Category Archives: Packrafts

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. Also at Tirio, UK.

Weight (verified): 513g.

Where used Loch Hourn, off Knoydart, Scotland.

Rolls up compact (unlike framed versions)
Big surface area
Unexpectedly stable, controllable and steerable.
Uses the same valve and pump as the packraft
Doubles as a tent footprint or mini-tarp

Can’t be quickly taken down or flipped back up when wind or direction changes (unlike framed versions). This is a big drawback
Window is too high (on a fat-bowed packraft)
On a regular sized packraft, sailing is slower than you think
About 20% more expensive than Anfibio’s PackSail
Punctures or twisted bladder might be 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 and my old MRS Nomad.

The Anfibio AirSail differs by using an inflatable bladder ring inside a fabric rim casing which you inflate via a Boston valve using 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.

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 hooked to the bow via a couple of mini-karabiners, you need to reach forward to unstrap the sail (hard 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 to kingdom come 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 reach.
Instead, I chose to do all this by the shore in the lee of a headland. This was my back-up plan after a rising wind made it too hard (or increasingly slow) to paddle my Rebel 2K the 15km from Barisdale to the mouth of Loch Hourn. I started with my electric Flex Pump but for some reason it didn’t do much, considering the small volume (it was the same later). That done, another 15-20 mini-pumps gets the sail rim good and firm (I probably only did 10-15). But as mini-pumping from flat only needs 25-30 pumps, you may as well not bother with the added clutter of electric pumping, if that’s an option.

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, 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. And this was with a few more pumps needed in the 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 in check. I must try this on the kayak next time. I usually hook the sail to the slack deck lines in a bid to gain a bit more height; 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 it 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 Air Sail: because the bow on a 2K is high and the seat is low 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 clipped to you, it’s easy to try and add a bit of speed by paddling as well, but the packraft hull shape holds you back; at best paddling will keep you warm and might add a tiny bit of speed. Once you’ve had a good look around, sailing slowly might even be said to be a little boring, after being used to having to paddle every hard-won metre. But on a long day on a multi-day tour, you’ll welcome the break when you get a chance.

Having said all that, assuming it performs near-identically, I still think I’d choose the cheaper, same weight, 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

See also:
Hillibery Nallo vs Vaude Odyssee

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 Four nights around Knoydart, Scotland.

As light and compact and you’ll get, for the money
Long enough inside, once you lie down
Good venting options
Quick pitching, once you get the knack
As boring greens go, it’s not a bad hue

Smaller than claimed in nearly all dimensions
Way too small for two adults, despite claims
The fly door zip always snags
Toggling the tent door up is awkward and unreliable
Afterthought lace-on pole seam cover
Basic (but light) bent-wire pegs
Fly only rated to 1200mm


What They Say
The [Terra Nova] Laser Compact 2 is the small pack size version of the classic two-person tent, the Laser Competition 2, that offers a great mix of being super-low weight with additional comfort. With all of the benefits and features you would expect from a 2-person lightweight tent partnered with a compact pack size of only 30cm long.


Review
I talked myself into a new tent for a Knoydart trip; something with less weight and less uncompressed bulk, but still with UK-weather friendly all-in-one pitching.
At a claimed weight of 1.23 kilos (2lb 11oz), the Laser Compact 2 is over half the weight of my long-discontinued, five-year-old Vaude Odyssee. There was nothing wrong with the Odyssee apart from perceived bulk and actual weight. The space inside was great and the stand-alone stability was handy. To save bulk, one time I packrafted in France with just the outer, but with Scottish summers midge-proof inner are as vital as a rain-proof cover. The Laser Compact 2 is like the older Laser Competition model, but the main poles breaks now down to just 30cm. TN also do an All Season version with additional guys and a 30D/5000mm head flysheet at £550 and 1.8kg. And under the budget Wild Country label, they do a similar looking Zephyros 2 for just £210 and 1.85kg. So weight-wise the Laser hits the sweet spot.
Other tents I considered were the MSR Hubba, as used by Barry on the Wye in April, the similar Big Agnes Copper Dome (both around £450). Tarp Tent’s Double Rainbow was another one I looked at before bouncing off on a Dyneema (Cuben fibre) trajectory. Once I realised this research could take some time, seeing the little-used Laser at a third off direct from Terra Nova put me out of my misery and I took a chance of something different. It helped that after more tan five years and 10,000km, round-Britain walker Quintin Lake still rated his.

Garden pitch: first impressions
Even without watching the vid below, first time pitching was not too confounding: thread the main hoop; fit the short end-poles and guy them out, then peg the four corners. My old Exped footprint (200g) slipped underneath. (I didn’t bother with the ‘rain cover’ till later). Apart from a bit of grass inside, the tent appeared as new.

At 10g each, the ten supplied pegs are light, but are just just bent alloy wire which date back to the Flintstone era. 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 less damp sleeping bag foot). Like my old Hilliberg, with few poles to latch on to, the inner isn’t especially taught, adding to the cramped feel, but better pitching and tensioning improved this. The inner mesh door zips right back down to one corner where there’s a small mesh pocket to stuff it into. With the main fly porch entry at the other end, this only pocket would be at your feet.
Two people my size in here would be unbearable, but as a solo tent it’s OK. At this weight, compromises are to be expected.

The Laser comes with an 80-g pole seam rain cover which you thread on with bits of string. It’s there to stop heavy rain seeping through the over-arching seam, but feels like a design afterthought. Once you fit it you can leave it there until it comes undone, then I left it off. It looked like mine had never been fitted and was missing a cord lock to cinch it up snugly. Some have reported the attachment strings coming away from the rain cover; others say the cover isn’t needed unless it really pours. Terra Nova now recommend sealing the seam. Why not just design a waterproof flysheet?

Compared to my 3 cross-pole Vaude, the single-pole Laser may get pushed about in the wind. Another reason to leave the rain cover fitted is that it incorporates additional guys to help stabilise the tent. The guy lines on mine looked too short to provide good triangulation, but I’ll give them a go when the time comes. With the rain cover laced and cinched, and the seams underneath sealed (see below), the Laser ought to be up for some rain and wind.

This after-purchase seam sealing to make a tent fully waterproof seems an odd practice, but for years many expensive American-branded tents required this. MSR even have a how-to video. Imagine; you pay hundreds for a bomber tent, then you’re expected to finish the job of making it an effective shelter!
Seam sealing is actually as easy as painting and it’s satisfying to start the tent-bonding process by enhancing impermeability. You can buy 28g tubes of tent seam seal for £8 or, if you have some clear bathroom sealant and mineral/white spirit under the kitchen sink, that’ll work mixed 1:1 (add more spirit for a runnier mix). It takes a good few hours if not a day to dry.

Camping on Knoydart
Considering it’s mostly wilderness, finding ten square feet of flat, smooth terrain fit for camping can be a struggle in Knoydart. Ironically I spent 3 nights in unexpected campsites where the roomy pitches and nearby kitchen buildings made the whole business of cooking so much easier. Morning and evening midges made lounging around outside irksome; this was the first time I’ve used a midge net in Scotland, but I’d rarely come here in July for that very reason.

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 left open and so was the fly door, where possible. Two nights they fly was soaking and two nights it was nearly dry, but with the second door and easy to lift corners, wiping it all down underneath prior to packing was easy to do well, especially using a cellulose sponge wipe. 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 see 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 slot easier to find while the rain lashes, the wind blows or the midges torment.
Others, who have 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 user recommended simply using a tent peg; other TN tents now use mini-magnets for the same job. A bit of velcro might do, too. For the moment I’ll use a small bulldog clip.

All in all, I ended up with a begrudging affection for my Laser 2 because it packs down so darn small. I’ve yet to experience heavy winds or rain, or spend a rainy day tent-bound, which may change my view, but where weight and bulk count, the Lazer ticks the 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.

Tested: FlextailGear Max USB rechargeable Packraft Pump

See also:
Pumps for IKs and Packrafts

In a line Cheap, light, compact and fast, for when air-bagging is a faff.

Cost £22 on amazon (with discount voucher).

Weight 148g + nozzle 8g (Anfibio airbag: 110g).

Where used Scotland.

Light, compact
Takes as long as a clumsy air-bagging
Can suck (vacuum) as well as inflate
Has conventional slide switch, not ‘touchy’ inductive switch on the newer Max 2 version
Will do other stuff, like Exped Synmats and fire embers
Newer models can be used as a power pack, have LED lights, are IPX7 rated and can be programmed to sing Waltzing Matilda.

Slow to recharge
Packraft still needs topping up by mouth or mini hand pump
Will run out eventually, unlike manual methods, and will eventually die for good

What they say
My name is Max Pump 2020. I can quickly inflate and deflate your swimming tube. air mattress. and other inflatables. With vacuum bags .I can create more capacity for your suitcase and wardrobe at home. When in outdoor.I can provide oxygen for your burning ovens. enabling you to enjoy your food more easily.

Apple, pump with nozzle and my Boston adapter

Review
An electric pump to save a couple of minutes’ packraft air-bagging? Do me a favour! That’s what I think when applied to bulkier IKs where a two-way barrel pump is fast and easy. But factor in cost, weight, size, USB rechargeability plus supplementary uses and, for a packraft, something from the FlextailGear’s pump range will be worth a punt.
Air-bagging is a clever idea to quickly inflate a typical packraft, but on some days it’s not the most intuitive of movements. Once a day is fine, but particularly on a trip where you’re airing up and down a few times a day, the effortlessness of the Max is most welcome. A good case to point was my recent paddle on the Wye where accessing my Rebel 2K’s internal storage pockets to get to the camping gear each night meant re-inflating the boat every morning. The Flexpump would have made this less tiresome. Another example was getting back from a tiring sea paddle and wanting to reinflate the rinsed boat to dry properly. Plug in the Flexy and get on with other after-paddle chores.

Out of the box
You get the pump, four nozzles, a short USB-A lead and a small bag. While one nozzle will fit loosely a Boston valve’s threaded airbag port, nothing fits the one-way valve body where you’d stick your hand pump nozzle. You’d think with Boston valves so common on Chinese-made slackrafts, packrafts and cheaper IKs, this Chinese brand would include a Boston valve nozzle. Luckily, I’ve amassed loads of adaptors and nozzles, and one 16mm (5/8″) adaptor fitted the pump’s main nozzle and jammed into the Boston port.
Off a computer allow two hours to fully charge the pump out of the box. After just three fills (12 mins?), it took another hour to get the green light. Maybe off the mains is faster.

I estimate the volume of my Rebel 2K is 550 litres, so at the claimed flow rate of 300 litres (currently the highest in Flextailgear’s range of mini pumps), that ought to take about two minutes. In fact it took 2:30s to reach the equivalent of airbag pressure in my unpacked 2K (full volume; above). And this was pushing through the valve, not direct into the body via the airbag port which may have been quicker. When the 2K is fully packed (with up to 140 litres stashed in the side pockets) it will be quicker. And it does this while left jammed into the valve so you make other preparations, or look around and admire the scenery.

My fat and comfy full-length Exped Synmat XP 9LW – which also needs air-bagging to avoid humid breath – inflates in just 25s. And as many will know, air-bagging a sleeping mat in a cramped tent when you’re worn out is not one of the joys of camping.
The Max 2020’s 3600mAH lithium battery is claimed to run for 40 minutes, so that ought to do at least 10-15 raft fills plus a few mats, when camping. By comparison, I read that their Tiny pump (just 80g) will do three raft fills.

Deflating either of these items is of course as easy as rolling them up, but getting the last bit of air out can be tricky, even though it can save a lot of packed volume. Pump suction definitely works on my Seawave IK because the one-way valve can be pushed open with the bayonet nozzle. On the packraft and mat, you have to suck from the unvalved port, and by the time you’ve plugged that, some air gets drawn back in. I found plain rolling up and squeezing or sucking the last of the air by mouth was easiest.

Last word to Sven from Anfibio: “Can’t live without one anymore. Cannot remember when I last used an inflation bag.”
These young people, honestly. 

Packrafting the River Wye

Rebel 2K main page

The Wye is the only river in (mostly) England where you can paddle for days and over a hundred miles, and not need to dodge a weir, portage a lock or confront a scowling angler. Even the few towns are historically intriguing. The whole valley is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, or ‘countryside’ as some call it.

You don’t even need a BC licence: from Hay-on-Wye the river uniquely has PRN (‘public right of navigation’; like a footpath ‘right of way’). There is no other river like it in England so I don’t know what’s taken me so long, other than the prospect of another staycated summer makes you reappraise your own back yard.

I invited myself to join Barry who lives near the river and who’d just bought himself an MRS Nomad. He’d done Hay to Hereford once and pronounced it a bit tame, so proposed Hoarwithy (Mile 51 from Hay) to the tidal finale at Chepstow (Mile 107 according to the table, left, or Mile 100 in the same sourced EA pdf guide.

Fifty-odd miles: two long days and a bit, we estimated (wrongly). Our riverine transit had to be timed to meet HW at Brockweir, 7 miles from Chepstow’s sole jetty, otherwise we’d be stranded by tidal sludge or swept out into the Severn and end up in Tristan da Cunha.

Chepstow jetty at LW; messy.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a tidal profile like Chepstow: on a Spring tide the water can rise nearly 9 metres is less than two and a half hours, then take over ten hours to drop. This is because your Atlantic Ocean is piling into the western edge of the European land mass, including the funnel of the Severn (with Wye) estuary, creating among the highest tides on the whole darn planet. The game of ‘grab the jetty’ would make an exciting conclusion to our trip, especially as we’d have to be on the water before dawn to time it right. The guidebook warns: continue beyond Chepstow at your peril. Most canoeists dodge the tide timing game and take out at Brockweir.

I thought I’d do the Wye in my Seawave, but then decided all that space and speed and glide would be too easy. Anfibio did me a deal on the Rebel 2K I tested last autumn (they’ll readily drop the tax to the UK so you don’t pay it twice). The three-night paddle would be a good test of their internal storage system for packraft touring. And the wet bits in between, a good test of the boat. My review of the 2K here.
Short version: with a good, rain-fed current, the Wye is a fabulous, easy and scenic paddle. We saw just a couple of Gumo Safaris on a bank, and some club rowers out of Ross. Plus loads of parked up canoes waiting for the rental season. I hope to do it again in the summer. With no lifts, I’d try to leave Hereford early for Symmonds Yat free camp (see below). It’s 43 miles but in the conditions we had could be an easy ten hours. And if you don’t make it, no bother. Then it’s five hours paddling to Brockweir where an early afternoon HW could bring you two hours into Chepstow for a train home.

Tested: Gimp stove (solid fuel)

See also:
Honey Stove (wood burner)
Woodgas Stove (wood/pellet)

In a line Lightweight, compact ‘day’ or back-up stove using ethanol wax blocks.

Cost ‘Shoe polish’ tin (from £1) + optional band + cross-stand (from £5) + FireDragon blocks (from £1.14 a filled tin). Total: around £8.

Weight Tin (25g) packed with fuel: 133g. Cross-stand 28g, 10cm wind shield 7g. All up: 168g + lighter.

Where used River Wye and Knoydart, Scotland.

Light, simple, compact
Fast set-up, easy to light
Sits low (stable and out of the wind)
Tin makes a large burning area and is refillable
Tin fits inside a 400ml Tatonka folding-handle mug
No noise, no smoke, no smell, no residue on the pot
Fuel cools and resolidifies quickly and will relight later
Presumably can be carried on a plane, especially if you label it ‘hand sanitiser’ (which it also is).
So light and compact it can be used alongside or to back-up a gas stove or a woodburner

Expensive at around 37p to boil a big mug
Fuel may be harder to find than gas cans at outdoors stores, but sold in ‘home & garden’ stores like B&Q

Review: 
This Gimp Stove (a military acronym, apparently) isn’t something you can buy off the shelf. My bush-crafty mate put it together once he learned FireDragon ethanol firelighter blocks could be packed into a ‘shoe polish’ tin and easily refilled and re-lit.
He identified a small, screw-top tin (multi-buys off eBay or amazon) with the right diameter to fit the notches of the CNC-cut stainless steel cross-stand also widely sold online from around a fiver. For a stable set-up, finding a tin to fit this cross-stand’s notches is the key. Or you can as easily make your own stand to suit any tin you like, but the tin’s lid needs to be airtight so the fuel doesn’t dry up. My mate even added a silicon wrist band round the base so you can seal it good and tight.

I managed to cram about four blocks (108g) into my ‘100ml’ tin (actually more like 130ml). From this I got three 360-ml (big mug) boils in the field. To extinguish blow it out, or smother with the lid. The liquified gel quickly cools and resolidifies and will readily re-ignite next time.
Timings were 4 minutes tested indoors, and about 7 mins outdoors, using a thick tinfoil windshield from the base of a fruit pie or a take-away curry. There is no noise, no smoke, no smell and unlike toxic hexamine tabs, no residue on your cup or toxic smoke.
On the first freezing morning of our Wye trip, even though I’d slept with a 45% full gas can inside my sleeping bag, it failed to boil my water once out in the freezing morning air. The Gimp would have lit up readily and done the job. And the fact that you’re easily able to place a windshield on the ground, and need clever, faster but totteringly unstable, bulky and pricey JetBoils is another tick for the Gimp. All in all, the Gimp is a handy, cheap and foolproof pocket stove.
I used the Gimp again on a four-day Scottish trip to heat up water for lunch soup. Light and compact enough to carry in your day pack, it made the whole business effortless, while saving gas for other meals.

A one-ounce block of FireDragon

FireDragon Fuel
Made by BCB International from waste vegetable matter, the blocks come in individual sealed 27g (1oz) pods, bought 6 or 12 at a time. It’s the same (and can be used) as hand sanitiser. Once the packet is opened, the block (a mashable wax of ethanol or denatured alcohol, left) will evaporate and shrivel, but sealing in the screw tin works fine, at least for a few days. Long term you may want to verify this. The good thing with a full tin or two is you have no packaging to get rid of responsibly; you just come home with empty tins to refill.
Apparently you can ignite with a flint (BCB’s stove kit, right). I tried but couldn’t do it on used fuel, even with some magnesium shavings (the fuel lit right up with a lighter). I may try again with a fresh block, but honestly Bushcrafters, a lighter takes one second.
The best price in the UK works out about 28.5p a block by the dozen, so a penny a gram with a big mug boil at 37p – quite expensive. And you’ll struggle to find it at that price; very often it’s nearly double, or gets that way with postage. Your best bet seems to be larger Go Outdoors stores. I would guess you could get at least 30 same-sized boils from a typical 220g can of gas costing around £4 which is more than half price.


I skimmed through an online review (one guy was even wearing camo gloves!) and apparently the FireDragon boiled loads faster than hexamine (which I’ve never considered trying). I’m told the Brit army now use FireDragon instead of hexamine.

Guest review: Kokopelli Rogue Lite

Javier Romaní

I love packrafts, but not their prices. Three years ago I bought a Klymit Litewater which served me well, but wanted something faster and more beautiful, yet almost as light. After a lot of internet research I decided the packraft I needed was an Alpacka Caribou or a Kokopelli Rogue Lite. But if I ever told my wife I had spent about 900€ on something that looks like a beach toy I would be in serious trouble.

And then, early in 2020 I found a pre-owned but unused Rogue Light for just 450€ including a carbon fibre paddle. It seemed too good to be true – was it some kind of scam? In fact the vendor had bought it for a trip that had to be cancelled, and he had no further use for it. One man’s misfortune is another man’s luck…

Sadly, before I had the chance to try it, the pandemic was in full swing and we were confined in our homes. I had to wait for June for a chance to use the Rogue Lite. My parents-in-law own an apartment in Costa Brava on the Mediterranean. There are a lot of nice beaches, coves and beautiful spots there, and many of the best can only be accessed from the sea. As I was teleworking, we moved to the apartment from June to September: what a beautiful chance to use the Rogue Lite in full!

There was an unused closet in the apartment and the inflated Rogue Lite fitted in quite well (it’s 2.15 metres long and 94 cm wide). Kokopelli boasts about the Rogue Lite having ‘the most bombproof valve on the planet’; in those three months I only had to top it up once, so I think Kokopelli has some reason in that.

The beach is about two kilometres from the apartment. As the Rogue weighs under 3kg, I could easily carry it fully inflated under my arm… That’s what packrafts are for! The boat is very robust and the paddling position is comfortable. The seat is good, and you can back lean on the stern. I am 1.83m tall and can keep my legs fully extended, which means that I can paddle for hours without feeling cramped.

My usual starting point was the north side of Sant Pol Bay, between the towns of Platja d’Aro and Sant Feliu de Guíxols. The sea is usually quieter so it’s a good place for embarking and disembarking, but the beautiful coves are in the south side. In the beginning, I just crossed the 1-km wide bay always in protected waters, to a small beach in the other side, that can only be accessed by sea, had a rest then came back. But, as my confidence in the Rogue Lite grew, my excursions became longer, even going out of the bay into the open sea. I once obtained a top speed of 6km/h, and I could keep 5 km/h for 15 minutes and 4 km/h for more than an hour. A 10-km round trip in the sea is not difficult in the Rogue Lite.

I was surprised of how seaworthy the Rogue Lite felt: it’s not difficult to paddle against a head wind, and side winds don’t make it drift too much (I imagine that the pointed stern acts as some kind of keel). One day, the sea conditions seemed awful, with a strong Force 4 winds and metre-high waves (Mediterranean waves are short, steep and have a high frequency, so 1-m Mediterranean waves are worse than 2-mAtlantic waves; believe me).
I decided to go out anyway, as the wind was blowing onshore. The Rogue Light did outstandingly: I could paddle into the wind, and the boat handled the waves easily. To make things worse, some large powerboats were around, creating their own waves, so sometimes I got waves from different directions at the same time. In some moments, I was in the trough between waves and completely surrounded by water… then, the Rogue Lite rode the wave and I was on top… easy! The tubes are high enough to avoid water getting in, even with these waves. If a wave seemed too menacing, I simply paddled straight into it. The rockered bow made an easy job of climbing the wave. Overall, it turned to be a lot of fun.

The only negative aspects I found are: the price, and the the floor: Kokopelli seems very proud of the kevlar floor, but they could have made it a little longer and wider, so it could better protect the lower part of the tubes. Overall, I really like my Rogue Lite and I hope to keep it for many years.

Guest review: Klymit Litewater packraft

Javier Romaní

I fell in love with the idea of packrafting as soon as I read about it. Sadly, when I started looking at prices I almost had a heart attack… an average Alpacka or Kokopelli costs more than 900€ in Spain – that’s a lot of money for me. But then I found the Klymit Litewater cost only 200€ including transport and import tax. I decided it deserved a try.

Two weeks later the first thing that surprised me was it’s really light (1300g in my scales) and easily packable. At a toy shop close to home I got a] cheap 7-piece paddle. The boat, the paddle and my everyday gear all fitted in a 5-litre Decathlon backpack. From March to October I always carry it with me so if I have a couple of hours free, I can go to the nearest water body for a paddle. That’s the whole point of ultralight boats like this.

The inflation bag is small, but is sturdy and waterproof. It serves to carry the boat and once inflated, a place to keep your belongings safe and dry. It takes between 5 and 10 minutes to inflate, after which it needs to be topped by mouth. The integrated seat is mouth-inflated. Once done the shape feels a bit odd as it’s short (1.93 m) and wide (1.15m). It has six tabs around the outer edge of the tubes for securing your belongings.

The paddling position is surprisingly comfortable: the sidewalls are low, but the stern provides good back support. The boat is long enough for me (I’m 1.83 metres) to keep my legs fully stretched. The material feels REALLY thin, but in three years my Litewater has rubbed against sand, gravel, rocks and concrete, and it still looks good. No punctures. The valve is simple, but doesn’t leak. This summer I kept the Litewater inflated for more than a month with no need to top up The deflation valve is a simple dump valve and one good feature of the Litewater is it dries fast.

I’m an atypical packrafter, as I use my boats in the sea. I alternate the Mediterranean (Costa Brava) and Atlantic (Ria de Arousa, a very large bay in northwest Spain), so all my comments will be related to the behaviour of the Litewater at sea. On the water it’s slow, but this is to be expected, as it’s short, wide and low-pressure. I don’t think I’ve ever gone more than 3 km/h. On the other hand, it’s more seaworthy than I expected, can hold its own quite well in the waves, and you can make headway against a moderate wind.
Once I found myself in an unfavourable situation: the sea and the wind were calm, so I paddled for 20 minutes to a small island one kilometre off the beach. But, when it was the time to come back, a strong wind had risen up, blowing across my course. There was also a noticeable swell, and a tidal current against me. It took me almost an hour to get back, but the Litewater managed it. Of course, with such low sides, you get pretty wet but overall, I’m very satisfied with it. I now have a Kokopelli Rogue Light but am keeping the Litewater for when I need to travel light, or for my son or guests.

Tested: ROBfin Big Boy L Packraft review

In a line
Nippy self-bailing 3-chamber PVC / high-pressure packraft/IK suited to white water and surfing.

A nippy, light, taut IK with raft valves
Tough, German-made PVC
Mini barrel pump will get it to 3psi eventually
Integrated thigh straps/footrest work well
Thick floor forms a keel to limit yawing
It’s heavy for a packraft
Heavier paddlers will still get a bit of wet bum on flatwater
0.2 bar ≠ ‘3.5psi‘ as printed on the yellow label

What They Say
Completely new concept of packrafting. Instead of mushy packraft, you get a High Pressure Packraft from extremely heavy duty fabric, that takes you anywhere and make it fun!
Stable and self–bailing (realy self-bailing) packraft with performance of hardshell boat. Fast and manoeuvrable, good for beginners, for experienced boaters or experts as well.
Packraft for bigger boaters or for long expeditions, sometimes called Big Bro. For paddlers and gear up to 140 kg. Fast and responding boat from extremely tough fabric. High profile bottom with comfortable seat, self-bailing up to 5 secs completely full boat (with standard load).

Price: €750

Out of the box

The Big Boy is the second largest in ROBfin’s range of four packrafts, rated for loads of up to 140kg. Self-bailing holes in the floor set limits on payloads; tape them up and you may well be able to carry more without sitting in water, but heavy hauling is not what a self-bailer is about.
Although PACKRAFT is emblazoned boldly along the sides, this is not your typical, single-chamber TPU Alpacka or Anfibio, but more like an IK with three chambers including an inflatable floor.

Made from stiff, 1.1mm PVC, raft valves and the small Bestway Air Hammer will get 3psi (0.2 bar) in there eventually. The stiff hull works well with the integrated footrest/thigh straps for a better connection with the boat. You may notice below left how the floor expands and thickens towards the back to add more buoyancy in the seating area where it’s needed.

On the Water

Where I live there’s no white water for miles. The Lee River White Water Centre on the other side of London would have been fun to visit, but was closed for Lockdown and requires passing an assessment course before they let you loose on the two short artificial courses.
So the ever-reliable Medway and its sporty canoe chutes would have to do. And with the recent rains the river should be moving right along. But on arriving at Sluice Weir there were barriers everywhere, and the river level above the lock was several feet below the jetty. The upper Medway was closed for winter maintenance works. I’ve been caught out like this on the Medway before. Better to check at http://allingtonlock.co.uk.
So after waiting weeks to try out the ROBfin on a sunny day, all I got was a muddy, flatwater paddle. It was altogether a bit of a washout.

My big IK barrel pump inflated the boat in no time. The yellow conformity label says ‘0.2 bar/ 3.5psi’, but 0.2 = 2.9psi, so that’s what I put in. At this pressure the PVC ROBfin was firm like an IK and not mushy like a packraft. Setting off downstream, the way the floor drops like a keel helps the boat track reasonably well, though you do can’t power on and will need to correct once in a while. If you stop it veers off to one side. With gentle strokes, you move along with none of that bow yawing you get with a packraft. The packraft-like 1-metre width meant it was stable, even with the higher seating position.

As it is, the water level in the boat was only about two inches below where I sat, so any fast moves or turns brought it up momentarily. You will get a bit wet. Judging by some brisk riverside walkers, the boat was managing over 3mph against the current, and back at the lock it was easy to wipe down and dry.

It’s a shame I wasn’t able to get splashy with the ROBfin; it would have been fun to belt flat out down the bigger chutes to test out the bailing, and mess about below them. The taut hull means the thigh straps work well and the short length would make it agile in the rapids. And should you tip over, getting back on would be dead easy. For playing in white water I’d sooner get a boat like this than a decked packraft and the ROBfin is much cheaper than a Chinese-made Kokopelli Nirvana.
Packraft or IK? I’d settle on the latter which might put it up against a 12-kilo, 3.3m Gumotex Safari at more or less the same price. The shorter, wider ROBfin would be more stable a fun boat in the right element. What a shame I never got there.

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