We may not get many white Christmases, but at least we have plenty of whitewater here in Virginia. If you’re looking for ideas for the whitewater boater in your family, we’re here to help. Here are 10 picks we love and we think your loved ones would be stoked to receive. Or hey, gift them to yourself—we won’t judge.
Jackson Antix 2.0 - $1190 to $1549
If someone on your list is looking for their first whitewater kayak but doesn’t know what they want yet, we bet they’ll find it in the Antix 2.0. We think of the new Antix as the crossover SUV of whitewater kayaks – just reassuring enough to have your back on unfamiliar water, but enough edge and slice to make a tired local run look like a new playground. It surfs like a dream and locks onto waves with just a slight switch of the edge. It still has enough volume and bow rocker to carry you up and over waves and boat-stopping holes, so it’s truly an all-around boat that’s perfect for new paddlers or experienced boaters who need a one-kayak quiver.
Jackson Zen 3 - $1190 to $1549
If the Antix still looks a little too spicy, consider its higher-volume, more stable cousin, the Zen 3. The Zen lends an impressive amount of confidence to beginners thanks to its ultra-wide beam, high bow and stern volume, and less aggressive rocker profile. Remember that whitewater kayaks are not one-size-fits-all, so if you need any sizing help, don’t hesitate to call us for assistance.
Astral GreenJacket - $300
Raft guides and river professionals of all kinds consistently pick Astral’s GreenJacket as the most popular rescue vest on the market. Theres’s a good reason for that—actually, a bunch of good reasons. Its signature two-panel construction allows for a comfortable fit for almost any body shape. The oversized clamshell pocket can fit a full pin kit plus snacks for the day, and the quick-release belt allows trained rescuers to safely perform tows and live-bait rescues with the ability to quickly detach if necessary. Please note that the GreenJacket isn’t suited for those who aren’t trained to use a quick-release harness. For those folks, take a look at our next pick, the NRS Ninja.
NRS Ninja - $129.95
Arguably the lowest-profile whitewater PFD on the market, the NRS Ninja is a perennial favorite among playboaters and river runners. Its concentrated design keeps all of the foam centered in front and behind, giving plenty of arm space and a full range of motion. The large zippered pocket is super convenient for snacks, sunglasses, or lip balm. Choose from classic black, high-visibility red, or a fresh-looking teal to suit almost anyone’s style.
Astral Throw Rope - $59.95
There’s an old adage among paddlers: “we’re all between swims.” As much as we hope that next swim is far off, we never know when we’ll need to rescue or be rescued. Help your loved one prepare for that situation with a simple throw rope. They’re easy to use with some simple training, and they can easily save a life (or, more often, a pinned boat). This particular rope is sized to fit perfectly in the GreenJacket’s rope-ready pocket, but it will also pack conveniently into a kayak for anyone not using a GreenJacket. 50 feet of Dyneema-core rope are used to craft this durable and reliable rescue tool.
NRS Co-Pilot Knife - $49.95
If you’re going to have a throw rope, you also need a way to cut that rope if it becomes a hazard. A solid river knife is always a good idea, so consider the tried-and-true Co-Pilot. The Co-Pilot’s sheath attaches directly to most PFD’s knife tabs so it’s always easy to access when you need it. A blunt tip minimizes the risk of accidental raft or skin punctures, and serrated blades help quickly cut through rope, fabric, and fishing line.
Winter paddling is COLD. We bundle in dry suits, union suits, and wool. We pile on two or three pairs of socks under insulating booties. We throw fleece or neoprene liners under our helmets. But by far the hardest thing to keep warm when paddling is our hands. That’s why pogies are the first choice for toasty digits all winter long. Pogies are neoprene oven-mitt shaped things that attach to your paddle shaft. You simply slide your hands in and you have unobstructed grip on the paddle. These ones from Immersion Research are warm, cozy, and easy to use.
Okay, okay, we know we just spent the last paragraph convincing you pogies are the best, but there are some situations where they don’t work so well. They only work on double-bladed kayak paddles, so rafters, canoeists, and paddleboarders won’t find them very helpful. And pogies attach to your paddle shaft, so if you’re out of your boat and not holding your paddle, your hands just aren’t protected. Swimming = very, very cold hands. You can trust me on that because I’m basically a professional swimmer. If you know someone who swims a lot, or a paddleboarder or open canoeist, the new IR Shittens might just be the answer. They feature the same toasty neoprene as IR’s pogies, but in a palmless mitten shape that allows both warmth and grip.
If you know someone who’s stuck inside for the winter, but can’t wait to get after it when the spring rains come, gift them the Immersion Research Rival Jacket. Ideal for shoulder season boating, the Rival provides most of the dryness of a dedicated dry top without the heavy fabric or painful neck gasket. It uses tight-fitting neoprene at the neck and wrists to keep most water out, and features a double tunnel to mate with a spray skirt and keep water out of the kayak.
For those who just can’t wait out winter, the 7 Figure dry suit is there to make them feel like a million bucks. The sleek back entry zipper keeps bulk off your chest and away from your PFD, and the front entry zipper allows a quick answer to nature’s call. Reinforced DWR fabric and super-dry gaskets round out one of the best suits on the market. It’s tough. It’s rugged. It’s steezy. It also has a women’s counterpart, the Aphrodite, which provides an innovative clamshell zipper for both entry and relief.