Category Archives: Cheap PVC ‘slackrafts’

Experiences with <£40 PVC 'pool toys' as packrafts

One Million Sharks

 

ethj.jpgThis weekend IK&P went supernova and broke through the one-million hit barrier, making it possibly the kkwwmost read non-commercial website about inflatable kayaks and packrafts. Find a niche and they will come, as the bloke from WaterWorld is said to have said.

The last time I congratulated myself on being such an internet hit searchalltimewas in 2011 when I reached 50,000 hits. Back then visitors seemed preoccupied with sharks and shark attacks, as the all-time Search Terms table on the right shows. I always assumed the only hitsaltime2reason they’d even stumbled over this blog was because they’d been lured in by my most read post: Walking with Sharks – about kayaking in Shark Bay, Western Australia with my Gumotex Sunny. At 380 hits or 5%, that was the top search term about actual IKs.

sharko17Six years later and it’s fascinating to see how the search priorities of the packboating public have matured. Now I can say with some pride that the most popular search terms that bring visitors to IK&P is still
SHARK ATTACK’
, followed by
SHARK ATTACKS’ and even an over-excited
SHARKS ATTACKS.

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Interestingly, the top real search is now ‘packrafts’ which have caught on in the last few years, but the long defunct Gumo Sunny is still in the top five, who knows why.

The most read pages (left) apart from the front page is… SHARKS!! [Walking with…], followed by Packrafts (also walking with) and a few technical and boat review posts, plus my Bombard post. It took days to write that one.

Thanks to all you shark fans for visiting IK&P.
See you at two mil.

sharkattack

Inexpensive packboat rescue and survival aids

knifewhistleThe other day while leaning over aboard a salmon pen platform, my cherished six-year-old Benchmade Griptilian slipped out of the pfd and into the briny depths. We ummed and ahhed about diving down to retrieve it, but I’m told these pens are 20-metres deep and can hold no less than 80,000 salmon.
It was a bitter loss, all the worse when I saw what a replacement cost new. Long story short I replaced it with a similarly anti-stealth orange PBK EMT Rescue Knife from this place on sale for just four quid. Like they say “you won’t worry too much if you drop it off your lifeboat and [it] sinks into the depths.” No I won’t.
tippyAt 150g it’s a bit heavy but locks out with one of those cheap ‘liner’ locks and has a window smashing stud, should I ever find aquamyself in the nightmarish scenario of being trapped in a sealed aquarium. You also get a pocket clip plus a handy line cutter – a good idea when your packboat begins to acquire yards of lines and straps all adding up to an entrapment risk when expelled from the boat. As it is, I’ve long had a quick-grab Benchmade #8 Rescue Hook permanently attached to my main pfd (see below). With no knife-like sharp point, it’s a good thing on an inflatable running 4.8 psi.
sjakOnce you’ve cut yourself free from your boat, the next thing is to alert others of your distress. Gael had a nifty ‘survival’ whistle on our recent Mull trip. This isn’t just any whistle, this is a bona fide survival aid. You also get a thermometre to check on the hypothermia index, a mini magnifying glass for roasting ants and a compass to help evaluate your drift.
All that for just 99p from China, or under four quid in orange from the UK. The only thing that’s missing is some sort of pea in the whistle body to give it a more punchy warble. I tried shoving a lentil in there, but first go it blew out and temporarily blinded me – which was when the magnifying glass came in handy. Search ebay for “4 in 1 Thermometer Whistle Compass Magnifier Survival” and feel safer out there.

helporwhat

Packraft Group Test ~ Introduction

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Supai Matkat • MRS Microraft  • Aire BAKraft • Nortik Trekraft • Alpacka Yak • Summary
2018: things have moved on. See also:
Anfibio Alpha XC ultralight
Longshore International EX280 double
MRS Nomad S1 kayakraft

The range of packrafts has slowly expanded since I bought my first Alpacka Llama in 2010 and Alpacka rafts themselves have changed a lot in that time. But here in the UK people are still slow to see the benefits of these lightweight portable boats. As far as I know there are only two outlets selling packrafts in the UK and I’d guess about the same in most other European countries.
Much of this reticence must be due to the price of these niche-interest boats which, at a glance look not much different from what I call Slackrafts: disposably cheap PVC pool toys. Another reason might be that packrafts appeal more to outdoorsy types looking for a new way to enjoy the wilderness or countryside, but with no interest in acquiring the technical skills plus storage and transport issues of hardshells. They won’t come across these boats very often but as this test clearly proved, anyone can hop into a packraft, set off down river in a straight line and tackle an Environmental Agency Grade III canoe chute. The testers all ‘got it’ and by the end some were already cooking up packrafting adventures.
5botsHere we’re comparing a prototype Aire BAKraft as well as the new Supai Matkat, both from the US; the Russian-made, German-branded Nortik Trekraft, and the Micro Rafting System (MRS) Microraft from China. The unusual Aire calls itself a hybrid IK-packraft, the Supai is an ultralight ‘crossraft’ intended for flatwater use. The other two more closely resemble Alpackas in current or former iterations. My current 2014 Yak made a fifth boat on our test, one which I at least could compare against the others.
These four boats were lent to us by the Packrafting Store in Germany which sells, rents and makes the biggest range of packrafting_store_logopackrafts and packrafting gear in Europe. Sven at the Packrafting Store helped clarify or correct technical aspects in this review but the opinions, observations and most measurements are our own. Some of the more exciting photos are also from the Packrafting Store. We asked NRS to participate but they didn’t answer. Feathercraft’s packrafts are another option, but  they aren’t sold in the UK, and according to Feathercraft’s front page in early 2016, FC’s range of boats is now reduced to folding kayaks only.

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gpt-medwaymapFor this group test it would have been great to set off across the hills of Wales or Scotland, deploy the boats and then follow a river, hop out, walk some more, set up camp and swap notes.
The reality of combining good weather and four other people with the free time to help do all this was slim. So we settled on an eight-mile day trip down the Medway River in Kent (above): me and four testers who’d all paddled (some with trousers rolled up) but had never packrafted. At each lock and chute we swapped boats, so everyone tried each raft at least once.

pgt-meMe – Height 1.83m; weight 91kg
Experience: Into IKs and packrafts for day trips and touring. On my third Alpacka.

pgt-bobBob – 1.78m; 85kg
Lilo incident, Margate 1965. Lea River canoe lessons, Harlow 1980. 

pgt-hanHannah – 1.75m; 75kg
Much canoeing, some kayaking, love touring. Don’t understand eddies, yet.

pgt-loLois – 1.62; 63kg
Dicking about on the Thames in Gumotex IKs and a Dagger. Rely on enthusiasm rather than skill.

pgt-robRobin – 1.78m; 85kg
Scouts canoeing, NZ white water, Colorado kayaking, various inflatable trips, usually with tides.

How the packrafts were weighed and measured
Weighing was done using the classic Salter 1004 SSDR digital kitchen scales. They come with a classy brushed steel finish and still rate at 4 stars on amazon. They were checked and registered 500ml of water as weighing 500g.
gptmeazEach boat was weighed exactly as it came out of the box, and then weighed again as it was actually paddled, without air bags, repair kits or straps (where included). It was then weighed again before going back in the box. All dimensions were also taken twice, the second time using stakes to get the external measurements at the widest points (above). Internal dimensions were taken at the shortest point, usually halfway up the curved tube side. Measurements from other sources may vary; there’s a table at the bottom of each review’s page and the summary for quick comparison.
* Our exterior measurements for the Matkat were 3- to 5cm less than the Store, but 4cm longer and 1.6cm slimmer than Supai states. Unnoticed leaks during the measuring stage may have stopped us pumping the boat up to actual size. 


Construction
All these packrafts are made from pliable fabrics which form airtight vessels when inflated by human power alone. That’s about 0.03 bar or 0.4psi according to the Packrafting Store’s tests and probably too low for a regular manometer to measure accurately. The BAKraft uses an in-line ‘squeeze pump’ to potentially attain 0.17bar or 2.5psi – firmer than most recreational IKs. All the models used here except the Supai were pressure tested to an impressive 0.5 bar (7.25psi) by the Store without exploding into a blaze of harmless TPU shards. As a comparison, my old Grabner ran 0.3.bar as was as stiff as a gangplank.

Hardshell-like rigidity is an inflatable boat’s goal, and while design and shape might come into it, some rafts become more rigid than others and so perform better. The best rafts use a fabric (or construction design) which becomes stiff when inflated but is pliable when folded (especially at low temperatures) as well as being durable against sharp impacts and abrasion. Among other things you could add resistance to UV rays, ready supply and ease of assembly in the factory, repairability on the trail, and a range of fabulous customer-friendly colours.
gpt-MRSsewBroadly speaking the hulls of the Alpacka and MRS use ten panels of urethane (TPU) coated nylon fabric which are sewn together. Tape is then heat welded over the seams. The Alpacka fabric is only coated on the outside (pgtYAK15below right); the Nortik (below left, also ten hull panels) uses a similar double-coated fabric to the MRS (left; green, but not our Trekraft), but the Nortik’s seams are heat-welded with thicker tape (no sewing). 
gpt-trekseamDouble-coating adds weight and other technical aspects of proprietary coated fabrics vary greatly; they’re often specifically formulated for a raft manufacturer. The benefits of an inside coating are a second barrier to punctures when a light scratch to the exterior reaches down to the fabric core but doesn’t actually cut through it.
gpt-underbotsThe floors on the Yak, Nortik and MRS are glued on then taped over (Nortik on the inside, the other two outside). They’re typically two or three times the denier rating (thread weight) of the hull fabric.
The Alpacka uses something called ballistic nylon which sounds cool but I’ve found is far from bulletproof. No part of an inflatable raft weighing just three kilos can be expected to be. Occasional repairs are all part of ownership, like a bicycle’s tyres. So is rinsing any grit out the boat before it works its way into the nooks and crannies. On the right click the extra large picture to have a close look under the boats and compare workmanship.
pgtMAT07The superlight Matkat is in a class all of it’s own, entirely made from 75-denier ripstop polyester with a single urethane coating on the inside, the same weight (and sealing method) as an MSR water bag. The red picture below right is of another Supai we tried which you’ll see had a diamond pattern on the surface. su-msrfabThe black Matkat we used here had a plain surface like an MSR bag. On both boats the four panels (floor, inside, top and bottom hull) are then heat-welded together.
 It’s possible to repair these seams with a hot iron (or glue).
pgtBAK30The Aire BAKraft prototype we tested used a thin and slightly stretchy urethane  film ‘inner tube’ or collar supporting the hull, and a much thicker and stretch-free urethane-coated yellow nylon fabric for the I-beam floor (left). These bladders or ‘AIREcells’ as Aire calls them, are contained inside a sewn-up shell of fabric which need not be air- or watertight. If I interpreted the owner’s manual correctly then the BAKraft’s green exterior shell is made of Spectra and the grey interior of lighter-weight Dyneema fabric. You may know stretch-free Dyneema guy lines found on better tents. 

pgtBAK31The urethane bladder can be accessed for repair via long zips (left); the nylon floor can be pulled out for repair from each end. On packing or refitting care must be taken not to twist the bladders. I’ve never been a fan of it (for reasons explained later) but this AIRECell system has been used by Aire on their PVC whitewater rafts and IKs for many, many years. With minimal seams compared to a traditional packraft hull, air retention is excellent.
On all the boats seatsbackrests and decks (where present) are typically made from urethane-coated nylon with seams or joins heat-welded and maybe taped.

pgtMRS11Inflation/deflation
If you’re combining walking with navigating bodies of water – packing + rafting – you want a boat which inflates and deploys without any faffing about. In this respect the Microraft was the best of the bunch. It used the proven screw-in inflation bag (see video below) and, being a small volume boat, took about ten ‘scoops’ to fill up. The main valve cap is attached with a short plastic ring tab – no fiddly bits of string. Top off the air pressure by blowing all you got into the twist-lock valve and with practice you’re good to go in three minutes.

In the video below, from arriving at the beach to paddling away
takes about 8 minutes. Speeded up 15x. A jet passes overhead.

yak-airbooMy Yak followed exactly the same inflation procedure, but being a higher volume boat (a little bigger than the one in the video above) took twice as many ‘air-grabs’ to fill up before topping off with lung power. Every time I do this I wonder whether my super-thin airbag will split or unravel at the seams if I scrunch too hard. I can feel the air leaking through the sides.
pgtTRK08Like the MRS, the Trekraft’s airbag is also made from a reassuringly thick fabric, but is spoiled by a push-in plug, even though there’s obviously a thread pgtTRK03in the boat’s port. Compress too hard or if it’s wet and the bag plug might pop out, so inflate gently. Instead of using a twist-lock to top-off, the pgtTRK02Trekraft has a one-way spring valve with a cap (which came adrift and eventually got lost). This valve (above right) is dead easy to use and avoids the risk of over-tightening a cheap plastic twist-lock valve (as on older Alpackas). But when airing down, with the spring valve you can’t suck and seal the remaining air out unless you jam something in the valve as you suck. Packraft or IK, this ability to suck your boat down is handy for compact packing.
Next comes the Matkat. No airbag supplied even though the Supai website states: ‘We are working on developing an inflation sack to work with our valves hopefully we will have it released in mid-2014.’ When we tried the smaller red Supai Canyon Flatwater II in late 2013 we found it took about fifty breaths to fill, plus topping off. The higher volume Matkat takes about eighty breaths. I like breathing but that’s not something I’d want to do more than a couple of times day to save the 100 grams of an airbag.
pgtMAT08Unlike the Alpacka, Nortik or MRS, the Supais use a male threaded dump valve which protrudes from the boat and onto which screws a cap with a thin tube and the twist lock valve on the end (right, red boat) – a neat and simple system that’s just about accessible for on-board top-ups.
supaivalveAlpacka use an identical threaded valve port but on their air bags; it’s a regular American plumbing ¾-inch size. If I had a Supai packraft I’d get an Alpacka airbag for $20 and then either find a female-to-female plastic connection, or jam on a short section of clear plastic tube to join them together. That way I can save the hyperventilating for Glastonbury.
pgtBAK23That leaves the BAKraft. Even before I received the boat I had my doubts after seeing pictures of the convoluted inflation system which Aire suggest.
The BAKraft uses Halkey Roberts (or very similar) valves, as found on proper IKs and whitewater rafts: one in the floor and one for the urethane bladder that fills both sides of the hull, or what what they call the ‘collar’. These valves work like car tyre valves (or the Nortik top-up) – a spurt of high pressure opens the seal and a spring seals it shut – except that you can lock them open by pushing and twisting beg02the valve stem. This is necessary to deflate a boat easily, or to loosely pre-inflate it without having to push against the valve spring. These valves are really designed to be used with pumps not flimsy air-catching inflation bags, far less lung power. A simple and compact push-fit pump like a K-Pump will work. A high-pressure stirrup pump with a ‘Summit’ bayonet connector on the end will be even quicker, but is way too bulky to travel with.

pgtBAK06gpt-BAKair1With the BAKraft you’re supposed to use the backrest/cargo bag as an inflation bag and scrunch air into the boat via a tube fitted with a bayonet connector (left). But the backrest bag’s weight, odd shape and relatively small volume makes this task awkward, even past an opened intake valve which is still a restricted airway. I gave it a go  but soon saw that, while I’d get there in the end, it was going to take ages. gpt-BAKair2
Once the boat has ‘shape’ you’re then supposed to quickly close the boat valve then splice in a low-volume/high-pressure hand-squeeze pump into the ISC bag. The squeeze pump has another one-way spring valve in it: charge it with air from the backrest then squirt air by hand past the closed valve until the boat is firm.
This squeeze pump is quite a clever idea but at about 150cc a go will take a while to do the job. Sorry to say I wasn’t even curious to find out how long – I’d guess at least 15-minutes for the whole inflation, same as it took to pump up my 4.5-metre kayak the other day with the one-litre K-Pump Mini. So instead I reached for my Bravo stirrup pump – it Bagpipertook two minutes – and on test day I brought my compact K-Pump which took about twice as long.
I see now that I’ve actually RTFM I used an alternative method. The image above right suggests you don’t use the backrest bag to charge the squeeze pump, but just blow then squeeze the hand pump directly using an oral tube, like a silent bag pipe. If I’d thought of that I might have tried it as it’s a much less clumsy way of topping off the BAKraft.
pakv1All the other packrafts here run at an air pressure that’s governed by the lung power you can exert through the top-off twist valve (left). But with a one-way valve you can pump more air into a raft (that goes for the Trekraft’s top-off valve too, now I think of it). The BAKraft is made to run an IK-like 2.5psi although you’re warned not to over-pressurise or allow it to happen. That can be easily done of you get carried away with a stirrup pump or leave the raft out in the hot sun.
It may have seemed clever to give the necessary backrest multiple uses, but it works only a little better for filling the boat with air than it does as a backrest (see review). I’d recommend getting a $20 Feathercraft inflation bag which comes with the ‘Summit’ bayonet fitting from their BayLee packrafts (they also use Halkey-like valves). And if you don’t get on with the oral/hand pump system, then get a 600-g K-Pump Mini too. I’d guess using both these devices will more than halve the inflation time.


gpt-groupieFrom the four corners of southern England the throng gathered at Tonbridge Town Lock, the boats got pumped up, cooled off in the water then topped up some more. Then after a quick groupie, we set off down the easy first chute. I took it upon myself to get in the Matkat while I was still feeling fresh.

 Supai Matkat • MRS Microraft  • Aire BAKraft • Nortik Trekraft • Alpacka Yak • Summary

Nortik Trekraft at the Packrafting Store

Full review here

nortikinflatorpakGTbannerThe Packrafting Store in Germany are now selling the Russian-made Nortik Trekraft. As mentioned a few months ago, it does bear an uncanny resemblance to a standard Alpacka, right down to the ‘fastback’ stern. In appearance you might call it a knock-off, but it has it’s own distinctive attributes and anyway, every rotomolded creek boat you ever saw looks the same.
trekalpakOverall the tubes are a bit smaller diameter than an Alpacka and the whole boat is only thermo-welded but not sewn (as other boats are). Very slightly thinner tubes may provide less buoyancy but add a lot more room inside (1.34m). You’re feet aren’t jammed against the bow too, nortikrolliewhich is a plus over my Yak.
This extra foot room also allows positioning bags low down in the boat. The bow has less of a lift which means it won’t ride over waves so well but be less slowed by head winds. In white water situations that slack space in length and width will be less good for quick turns and feeling connected to the boat. Even on flat water I find it’s good to push against nortikundersomething with the feet to make an effective power stroke.
It occurs to me that you could put a bag behind you and then be more centrally seated, like in a kayak. A few years back whitewatards were trying that with Alpackas to reduce bandersnatching which was the partly why Alpacka introduced the elongated stern in 2011. The Nortik uses that idea too.
nortiktopThe Trekraft is made from double-sided TPU-coated nylon as opposed to whatever Alpacka uses – higher-spec’ polyester TPU? The ‘roller-press’ coating method Trekraft use is less expensive to manufacture but makes the Trekraft about 20% heavier than a similar-sized Alpacka (we’re talking ~500g here).
packrafting_store_logo

nortiksideIt’s going for €599 with tax and free shipping in the EU. Right now with the weak Euro for us Brits that’s a good deal.
pgtTRK09Enough speculation and interpolation. Recently I tried out a Nortik Trekraft for a day, along with a few other alternatives to Alpacka packrafts. The green, early-production batch Trekraft I used (left) weighed 3331g on the water, so plus carry and air bags and big repair kit. That is 430g more than my customised Yak once I added extra floor patches and other bits, but subsequent versions are expected to weigh some 200g less..

pgtTRK16

 

Trekkayak: inflatable ‘cataraft’

0998748c6291e317209e80430e6d88dd_largeInteresting new Swedish portable raft concept running on Kickstarter. Three kilo raft running PU bladders in a Cordura shell and proper IK valves.
ruscatraftLooks narrow and long in the video so most suited to flat water use, but using a pump (as opposed to an airbag) to inflate the cat hulls, it might be quite nippy. What is missing IMO is seat or backrest: a way of bracing for paddling efficiency (unless it’s luggage). ruscatLooks a  similar idea to this Russian design on the right and left..

Convert your paddle into a Packstaff

g-staffNo one’s ever asked me how to make a packstaff attachment for their four-part paddle, but I’m going to tell you anyway. IK&P paddles are here, btw.
What’s so good about packstaffs? Well, they’re a great way of converting your light but strong paddle shaft into a light but strong walking staff that’s stronger LW-133and longer than walking poles which are useful on the trail, but redundant on the water. Not necessary on the flat ground, staffs help you trek uphill and down dale for the same reasons as walking poles; they help spread the load to your arms and pecs and off your legs in general and ageing knees in particular. I am sure my legs have felt less tired after a full day of loaded packstaff walking in the hills.

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Packstaff in Mauritania

sulpackstafferPlus a longer packstaff can easily take your full weight as you ease down a steep gully with a heavy backpack pushing you forward. A friction-fit telescopic walking pole would collapse, or sure feels like it might. Like any long staff they’re also handy for prodding boggy-looking ground, fighting off Turkish mastiffs and help with vaulting streams and the like. Again, a lightweight walking pole may not be stiff enough to do this. A packstaff nib weighs not much, costs next to nothing, and works with any four-part paddle, like my Aquabound Manta Ray (left).

staffer2Find a bit of tube that’s close to the right diametre to slip into your paddle where the blade goes. My blue tube is from some cheap paddle that came with a long-gone slack raft. Add tape to make a snug fit, if necessary. But not so tight that you risk jamming when wet or wearing the shaft with possible blade fit loosening implications. staffer5staffbutonDrill a hole at a point where there’s enough overlap to make the assembly strong, and then fit a spring clip. I bought a pair on ebay for a fiver, though you can buy cheaper pressed out ones for less. As it happens it turns out my Aquabound uses cheap pressed clips. You may not be able to find the typical 7-8mm buttons to fit the AB files. I settled with 6mm (left). This spring clip is easy to fit and a big improvement over my previous ‘slip-on’ nib which got sucked off in bogs.
staffer1pakstik1Next, line up the two holes or fit the spring clip and add a collar. You don’t want the nib’s striking force impacting on the clip’s button alone. I sawed a bit of old fibreglass kayak shaft which was a tight fit on the blue tube, so split it then glued it on. That glue didn’t work so well so I roughed it up, more glue then added a couple of rivets. The collar also protects the end of the paddle shaft a bit. staffcorkThe the actual end ‘nib’ is currently a black plastic screw section (right). Stuff and glue in a bit of cork or other blockage in your nib end (right) to stop the tube slowly filling with mud or stones. The nib weighs 128g. 

pakstik2pakstik61Using the packstaff with an open shaft at the top end, I sometimes worry that stumbling onto that shaft at face height would be nasty. With a canoe T grip sulpk04(fiver on ebay) you can press comfortably on the staff coming down a hill and it also acts as a handy hook. Mine had to be ground down to fit. It weighs 74g, so all up my packstaff extras weigh 200g. The AB paddle weighs 890g.

 

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Packstaff in northern Iceland

Supai Flatwater Canyon II packraft review

Full trip report here (mostly walking)
June 2015: Supai Matkat review

supai196At a verified 670g (23.6oz) including an added grab line, Supai Adventure Gear’s Flatwater Canyon II ($300/€290) must be among the world’s lightest and most compact boats. Before a winter storm blew our plan off supai01the map, the trip we’d lined up in northwest Scotland was ideal for the Flatwater: short crossings saving lengthy detours or risky deep wading, but no extendedor exposed paddling.

Fabrication
Examining the deflated raft beforehand, it became clear it was ingeniously composed of just four pieces of flat material: the top and bottom ‘rings’ which define the hull shape, an inner hull wall joining the top to bottom, and the floor fixed under the completed ring. You could almost make one yourself were it not for the heat-welded seams of at least half an inch (one inch on the floor).
su-msrfabdromoNo fabric details on SAG’s website, but the Packraft Store states: ’75 denier polyester with single, innerside urethane coating’. This whole denier thing can be a bit misleading, the raft fabric looks and feels similar in thickness to my MSR Dromlite water bags (right) made from 200 denier, PU-coated Cordura (nylon?), but the Flatwater polyester has what looks like a reassuring ripstop texture (visible left). And as we know from our studies in IK hull fabrics, polyester stretches less than nylon and so is more suited to inflatable boat applications than compact water storage.
su-tabsu-floorspotsWhere the seams overlap on the outside edge they’ve included seven reinforced tabs (right) to use as attachment points (a weak point on my non-ripstop Dromlites, even with an eyelet). The floor is made of the same weight fabric and shows what look like ‘spot welds’ along the inch-wide seam (left).
supai03That’s it, apart from a big threaded inflation port onto which screws a white cap fitted with a 18-inch hose topped with a blue twist-lock valve (left). You blow the boat up by mouth (took me about 45 breaths) then top up to operating pressure with the twist lock, like on an Alpacka. But unlike an Alpacka the long hose means you’re able to further top up the pressure from the water where inflatable boats initially sag as they cool. Plus you could potentially manage a slow leak in the same way.Sevylor TrailBot
The hull form tapers and narrows towards the bow to resemble a blunt wedge, similar to old Sevylor Trail Boat (right). Like all packrafts and even slackrafts, the added buoyancy (tube diameter) in the stern counteracts the mass of the paddler’s weight. There’s no seat and a new boat comes with a repair kit with full repair instructions on the SAG website.

The dimensions I’ve come up with are:
• 157cm long
• 92cm wide
• 106cm long inside
• 41cm max inner width
• 17cm wide at the feet
• 28cm high at the back (= tube diameter)
• 22cm high at the front (≤ tube diameter)

supai-packraft-dimensions

candimsSome of my measurements (checked several times and now confirmed by the Packrafting Store) vary greatly from those still posted on the SAG website in mid-2015 (snapshot above right) which have their Canyon over 10% bigger, inside and out. Even if they’re factoring in ‘paddler squidge’ making more room inside by pushing on the hull, that won’t make the boat seven inches longer. If this large discrepancy matters to you I’d suggest you contact the vendor before buying.
As for buoyancy, SAG quote ‘250lb’ (113.4kg) while the Packraft Store suggests a more realistic 95kg. Robin briefly paddled the raft with his pack which we thought added up to about 95-100kg. That felt like the limit once a light breeze came up the valley, and required gentle paddling to avoid too much cyclic bobbing and possible swamping.
supai99With the weight; the Store states 633g, SAG quote 24oz (680g). As mentioned, with a grab line and traces of dirt, our boat comes in at 670g on the IK&P calibrated kitchen scales (left). I won’t quibble over 40 grams; to be able to paddle across a loch in a boat weighing less than my trousers is quite something.

On the water
supai04su-mapThe air was calm but temperatures were close to freezing as we set off to cross the eastern narrows on Loch Lurgainn below Stac Pollaidh mountain.
We’d originally planned to come over in the other direction from the Culnacraig shore, but the storm which went on to wreak havoc across Britain nixed that plan (story here). So today we were just taking a 10-mile day trip with a short paddle, from Stac car park southwest back to Altandu.

supai06

I tried to get directly over the two boats to get an equal perspective but I still think this shot makes the Supai appear a little smaller than it really is. I make the Yak ~42% longer.

‘Fragile and small’ had been Robin’s first impressions after Sven from the Packraft Store in Germany sent us the raft to evaluate. Robin had recently upgraded to a couple of Gumotex Twist IKs so may not have been impressed by the Supai’s thin fabric. I had more faith in that, but as for the size, I too anticipated that SAG had cut it a bit fine with the Flatwater II, even if it lived up to their motto: ‘where every ounce counts’.
Supai-and-Exped-Schozzel-PumpbagDown on the loch shore, even with a helpful breeze to fill my Yak’s bag, inflation time for both boats was actually the same, although by the end of it Robin was staggering around a bit. As Tim Evans found on his trip, other inflator bags (right) can be adapted to avoid passing out.
Now, laid alongside my Alpacka Yak (same width but 66cm or over two feet longer), to me the Flatwater’s proportions rather too closely resembled a slackraft I skinned from a Sevylor pool toy a year or two back. I knew that with my weight of about 100kg in gear, I’d be pushing this boat’s limit. Without a drysuit I didn’t want to risk it.
supai10It took some prodding to get packrafting newb Robin (80kg + clothes) in the Supai and I’m not sure I blame him. A sudden move could see the stern dip down and douse the butt. supai08After fitting his closed cell mat to keep warm and protect the thin floor, he set off for a quick spin and soon realised there wasn’t so much to worry about. Paddling gingerly with his home-made paddle (a broom stick, two sawn-down buckets and zip ties) he did a few loops while learning to control the annoying yawing you get with short packrafts and slackrafts, as well as managing the less welcome bobbing which might amplify into a back-end pour over. Yawing keeps the speed down which may be just as well. Start paddling too fast and the bow will rise with a corresponding drop at the stern when slowing down, again risking a pour over in wavy conditions.
supai14Having established he wasn’t going to sink with all hands, I lowered Robin’s 10-kg pack onto his legs then hopped into my Yak. The pack’s added frontal weight should minimise the Supai’s yawing – at least that’s the effect on my Yak. But it’s well known that first time in a new packraft, especially a short one like the Flatwater, paddling efficiently is an acquired knack. Our extra chilly scenario (not helped by his experimental B&Q paddle) meant that Robin couldn’t really relax or bomb around in the Supai. (I tried hisBQ B&Q but soon sent it back as it brought in unwanted splash all over my boat). A gust rolled up the valley, rippling the loch’s surface, adding further to the feeling of anxiety in the Supai. From my PoV it looked like the stern was more than half sunk at times – and half sunk on a round tube makes pour-overs all the easier.
supai18I skimmed over to the other side and got out to get some long shots and was reminded yet again what a great boat my Yak is. No worries about getting in clumsily, sudden winds or carrying Robin’s pack. Sat here a day earlier when a gale was ripping through at an average of 35mph and gusting to twice that, it may have been a different story, but my long-bodied, yaw-suppressing, high-sided, tough hulled Yak inspires confidence, even without the spray skirt.
fullyakThe price you pay is weight and bulk. Ready to paddle, at 3.1kg with seats, heel pad, pack attach and lead,plus other straps and some mini krabs, my boat is 4.5 times heavier than the Supai as tested, and even more bulky when you add in the blow bag, skirt and repair kit: the red bag shown right.
Robin slowly waddled over to the south edge of the loch and got out with care before pulling the plug and rolling it up. As on any inflatable, the floor is vulnerable and we discussed ways of getting round this. One problem is the Supai’s floor glues to the hull ring above the lowest points in the hull tubes which means the undersides of the hull are actually lower than the floor (until you sit in it on the water). Using a thicker floor panel supai20won’t eliminate all possible wear. Robin is a versatile home-fabricator (as his B&Q paddle proves) and we decided the least invasive way of protecting the entire underside – hull and floor – would be to string a sheet of whatever you like from the peripheral half-inch hull seam (the seven reinforced tabs not being quite enough to do the job). No messy, irreversible, crease-inducing gluing required, just a line of holes along the seam plus a drawstring. Pre-emptive protection is something I’ve done to my Alpackas’ ballistic nylon floor and although it won’t look too neat, a floor sheet would enhance the less robust Supai’s undercarriage, despite a weight penalty.

Our conclusion
supai21
He may have got used to it over time, but the Supai felt too skimpy for 80-kilo Robin. Ill-dressed on the day and over-fed in general, I didn’t even try to get in. Build quality is great and the fabric I could live with; it’s much better than slackraft PVC and the extra care needed in handling is well worth the weight saving over an Alpacka. Factoring in experience, company (support), weather conditions and operator weight, the Supai felt right on the limit. Initially you’re reluctant to paddle normally for fear of swamping which could turn exponential. Alongside a Yak it’s a pretty slow too, although I don’t think that’s a flaw. My Yak is slower than my IK which in turn is slower than … As long as it makes progress, a boat is as fast as it is.


alpacka-scoutAlpacka’s Scout might be a fairer comparison with the Flatwater II. According to Alpacka stats it weighs 1450g, is 4.5cm narrower, 2cm shorter inside and 26cm longer overall, while costing at least $200 more in the US. That still puts the Supai well in the ballpark on weight and cost.
Although it looks to have been designed for the canyon lands of southwest USA, for the lighter paddler the Supai could a great packraft for less predictable Scottish conditions involving short, flatwater crossings. The negligible weight really opens out the options and means you don’t have to get too fanatical about the rest of your gear which can translate into greater comfort.
supai11I knew this even before I saw the boat, but what I’d love to see is a Flatwater XXL more closely matching my Yak’s (or my) size. I’d happily trade the extra 8cm of width the Supai has at the hips for fatter and higher tubes all round, plus another 10cm added to interior length. It’s hard to think that would add up to much more than a kilo overall, but would reward the portlier or overnight-equipped paddler with a more versatile boat able to deal with dodgier conditions. Let’s hope this is part of Supai’s game plan.

Photos also by Tim Evans who writes:

I got interested in packable boats as I love both walking and being on the water. My first major trip was in an Alpacka Yak from Whistler to VancouverI hiked for 2 days, paddled the Cheakamus River for a day (with some easy whitewater), then paddled 24 miles of ocean inlet back to Vancouver. This trip was only possible because of the packraft. Then I bought a Supai and did 35km through a lake system north of Vancouver that included a number of portages. I saw a pair with a canoe which they pushed on a trolley through the portages with 200lbs of gear. It took them hours to go a few km. I did the 4-day trip with 16lbs of gear including food, just to see if it could be done (it can). I could have jogged through the portages with my little boat tucked under my arm. The Supai was a light as it gets, but SLOW for any sort of distance.

Read about Tim’s superlight IK here.

D-rings, glue and repairs for IKs and Packrafts

Updated summer 2019
See also:
Repairing a hole in a Gumotex Seawave

gluerepairsIt’s understandable to worry that something like an inflatable boat is a bit of a liability when out in the middle of a deep lake, haring down some shallow white-water or far out to sea. This is especially pertinent if your only experience is a beach toy made of a thin and stretchy PVC film.
I’ve owned over a dozen inflatable boats and have only had one tiny thorn pinprick in the Incept and probably age-related fabric perforation on the ancient Semperit. It’s hard to think of sempp3anything puncturing my full Nitrilon Gumotex IKs or the old Grabner on the water. What more often happens is some kind of accidental wear or rubbing when not paddling or during transportation, like the trolley wheels which wore a hole in my Seawave, or the windy tree branch which rubbed (but did not puncture) my Grabner (below left). I also snagged my packraft’s uninflated floor on submerged concrete once, and added protection to the outside and padding on the inside to stop that rep-hullhappening again. I’ve also travelled with cheap slackrafts that have got ruined within minutes and punctured every other day. You do get what you pay for. So when it comes to glue I’ve learned that preparation and application are vital to getting a good repair: rough it up; wipe it down with solvent, apply adhesive to both surfaces, wait, then slap on the patch and press down hard with roller to achieve a long-lasting bond. More below.

pvc-or-hypalonIs your boat plastic or rubber?
As explained here, broadly speaking IKs are made of either rubber- or PVC-coated fabrics. Rubber-based Hypalon, EDPM or Nitrilon is most often used with the tubeless construction method. On a boat like this, rough up the surface, clean off with solvent (see below), apply the right glue and a same-material patch, all which needs to be done well as the patch is vulnerable on the outside. Or, you can just dab some Aquaseal directly onto a small hole in the hull to protect a patch of wear, as shown above left (not an actual puncture).


One-part glues
I’ve succeeded in gluing on non-critical D-rings onto Nitrilon Gumotex and EDPM Grabner boats using single-part Aquasure sealant. Allow it to become touch-dry on both surfaces. Allowing Aquaseal to half-cure in air and then sticking together and letting it ‘seal’ to itself is a way of bonding anything – even non-compatible rubber-based Nitrilon to PVC, as I did here.

glue-dringIt’s worth noting that McNetts Aquaseal Aquasure (same thing sold in different territories) calls itself a waterproofing sealant not an adhesive. Their Seam Grip is a runnier stormsureversion of Aquaseal to get into cracks. Though I’ve not tried it yet, British-made Stormsure is the same thing. In the UK you can buy Aqausure in 28g tubes from £6, or 250g for around £24. Unless you have a lot to glue/seal jobs, be wary of saving money with the big, 250-g tube; give it a chance and it’ll split and harden before you get to use it all, even if it’s effectively over half price.

sevbosksempoeThe other one-part glue I used on my PU/PVC Incept IK, Slackrafts and used recently on an old hypalon Semperit is Bostik 1782, not least because it was originally going real cheap on ebay. I can’t say it worked that well on my Incept; two-part adhesive is always better. Even on the slackraft the Bostik softened and shrivelled the thin PVC (right). But on non-critical applications (D-rings and none-huge tears) 1782 seems to work well on hypalon (rubbery hypalon is always easier to glue than plastic PVC) and at £10 for 100ml was good value. Plus it’s a nitrile rubber/resin-based solution and I’ve found won’t go off and harden in the tube like Aquaseal often does. It’s my favourite, do-it-all, one-part glue.

5823The one-part rubber glue supplied with my Gumotex and Grabner IKs would be a last resort – they look like something from a bicycle repair kit. I’d sooner use two-part, but have a feeling that rubber-based IKs are easier to glue well than stiffer and slipperier PVC/PU. Much depends on what you’re gluing – a simple patch repair or a D-ring that may be under strain.
One glue I wouldn’t bother with is whatever Gumotex used to send you with their repair kits: Chemopren Universal (left). It looks like the brown rubber solution you’d use on a bicycle inner tube. I remember trying to use it on my old Gumotex gumoglueSunny years ago and finding it was crap. Back then it may have been me, but I tried to use Chemopren again recently on my hypalon Semperit and it wouldn’t even adhere to a roughed up, MEK’d surface! To be fair it might have been many years old, but so are my other glues.

Actually what came with my Seawave in 2014 is a small tube of ElaStick (right). But it looks like a generic polyurethane do-it-all glue. It remains unused with the boat and probably will stay that way until it goes off. I’d sooner rely on Nirtile-based 1782 or Aquaseal for field repairs.

semp-glue

Two-part glue
ami-polyFor important jobs better to use much stronger two-part adhesives suited to actually assembling rubber or PVC boats as well as making more permanent fittings and bomb-proof repairs.
At about £15 posted for a 250-mil tin,  Polymarine 2990 Hypalon adhesive (right) is much cheaper per ml than gluesAquaseal or Bostik 1782. In the UK Ribstore and Ribright (right) sell similar stuff – just make sure you buy for Hypalon or PVC. I’ve used it to glue D-rings onto my Grabner (more here), floor patches to my Alpacka, latex socks to my dry trousers and patches as well as repairs to my Nitrilon Seawave, It sticks like shit to a s***el.
sempauto - 11In 2017 when I dismembered an old IK, I was easily able to pull off recent patches glued on with Bostik by hand. But I could only pull off Polymarined patches with a pair of pliers and even then, the patch separated from its own bonded coating, or pulled off the dead’s boat’s hypalon coating (big image above). The two glued surfaces could not be separated. That’s how strong two-part glue is. The mixing and correct application of the two components causes a chemical ‘vulcanisation’ and molecular cross-linking which makes a very strong bond. Mixing and applying two-part is a pain, but it works.

sealeyGet a good roller
Single or two-part, once tyrerolleryou apply your patch down, roll it very hard with something like the classic Baltic-pine handled Sealey TST15 stitch roller – left – aka: tyre repair roller used for inner-tube and tyre repairs. The knurled metal wheel set in a solid handle applies much greater pressure than a wide plastic roller I originally used, and they’re only about a fiver on ebay. Buy one now so you’r ready.
A good video below: learn from the experts.

glu-tyvecBladder boat and packraft repairs
With smooth-skinned Alpacka packrafts, they recommend two-inch wide Tyvec adhesive tape produced by DuPont. Just peel off the back and apply a section on to pricks or small tears once the surface has been cleaned and dried. No need for roughing up, but a quick wipe with solvent won’t do any harm. Larger tears can be sewn then taped. Tyvec will work on urethane IK bladders and extra tacky duct tape or gorilla tape will do too, but is unlikely to remain impermeable once immersed for a while.

Aire-style bladder boat repairs are actually easy. According to Aire’s youtube vid, you unzip the hull shell, slap on a bit of Tyvec on the split, tape up the inner side of the hull shell gash too to keep out grit, reflate and off you go. You can glue up in the usual way later, if necessary. I had the feeling that on my Feathercraft Java the urethane-coated sponsons made of thin ripstop nylon fabric (like tent flysheet material) couldn’t have been so easily or securely repaired with tape. In fact, it would be difficult to bond anything well to the slippery nylon fabric compared to smooth urethane plastic or hypalon-like surfaces, but perhaps once inflated the seal would have been fine.

Good article on how adhesives work

Solvents
glu-mekfoamdandingblockOnce you’ve done your roughing up (sandpaper or a foam abrasive sanding block, right) you need to clean off the residue as well as any oil or grease present. Anything will do in a pinch; alcohol and spirits, after-shave or perfume, nail polish remover (acetone), lighter fluid, white gas or petrol of course, but not oilier diesel, aviation fuel or Nivea for Men. Bleaching agents aren’t the same thing, but might work. In the end just use water to remove the dusty, post-roughing residue, and on a cold day it can help to warm up the damaged surface to cure the glue more quickly.

For a travel repair kit a tin of lighter fluid (same as white gas? above left) or nail polish tolueneremover (acetone) are easy to buy and handy to pack. Back at home I’ve found MEK (Methyl Ethyl Ketone; white bottle, above left) is inexpensive at £9/ltr and hideously effective.
Acetone is even cheaper and perhaps less extreme – all we’re really talking about is cleaning off any grease and the dust after sanding.
They say MEK is for PVC boats rather than Hypalon, but on a thin plastic slackraft the PVC will shrivel up before your eyes once MEK’d. Even on rubber-based coatings use MEK or similar toluene sparingly – expect some colour to come away on the cloth and the coating to soften at bit – good for adhesion. Note the NRS video above specifically recommends toluene (the second ‘T’ in ‘TNT, fyi) for hypalon. On ebay uk it’s the same £9/ltr but they won’t post this stuff in the USA.

IMG_5304_1Big tears and bear bites
If you have a huge gash, as in the folding Klepper’s hull on the left, sewing is the only way to contain the tear when applied to an IK. Then apply a huge patch with adhesive, as normal. The boat on the left semp- - 3caught a cut-down metal fence stake buried in the shallow river bed and was actually sent back to Klepper for professional repair. It’s tempting to think an IK’s pressurised hull would have skimmed over the stake rather than snagged it. The smaller 1-inch L-tear on the right was glued with a 5-inch patch.

Packframes: Tatonka Lastenkraxe review

See also: NRS Paragon
Stone Glacier also worth a look but $$$

tonka-6I thought I liked the idea of packframes for pack boating – a rigid rucsac harness frame without the bag element. The boat, paddles plus dry bags are all lashed to a frame, alongside a bag.
frameI considered this when I first got into pack boats and searched for the L-frame backpacks I recalled from the late 1970s. Nothing doing apart from horrible old Campari stuff, so I settled on a cheap ex-army A.L.I.C.E packframe and adapted it to take the harness of my ancient MacPac backpack (right).
alicepakI tried it out on the Coast to Coast walk as a kind of modular backpack with various roll-top drybags and an Ortleib bike pannier (left). It looked kind of shabby and wasn’t so comfortable, plus it was too small and lacked a big enough L-shaped platform to support the weight of a the gear. Good thing it cost me next to nothing then.

gear-TNFpackFor the second stage of the C2C walk I splashed out on a TNF Terra 65-litre backpack, the first new pack I’ve bought since I was a teenager. I can report that modern backpacks are pretty damn comfy. Instead of an exterior frame which went out with glam rock, the TNF uses a moulded plastic board to provide the vital hip-to-shoulder stiffening element so the weight rests on the hips not the shoulders.
udbwalkAt 2.3kg the Terra was actually not that light, despite having a pretty flimsy body and I realised it was a bit small for pack boating operations, with their added requirements in gear.
My 96-litre submersible Mk 1 Watershed UDB (left) is bigger, but is just a sack with thin shoulder straps (it since been redesigned as more of a duffel). With no longitudinal rigidity it’s not comfortable but more significantly, is not stable either with the way the straps are positioned, or perhaps that’s because it’s just very tall.
udbergberg-cwtI ungraded the TNF to a bigger Berghaus C71 65+10 backpack (right; 2.6kg) with a snazzy articulated hip belt pivot. Without the harness the 1.1kg UDB could slot into that and so, even if it does weigh in at 3.7kg all up, I have a comfortable modern backpack with a totally submersible UDB ‘liner’. (I used the Berghaus on our Assynt-Cape Wrath Trail variant – above left.)
packframeNearly there. In the US one time I saw some packframes at a hunting outfitters in Flagstaff (right) that were much better than anything I’ve seen in the UK and going from just $80. They had hinged L-sections to support loads, and looked like an ideal carrier for the UDB and boats. As it stands, my UDB is still my preferred haul bag for overnight pack boating activities.
Good analysis, history and list of packframes

Tatonka Lastenkraxe review lastenkraxe-black
Lastenkraxe? A Nordic nutcracker? An uncredited evil troll out of Harry Potter? Tatonka is a German company who produce some crafty and functional stuff, such as their pot/cup. A little research reveals that Lasten + kraxe adds up to ‘load bearer’ + ‘rucksack. Vorsprung durch kraknik.
The Lax differs from the hinged hunters’ frames by having a well triangulated, rigid platform. A bit over the top for load bearing perhaps and it certainly won’t slip under the bed so easily. But besides being rated at 50kg, the platform provides the unexpected benefit of standing up straight when placed on flat ground. No need to look for a rock or dry bit of grass to perch your pack, or support it to get into the back.
It weighs 2.7kg but feels lighter for the amount of alloy in there. And like all modern packs, you can adjust the harness to suit your back length, as well as do the usual micro-adjusting to the chunky hip belt and shoulder straps and the all important, non-elasticated, sternum strap.
tonka-1The Lax will obviously work fine for packraft expeditioning, plus kayak day trips where a trolley can’t be used, but I wanted to see if carrying my Amigo IK was a viable option for camping too. The Amigo weighs about 15kg ready to go, and as you can see takes up much of the packframe when strapped on vertically. Horizontally would make more space above, but having walked about five miles on road, track as well as very rough hillside, treating the Amigo like a packraft will be a tall order.
tonka-5I recall the Terra backpack on my first packrafting trip in 2010 weighed 18kg with a few days’ food and a drysuit. The Amigo is at least 12kg heavier than a packraft so that’s 30 kilos. I was walking around with about 20kg which felt like plenty. As said, the Lax is rated at up to 50kg which is hard to believe; the stitching alone would be under immense strain.
Realistically, camping with the kayak would work best where there was more water between short and fairly easy walks (few bogs and steep inclines – not really Scotland then). Of course, having a kayak as opposed to a packraft makes lone coastal paddling and sea loch crossings less intimidating.
berghausc71Comfort is as good as can be expected with a 20-kg load, but I think it’s safe to say a rigid frame is less compliant than a modern frameless backpack like my Berghaus C71 (right; 2.6kg). On one stage the lower frame was digging into my hips through the hip belt, although on the next walk I must have adjusted it better and it was fine over terrain that at times was barely walkable. I wasn’t using a packstaff this time, but off-piste that would be a great help.
tonka-4Early days yet, but quality of construction seems good. I like the lift handle and generous padding. One thing I’d like to see on any harness like this is a pocket or two on the padded hip belt, or even just a bit of tucking mesh.
The platform construction looks solid and as well as being a pack stand, with a some cushioning would also make a solid camp seat when unloaded (below right). This is a much discussed and under-rated item, and one on which you could even lean back on, just tonkae-2like you weren’t supposed to do in school.tonkae-1
The solidity of this structure also opens up the possibility of adding that nirvana of urban packboat portaging – trolley wheels. More about that later, if I get round to it. Rrp in Germany for the Tatonka Lastenkraxe is €170. My green one cost £95 off amazon. Black ones were another 20 quid.

nosickyIn my packframe investigations I discovered that in the Tarta mountains of eastern Europe there’s a local ‘iron man’ sport of ‘Nosicsky’ (‘portaging’): carrying massive loads on wooden L-packframes. Perhaps it was once a way of resupplying mountain refuges when the mules were on strike. As you can see right, over 200kg was a record one time, but it proves that L-frames were the original do-it-all packframe, long before modern backpacks found frameless alternatives that kept the weight closer to your back.
aarnI also came across the Kiwi Aarn website which showcases a frontal load ‘FlowMo Bodypack’ to help improve you posture and balance weight distribution. They’ve designed two pockets for the front straps tonkae-jeffto carry dense but compact items (like water) while still being able to see where to put your feet. Sounds like a good idea but many of us, like Jeff on the right in the Kimberley (with my old Terra 65), have come up with a similar solution intuitively, when needing to carry a day pack as well as a backpack. Still, it’s an idea worth considering when you have a 15-kilo boat on your back.
cwtwh3-01Since I wrote this I did try a similar idea on our CWT recce, well at least carrying the packraft on my chest. It did feel good on regular ground – better posture, less stooping – but on gnarly terrain the bulk got in the way of the ground at my feet which got dangerous in the places we were walking. To be fair Aarn acknowledge this limitation.