Tuesday, January 20, 2015

BLOG 82: Review: New From Sealskinz & Accent Paddles

BLOG 82. Review: New From Sealskinz and Accent Paddles
by Cliff Jacobson

Here are some new items that have recently come across my desk. None are “must have”, but they are all pretty cool.
The Sealskinz™Beanie is waterproof and breathable
When I canoed the Hood River in northern Canada many years ago, we paddled in the aftermath of a chilling storm that raged for four days.  The temperature hovered at 34 degrees, it rained off-and-on, and the wind speed (according to my wind-meter) was 20 miles per hour. It was cold. Very cold! The icy wind sliced through my thick wool stocking cap. If I put up the hood on my rain coat to keep my head warm I couldn’t see the rapid ahead; if I didn’t use the hood, my ears froze. I wished I had a warm, windproof hat.

Sealskinz’s™ new Waterproof Beanie takes the sting out of wind. Like all Sealskinz products, it’s waterproof and breathable. But what’s the point of a waterproof stocking cap? Well, it’s waterproof, of course, but more importantly, it’s windproof, which means it will keep your head “warm” in the fiercest wind. The outer layer of the hat is knitted Acrylic; the inner layer (next to your head) is soft micro-fleece, which provides warmth and moisture control and feels luxurious. I haven’t tried the Beanie in summer (it’s -10 degrees F here in River Falls, WI as I write this!), but I’ve worn it plenty this winter. It’s very warm; it defies the Viking wind and it’s lighter and more compact than most stocking caps.  The waterproof-breathable substrate naturally reduces air flow to some degree so the hat may be too warm for summer.  We’ll see. But for now—and future Arctic canoe trips—it’s great!
The waterproof-breathable substrate in most Gore-tex socks is contained between protective layers of fabric—usually, nylon or Polyester. Gore-tex socks are designed to be worn over conventional wool socks. Wearing a second pair of wool socks over the Gore-tex socks will reduce abrasion to the fabric shell.  

Sealskinz’s new mid-weight, knee-length socks are different. Here, the waterproof-breathable substrate is sandwiched between a luxurious layer of Merino wool (next to the skin) and an outer layer of Acrylic/Polyester. The result is a comfortably cushy sock that can be worn alone or with a light wool liner inside your boots. The socks won’t stretch or creep down as you walk. They are much more comfortable and more rugged than other Gore-tex socks I’ve used. 
 2-piece Mitchell Paddle

Accent Octane 2-piece canoe paddle--18 ounces

If you’ve ever used use commercial aircraft to access a remote river, you know the problems: There are baggage size and weight limitations and a fee for every checked bag. A 17-foot Pakboat (folding canoe) will weigh about 55 pounds with its duffel bag and yoke. Remove the yoke or some frames and pack them elsewhere and the boat will make the 50 pound limit. But what about your canoe paddles? They are too long to fit in the overhead compartment of the aircraft. Yes, you can bundle ‘em, roll ‘em in bubble wrap and assign them to baggage—but you’ll pay that ominous $50-$75 fee each way. A two-piece paddle that you can stow above your seat is a smarter way to go.

A few years ago, I was invited to canoe some wild rivers in Norway. We brought Pakboats, which were checked as baggage. Bringing paddles from home was an extra expense we didn’t want so we agreed to use the cheap plastic paddles with aluminum shafts that were available in Norway. Given the choice between paddling a good canoe with a bad paddle or a bad canoe with a good paddle, I might go with the latter. I hate having a bad paddle in my hands for hours on end.  For awhile I toyed with ordering a top end Norwegian whitewater paddle, and picking it up in Norway. But it would have been very pricey. And how would I get it home after the trip? So I asked Mitchell Paddles to make me a two piece whitewater paddle. The price was $300+, and the wait was six weeks.  Nice paddle, but at 33 ounces, it was heavier than I like.

Two-piece kayak paddles are widely available, but two-piece canoe paddles are not. Until now, if you wanted one, your choice was a custom built paddle like my Mitchell or a make-it-yourself project. Recently, Accent Paddles (Minneapolis, MN) has come forward to fill the void. Their new two-piece “Octane” canoe paddle is lightweight, stiff and acceptably balanced. It has a carbon-fiber reinforced shaft that is identical to the one on my Mitchell. The scooped, composite molded plastic blade is off-set eight degrees and has a thick reinforcing spline in back. The rolled-over carbon grip is nicely done, similar to that on Bending Branches carbon-fiber paddles. The two-piece disconnect button is smartly located low on the shaft--below where most people will place their lower hand. This was accomplished by reversing the usual connector locations—i.e., the male pin connector is on the upper shaft and the female receptor is on the lower shaft.  Most two piece paddles have it the other way around.

Admittedly, I’m not crazy about the scoop blade or the spline or the eight degree off-set—I’d much prefer either a dead straight blade (for rapids) or a 12-degree one for cruising. And anyway you cut it, splines don’t make for dead-quiet running.  Still, the blade works fine in moderate whitewater and flat. The scoop adds some catch and the spline discourages the molded plastic blade from fluttering. From a performance-racing standpoint, an eight degree bent shaft provides little if any advantage over a similar sized straight blade—and bracing off the backside of any bent blade is at best, awkward. Still, the “Octane” blade is straight enough to allow reasonably efficient off-face braces—essential for stability in rapids. But the real beauty of this paddle is its light weight, price and utility. The 56 inch paddle pictured here weighs 18 ounces (shorter sticks will weigh less). Retail price is $144.95. A one piece version (the “Max Carbon”) costs $129.95. There are two blade shapes—a conventional tear-drop with hard edges and a Zaveral-style lollipop racing model. Both are nice. The conventional blade has less surface area than the lollipop and is slightly lighter and quieter in the water. But the bigger blade has the advantage in aerated water.

Admittedly, this Accent paddle can’t compare in weight, balance or in-water smoothness to a top shelf 12-degree carbon, bent shaft racing paddle. But that’s not its purpose. Instead, it offers reasonable lightweight, acceptable stiffness and all-round utility in a handy two-piece package. Frankly, 18 ounces is pretty light for a canoe paddle, especially a solidly built one like this that can double for fast cruising and moderate whitewater. Even the best wooden paddles generally weigh more than one-and-one half pounds. And none of them come apart! If you want a reasonably light, acceptably-balanced, take-apart paddle at a reasonable price, look hard at this new stick from Accent.



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