Paddling Gear: Freddy’s Favorites

SweetWater Brewery founder picks his go-to gear

SweetWater Brewery has always had a connection with the South’s rivers, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years through their “Save Our Water” program. The Atlanta-based brewery is solidifying that commitment through their new Guide Beer, an easy-drinking lager developed through a partnership with a dozen pro river guides. The beer is good, particularly on a hot day, but even better, is the fact that 11% of Guide Beer’s profits go to creating a support fund for guides who can’t work because of injury or sickness. 

“It’s a way to come full circle and celebrate the guides that are taking us on the river,” says SweetWater’s founder, Freddy Bensch. “I’m so excited about this community effort to create a way to bail someone out who might be in trouble.” 

Bensch spends much of his free time on the water, paddling and fishing with friends both in the Southeast and in his home in Colorado, but he never quite took the leap to pro guide status. “I love guiding friends on the river, but I’m just good enough to be dangerous.” 

We asked Bensch about his must-have gear for a day on the river. Here are his picks in his own words. 

Thomas and Thomas Avantt 

If I’m on the river, I’m definitely bringing this dry fly rod. It’s 9’ long and 5wt. I have a bunch of different rods, but this is my go-to right now. $845; 

Costa Bloke

I can’t go anywhere without sunglasses. These are my go-to for anything on the water, and I’ll change the lenses depending on the conditions. I bring a few pairs because I tend to lose them.  


Braven 105 

There’s nothing better than floating down the river with friends and listening to tunes. These speakers are totally waterproof and you can strap them to the boat pretty easily. I usually bring a couple and link them up for great sound. $40; 

Yeti Hopper Flip 12

Obviously, I’m not going anywhere without a cooler of beer. If I can pull my truck right up to the boat, then I’ll take a hardsided Yeti, but most of the time, I carry the soft-sided Hopper Flip 12, which is big enough for a full day of beer, but easy enough to carry and stash in a raft. $250; 

Simms Solarflex 

Spend all day on the river and the sun can be brutal, so a sun-shirt is key. The Solarflex is light, so you can wear it on a hot day, and has built in UPF 50 sun protection. And the hood is key. I’m not going unless the sun-shirt has a hood. $70; 

Guide Beer 

We’re getting older so we can’t drink 15 420 Extra Pale Ales anymore. So, we created Guide Beer, which is just 4%ABV. This is what’s stocked in the cooler now. But I also throw a couple of IPAs into the cooler, and a few bigger beers for the end of the day too.  

More Gear!

Nathan Vapor Air 7.0L 2.0 Men’s Hydration Pack

Your next long run will feel lighter and easier with the Vapor Air 2.0, a body-mapped hydration with adjustable sizing system, two-litre bladder with quick release valve, breathable, chafe-free materials for maximum comfort, and plenty of pockets for gels, phones, and other gear. ($150)

GSI Outdoors Base Camper Medium Cookset, $80

Weighing in at 2 pounds 13 ounces, this rugged, campfire-ready stainless steel cookware set includes 2-liter and 3-liter pots with flip-up handles, two strainer lifs, and even-heating frying pan, and a convenient fitted storage sack. It contains all of the essentials for a gourmet weekend on the trail, and it is lightweight and packs down easily. It was our favorite cookset for weekend adventures and long backcountry treks.

Appalachian Gear Company All-Paca Shirt ($35) and Hoodie ($105)

Made from 100% alpaca fiber, the All-Paca shirt and hoodie are part of a completely new class of performance fabric built to stay cool and dry on summer adventures while keeping you warm in the winter. The All-Paca is all-natural, engineered by nature, and manufactured in the U.S. in an environmentally responsible process. Alpaca fiber is naturally moisture managing, temperature-regulating, moisture-resistant, and lightweight—ideal for Appalachian adventures in all seasons.  Appalachian Gear Co. uses all natural fibers—so you don’t have to worry about synthetics that shed microplastics or any cancer-causing PFAS. Appalachian Gear Co. products also feature extra-durable seams built for rugged outdoor use and a jersey knit that provides exceptional strength and recovery. 

Mountain Khakis Bison Boxer Briefs

Lightweight, breathable, quick dry and designed for comfort, the boxer briefs are 92% nylon / 8% spandex. The fabric blend keeps everything cool and dry. The boxer briefs also have flatlock seams that ensure all-day, all-night comfort, and an articulated front to keep everything in place. ($26)

Seal Line Pro Dry Pack 

The PVC-free large-capacity waterproof Pro™ is the portage pack of choice for big river running, frequent portaging, and worry-free expedition travel. Engineered with fully-adjustable suspension designed for comfort on long hauls, this premium system offers soft-edged, padded shoulder straps, a full-length breathable back panel, and lumbar padding. The harness also offers the option to detach the straps and waist belt to streamline the pack for travel and dry bag use. The Pro is available in 70L & 120L. ($199)

Toad & Company Midfield Hemp Crew

The Midfield Hemp is extra tough (but still soft) thanks to an extra-tight weave of a 45% organic cotton / 55% hemp blend. The forward shoulder seam makes it backpack-friendly. ($70)

Mountain Khakis Original Pant

This mid-rise, straight leg pant is an outdoor classic. The four-way stretch panels provide durability and mobility for a rugged adventure. ($99)

Osprey Katari 7 Hydration Pack

The light, airy, and low-profile Katari 7 is versatile and comfortable on the trail. The 2.5-liter reservoir slips into an external hydration sleeve with a magnetic bite valve attaching to the sternum strap. A vertical front zip pocket is roomy enough to carry the essentials, like a spare tube and tools or a rain jacket, with side mesh pocket for extras. ($75)

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