Astral Ronny PFD Deemed a Comfortable Option by Kayak Angler, Travis Abner

Several people have asked me about my gear and why I chose what I did. Being a convert from whitewater boating, I started completely new with kayak fishing, so pretty much all of my gear other than my rods and tackle are brand new (I have fished in a bass boat for many years). I did countless hours of research to make sure I was getting the best deal and the best product for my money. I didn’t go with the highest end gear for everything, simply because it’s not necessary for me. The products I did pick though were what I deemed the best bang for my buck, and none of them have let me down so far.

Astral Ronny PFD
Astral Ronny PFD

As far as my PFD goes, I knew it would be difficult to find another as comfortable as my old Lotus Lola, which my wife now uses. As mentioned before, I did quite a bit of research, mostly looking through reviews and message boards. The product that seemed to stand out the most for my specific application of kayak fishing, appeared to be the Astral Ronny, so I bought one to try out. I was not disappointed.

This is by far the most comfortable PFD that I’ve ever had the pleasure of wearing. It’s completely adjustable from the shoulder straps to the side straps. The back panel of foam is only 1/2″ thick, so it’s extremely comfortable when leaning against a full backrest such as the one on my Ride 135. There’s no big chunk or wad of foam making you feel awkward or uncomfortable, which is a very welcome change. The back panel also has a small vent in it to keep the air flowing a bit better. I’m not sure how much it really helps, but it looks cool and I feel cool, so that’s pretty much all that matters to me.

The Ronny has one front pocket made out of mesh that I use to hold my Gerber EZ-Out knife and glasses strap. It’s not a very big pocket, but would at least fit a cell phone in a waterproof case or similar.

Overall, I am very impressed with this PFD and will certainly keep on using it for quite a while. While I am satisfied with this PFD, especially for the price it typically goes for, there are a few things that I would like to see either changed on this model or possibly for a future creation. I’d like to see thicker fabric such as 400 or 500D nylon. The nylon on the current Ronny seems tough enough as-is, and it dries out super quick, but I’d just like to have a tad tougher material. I’d also like to see another pocket or two on the front for additional gear. This is where if they did take that into consideration, it might be for a completely new model made specifically for fishing, but still keep the 1/2″ thick back panel. That’s pretty much it! As I mentioned before, I’m very happy and look forward to using this PFD for many seasons to come.

Check out the video below for a quick look and basic overview. Comment with any questions, thanks!  — Travis Abner

Astral Brewer Wins Another Top Gear Pick

Bottom row, center shoe.
Bottom row, center shoe.

The Astral Brewer continues to wow the outdoor community. After being selected earlier this year by National Geographic as a 2013 Gear of the Year pick, the popular water shoe has now been chosen by Outside Magazine for their Top Gear Picks for 2013, based on value and performance. We only have good things to say about these stylish water shoes that perform in demanding paddle sport activities and look good at casual dinners. Reviewer Shane Townsend took them out for a spin and even thinks they made good footwear for his muaythai training.

So if you’re on the hunt for a new pair of kicks, definitely give these look!

Astral Brewer Shoe – Sneak Up on Simple

Gear is great. Gear is good. Let us take it to the woods, and the water, and the pub.

Some folks think they need everything in the catalog to enjoy a day outdoors. Other prefer to keep it simple by asking: What are my needs? And what gear do I really need to meet those needs? For these folks, the utility of each piece of gear is key. I relate to the latter group more these days. And, I appreciate any gear that helps me sneak up on simple. 

So, when Austin Canoe & Kayak sent a complimentary pair of Astral Brewer water shoes, my question was this: Does this shoe get in my way, or does it get me closer to simple?

To find out, I wore the Astral Brewer for a full week. The Brewer and I went kayak fishing. We walked some 20 miles around Austin. We trained muaythai in a garage gym. We did a little trail walking and caught white bass at Lake Georgetown. We went wade fly-fishing. And, to cap it all off, we went straight from a paddle trip to a client meeting and back out to another paddle trip.

The verdict in one word:

u·til·i·ty [yoo-til-i-tee] noun | def. the quality of being useful

The Brewer was great on and around the water and solid everywhere else. Most importantly, the gear didn’t get in the way of what I was trying to do. Instead of spending my time chasing down boat shoes, bar shoes, business shoes, moo shu pork, and so on, I just went and went in comfort.

A few features that made it so:

  • Weight: The shoe weighs 7.5 ounces, which is well lighter than sneakers and many water shoes and boots. The weight makes them comfortable for all-day wear. And, as it turns out, the ultra-light weight makes them good shoes for training muaythai in a garage. I did not see that one coming.
  • Traction: The Stealth Rubber sole does a good job of sticking to concrete boat ramps, rocks, and wet wooden piers. It makes the Brewer a good shoe for wade fishing as well, though I didn’t test it in strong current and can’t speak to its performance there. They’re appropriately terrible footwear for two-stepping.
  • Quick-draining & Quick-drying: Water drains out of the shoe almost immediately through four drainage holes in the sidewalls and a larger silt dump in the heel. They dry quickly due to the Cordura® and AirMesh materials, both of which Astral uses in their personal flotation devices (PFDs) or life vests. The quick-dry feature allows you to move from one activity to the next in comfort. No one wants to wear wet shoes all day. I believe, too, that these features will lessen the chances of mildew and, ultimately, help the shoe last longer.
  • Breathable: The features that drain and dry the shoe quickly also help it breathe.The airflow is important in preventing sweating if you’re using the Brewer for more than just a river shoe.
  • Looks: It doesn’t scream, “Hey, look at me I’m a river shoe!” It doesn’t scream anything. So, you can wear it with just about anything and just about anywhere. Even the branding is subtle.
  • General Design: The low cut Brewer is more comfortable than a boot, especially when using the foot braces in my fishing kayak. The laces keep the shoe in place. Though it is not a walking shoe, the Brewer is surprisingly comfortable.
Room for Improvement:

  • The Brewer sole marks linoleum and other surfaces. Be mindful where you wear it.
The Brewer is Astral’s first go at a water shoe. It’s worth a look. You can get it at for about $100. Men’s and women’s sizes and styles available.
Race to 50 Paddles Update:
Good news: The Race to 50 Paddles project will be in book form before too long. FalconGuides will publish “Paddling Texas” in 2014. The book will include 50 beginner-friendly paddling trips around Texas rivers, streams, and coastal waters. Details to come.

Fall 2012 Outfit Your Adventure Gear Giveaway

We’d like to officially announce our 2012 Fall Outfit Your Adventure Gear Giveaway to take place on our Facebook page beginning Oct. 22nd! This will be like our previous 2012 Summer Outfit Your Adventure Gear Giveaway but with different prizes fit for fall! Here are the details: Each week for five weeks, visitors that like our Facebook page and fill out an entry form will have the chance to win a product. It will be a different product each week including (in order of giveaway) a Lodge Logic 8 quart Dutch Oven with a copy of Camp Ducth Oven Cooking 101, a pair of 31′ Talic Sea Horse Stands, a GSI Bugaboo Camper Cook Set, an Astral Ronny PFD and the grand prize a Kelty Trail Ridge 3 Tent with a footprint.

So How Do You Enter?

There is not much to it. Each contestant will earn one entry by ‘liking‘ our Facebook page and completing an entry form, but can earn an additional five entries each time a friend enters by following personalized shared links. Basically, the more you share, the better your chances of winning.

Be sure to stay tuned to our Facebook page where we’ll make the official kick-off announcement!

Visit to the Heart of the Paddling World – Part 4 of 5

Chris Hackerd, VP of Store Operations and one of three ACK co-owners, is an avid mountain biker, birder, ‘yak angler and all around outdoors-man. Recently, Chris traveled east to North Carolina to celebrate his grand mother’s 80th birthday and took the opportunity to visit many of the manufacturers based out of the area including Confluence, Legacy, WernerEnoAstralFeel Free/Pyrahna. Below is part four of his trip. See part three here.

Trying on the New Astral Brewer

The guys at Astral were stoked to see me! There location is a stones throw from the French Broad and If I wasn’t in town with my 4 year old and celebrating my Grandma being 80 years young I would have been taking everyone up on their offers to take me paddling…I’m planning my return! I wanted to get to Astral because I was really excited about their new line of paddling shoes. I got to see them at Outdoor Retailer for a bit but I wanted to get up close. They didn’t have my size at OR to try on and I was hedging my bet that they would in their warehouse.

Just my luck they had a Brewer in black in my size 13.5. I slipped it on and was thrilled with how comfortable it felt. I wanted to go jump in the river and see how they drained but it was a little colder here than in Texas. I went to pull the shoes off to put them back in the box but they said they were mine! I was pretty pumped about scoring a pair of shoes but I think it was a quality thing and the fact that they were within smelling distance of my Crocs. Which, as Peter will tell you, I’m the only person who can make a pair of Crocs stink.

The shoes looked sweet and the Feel Free/Pyrahna boys were waiting for me to head out on the town! Before I left we talked about a PFD idea that I think will be huge for them and I hope to see it on the market next year. Just a thought but I think Astral should call it the HACK!


Next up, Chris visits with Pyrahna/Feel Free


Visit to the Heart of the Paddling World – Part 3 of 5

Chris Hackerd, VP of Store Operations and one of three ACK co-owners, is an avid mountain biker, birder, ‘yak angler and all around outdoors-man. Recently, Chris traveled east to North Carolina to celebrate his grand mother’s 80th birthday and took the opportunity to visit many of the manufacturers based out of the area including Confluence, Legacy, WernerEnoAstralFeel Free/Pyrahna. Below is part three of his trip. See part two here.

Visiting Eno

I had more time on my hands so I popped into ENO which produces one of my very favorite products, the ENO Doublenest Hammock. I have one on my deck and now that it’s cooled down some I’m back in it nightly. ENO stands for Eagles Nest Outfitters and they’ve been in the same building for about 13 years and love the outdoors scene in Asheville. With the endless hiking and camping trails it’s no wonder it’s an ideal spot for these folks.

I got a tour of the facility and viewed their pick, pack and ship process. So many of the employees had been there for several years. One of the highlights of working at ENO is that right across the street is 2 local favorite watering holes Green Man Brewing and Next Generation Beer. Note to self…head back this way after I’m done with my visits. ENO has an employee on hand named Elijah that is a master welder and wood worker. I had to take a picture of this conference room table it was beautiful!

Since this visit was unannounced I needed to get out of Adam Cohens hair and on my way to Astral! They’re conveniently located near the French Broad river so they can paddle right after work so I hurried on over!


Next up, Chris tries on the new Brewer from Astral.

Visit to the Heart of the Paddling World – Part 1 of 5

Chris Hackerd, VP of Store Operations and one of three ACK co-owners, is an avid mountain biker, birder, ‘yak angler and all around outdoors-man. Recently, Chris traveled east to North Carolina to celebrate his grand mother’s 80th birthday and took the opportunity to visit many of the manufacturers based out of the area including Confluence, Legacy, Werner, Eno, Astral & Feel Free/Pyrahna. Below is part one of his trip.

First Stop, Confluence

Landed in Greenville, SC and the first spot on the docket was to hit up Confluence Watersports. They have a new manufacturing facility that I was dying to see. However I had to make a quick detour to Quaker Steak and Lube when I saw a sign from the highway promoting the top notch wing joint. It was a place I frequented as a college kid in Ohio.

Walking through the doors of Confluence I bumped into so many familiar faces from the Outdoor Retailer show. I was stunned at how large the new facility was. I met up with Scott our customer service rep and started the tour. He walked me through R and D, Customer service and I stumbled on a quality control meeting with the top brass. Everyone was so nice and happy to see me.

Growing up in Detroit, manufacturing was a part of my life – my father was a 35 year employee of Ford Motor Company. The similarities of the environment were not lost on me and it warmed my heart to see American manufacturing taking place. This was the first time I was seeing how kayaks are made and it was an eye opening experience. I actually got to see the old method of roto-molding kayaks where the mold rotated and the oven actually moved versus the new method where the molds rotated through a 3 stage process of heating, cooling and retraction all while spinning and rotating.

I also viewed multiple kayaks going through their hardware installation assembly line. Air tools and efficiency at it’s best. I stumbled across some new Wilderness Ride seat’s being built specifically for ACK and got a big hug from Linda in the parts department which I’m told can cure everything that ails you. I’m not gonna lie…I felt a little better. I bid farewell to Scott and headed on my way to Asheville to link up with my family. Still had some business to attend to but had a smile on my face after seeing where the products I sell are being made.

Chris @ACK

Next up…Chris visits Werner and spends a day at Legacy Paddlesports.

ACK Heads East

One of the perks of traveling to my grandmothers 80th birthday party in North Carolina is the opportunity to visit some great vendors and get a first hand look at their operations. Asheville and Greenville are home to some giants in the business like Confluence, Legacy, Astral, ENO and Feel Free USA. Highlights of this week will not only be a reflection of 80 wonderful years of life but an in-depth look at how kayaks are made and the people behind them. I’m excited to see how Confluence handles so many great brands under one roof like Wilderness Systems, Perception, AT Paddles and Bomber Gear. Legacy (Native Watercraft & Liquid Logic) just moved facilities and I’m excited to hear the challenges involved in moving such massive equipment such as the large ovens they use for manufacturing kayaks.

Astral has a new line of shoes that I’m hoping I will get to try on and ENO makes one of my favorite products of all time, the hammock. Along for the ride is my 4 year old who will get to see a first hand look at what daddy does and how he interacts with people. I’ve also got a trail run planned with Werner rep Danny Mongo. These are just all great opportunities to strengthen the relationships we’ve cultivated over the last 6 years and I look forward to many more!

I want to get as many pictures of secret projects I can get as well as meet the people who make the products you love so stay tuned.


I Bought a Fishing Kayak. Now What? by Chris Payne (Payne’s Paddle/Fish)

Chris Payne recently posted this article on his blog and we thought it was too good not to share! In it, he outlines the products (in order of necessity) you need to start outfitting your kayak for fishing with tips for fitting and choosing certain products as well as techniques for installing some.

It’s a great feeling to pull the trigger on a new fishing kayak (or any kayak for that matter). Especially that first one. Your very first kayak is special. It’s almost like when my oldest child was born. There was a ton of anticipation, excitement and several months leading up to it. When it finally arrived I was so excited but at the same time scared. Now what? Hopefully you bought it at a place like Austin Canoe and Kayak or other reputable dealer and they can help with this next part. If you didn’t buy your kayak from a dealer, didn’t have someone to guide you through and are spinning from all the options, keep reading.

As with kids, the kayak makes you start to think of “What else do I need?” Maybe your budget is tight and you can’t get everything all at once. That is most of us. Don’t be embarrassed. Very few of us have everything we need as soon as we get home. I’ve been through this process several times and it is different with every one but what I would like to offer is a shopping list. Start at the top and work your way down. Some people may have differing opinions and that’s great. What I am hoping to do is take some of the guess work out of gearing up and save you the headaches I have gone through. This list is specific for kayak fishermen so after the second item the list would vary for other sports.

Start Here:

PFD (Life Jacket)- Most people go straight for the paddle. The only reason I recommend a PFD first is safety. If you blow all of your money on a fancy paddle and end up paddling in an $8 PFD that fits like an albatross, you won’t be paddling for long. Choose a good PFD and always wear it. Check out the Astral Buoyancy and Stohlquist PFDs. Want to learn more about PFDs? Click Here. I also recommend a knife and a whistle to attach to the PFD so you can call for help or cut your way out of a tangle or hung anchor. If you are going to paddle at night, get a 360 degree light.

Paddle- This is your motor. Use this paddle guide and find the right one for you. If you only have two things you can buy, they need to be a good PFD and a paddle. That seems like a no-brainer but lots of people skimp on the first and sell their kayak shortly after from non-use.

Anchor Trolley- It seems strange to buy this before an anchor but believe me when I say you will be much happier if you do. An anchor trolley allows you to use a drift sock, stake out stick and anchor while positioning yourself to take advantage of the wind, not be a victim of it. This also will allow for a quick release if you get into trouble. This is the one I use. Inexpensive and easy to install.

Anchor- This is the most widely mispurchased item under $50. Anchors exist in all shapes and sizes. The most popular one is the collapsible anchor. This is also the most frequent one laying at the bottom of a rock pile or root group in 20 feet of water. Use a bruce-style claw anchor and use the zip tie method of connection to get your anchor back from the murky depths. Here is a link from that shows the proper way to rig this up.

Anchor Rope (and accessories)- Most anchors don’t come with rope. If you are going to be fishing in any current or wind at all most people will recommend 2X the length of rope for the depth you are fishing. So if your fish are in 20 feet of water, you need at least 40 feet of rope. If you are fishing on the coast it is recommended 3X the depth. I like 3/16″ rope but choose what you like. Just don’t buy 1/16″ rope and expect to raise a big anchor easily. While you are there in the rope section, pick up a carabiner and rope float to attach to these as well.

Rod Holders- These come in different varieties. You can get flush mount, rocket launchers, trolling rod holders for baitcasters and spinning, rail mount, and the list goes on and on. Look at some rigging pictures, sit in your boat, see where you can reach and then go buy one.

Milk Crate- You can buy one or ask a retail grocer for one. Either way, you can strap this down to the back of most kayaks and hold tons of tackle and gear. You can also add some PVC to be additional rod holders. Cheapest investment you’ll love forever.

Everything Else-These things will get you going pretty well. After you have the above mentioned items, you should look at, in no particular order: a fish finder, stabilizers (depending on the kayak), drift sock, stake out stick, VHF handheld radio, scupper plugs (for sit on tops), waders, paddle gloves, really the list goes on and on. Most of all, have fun and catch some fish!

Chris Payne is an avid kayak fisherman from Temple, TX. Paddling since 2003, he is spreading his adventures, foibles and knowledge to those who have a couple of minutes to read a post or two. Chris loves to talk kayaking with anyone who wants to share stories, learn more about kayak fishing or just chew the fat. You can reach him at

Canoe for a Cause – All 2,552 Miles of It

The Canoe they are using on this trip along with the Astral Camino PFDs (Source "Canoe for a Cause")

Several months back a gentleman by the name of Camden Sweet contacted me in regards to his quest for raising money towards the research and prevention of Deep Vein Thrombosis/Pulmonary Embolism (DVT/PE) in honor of his mother, Julie, who consequently passed away as a result of this condition. This wasn’t your typical fundraiser though, Camden (24) and a friend would embark an adventure in June paddling 2,552 miles down the Mississippi River from Minnesota to the Louisiana coastline. The trip is currently in progress and scheduled through August with a goal of raising $2,552 for this cause.

Camden was seeking gear sponsors and we were glad to be a part of this. We decided to donate a couple of high-end Astral Camino PFD’s knowing that paddling amongst the all too common barges and unforgiving weather can get rather treacherous.

Camden is still seeking donations, which you can make through his blog, which is updated as the trip progresses. If you want to see some pictures of this adventure, check out his Facebook page too!

Right on Camden…best of luck on this amazing adventure! – Roland @ACK