Keep an eye out for Goodrich Castle, built in the 12th century, now a ruin, but still an impressive sight. Soon you’ll pass a three-arch stone bridge that carries the nearby road across the river. This is Kerne Bridge and a popular starting point for many trips and a good alternative if you want a shorter day on the water. There is a purpose built launching point on river left. There’s also a good pub a short stroll across the road should you need refreshment or a spot of lunch. The river has more of a wooded feel from here on in but still flows in meanders interspersed with the odd shallow and faster flowing section of water. A

A shingle island in the middle of the river signals the approach of Lower Lydbrook and the popular Courtfield Arms. If you want to access the pub you need to make sure you head to the river left side of the island where you can easily get out. It’s not uncommon to see a flotilla of canoes and kayaks moored up here on a warm day with the surrounding grass covered in paddlers enjoying a relaxing beverage. The river flows fast on the right of the island and it’s fun, but watch out for the trees towards the bottom.Onwards you float passing Welsh Bicknor, its Youth Hostel and the

Onwards you float passing Welsh Bicknor, its Youth Hostel and the neighboring church beside it, and not long after passing under the arches of a disused railway bridge. The valley sides start to get closer now as you paddle onwards in to the wonderful Wye Valley Gorge. The river now bends back round a right-hand bend, and you will now pass Collwell Rocks well known amongst bird watchers as a nesting place of Peregrine falcons, you’ll also see now on your left, high above you, the famous Symonds Yat Rock an impressive natural landmark of the area. Take your time on this section and it’s well worth hopping out for a tea break and to take a few pictures.An iron road bridge signals that the end of your journey is not far off. This is Huntsham Bridge, which links Symonds Yat East and West by road.

An iron road bridge signals that the end of your journey is not far off. This is Huntsham Bridge, which links Symonds Yat East and West by road.

As you get closer you will see the houses of Symonds Yat West appearing on the valley side. All to soon you’ll reach the caravan site or Ye Olde Ferrie Inn and your river trips end if you’ve opted to park there. If, however, you’ve parked on the Symonds Yat East side than continue down until you reach the steep concrete steps on river left. With both options if your trip is ending at Symonds Yat then you may want to continue downstream a short while and then take on the fun challenge of Yat Rapids to the right of the central island. Once you’ve arrived at the bottom, one way or another, it’s easy to then carry your boat back up the island before hopping back in on to the flat water above and then paddling back upstream to your chosen take out.

Symonds Yat to Monmouth

Distance 8-miles
Time: One day (2.5 hours)

This is one trip that starts with a splash as you negotiate the famous Symonds Yat Rapids. The rapids and the island next to it is now owned by the British Canoe Union and it has undertaken renovation work to repair and prevent erosion to the site. The rapids run at about grade 2, so present a real challenge for those that have limited experience. If you’ve done a fair bit of paddling however you’ll find them a great deal of fun indeed.

As the excitement of the ‘Yat’ subsides you’ll pass a suspended iron foot bridge linking the walk from Symonds Yat East to Biblins campsite on the west side of the river. Past this spot the river carves it’s way through carboniferous limestone and past the spectacular Seven Sisters Rocks. It’s a section of river that is rich in things to see and explore, brilliant if you’re doing the trip with kids. There are a number or caves on the right hand side of the river including King Arthur’s Cave It was occupied by man during the upper Palaeolithic period and possibly even prior to that. Flint tools and the bones of woolly mammoth have been found within and around the caves, but these days, bats, spiders and other small furry animals, also including the odd canoeist or two, occupy the caverns!

Taking out in Monmouth can be a bit tricky; it’s best to use the second set of steps on the right. The first set belongs to the rowing club and the steps on the left before the bridge Monmouth School. Both are private access only.

Canoe Hire & Courses on the River Wye

There are an increasing number of operators hiring canoes and kayaks and running guided trips and courses on the Wye. Hiring a boat and equipment is a great idea if you have some experience as it means there’s no need to load the car up with all that kit and the hire companies usually take care of the shuttle for you too. All reputable companies will issue you with a buoyancy aid, sounds daft but wear it! You’d be surprised how many people we’ve seen using them as seat pads instead. If you’re going to be running the rapids you’ll need a helmet too.

Guided trips are excellent. Most guides will give you useful tips on how to paddle your boat correctly and are a mine of useful and interesting information about the area.

Information

A good alternative to having to have two vehicles is to take a bike along with you as an alternative, and greener shuttle. It’s fairly easy to cycle the sections on all of the above. Another hot tip is that Local taxi firm Kenny’s Taxis is run by a keen paddler and will do a pick up and drop off service on request.

The Environment Agency produced a great printed guide to the river called ‘A Canoeists Guide to The River Wye’. It’s well worth a read – Buy a copy here.