Whitewater test: Packraft vs Gumotex IK

A two-minute vid, possibly a bit too long…

Don’t get excited, we’re talking a few hundred metres of Class 1.1, but that’s as good as it gets around here.
We’ve had a lot of rain in the last week, enough to make the only paddleable river – the short Osgaig – worth a poke with a paddle. I was here with the Yak last year at slightly lower levels, so this time was expecting a smoother run in the Solar (now with an improved seat-foot set up), followed immediately by a comparison run in the Alpacka Yak.

Gumotex Solar IK
The good thing with the Solar is it’s old, worth next to nothing but tough, so can be dragged like a hardshell with the Yak in the back. I considered jury rigging some thigh straps; it could be done now through the new footrest pipe and around the seat mounts, but looking at the river as I drove up, it wasn’t really worth it. Thigh straps are what makes any deckless boat – air-filled or hard-shelled – much more controllable when things get choppy. Even WW packrafters insist straps are the way to go.

With the skeg off, it’s easy to seal launch off a grassy bank and into the scrum just below the waterfall which looks a bit complicated so was no less inviting this year.  As I spilled over the first little step I tried surfing like people do. But the Solar wasn’t especially dynamic or there wasn’t a strong enough recirculation going on to make it feel interesting. So I swung round and set off. Even at full flow, the Osgaig is a shallow, bony river better suited to an injection-molded TNP ‘spaddle’, not 220 quid’s worth of carbon-light Werner Corry which was picking up new scrapes as I jabbed at the water to keep the boat on line. It was really quite effortful with the Solar, at 3m or nearly 10 feet it’s perhaps a bit long for this sort of thing. I hit the one or two rapids full face, kicking up a satisfying splash and remembering that ‘bring it on’ exhilaration when trying an IK and white watering for the very first time on the Salmon River in Idaho all those years ago.

The river branched near the Loch; left looked all froth but too shallow so I swung right but again scrapped and shoved from one bar to the next. I was hoping to make it all the way to Loch Osgaig but up ahead I saw the tree strainer I recalled from last year so, stuck on another rock and by now steaming out of the ears in my heavy drysuit, I stepped out and walked back upriver.

Alpacka Yak Packraft
A few minutes later I hopped into the snug Yak, spun round and slipped over the first drop. Spinning back, I tried to surf as I’d just done in the Sunny but it wasn’t happening. I guess the Yak is just too wide, light and too much drag to fight the flow.
Off I went downstream, trying to avoid getting snagged while lining up to take the peak of what waves there were. Jammed in the yellow tub, sat lower and with higher sides, it felt much more responsive than the longer Solar and so was less effort to ride. Perhaps part of it was that a good line is less vital; most of the rapids I could have taken backwards and that added up to more fun.
So there it is: a tight-fitting packraft is more fun on easy white water than a 3-metre IK. When I got snagged towards the end, I just stepped out, threw the boat ashore, and staggered out over the slimy boulders. 

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