The Gear Shed - The Utility Belt
In our endless quest to improve our boating we find ourselves picking up a ton of extra gear. Flip line, Carabineers, pulley, snacks, throw bag, a spice rack, the kitchen sink… we can often end up being covered in gear.
So how does a boater get at their gear safely and still keep a everything easily at hand? My friend Daniel Jenkins and I were sitting around wracking our brains for a solution. We spent an entire winter and spring brush boating and getting hung up on gear left and right. Being supreme nerds and comic book fans we thought of how our favorite superheroes handle this task. Enter….THE UTILITY BELT.
Ok this is an old concept that any carpenter should have thought of and my college years in construction provided part of the inspiration. Our thought initially was we need a place for the 3 things every guide carries: a throw bag 2 carabiners and a flip line. Later I decided there was room to take it one step further and add a climbing nut, prussic, and a pulley. I will explain my gear choice later, however we felt if every guide carried this equipment then even with 2 guides fully stocked there would be more than enough gear available for any rope, rescue, rigging, or any other of the myriad situations you need to improvise on the river. We needed something that would be easy to maintain and hold everything we needed, so we headed over to the Army Navy surplus store and went to town.
This helpful video shows what I carry in my belt and more on why my belt is set up the way it is. (Continue reading below)
Waist Bag – As a matter of course we already carried waist mounted throw bags. These throw bags are awesome and always there when you need them. The best part is that they come with a waist belt to form the basis of your utility belt. Second to a flip line it is probably the most useful piece of gear you will own. This is also where the advantage of the system lies. Since most waist bags integrate the quick release buckle you may lose your gear, but you will never be hung up on anything.
Flip Line – This thing is essential and as we discuss in our gear selection article can be dangerous. More often than not I see guides with their flip lines wrapped around their waists with no quick release and a nice sturdy carabiner to keep them wound up tight when it gets caught. I have had several problems getting my flip line caught during my commercial guiding career, and even when I began doing exploratory runs I started getting hum up on brush and tree branches once dangling me above the river in the middle of a rather continuous Class IV rapid. $7 US Army surplus grenade pouch later and my flip line is secure and tucked away in its own pouch.
The Advanced Stuff
As you get more advanced you find that having extra gear really helps. Older style cell phone pouches for flip phones tend to be the perfect size for your extra gear. If you use more climbing style asymmetric carabineers the grenade pouch can work well. I typically sport the grenade pouch and 2 older style cell phone pouches. In my extra gear pouch I will use a small utility carbineer and a split ring threaded through the fabric of the top flap. This helps when your pouch mysteriously pops open while walking around the beach, in a gear bag, in a big swim, or technical rescue situation. It is designed to ensure that your gear stays close at hand and you don’t lose that pretty new pulley you just bought.
Being a right handed guide I like to have my throw bag open to the right and most of my utility equipment on the left. When you are working it is nice to have your dominant hand securing you to a boat if you are wrapped in the most heinous of ways. I have also seen folks mount these things to the webbing of their PFD, but I don’t agree that this is the best thing. First it makes paddling more difficult by interfering with your range of motion. Second if you need to make a must move swim, are having a hard time swimming, and you need to drop some weight…you can’t. Lastly, the extra weight on your PFD makes for an uncomfortable day when you run class II moving water, because you cannot take off your utility belt and stow it in calm water. This is especially true for commercial guides and long days of rowing that typically feature a short section of rapids and long cruisy moving water.
For more information on our what our expedition team boaters carry check out our other gear shed articles