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Five Fingers — Yes, Baby!

April 15th, 2010 4 comments

OK, this is a controversy I can’t avoid.  Five Fingers!  Lsa, of As I Said . . . , has been scarred by an encounter with my favorite kayaking shoes:

Now, I agree with Lsa’s main point — even I have to admit that these stupendous, wonderful, incredibly comfortable foot-coddlers are NOT  fashion-forward.  BUT I feel compelled to rise to their defense (I’ve done it before, though with a different focus).  If you like having bare feet, you’ll probably love these things — it’s bare foot without any of the drawbacks.

So what do you think?  If Vibram made them transparent (so that they were essentially visible), could we wear them with real clothes and mainstream them into our fashion consciousness?  I’m  just suggesting .  .  .

Related:  Five Fingers for the Feet

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Five Fingers for the Feet

May 26th, 2008 No comments

I tried on these shoes last year at a sports store in Philadelphia. I didn’t get them at the time because I wasn’t quite sure how I’d use them, and, well, the clerk was a real jerk. (It’s the principle of the thing.) This year I have a brand-new kayak, and the idea of paddling with almost-bare feet was irresistible, so I bought these Vibram Five Fingers shoes from REI.

The “fingers” are really your toes, of course. There’s one protected pod for each of your little piglets. Wearing these is like going barefoot, but without the incidental pain or discomfort of stepping on random twigs or small pebbles when you’re outdoors. They provide enough protection that you can stride around without fear, but you also feel the ground in a way that is almost wonderful.

Putting them on the first time is a bit of a strange experience and getting used to putting each toe into its own little pocket seems weird at first, but quickly becomes second nature. I always wear shoes with roomy, boxy, toes, but the feeling of freedom this footwear provides surpasses anything else that goes on my feet.

I do spend much of the year going barefoot in my home, walking on hardwood floors. People who don’t go barefoot regularly might find that there’s some ramp-up time before they’re used to Five Fingers. The manufacturer even recommends wearing them only a couple of hours at a time until they’re familiar. I padded around the house for a few hours a day a couple of times, but on me they felt right instantly.

They’re perfection in the kayak. I have to wear a life vest, but otherwise, I prefer as few layers as possible between me and my boat. It’s smart to wear shoes, though — there’s nasty stuff on those there lake bottoms and river banks, and sometimes we like to hike in a bit and picnic while on a longer paddling trip. These feel like a second skin, but protect like a shoe.

Five Fingers sells the model above specifically for water sports, but I didn’t like the fit of the top of the shoe, or the way the strap lay on my foot. The worry is that you might lose an unstrapped shoe if you go overboard. So I did a simple mod — I just wrap elastic straps around each shoe while I’m in the kayak. I suspect this would be enough to keep them on my feet, and it’s easy enough to pop the strap off once I’m on land.

Making the straps took all of five minutes. I used black one-inch wide non-roll elastic, folded one end over a rectangular loop, folded under the raw edge at the other end, zig-zagged everything in place, and added hook and loop closures. I put the rectangular loop next to the side of my shoe (where I won’t feel it), and tuck the part that hook-and-loops closed under my instep. Eventually, I might wear out the elastic under the sole, but making new straps obviously won’t be much of a strain.

Five Fingers are machine washable (some reviewers — mostly runners — have noted that they get pretty grotty) and they are vegan-friendly. If you order them directly from Vibram, there’s a re-stocking fee; REI doesn’t carry them in our local store, but they are typically fantastic about returns, and there’s no shipping charge if you pick them up at an REI store. City Sports has them on their website, and may still carry them in their Philadelphia store, too.

Update:  April 2010 — our local REI has Five Fingers in stock, though they’ve been going fast. And Mr. Noile loves his, too.

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DIY Kayak Seat Modification

May 20th, 2008 No comments

On a maniacal Sunday a couple of weeks ago. I got up and made over my Vogue 8497 flop, made a kayak hanger, and designed a seat-back modification for my Tsunami SP kayak. It’s taken me until now to get this final post up after that particular marathon.

My kayak’s a Wilderness Tsunami SP. The “SP” in my kayak’s name stands for “smaller paddler”. It’s designed for bigger kids on up to small adults. I’m at the top of the size range, and the seat back just didn’t work quite right for me. I needed a little more height for better support, but there’s nothing available from the manufacturer to fix the problem.

I decided to see what I could do myself. I needed something light, but somewhat stiff, to give structure to my adaptation. I needed closed-cell foam to make the support comfortable. (Closed-cell foam is critical, because the last thing you want in a boat is foam that will soak up water.) I needed some way to attach the new support to the existing seat, and the whole thing would need a cover.

Here’s what I came up with.

Finding closed-cell foam was the real challenge. I stopped at a couple of boat dealerships, and asked about buying it, but was met with blank stares. At the second dealer, I spied this boat cushion:

The sales guy was dubious: He pointed out that these cushions are filled with thin sheets of foam, not solid blocks. I was thrilled; that’s exactly what I needed, so that I could pad out my seat an eighth of an inch at a time.

I found a huge, flexible-but-sturdy plastic cutting ‘board’ in the kitchen section of IKEA for the support piece. Armed with a black marker, heavy duty shears and a roll of duct tape, I began planning.

The back on my spouse’s seat is my preferred height, so I traced its outline on the IKEA board, and cut that out. Later on, I changed my mind, and cut the seat back lower: the greater height wasn’t perfect, and the higher back was going to be an issue when loading and storing the boat. The picture above is of that higher back, but it gives you an idea of how I began to fit the seat back to the kayak.

Here’s the template I ended up using, cut from the same IKEA board:

The angled rectangles are for the webbing straps that anchor the seat back; they got cut out later.

I ripped open the boat cushion, and, using the template, cut four sheets of foam. Three were for the front of the seat, and one for behind it.


I made a sandwich of these parts: back foam sheet, the IKEA board, then three foam sheets. I duct-taped the assembly together and fit it into the kayak seat. Webbing and buckles hold the seat back to the kayak, so I cut holes in the back foam sheet for those.

The foam holes are cut a little smaller than the rectangles in the rigid IKEA board — that’s so the the webbing will rub against foam, not the sharper edges of the IKEA template, which might wear the webbing over time.

Then I clipped my duct tape ‘muslin’ in place and sat in the kayak. (This photo’s actually for the higher back, but you get the idea.)

My back mod was nice and cushy, but it flopped (literally). There was too much ‘give’ in the existing seat back. My spouse and I finagled with it, and were finally able tighten the center buckle and strap so the the existing seat back no longer moved. This involved pulling the buckle under the seat itself, but the fit was “iffy”, and it had a tendency to slip.

Which led to another mod. I added a d-ring and a webbing extension to the buckle adjustment strap, and ran it to the front of the seat, so I could make adjustments while paddling, if I needed to, since there was no way for me to reach back and pull the existing strap while in the seat. To keep the strap from disappearing, I ran a piece of PVC piping across the underside of the seat, in front, and through the loop of the strap. You can see strap and the rubber stop I put on the end of the pipe in the picture below:

My new seat back needed a cover to maintain structural integrity. Using my foam sandwich as a template, I cut a front and back from black spandex, adding flaps at the bottom to close the cover, and appropriate seam allowances. Then I cut a strip of spandex the length of the curved sides of the sandwich, plus a seam allowance on each side.

I marked slots in the spandex for the straps, and interfaced the undersides. I used hook and loop tape to close the bottom of the cover, but I’ve heard that it loosens in water, so I also added two buckles to hold the cover on the foam back. Spandex isn’t strong enough to anchor the buckle straps, so I sewed a piece of webbing to the underside of the cover before assembling it, and then attached the buckle straps to the webbing on the outside of the cover.

Here’s how the cover looks closed. There’s a gap at the center bottom for the existing kayak seat anchor, and openings in the side of the cover for existing side adjusters that came with the kayak.

From the front, the seat back looks pretty sleek:

As it does in the kayak. Here’s the front:

And here’s how the back looks in place in the kayak:

This turned out to be a fabulous fix, and the seat now fits my body perfectly. Just like this amazing, fast and sleek kayak!

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DIY Kayak Storage

April 15th, 2008 No comments

Here’s a simple kayak storage system I put together last Sunday. I used about 20 yards of webbing and four nylon buckles, all of which I bought at REI. We have only 29 inches of space for kayak storage along one wall in our over-crowded garage, so a more complicated rack was out of the question.

I melted the ends of the webbing with a small lighter to keep them from fraying. It’s usually a good idea to seal any holes in webbing the same way, but I didn’t bother in this case, since the minimal stress on the straps isn’t too likely to cause the holes to widen. Sewing the buckles on was easy and quick; I’ve used webbing and buckles for a ton of projects in the past.

The larger kayak (on the bottom) weighs 55 pounds; the smaller one just 35. The combined weight is no problem for either the webbing or the buckles, but each kayak is resting in its own loop just to be sure.

I attached the straps to the ceiling studs; two screws (each with a washer) anchor the longer set of straps. The shorter straps are anchored, with just one screw and washer, midway between the screws for the longer straps. I drilled pilot holes in the overhead 2x4s before attaching the straps, and made holes in the webbing by pushing screws through it before assembling things.

I put vertical 2x4s strategically to keep the kayaks from hitting the cinder block wall. That probably wasn’t necessary: As it turns out, slipping the boats in and out without hitting the wall isn’t any problem.

Assembly took about a fifteen minutes or so, and was so satisfying. More storage, and I didn’t even have to clean the garage! Whooo hoo!

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