Once we were let out in the Covid summer of 2020, we did a very nice coastal walk from Hastings to Rye along the Sussex coast. Hot, but not so windy, it would have been just right for paddling. Today conditions were similar for a westbound transit from Rye back towards Hastings. High Water (and a spring tide too) was at a very reasonable noon in Rye, with a forecast of 8-14mph from the east and a bit of a kick at 3pm. I was hoping for the upper limit and a bit of splashy sport, so brought the WindPaddle I’d used on the packraft last month in Scotland in much stronger winds.
It’s only a 10-minute walk from Rye station to a boat ramp on the quay where the water was still inching up the concrete as I pumped up the Gumotex.
I was taking a gamble trying my untested new rudder set up. Because I expected it to play up, I fitted the stock skeg so I could lift a problematic rudder and carry on as normal without coming shore. To be without a rudder or skeg with a backwind at sea would not be ideal. Being the ever recirculating goldfish, I forgot to try out my sail stick mount idea.
Rye hasn’t been on the coast since 1287 or so when, along with gradual land reclamation, the biggest of a series of 13th-century storms filled the adjacent marshy inlet with silt and shingle which finished off semi-abandoned Old Winchelsea and radically redrew the low-lying coastline where the Kent and Sussex borders meet. It was the same in Pevensey to the west. The gif on the left from this interesting regional website shows how the coastline of southeast England was transformed in the late medieval era. Where the Rother river once flowed directly east to enter the sea at New Romney, the filled-in bay saw it diverted south below the old hill town of Rye, now stranded two miles from the sea. The then important port of Winchelsea was rebuilt on its present site in 1288, but eventual silting saw both it and Rye’s maritime importance decline. What this area may lack in epic spaces common to the north and west of Britain, it gains in fascinating history. 1066 and all that.
I set off along the River Brede which wraps around Rye’s south side like a moat, and soon joins the Rother. It’s about 5km to the open sea.
I’m into the wind but the grass banks are under water and the wind turbines are spinning merrily; all good signs.
Rye Harbour. The tide is high and I’m moving on.
In 45 minutes I reach the old breakwater opposite Camber Sands where I recall bucket & spading as a child. The sea looks depressingly flat.
Seals at the river mouth (a few days later)
It’s nearly 10km to the cliffs, a two-hour haul. And with the breeze from behind, I’m soon streaming with sweat. I’m not sure my water will last.
Going with the Flow A few years ago while planning Newhaven to Brighton, I learned an odd thing about Sussex and Kent tides. For the last two hours of the incoming (eastbound) flood, the tide keeps rising but reverses westbound along the English coast as it backs up at the Straight of Dover and spills back down the sides. That makes HW is around the same time in Folkestone, and 140 miles to the west, past the Isle of Wight, but HW at all the places in between lags behind. Tidal steams are not that strong here – wind will have much more of a bearing on paddling – but this means you get only four hours eastboundflow with the flood tide and prevailing southwest winds. But if you time your run with a warm easterly off the continent and go westbound– as I did on this occasion – you get a much longer run with the tidal current; eight hours or more; maybe 45km all the way to Eastbourne. The question is: can you paddle that long.
A breeze picks up so I flick up the sail. I check my GPS and am doing 3-4kph, while I can paddle at around 5-6kph. Then the breeze drops away. I wasn’t really planning to paddle the full 30+ clicks to Cooden station, but I can always get off at Hastings, a few stops before.
At least the rudder seems to working as it should, though any quick response is dulled a little by the skeg. A rudder’s not really needed in these conditions, though it compensates for me being blown gradually onshore. I’m trying a rudder lift-line only, not a rudder lowering line as well. But once in the boat I find I can’t turn enough to even see the lifted rudder to flick it down with the paddle, so I’ll probably fit a drop-line later.
I creep along the expanse of Winchelsea Beach. It’s hot work in a backwind. Eventually I reach the start of the cliffs where the coast turns more east-west, putting the wind directly behind me. But paddling at effectively wind speed, there is no cooling effect. More used to paddling at the other end of Britain, I’m not used to 27°C.
Then, as predicted, around 3pm the breeze picks up and I can get the sail up.
Paddling half a mile from the shore, initially it was hard to know if I’m moving and at what speed. So waking up the GPS screen was a handy way of telling if the sailing speed was worthwhile. With the odd gust I reach nearly 7kph, but average less than 5kph, a bit slower than paddling, but I’m not dripping like a leaky tap or needing to drink. In fact I could nearly doze off.
The cliffs inch by. This is the sea end of the Wealden sandstone formation, less high and steep than the better known chalky Seven Sisters to the west, or Dover’s white cliffs to the northeast. Both chalk cliffs are part of the same formation or bed, but when the land was squeezed and uplifted to the dome or hump was eroded away to expose the older sandstone below. This is what they call the Weald, and near Tunbridge Wells, East Grinstead and Frant, the weathered sandstone ridge produces small outcrops where I started rock climbing as a teenager (right).
I pass the Stade, the east end of Hastings where the cliffs drop back down. A few souls are enjoying the last day of summer on the shingle beach.
I keep going to the pier and decide to have a leisurely take out there. It’s gone 4pm so another 10km to get the train 6.15 from Cooden would be a rush.
Landfall by Hastings pier. Compared to the fabulous Summer Isles, for me these southeast coast paddles lack drama and interest, but are easy to reach when tomorrow’s weather looks good. We walked Hastings to Rye again a day or two later; it took about the same time and was more enjoyable (though it was cooler). The rudder foot pivot worked fine, though needed a bit of re-tensioning at the pier. Next time I can confidently leave the skeg off, though I can see a rudder would only be needed when sailing or paddling in windier conditions.
After doing so well with their budget IKs, Itiwit, Decathlon’s paddle sports brand, have entered the packraft market with the TPU Itiwit Adventure 500 Packraft. Complete with a 50-cm TiZip for in-hull storage, thigh straps and a ‘bikerafting’ deck, you pay 500€, were it available. The boat was launched online in August 2021, then withdrawn, some claimed due to safety issues (see below). It was online again in the UK when I wrote this in September. Now the UK Decathlon page is a ‘404’ again, although the boat appears online in European stores, ostensibly unchanged, but still unavailable. Rated at WW2, above left it looks mostly black but is actually ‘Dusty green / Blood orange’, as the action shots below clearly show. There’s an online manual here.
As with hardshells (especially sea kayakers) vs inflatables), there can be a certain ‘know-all’ snobbery, evident here too when a huge outfit like Decathlon – known for their keenly priced, own-brand outdoor gear – barge in on the cottage industry of packrafting. Those scoffers may like to look at Itiwit’s X500 IK; no one else has even got close to making an FDS IK like that, so it’s a mistake to assume Decathlon only bang out cheap crap for the masses. I doubt Itiwit sell many X500s, but from £260, I bet their wide-as-a-door budget IKs are the best selling budget inflatables in the UK, if not Europe. River-pootling, dog-in-the-boat recreationalists absolutely love them. Packrafts being pretty similar, the ‘Adventure 500’ will be popular too (as often, Itiwit are vague or inconsistent about model names.). At Decathlon you get a lot for your money and they are also helpfully on hand to clarify the difference between rafting and packrafting.
Size is 230cm x 90cm which is near identical to my Rebel 2K and a do-it-all packrafting standard, even if the image above left above suggests it’s some 13cm longer, assuming the width is 90cm. The claimed weight comes in at a hefty 3.8kg; that’s PVC packraft territory though includes all the kit shown left. There is no mention of TPU denier, tube diameter or internal dimensions, though they’re probably standard too. One reviewer even doubts it is TPU.
The carry bag doubles as a dry bag (like Gumotex IKs) but also works as the inflation bag via a tube. Three uses; quite clever if not weight minimalising. The packraft (and the bag?) has a regular Boston valve like Itiwit IKs, so you’d then use that tube or the boat valve to top up by mouth. Give it all you got: a firm boat responds much better on the water.
The bag and both valves state: ‘Maximal Pressure 1 psi / 0/07 bar‘ which is almost down to slackraft level, but there’s no way of telling when you reach that pressure. Like most well-made TPU packrafts, it ought to be able take a more than that and unless you’re Tarzan, you can’t over-inflate a packraft with your lungs. Left in the sun out of the water, dark green may heat up and raise internal pressures quicker than much lighter colours, though packrafts stretch better than IKs. I’ve not heard of a proper packraft blowing a seam due to overheating, unlike countless cheap PVC IKs. Meanwhile, the conformity label (below right) states a more realistic 1.5psi / 0.1 bar.
The hull’s raised lashing/carry straps look fairly chunky and will be easy to grab from the water. But despite what is claimed, the ‘deck’ can’t keep out splashes over the bow; they’ll just stream right into your lap, even if it does appear to make a good platform for a bike. Good on Itiwit for recognising the appeal of bikerafting (on social media, at least). It will all help potential buyers ‘get’ packrafting.
The inclusion of thigh straps (badly translated as ‘knee pads’) seems odd, given the boat’s profile and implied WW2 use. It suggests Itiwit misunderstood the product, or tried to be a bit too clever with added features. Thighstraps definitely help when using any inflatable beyond Grade 2 white water – ie: when some skill and technique must be applied alongside raw nerve. But realistically, you’d need a proper sealed deck or a self-bailer to tackle such conditions. This boat will be swamped after the first couple of rapids.
It was pointed out that the small sprung-gate snaplinks aka: karabiners (‘biners’ or ‘krabs’) used to attach the straps to the hull are an entrapment hazard. Rock climbing practice has long recommended using screw-gate (locking) krabs on the climber’s harness, even if loads of sprung-gate (open) krabs are dangling off it, attaching the gear. Below from the manual: orange krabs at the front, black by the seat. Rationale unknown, but may become so on seeing the actual boat.
A few years ago I recall Alpacka’s founder was reluctant to introduce any type of thigh strap (however attached) to her growing range of white-water packrafts. Iirc, Alpacka even experimented (unsuccessfully) with strap-free knee blocks. A hardshell creek boat has them under the deck to help triangulate your body and transform control from the hips. For gnarly white-water, surf and not least rolling, straps are pretty much essential on appropriately decked (or bailed) IKs and packrafts. Elsewhere they’re just not needed as unlike an IK (not least a boxy FDS), a packraft is a cozy fit round the hips and against the back and feet, providing bracing and connection like a well-laced running shoe. While inadvertently getting your pfd straps hooked to the Itiwit’s mini sprung-gate krab is faintly possible while getting rolled around in a Grade-4 stopper, it’s much more likely with full-size krabs. Thigh straps are the bigger entrapment hazard, as is any loose, foot-trapping rigging on a boat, on top of the many other ways of coming to grief on eaux vivant. In more sedate flatwater paddling scenarios, regular open krabs are a handy way of quickly securing stuff; my boats have several, though I find myself using corrosion-free SoftTies more and more. Go ahead and fit screw-gate/locking krabs or a chunky re-usable SoftTie; your entrapment risk will not be eliminated if you get in trouble. For normal packrafting, I’d simply remove the straps to reduce the clutter.
Though not mentioned, there’s a line of adjustment tabs on the floor, possibly footrest mounts for shorter folk? But no backrest, which are largely redundant on a packraft anyway. Under the deck is some tensionable elastic cord to stash your carry bag up out of the way once on the water. Nice touch, or another entrapment hazard? Lord oh lord, what a minefield!
There’s also what looks like a whole lot of buoyancy at either end, though they rate it at 125kg; boater with gear. Then again – unlike with IKs – when’s the last time anyone ever rated a packraft’s buoyancy? It’s such a vague metric and as it is, I’m not sure I’ve ever come close to 125 kilos; camping with a bike may push it to that limit. More impressions when/if one turns up at my local Decathlon store.
One problem I’ve had sailing my Seawave is the sail tends to sway ever more violently from side to side when the wind gets too strong. This is not just a problem with the WP disc sail I now use (left); it was the same with the Pacific Action V-Sail I used on my Incept K40 in northwest Australia a few years ago. Unable to transfer the wind energy into forward motion, it instead spills over the sides in a flapping frenzy.
It’s well know these downwind sails (especially smaller ones) have a limit of about 15-20 mph beyond which they flip out. But lazily hooking up the WP to my Seawave’s decklines introduces a lot of slack (left) which may exacerbated the swaying. It was only when trying the similar AirSail and later my WP on my packraft in Scotland (at one point with gusts as strong as Australia) that I realised lashing the sail mounts close to the hull eliminated the swaying. At least on a broader bowed packraft.
Out sailing the Seawave the other day, I belatedly succeeded in tensioning the decklines on the water with some ever versatile SoftTies (right). As you can see left, that worked OK but annoyingly it wasn’t as windy as I’d hoped, and not enough to get the WP in a flap.
I’d forgotten to try my stick idea. Whether you use the deck cover on not, you can fix a transverse stick securely under the Seawave bow’s velcro flap and, with another couple of those nifty SoftTies, closely fix the WP to the stick. (I’ll be keeping an eye out for a nice bit of ally tube to replace the weathered old bamboo). Required work and added weight: negligible and it may work on other IKs, too. Something to try for next time.
Nicely shot vid with drone footage of an Ozzie father and son’s tough, 250-km paddle and portage through Alaska’s Brookes Ranges in a pair of Advance Elements Expedition Elites. After getting dropped off at Summit Lake on the Continental Divide (see map, right), they followed the Koyukuk River south, with a plan to climb the 7500′ Mt Doonerak, Alaska’s ‘Matterhorn’, not far from the river and 20 miles west of the Dalton Highway. With extra gear piled high on the decks, you do wonder if this made the 4-metre Elites unstable in what looked like relatively easy but shallow white water. That led to a couple of capsizes and the loss of the crucial sat phone. Other dramas ensue.
Rather like sails where I Made My Own, lost interest, then returned with a proper WindPaddle, after five years I’ve come back to the idea of fitting a rudder to Seawave 2. Mostly, this was inspired by a much simpler pivoting footrest tube idea from fellow Seawaver Jules, replacing cumbersome and bulky foot pedals. A rudder ought to make the Seawave more useable in a slightly greater range of conditions, including sailing which I tried again recently.
I could have bought the Gumotex rudder kit for just £219, but as always it’s more fun to piss about for hours and days on the pretext of saving money and conjuring up small improvements. IKs sit higher than hardshell kayaks, so I coughed up 25 quid for the longest rudder mechanism I could find on ebay: 510mm. It weighs 550g. The stern-mounted rudder plate started as a slab of was a chopping board, then became an aluminium plate additionally located with velcropads, as Jules and Gumotex use. I found secure clamping of the rudder mounting plate to be important to stop it turning on its axis. There is perhaps more torque on the mount than might be expected when a rudder blade tries to turn a 4.5-m boat. As you’ll see I ended up making a Mk 3.1 rudder mount in a mixture of soft and hard chopping board, as well as a Mk 3.2 in aluminium. There’s a 20g weight difference. Another bright idea idea Jules had was running the rudder lines out of the way under the deck velcroflap and inside thin tubing. That largely eliminates any exposed lines. I also liked his idea of controlling the rudder by pivoting a drainpipe footrest tube from the centre, eliminating the need for cumbersome foot pedals. Overall the whole mechanism: rudder, mount and clamp (220g), cords and tube (50g), adds up to less than a kilo and under £50 (some bits I had already). Eliminating foot pedals was the main saving in weight and bulk.
Mk3 Rudder for Seawave 2
Ebay rudder assembly from £20
Piece of HDPE chopping board, 3mm x 400mm x 60mm, aluminium bar, or similar
Hand clamping knob and nut
6 metres of PVC (or PTFE) pipe with 5mm internal diameter
11 metres of 2mm Dyneema cord
4-inch ø x 30cm plastic drainpipefootrest (if not used already)
2 metres of 25mm strap
A few mini snaplinks, fish snaps or similar
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Knob for rudder lift, cinch locks and clamcleats
Footrest I already use a drainpipe as a fixed footrest. At 25cm wide, another 5cm would still fit between the Seawave’s sidetubes and may give a bit more finesse and leverage to rudder steering. If this proves the case with mine, it’s an easy swap. Drill and/or hot-knife in two adjacent slots in the middle and feed the strap through. You must fix the footrest to the strap so there’s no slippage. A big knot inside will do. Thread the strap’s loose ends through the stock footrest attachments buckles on the boat’s floor. You can now easily re-position the footrest tube forward or back for tandem or other sized paddlers. This is handy whether you use a rudder or not. While fine in the straight line along the hull top, putting a bend in the soft PVC tubing down the insides of the hull caused too much drag on the lines. So to avoid wear on the grey Hypalon, I just chopped the PVC tube back and stuck on some tape. (As you can see I need to add another strip for the tandem position). It’s probable the harder PTFE tubing Jules used causes less stiction, but having the rudder line exposed near the footrest-pivot make adjusting clamcleats and cinch locks easier.
I stumbled on quite a fast and easy way to fine tune or readjust the footrest pedal tension: inline clam cleats (or cam cleats or rope locks) which I came across during my V-Sail experiments years ago. Feed the line through as shown below; centre both rudder and footrest, then cinch up and you should be good to go. Once you’ve established the right line length through the cleat for a certain fixed position, it can help to ‘memory mark‘ the cord (as I did in red). Though I bet once I get on the water and use the rudder a bit, they’ll go off alignment, so probably better to wait till then.
You need enough rudder line slack to slide the whole pedal-footrest forward about a foot when paddling two-up. Loose ends can be tidied away with cinch locks. Eleven metres of Dyneema cord is enough to do this job on a Seawave, including a single rudder lifting line. (To push and drop the rudder too you’ll need another 3m.)
Rudder mountplate The 10mm red chopping board I bought was actually quite bendy (LDPE, not HDPE?) compared to other bits I realised I had all along. The less play in the rudder system the more responsive it will be; an IK’s stern mounting is mushy enough. This time round I copied Gumotex’s idea of using small velcro pads to stop the rudder twisting on it’s pivot-clamp axis. Initially lacking stick-on velcro, I glued plain velcro, using the PU glue from the Gumotex repair kit. For one-part glue, it seemed to fix the velcro pretty well but if not, some sticky-back came in the post.
I knew from last time I made a rudder the under-plate shape helps eliminate pivoting of the mount, but you can draw out the truncated triangle by simply tracing the converging top seams at the stern, then make the under-plate from whatever you got. I used a bit of plywood: jam it in snugly, mark the point under the stock drain hole, remove and drill. I glued and taped a nut to the back of the ply and added a bit of string to help pull the under-plate out.
I would have rather made the rudder top mount plate from ally but with little more than a hacksaw and a kitchen stool, lacked the tools to do a neat job. Then, while waiting for parts to arrive, I realised it was possible to buy ‘aluminium bar off cuts’ on ebay (right). Using the word ‘bar’ was the key. This place, or others like it, sell various sizes, including 3mm x 400 x 60mm for 7 quid.
I’m pretty sure most kayak rudders come with a 48-mm pivot pin of 9mm ø. Or was it originally 3/8″s, which is 9.5mm? The pin slips into a 10mm gudgeon swivel sleeve/tube. Some hardshells have this tube moulded in the stern; on an IK it must be built into the rudder mount plate. Above left, you can see Jules (as well as Gumotex) integrate a gudgeon swivel tube into the end of the mount plate; a tricky thing to do accurately with a just a hand drill, though Jules’ thick plate makes it a bit easier. On my Mark 3.1 white HDPE mount, I glued layers of the old red LDPE into a block of plastic, then drilled a 10mm hole which works OK.
When it comes to an ally rudder mount, online you’ll find stainless steel kayak rudder pivot ‘C’ brackets for a fiver. They weigh 57g and are usually screwed to the vertical stern of a hardshell, replicating the gudgeon tube. Even though they’re only a fiver, it seems impossible to buy these from anywhere else but the Far East, and it would be more than a fiver’s work to fabricate that shape from hard stainless steel. I bought a pair anyway; they arrived in a fortnight, but hole diameters (not stated in the advert) were 11mm, meaning 2mm of play with my rudder pin which feels too much. Oh China, your poor manufacturing tolerances let me down! So I glued on some 10mm washers to eliminate the slack. I’d have been better off making something after all. It had occurred to me I could have bent my 400-mm piece of 3mm ally into a full ‘C’, either curved round a pole, or bent on an edge at two right angles, as up above left in cardboard. Tweak the alignment and precisely drill two 10mm holes and the rudder swivel mount and plate are all one piece. In fact, that 3mm alloy plate I bought was pretty stiff, so I settled on a simple L bend (and without a vice, even that wasn’t perfect), then glued and bolted on the Chinese ‘C’ bracket.
Rudder pulley Rudder blades have a hole in the back so the pulley can lift and lower the rudder near a shore. For the moment I’ve decided to keep things simple and only use a single lift line, not a doubled-up line (another 3m of cord needed; 14m total) to lower the rudder as well. I intend to use the paddle to reach back and flip the rudder into the water. If that is a poor idea, I can easily add a two-way rudder line. On packing up I realised this line needs to be in two sections if the rudder and plate are to be easily removable when rolling up the boat. The join can be at the back near the plate. As you can see I ran out of Dyneema and used an orange shoelace.
I fitted the lift line along the sides, using the deck support rib tabs and running through spare bits of tubing to avoid wear and aid smooth running. I fitted a tension-adjustable knob at the hand end of the lift line on the left, though anything will do. Pull forward six inches to lift the rudder. Flip the rudder back down with the paddle blade.
Does that flat, 4mm front edge of the rudder blade need chamfering to cut through the water, or am I other-thinking it? Who knows but watever you do, keep the skeg handy in case the rudder plays up.
Looming over the Sound of Sleat opposite the Isle of Skye, Knoydart is a famously rugged peninsula that’s inaccessible by road; part of the so-called Rough Bounds. Rising north of Loch Nevis, the mountains top out at the 1020-metre (3346′) summit of Ladhar Bheinn (‘Larven’), before dropping back down to LochHourn. On an OS map, contour lines here are as dense as spaghetti and to the south, Loch Morar is Europe’s deepest body of freshwater. Sounds like packrafting country!
It took just a morning to stitch together a challenging three-loch loop via Loch Quioch, but once I got there the initial 20-km stage down the channel of Loch Hourn looked a bit daunting alone in the untried packraft sailing outfit and required a 4am start at Low Water if I was to do the loch in one tide. By the time I tried something else, I was pushed back by wind and tide, so I settled for a good look around, tested the sail on the Rebel 2K, the Six Moon Designs Flex PR pack harness and a new tent before returning a fortnight later with Barry with whom I’d paddled the River Wye last April.
Driving up to Mallaig freed us from train timetables, which left the weather and 18-kilo packs as our main constraints. Unfortunately, the forecast dropped an F5 headwind on the Friday we planned to paddle out of Loch Nevis back towards Morar or Mallaig. Along with agreeable tide timings, I realised this was a limitation of circularpackrafting routes on the Scottish west coast: chances are you’ll hit a prevailing southwesterly which may slow your packraft to a crawl (as I’d found). Depending on where you are, that can mean turning back or a tough walk out. Maybe both.
So Barry and I flipped the plan: hike 16km from Inverie (the only village on Knoydart) over to Barisdale, paddle inner Loch Hourn (7km), walk up to Loch Quoich (8km), cross it and then head 6km to a bothy in desolate Glen Kingie. From here, on Windy Friday we’d walk 6km over another pass to the 20-km long Loch Arkaig and try and sail the F5 west, maybe getting as far as Fort William via the River Lochy, though gusts out here were tagged at 40mph. At Fort William we’d catch the train back to the car in Mallaig.
Weight (verified): 1525g in Large (shoulder straps 212g; hip belt 376g; back panel 937g).
Where used Four-day packrafting recce on Knoydart, covering about 50 miles, and another 3 days packrafting (about 25 land miles).
The Flex PR was supplied free for testing and review by Six Moons and Anfibio
Carries heavy loads as well as a proper rucksack Includes no less than nine pockets Four-strap adjustable hip belt
As expensive as some top-of-the-range ultralight backpacks Loads of black buckles with very long black straps on the black back panel Fixed shoulder-strap mini-pockets a bit small and too high Wide outer panel means too much slack to cinch down the side straps fully
What They Say The [new for 2021] Flex PR is a multi-use pack specifically designed for pack rafters. The Flex PR is a 50L dry bag with a removable suspension system designed for carry heavy loads in comfort. Whether you are portaging on a canoe trip, hunting in the backcountry, or doing trail maintenance, the Flex PR will keep your gear dry, your accessories handy, and your back comfortable.
Review I’ve long been a fan of pack harnesses as I call them; aka: portage packs or multi-use packs. Once combined with a bombproof dry bag like my aged Watershed UDB, your packrafting load-carrying needs on land and water are solved for under 2kg. Lash all you needs to the harness and hit the hills.
It took me years of experimenting with ex-military and hunting-focussed metal-framed versions before I discovered backpacking-oriented ‘soft’ harnesses like my NRS Paragon. No longer made, the Paragon was a basic 100-dollar harness and a bit on the small side for me. The fully adjustable Six Moon Flex PR is up there with the best hiking load-carriers.
What’s wrong with a regular rucksack? Well, they’re not waterproof like a dry bag can be, and if you have a proper dry bag you’ve less need for a backpack which is just more bulk. Plus, once you account of 4-5kg of rafting clobber, it won’t all fit in a normal rucksack and on the water you may end up with a soaking backpack. I tried this on my very first multi-day packrafting adventure from Morar to Rannoch Moor back in 2010 with my Alpacka Llama, carrying a huge roll-top vinyl dry bag (left). It sort of worked, but once you get into it, a dry bag lashed to a pack harness works best. Wet things are separated or more accessible.
I jumped in the deep end with my Flex PR, carrying an initial load of 18kg on a four-day tour of the Knoydart peninsula with my Rebel 2K. My plan was rather over ambitious for a new area, so it turned out to be more walking than paddling. I came back to do it better a couple of weeks later so the Flex PR has had a week’s heavy hauling, covering about 70 miles.
Out of the box the Flex PR comes in three sections: the load-carrying back panel incorporating the fabric strap-down flap which wraps up and around your dry bag and then cinches down at the sides. The lumbar panel is supported by a removable, pre-bent ribbed alloy stiffening rod which you want to take care not to bend or break. The wide hip belt slips in through a sleeve at the base of the back panel and velcros in place; and the shoulder harness slips down into another velcro sleeve with various adjustment marks. At 6′ 1″ (1.85m) and after some experimenting, I settled on the longest setting, as below left.
I do wonder how securely velcro will hold the weight after a while, but it’s not like you’re undoing it several times a day, and most of the weight rests on the hip belt with velcro on both surfaces. The PR has loads and loads of straps: six on the hip belt; twelve plus a bungie on the back panel, and three on the shoulder harness. With your own dry bag you may need a while to configure the PR to your liking, but after that you can leave it be. You may also be tempted to snip off the excess on the straps, but initially it’s better to knot them up or try and tuck them out of the way until you know for sure which ones really are too long. Better too long than too short. (The foot-long shoulder-top tensioning straps are primary candidates for the snip.) After a day or two, in an effort to reduce strap overload I detached the removable stabiliser ‘Z’ straps. Six side straps and two over the top ought to do the job. These Z-straps had some interesting removable buckles (above right) I’ve not seen before.
You need a rugged and dependable dry bag to put up with prolonged rain, persistent waves and rough handling, although with my Rebel 2K I’ve lately joined the ranks of packrafters stowing baggage inside the hull, not out on the bow. And so on the water a submersible-grade dry bag becomes less critical. The Flex PR is designed to be used with 6MD’s 50-litre, 227g (8oz) roll-topdry bag (another $45; left) which includes four side loops which match up with the harness’s side straps. (Note: I didn’t ask for, or use this bag.) What it’s made from or coated with is not stated on the link above, but one review listed ‘210D TPU-coated Nylon’, which sounds the same as a lightweight packraft hull. It includes a purge valve which will release any air after the bag is rolled up for packing and as you cinch down. Nice touch.
Although the Flex PR has generous external storage and additional lashing options, I do feel that 50-litres is aminimum for a few days out in the back country. Better a larger bag and add another couple of rolls of the closure. Something like the ovalised Australian Sea to SummitBig River65-litre TPU roll-top (above right) will work. This is TPU laminated on 420D nylon with a white lining and a textured, ripstop exterior. It weighs 315g (verified) and has hypalon side loops which more or less line up with the Flex’s side straps. It goes from 40 quid in the UK. Their Hydraulic Dry Bag (not the Dry Pack) is thicker at twice the weight and about $100 (not sold in the UK).
It took the first trip to realise my large, sausage-like UDB duffle was not suited to the Flex. Every morning I had to re-lash my black UDB into the harness, made harder by everything being black. When bothered by swarms of midges or rain, you don’t want to have to think about re-lashing the pack correctly each time, and there were times the long, thin load felt lopsided. I’ve since tried to tidy up the set-up by tucking in unneeded loose ends and tying coloured ribbons to the important cinch straps, just like better tents have colour-coded markers for poles. A top-loading dry bag mounts and works more like a rucksack, so I bought myself the S2S Big River and didn’t look back.
As mentioned, the Rebel 2K’s massive 140-litre in-hull storage capacity now makes a bombproof, over-the-bow dry bag like my trusty UDB redundant. Back home, I dummy rigged two old dry dry bags (20 and 40L; left), but I can see it might still be a faff lashing on each time, just with more colour. However, one benefit of this twin-bag idea would be they pop straight into the 2K’s capacious TubeBags with no emptying and repacking. That would be handy on a trip where you’re switching between walking and rafting more than once a day.
Pockets One of the best things about the PR are the numerous pockets which do their best to replicate a regular backpack, adding to convenience on the trail, something I missed on the Paragon. There’s a small hidden zipped pocket inside the back panel, two big fist-sized zip-ups on the hip belt and two detachable side pockets. With a stretchy outer fabric, these will easily each take a 1.5 litre water bottle or a rolled up cag. They can clip in line with the side cinch straps (below left), or can be Molle’d (daisy chained) from behind. Attaching them in line would make tensioning easier, but unless your load has a massive girth, the width of the pockets combined with the wide back panel makes it difficult to fully tension a normal sized pack properly before you run out of adjustment. Maybe my Sea to Summit bag was an odd shape, but it’s 30% bigger than the 6MD dry bag. setting the rear panel buckles two inches further in would do the trick. One way round this might be to slip you paddles down the sides to add girth.
Next, you have stretchy cinch-up pockets sewn to the shoulder straps but, as others have noted, they’re too small to secure anything bigger than a Garmin InReach or maybe a small phone, and are set oddly high. On me they were level with the tops of my shoulders. Although they have to dodge the chest strap, that can be Molle’d up or down in five positions. It would be better if the pockets were Molle-backed too. As it is, it’s easy to buy accessory shoulder-strap pockets for your bigger items. Not done get. The wide outer cover has a big open sleeve which swallows a four-part paddle, and in front is a long stretchy, gusseted zip pocket for more of whatever you’ve got. On top of that is a criss-cross elastic cord which I used to attach a WindPaddle.
My walk was quite hard: 18 miles on day one, followed by a tough crossing from sea level up to 1500 feet and back down to sea level. While I got a few initial aches from old injuries initially carrying over 18kg, at no time did my shoulders get sore which proves the stiff harness panel was taking the weight at the hip belt (and from there down to the hard-pressed feet).
And the hip belt is particularly good: the pockets aren’t waterproof but are a useful size (unlike the Paragon), and the twin straps each side mean you can cinch it in snugly, whatever your hip shape. I’d have preferred a bigger hip belt buckle and in fact found all the Flex’s clip buckles oddly hard to link; they didn’t readily clip together, possibly due to relatively soft, bendy plastic. But may be it just taking familiarisation.
On the way back to Inverie I decided to take the packraft out of the UDB and strap it underneath, using the fitted straps for this purpose. Surprise, surprise, the lowered load carried much better. Hung outside and quite wide but out of sight, the rolled-up boat is vulnerable to getting snagged on wire fences, farm gate latches, or when being hauled about in transit.
Knoydart Trip Two I returned to Knoydart with a chum and a 65-litre S2S Big River (below). Left attached in the harness’ side straps, this made the Flex work as intended like a regular rucksack; no need to re-lash or adjust too much every morning or when swapping from walking to paddling.
Using the 65-litre bag, I did wonder if 50 might well be adequate, but this was with minimal and compact camping kit. Any warm- or spare clothing or a dry suit would soon need more volume in the dry bag. We had two half-days of lashing rain; my mate fitted a shower cap over his regular rucksack and I found the water had seeped only a little way through the rolled folds of the Big River. The bigger your bag the more tight rolls you can make on the closure, but actually in pouring rain it would be fairly easy to tuck a cover over the closed dry bag rolls to stop any rain collecting there.
With everything within the pack loaded into six bags, it took just a minute to transfer them into the Rebel 2K’s hull and zip it up. I then used the chunky Gumotex dry bag which held the packraft as a footpad on the packrafts’s floor (to stop gritty boot heels prematurely chewing up the boat’s floor) and found I could easily shove the empty harness under my knees and zip up the deck. This made repacking the Flex at the shore relatively quick easy, though it always takes 20-30 minutes to get going.
The Flex PR now carries its load as well as can be expected and the S2S Big River offer added capacity for cold weather gear or a dry suit. I must say I didn’t really miss the lack of a purge valve; you burp the bag in the usual way then roll it down. Any spare air will be squashed out by the compression of the straps. The combination now offers reliable waterproofing on foot, while the pack would work OK on the bow, though in-hull storage and the harness under the knees is more secure all round.
PS: On both trips I used my roomy 20-litre Anfibio DeckPack (below) as a handy day pack for which it worked very well. The stuff inside is behind a waterproof zip, is easily accessible on the move and up to a point, keeps the lashing rain from wetting out your cag.
Where used Loch Hourn, off Knoydart, Scotland (on my Anfibio 2K, and alongside an MRS Nomad S1).
Rolls up compact (unlike framed versions) Big surface area Unexpectedly stable, controllable and steerable As long as you’re not using a deck, it can be temporarily pulled down and tucked under the knees when not wanted A 3.5-m long Nomad S1 can move at up to 5mph in strong gusts Uses the same valve and pump as the packraft Doubles as a tent footprint or mini-tarp or even a brolly
Window is too high (on a fat-bowed packraft) On a regular sized packraft, sailing might be slower than you think About 20% more expensive than Anfibio’s same-diameter PackSail Punctures or twisted bladder more likely than a broken batten?
The AirSail was supplied free by Anfibio for testing and review.
What They Say The first packraft sail of its kind! The light, inflatable AirSail gets your packraft going and lets you experience speed even on calm waters. The sail creates completely new possibilities to be on tour with the Packraft. Only 466g and minimal packing size.
Review On a multi-day packrafting trip or where you’re not returning the same way into the wind, sailing downwind is a smart means of conserving energy while enjoying a look around. At any other time, it’s just plain fun. Until now, the only options for packrafts were flexible, spring-out WindPaddle disc sails and their many inferior knock-offs. I’ve made my own and tried both, and currently own a WP Adventure 2 which has been OK on the Seawave IK and my old MRS Nomad, and even better on the Rebel 2K.
The Anfibio AirSail differs by using an inflatable bladder ring inside a fabric rim casing which you inflate via a Boston valve with the same 10-euro mini hand pump you use to top up the boat. The sail’s outer diameter is 137cm, so the sail is close to 130cm, as stated. Surprisingly, it seems to be possible to achieve as effective levels of stiffness to a flexible batten disc sail – a key to consistent performance – while an AirSail packs down to the size of a sleeping pad. My WindPaddle folds down to a flat, 40-cm disc which some might find more awkward to pack on the trail, though I can’t say I did.
Alone, out on the water in windy conditions it would be tricky to deploy the AirSail. Assuming a skeg is fitted and the sail’s already clipped to the bow via a couple of mini-karabiners, you need to reach forward to unstrap the sail (hard in my 2K with a deck zipped up), unfurl to unkink it, plug in your mini pump and give it two dozen jabs to fully inflate – all without being blown around or losing your paddle. Were I doing this, I’d add a short ‘haul-line’ to the base of the sail so I could pull it back into arm’s reach. I chose to do all this by the shore in the lee of a headland. I started with my electric Flex Pump but for some reason it didn’t do much, considering the small volume. It was the same next time, so in future I’d go straight to mini hand pump which needs around 25 pumps.
From my experiences with the WindPaddle on kayak and packraft, I was a bit nervous the even bigger AirSail might be a handful. I needn’t have worried. Funnelled down the steep-sided Loch Hourn, winds gusted to 15mph, but the Rebel 2K with the AirSail was easy to manage in a way the WindPaddle 2 never has been so far on other boats. And this was with an under-inflated air ring. There was no violent see-sawing from side to side, little need for constant correction and, considering I was out in the middle of a windy sea loch, I felt safe and in control. My paddle was leashed to the mooring line but also slipped securely under and out of the way underneath the DeckPack.
This plain sailing was partly because the 2K could not break into a gallop. I doubt I was going much faster than paddling, but it sure was effortless and relaxing. Had there been a signal I could have easily updated my profile on Insta or checked the forecast. The 4km which had taken me an increasingly slower 80 minutes, was covered downwind in an effortless 60 minutes I also think the low centre of gravity of the loaded 2K helped it sit on the water and – crucially – the lack of slack between the sail and boat fittings kept the under-inflated sail from swaying. I must try this taught rigging on the kayak next time; that could have been my problem all along.
With the line clipped to a karabiner on my pfd or behind my head, most of the time I was sailing hands free which made filming easy. The line was just the right length, too. Only tiny tweaks were needed to keep the boat on line, due to the back getting blown round. This was most probably down to the small skeg, but was all much less frantic than my recent sail with the WP on the Seawave. I suppose with free hands, the paddle could have been used as rudder to maintain a heading, but I didn’t think to try that as I was going vaguely in the right direction. Something to try next time. One problem with the AirSail: because the bow on a 2K is high compared to a kayak, the window is too high to see what’s ahead; it’s the lower third which needs a clear PVC pane. Most of the time it doesn’t matter; you can lower the sail or look around. In fact, it would be great if the whole thing was made of clear film, but weight, rolled volume or strength may not add up.
With the line out of your hands it’s easy to try and add a bit of speed by paddling as well, but at best this might add a tiny bit of speed and will help keep you warm. You do notice that not paddling can chill you. Once you’ve had a good look around, after being used to having to paddle every hard-won metre, sailing slowly might even be said to be a little boring unless the winds are strong,. But on a long day on a multi-day tour, you’ll welcome the break when you get a chance, as we did on Knoydart.
As you can see, a couple of weeks later I travelled with a mate in an MRS Nomad S1 using the same Anfibio AirSail, with me WindPaddling in my 2K. The longer Nomad is a bit faster than my 2K, and with the AirSail was quite a lot faster, maybe 15%, especially in strong winds. That meant that the Nomad had to stop to wait for me to catch up, which also proved that the AirSail could be pulled back and tucked out of the way under the knees. The added space up front on the Nomad makes this easier than in a regular packraft, but requires not using a deck, unless some sort of cross-strap arrangement is set up to hold the sail down.
Sailing in squalls of up to 25mph took quite a lot of concentration but never felt unsafe. The Nomad was reaching 5mph (8mph) but remained stable and controllable (as did my slower 2K with the WP sail). With both types of sail, this was sailing at its best: satisfying, safe but exciting too The problem with sailing is you don’t generate any heat. We were already wet from a long walk before we got on the water, and neither of our hiking cags were up to it. After an hour or so of hanging on in torrential squalls, and with another two hours to the end of the loch, my mate in the undecked Nomad had to go ashore to drain his boat by which time both of us were chilled. We’d both tried paddle-sailing to warm up (and me, to catch up), but were too far gone to make a difference in the conditions that day. If you plan to paddle and sail an undecked packraft in all conditions, get a dry suit and maybe a bilge pump.
Having used the AirSail and paddled alongside one, I still think I’d choose the cheaper, same weight/ø, batten-rimmed PackSail. For me the value in being able to stow or release a sail in a few seconds is not offset by the slight awkwardness of needing to stash a 40-cm disc. But it’s nice to have the choice.
In a line Light and compact single hoop tent suited to packrafting; just don’t expect a palace.
Cost £330 ‘Grade B’ direct from Terra Nova (normally £500).
Weight As delivered in the bag: 1.26kg
Where used A few nights around Knoydart, Scotland.
As light and compact and you’ll get, for the money Long enough inside, once you lie down Good venting options Quick pitching, once you get the knack As boring greens go, it’s not a bad hue
Smaller than claimed in nearly all dimensions Way too small for two adults, despite ‘2P’ claims The fly door zip always snags Toggling the tent door up is awkward and unreliable Afterthought lace-on rain cover Basic (but light) bent-wire pegs Fly only rated to 1200mm Despite vents and an open door, it can be wringing wet with condensation
What They Say The [Terra Nova] Laser Compact 2 is the small pack size version of the classic two-person tent, the Laser Competition 2, that offers a great mix of being super-low weight with additional comfort. With all of the benefits and features you would expect from a 2-person lightweight tent partnered with a compact pack size of only 30cm long.
Review I talked myself into a new tent for a Knoydart trip; something with less weight and less uncompressed bulk, but still with UK-weather friendly all-in-one pitching. At a claimed weight of 1.23 kilos (2lb 11oz), the Laser Compact 2 is over half the weight of my long-discontinued, five-year-old Vaude Odyssee. There was nothing wrong with the Odyssee apart from perceived bulk and actual weight. The space inside was great and the stand-alone stability was handy. To save bulk, one time I packrafted in France with just the outer, but with Scottish summers midge-proof inner are as vital as a rain-proof cover. The Laser Compact 2 is like the older Laser Competition model, but the main poles breaks now down to just 30cm. TN also do an All Season version with additional guys and a 30D/5000mm head flysheet at £550 and 1.8kg. And under the budget Wild Country label, they do a similar looking Zephyros 2 for just £210 and 1.85kg. So weight-wise the Laser hits the sweet spot. Other tents I considered were the MSR Hubba, as used by Barry on the Wye in April, the similar Big Agnes Copper Dome (both around £450). Tarp Tent’s Double Rainbow was another one I looked at before bouncing off on a Dyneema (Cuben fibre) trajectory. Once I realised this research could take some time, seeing the little-used Laser at a third off direct from Terra Nova put me out of my misery and I took a chance of something different. It helped that after more tan five years and 10,000km, round-Britain walker Quintin Lake still rated his.
Garden pitch: first impressions Even without watching the vid below, first time pitching was not too confounding: thread the main hoop; fit the short end-poles and guy them out, then peg the four corners. My old Exped footprint (200g) slipped underneath. (I didn’t bother with the ‘rain cover’ till later). Apart from a bit of grass inside, the tent appeared as new.
At 10g each, the ten supplied pegs are light, but are just just bent alloy wire which date back to the 1970s. I left them in the box and staked out with my old MSR Groundhogs at an extra 4g a shot. Peering inside, I was prepared to be a little disappointed with the Lazer, and so I was. As expected, it looked pokier and less welcoming than the Odyssee, and once measured (twice, over two days) proved to be substantially smaller than stated, most annoyingly in headroom of just 86cm. I’m sure glad I didn’t pay 500 quid to find that out.
On the bright side, at 220cm the sleeping length is fully usable because the inner’s ends are upright, not sloping, (so no damp sleeping bag foot). Like my old Hilliberg, with few poles to latch on to, the inner isn’t especially taught, adding to the cramped feel, but better pitching and tensioning improved this. The inner mesh door zips right back down to one corner where there’s a small mesh pocket to stuff it into. With the main fly porch entry at the other end, this only pocket would be at your feet. Two people my size in here would be unbearable, but as a solo tent it’s OK. At this weight, compromises are to be expected. The Laser comes with an 80-g pole seam rain cover which you thread on with bits of string. It’s there to stop heavy rain seeping through the over-arching seam, but feels like a design afterthought. Once you fit it you can leave it there until it comes undone, then I left it off. It looked like mine had never been fitted and was missing a cord lock to cinch it up snugly. Some have reported the attachment strings coming away from the rain cover; others say the cover isn’t needed unless it really pours. Terra Nova now recommend sealing the seam. Why not just design a waterproof flysheet?
Compared to my 3 cross-pole Vaude, the single-pole Laser may get pushed about in the wind. Another reason to leave the rain cover fitted is that it incorporates additional guys to help stabilise the tent. The guy lines on mine looked too short to provide good triangulation, but I’ll give them a go when the time comes. With the rain cover laced and cinched, and the seams underneath sealed (more below), the Laser ought to be up for some rain and wind.
This after-purchase seam sealing to make a tent fully waterproof seems an odd practice, but for years many expensive American-branded tents required this. MSR even have a how-to video. Imagine; you pay hundreds for a bomber tent, then you’re expected to finish the job of making it an effective shelter! Seam sealing is actually as easy as painting and it’s satisfying to start the tent-bonding process by enhancing impermeability. You can buy 28g tubes of tent seam seal for £8 or, if you have some clear bathroom sealant and mineral/white spirit under the kitchen sink, that’ll work mixed 1:1 (add more spirit for a runnier mix). It takes a good few hours if not a day to dry.
Camping on Knoydart Considering it’s mostly wilderness, finding ten square feet of flat, smooth terrain fit for camping can be a struggle in Knoydart. Ironically I spent three nights in unexpected campsites where the roomy pitches and nearby kitchen buildings made the whole business of cooking so much easier. Morning and evening midges made lounging around outside irksome; this was the first time I’ve used a midge net in Scotland, but I’ve not come here in July for that very reason since I was a teenager.
In fact the compact inner was not noticeably frustrating, and I realise getting out without snagging the fly is easier with side-entry tents like this. Condensation could be as bad or as negligible as any other similar tent. The end vents were never closed and so was the fly door, where possible. Three nights the fly was soaking inside and out, and two nights all was nearly dry. But with the second door and easy to lift corners, wiping it all down prior to packing was easy to do well, especially using a cellulose sponge wipe (right). I’ll keep one with the tent in future. The sil-nylon fly material is very slippery; it’s even hard to shove it all back into the stuff sack.
One persistent issue I had which slowed down pitching was locating the fabric slot sleeves for the short pole at each end of the tent. It’s all a mass of green and black on black. I didn’t even spot the tiny sleeve at all first time round and put the pole in wrong. I’ve since added a bit of fluo tape to help make that easier while the rain lashes, the wind howls or the midges torment. Others, who’ve been to SpecSavers, complain that toggling the door up out of the way to the inner is awkward and it comes adrift. I agree and one reviewer recommended simply using a tent peg; other TN tents now use mini-magnets for the same job. For the moment I’ll use a small bulldog clip.
All in all, I ended up with a begrudging affection for my Laser 2 because it packs down so darn small. I’ve yet to experience heavy winds or rain, or spend a rainy day tent-bound, which may change my view, but where weight and bulk count – as they do with packrafting as opposed to kayak camping – the Lazer ticks the boxes for the moment.