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Paddling Articles In the Same Boat

Our Readers Write

Dark-Adapted Eyes, Folding Money, Culture Tripping, and More By Tamia Nelson and Farwell Forrest

It's always fun to get mail, and we really enjoy the letters we receive from our readers. Every week brings something new. You challenge us, you teach us, and you encourage us. You even correct our mistakes! It's been two months since the debut of "Our Readers Write." Here's just a sample of what you've had to say to us since then, along with our replies. (As before, we've edited both your letters and our replies for clarity and brevity.)

Through a Glass, Brightly

Dear Tamia,

Two comments on "Binoculars for Paddlers (Part 2)":

  1. I have a pair of 10 x 25 Tasco binoculars. Is the small (25-mm diameter) objective lens the reason that in the late afternoon it is hard to see into shadows? Images are not sharp and are hard to make out. Would that still be a problem with a larger objective lens, say 30 mm or more?

  2. I was always told that on a bright moonlit night you could burn your eyes by watching the moon through binoculars for any length of time. Is this true?



Howdy, Ric! It's good to hear from you. And you're right: 10 x 25s are marginal glasses for twilight and nighttime use, though they're fine general-purpose binoculars for less demanding applications. What makes a good night glass, then? The classic answer is the 7 x 50, but in fact good-quality 7 x 35s, 8 x 40s, and 10 x 40s will all serve well.

Why is this? Given comparable optical quality, low light performance is indicated by the ratio of objective lens diameter (measured in millimeters) to magnification. This ratio (usually known as a binocular's "exit pupil") determines the size of the cone of light emerging from the eyepiece. Since the maximum opening of the pupil of a young, dark-adapted human eye is some 7 mm, a 7 x 50 binocular (exit pupil of 50 divided by 7, or approximately 7.1 mm) achieves something like the theoretical limit of usable brightness. I'm afraid, however, that our eyes don't age gracefully. Forty-year-old pupils, for example, are doing well if they open more than 4 or 5 mm!

The moral of the story? If you're young and if you want a true night glass, get a 7 x 50. (I've read very good things about the Fuji Polaris, though at over three pounds they're not lightweights -- and at around $600 they're certainly not cheap!) If you're heading into middle age, though, you'll probably do fine with a pair of 7 x 35s or 8 x 40s. You certainly won't be giving anything up. The noted author and amateur astronomer Leslie Peltier (The Binocular Stargazer) actually preferred 7 x 35s to 7 x 50s, and my Bushnell Custom 8 x 36s have done me proud for years. They're also both lighter and cheaper than the Fuji 7 x 50s, even if they're not so weatherproof.

Now, to your second point. Will you damage your eyes by looking at the full moon with binoculars? In a word, NO. As bright as it appears to us, the full moon is only about one one-millionth as bright as the sun. It is true that its shadowless glare makes the full moon a relatively poor observational object, however. If you want to see the lunar mountains and craters most clearly, it's best to limit your observations to periods several days before or after full, and then to look along the "terminator," the line separating light from dark. This is the place where lunar shadows are longest, and where features appear in greatest relief.

Hope this helps. Take care!


Canoe or Kayak or Something Else?

Dear Farwell,

Question: I read the recent review of the Aerius foldable kayak. Sounds GREAT. As you know, I have three years of canoeing under my belt. A foldable would be a new adventure (as would any kayak). What's the biggest difference between canoeing and kayaking? Lastly, I was blown away by the cost of the new foldables. (I paid less for my son's first car last week!) What company could you recommend that makes economical but good foldables? Also, where's the best source for used foldables?

Thanks…hope all is well with you and Tamia.


It's very good to hear from you again, Jeff. Hope you and yours are keeping well. The "biggest difference between canoeing and kayaking"? That's a tough one. There are a lot of differences, but I'd be hard pressed to pick the biggest. Happily, Tamia's explored the question at some length in the column, so why not take a look at:

"Canoe or Kayak? A Guide for First-Time Buyers"

"Hell of a Vision: The Kayak Comes Back"

"The Flip Side of Kayaks: Why You Might Want to Consider a Canoe Instead"

Too much to take in at once? OK. In a few words, and subject to many qualifications, kayaks are cramped, awkward to load, and wet, but—in competent hands—agile and very seaworthy. Canoes, on the other hand, are roomy, easy to load, and comparatively dry (at least you're not always sitting in a puddle!), but also somewhat less responsive and much quicker to swamp in rough water.

The two craft do have a very different "feel," of course. In a canoe, you're on the water; in a kayak, more often than not, you're in the water. Some folks like this. Some don't.

A few cautionary words: Many of the perceived differences between canoes and kayaks can be explained by the fact that most kayaks are solo craft and most canoes are tandems. Compare a typical recreational kayak to a small solo pack canoe, paddled with a double-blade. You'll find less difference between the two than you might think. Ditto a tandem kayak and a typical two-man touring canoe.

The last word? If you think you might be interested in kayaking, rent one or two—a couple of solos one day and a tandem the next, say—and try it out for yourself. That's the best way to see if there's a kayak in your future!

FOLDING MONEY. A good, cheap folding kayak is in the same category as a good, cheap double shotgun—it simply doesn't exist. Folbot (yes, that's FolBOT) probably makes the least expensive, widely-available folding kayaks, but at $1200 to $2000 they're not exactly cheap, are they? All you can do is keep your eye on the Free Classifieds and hope to get lucky. Check your local Pennysaver, too. You never know what someone may find in the attic.

An important question: Do you really need a folding kayak? If you have a car rack for your canoe, and if you usually drive to the water, then a folding kayak is just a waste of money. With the right cradles, it's as easy to carry a rigid kayak on your car as it is to carry a canoe.

On the other hand, if you want the portability of a foldable—if, for example, you're about to leave on a bus tour of South America and you'd like to take a boat along—take a look at inflatable kayaks. They're not all toys, and some are surprisingly cheap. Stearns makes a solo inflatable that sells for only $300 (the tandem is $100 more). I've heard good things about it. Ask around. Someone you know may have paddled one. Better yet, see if you can find one to paddle yourself. There's no better way to get to know a boat—any boat!

Hope this helps. Keep us posted on your search

Take care!


"Culture Tripping" Across the Pond

Dear Farwell,

Tamia got a bit ahead of my meaning when she mentioned my description of Sweden's Dalsland in "The Wilderness Mystique." She is quite right about there being no wilderness there, but I wrote this only to warn people against expecting that kind of adventure on European waters. People from America will find very little real wilderness anywhere in Europe. (Personally I don't care. My roughest canoeing expedition was in the Ardennen in Belgium, when the shops where I expected to buy food weren't there anymore!)

Actually, a lot of my paddling friends regularly visit America in order to paddle in wilderness areas. I have been to the States, too, but that was to learn more about canoes and canoeing for research for the book that I wrote about canoeing. Perhaps I will do it again for the same reason.

As for wilderness tripping, in Europe we have something else that I sometimes call "culture tripping." We have rivers that are good to paddle, with nice landscapes and interesting cities to visit along the way—rivers like

  • the Gudenå in Denmark

  • the Semois in Belgium

  • the Lahn and the Danube (Donau) in Germany

  • the Dordogne and possibly the Allier in France.

And not to forget the province Friesland in the Netherlands! Lots and lots of lakes and small canals and some rivers. You have to share those waterways with other kinds of boaters, but if you want to experience what Holland is like from the water, this is the way to go!

At the moment I am heavily involved in writing a book about canoeing, an instructor's manual for our Dutch Canoe Union (Nederlandse Kano Bond). Still enjoy your other articles! Got me thinking about my own small mono spyglass that I never take along, but….



It's good to hear from you again, Dirk. "Wilderness" is such a slippery word, isn't it? To the informed (and alert) paddler, there probably isn't a square mile of country outside Antarctica that doesn't bear clear evidence of human imprint, but we persist in pursuing "wilderness experiences" nonetheless. I suppose this reflects our desire to get away from it all—to escape the urban landscapes that most of us call home for most of the year. Uncrowded places are seen as wildernesses, even if they have a 10,000-year-long history of human use and occupation. And crowded places are seen as something else, even though many "wilderness" parks in North America are very crowded indeed, at least during the summer holiday season.

When all is said and done, wilderness is a state of mind. Tamia and I prefer to take our wilderness where we find it.

I like the notion of "culture tripping." (Not surprising—I was an archaeologist for more than ten years.) Still, I'm not sure it would work in America. The problem is a simple one: few of our urban rivers are pleasant places to paddle. Things may now be changing for the better, though. I hope so.

Thanks again for writing. Tamia and I aren't quite rich enough to afford a holiday trip across the Pond anytime soon, but we'd both love to spend a year (or three) paddling, sailing and walking through Europe. Maybe someday!

Best wishes,


Letter of a Lifetime!

Dear Tamia,

Thank you for the intriguing, delightful story. I haven't paid enough attention to the delivery dates for PaddleNews to know when the next one will be delivered to my computer. So every day I wonder if this will be the day when the next chapter in your story will show up.

A question: Is this the first place that "Trip of a Lifetime" has been published, or is it in print anywhere for purchase?

Either way, you and Farwell have me hooked. Thanks again and happy paddling.


What a wonderful letter, Tom! I'm delighted that you're enjoying "Trip of a Lifetime."

Now, to answer your questions:

Our column goes on-line every Tuesday. That's when the current chapter of "Trip" will debut each week, though we'll be interrupting the narrative once every month or so for other fare.

And, yes, this is the first time that it's been published. While we've other novels (and proposals) under consideration by a number of publishers, "Trip of a Lifetime" is a exclusive. We'd like to see it in print someday, of course, but that day's a long way off, I'm afraid.

Best wishes,


OK. There are a lot more letters in our In-Tray, but we've run out of room (and time). Next week, we'll be rejoining Ed and Brenna as they get ready for their "Trip of a Lifetime." In the meantime, though, please keep writing. Tell us what you're thinking. It's a reader's right!

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