Category Archives: Gear

Paddles, clothes, buoyancy vests, etc

Sigma TXL: seat and sailing sorted (videos)

Sigma TXL Index Page

The winds here have been belting out at up to 40mph for days, but I grabbed a quickie during a lull the other afternoon to try out some final mods.

Foam backrest: much better

My centrally seated TXL is like a small TPU kayak – the missing link, some say – so it needs a backrest that works. I was never won-over by the Anfibio inflatable backrest on the Revo or my boat; it manages to be both mushy and wobbly.
But once on the water it was soon clear that, combined with my Lomo holdall wrapped into a footrest bundle (below left), the foam SoT backrest felt much better. The broader, firm pad spreads across the back supportively and is held up with straps, not thin elastic. Plus being able to press feet side-by-side against a flat, firmish surface, not jam feet into the bow, is also much more comfortable. It felt just like my old Seawave!

I was giving the Multimat air floor one more try. It must do some good and I admit it may have helped replicate the IK feel. And unlike initial impressions, the half-inflated seat base is actually pretty stable sat on the stiff floor, not wobbly as I originally thought. Plus the pad protects the floor from impacts below, and heel scuffing inside.

I did feel again that the TXL skates across the water a little, bobbing on the stiff air floor. This flat-floor effect makes sense on a shortish 3:1 ratio boat and was one reason I thought a front skeg might be helpful (it wasn’t with the stock rear skeg). The air floor lifts the boat a bit higher in the water and the sliding left to right is more from wind and waves than in reaction to paddling strokes (like normal packraft bow yawing). But until conditions get too rough I don’t think it really hampers paddling progress that much. It’s a packraft after all, not a jet ski!

While I had the floor in, I tried the 15-cm thick seatbase fully inflated and sure enough, like Anfibio say, it’s too high and may get unstable on anything other than flatwater, even with my repositioned knee straps for added support (left). That’s why they offer the 5cm foam block (it’s on ebay, fyi). A thinner inflatable seatbase would be less agonising but it seems, like on an IK, the half-inflated stock seatbase actually works fine.

Only one skeg needed

The other test was a skeg repositioned on the floor for full submergence – this is only needed for sailing; the TXL tracks well enough with the semi-submerged stock skeg position and goes OK without one. Had I not seen the selfies (left) and not tried sailing, I’d probably not have noticed.

The afternoon’s glassy calm had turned already. I pushed into the breeze out towards a low-tide skerry just off Tanera Mor, then heeled round for the mile back to Badentarbet beach and flipped out the WindPaddle. I left the stock skeg in place which was cheating a bit, but I’m pleased to say my earlier problems with weathecocking (stern blowing round, side to the wind) have been solved. No surprise a fully submerged skeg makes the TXL sail as well as my Rebel 2K and MRS Nomad.
This was an important thing to pin down as I want to be sure my bloaty, IK-replacing Sigma TXL has something up its sleeve when the wind allows because, like any inflatable, in the other direction it will struggle as headwinds reach 15-20mph. Sailing still needs constant micro-adjustment, but it’s great to feel a gust tugging at the handlines as the Sigma ploughs a trough through the surf like a water buffalo wading across a mudhole. The boat was definitely hitting 7kph or more at times.

I was also trying an idea I didn’t get round to testing on my narrower-bowed Seawave before I sold it: a WindPaddle transverse bowsprit™. Those cunning Chinese will be copying it on ebay any day now.

TXL vs MRS Nomad spacing

A WindPaddle disc sail starts bobbing madly left to right when winds get much over 10-15mph – it can’t unload the air fast enough. This is a side effect of mast-less downwind sails, but I figured if the bow sail attachments were further apart and more taught, the bobbing might be constrained. You want a downwind sail at the very front of a short boat, but on the TXL thr frontmost mounts are quite close together (compare to a Nomad, above left).
My ‘transverse bowsprit‘ is a stick which extends the sail mounts out to the sides, like ship rigging. I used a foot-long bamboo stick with some Rovaflex loops on the ends and for the weight and minimal faff, I like to think it worked. A bit longer would be better; I have a 50cm rod lined up for next time.
A few days after posting my sailing vid, YouTube thoughtfully directed me to a ten-year old video where a bloke with a hip-wide surf ski had the same idea (above right). Only he managed to zip along at a breathtaking 15kph in a 40kph breeze!

Heading towards shore, again, I aired-down the Multimat but again, can’t say performance deteriorated noticeably. After all, the MRS Nomad manages fine. The stiffening breeze rushed me towards the rarely exposed sands of Badentarbet beach and a short walk home.

So. Good to know the TXL is now largely sorted. Weather-wise, it’s been a wash-out in the far northwest this year, but there’s still enough summer left in the heatstruck south to do some trips.

Sigma TXL: floor-mounted skeg and foam backrest

Sigma TXL Index Page

After various trials I decided for sailing the TXL would benefit with a skeg on the floor where it would be fully submerged except momentarily when cresting bigger waves. The standard position angled on the stern (left) sits too high on the buoyant TXL so doesn’t have much effect, though the TXL tracks pretty well on flat water, with or without the air floor, solo or two up. You can mount the skeg back-to-front (right) for more bite, but I hope tracking when sailing will be greatly improved with a fully immersed skeg. When the wind allows, I want the TXL to be a reliable sailer on longer paddles.

Under the floor stays fully submerged, even with the air floor.

I could’ve simply made an extension to the stock skeg, but decided having two positions for the stock skeg would be less bulky. Like on an IK or a SUP board, the long but shallow Anfibio skeg would work well mounted horizontally under the floor (above, left). I’d already tried a skeg under the bow, but that did not work well at all. Waiting for good glue, I’d stuck that front skeg patch on with Aquasure and was surprised how easily it peeled off with less than a minute with the hairdryer.

Just as I was about to clean the removed patch and glue it on with Helaplast (recommended by Anfibio), I thought super tacky Gorilla Patch & Seal tape would be even easier, using the spare Anfibio skeg patch as a template. But I decided P&S is just thick ‘rubber’ tape suited to sealing, not supporting a knocked about skeg. In fact regular, string backed Gorilla ‘duct’ tape would have worked (a good way to test the idea), and I’ve found lasts surprisingly well on a packboat. In the end I decided the liberated fabric-backed Anfibio patch would be best.

The most important thing is to mount the patch straight along the centre line otherwise you’ll be going round in circles. This is best judged with the boat inflated. After that, it’s the same Helaplast sequence as detailed here. While gluing, I decided to add a couple of tabs low in the front to make the thigh straps hook more effectively over the knees.

The benefit of having two positions for the rear skeg instead of a bigger fin is that you can choose: use the standard position for shallow rivers (if a skeg is even needed) and use the floor mount on open water where wind and waves may push the boat around more, and if you hope to sail in a straight line.


Foam backrest
Sat up front, the stock inflatable backrest (below left) does the job, but in a low-pressure boat, the air cushion just adds more mushiness where you want support. As I say in the book or on Seats: sit on air; lean on foam. There is no advantage to inflated backrests other than saving a bit of packed space (might they also be cheaper to produce?). In this way, regular solo packrafts, where you lean on the back of the boat are better. Seated centrally in the TXL, you need a supportive IK-style backrest.

After a few outings I’ve decided to replace it with a spare foam SoT backrest (below), an idea which has worked well on my IKs for years. IK makers too have a blind spot when it comes to front seats. Today’s price for the backrest on ebayUK is 17 quid (left). Once I ditched the heavy ‘brass’ clips which came with mine, it weighs 200g, only 40g more than the Anfibio item (the ebay one shown left uses lighter plastic spring clips).

The foam backrest fits right on the TXL: the long tapes reuse the TXL’s front buckles and, less well, the rear straps come back through the flat tab mounts. A slide ring would work better here. I could have reused the thin, cinchable elastic cord which came with the Anfibio backrest but I suspect it was part of the problem (and thought so on the Anfibio Revo too). Counter-tensioned, non-elastic straps attached to a firm panel add up to better support. Up to a point the thinner foam backrest also makes more room behind it, too. And I won’t miss deflating the stock backrest to save on packed space, neither!

Sigma TXL • bow skeg and thigh straps

Sigma TXL main page
Glues and Repairs

Years ago I remember when the value of fitting packraft rear skegs was debated. Then the now common longer sterns (introduced by Alpacka) positioned the paddler more centrally and greatly reduced excessive bow yawing. On a packraft you’d think a skeg under the bow would eliminate the yawing endemic to short, wide rafts but turning agility would be lost. In fact, I wonder whether a packraft might yaw nearly as much at the back but you never notice. You’re actually pivoting from the middle of the paddle shaft, or perhaps a bit behind, at the centre of mass.

Rear skegs certainly improve tracking on IKs; you can manage without, but with a skeg you can paddle harder without constant micro-correctioning. On rivers I’ve found solo packrafts paddle fine without a rear skeg; or they’re too short to demonstrate noticeable improvements. There’s a b it of nodding as you move off which soon settles down with momentum. Even my symmetrical Rebel 2K (left; stern same identical to bow, not extended) paddled fine down the Wye without a skeg. But whengetting pushed around by the swell or on sea lochs (especially when sailing) fitting one was worthwhile.
Either way, rear skegs are a thing now with packrafts and you don’t have to fit them every time. Certainly on my longer TXL I like to think the stock rear skeg aids coastal paddles; though we found a brief stint with no skeg was only slightly noticeable, paddling into the wind in a sheltered loch (no swell). Anyway, I’ve been curious to see what effect a frontal skeg has, so on buying my TXL I ordered a spare skeg and patch which Anfibio also sell separately for €21 + €6.

Goop no good; Aquasure OK; Helaplast better

Gluing on a skeg patch
As stick-ons go, this is not a mission critical job but you want to line it up dead straight which I now see is better done with the boat inflated. I just used the rear seam, hoping it was along the middle line. Anfibio recommend Helaplast which they can’t post outside of Germany but which you can buy on ebay.uk (from Germany…) for €7 for 50ml.
There must be something similar in the UK, but the problem is identifying it against something that provenly works. I had some Goop contact adhesive, but whatever the ‘Automotive’ variant is, it did not stick at all. So I decided to try some Aquasure+FD, leaving it to cure for half an hour before sending in the roller. That seems to have worked.

Using stock TXL mounts sort of works

Thigh straps
Part of me likes to think I’ll be using my nippy TXL the way I use my IK: fair weather open water transits rarely more than a mile from shore. As this might require sustained periods of paddling I figured some thigh straps would help, as they do in my IK. It’s not so much for hardcore bracing or even rolling, the way they are used in white water, but just to fix the legs so the core is more responsive and you can get good drive, as with knees pressed up under the deck of a hardshell sea kayak.

Anfibio sent me their latest 5-point thigh straps which I tried and liked on the Revo (left). But to make full use of them would require gluing on up to 8 extra patches (if not ideally the ladder patch).

I decided my old Anfibio 3P straps which I’ve used in my IK would be OK for my low-tension, flatwater use and require adding just one pair of loop straps. If I was really lazy I could have got away with the unused flat patch by the seat, but the direction on tension was off centre and would eventually wear, stretch and maybe break. The small patches are not really designed for such loads and now my Helaplast has arrived I decided to try it. An old post on the Anfibio blog explains how to use Helaplast:

  • mark off area on hull
  • mix hardener 20:1
  • clean surfaces with solvent
  • apply a thin layer to both surfaces and wait 30 minutes
  • apply another thin layer and wait another 10 minutes
  • Position patch; it won’t adhere properly
  • Heat with hair dryer to reactivate glue and press down hard (it’s better if the boat is deflated to do this on a hard surface).

The heat reactivation trick was not one I’ve heard of before with glues (expect to loosen stuff), but you could see it worked. Where the positioned patch was lamely stuck to the boat, a bit of heat saw it bond down well with some some rolling. You can tell when something looks well glued and this feels like that, though I’m sure glad I didn’t have to do that another six times.

Update
Having paddled about with the straps a bit, they work OK, but the front mount points needs to be lower to hook well over the knees without using the cross-link strap to pull each strap inward (not what they were intended for). I did this a few days later.

Thigh strap attachment points are better off set low at the front.

Tested: Anfibio Vertex Multi Tour paddle review

See also: Packraft Paddles

In a Line
Four-piece paddle 890g in kayak format with 15cm of length adjustment, fully variable feathering and includes T-handles to make a pair of canoe paddles, a long SUP paddle, a tarp pole or even an MYO packstaff.

Where used?
Paddles on the Thames, Dorset coast and in northwest Scotland in my Sigma TXL.

What they say
Revised, redesigned paddle combination for two-person packrafts, usable alone or in pairs. The very light fiberglass double paddle can be transformed into two paddles and even into a SUP paddle using two extenders. Continuously adjustable in angle and length (210cm to 225cm).
Price: €175

Good value, light 4-parter
Variable length and feathering
Two canoe or a SUP paddle included
Max 63cm length
29mm shaft will suit smaller hands
29mm shaft better for smaller hands
Get a Vertex Tour for €125 if you just want a packraft paddle

Blades a bit loose fit; fixed with tape
No index mark to set feathering angle
29mm shaft narrower than the 32mm I’m used to
Smooth surface is a bit slipperier than my other paddles

This paddle was supplied free in exchange for editorial work on the Anfibio website

Review
A quality two-piece like my ageing Werners is usually my first choice for a day out, but for travelling with a packraft, especially on public transport, a 4-piece paddle makes sense. You won’t go any slower or get more tired; it just won’t feel as efficient and solid as a good two-parter – and feeling efficient can give you confidence, even if there’s nothing in it. Now sold, my Aqua Bound Manta Ray carbon shaft was at least ten years old and still hanging in there, and that was my second one after selling the first to an envious mate. It wasn’t as stiff as my Werner but it got me across the water all over the world, while also doubling up as a packstaff.

Anfibio’s Vertex Multi Tour really does try to cover everything: kayak paddle, two canoe paddles and even a SUP board paddle – if you own all those it could be what you need. I don’t, so used the canoe handle extenders to make a Mk2 packstaff. Did I mention packstaffs yet?
I did notice the spring-button blade connection was a little slack; a matter of a fraction of millimeter clearance and fixed by a bit of tape, easily removed. Maybe the paddle will swell into a tighter fit once repeatedly wetted? (The Manta Ray blades tightened up over the years).
It took a while to notice the Vertex also has a slightly thinner 29mm shaft – a less comfortable to grip for me. Smaller handed persons will prefer this. It’s also smoother which makes me think a little texture aids grip without raising blisters on long outings.

Length adjustment is something new on me and I like to think is not a gimmick. On our windy Dorset paddle I ran the paddle short (210cm) into the wind, and longer (220 or so) downwind; a bit like low and high gearing, using a higher cadence on the short length when working into the wind. I need to try this a few more times to see if it really makes a difference, or I just think it does. With the lever clamp, you can adjust in a couple of seconds.

Werner indexing

Like most paddlers I am right handed and paddle with the left blade rotated forward 45°. Is that ‘45° R‘? I suppose so. But unlike my Werners (left), there is no sticker or other index alignment marker to set your feathering angle on the Vertex. It seems an odd omission. I’d have thought the long thin ‘compression’ slot (below left) where the clamped shaft squeezes together would have been the obvious position for an index mark.

I also realised it matters which blade you attach to which shaft if you want your shaft feathering alignment sticker to have consistency. After sticking on some yellow alignment arrows (as I’ve done to my older Werner’s where stickers peeled off), I added some more tape on the left blade and the section of shaft with the lever clamp. Match yellow to yellow and you are good to go.

The Vertex’s blade looks like a fairly standard 650cm2 and should take the usual beating of being pushed off rocks and so on. Once you’re paddling the finer points of paddle response fall by the wayside; if you’re moving into the wind and waves and current at the end of a long or hard session you will feel tired. But once you add some stickers, for the price and weight and versatility the Vertex Multi Tour does it all, and is in stock in Europe right now, unlike many American-branded paddles.

Seawave 2: Mk3 rudder (MYO)

Gumotex Seawave main page

See also

Rudder rationale discussed
Gumotex’s 2016 factory version
Making the Mk1 prototype rudder
Testing the Mk1
Mk2 rudder tested (gets to the point)
Mk3 rudder tested

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.

Jules’ footrest pivot

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 velcro pads, 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 velcro flap 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

Items needed:

  • Ebay rudder assembly from £20
  • Piece of HDPE chopping board, 3mm x 400mm x 60mm, aluminium bar, or similar
  • Stick-on velcro
  • 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 drainpipe footrest (if not used already)
  • 2 metres of 25mm strap
  • A few mini snaplinks, fish snaps or similar

You may also like:

  • Knob for rudder lift, cinch locks and clamcleats
Make 2 central slots, then attach the strap

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 mount plate
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.

Next job – see if it ruddy well works!

Tested: Six Moon Designs Flex PR review

See also:
NRS Paragon
Tatonka Lastenkraxe

Updated March 2022

In a line adaptable, adjustable and comfortable heavy-hauling pack harness designed for packrafters.

Cost $280 Six Moon, USA; €289 Anfibio Store Germany.

Weight (verified): 1525g in Large (shoulder straps 212g; hip belt 376g; back panel 937g). Used with Sea to Summit 60L dryback; 316g. Usable total 1840g.

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.


I’m on the TRAYNE!!

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.

6MD 50L dry bag with purge valve
Sea to Summit Big River 65L

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-top dry 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 a minimum 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 Summit Big River 65-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.

Don’t mention the B-word
Twin bag test

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.

Packraft underneath is vulnerable to scuffs but low CoG.

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.

Packstaff hangs from hip belt tensioning straps.

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.

Roll top closure may seep through eventually; a cover could be easily tucked under the straps

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.

Second opinions from She-ra Hikes and TheTrek

Thanks to Six Moon Designs and Anfibio for supplying the Flex PR.


Tested: Anfibio Packraft AirSail

See also:
Packboat Sailing
WindPaddle on MRS Nomad
Anfibio Rebel 2K Index Page

In a line Huge. 1.3m downwind disc sail supported by an inflatable hoop and which rolls down into a small bundle.

Cost €149 from Anfibio Store.

Weight (verified): 513g.

Where used Loch Hourn, off Knoydart, Scotland (on my Anfibio 2K, and alongside an MRS Nomad S1).

Barry tries his Anfibio AirSail as a brolly

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.

Longer MRS Nomad S1 sailed quicker than my 2K

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.

Thanks to Anfibio for supplying the AirSail.

Tested: Terra Nova Laser Compact 2 packrafting tent review

See also:
Hillibery Nallo vs Vaude Odyssee

For easier access, unhook the left corner from the peg.

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 and mid-Wales.

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 – this drives me nuts
Toggling up the tent door up awkward and unreliable (just undo one corner – picture above)
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 for Scottish summers a midge-proof inner is as vital as a rain-proof cover. The Laser Compact 2 is like the older Laser Competition model, but the main pole now breaks 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 their 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 on something different. It helped that after more than 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 like 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 feeling, 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 your 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 bug-free 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 neither 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. And a year later, pitching after a very long walk in Wales, I was surprised to be heartened by the sight of the pitched Laser, rather than groaning at the thought of getting in.
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 my boxes for the moment.

Coastal Packrafting

Rebel 2K main page

Around here the inshore sea paddling is exceptional, even if packrafting the inland lochs is also pretty good. Having done most of the latter routes, I thought I might try some coastal packrafting.
Garvie Bay arcing west to Achnahaird Bay looked like a good one and happens to parallel probably the best walk on the peninsula which we’ve done many times. That route could be a 20-km combination of cycling, walking and paddling, but as it was the last calm evening for a while, we thought we’d go out together in the kayak and I’d try the packraft on the way back. That way everyone got to play.

A light NW breeze blew onshore as we cut across Achnahaird Bay like a blue fin tuna. The approach of HW meant we slipped through the submerged skerries of Rubha Beag and into the crab’s claw inlet of Camas a Bhothain (Bothy Bay). This seemed a good spot to deploy the packraft with the aid of my exciting new gadget, a mini electric pump. I unrolled the boat over the water and let the pump buzz away for a couple of minutes, topped off with the hand pump, then clambered aboard.

Paddling away, I realised this was the first time I’ve paddled my Rebel 2K unloaded and I was a bit shocked by the bow yawing. Now fully back-heavy, one good swipe of the paddle and it could flip a 180°, just like my old 2010 Alpacka Llama.

Ah, but in my haste to launch the lifeboat I’d forgotten to fit the also-untried skeg which comes standard on the 2K. I waddled over towards Rubha a Choin beach and slipped it on easily, while the Mrs transferred to the Seawave’s front seat.

I’ve been ambivalent about the value of a skeg on a packraft, but now back on the water the yawing was notably reduced. If you think about it, a packraft actually pivots from a point around the middle of your swinging paddle, not from the stern, as it feels from the seat. The centre of mass behind the pivot point does make an unladen bow yaw more, but the stern will yaw too; just less and unnoticed.

On the Wye my 2K was fully loaded with the centre of mass moved forward and which minimised any yawing, even without a skeg. (With a heavy load over the bow a reduction in yawing is well known with packrafts). Now unloaded and with the bow riding high, swish-swosh yawing was exacerbated, but is actually happening at both ends of the boat. So any type of fin or extension of the stern (like the post-2011 Alpackas – right – and all subsequent copies) will constrain this, while not affecting steering. So, bottom line: skegs work on a packraft and are easy to retro-fit.

All the remains is a packraft’s agonisingly slow speed. These are not boats made to enjoy the sensation of flatwater paddling; they are boats to enjoy getting to out-of-the-way places easily. Any type of disturbance to progress, be it wind or current, may slow you to a stop, or worse. Something like the longer Nomad S1 I had would be better for this while still being packable. Still, in these ideal conditions it’s nice to float along observing the coastal features.

Paddling back down the east side of Achnahaird Bay, a back-breeze made progress feel achingly slow. Lately, I’ve come to value metres per second (m/s) as a metric of wind or paddling speeds. Something moving past you (or vice versa) at three metres per second is easy to visualise, though I suppose we can all visualise a 3mph walking pace, too. It’s what YR uses and is easily converted to ‘double + 10%’ for miles per hour (so 5 m/s = 11.18 mph). Or just double it and you nearly have knots (5 m/s = 9.8 kn), for what that’s worth. Crawling past the rocky coast it looked like I was doing 1 m/s at times. We had a race: diminutive Mrs in a big, long kayak; me in the packraft. Within ten seconds the Seawave streamed away while Bunter frothed up the water like a cappuccino machine.

Oh well, you’re as fast as you are. Like cycling in Tajikistan rather than Kazakhstan, for the best experience match your routes with your mobility and conditions. Next calm day I’ll do the full Garvie loop.