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"Tried and True" Outfitting for Extreme Whitewater Canoeing: Guidelines

by Sammer Elias

Outfitting Layout; 
      click to enlarge

Where and how to start

  • The most important guideline for laying out your outfitting is that your hip bone is 4" behind the centerline of the boat. This is the starting point. It puts your body in the right position in the boat. So figure out where your hip bone is going to line up on your saddle. Then place the saddle in the boat so that your hip bone will be 4 inches behind the centerline. Then use the centerline of the boat as a reference point for all your other measurements.
  • Measure and mark-out where your outfitting will go before installation. This is obvious. But to find out where your outfitting should go for your body type and preferences, place the saddle, knee pads, anchors and thigh straps in the boat before gluing them in. You can tape the anchors in place with the thigh straps attached. Then get in and feel things out. Be sure to "feel things out" while slightly leaning forward in an aggressive paddling position. Keep your back straight too. This changes the position of your knees and feet. Determine your layout for your outfitting while in this position, which is a lot more accurate and beneficial.
Outfitting Profiles; 
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  • Your saddle should be 8"- 9.5" above the floor at the part where your butt actually sits.
  • If possible, use a saddle with minimal length. A long saddle creates more of a "dam" in the center of your boat that prevents water from coming across to the other side when rolling. You need the water to flow as freely as possible along the bottom of your boat when rolling, making the roll a lot easier. I like a saddle length of 12".
  • Cut out water tunnels in your saddle, also to enhance the free flow of water across to the other side of the boat when rolling. Rolling gets really tough otherwise.

Knee pads

  • Place your knee pads as wide apart as you can in a solo boat, right up against the sides. Placing them on the chines of the boat is even more advantageous. If your boat has double chines, place them between the two. As for how far forward or back to place them, lean forward slightly while sitting in the saddle, and find out where your knees rest naturally.
      click to enlarge

Thigh straps and their anchor points

  • I believe in eight points of attachment for thigh straps. Double straps for each leg, each strap having its own two anchors. This system gives you a lot more control, holds you in better during paddling and rolling, and in general is a lot more ergonomic and custom. One of the advantages of being more ergonomic and custom, is significantly less movement and slippage of the thigh straps while paddling, which I see as a great benefit. And don't worry about being trapped in the boat by overly secure outfitting. By having a system that fits your body better, you'll find less need to over tighten your outfitting, which is one of the more significant factors to getting trapped. I will go into more detail below on how to make your outfitting ergonomic, and safe, while giving you more control, responsiveness, and security.
  • Set up your thigh straps so that you are securing both extreme ends of each leg, the knee and the upper thigh. This is where you need the most security, and where you do the most controlling. For clarification, I will talk about the forward strap and the rear strap. The forward one being the one that is closest to your knee, the rear one being closer to your hip. Each leg having a forward and rear thigh strap. I will also talk about floor anchors and side anchors. The floor anchors being on the floor of the boat, the side anchors being on the side walls of the boat. Anchors are D-rings or whatever else you choose.
Outfitting close-up; 
      click to enlarge

  • Place the floor anchors for the forward straps a couple inches back from the front of your knees. In regards to their position in the width of the boat, place them so that they are vertically flush with the inside of your legs. Having the thigh straps be vertically flush with the inside of your legs keeps your legs from moving inward when pressure is applied. It also helps against strap slippage. In regards to the horizontal position of the side anchors for the forward straps, place them so that the straps will come across the top of your legs at an angle of 90 degrees to the angle of your legs. Again, less slippage. As for the vertical position of the side anchors for the forward straps, place them flush with the top of your legs where that thigh strap comes across. No lower, no higher. In this position they provide a direct line of pull, keeping the inside of your legs from moving in, while simultaneously keeping your legs down. If you go lower, you will loose stiffness from the vertical part of the strap, along the inside of your leg. In addition, you don't need the straps to support the outside of your legs, your knee in the knee pad, up against the side of the boat will give you that support. If you go any higher on that anchor point, the thigh strap will not prevent your leg from rising upward.
Outfitting pump; 
      click to enlarge

  • Place the floor anchors for the rear straps as far back as possible, up against the front of the saddle. As for their position in the width of the boat, just like with the forward straps, place them so that they are vertically flush with the inside of your legs. So, looking from above, if you make an imaginary line that connects the two floor anchors, front and rear on one side, that line should parallel the natural angle of the inside of your leg. Now to the side anchors for the rear straps. Lined up with your hip bone is about the right horizontal position. You want them that far back to give you support high on your upper thigh. Also, the rear pull will help prevent forward strap slippage. Going to far back will make it difficult to get in and out of the boat. I will describe how to test the safety of your outfitting, before gluing, further down below. In regards to the vertical position of the side anchors for the rear straps, place them flush with the top of your legs where that thigh strap comes across, for the same reasons described above. No lower, no higher.

Foot cups/pegs

  • You should determine where your knee pads will go first, then find out where your feet end up.
  • Make sure that you place them in a position where your feet are making an angle of no less than 90 degrees to your shins. The problem with going less than 90 degrees, is that it makes it difficult to slide your feet out of foot pegs, and also prevents you from being able to slide back out of your outfitting while pivoting on your ankles in both foot pegs and foot cups.
Complete Outfitting; 
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Safety check

When you are done figuring out where the saddle, knee pads, and foot pegs/cups go, glue them in. But don't glue in the anchors for the thigh straps. Tape them in place. Tape them very well, and attach the straps to them. Then get in and tighten down the straps. Now try to get out of your outfitting. Make sure to push back and out when trying to get out, which makes it easier than just trying to stand up. If you can get out without ripping the tape out, then you are fine. If the tape keeps ripping out, and you have followed these guidelines pretty closely, then move the side anchors for the rear thigh straps slightly forward. Keeping moving them forward until you can get out without ripping the tape out.

Be sure to take a look at the photos for a better understanding of the whole set-up. Let me know if you have any questions, email Sammer

Next: Thigh Straps Previous: Intro