Holy moly, end of May and first paddle of the year? It’s been a busy winter and the arm’s been playing up so time to break in with an easy packraft across a back corner of Poole Harbour, our locale for the summer. Sailing Russel Quay back to Wareham with the tide and the wind sounded like a good one – a mile’s walk + 5 on the water. Although it clashes with our hitherto pristine eco credentials, we have two cars down here, so we leave one in town and the other at Arne.
This whole area south of the Harbour is a largely undeveloped heathland with rare wildlife and part of an RSPB ‘super reserve’. On the day the famous BBC Springwatch crew were installed for a fortnight or more, motion sensing cameras probing various nests and burrows. Thick power cables lined our track leading up north to the put in near long gone Russel Quay. I’m not fully sure it was a right of way. Dodging irate English Nimbies is going to take some practice after the freedom of the Scottish northwest coast we became accustomed to. But ironically this area also has the biggest knot of land-based oil wells in western Europe. They’re the small, nodding donkey type, not towering rigs but a couple of months ago one of the pipelines sprung a leak in Ower Bay near the processing plant on the less accessible south shore. Luckily it wasn’t an Exxon Valdez event and at higher tides there could be some good packboat exploring in this inlet-rich area. It’s all we’ll have here bar the more exposed Jurassic Coast.
That night we catch a bit of Springwatch on the iPlayer but, as expected, I can stomach the hyper-saturated, happy-clappy ‘Phil & Holly of Wildlife’ for only so long. It’s the final finale of Succession – what are we waiting for!? A probing bike recce of the south shore is needed. More Poole Harbouring to come.
Thanks to IK&P reader Pavel for pointing me towards newish IKs from Israeli brand, AquaXtreme. To look at, the 4.2m (13.8′) x 90cm wide Explorer II is nothing special, the familiar profile of a round tube, non-dropstitch IK. AquaXtreme also make some slick-looking folding kayaks so, as rodeos go, they’ve been around the paddock.
What makes the Explorer and similar Edge models (left) different is that they’re made from up and coming TPU, like AquaXtreme’s range of packrafts (or just about all packrafts, in fact). And as we know, TPU folds up more compactly and is much less heavy per square metre than PVC while being strong enough, as well over a decade of TPU packrafts have proved. TPU also dodges PVC’s perceived ‘toxicity’ issues. TPU being thin, the only thing a 4.2-m Explorer might not be is innately rigid once pumped up, to which the answer is: more psi assuming the welds can hack it, This has been proved to work with packrafts in recent years. Rigidity is especially important in any longer IK with a single paddler sat in the middle, hence the advent of drop-stitch IKs a few years ago – a solution that in my opinion was not always elegant or functional.
Explorer II details and imagery on AquaXtreme’s website are skimpy: payload is claimed at 220kg while the all-important pressures look good at 2.5psi (0.2 bar) in the side tubes/floor?, but just 1psi (0.14 bar) in the floor.
It’s unclear if the floor is a loose insert ‘lilo’ sat on a packraft-like red floor sheet, as appears below, or integrated as a skeg photo (left) suggests.It’s possible it’s both (‘i-beam floor’ is mentioned) plus the ‘1psi ‘insert’ floor to allow it to be a self-bailer via the 4 floor drain valves shown. With valves open the insert would displace pooled water inside the boat to sit you above what’s left. But fitting self-draining ports in a complex I-beam floor is not a thing I’ve ever seen in an IK, so something doesn’t add up with the details and photos available. I also see what must be PRVs alongside the side tube inflation valves as well as the (insert?) floor. These are always a good precaution to stop an IK over-pressurising and rupturing if left in the heat, but something which many manufacturers are oddly coy about.
Weight is said to be 8.2kg; a bit more than half of what you’d expect in a PVC or rubber (hypalon) IK of the same length and the price is $999 with free post, plus tax where you live. There’s no mention of a barrel pump included, but you’ll need more than the air bag listed with their smaller, 2-psi rated Edge IKs.
I got the optional deck with my first Seawave back in 2015 and as expected, didn’t really take to it. But decks can keep you warm and dry and you don’t have to use them. Gumotex made a neat job of velcroing it to the boat securely but dropped the ball with their crude, bulky and-over engineered set of 4 alloy bars to support the deck (left) so that water readily runs off. Something much lighter, flexible and compact would do the job. This only matters if you travel with boat and deck, but that’s why we have IKs, no?
Gumo Seawaver Jules writes:
I’ve finally got round to making the Seawave deck supports after a couple of dud attempts and the design works great. What I did was to use 15mm speedfit pipe for the arch with a T piece to make the foot that goes in the tabs on the boat’s side tubes. The beauty is you can leave the deck velcroed on ( saves wear) and roll the lot up with at least 2 of the supports in place and it still goes in the rucksack.
The tubes are 44cm for the short and 62 for the 2 longer centre pieces and 4.5 and 6.5 cm for the pieces to go in the T piece foot. I melted a hole near each end of the black nylon that holds the padding on the inside of the deck, this keeps the arch in the correct plac
So far it works well and sheds the water off the deck; I’ve not tested it in rough weather yet.
A few clicks online and a 99-euro Anfibio PackSail (same as the defunct WP) got jammed in his letterbox. With a chilly offshore wind blowing off the south Cornish coast, Phil launched his 12-foot long R2 Barracuda Pro from a handy RIB and set off for Brittany.
The combination of the Barracuda’s kayak-long waterline, light weight and the 1.3-m diameter sail soon got the MRS skimming along at nearly 10kph. That switched to -0kph as he turned round into the 30kn gusts and tried to paddle back to shore. Time to hail down the water uber.
An old mate got in touch to tell me he’d bought himself a top-of-the-range MRS R2 Barracuda Pro and heck, even my packrafting book. He’s in Devon and I was in Dorset so I suggested we meet up for a Yuletide splash-about. Back in the day we were desert bikers; now we’re packrafting pensioneers.
Like some do with a new activity, Phil had got stuck right into his MRS and had already paddled to Dartmouth with his Brompton bike (left), something over in Norfolk, then scared himself further up the rain-swollen Dart from Buckfastleigh to Totnes, noting ‘it’s amazing how dangerous the big branches [and fallen trees] are…’
Tell me about it. If it’s not weirs or camo-&-beard anglers spitting poison darts, it’s deadly sweepers blown down by winter storms. I never quite got round to doing the Dart in my fearless prime, such as it was, but I hear in winter it’s one of the Southwest’s whitewater classics – a bit serious for me now. We settled on the Teign out of Newton Abbot with our respective bangers parked at either end.
If nothing else, we ought to have a good backwind. The previous night had peaked at around 50mph, but by dawn it was tailing off to half that, with the usual gusts at +50%, single-digit temps and showers. A good day for a drysuit and a stable packraft.
Some quick stats on Phil’s noire ‘cuda: 3.6m x 99 wide with 217cm inside and up to 7.6kg with the removable deck, two seats and internal storage, all for a hefty £1750. Compared to my TXL, it’s 80cm longer or nearly 12 feet in old money; our Micra’s shorter than that! It’s also 10% wider than the TXL, about 35cm longer inside so loads of room for 2 adults. Solo/no deck it gets down to 5.6kg alongside the TXL’s 3kg.
We drove around Newton looking for parking and a put-in. Opposite the racecourse and over a broken roadside fence we found a spacious river bank just at the Teign’s tidal reach. By the time we set off we were in the middle of a 3.5-m ebb, midway between springs and neaps. Either way, like the Frome the other day, the Teign was ripping along at a light jog and before I’d got myself untangled from my gear I was 75m downstream. I thought I’d finally got to grips with keeping it all in one bag, but Today’s Forgotten Item was my seat base [forehead slapping emoji]: ‘Gear drifts apart; the centre cannot hold. Mere forgetfulness is loosed upon the world‘. By chance I had a spare Anfibio Bouy Boy which did the job as a seat cushion.
The Barracuda has the same distinctive prow design as my old MRS Nomad which was a fast solo packraft, what MRS call StreamLineSL. These prows take up nearly 1.5m in the R2 which explains the massive length while still having a lot of room inside the boat. There’s probably enough buoyancy for four people and a caribou calf, with room for all their gear inside the ISS hull storage.
Before we knew it we’d passed under the A380 bridge and were out in the wide tidal estuary. The predicted 20mph winds came barrelling down the channel so I couldn’t resist flipping out my WindPaddle. With the Barracuda’s mooring line clenched in my teeth I managed the sail while Phil’s phone recorded 8 knots, obviously helped by the falling tide.
There were a few forceful gusts and the fetch kicked up towards the end, but the TXL and Barracuda shrugged it all off and my transverse bow sprit (left) did a great job of steadying the straining sail. I think the MRS has wider attachment points on the bow so may not need it, but I’m sure Phil will be buying a PackSail if Anfibio can do him one in black. He did.
Things got a bit chilly out in the deeper water and I noticed my TXL was creasing a bit at the sides. It’s been so many months since I last used it I’d forgotten high-volume packrafts need a second top-up a few minutes in to get good and taut. It didn’t seem to affect speed, but like properly laced shoes, taut feels better. That’s one good thing with Phil’s black boat; it auto pressurises in the pale winter sun. While we sailed, he tucked into his lunch.
The Teign estuary is actually not too industrialised. Under the last bridge The Salty sandbank was starting to emerge from the chop and as we curved round to the river mouth the sidewind pushed us into moored craft caked in algae. At the narrow outlet a rip of bouncing clapotis was jiggling out to sea and on the beach someone was striking poses for their Insta feed.
A little over an hour for 5 and a bit miles, just about all of it sailing both boats. It was interesting to learn that the WP could sail two big boats without much loss of speed. Staggering ashore, it felt odd not to be arm knackered, but once I got over that we headed into the deserted seaside town in search of the legendary Teignmouth Beast. That’s a local XXL pasty, not the jet-black MRS Barracuda.
In a line Fast, light, well-made and great value European-made hybrid tandem, the Igla’s removable floor and stacked [twin] side tubes keep the width down while retaining stability.
With clear skies forecast I took the Igla for a quick spin down the tidal River Frome out of Wareham quay. Some 1150 years ago marauding Vikings besieged the Saxon port in a bid to establish a flat-pack furniture enterprise. The ever dependable Alfred the Great sent them ‘packing’.
The recent thaw and rains on top of an incoming spring tide saw water just lapping over the medieval quay’s kerb and nearby pub lawn which for me meant an easy put in. Once cooling in the water I gave the kayak a quick top up and realised the closeable PRVs are quite handy in that you can close them as they start purging at 0.25–3 bar and so maintain firm sidetubes. Today, with temperatures in single figures there’s little risk of overheating blowing the boat to smithereens. I need to track down my manometer to see what the pressures actually are.
After hopping in I did a bit of pre-emptive wobbling while holding onto the quayside to ascertain stability. I don’t want a repetition of the shaky Shipwreck FDS I tried a couple of winter’s ago. The Igla seems good; a bit more tippy than the super-stable Seawave but unlike many FDS IKs, the round side tubes give it a bit more beam at water level. I adjusted the footrest tube further forward but later realised I may have been sat a little too far forward for level trim. I get the feeling these rock-solid drop stitchers are a bit more sensitive to trim as there’s no sag in the floor.
I see now that floating on the water the bow and stern prows are just above water level. With these relatively water-slicing forms (for an IK) I wondered whether the Igla might manage without a skeg but decided not to risk it. You can’t fit/remove the twin-fin alloy skeg with the DS floor inflated, so I made a quick copy from a plastic container (below). My MYO skeg was a bit flimsy but setting off downstream the Igla tracked fine while turning as easily as the Seawave. It wouldn’t be hard for Zelgear to redesign the skeg and mounting to make it easily removable while still being secure. And while they’re at it they could make it in ABS plastic.
I’m pleased to report the six-point seat feels about as comfy and supportive as I’ve seen in an IK out of the bag. No need for the usual adaptations or outright swaps. Gumotex take note. It weighs only 700g but offers great support, even from the inflated backrest. And semi-deflated, there was no wobble from the seatbase on the hard DS floor. If you’re looking for a good IK seat, try and get one of these.
The slim footrest tube too works better than I thought, thanks to the hard floor, and with knees braces cinched up, I felt secure in the boat. It’s a tad less stable than my Seawave of the same width but not enough to bother you on flatwater, as least. The Mrs was walking along the south bank and I was going to ferry her over to the north side to walk back, but we got separated in the reeds so I headed back into the growing westerly before the spring tide turned on me too.
Before I did, I hopped out and pulled out my plastic skeg. Doing so soon established that like most IKs, the Igla did indeed benefit from a tracking fin. The boat was paddleable but micro-corrections were required to keep it on track; do nothing and the bow comes round. Again, very similar to my old Seawave and unlike the FDS Shipwreck which tracked fine without it’s huge skeg but could turn better, too. Bang on time, at 12.20 the tide turned and soon, helped by the run-off from the Purbeck Hills, the river was belting along under Wareham bridge. That’s good to know for later paddles out of here.
Having not paddled for months, that little outing wore me out, but I like the Igla. It looks good, performs well, has many useful fittings which other IKs don’t and, for a European-made boat, is a bargain at current prices. Add tax and shipping (if needed) and it still ought to come in at under a £grand. I’m looking forward to taking it out for a longer session into Poole Harbour and beyond.
Itiwit inflatable kayaks were one of the few IKs that remained available (and without price hikes) during the Great Lockdown IK Shortage of 2020. In 2021 Decathlon’s initial entry into the packraft market with the 12-panel, semi decked ‘500’ model got off to a lumpy start, or at least ended up not being sold in the UK for more than a couple of weeks. However for 2022 the cheaper and plainer Packraft 100 model is definitely here in the UK (and probably everywhere else) for £380.
What they say Designed for packrafting beginners, this packraft can be carried in a backpack! Cover a calm water course or a lake then descend or cross it! This extremely compact packraft will enable you to enjoy your hikes in a whole new way, travelling along a calm class 1 river, or across a lake: Create your own tailor-made adventure. (It’s not easy to locate the X100 pdf manual)
Decathlon/Itiwit kept things simple on the 100 with a basic, six-panel Kokopelli-like design and a flat hull with no rocker (bow uplift). The boat is made with 210D? TPU tubes and a 420D floor measuring up, we’re told, at 204cm long by 97cm wide, a bit shorter but a lot wider than Anfibio’s similar Alpha XC. Using graphic extrapolation developed in Bletchley Park, I estimate the interior width at the seat is 45cm and 25cm at the feet, with an interior length of 118cm, although the pointy ends will make that feel a bit less. Weight rating is 110kg and the claimed weight of the entire package: boat and hose in the carry/airbag, is 2kg.
In that second video, product engineer Julie tells us with English subs that the Packraft 100 runs 1psi right over an image (left) that clearly states 1.5psi around the valve. Then again, the preceding action vid shows 1psi at the valve and on the air bag too. Perhaps they decided to play it safe at the last minute, but assuming it’s sewn and welded with tape like most packrafts, it should be able to handle a bit more for a better ride. Of course there’s no way of measuring pressure without a low-psi manometer.
As with their IKs, Itiwit have their own way of doing things with seemingly little reference to competitors. So Packraft 100 looks oversquare and with long hand straps front and rear, rather than the usual grab loops (there are two up front inside). It’s possible hand straps are a requirement of paddle craft safety regulations in France. Unless I’m missing something, the very wide seat with a handy one-way valve uses an oddly clumsy securing strap, but the carry bag cleverly doubles as an inflation bag and then a roll-top dry bag once on the water. The orange floor is 420D TPU. In an emergency, flip the boat over and wave.
To inflate, you clamp a hose from the bag to the Boston valve, catch some air, roll up the ends then kneel on it (above left or watch the second vid). Top up by mouth only (see video below on this link), as they advise a hand pump may risk over-inflation. Then again we all managed packrafting for years with just air bags and mouth tops-ups long before mini hand-pumps came on the scene.
So there it is, Le Packraft 100 for le packrafting beginners, as long as they’re at the lighter and less tall end of the spectrum. And one good thing is Itiwit always make it clear spare parts are available.
At £380 I’m pretty sure it’s about the cheapest of the proper TPU packrafts (as opposed to PU nylon ‘crossrafts‘) and ought to be available wherever you find a Decathlon outlet.
Two good-value, four-part paddles from Anfibio ideal for packraft or IK travels. The yellow VertexTour is a newer redesign and a lot lighter, even with a longer range of length adjustments and has a better clamp. But the black Wave (left) has the classic dihedral (two-faced) blade. What is the difference and does it matter?
What they say
Anfibio Vertex Tour Our new, redesigned Vertex Tour paddle comes with a classic double blade, fine shaft and sub one-kilo weight. Equally suitable for lakes, calm rivers and moderate whitewater. The position length is adjustable from 210cm to 225cm at free angle.
Anfibio Wave High-quality, lightweight carbon paddle for long tours on calm waters. Freely adjustable in length and angle.
I’ve done several hours with both paddles and for this comparison we took both on a 15-mile paddle down the Wey in Surrey in the TXL. It was a hot day but water doesn’t get any flatter unless it’s an ice rink. Below some weights and measures to mull over.
Longest piece cm
44 x 19.5cm
44 x 16cm
I didn’t notice until I weighed the blades, but the two are made quite differently. The larger Vertex blade – about 650cm2 – has a molded central ‘corrugation’ to stiffen the blade. The Wave has a classic dihedral (two-faced) power face which is said to power smoothly through the water better than a plain flat blade. The Wave blade is also smaller – 600cm2 at a guess.
So the main differences are weight, blade size and blade face, and I suppose adjustable length and the texture of the shafts. Will you notice the difference in a packraft? I very much doubt it but I think I’d prefer to paddle all day with the smaller bladed and dihedral Wave, even if it’s 160g heavier: the weight of a large banana.
I have a theory with length-adjustable paddles that into the wind or upstream (ie; max effort) you can ‘lower the gearing’ by shortening the paddle and leverage. Meanwhile downwind you can get the most of your paddle by setting it at full length overdrive. It’s good to have the option and one day I will test this theory but really, we paddle as hard as the situation demands. Sometimes easy, sometimes more efortful.
Feather angle alignment My Vertex came with no alignment line on the lever clamp to set the angle against a grid. It took me a while to work this out until I couldn’t and a couple of yellow tape arrows set at my preferred 45°R. Anfibio have since told me this was a production flaw and current Vertex have an alignment marker on the clamp. A permanent alternative to my stick-on arrows would be melting a slot into the clamp with a hot knife. It would be easiest to do this with the paddle feathered at zero (no offset) which is easy to estimate. Think before you melt or use tape!
The Wave’s alignment system is as you’d expect. In fact there are two ways: a slot on the clamp to align with the grid; and pre-set angles molded into the clamp to align with the zero line on the grid. As it is, on both paddles the white alignment grid gets slid over at each assembly and will probably wear away over the years so you’ll end up with a tape marker anyway. That’s what I’ve done on my old Werners which had a grid sticker on the outside which eventually peeled off.
The blades on both paddles felt a little loose once mounted on the shafts. Maybe they’re made that way as the shaft may swell over the years as it did on my carbon AquaBound. It’s unlikely you’d notice on the move but no movement is best. A small bit of thin tape (left; not a full wrap) was enough to remove any play and if the tape wears or pulls off it’s easy to apply some more. Once clamped down there was no play at the shaft join.
On the Wey you might notice the weight swapping from one to the other, but after a while you’re just paddling. In a way the ideal combo would be fitting the smaller Wave blades on the longer, better clamped Vertex shaft, but oddly they’re not interchangeable.
In the end, for €125 you will not be disappointed because either paddle will proper your boat forward, adjust readily and fit easily in your pack.
Incidentally, I did an IK&P survey when I paddled the Wey in 2021. 2022 numbers in red. In over a decade I saw my first every packraft actually being used on the water! An underinflated MRS. I got the feeling the owner didn’t know that airbagging was not enough; you have to top up too. Has he not read my book?!
Hardshell canoes: 1 1
Hardshell kayaks: 1 8 (group)
Hardshell SoT: 1 0
Vinyl IKs (rock-bottom cheapies): 5 1
PVC (bladder) IKs 3 0
Packrafts 0 1!
iSUPs: 10+ (mostly women or mixed groups goofing off) 10
Nearly two years ago I predicted TPU IKs could be the next step and wrote:
[synthetic rubber is good but] … Packrafts, meanwhile, are mostly made from TPU (as well as PVC), a different sort of polymer coating which has many of the benefits of synthetic rubber: odour-free, smooth texture, light, UV resistant, supple (crease-free), not environmentally toxic. But, like PVC, it too can be heat welded. Since Alpacka got the ball rolling, there are now loads of brands banging out TPU packrafts. In this time the fabric and seam technology have proved themselves to be as durable as PVC or rubber, and capable of running higher pressures too. As someone on the internet observed: ‘Thermoplastic Polyurethane (TPU) is the link between rubber and plastic’.
Now that TPU packrafts are well proven, it could be time to ditch PVC and make TPU IKs, assuming the costs can be bearable. The benefits are principally nothing less than a huge reduction in weight.
Aquaglide Cirrus TPU IK On the face of it the new Cirrus IKs seem to be copies of Aquaglide’s three PVC Chelen models (120, 140, 155) – never seen one but they look to be a decent hybrid. The PVC ‘155’ 15-footer weighs a hefty 42 lbs (19kg) and I bet will fill a large suitcase. Although that weight’s unverified, it actually compares well with other long hybrid PVC IKs and even my old 4.5-m Seawave at 17kg. But unlike a Nitrilon rubber Seawave, in my experience the rolled-up bulk of big PVC IKs can be off putting.
The press release claims the new Cirrus 150 will weigh just 18 lbs (8.1kg); a staggering <50% reduction on the PVC Chelan. The boat is 15 feet (4.57m) long, 35 inches (89cm) wide and claims to handle 600 lbs (272kg). You won’t need a wheel suitcase (left; Sandbanks) to cart a Cirrus around. In 2023 the price in the UK is £2099 or $1700 in the US. No, that doesn’t add up, but did it ever?
According to the video above, the tubes are double-coated70D nylon TPU. This sounds low compared to a packraft’s typical 210D hull, but remember denier is thread weight not coated fabric thickness (’70 x the weight of silk’). In the UK IronRaft sell 70D TPU and this MYO chap used it too. It’s at the very lightest end of the scale; 70D PU-coated nylon is what Supai use, though I’m not sure you can compare PU coating with TPU. The fact that the Cirrus will be double coated (most packrafts are now single coated) ought to provide extra support (more rigidity/less sag) without needing to resort to seam-straining higher pressures. One good thing about PVC is that it’s innately stiff once pumped up – good for performance if not packability.
In the vid you can spot the floor pressure is rated at 0.41 bar (5.9psi) and the sides take a healthy 0.21 (3psi) which ought to be enough to give a rigid form without ruptures.
Unlike the Chelan, there appear to be no ‘have-your-cake-and-eat-it’ closeable self-bailing ports which I suspect have dubious value outside of white water paddling to which a 15-foot IK is ill suited. You just get the usual drain port in the back when flipping the boat over will achieve the same purpose. The floor is removable too according to a video comment; a huge benefit for quick rinsing, drying and cleaning. And we’re told the whole boat fits into the shoulder drybag as pictured below.
Price was always an issue with more sophisticated and less widely-used TPU and over £2000 is loads for an IK, but now everything everywhere has become expensive, does this matter less? Who knows but let’s hope this starts a trend towards more TPU IKs for folk who want the benefits of a lightweight tandem packraft like my current Sigma TXL, but in spacious and faster IK form.
Let’s end with something else I wrote two years ago:
A few years ago I predicted that full drop-stitch IKs would become the new thing. This has happened and has driven IK design and sales a long way forward. But, PVC aside, I’m still not convinced by the boxy profiles and packed bulk of FD-S IKs. Until FD-S forms can evolve (as the Itiwit X500 has shown), I think hybrid, drop-stitch floors (D-SF) are certainly the way to go, if an IK is to stay undecked, unlike the X500.
There will always be a demand for cheap vinyl or PVC IKs but I predict the next big thing in high-end IKs will be TPU, including removable D-S floors in TPU. TPU is now well proven with packrafts and blends the heat-welding benefits of PVC with nearly all the better attributes of ‘hypalons’.
Thanks to a couple of IK&P followers who spotted and passed on news of Aquaglide’s new Cirrus range of hybrid TPU IKs.