Roads Rivers and Trails

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Monthly Archives: February 2022

Finding the Best Kayak Rack

As the weather warms up, many of you are either getting back out on the water or contemplating your first boat. Inevitably, part of the buying process is considering how you’ll transport that boat from home to water. Finding the best kayak rack can be challenging, so I’ll break down some of the differences in boat racks and pricing.

First, look at the vehicle you’ll use to transport the boat and ask yourself these three questions:

  • Does my car already have crossbars?
  • What kind of boat do I want (fishing kayak, canoe, recreational kayak, or sea kayak)?
  • Am I able to lift a kayak onto the roof of my vehicle?

Answering these moves you in the right direction. From there, we’ll break down the carriers by features, ease of use, and cost.


Foam Blocks: Sea to Summit Solution Traveller Soft Rack


Sea to Summit Solution Traveller Soft Rack

Many vehicles will not have crossbars and this can present a financial barrier, with Thule and Yakima rail systems costing upwards of $400, depending on the vehicle. There are alternatives if you only plan to drive short distances (within 25-50 miles and not on the expressway). If you can’t afford a roof rack and will stay local, consider foam blocks. These systems can be rigged many ways, but are largely the same. Two blocks rest across your vehicle’s roof. One strap goes through the vehicle and another goes over the boat. With wider boats, you may wrap the boat with one strap through the vehicle. In any case, never use ratchet straps, which can dent the roof of your vehicle and crack or warp the body of your boat.

The advantage to foam blocks is the low cost, but there are drawbacks, such as straps through your car (which can leak in the rain or bring moisture from the boat into your vehicle) and being limited to shorter drives at lower speeds.

Best for: short commutes and tight budgets


J-cradles: Thule Hull-a-port, Thule Hull-a-port XT, Yakima Jaylow

If you have crossbars on your vehicle or plan to get crossbars, there are several options for you. J-cradles are one of the most secure options for transport and make strapping boats easy. First is Thule’s Hull-a-port, a basic J-cradle. At $199.95, this comes with two cradles and straps to carry one boat. To transport two boats in their most secure configuration, you would need two sets, mounted on either side of the vehicle.

Thule Hull-a-port XT

If you have two boats and don’t want to buy two cradles or you park in a garage, other options are Yakima’s Jaylow or Thule’s Hull-a-port XT. Both systems fold down and have the capability of carrying two kayaks, with one going in the cradle and the other going on the crossbar similar to the configuration shown in the photo at left. These are a slight cost bump from the standard Hull-a-port, with the Jaylow coming in at $229.00 and the XT coming in at $219.95. If pulling into your garage without removing your kayak rack is important to you or you have a wider boat, this price bump will be worthwhile.

Best for: recreational kayaks, sea kayaks


Folding Cradles: Thule Compass, Thule Stacker, Yakima BigStack

Another option for those of you with two boats would be the Thule Compass. With a price tag of $299.95, it’s essentially a Hull-a-port with two cradles and is easy to use if you often carry two boats. The Compass is also a good option if you transport paddleboards and folds down when not in use. For someone looking to carry more than two boats, check out Thule’s Stacker (pictured below) or Yakima’s BigStack. These fold down for garage parking and noise reduction; they also give the user the ability to stack up to four boats on their crossbars. Both have a price tag of $199.95, but the systems can be difficult to use and often require a helping hand. For those willing to fuss with straps to secure their boats, their convenience and capacity pay for themselves.

Best for: multiple boats, SUPs

Thule Stacker with four boats

Load Assist: Thule DockGlide, Yakima Deckhand & Handroll, Thule Hullavator Pro

Yakima Deckhand

Load-assist systems work great for heavy fishing kayaks or solo paddlers that struggle loading their boat. Most load-assist systems simply involve pushing your boat onto your roof and then strapping it in. Some have panels that glide; others like the Deckhand (paired with Yakima’s HandRoll) have wheels. Prices can range from $300 for something like the Deckhand/Hand Roll all the way up to $800 for a fully load-assisted system like the Hullavator, the hydraulic loader pictured below which can lift up to 40 pounds of your boat.

Best for: fishing kayaks, solo paddlers


Thule Hullavator Pro

Canoes: Thule Portage

For canoe paddlers, Thule’s Portage carrier is similar to the DockGlide or Deckhand but tailored to fit canoes. Additionally, you could pair those systems with Thule’s Waterslide to easily push a boat onto your vehicle’s roof and minimize the potential for damage to your boat or vehicle.

Best for: canoes, hybrids


Hopefully this article helped you in your roof rack quest. For further information on the system that’s best for you or to inquire about car rack installations, come down to RRT to chat with an expert. Hope to see you paddling down the river sometime soon!


*Prices are listed as they are at time of posting. All prices are subject to change. RRT promises to offer the lowest price possible and always uses MSRP.


by: Ben Shaw

Six Steps to Buying your First Kayak

Finding the kayak of your dreams is intimidating and challenging. Before taking the leap and making that huge investment, you should be sure you’re getting exactly what you want. These six steps to buying your first kayak will make your decision easier.

Step one:

Define your ideal experience. This is often the first question we’ll ask on the sales floor and will consequently eliminate the majority of boats. Imagine your perfect day on the water. Do you have a fishing pole, a whitewater helmet, a canine companion, or a cooler of snacks? Your answer is the start to making it happen. When you know what your goals are, we can show you the kayaks best suited for that purpose and explore what sets them apart. Buying your first kayak should make that ideal experience a reality every time you hit the water. Visit our website to browse available options.

Step two:

Learn the ins and outs of kayak design and features. Each boat is built with a specific paddler or body of water in mind. Looking at the length, width, hull style, cockpit style, weight, and rocker of a kayak tell us its ideal use. Wider boats offer stability, longer boats better tracking, shorter boats maneuverability, and higher rocker profiles perform better in rough water. Talking to experienced paddlers can help you understand the differences between each and pinpoint your favorite few styles. At this point you’ve defined the shape, functionality, and features of kayak models, and it’s time to take the next step.

Step three:

Before buying your first kayak, try out different models on the water. Maybe you have your choice narrowed down, but an online review from somebody with the screen name “” doesn’t have you convinced. Now it is time to compare models side by side. Get the peace of mind you need by trying those models with someone there to teach you the differences. Testing different boats allows you to be confident in your decision and put experience behind the statistics. Specialty retailers like RRT can give you this opportunity either by appointment or at public events.

Step four:

Make the commitment.  At this point, your research has paid off and there is nothing to hold you back from an endless summer of fun! Get the kayak that you love the most and bring that dream day on the water to life. The more you enjoy it, the more you’ll use it, and the more you use it, the better life will be.

Step five:

Get paired up with the right accessories. Car racks, paddles, and life jackets are best purchased with or after the kayak purchase. You’ll need to be paired up with a paddle of appropriate length, decided by your boat’s width and your height. When selecting a paddle, remember that the longer you anticipate being on the water, the more important lightweight, carbon paddles are. Life jackets differ depending on your paddling angle, seat structure, and intended use. Lastly, select your rooftop kayak carrier based off the best loading method for you, your car, and your kayak of choice.

Step six:

Most importantly, be safe. Understand water levels, wear a properly fitting PFD, and understand any equipment requirements before you go out. Be familiar with your route, launch and take-out points, and underwater hazards. Having someone knowledgeable show you the ropes will take a whole lot of stress off your plate. For example, have someone show you the proper way to tie your kayak down before driving away or how to roll your kayak if things go awry. Visit our Little Miami River safety blog or check out the Coast Guard safety checklist.  For more resources local to Cincinnati check our our resource page here.


by: Bryan Wolf

Backcountry permits are required for camping in many national parks.

A Reason for Regulation: The Science Behind Backcountry Permits

The outdoors is regrettably full of barriers to entry: far-away destinations, expensive equipment, learning barriers, and, frustratingly, permits. We’ve all run into the permit barrier, forced to waylay plans as we become tangled in red tape. As the popularity of outdoor recreation increases, so too does the impact on the forests, waterways, and peaks we choose to explore. Growing numbers of visitors lead to eroding trails, trampled vegetation, disturbed wildlife, polluted streams, and an ever-increasing list of degradations. And thus stems a reason for backcountry permits.

The outdoors is a welcoming place of escape. It is an escape from inhibitions, so it is frustrating when permits inhibit us from adventuring at will. Increasingly, the most popular places to camp, fish, hunt, backpack, paddle, and climb are being restricted to permitted users. Paddlers wait years for a coveted permit to paddle the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon, hikers line up for permits to scale Yosemite’s Half Dome monolith, and climbers sleeping on a portaledge in Zion must first obtain a permit. Hunters and anglers have long been subject to competitive lotteries for permits, tags, and licenses, particularly for out-of-state travelers.

Restricting the number of hunters and anglers seems intuitive, since harvest quotas are structured to maintain fish and wildlife populations which can only withstand so much loss. Permits to climb, paddle, and hike in remote areas aren’t so different. Despite our best efforts at Leave No Trace, visiting fragile ecosystems has an impact; we take something away on each visit. The woods, walls, and waters we seek, like wildlife populations, can only handle so much loss.

The Dolly Sods Wilderness Area in West Virginia has long been a favorite getaway for me. Few people seemed to know of the area’s glamour, yet that is changing. The past few years, I’ve noticed more crowded trails and parking lots. Vegetation is trampled as hikers skirt around mud puddles, and secluded campsites hold multiple parties at once. Once, in my own effort to dig the perfect cathole, I uncovered someone else’s refuse. On another trip, I arrived at my favorite trailhead to find “No Parking” signs and overnight parking permit requirements where there had historically been free parking. These are the prices we pay for overcrowding. Some are merely an inconvenience to us, but others inconvenience the ecosystem.

Alpine areas are especially sensitive to overuse, heightening the importance of permit restrictions.

Biologists speak of the carrying capacity of an ecosystem. A forest can only handle so many coyotes, and there’s only room for a certain number of bluebirds in a field. When wildlife populations are above or below that carrying capacity, nature has a way of balancing things out. Disease, competition for food, limited habitat, and predator/prey relationships tend to push populations back toward that magical number.

The lands we recreate on also have a carrying capacity. There are only a certain number of hikers a trail can handle before it becomes irreparably eroded, so many catholes before a campsite is fouled, and a limited number of alpine baths before a lake becomes polluted. Natural checks occur before wildlife populations damage an ecosystem, but there is no such check on human visitors before degradation occurs. It falls on humans to place those checks on ourselves.

Land managers, wildlife biologists, social scientists, botanists, soil scientists, hydrologists, and others collaborate to determine the maximum number of visitors an ecosystem can handle. Backcountry permits are then instituted to keep visitors at or below that number. These numbers are not arbitrary; there is more science than you could imagine behind them. This collaboration of experts weighs human impacts on wildlife, vegetation, soils, waterways, and trails to determine this number.

They consider the human experience and at what number of visitors an area feels overcrowded. How many people can a trail handle, or a river? What’s the maximum number of cars that can fit at a trailhead parking lot? Perhaps park managers and rangers can only deal with so many patrons per day. This number may stem from limited campsite availability or the ability of soils to bounce back from use. A thorough analysis of diverse impacts is completed before land managers make the difficult decision to institute or adjust permits.

Increasingly, backpackers on trails such as the Pacific Crest Trail are subject to permit requirements.

Be forewarned that more and more of our getaways will be subject to backcountry permits in the coming years. It is altogether a good thing that more people are finding refuge in the outdoors, for we all benefit from time outside. We each deserve the chance to see a mountain sunset and drink from an alpine spring. And support for our treasured places will only grow as their visitors do, which can only be good.

Most permits have a nominal fee associated with them, although some are free. Luckily, this fee is usually small enough that it doesn’t create a financial barrier for visitors. When there is a fee, rest assured that your money goes back to protecting the land— establishing campsites, improving trails, building latrines, and restoring damaged habitats. Keep in mind that the first rule of Leave No Trace is plan ahead and prepare. Do your research and be aware of any backcountry permit requirements before you leave and take the steps to secure any necessary permit.

But there will be a time when we don’t get the desired permit. Take each frustration in stride and remind yourself of the science behind that permit. It is there for a reason, with the good of the earth at stake. Be patient. Find another place or time to recreate. Don’t sidestep the permit or break the rules, because the temporary relief it brings is not worth irreversible damage to a place we love. We’re all bound to be frustrated, angered, bamboozled, cheated, fooled, screwed, and hurt by the red tape of permit requirements. When that happens, remember that the permit is there for the benefit of all—the plants, animals, soils, rocks, waters, visitors, and even you.

California’s spectacular High Sierra is restricted to visitors with backcountry permits.

A permit is designed to protect natural spaces from us because despite our best intentions, damage is inevitable. Backcountry permits, done well, should strike a balance between natural and human interactions. They should allow wildlife, vegetation, and ecosystems to flourish unimpeded, but they should also enhance our own experience in those places. After all, these wild spaces are not there solely for our use as hikers, climbers, paddlers, hunters, and anglers. They are there to protect all that is natural and wild, and we are drawn to those places because they are natural and wild. If permits are necessary to keep them that way, then so be it.


by: Will Babb

8 Tips for Beginner Climbers

With the addition of rock climbing to the Olympic Games, the sport has exploded in popularity. Here are 8 tips for beginner climbers as you discover the possibilities of the sport.

1. Go to your local climbing gym

If you live in Cincinnati, you have tons of climbing gyms nearby. The area’s great gyms include Mosaic in Loveland, Rockquest in Sharonville, Climb Cincy in Northside, Climb Time of Blue Ash, and my personal favorite, Climb Time of Oakley. At the gym, you’ll sign a waiver, get a basic orientation, and embark on your first climbs. Start by renting shoes and a harness from the gym to see if you enjoy climbing enough to warrant a purchase. Here’s a bonus tip: it’s okay to be scared. I’ve been climbing for five years and still get scared on some routes; the trick is to keep climbing despite the fear and reap the rewards of doing so.

Mosaic Climbing in Loveland is an excellent resource for beginner climbers

Climbing in a gym allows you to learn in a safe environment

2. Purchase climbing shoes

The first gear purchase for new climbers should be climbing shoes. Climbing shoes have a specialized shape and rubber that allows you to stand on tiny footholds. Renting shoes works at first, but some shoes will perform better. I’d recommend La Sportiva’s Tarantula and Scarpa’s Origin for beginner climbers. Both are comfortable for long gym sessions but still have good rubber to help you stick to the wall.

3. Add to your gear collection

After you buy shoes, you should purchase a harness and chalk bag. While any climbing harness will get the job done, comfort is what separates a harness you may buy from the ones you rent at the gym. I recommend Petzl’s Corax, a comfortable, long-lasting harness at an affordable price. It has plenty of gear loops (the loops found on the side of the harness) which will be necessary if you transition to outdoor climbing.

Petzl's Corax harness, Scarpa's Origin shoes, and a Neon chalk bag are great for beginner climbers

4. Show your style

A chalk bag holds Magnesium Carbonate chalk that is used to dry your hands while climbing. Chalk bags are an opportunity to show your sweet sense of dirtbag style, so find a fun bag that fits your personality like these vibrant Neon chalk bags.

5. Work on your movement

Developing technique will help you improve quickly. Many new climbers rely on their upper body, but footwork is the most important part of climbing. You should be using your hands to balance and your legs to move up the wall. Be intentional with your footwork— look at each foothold before you place your feet. Another common mistake is over-gripping out of fear, which tires you out. Relax, breathe, and trust your feet to hold your weight. The best ways to learn technique are watching experienced climbers and simply climbing more.


6. Learn to belay

You have the basics down, so it’s time to learn to belay. Essentially, you pull the rope as the climber gets higher on the wall. There is a specific technique you need to follow to belay safely. Most gyms offer classes on how to belay. Another way to learn is through an experienced, detail-oriented climbing mentor. Make sure you are confident in your technique before taking a belay test at the gym or belaying others.

Belaying is an important skill in a climber’s progression. Image courtesy Chloe Huggins

7. Start a belaytionship

A “belaytionship” is the close pact a climber and belayer have with one another. This person holds onto your life, so make sure you trust them. Like any relationship, the foundations of a close belaytionship are mutual trust, communication, and respect. It also helps to have a partner that supports you, pushes you harder, and keeps you excited about the sport.

8. Progress your skills

You now know how to climb topropes (climbs where a rope is already anchored at the top, like in a gym). Now it’s time to learn lead climbing. Lead climbing is where you bring the rope up with you and clip into carabiners as you climb the route. All climbing can be dangerous, but lead climbing is where danger becomes more present. Lead belaying technique is just as important to learn as lead climbing, and lead belayers must be attentive to their climbers. You can learn more about the basics of lead climbing by reading blogs or watching others, but you’ll need to take a class or learn from an experienced climber to do it safely. Lead climbing opens up incredible opportunities to climb in spectacular places like Kentucky’s Red River Gorge.

Now it’s time to take your newfound expertise from the gym to the cliffs and crags! The next blog in this series will have tips on sport climbing outside.

by: Sean Masterson