Salamander Bak Yak Harness Review - By Kyle Smith

Salamander Bak Yak Harness Review-Kyle Smith

Kayakers may seem like motivated individuals that explore some of the deepest and most exotic places of the world, when in reality, we literally occupy a seat and let the current push us downstream. Often, we walk fewer than 50yards to and from the river. Often, there are ice cream cones and PBR’s at the take out. Yet, for those rare occasions when the water is just right and motivation levels are running high, kayakers can put even the burliest of backpackers to shame. Kayakers carry 50lbs of plastic, overnight equipment and enough snickers bars to almost guarantee contracting type II diabetes. We are indeed the most awkward turtles on the block, and when carrying a house on our backs, it’s important to be as comfortable as possible. This is a review of the renovated Salamander Bak Yak Harness system - which was designed to make your life (and your back) more comfortable. After living in New Zealand for a few of the driest months on record, I learned what it was to be a kayaker that earns their turns. After a few hours of hiking with what felt like a collapsing collar bone, I grabbed some garden hose and some foam floaty noodles. Basically I just made something that sucked…suck just a little less. These were the days I found myself wishing for more than a 1” NRS strap slicing into my shoulders. These were the days I found myself wishing I had a product like the Salamander back packing kayak system. The Bak Yak is created out of the necessity to have a bullet-proof system to get paddlers either into fast and efficient day trips or through grueling multi-day hike ins. Salamander has taken the time to renovate this product as kayaks have continued to grow in volume, and paddlers have continued to seek the least accessible drainage's and most horrific, yet beautiful, multi-days imaginable. Consolidated into one somewhat streamlined package (potentially the size of a camp pillow) we find a stable back-band, wide torso belt, chest strap and a number of integrated New-River-made cam-straps which loop through given anchor points on any boat to stabilize your awkward definition of a good time. Many makeshift backpack systems often place the cockpit directly behind the back, creating pressure on the spinal column near the neck. This is not exactly the most comfortable situation when trudging through wet/loose/uneven terrain. The BakYak places the hull against the spine, separated by soft insulation giving the back something to rest on. Paddlers can choose where the money spot is for their build and boat by adjusting cams accordingly. Play boat, creek boat, pick your poison. I ran this system through some urban trials that I probably would not partake in unless I was within 10 minutes from definitive care. The hospital was just down the street and I had consumed a beer or two, so I decided to go for it. After climbing over some dilapidated barbed-wire fences, jumping off stairs and sprinting across irrigated fields I came to the conclusion that I wish I had this system in my possession when I was in New Zealand hiking upstream for hours at a time on a daily basis. I have yet to find anything as good.
Salamander_Bak_Yak_Harness_Review_Kyle_Smith_Folds_Up_Small The Salamander Bak Yak Harness system, as well as camp pillow does not take up much space when not being used.
Salamander_Bak_Yak_Harness_Review_Kyle_Smith_Pack_It_In Easy in, easy out.
Salamander_Bak_Yak_Harness_Review_Kyle_Smith_Comfortable Lots of support and cushion for loaded, heavy boats.
Salamander_Bak_Yak_Harness_Review_Kyle_Pack_System The harness system with nice wide supportive straps.
Salamander_Bak_Yak_Harness_Review_Kyle_Smith_Waist_2 The thick waist band is heavy duty - just like you would find on an expeditionary back pack.
Salamander_Bak_Yak_Harness_Review_Kyle_Smith_Shoulder The top buckles will ensure a tight fit.
Salamander_Bak_Yak_Harness_Review_Kyle_Smith_Waist Another shot of the waist belt.
Salamander_Bak_Yak_Harness_Review_Kyle_Smith Fastex buckle on the harness system just like a back pack.
Salamander_Bak_Yak_Harness_Review_Kyle_Smith_Portage2 Urban product testing - portage a barbed wire fence.
Salamander_Bak_Yak_Harness_Review_Kyle_Smith_Portage The pack works like a champ.
Salamander_Bak_Yak_Harness_Review_Kyle_Smith_Jump! Rapid vertical airborne testing. The boat does not knock Kyle out, which means that the pack works well!


  • The backband/torso stabilizing system is impressively comfortable.
  • The cam straps are simply the way! You will never need to worry about them blowing out like other companies fast-tech buckle designs.
  • Once fitted properly, the boats stern doesn’t clip me in the Achilles tendon, which can be fairly obnoxious.


  • It’s not the lightest system, but when I consider that my “system” was a cam-strap that sliced into my flesh, well it’s worth the sacrifice in weight. I suppose I could probably do without bringing a 3lb hunk of salami, a brick of cheese and a 750 page book on a 1 night trip as well.
  • The Cam straps leading from the top of the kayak have to be tightened upwards, which means one either needs to lay the kayak down or have their buddy tighten it while they awkwardly bend over. What are friends for though?

Final thoughts:

Coming from Idaho, I don’t do heaps of hiking. In other words, hiking in Idaho is novel. However, I got a pretty good taste of it after 4 months in New Zealand, and it doesn’t take a genius to realize the reason my back feels like a 85 year old mans with arthritic osteoporosis, might be partially attributed to the way I’m carrying 50+lbs of plastic and gear. It’s a hell of a lot better than some garden hose and pool toys. This is an investment that every nomadic / expeditionary boater needs in their gear bag.

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