Looming over the Sound of Sleat opposite the Isle of Skye, Knoydart is a famously rugged peninsula that’s inaccessible by road; part of the so-called Rough Bounds. Rising north of Loch Nevis, the mountains top out at the 1020-metre (3346′) summit of Ladhar Bheinn (‘Larven’), before dropping back down to LochHourn. On an OS map, contour lines here are as dense as spaghetti and to the south, Loch Morar is Europe’s deepest body of freshwater. Sounds like packrafting country!
It took just a morning to stitch together a challenging three-loch loop via Loch Quioch, but once I got there the initial 20-km stage down the channel of Loch Hourn looked a bit daunting alone in the untried packraft sailing outfit and required a 4am start at Low Water if I was to do the loch in one tide. By the time I tried something else, I was pushed back by wind and tide, so I settled for a good look around, tested the sail on the Rebel 2K, the Six Moon Designs Flex PR pack harness and a new tent before returning a fortnight later with Barry with whom I’d paddled the River Wye last April.
Driving up to Mallaig freed us from train timetables, which left the weather and 18-kilo packs as our main constraints. Unfortunately, the forecast dropped an F5 headwind on the Friday we planned to paddle out of Loch Nevis back towards Morar or Mallaig. Along with agreeable tide timings, I realised this was a limitation of circularpackrafting routes on the Scottish west coast: chances are you’ll hit a prevailing southwesterly which may slow your packraft to a crawl (as I’d found). Depending on where you are, that can mean turning back or a tough walk out. Maybe both.
So Barry and I flipped the plan: hike 16km from Inverie (the only village on Knoydart) over to Barisdale, paddle inner Loch Hourn (7km), walk up to Loch Quoich (8km), cross it and then head 6km to a bothy in desolate Glen Kingie. From here, on Windy Friday we’d walk 6km over another pass to the 20-km long Loch Arkaig and try and sail the F5 west, maybe getting as far as Fort William via the River Lochy, though gusts out here were tagged at 40mph. At Fort William we’d catch the train back to the car in Mallaig.
Weight (verified): 1525g in Large (shoulder straps 212g; hip belt 376g; back panel 937g).
Where used Four-day packrafting recce on Knoydart, covering about 50 miles, and another 3 days packrafting (about 25 land miles).
The Flex PR was supplied free for testing and review by Six Moons and Anfibio
Carries heavy loads as well as a proper rucksack Includes no less than nine pockets Four-strap adjustable hip belt
As expensive as some top-of-the-range ultralight backpacks Loads of black buckles with very long black straps on the black back panel Fixed shoulder-strap mini-pockets a bit small and too high Wide outer panel means too much slack to cinch down the side straps fully
What They Say The [new for 2021] Flex PR is a multi-use pack specifically designed for pack rafters. The Flex PR is a 50L dry bag with a removable suspension system designed for carry heavy loads in comfort. Whether you are portaging on a canoe trip, hunting in the backcountry, or doing trail maintenance, the Flex PR will keep your gear dry, your accessories handy, and your back comfortable.
Review I’ve long been a fan of pack harnesses as I call them; aka: portage packs or multi-use packs. Once combined with a bombproof dry bag like my aged Watershed UDB, your packrafting load-carrying needs on land and water are solved for under 2kg. Lash all you needs to the harness and hit the hills.
It took me years of experimenting with ex-military and hunting-focussed metal-framed versions before I discovered backpacking-oriented ‘soft’ harnesses like my NRS Paragon. No longer made, the Paragon was a basic 100-dollar harness and a bit on the small side for me. The fully adjustable Six Moon Flex PR is up there with the best hiking load-carriers.
What’s wrong with a regular rucksack? Well, they’re not waterproof like a dry bag can be, and if you have a proper dry bag you’ve less need for a backpack which is just more bulk. Plus, once you account of 4-5kg of rafting clobber, it won’t all fit in a normal rucksack and on the water you may end up with a soaking backpack. I tried this on my very first multi-day packrafting adventure from Morar to Rannoch Moor back in 2010 with my Alpacka Llama, carrying a huge roll-top vinyl dry bag (left). It sort of worked, but once you get into it, a dry bag lashed to a pack harness works best. Wet things are separated or more accessible.
I jumped in the deep end with my Flex PR, carrying an initial load of 18kg on a four-day tour of the Knoydart peninsula with my Rebel 2K. My plan was rather over ambitious for a new area, so it turned out to be more walking than paddling. I came back to do it better a couple of weeks later so the Flex PR has had a week’s heavy hauling, covering about 70 miles.
Out of the box the Flex PR comes in three sections: the load-carrying back panel incorporating the fabric strap-down flap which wraps up and around your dry bag and then cinches down at the sides. The lumbar panel is supported by a removable, pre-bent ribbed alloy stiffening rod which you want to take care not to bend or break. The wide hip belt slips in through a sleeve at the base of the back panel and velcros in place; and the shoulder harness slips down into another velcro sleeve with various adjustment marks. At 6′ 1″ (1.85m) and after some experimenting, I settled on the longest setting, as below left.
I do wonder how securely velcro will hold the weight after a while, but it’s not like you’re undoing it several times a day, and most of the weight rests on the hip belt with velcro on both surfaces. The PR has loads and loads of straps: six on the hip belt; twelve plus a bungie on the back panel, and three on the shoulder harness. With your own dry bag you may need a while to configure the PR to your liking, but after that you can leave it be. You may also be tempted to snip off the excess on the straps, but initially it’s better to knot them up or try and tuck them out of the way until you know for sure which ones really are too long. Better too long than too short. (The foot-long shoulder-top tensioning straps are primary candidates for the snip.) After a day or two, in an effort to reduce strap overload I detached the removable stabiliser ‘Z’ straps. Six side straps and two over the top ought to do the job. These Z-straps had some interesting removable buckles (above right) I’ve not seen before.
You need a rugged and dependable dry bag to put up with prolonged rain, persistent waves and rough handling, although with my Rebel 2K I’ve lately joined the ranks of packrafters stowing baggage inside the hull, not out on the bow. And so on the water a submersible-grade dry bag becomes less critical. The Flex PR is designed to be used with 6MD’s 50-litre, 227g (8oz) roll-topdry bag (another $45; left) which includes four side loops which match up with the harness’s side straps. (Note: I didn’t ask for, or use this bag.) What it’s made from or coated with is not stated on the link above, but one review listed ‘210D TPU-coated Nylon’, which sounds the same as a lightweight packraft hull. It includes a purge valve which will release any air after the bag is rolled up for packing and as you cinch down. Nice touch.
Although the Flex PR has generous external storage and additional lashing options, I do feel that 50-litres is aminimum for a few days out in the back country. Better a larger bag and add another couple of rolls of the closure. Something like the ovalised Australian Sea to SummitBig River65-litre TPU roll-top (above right) will work. This is TPU laminated on 420D nylon with a white lining and a textured, ripstop exterior. It weighs 315g (verified) and has hypalon side loops which more or less line up with the Flex’s side straps. It goes from 40 quid in the UK. Their Hydraulic Dry Bag (not the Dry Pack) is thicker at twice the weight and about $100 (not sold in the UK).
It took the first trip to realise my large, sausage-like UDB duffle was not suited to the Flex. Every morning I had to re-lash my black UDB into the harness, made harder by everything being black. When bothered by swarms of midges or rain, you don’t want to have to think about re-lashing the pack correctly each time, and there were times the long, thin load felt lopsided. I’ve since tried to tidy up the set-up by tucking in unneeded loose ends and tying coloured ribbons to the important cinch straps, just like better tents have colour-coded markers for poles. A top-loading dry bag mounts and works more like a rucksack, so I bought myself the S2S Big River and didn’t look back.
As mentioned, the Rebel 2K’s massive 140-litre in-hull storage capacity now makes a bombproof, over-the-bow dry bag like my trusty UDB redundant. Back home, I dummy rigged two old dry dry bags (20 and 40L; left), but I can see it might still be a faff lashing on each time, just with more colour. However, one benefit of this twin-bag idea would be they pop straight into the 2K’s capacious TubeBags with no emptying and repacking. That would be handy on a trip where you’re switching between walking and rafting more than once a day.
Pockets One of the best things about the PR are the numerous pockets which do their best to replicate a regular backpack, adding to convenience on the trail, something I missed on the Paragon. There’s a small hidden zipped pocket inside the back panel, two big fist-sized zip-ups on the hip belt and two detachable side pockets. With a stretchy outer fabric, these will easily each take a 1.5 litre water bottle or a rolled up cag. They can clip in line with the side cinch straps (below left), or can be Molle’d (daisy chained) from behind. Attaching them in line would make tensioning easier, but unless your load has a massive girth, the width of the pockets combined with the wide back panel makes it difficult to fully tension a normal sized pack properly before you run out of adjustment. Maybe my Sea to Summit bag was an odd shape, but it’s 30% bigger than the 6MD dry bag. setting the rear panel buckles two inches further in would do the trick. One way round this might be to slip you paddles down the sides to add girth.
Next, you have stretchy cinch-up pockets sewn to the shoulder straps but, as others have noted, they’re too small to secure anything bigger than a Garmin InReach or maybe a small phone, and are set oddly high. On me they were level with the tops of my shoulders. Although they have to dodge the chest strap, that can be Molle’d up or down in five positions. It would be better if the pockets were Molle-backed too. As it is, it’s easy to buy accessory shoulder-strap pockets for your bigger items. Not done get. The wide outer cover has a big open sleeve which swallows a four-part paddle, and in front is a long stretchy, gusseted zip pocket for more of whatever you’ve got. On top of that is a criss-cross elastic cord which I used to attach a WindPaddle.
My walk was quite hard: 18 miles on day one, followed by a tough crossing from sea level up to 1500 feet and back down to sea level. While I got a few initial aches from old injuries initially carrying over 18kg, at no time did my shoulders get sore which proves the stiff harness panel was taking the weight at the hip belt (and from there down to the hard-pressed feet).
And the hip belt is particularly good: the pockets aren’t waterproof but are a useful size (unlike the Paragon), and the twin straps each side mean you can cinch it in snugly, whatever your hip shape. I’d have preferred a bigger hip belt buckle and in fact found all the Flex’s clip buckles oddly hard to link; they didn’t readily clip together, possibly due to relatively soft, bendy plastic. But may be it just taking familiarisation.
On the way back to Inverie I decided to take the packraft out of the UDB and strap it underneath, using the fitted straps for this purpose. Surprise, surprise, the lowered load carried much better. Hung outside and quite wide but out of sight, the rolled-up boat is vulnerable to getting snagged on wire fences, farm gate latches, or when being hauled about in transit.
Knoydart Trip Two I returned to Knoydart with a chum and a 65-litre S2S Big River (below). Left attached in the harness’ side straps, this made the Flex work as intended like a regular rucksack; no need to re-lash or adjust too much every morning or when swapping from walking to paddling.
Using the 65-litre bag, I did wonder if 50 might well be adequate, but this was with minimal and compact camping kit. Any warm- or spare clothing or a dry suit would soon need more volume in the dry bag. We had two half-days of lashing rain; my mate fitted a shower cap over his regular rucksack and I found the water had seeped only a little way through the rolled folds of the Big River. The bigger your bag the more tight rolls you can make on the closure, but actually in pouring rain it would be fairly easy to tuck a cover over the closed dry bag rolls to stop any rain collecting there.
With everything within the pack loaded into six bags, it took just a minute to transfer them into the Rebel 2K’s hull and zip it up. I then used the chunky Gumotex dry bag which held the packraft as a footpad on the packrafts’s floor (to stop gritty boot heels prematurely chewing up the boat’s floor) and found I could easily shove the empty harness under my knees and zip up the deck. This made repacking the Flex at the shore relatively quick easy, though it always takes 20-30 minutes to get going.
The Flex PR now carries its load as well as can be expected and the S2S Big River offer added capacity for cold weather gear or a dry suit. I must say I didn’t really miss the lack of a purge valve; you burp the bag in the usual way then roll it down. Any spare air will be squashed out by the compression of the straps. The combination now offers reliable waterproofing on foot, while the pack would work OK on the bow, though in-hull storage and the harness under the knees is more secure all round.
PS: On both trips I used my roomy 20-litre Anfibio DeckPack (below) as a handy day pack for which it worked very well. The stuff inside is behind a waterproof zip, is easily accessible on the move and up to a point, keeps the lashing rain from wetting out your cag.
Where used Loch Hourn, off Knoydart, Scotland (on my Anfibio 2K, and alongside an MRS Nomad S1).
Rolls up compact (unlike framed versions) Big surface area Unexpectedly stable, controllable and steerable As long as you’re not using a deck, it can be temporarily pulled down and tucked under the knees when not wanted A 3.5-m long Nomad S1 can move at up to 5mph in strong gusts Uses the same valve and pump as the packraft Doubles as a tent footprint or mini-tarp or even a brolly
Window is too high (on a fat-bowed packraft) On a regular sized packraft, sailing might be slower than you think About 20% more expensive than Anfibio’s same-diameter PackSail Punctures or twisted bladder more likely than a broken batten?
The AirSail was supplied free by Anfibio for testing and review.
What They Say The first packraft sail of its kind! The light, inflatable AirSail gets your packraft going and lets you experience speed even on calm waters. The sail creates completely new possibilities to be on tour with the Packraft. Only 466g and minimal packing size.
Review On a multi-day packrafting trip or where you’re not returning the same way into the wind, sailing downwind is a smart means of conserving energy while enjoying a look around. At any other time, it’s just plain fun. Until now, the only options for packrafts were flexible, spring-out WindPaddle disc sails and their many inferior knock-offs. I’ve made my own and tried both, and currently own a WP Adventure 2 which has been OK on the Seawave IK and my old MRS Nomad, and even better on the Rebel 2K.
The Anfibio AirSail differs by using an inflatable bladder ring inside a fabric rim casing which you inflate via a Boston valve with the same 10-euro mini hand pump you use to top up the boat. The sail’s outer diameter is 137cm, so the sail is close to 130cm, as stated. Surprisingly, it seems to be possible to achieve as effective levels of stiffness to a flexible batten disc sail – a key to consistent performance – while an AirSail packs down to the size of a sleeping pad. My WindPaddle folds down to a flat, 40-cm disc which some might find more awkward to pack on the trail, though I can’t say I did.
Alone, out on the water in windy conditions it would be tricky to deploy the AirSail. Assuming a skeg is fitted and the sail’s already clipped to the bow via a couple of mini-karabiners, you need to reach forward to unstrap the sail (hard in my 2K with a deck zipped up), unfurl to unkink it, plug in your mini pump and give it two dozen jabs to fully inflate – all without being blown around or losing your paddle. Were I doing this, I’d add a short ‘haul-line’ to the base of the sail so I could pull it back into arm’s reach. I chose to do all this by the shore in the lee of a headland. I started with my electric Flex Pump but for some reason it didn’t do much, considering the small volume. It was the same next time, so in future I’d go straight to mini hand pump which needs around 25 pumps.
From my experiences with the WindPaddle on kayak and packraft, I was a bit nervous the even bigger AirSail might be a handful. I needn’t have worried. Funnelled down the steep-sided Loch Hourn, winds gusted to 15mph, but the Rebel 2K with the AirSail was easy to manage in a way the WindPaddle 2 never has been so far on other boats. And this was with an under-inflated air ring. There was no violent see-sawing from side to side, little need for constant correction and, considering I was out in the middle of a windy sea loch, I felt safe and in control. My paddle was leashed to the mooring line but also slipped securely under and out of the way underneath the DeckPack.
This plain sailing was partly because the 2K could not break into a gallop. I doubt I was going much faster than paddling, but it sure was effortless and relaxing. Had there been a signal I could have easily updated my profile on Insta or checked the forecast. The 4km which had taken me an increasingly slower 80 minutes, was covered downwind in an effortless 60 minutes I also think the low centre of gravity of the loaded 2K helped it sit on the water and – crucially – the lack of slack between the sail and boat fittings kept the under-inflated sail from swaying. I must try this taught rigging on the kayak next time; that could have been my problem all along.
With the line clipped to a karabiner on my pfd or behind my head, most of the time I was sailing hands free which made filming easy. The line was just the right length, too. Only tiny tweaks were needed to keep the boat on line, due to the back getting blown round. This was most probably down to the small skeg, but was all much less frantic than my recent sail with the WP on the Seawave. I suppose with free hands, the paddle could have been used as rudder to maintain a heading, but I didn’t think to try that as I was going vaguely in the right direction. Something to try next time. One problem with the AirSail: because the bow on a 2K is high compared to a kayak, the window is too high to see what’s ahead; it’s the lower third which needs a clear PVC pane. Most of the time it doesn’t matter; you can lower the sail or look around. In fact, it would be great if the whole thing was made of clear film, but weight, rolled volume or strength may not add up.
With the line out of your hands it’s easy to try and add a bit of speed by paddling as well, but at best this might add a tiny bit of speed and will help keep you warm. You do notice that not paddling can chill you. Once you’ve had a good look around, after being used to having to paddle every hard-won metre, sailing slowly might even be said to be a little boring unless the winds are strong,. But on a long day on a multi-day tour, you’ll welcome the break when you get a chance, as we did on Knoydart.
As you can see, a couple of weeks later I travelled with a mate in an MRS Nomad S1 using the same Anfibio AirSail, with me WindPaddling in my 2K. The longer Nomad is a bit faster than my 2K, and with the AirSail was quite a lot faster, maybe 15%, especially in strong winds. That meant that the Nomad had to stop to wait for me to catch up, which also proved that the AirSail could be pulled back and tucked out of the way under the knees. The added space up front on the Nomad makes this easier than in a regular packraft, but requires not using a deck, unless some sort of cross-strap arrangement is set up to hold the sail down.
Sailing in squalls of up to 25mph took quite a lot of concentration but never felt unsafe. The Nomad was reaching 5mph (8mph) but remained stable and controllable (as did my slower 2K with the WP sail). With both types of sail, this was sailing at its best: satisfying, safe but exciting too The problem with sailing is you don’t generate any heat. We were already wet from a long walk before we got on the water, and neither of our hiking cags were up to it. After an hour or so of hanging on in torrential squalls, and with another two hours to the end of the loch, my mate in the undecked Nomad had to go ashore to drain his boat by which time both of us were chilled. We’d both tried paddle-sailing to warm up (and me, to catch up), but were too far gone to make a difference in the conditions that day. If you plan to paddle and sail an undecked packraft in all conditions, get a dry suit and maybe a bilge pump.
Having used the AirSail and paddled alongside one, I still think I’d choose the cheaper, same weight/ø, batten-rimmed PackSail. For me the value in being able to stow or release a sail in a few seconds is not offset by the slight awkwardness of needing to stash a 40-cm disc. But it’s nice to have the choice.
In a line Light and compact single hoop tent suited to packrafting; just don’t expect a palace.
Cost £330 ‘Grade B’ direct from Terra Nova (normally £500).
Weight As delivered in the bag: 1.26kg
Where used A few nights around Knoydart, Scotland.
As light and compact and you’ll get, for the money Long enough inside, once you lie down Good venting options Quick pitching, once you get the knack As boring greens go, it’s not a bad hue
Smaller than claimed in nearly all dimensions Way too small for two adults, despite ‘2P’ claims The fly door zip always snags Toggling the tent door up is awkward and unreliable Afterthought lace-on rain cover Basic (but light) bent-wire pegs Fly only rated to 1200mm Despite vents and an open door, it can be wringing wet with condensation
What They Say The [Terra Nova] Laser Compact 2 is the small pack size version of the classic two-person tent, the Laser Competition 2, that offers a great mix of being super-low weight with additional comfort. With all of the benefits and features you would expect from a 2-person lightweight tent partnered with a compact pack size of only 30cm long.
Review I talked myself into a new tent for a Knoydart trip; something with less weight and less uncompressed bulk, but still with UK-weather friendly all-in-one pitching. At a claimed weight of 1.23 kilos (2lb 11oz), the Laser Compact 2 is over half the weight of my long-discontinued, five-year-old Vaude Odyssee. There was nothing wrong with the Odyssee apart from perceived bulk and actual weight. The space inside was great and the stand-alone stability was handy. To save bulk, one time I packrafted in France with just the outer, but with Scottish summers midge-proof inner are as vital as a rain-proof cover. The Laser Compact 2 is like the older Laser Competition model, but the main poles breaks now down to just 30cm. TN also do an All Season version with additional guys and a 30D/5000mm head flysheet at £550 and 1.8kg. And under the budget Wild Country label, they do a similar looking Zephyros 2 for just £210 and 1.85kg. So weight-wise the Laser hits the sweet spot. Other tents I considered were the MSR Hubba, as used by Barry on the Wye in April, the similar Big Agnes Copper Dome (both around £450). Tarp Tent’s Double Rainbow was another one I looked at before bouncing off on a Dyneema (Cuben fibre) trajectory. Once I realised this research could take some time, seeing the little-used Laser at a third off direct from Terra Nova put me out of my misery and I took a chance of something different. It helped that after more tan five years and 10,000km, round-Britain walker Quintin Lake still rated his.
Garden pitch: first impressions Even without watching the vid below, first time pitching was not too confounding: thread the main hoop; fit the short end-poles and guy them out, then peg the four corners. My old Exped footprint (200g) slipped underneath. (I didn’t bother with the ‘rain cover’ till later). Apart from a bit of grass inside, the tent appeared as new.
At 10g each, the ten supplied pegs are light, but are just just bent alloy wire which date back to the 1970s. I left them in the box and staked out with my old MSR Groundhogs at an extra 4g a shot. Peering inside, I was prepared to be a little disappointed with the Lazer, and so I was. As expected, it looked pokier and less welcoming than the Odyssee, and once measured (twice, over two days) proved to be substantially smaller than stated, most annoyingly in headroom of just 86cm. I’m sure glad I didn’t pay 500 quid to find that out.
On the bright side, at 220cm the sleeping length is fully usable because the inner’s ends are upright, not sloping, (so no damp sleeping bag foot). Like my old Hilliberg, with few poles to latch on to, the inner isn’t especially taught, adding to the cramped feel, but better pitching and tensioning improved this. The inner mesh door zips right back down to one corner where there’s a small mesh pocket to stuff it into. With the main fly porch entry at the other end, this only pocket would be at your feet. Two people my size in here would be unbearable, but as a solo tent it’s OK. At this weight, compromises are to be expected. The Laser comes with an 80-g pole seam rain cover which you thread on with bits of string. It’s there to stop heavy rain seeping through the over-arching seam, but feels like a design afterthought. Once you fit it you can leave it there until it comes undone, then I left it off. It looked like mine had never been fitted and was missing a cord lock to cinch it up snugly. Some have reported the attachment strings coming away from the rain cover; others say the cover isn’t needed unless it really pours. Terra Nova now recommend sealing the seam. Why not just design a waterproof flysheet?
Compared to my 3 cross-pole Vaude, the single-pole Laser may get pushed about in the wind. Another reason to leave the rain cover fitted is that it incorporates additional guys to help stabilise the tent. The guy lines on mine looked too short to provide good triangulation, but I’ll give them a go when the time comes. With the rain cover laced and cinched, and the seams underneath sealed (more below), the Laser ought to be up for some rain and wind.
This after-purchase seam sealing to make a tent fully waterproof seems an odd practice, but for years many expensive American-branded tents required this. MSR even have a how-to video. Imagine; you pay hundreds for a bomber tent, then you’re expected to finish the job of making it an effective shelter! Seam sealing is actually as easy as painting and it’s satisfying to start the tent-bonding process by enhancing impermeability. You can buy 28g tubes of tent seam seal for £8 or, if you have some clear bathroom sealant and mineral/white spirit under the kitchen sink, that’ll work mixed 1:1 (add more spirit for a runnier mix). It takes a good few hours if not a day to dry.
Camping on Knoydart Considering it’s mostly wilderness, finding ten square feet of flat, smooth terrain fit for camping can be a struggle in Knoydart. Ironically I spent three nights in unexpected campsites where the roomy pitches and nearby kitchen buildings made the whole business of cooking so much easier. Morning and evening midges made lounging around outside irksome; this was the first time I’ve used a midge net in Scotland, but I’ve not come here in July for that very reason since I was a teenager.
In fact the compact inner was not noticeably frustrating, and I realise getting out without snagging the fly is easier with side-entry tents like this. Condensation could be as bad or as negligible as any other similar tent. The end vents were never closed and so was the fly door, where possible. Three nights the fly was soaking inside and out, and two nights all was nearly dry. But with the second door and easy to lift corners, wiping it all down prior to packing was easy to do well, especially using a cellulose sponge wipe (right). I’ll keep one with the tent in future. The sil-nylon fly material is very slippery; it’s even hard to shove it all back into the stuff sack.
One persistent issue I had which slowed down pitching was locating the fabric slot sleeves for the short pole at each end of the tent. It’s all a mass of green and black on black. I didn’t even spot the tiny sleeve at all first time round and put the pole in wrong. I’ve since added a bit of fluo tape to help make that easier while the rain lashes, the wind howls or the midges torment. Others, who’ve been to SpecSavers, complain that toggling the door up out of the way to the inner is awkward and it comes adrift. I agree and one reviewer recommended simply using a tent peg; other TN tents now use mini-magnets for the same job. For the moment I’ll use a small bulldog clip.
All in all, I ended up with a begrudging affection for my Laser 2 because it packs down so darn small. I’ve yet to experience heavy winds or rain, or spend a rainy day tent-bound, which may change my view, but where weight and bulk count – as they do with packrafting as opposed to kayak camping – the Lazer ticks the boxes for the moment.
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.
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 I the sides about right. Before I would just pump until the side PRVs purge. 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.
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.
In a line Good-looking, roomy and high-pressure package that’s as wide as a packraft but turns like a tanker.
What They Say The innovative  Moki II two-person inflatable kayak offers an option removable spraydeck and sprayskirt. Giving you even more paddling options, seamlessly convert from a one-person to a two-person boat by simply adjusting the seats. Weighing 53lbs, the Moki II features a 2 person spraydeck removable spraydeck and 2 Alpine Lake Sprayskirts, high pressure rigid drop-stitch floor, user friendly push-push valves, 9” removable tracking fin and packs down seamlessly to fit into the included full-size premium carry bag. It’s ideal for flat open waters, touring, and ocean paddling.
The 2021 model no longer includes the spray deck, but you might get two 4-part paddles
Out of the bag
Your ‘premium carry bag’ is a giant roller suitcase with a rather optimistic backpack harness which, on this unused boat, the pulling handle had already ripped away. The bag weighs 27 kilos with everything in it and once you start unpacking, stuff just keeps coming out: hull, floor, pump, footrest, tandem deck, spray skirts and coaming rods, a skeg and a repair kit.
Based purely on online photos and specs, my Moki II preview a few months ago brought up anomalies with the boat width. Getting an actual boat allowed some of these specs to be verified in red, above. Some are out by 50% and the claimed packed size of 29″ x 14″ x 13″ is more like twice as wide. You can tell from the rambling, repetitive ‘What they Say…’ quoted from the same page above that it was hastily put together. That’s a shame as from first appearances, this cannot be said of the boat itself. And from the exceedingly low psi figures quoted, it’s not like it’s the usual ‘tactical exaggeration’ to make the Moki II look better than it is. You’d hope someone at Kokopelli might find ten minutes to correct the online specs.
Enough moaning: time to man the pump and straight away I really liked the compact black Nano barrel pump. The feet clip down, T-handle extensions screw on, there’s a lever to switch from two-way pumping (up and down) to down-stroke-only (less effort), plus a pressure gauge on top and a suction port for full deflating. It’s one of the best compact IK pumps I’ve seen. Kokopelli don’t list it but if you can find it online (the Aqua Marina looks similar), get one. I was easily able to inflate the DS floor to 8-10psi on the up-and-down setting but later, topping up on the water with the pump on the boat’s DS floor, found one-way easier to do one-handed. Being a small volume pump of about a litre, the 12-inch side tubes took at least 100 strokes to reach 3-4psi. The inflated boat now looks pretty massive so the 270-kilo payload rating does not look like a mistake or exaggeration.
It was here I realised I should have RTFM, but then again I like to follow my intuition and see if it pans out. I had to deflate the sides to allow the pumped-up floor to centre correctly. Unlike with Full DS IKs, the Moki’s round side tubes hold the floor firmly in place without the need for any clamps or tabs.
The top/inner parts of the hull (mostly yellow, grey at the back) are woven 840-D nylon, possibly backed with a PU coating for waterproofness, and certainly with a water repelling DWR coating on the outside. This stops the fabric ‘wetting-out’, although from jackets and tents I know DWR needs reproofing and curing with an iron once in a while. Without it, the nylon will soak up water and take forever to dry. Full PVC (or rubber) tubes are better in this respect, but nylon makes it easy/cheap to sew on fittings like the velcro paddle-holders, footrest daisy chains, carry handles and D-rings for the seat backs, plus short access zips at each end to get to the PVC bladders, if needed.
The yellow sides are stitched to the grey PVC underside of the tubes and the PVC floor sheet is heat welded to the tubes: all very neatly done. This is the nifty thing with PVC: surgically clean heat welds rather than the laborious, messy and vapourous glue needed by rubber-based IKs.
Apart from the crinkles at the bow and stern (which have thin plastic shells inside to help tidy the form), it’s all a very neat job. On the underside is the slot-in mount for the tracking fin (skeg), a stern drain plug accessible via a zip from the inside, and up front a shallow keel strip: more about that later.
Next are seats and footrests – no loose item escapes ‘Kokopelli’ branding. The firm EVA foam seats are common on many IKs these days, but stiffness is best suited to a backrest, not a 4cm-thick seat base which, sat on a firm DS floor may be too low for a an efficient paddling stance and too thin for all-day comfort. It’s something easily fixed with an inflatable cushion like a packraft seat base. More seat ideas here. The generous width of the Moki II means raising the seat is unlikely to affect stability. The seat bases adhere to velcro strips sewn then welded to the DS floor. It’s an easy way of doing it while the velcro lasts. I found when sat in the front I was right at the end of the velcro; another foot would be handy, then you could fit a third kiddy seat in there. A non weight-bearing backrest is a better use of stiff foam. They’re tensioned from the front and rear to stay upright; a floppy seat base is very annoying when getting in is awkward. Wide adjustment helps you fine tune them and on the back you get a handy zipped pocket and bottle holder.
The footrests are thick foam tubes commonly found on cheaper Sevys the like, and are threaded with a strap which clips to daisy chain loops stitched to the hull sides. Unused loops could also be used for securing gear because mounting anything under the bungie laces at either end of the boat is not such a good idea for forward visibility, accessibility, security, dryness and windage. These bungies are more useful as a quick way to stash a paddle.
Set up like this, the boat is a brawny 39 inches wide (99cm) but adding the zip-on deck and coaming rods pulls the boat in to 38 inches. Including a deck is a nice touch, so is the option to use it. On IKs I find them rather less useful than they seem: they make access, loading and getting in and out more awkward and if you’re worried about getting wet, paddling may not be for you. Once you pull on the also-included spray skirts you will be snugly encased in your Moki and ready to hit the rapids or surf. I’d have sooner had these items offered as optional extras, as most others do, and seen a cheaper boat.
On the Water
Initially the Moki 2 looked huge, but it’s actually a foot shorter than my Seawave and so didn’t look too out of place on the car roof. We set off in search of a accessible fresh water and after a while found a trio of co-joined lochs off the B8073 feeding the steam which soon drops into Tobermory.
Topping up the Moki II on the water (all inflatables benefit from a top-up once put into cold water), the barrel pump stood on the firm floor and with one handed, one-way down-pumping, it was easy to attain the 4/10psi (0.27/0.69 bar) maximum pressures. This is Scotland in late August so there was no risk of the blazing sun bursting out and ripping the boat asunder.
I set off without the tracking in and, as expected, found my front load on the keel strip make for tricky tracking. The deck was easy to manage but to me is a nuisance. It zipped off in seconds and got left on the bank.
It may be a metre-wide bladder boat but it’s still a kayak and so feels great once gliding out over the water. The Moki II needs a bit more propulsion to what I’m used to, but the mattress-like stability will be reassuring to beginners.
It was only flat water so the apparent stiffness from the DS floor and high-psi side tubes didn’t feel any greater than my 2.5/4psi Seawave. Unless you’re braced properly to the boat (the problem with just about all IKs) there is little actual benefit to be had in paddling efficiency, just the longer glide. In rougher water you imagine it might come down with a slap as it drops into wave troughs. According to the GPS the two of us could sustain about 5-6kph which is pretty good, but an all-out burst only recorded 8.4kph (5.2mph) when I’ve got 10kph alone in similarly long but less-wide IKs.
It soon became apparent that the Moki II tracks rather too well; something I’ve heard of other DS IKs with frontal keels or fins. Turning it even a few degrees was a huge effort. In the end we had to resort to digging the paddles in and drawing them forward to force the boat round. The problem with this technique is it kills momentum, though it’s possible you’d get used to working the boat in a less drastic manner.
You also notice that two-up there’s not much room for gear because the side tubes are so fat. The last foot or two at each end can’t be used much – again a common story with big-tubed IKs, if not any pointy ended kayak.
We scooted through the reeds which whined like sirens against the PVC hull, then passed under a rickety wooden bridge to the middle loch. This led to another reedy strait into the last loch above Tobermory and a view towards what was probably the 528-m flat cone of Ben Hiant over on Ardnamurchan. The sun came out, the sun went in and eventually the little camera’s batteries died after too much videoing.
Next evening promised to be sunny too, but it wasn’t. I wanted to explore the slim sea loch at Dervaig and had timed our put-in at least an hour after low tide so if the narrows leading out to sea turned into the Falls of Lora we’d get swept back in, not out into the Minch. The 10-minute portage over the tidal slime raised some grumbles from the crew not used to lugging 25-odd kilos of packboat across the mire.
I managed to wade through some shoe-sucking, shin-deep sludge to reach enough water to float on without the 9-inch fin, then paddled over to somewhere deeper where the crew could hop in and the fin get fitted. First thing I’d do with this boat is cut that fin down. Another issue I noted is that the woven yellow hull fabric may shed water readily, but picks up any smeared muck rather well. More cleaning before returning to the rental place tomorrow. We headed out towards the narrows in the grim, grey light, feeling altogether uninspired.
‘The tide is going out, we’re all going to drown!’ ‘It’s just the breeze over the surface. There are no times for Dervaig but Calgary to the south and Tobermory to the north were at low water nearly 2 hours ago.’ ‘I’m telling you, the tide is going out!’
As we neared the malignant, 80-metre wide cleft on Loch An Chumhainn, ominous whorls bubbled up from the silty abyss and on entering the chasm the flow was clearly on the ebb.
‘I told you it was going out. Idiot!’
‘You watch, any minute now it’ll miraculously reverse, like it did on the Adur last week.’
I know tide times are only predictions but this was indeed odd and yes, I checked against BST/GMT and checked again I’d not misread 16.46 as 6.46pm. The tide should have been coming in for 90 minutes. I’d expect a constricted sea loch like this one to be a slow to fill and fast to drain, like Chichester Harbour in Hampshire. But that is a massive pool; Loch Chum is tiny.
We were now being swept down the Narrows of Chum at a slow walking pace and it was time to make a decision. Carrying on would take us two clicks to a jetty at Criog which we’d recce’d that morning on the bikes. That would be a long walk back to the car, so we dug in for a handbrake turn and escaped from the imminent maelstrom at a reassuring clip. I recently read a review of a Sea Eagle with a frontal keel lobe which the owner said made the boat very hard to control against a current (as you’d expect). With the Moki II we had no such issues. There is not so much to explore in the inner bay but the tide would now be even lower with even more seaweed-draped, ankle-twisting shite to traipse over before getting onto to the ankle-twisting, midge-infested peat bogs above. Wading in after the fin started grounding, in the end we found an easier take-out, followed by a 10-minute portage back to the car. I need to ask a Dervagian about these tides.
That evening I rinsed and washed the boat, but with little chance of it drying off any day soon. The removable floor made the task easier and the muddy smudges on the yellow fabric lightened up with a bit of brushing. I couldn’t be bothered to check if the inner bladders were dry as there was little I could so about it.
Summary The Moki II isn’t an IK I’d choose to own: too wide, too bulky and heavy, probably too slow solo, too bladdered and too pricey with the unneeded accessories. But it’s roomy, stiff, yellow and like any IK, is fun to paddle.
Darn. I put my Seawave on eBay to ‘test the water’ and it went within hours. Still, it’s an excuse to show some of my favourite Seawave shots in five seasons of fantastic paddling. What a great boat that was. So great that, with nothing better available at the time, in October 2020 I bought another Seawave (left).