It appears that Gearlab’s Deck Pod is a deck bag designed with considerable thought to the needs of sea kayakers.
Gearlab sent me the Deck Pod at no charge which I have agreed to on the proviso that any opinions (positive or negative) are mine to express. The below is an initial impression, with longer term outcomes to follow in time.
I don’t see that many deck bags of any brand about on the decks of sea kayaks around this part of the world. Most people stuff a number of items under the front bungee cords for easy access, and keep other items in their PFD, below deck in the cockpit or in the day hatch (if the boat has one). My approach has to date been the same (no deck bag).
So I feel it is important to first reflect on why a sea kayak would bother using a deck bag: • Neaten up the existing items one may store in the front bungees, PFD and cockpit. • Provide additional storage volume for longer trips. • Provide quick and easy access to essential items. This is especially the case on rough seas, where getting to items in a day hatch and especially below deck can be difficult to dangerous. The location of a deck bag means it is the easiest and most stable location to access out on the ocean. This is not only a convenience factor, it can be a safety factor.
Whilst I haven’t used a deck bag for specifically for gear previously I often fish from my sea kayak and so I have had a procession of insulated deck bags for storing my catch. This has given me some insight into a few issues with the designs. Some of the common issues I have seen with deck bags (and my insulated fish deck bags): • Poor attachments to the deck lines – leaving the bag too loose and subject to move about. • Components that fail too quickly. The deck bag needs to survive constant UV and salt exposure. They need to be tough. • Bags that impede efficient paddling or rolling. • Bags that catch the wind. • Bags that are fiddly or difficult to access on the water, negating one of the points of moving the gear on to the deck in the first place.
After spending some time picking over Gearlab’s Deck Pod it is apparent how they have considered and tried to address all of the above (and probably a few other things that I haven’t thought of). Let me try to explain the bag in a series of dot points: • The bag is not large – maybe totalling close to 10 litres if the internal and external storage was all tallied up. It is also shaped like a limpet (or more accurately a slug) with a broad, concave underside and then all sides tapering up and in from the deck. This means it is relatively low profile on the front deck and does not impede any paddle strokes or rolls. • There are two adjustable ports on either side of the bag. The two most common items sea kayakers want easy access to when things get hairy out on the water are a bilge pump and paddle float. The two ports are designed to fit these items (or similar sized roughly cylindrical gear). On closer examination the attention Gearlab have put into designing these ports is impressive. The back port is padded, with both hook and loop fastener to adjust to the approximate size for your pump and also a webbing and buckle cinch to tighten a little further to hold the item tight. The front port is simply a loop of webbing and clip buckle so that the clip can be quickly released on the water to take out the item. However there is more to its design. Gearlab has used polyacetal buckles made by YKK of Japan for the various buckles and zip on the bag. However for the front gear ports they use buckles from another Japanese manufacturer – Nifco – also in polyacetal. This buckle has a little ‘lip’ under the clip where the webbing doubles back to tighten. Hard to describe without pictures, but the result is that the webbing loop cannot be tightened, or more importantly loosened, unless the buckle is unclipped. Meaning that even in the craziest surf wipe-out, your paddle float secured to your deck bag is not going to come loose. No doubt it would have been easier for Gearlab to specify another YKK buckle for this clip and pretty much no-one would have noticed. But I guess they wanted to be sure that webbing wouldn’t come loose under hard use. I am impressed, it is this sort of commitment to detail that separates the good brands from the pretenders. • The Deck Pod is in no way waterproof, indeed it has mesh drainage ports so water can get out of (but also into) the bag quickly. This is a good thing. Waterproof zips don’t stay waterproof for long, especially under constant sun and salt, and seize up too easily with sand and salt. Roll top dry bags work great, but have you ever tried to roll one up nice and tight – one, two, three – on the front deck in a big sea? Easy enough on a flat lake, but a rough ocean is when deck bags get wet. If you have a few items that need to be waterproofed, much better to store them in a small dry bag and put that into the Deck Pod. Most of the stuff you will want in there (water, safety gear, some snacks) can, and will, get wet. • The Deck Pod attaches via four webbing straps that can be tensioned through buckle clips. The webbing has loops sewn at each end with a half twist (to make it easier to thread). You choke the webbing on to your deck lines, clip the bag on and tension the webbing. As the buckles sit flat on the deck they don’t loosen. I have used a few other types of attachments for deck bags. The worst are those plastic clips or carabiners. They never sit flush, are hard to tension right and seem to break too easily. Better is two sided Velcro tape. A bit more fiddly and not as tight but durable and secure. The Gearlab solution is better again and the easiest and tightest attachment method I have tried. For a very narrow deck kayak they may not be able to be tightened enough with the above approach. But if you choke the webbing to each other instead of the deck lines and run a continuous loop under the deck lines it could be made tight enough. • Gearlab have added a carry handle to make the bag just that bit more ergonomic to lug around. Cleverly, the carry handle is stitched so that it always tucks up under the bag on the deck, and won’t get snagged on the water or confused with the grab loop on your spray skirt. • The bag opens via one non-waterproof zipper running lengthways across one side of the top of the bag. Internally, there is basically one big cavity, with a mesh pocket to one side and an opening towards the front where you can route a hydration tube or even wedge a GPS or other device from the outside. I could see myself slipping a wrapper into through this hole after a snack, instead of undoing the zipper. Internally there is a plastic hook clip for securing a lanyard to any items that are critical to not getting dropped over the side (e.g. mobile phone case). The plastic hook clip looks well made, though I have had plenty break in backpacks after a few years and only time will tell. Pretty easy to replace it with a small carabiner if it does eventually break as the fabric tape loop is exposed within the bag. • There is a long mesh pocket on top of the bag. This would a good spot for stuffing in a map or a couple of snack bars if conditions weren’t really rough. In really rough conditions I could imagine items could be lost from this area. • The bag is lightly padded (feels like maybe 3mm closed cell foam is used throughout the bags construction). I guess that is to reduce the impact from any hard objects rattling around in the bag from damaging the deck of your kayak. It also means that the bag floats, at least when empty. • Gearlab calls the fabric ‘450D DWR Hydrolysis Resistant Fabric’. I am assuming that means that the fabric is not nylon (which is subject to hydrolysis) and probably polyester. Polyester would be preferable also in being relatively resistant to UV breakdown.
Of course, the above counts for nothing unless the gear performs out on the water. An initial test has revealed nothing or concern or different to that noted above. The deck bags low profile means it doesn’t cause any issues either paddling or rolling. I added a couple of 500ml water bottles to the bag to see how they rattled about during rolling but didn’t even notice them. Pricing for the Deck Pod is pretty competitive with other deck bags on the market. Most, but not all of Gearlab’s products (for example I love the design of their dry bag, but it is too expensive compared to the alternatives) are competitively priced.
The Sea-to-Summit one is another reasonable deck bag, but the Gearlab bag is better designed for its purpose. For example the bungee cord webbing on the Sea-to-Summit is not going to hold items well enough in a combat roll situation. I’ve had a good look over the internet at other sea kayak deck bags as well – not the ideal research method – but I can pretty quickly see flaws in most of the other designs if they are to be used for serious sea kayaking.
I do like to get a lot more use on gear before I conclude an opinion and will post a second follow up review when that is complete. Some issues only become apparent over time. However at this stage, I do feel that Gearlab have produced a deck bag that is better designed than most for ocean sea kayaking.
In conclusion this is the best dry bag I have used but I wouldn’t buy one.
I’ve had my Gearlab dry bag now for just over a year now so finally feel that I am getting enough use and wear on it to make a judgement. I have used it every time I have paddled to maximise use and wear. I live in a tropical climate and I believe that the heat, humidity and sun accelerates wear on equipment, so hopefully this is a reasonable test period. Gearlab have made some minor changes/improvements to the design that I have which I will mention in turn.
The most striking feature of this dry bag is the two types of material used: • The dark, outer material is a urethane proofed cordura. If feels very similar to the material that MSR make their famously indestructible Dromedary water bladders from. This material has proven to be very durable for a dry bag and has the positive features of not being too heavy or thick, but also being a bit rigid and certainly tough. • The lime green ‘inner’ material – the roll-top – is made from a much thinner material – possibly urethane proofed polyester (maybe nylon, but it doesn’t seem to sag when wet like nylon). The inner roll-top rolls up to sit inside of the outer bag with a buckle over the closure to ensure it stays tucked in. This way, the lighter material is never rubbing against the hull or other gear in the kayak, which may cause it to get damaged and its waterproofness compromised. The benefit of using the lighter material for the roll-top (as opposed to using the outer material for the whole bag) is that it is much easier to roll up tightly and reduces the overall weight and bulk of the bag. A clever idea and it works as intended.
Whilst the design protects the lighter inner material from damage, I was still somewhat concerned about this material over the longer term. There is a great deal of variation in the quality of the lighter waterproof materials with some types soon wearing and leaking from repeated folding/rolling of the bag. Others have poorer quality urethane treatments that start to flake or breakdown with hydrolysis. To date, no such issues with the Gearlab dry bag.
The other notable feature of the dry bag are: • A loop of webbing sewn to the bottom. This makes it easier to retrieve the bag if you stuff it right up into the bow of kayak. Works well. • Sewn on carry handles. This makes the dry bag quite practical as a tote. Sometimes, when on a paddle, we stop by cafes for breakfast or lunch and I feel that the Gearlab dry bag is a bit more respectable than the usual industrial looking bag I carry my bits and pieces in.
The webbing for the loop and handles on my dry bag are sewn via bar tack stitching. The bar tacks sit raised on the level of the outer dry bag material and eventually some of them began to wear against the hull of the kayak and started to unravel. I fixed this very easily and permanently with a few drops of super glue. Gearlab have changed the way that the handles are sewn on so this may not be an issue (at least for the handles) on current models (I haven’t seen a current one in the flesh).
Gearlab have also added some drainage holes to the outer material just above the join to the inner. This just means that if the bag gets a good dunking, the water in the ‘hood’ will drain out whichever way, without needing to physically pour it out.
So all up, a cleverly designed and seemingly durable dry bag. But personally, as mentioned at the start, I won’t be buying them. The reason is simply – I can buy five heavy PVC dry bags for the price of one of Gearlab’s. Now the PVC dry bags are heavier, they are not so easy to roll up (and you use up more of the bag doing so) they are harder to pack and they are slippery and sometimes difficult to get out of the kayak bulkhead. But they are super tough and durable, there is plenty of room in a kayak for extra gear (even for a week plus expedition) and I can always find a stick to drag the bags out if they are stuck down in the bow end of the bulkhead.
There are also the lighter type dry bags (e.g. silnylon, cuben fibre/ dyneema composite fabric, light urethane proofed materials) but I have had no luck with these over the longer term for kayaking. They wear and develop leaks far too easily inside the hull of a kayak.
So near full marks to Gearlab on the clever design of these dry bags. Gearlab know the sea kayaking environment (the team are regularly out on trips themselves) and they put something together that is an improvement on your usual dry bag as well as being plenty tough and durable. If you need the best dry bags for kayaking these should be on your shortlist. However if you ok with dry bags that are a bit bulkier, heavier and not as user friendly, you can get by with other bags that are just as waterproof and durable for a lot less cash.
First things, let me make the disclosure. Gearlab supplied me with a Kalleq paddle prototype and revised version at no cost to me. Gearlab sort comments from some testers around the world and made some slight improvements to the original prototype based on feedback received. However I believe that I am able to judge this paddle independent of this but the facts are there.
As to a paddling background, my primary interest is in longer distance kayak trips on the ocean, including unsupported expeditions of up to a week. For nearly 10 years I paddled a number of euro blades, and my last euro blade prior to pursuing the greenland paddles was a 630 gram top of the line full carbon Werner. I am not a ‘greenland style’ paddler (though I fully appreciate, and am slowly leaning some, greenland style skills).
Firstly what to expect to view one of these paddles: • Full carbon, light weight. The construction is different to other Gearlab paddles in that with the Kalleq each half is made in one continuous piece of carbon. This improves strength and reduces weight. My Kalleq is slightly heavier than my previous full carbon Werner, however I feel the swing weight is less than the Werner. It is lighter than my other Gearlab paddle. Note I paddle both my euro and greenland paddles with a high angle stroke – more on this later. • Sharp edges. Gearlab have pushed up to the limits of how narrow the edges of a Greenland paddle can be without making them too sharp to hold the blade for extended paddle strokes. The sharper edges are to improve the bite and power of the paddle in use. • Wider blade. The Kalleq is slightly (about 4mm) wider than Gearlab’s current touring paddles – the Akiak and Nukilik. This seemingly small width increase is very significant in the look of the paddle and translates into more power potential on the water. • Improved plastic tip. Still replaceable, but shorter and only held with one screw. The plastic tip also butts up to a thin plastic bush on the paddle itself, which improves the fit. • Same proven ferrule. The paddle is a two piece with the same proven ferrule design as found on their other models. I haven’t heard anyone complain yet about these ferrules – they work well.
On the water I do find this paddle slightly more technical to use than the other greenland paddles. By that, I mean it took me slightly longer to get efficient with it and it required a little more attention to paddle placement on the catch. Having said that, the rewards are oodles of power – in fact more than I can utilise. This is a paddle for fast cruising on textured blue water all day long. It would be very well suited to the newer generation of fast touring sea kayaks - Epic 18X, Tiderace Pace, Rockpool Taran and their kin. If anyone was to try racing with Greenland paddles the Kalleq should be on their shortlist.
If you are paddling with the Kalleq (or many other Greenland paddles) and feel that you are lacking speed or power, be assured that the reason is the wrong technique. Study the canted stroke – if the paddle feels like the paddle has low resistance in the water you are not using it right. The standout feature of greenland paddles generally is their versatility. You can use them with different forward stroke techniques – high angle, ‘wing stroke’ style, low angle – but with all techniques if you don’t consciously utilise the canting you won’t get enough grip on the water. The technique does become subconscious soon enough.
I personally gravitate to a high-angle (very close to the gunnel and almost parallel to the centre line of the kayak other than a little ‘kick out’ at the end) stroke which may not be textbook but has proven to be solid enough. Indeed I have paddled a number of trips now with groups of other kayakers who are using everything from heavy plastic euros, premium Werner and Adventure Technology euros and various wing paddles. With the Kalleq there is no issue keeping (or exceeding) pace with any of them. I also have studied my cadence against these other paddlers and with the Kalleq my cadence is no faster than even a Werner Ikelos for the same speed. This includes times with strong paddlers in identical kayaks to myself.
In rougher water the Kalleq’s lightness translates to a buoyant feel on the water that is very reassuring. Greenland paddles generally speaking excel in rough blue water as they are so predictable at any angle. Unexpectedly I find the Kalleq easier to skull with than other greenland paddles and as is typical of a greenland paddle, rolling is very simple.
The reaction from others that have tried this paddle has been immediately positive. The quality of the paddle is apparent on a look-over, the composite manufacturing appears as good as the best alternatives, the sharpness of the edges is striking and it immediately feels secure in the water.
The Kalleq is going to be an interesting design to watch in the market. I believe that the forward efficiency of this style of paddle when used correctly is better than a euro even if perhaps not quite as good as a wing. However the greenland paddle is superior to all others in versatility for technical strokes, bracing and rolling. It will appeal to traditional greenland paddlers looking to move up to something with a bit more performance potential. But it may also attract a newer type of paddler to greenland paddling – that being strong paddlers looking to churn out long distances at high speeds with high efficiency.
First things first, if you are considering getting a Greenland paddle, ensure you do some research on the ‘canted stroke’ first.
I am a relatively new convert to Greenland paddles, having paddled with euro style blades for 10 years. I mostly paddle the ocean, including week long kayak/camping expeditions. Day trips are usually in the 20-30km (half day) to 40km-50km range (full day). My preference for euro style paddle is a small blade and relatively short length. Currently a Werner Cyprus (carbon) 210cm using a 45 degree feather. My boat is a 580cm (19 foot) 55cm wide touring sea kayak.
Other than some very short plays I have very little previous experience with Greenland paddles. I have long admired the concept – the symmetrical and elegantly simple design – to me these were the paddles you would want to have if the s*$# really hit the fan due to ease of bracing, rolling, less windage paddling in high winds and reputedly more efficient distance paddling. For last few years I toyed with the idea of purchasing a Greenland paddle as my spare paddle so I could mix it up with the euro depending on conditions – but somehow never quite got around to the purchase. My first experience of any serious duration was with a laminated wooden shoulderless design from a relatively well known builder. I knew the principles of using the Greenland paddle but my first few attempts the paddle felt awful. Towards the end of a short 16km trip I was starting to get a little more comfortable with the design, though still paddling poorly (especially retraining the brain to the lack of feather on the left hand stroke). Despite this, the second half of the trip was towards the higher end of my cruising speed with other paddles, which I did not expect. I had already determined that bracing and rolling with the Greenland paddle was as good or better than a euro so I finally committed to a purchase.
In my previous half-hearted investigations I had zeroed in on Gearlab Paddles as my likely supplier. I wanted two-piece (but without an outwardly bulky ferule or needing tools) and I wanted carbon (wood seemed like too much maintenance). The replaceable polyamide plastic tips on the Gearlab paddle were a big plus in resolving one of the weakness I would just have to live with on greenland paddle. Lots of checking around the web revealed consistently positive reviews - a serious company, genuinely interested in the uses of the gear they make and improving the designs over time. I continued to look at other options, but came back to Gearlab.
The paddle choice was relatively simple – I wanted a touring design for long distances and I wanted shoulderless for wandering hands during paddling, bracing and rolling. So the Akiak model it was. Not so easy was estimating the correct length. In my initial years sea kayaking I went from 230cm to 210cm and found this a vast improvement – so much so that I now find a 220cm euro paddle quite awkward to use. My Werner is 210cm and I often think it is still a touch too long and I would like to try a 205cm version of that paddle. So I read lots on Greenland paddle sizing (including the guide on Gearlab’s site) and everything pointed to a much longer paddle – 235cm to 250cm! I am 6’4” by the way. I was struggling with ordering such a long paddle but was close to settling at 220cm – just to add some length to my euro preferred length as all indications were to go longer. In the end I emailed Gearlab with a tediously long list of considerations to paddle sizing. They suggested I go with a 210cm Greenland paddle as that is the length I have become used to paddling. This sounded good to me, but did create a new niggling doubt – the paddle blade gets a little smaller as the paddle gets shorter so would this thing, already the smallest bladed paddle in their line-up – be under powered?
I ordered the paddle anyway. As mentioned in other reviews, Gearlab handled the order impeccably. They are clearly very well accustomed to fulfilling online orders. They sent an email to confirm all order details were correct before shipping, and then the paddle was delivered (in regional Australia) only 3 business days after it was shipped!
Paddle was durably packed and came with spare tips and screws, some wax (to put on the ferrule joint if it is a little loose), instructions for how to change all the parts if need be and some promotional stickers.
On examination the paddle is well built. The join at the ferrule is not quite as perfect as my Werner (possibly the best ferrules in the business) – they is a hairline space on the Gearlab paddle between the two halves when joined though this is not in any way a functional issue. Sometimes if I twist the paddle deliberately I think I can feel a fraction of radial play in the join – then I try again and I feel nothing. I may or may not be imagining it and there is certainly no other play in the join – it is very solid.
On the water after only about 50km and a few rolling sessions I am impressed enough to believe this will become my primary paddle and not my spare as originally intended. The kicker here is the paddle’s success with forward propulsion. I had always expected the Greenland paddle to be great for bracing, technical strokes and rolling – and it is. But I am probably also a bit faster with the Akiak than my Werner on the forward stroke. Maybe my euro technique is poor (if is far from perfect) but I doubt it is that bad – I have certainly had no problems with speed or efficiency against others to date. Early days with the Akiak technique wise but Coach Garmin says I am sustaining speeds of between 8km/hr and 9km/hr when conditions are reasonable over distances (7km and 10km) including on a no-current inland water.
I focussed from the very start on getting the canted stroke working and whilst that added to the initial awkwardness it is paying off. Still more work needs to be done. The canted stroke does feel like it has the Greenland paddle working like a wing paddle and the paddle absolutely feels like it is ‘planted in mud’ to use someone else’s phrase. Judging from the feel of the paddle and the speeds on my GPS I am confident in saying that this little paddle has more grip (power) than I can utilise in my kayak. The paddle, when used with the canted stroke at speed forces good body rotation as it is simply too much strain on the shoulders to continue arm paddling for long. I also find my paddling cadence no faster than the euro. I hold the Akiak with quite a wide grip. Compared to my Euro stroke my Greenland stroke starts slightly less forward (otherwise I find it hard to get the right canting angle) and finishes a fair bit further back (which does not result in loss of efficiency like the Euro). I paddle at a variety of angles through a day but often use a reasonably high angle, close in stroke. My Greenland style thus far is slightly lower angle generally (I wouldn’t call it low angle) and I can keep it close in or move out like a wing paddle. I am very slightly faster it appears with it close compared to the wing style stroke. The euro does not seem to like my wing style stroke at all. All up the paddling experience has been nothing like what I expected from my research expecting that Greenland paddles are high cadence, gentle on the body, long distance paddles. Compared to the wooden greenland paddle I tried earlier the Gearlab paddle is more comfortable in the hand and seems to be a little more forgiving of paddling strokes (not as prone to ventilating). I don’t find any problem with any lack of grip on the carbon and I like the smoother feel of the composite finish in the water.
In terms of wear on the body, I haven’t done any long enough trips to test but to date after a 30km paddle there was no soreness to report. That trip involved some heavy direct headwinds for a stretch – never fun or fast but the paddle is easier to control than a euro in those conditions. I haven’t had much issue with fatigue with my Werner either so can’t really compare. The Gearlab paddle is heavier than the Werner but I don’t notice any greater swing weight (and paddling into a good wind it is certainly less weight in the air).
I am also very happy with the 210cm length and can’t see a need (or desire) for longer. Holding the paddle normally for a roll there is less support than the Werner (due to the less width out the end) but extending the paddle about 20cm-30cm (not a Pawlata) seems to give about the same support as the Werner. This is easily done in a fraction of a second underwater. I can still roll without any extension almost every time. Typical of any Greenland paddle fully extending the paddle (Pawlata style) gives a slow roll with so much support you just about can’t fail to come up.
Where the Werner Cyprus paddle has been a standout for me (it is overall a very, very good paddle) is the instant, predictable and secure bite the blade has in any conditions – particularly great in surfing or in confused seas. Still to test the Greenland paddle for this. I note Gearlab has the wider bladed ‘surfing’ Greenland paddle models for this however the Akiak may yet be sufficient for me in ‘conditions’ on the ocean – I’ll need to test to see.
In all I can’t fault Gearlab’s paddle or their service and a full five stars from me. Price is competitive relative to the Greenland paddle completion (including wood) and other quality paddles.
I am also in a stage of being in slight shock as to the potential of Greenland paddles generally but my rating of Gearlab does not include this factor, just their paddle quality and service.
In summary: • Get the canted stroke concept into your head as early as possible and work on it. • Don’t be afraid of going to shorter paddles, in line with euro lengths. • Don’t be mistaken to thinking this style of paddle is about high cadence, gentle paddling. You can do this but get the canted stroke right and there is more power in these paddles than you can likely use.