In May, four friends and I made the first SUP descent of Utah’s Escalante River, one of the most remote waterways in the lower 48. The deep canyon and its twisted arms are so middle-of-nowhere that the region was the last to be mapped in the contiguous U.S.—a process that started in 1871 and took six years to complete. Undammed and 100 miles long, the zigzag of whitewater and its colossal sandstone walls—plus the erratic weather—created an ideal laboratory to test gear.
Our window to run the river was tight, and we wanted to keep the amount of gear we carried as streamlined as possible. So, as a self-supported, minimalist expedition, we tactfully hunted down what we thought would be the lightest weight, hardiest equipment. Here are eight highlights from the apparel, equipment and food that I would definitely take back if round two were to happen.
HALA GEAR STRAIGHT UP
The Straight Up, designed by Hala Gear, proved resilient and ideally suited for the Escalante trip. Post-adventure, we were amazed that none of our boards had popped. Conditions along the Escalante range from extremely low water—as in, dragging one’s boat down a trickle and over pebbles—to sliding against sharp tree roots, navigating Class III-IV whitewater and slamming into prickly boulders. And after we passed Neon Canyon at mile 36 we didn’t see a soul for the next 60 river miles.
In light of traveling to such a remote area, durability was top-of-mind as we considered which stand-up paddleboard to use. The only wear and tear noted following the trip—other than a handful of buff marks—was that a sliver of my board’s sidewall reinforcement (about the width of a pinky nail) was beginning to peel up. It’s not enough for me to be concerned, but I’ll probably apply a drop of the MEK chemical glue (which is included with the Straight Up package) to be extra safe.
The Straight Up’s a traditional shape (it’s not a pointy race board) and slightly rocker profile is meant to be great for all-around sportiness, which I found to be true. The board handled well on both whitewater and the glassy lake. Removable fins were a necessity for us, due to the variability of the river. The Straight up includes three, which we carried and inserted once we reached Powell’s flat pool in order to track straight. The Straight Up features reinforced stainless D-rings, which we needed for rigging down our dry bags and to tie a leash onto the back. We wanted inflatables rather than solids for ease of transportation—for our drop-off at the put-in and then for the boat pick-up at Lake Powell—and adaptability, in case we needed to hike out of Crack-in-the-Wall (mile 76) due to low water or an emergency. The 10-foot long, 33-inch wide size is a smaller model and was easy for me—close to 5’6”, 130 pounds—to maneuver.
The Straight Up package ($1,359) includes two pumps. To start off, the 12V car pump is awesome for quickly airing up the boats. The process is easy (remember to release the pin while inflating) and takes about five minutes. We carried the second pump—a lightweight hand-held with a gauge—on the actual trip, which didn’t take up much room.
Off water, I’ve also loved the rolling backpack that the Straight Up, it’s paddle and accessories all fit inside. When I lived in a 400-square-foot studio, the pack was easy to store and carry the SUP up-and-down four flights of stairs.
Article published by Gear Institute.