Category Archives: Scotland & Summer Isles

Sigma TXL: Footpath to the Shore

TXL main page

Kyle and Plockton
This way please

I remember plotting this IK excursion years ago. Set off with some wind and the tide from Kyle of Lochalsh by the Skye bridge, then wind among the skerries north and west into Loch Carron as far as Attadale station near the loch’s head. Once there, hop on a train 39 minutes back to Kyle. The line and single-carriage train comes down from Garve on the Inverness-Ullapool road before following the shore of Loch Carron with a couple of stations to Kyle where ferries served Skye before the bridge was built over the narrows in 1995.

Gumo gone

It’s over 100 miles from our place to Lochalsh but today everything lined up: a lull in the wind; a well-timed tide, and all subsidised by the delivery of my two-year-old Seawave 2 to its new owner at Kyleakin on Skye.
I decided to sell my 4.5-m, 17-kilo Gumotex as I was becoming increasingly sure I could do most things in my new 2.8-m, 3.5-kilo Anfibio TXL, including paddling with the Mrs, packing or carrying multi-day loads and probably sailing too. I might lose some speed but could walk the boat to or from anywhere without difficulty.

The only midge in today’s ointment was Scotrail’s newly reduced timetable which now brought just two trains a day to the terminus at Kyle. We heard the 13.32 trundling past while on on the water; the other one was that evening after 8pm.
No matter; we were in a packraft so decided to paddle 12km to Plockton – the more interesting part of the coast – then walk 8km back to Kyle along backroads.

Seawave delivered, I admire the Plock of Kyle inlet, just a minute’s walk from a car park.
Unfortunately this Footpath to the Shore appears to lead to the municipal sewage outlet.
It’s nearly 8 miles so I try out the floor pad which ought to help the boat slip across the water.
There is always something, and today’s Forgotten Item is the GPS. Shame, it would have been handy to weave among the isles more ambitiously. Instead we follow a less complicated seaward route, passing the outside of most islands.
The floor doesn’t noticeably improve the glide and the boat skates a bit (rear skeg fitted).
Worse still, with two in the boat the 10cm lift reduces interior space, end to end.
And it isn’t helped by me giving the foam seatbase block one last try before consigning it to my private foam collection. After 45 minutes I can bear the agony no more and fit the inflatable seat instead. Much better, and it doesn’t wobble too much on the stiff floor, as it did on the Thames the other month.
The cramped conditions provoke undisciplined outbursts from the crew.
But actually we’re moving along fairly quickly and after 90 minutes are 5 miles in. Just 3 miles to go.
I’m finding the hauling hard, though. Later I realise perhaps my large-bladed white-water Werner Corry paddle is ill-suited to tandem paddling.
That’s almost IK speed if not IK comfort. I let the floor down and gain a couple of inches to stretch out the feet. Much better. I also try out my thigh braces which are OK; probably more effective for solo paddles.
Even without a map you can tell it’s an isthmus. Sure enough it’s a 2-minute walk over a meadow to the other beach. Plockton village is actually less than a kilometre away, but round the headland is another 5km.
As predicted, the wind picks up with the odd whitecap, but the TXL manages fine. We see some kayakers.
The lighthouse on Eilean Chait marking the turn south into Plockton Bay.
Annoyingly, I turn into the the wrong bay. I thought it didn’t look right.
Never mind, it’s the edge of Plockton and pretty as a picture.
Time to bag the boat…
… and track down a coffee.
It’s all a lot softer and twee round here, compared to the windswept, treeless Summer Isles.
Double coffee while tourists shuffle purposelessly by.
A chance to rest tired arms with a two-hour walk back to Kyle. How did that oil rig get there?
It’s fun to pass through quaint villages at walking speed.
And meet the hirsute locals.
Full marks to Erbusaig for not going for grey pebble dash.
Nearing Kyle. Look at all those trees!
Unusual view of Skye bridge.
The glowering mountains of Skye.
Arrival in Kyle as the washes down our salty limbs.
We find the Fisherman’s Kitchen down by Kyle harbour.
Fifty Ways to Eat Your Salmon; just what was wanted!
We tuck in in a bus shelter.
A good day out. More like that please.

Sigma TXL • Tandem sea packrafting

Sigma TXL Index Page

Up in northwest Scotland’s Summer Isles we are having a one-day break from the wind and rain – a chance to try the TXL in tandem mode. We could have gone somewhere familiar, like just outside, but decided to explore the coastline of Eddrachillis Bay near Drumbeg, an hour or two away. We planned to cross from one inlet-loch to the next.
On the day winds were 10mph but building, and the tides were nearly 4.5 metres (14-feet) springs (there was a rare blood moon / eclipse that night), so in the packraft we had to pick our moment.

Full of northern promise: the isle and inlet riddled south shore of Eddrachillis Bay around Drumbeg

The great thing with the TXL or any packraft, as opposed to my IK, is it weighs 80% less, so walking cross-country to the water and getting off pretty much anywhere is easily done. With the longer hull you get at least 80% of an IK’s speed, but the reassurance of a larger boat compared to a most of my previous solo packrafts. I already knew from the recent Dorset run that the long TXL was better in choppy seas than I expected, even without the stiffening floor airmat. It remained to be seen how we’d both manage in the boat on the wilder northwest shores.

We size the boat up in the kitchen; looks like we’ll fit
The roller-coaster single-track road to Drumbeg. Turn right at the bridge into the woods
We follow a faint path and animal trails west along the Gleann Ardbhair to Loch Ardbhair
Nice to be in some native woodland; not a lot of it in the northwest
Narrow trail above the stream; I should have deployed my packstaff
First sight of Loch Ardbhair
A path on the map does not mean a way of crossing any dry stone walls at the end
A herd of 20 deer scattered just as we got here
My Flextail electric mini-pump packed up after just a year so it’s back to old-school airbagging
Just 30 mins before low water a lethal sea-rapid still rips out through Loch Ardbhair narrows
Out in Eddrachillis Bay it’s choppy but manageable. The boat feels a little sluggish and soft so we’re paddling hard. Like the high-volume MRS Nomad, it needs a second top-up once on the water
In fact we’re doing 6-7kph with the wind at near slack water which makes things appear deceptively slow
I decide we’d left it too late to get round the spikey headland of Rubha na Maoile (left of pic)
Who knows what the turning tide does around there
So we turn into the in-between-bay of Camas nam Bad and make for the far shore
There’s still too much of a swell to rest the gorillapod on a rock for a passing selfie
Faster than we felt
In Camas nam Bad the Mrs nips ashore and I go for a little scoot-about. Feels nippier solo, but no faster.
Need to watch out for spiny sea urchins exposed at very low tides
Awkward scramble to the grass to deflate in comfort
I know they’re better than twist locks, but sometimes I wish these seats had a fast dump valve
It’s an easy mile’s walk to a point on Loch Nedd where I could be sure access was easy
This time I pack the gear in the side tubes for more room
And this time I remember to re-top-up once on the water a few minutes
The boat now feels more responsive but we’re into a headwind now so only do about 4.5kph with the tide
Loch Nedd was a bit boring or over too soon. We should have put in further up after all
Next time it might be fun to leave from here at HW and head west to the isle-filled bay of Loch Drumbeg
A long hike back to the car
At the back, Quinaig mountain, 809m
On Quinaig one time, looking back towards Drumbeg, Oldney Island and Point of Stoer
Need to do a bit more floating next time

Land, Sea and Loch: Packrafting Knoydart

Anfibio Rebel 2K main page
MRS Nomad S1 main page

Looming over the Sound of Sleat opposite the Isle of Skye, Knoydart is a famously rugged peninsula that’s inaccessible by road; part of the so-called Rough Bounds. Rising north of Loch Nevis, the mountains top out at the 1020-metre (3346′) summit of Ladhar Bheinn (‘Larven’), before dropping back down to Loch Hourn. On an OS map, contour lines here are as dense as spaghetti and to the south, Loch Morar is Europe’s deepest body of freshwater. Sounds like packrafting country!

It took just a morning to stitch together a challenging three-loch loop via Loch Quioch, but once I got there the initial 20-km stage down the channel of Loch Hourn looked a bit daunting alone in the untried packraft sailing outfit and required a 4am start at Low Water if I was to do the loch in one tide. By the time I tried something else, I was pushed back by wind and tide, so I settled for a good look around, tested the sail on the Rebel 2K, the Six Moon Designs Flex PR pack harness and a new tent before returning a fortnight later with Barry with whom I’d paddled the River Wye last April.

Driving up to Mallaig freed us from train timetables, which left the weather and 18-kilo packs as our main constraints. Unfortunately, the forecast dropped an F5 headwind on the Friday we planned to paddle out of Loch Nevis back towards Morar or Mallaig. Along with agreeable tide timings, I realised this was a limitation of circular packrafting routes on the Scottish west coast: chances are you’ll hit a prevailing southwesterly which may slow your packraft to a crawl (as I’d found). Depending on where you are, that can mean turning back or a tough walk out. Maybe both.

So Barry and I flipped the plan: hike 16km from Inverie (the only village on Knoydart) over to Barisdale, paddle inner Loch Hourn (7km), walk up to Loch Quoich (8km), cross it and then head 6km to a bothy in desolate Glen Kingie. From here, on Windy Friday we’d walk 6km over another pass to the 20-km long Loch Arkaig and try and sail the F5 west, maybe getting as far as Fort William via the River Lochy, though gusts out here were tagged at 40mph. At Fort William we’d catch the train back to the car in Mallaig.

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.

Kayaking Summer Isles; a lap of the Taneras

Seawave Index Page
Summer Isles Kayaking Guide

Another forecast of calm winds in the Summers. Or is it? The BBC and YR reports are contradictory: the former has too-strong-for-IK winds from the south; the latter shows light winds from the north. Others show light winds from the south. How can they all be so different?
Maybe I should just look out across the water? All looks serene so let’s make paddle while the sun shines. I wheel back down to False Man’s Harbour and set off with two hours before high water.

No side PRVs?
Am I missing not having added pressure release valves in my side tubes, as I did to my original Seawave? Not really. I am running 0.3+ bar in the sides (official: 0.25) but temperatures up here in NW Scotland are hardly tropical. I try and leave the boat in the shade at the house and de-air the side tubes for a couple of seconds after a paddle, effectively manually depressurising the sides to about 0.2 bar, rather than having fitted PRVs do it for me automatically. The more vulnerable stock PRV in the floor purges automatically at 0.25.
On my next paddle I have to top up all three chambers with the K-Pump as I would have to do with all-round PRVs anyway. About 30 kpumps brings the sides back up to over 0.3 bar. The difference now is I use a manometer to check the sides are about right. Before I would just pump until the side PRVs purged. It’s about a minute’s more faffing.
As with a lot of things I do to my IKs: sails, rudders, decks and now, trolleys and headwind weight transfer – it’s fun to experiment. But in the end they’re all largely over-shadowed by the simple enjoyment of paddling. With sides pumped to >0.3 bar I find I can cruise easily in the near-still conditions at 6kph.

Let’s try and make the outside of Tanera Beg again. Two days ago I got blown off that idea.
Kayaking tour party mustering at the north cliff of T. Beg.
But they seem to be dawdling, as if unsure whether to go ahead.
I paddle past and on to the big cave on T. Beg’s south side. That crack at the back might be passable at max HW.
The view out south towards the Wedge of Angus and Priest Island beyond.
I slip through the popular arch at Tanera Beg’s southeast end.
I notice a small second arch. The water is too high and gap too narrow to squeeze through with my Seawave, but it’s only a foot deep below, so the window of opportunity is as narrow as the arch.
What would Freud have made of all this arch-threading.
Being more exposed to the southwest, Tanera Beg has some deeply weathered sandstone cliffs.
Midway through, I decide crossing over to Tanera Mor seems too easy.
In the prevailing calm the three skerries to the south don’t look that far.
It’s just over a kilometre to Sgeir Ribhinn (‘Stack C’) according to the GPS. That will take 11 minutes.
Once there, I fail to notice the double-arched cave we found last time. But this is HW. A guard-bird observes.
Over to the south side of Tanera Mor. The new owner is employing scores and spending millions here. New cottages here and there, plus tracks to isolated beaches (for building stones, I was told). They now ask you not to land in the more built-up Anchorage on the north side.
There’s even a new house and other construction alongside the tidal lagoon of An Lochanach where I stop for a snack.
Two kayakers pass by. Earlier, I could clearly hear them talking behind me across the flat water, long before I could see them.
I cross the Bay and stop off on the mainland below our place to collect something.
Looking west: a buoy with Glas Leac Mor behind.
I recently read that a hazy horizon (Outer Hebrides not visible) means stability; warm, humid air.
Good viz and crisp detail = cold air and wind.
I head to Altandu, near the campervan-packed campsite.
I drop-off and pick up a bucket. Coming back through Old Dornie harbour, a quarter headwind kicks up, pushing the bow left.
I use the chance to load the bow with 10 litres of bucket-water. It does seem to make a difference: the bow bites better; no correctional paddling needed, unlike the other day. A good trick to know (I’d brought the drybag up front for that purpose).
Another 13-mile day in the Summers, but I could have managed twice as far.
How easy IK-ing is without wind. As is portaging with a trolley.

Landfall on Eilean Mullagrach

Seawave Index Page
Summer Isles Kayaking Guide

After a fortnight of chilly north winds and a diminishing woodpile, today was one of those rare days in the Summer Isles (far northwest Scotland) where you could paddle pretty much where you liked in an IK.
It was also a chance for me to try out my new skeg-wheel trolley which Jon, who was staying down the road, had made for me.
With no boat of his own this time, we set off in mine to see what we might see.

We rolled down the road to the Fox Point, the nearest and least effortful shore access from where I’m staying.
Apart from the clatter of the solid wheels, the set up worked perfectly: stable and smooth.
The spring tide had bottomed out so we looked for the least ankle-twisting put-in.
We have no plan so head towards the Ristol Islands across a glassy sea.
With the calm, we take on the outside shore of Eilean Mullagrach; here the refracting northern after-swell makes it a bit choppier with some alarming waves breaking over reefs.
Unless you’re a gannet, this is the only way to get onto Mullagrach, a gantry at the northeast tip.
Usually alone, I’ve never done it, but with Jon to tend the boat, I climb up.
With access so difficult, Eilean Mullagrach was never occupied or crofted. I think it’s now owned by a bird protection enterprise. Perhaps they built this guardrail and cut the steps. There’s what looks like a hut at the island’s south end, just past the (not very) high point.
Nice to see sea pink and yellow lichen again. The former mostly found on the sheep-free islands and skerries.
View south over the Summers to the Fisherfield mountains.
The channel with Ristol behind. Better get back; the taxi’s meter is running.
We scoot back north out of the channel and take a break on Ristol beach before cutting through Old Dornie harbour back to False Man inlet.
I leave my kayak overnight with a plan to come back for more tomorrow.
Next morning I’m relieved to see my Seawave hasn’t floated off into the Minch.
I top up and decide to head round the outside of Tanera Beg for starters.
All is calmish as I cross Badentarbet Bay, but as I near T. Beg an unforecast southeasterly kicks up and keeps on kicking.
The west side of Tanera Beg would be too exposed, so I divert into the Tanera Channel, using the lee of the smaller eileans.
Nice looking wooden trawler.
I’m hoping to at least visit the arch at the southeast end of T. Beg.
It’s only 500m away but it’s quite lively and gusty now so I don’t risk it.
Instead, I turn east to get into the lee of Tanera Mor, and take a diversion through the usually cut off pool of Acairseid Driseach (these Gaelic words just roll off the tongue).
A bit disappointed, I head back to slot harbour but the wind seems less bad or may have passed.
So I collect my trolley and strike out for Horse & Goat Island.
I estimate it’s about 2 miles across Badentarbet Bay. The wind drops and even becomes a NW tail breeze.
It’s actually more like 3.5 miles to the tidal channel between Horse & Goat.
By now the spring tide is at full flow against me and I wonder if the two islands have joined up yet.
I needn’t have worried; the NW breeze is stronger than any tidal current and there’s at least a foot of clearance.
I pull over for a snack and a drink. Last time I was here was with my failed Semperit project. What a nice boat that could have been.
I knew from here it would be a 2-mile into the wind hack to Badentarbet beach.
Or even more annoyingly, a three-quarter headwind. It’s less than 10mph, but despite pushing hard with my left arm, the boat kept getting pushed right. Where is my rudder now?! I should have picked up some rocks to weight the bow at Horse Island to see if that trick works. Next time I’ll carry a waterbag to do the same; it’s something I’ve read of but never tried.
From Badentarbet Beach it’s a stiff climb – 1st gear pushbike – back up the road to Polbain, but on the road the skeg-wheel trolley again makes for easy, hands free towing with the boat hanging from my shoulder via a knotted mooring line. I can walk at normal speed with loads less effort (and time) than carrying the deflated IK.
Having a trolley like this makes the IK nearly as versatile as a packraft: a boat you can start here, end there and easily transport back across the difference.

So ends another great 12-mile day out in the Summer Isles whose configuration enables numerous ways to spin out a trip as pirates, winds and stamina allow, and all without getting too far out.