Tested: Six Moon Designs Flex PR review

See also:
NRS Paragon
Tatonka Lastenkraxe

Updated August 2021

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).

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 easily tucked in under the pack 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

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.

Gumotex Seawave: Owners’ Tips & Tricks

Seawave Index Page

A couple of fellow Seawave owners got in touch recently to share their ideas and modifications.

Jules showed me his very nicely milled MYO rudder similar to my Mk2 design of 2016 made from HDPE chopping board. I doubt the alloy one is any heavier. He also uses a deck, but replaced the four bulky welded alloy bars fit for a Zeppelin with a much lighter arrangement in heat-bent plastic pipe with alloy end slots.
Were I to get a deck again (solo decks only go for around £145 – over half price of the full kit), I’d definitely make something similar, maybe with tent poles or even thick garden hose. It would pack much more compactly.
Jules adds:
I’ve made a very efficient rudder for the Seawave using a tube that pivots on tape as a pedal bar or locks off to form footpegs, with cables running in PTFE tubes under the velcro for the deck. It means no exposed lines and works very smoothly.

I take that to mean a hard drainpipe tube (like I use) which pivots from the centre like handlebars with the rudder lines attached at each end. In an IK that’s a much neater way of doing it than any pedal system. Tucking the lines under the deck velcro in tube sleeves is also much better. It’s about time that deck velcro did something useful! The photos below may help clarify Jules’ system

Meanwhile Gavin adds:
On my most recent trip I experimented with looping a couple of straps across from one side to the other around some of the attachment points, one strap near the bow and one near the stern. I then tightened the straps so that it pulled the side tubes closer together. It makes the kayak narrower, gives a slightly more pronounced keel from the floor being squeezed together, and seems to stiffen the kayak along its length as well as across its width. Obviously it takes away some stability, but I can live with that as a trade-off for being more efficient

I usually paddle single-blade and sit on a bench seat held under the velcro on the side tubes. The Seawave is faster than the Palava paddled like that, although it lacks the width and stability… I’ve got a rudder steered with a tiller held in place by friction under the fixings for the deck support bars, so I can do straight strokes instead of having to J-stroke to keep a straight course. 

I like the tiller idea too, though of course it works best for canoeing. Anything to dodge the clutter of foot pedals and rigging, though Jules’ idea improves on that.

Thinking over the mods and ideas I applied to my original Seawave over the years, on Seawave 2 I believe the best or most essential ones are:

Replacing the stock footrest cushion with a solid drainpipe footrest tube. Proper support, lighter.
Replacing the stock inflatable seat/s with with a stiffened foam backrest and light packraft seat base. Better support, lighter, less bulky.
Adding a Gorilla tape strake under the bow; simpler than gluing on a strip of hypalon.
My skeg-wheel trolley is great too.

Other old Seawave mods I tried am not in a hurry to reimplement.
Rudder: too much faff for the fair-weather day paddling I do, but were I doing an overnighter at sea (with or without sailing) where you can’t always pick you winds, a rudder would be a very handy and I’d apply Jules’ ideas, starting with a 20-quid rudder mechanism off ebay.

PRVs in the sidetubes: worked great but as explained here, after a recent paddle in Seawave 2, where I paddle heat is not a big problem and the extra care required and time saved is minimal. I still run 0.32 bar or so, not 0.25 but better to make use of an accurate pressure gauge.



Midsummer Sail

Seawave Main Page
Seawave rudder Mk 3

It’s Midsummer’s Day up here in the MidSummer Islands, but it’s barely over ten degrees and blowing from the northwest. Now my Seawave PRV saga has been resolved, there’s enough (but not too much) wind to sail the four miles over to Achininver for a visit. It’s the last day of paddleable weather before we pack up and head back south with the geese.

It’s also my first chance to try out my trolley with wrapped-round inner tube tyres. It’s less than a mile down to the beach and the racket of solid plastic wheels is gone. This trolley really is one of my better ideas for the Seawave. It ditches the need for a car for short hops, and elsewhere means you can paddle somewhere and wheel back if there’s a road or decent track.

As it’s chilly and will get splashy on the paddle back, I slip into my Anfibio dry suit. If the sailing goes awry and I fall in, I have an impression of being protected, even if its true insulation effects will be marginal. Best of all, I can dip myself into the brackish loch behind Badentarbet beach for a salt rinse and be dry by the time I wheel home.

My WindPaddle is the 1.2m Adventure II model, big enough to haul the 4.5-m Seawave with me in it. I flip it out and off we go, trying to steer SW for Rubha Dunan point. Only it’s not really working so well. Apart from the usual sail swaying left-right on bigger gusts and flopping back on lulls, whitecaps are rolling in from the right, pushing me onto the Achlochan peninsula. Later I realise this drift is probably because the Seawave’s skeg (no bigger than my hand) is too small to stop the light Seawave drifting across the wind which across the bay may be turning WNW. This is why sail boats need keels and dagger boards. If I had a third hand or a passenger, the paddle could’ve been used as a rudder, but as it was my hands were full managing the sail and trying to take the odd photo. You don’t want to risk losing the paddle. Since then, I’ve made a rudder for the Seawave.

I’m pushed into the rocky shore where the refracted waves and added fetch make things a bit lively, but the ever-stable Seawave is reassuring. So with a quick cross-fold, the sail is stashed between my knees and I paddle on to Rubha Dunan. Once round the corner the sea is smoother but the wind remains so I cruise past the sandstone cliffs towards Badenscallie Beach, an alighting point for Horse Island. Once back out of the lee the waves build up and with the odd gust, the Seawave races on. When you’re not trying to control the sail, it is a marvel to sit back and look round as the water tinkles past the bow.
One thing I did learn a few weeks later while sailing the packraft in similar conditions with a similar sail, was that the side-to-side swaying was largely eliminated because the sail was fixed closely to the bow with no play. On the Seawave, I just hook the sail to the grab line (below left) in the hope of gaining a bit more height for more drive. Next time I’ll pin it closer to the bow and see what happens. I’d expect better control.

It took me an hour-fifteen to cover the four miles to Achininver Beach, at times lazily sailing slower than I could paddle. Interestingly, it took only an extra 15 minutes to hack back non-stop into the wind at 2.4mph, but by the time I got in I was just about pooped. It was a fun excursion, but to make it worthwhile you need more wind than you’d want to paddle back against. A better use of the sail would be going somewhere and not having to crawl back.

Time to head back up the hill, dry out the boat and roll it up for this season in the Summers.

Leaking pressure release valve (PRV; Gumotex)

See also:
PRV maintenance by Marcin

Durness beach

The other day we paddled the Seawave off Durness beach where the surf was bigger than I’m used to. Hitting a breaking wave as we paddled out didn’t help; the swamped boat needed tipping out at the next beach. It was a bit too offshore windy to roam, but it was still a thrill to be paddling on the very top of Britain, just 2175 miles from the North Pole (about the same distance south to the Canaries).
After the paddle I took care to dry, wipe down and roll the boat up on a sand-free rock bench, but lacking a hose back at the house, I had to rinse one bucket at time – not ideal. When I pumped up, the floor soon went flat: sand was in the seal of the floor’s PRV (what’s a PRV). It’s a thing that happens but in nearly 20 years of Gumotexing it’s never happened to me. Today was my day.

Seawave PRV

The design of the valve means that if the boat swamps in the surf, water laden with grit can enter via the six vents and pool in the valve body right above the seal. The next time it purges, sand grains can slip down onto the soft rubber seal surface and stay there, letting air leak out.
Because the chances of this are high, with a leaking floor PRVs are the usual culprit, not the nearby inflation valve with its sealed valve cap, or less still, a puncture. But don’t rule either out (the cleaning procedure for an inflation valve will be the same).

Fixing a PRV
Much of what follows is my take on Polishman Marcin S’s translated post linked above. It’s not how I actually did it, it’s how I would do it next time after quite a lot of trial, error and better ideas or procedures though up along the way.

Before disassembly, first try giving the PRV a darn good blow-through by pumping like billy-o and letting it purge. It will help to prise off the vent cap with a small flat screwdriver so grains blow away, not bounce back in. Pump up and see what happens. Chances are it won’t work.

Next I suggest putting the boat on a slope (to save water and weight) and flood the stern to establish the pace of the leak from the PRV. You will do it again at the end to see if there is any change. By dragging the boat around 180°, you can let the water slosh down to the bow while you remove the PRV at the stern at the high end.

Don’t plug in a manometer to try monitor the leak over a period of time; it cost me a few hours and a disassembly or two before the flooding idea proved my manometer was leaking from the base faster than the PRV. As we know, pressure gauges are plugged in briefly to get a reading, then as quickly removed. To test for a leak, water is best.

You now know for sure the PRV is leaking so will have to remove and clean it. Flicking off the vent cap exposes the valve body’s six splines. Fit your Gumotex valve tool (or eBay clones from £6) and unscrew the PRV. As Marcin says: the plastic one will do; you don’t need the expensive metal one Gumotex also sell. Expect the PRV to be very tight. Marcin pre-lubed his, I didn’t but it undid easily enough. My boat is less than a year old.

It’s easier to start unscrewing the PRV with the boat fully inflated, but separate the two parts of the valve only once fully deflated so there’s less chance of the backing nut inside the hull rolling away out of reach. Same with the loose o-ring on the valve body base; don’t let it drop into the abyss.

With the PRV in hand, you can see how it works: a spring-loaded valve opens upward when pressure from within reaches a pre-set level – on a Seawave supposedly 0.25 bar or 3.5 psi (but it might close as low as 0.20). As pressure drops it seals shut. At this point you might try rinsing under a tap while pushing the valve open, but you’re going to have to disassemble it anyway to check the state of the seal.

Set the o-ring aside and unscrew the 6mm locknut on the valve stem. Press on the sprung valve from the other side to stop it spinning as you unscrew the nut. But before you do this, count the number of threads or take a photo (above), as the position of the nut regulates the purge pressure; the more you screw down the nut the higher the purge pressure. I notice Marcin’s nut on his Solar was much less screwed in than mine (lower purge pressure). (At one point I tried screwing in my nut an extra turn to improve sealing, but it didn’t seem to make much difference; still closing around 0.2. Maybe a few more turns are needed, but of course you don’t want to go too far and compromise the floor.

Left: pliers to undo the nut; magnifying glass and torch to closely inspect the rubber seal. Right: the disassembled PRV. From top left: valve body, o-ring, valve stem with rubber seal, spring, spring cross-washer, 6mm lock nut.

Ooo-er, quite a lot of fine Durness beach on there.

I chose to clean the rubber seal with an ear stick and toluene solvent. (I tried, but decided not to remove the rubber seal from the stem). After carefully wiping off the grains on, around and under the seal, I dipped the whole thing in the toluene bottle cap (not too long as toluene is strong stuff on plastic; it dissolved the orange marker dot). Don’t forget to inspect and wipe the inside of the plastic valve body too.

A lovely, clean PRV seal. Reassemble and carefully screw down the metal nut onto the soft plastic valve stem to where it was – or what you prefer.

Marcin suggests sticking some sponge under the vent cap to catch grains in future. Sounds like a good idea. These are easily removed/rinsed/dried or replaced by flipping off the vent cap.

A quick Hail Mary to Saint Columba and you’re now ready to refit the valve. You shouldn’t need any lube other than a bit of water for things to reassemble smoothly, though I decided to lube the o-ring with some TiZip silicon grease.
I found as you start screwing in by hand it feels like it’s cross threading. It isn’t: the edge of the fabric is getting caught in the thread. Back up and jiggle the valve body and loose fabric around to make sure the body has slotted and centred its flange into the fabric hole.
Pump back up, tighten the PRV down some more, but probably don’t clip on the vent cap just yet as you may be going back to square one, as I did (partly because the fitted manometer was leading me astray).

Now flip the stern back downhill and let the water slosh back over the Seawave’s valves. I found the PRV purged for about a minute, then abruptly stopped with an odd underwater squawk … but carried on leaking slowly. Another removal and check and refit and there’s still a very slow leak – a 2mm bubble every 2-3 seconds, but with the floor now lying in the warm afternoon sunshine, that may be normal purging. I decide it’s as fixed as it can be. A few hours later, all was normal again and we are all much the wiser.

Moral of the story: if you think sand-laden seawater may have pooled in your PRV (most likely from crashing beach surf, not normal, deep-water paddle-splash), back on shore flip the vent cap off and rinse the PRV cavity with fresh water, ideally flipping the boat upside down, so any grains flush out.

Preview: Sea Eagle Fast Track 465

See also:
Hybrid (DS Floor) Inflatable Kayaks
Aquaglide Chelan 155 preview
Tested: Kokopelli Moki II

Sea Eagle’s Fast Track 465 (4.65m) is a high-end PVC IK has been around for several years, one of the earliest ‘hybrid’ IKs combining a removable dropstitch (DS) floor and conventional side tubes. It sits alongside their dumpy, all-tube SE cheapies, more whitewatery Explorers, and the all-DS, fixed-floor Razorlites. They even make a full-DS canoe.
From the side the 465FT is a sleek looking IK with slender 24cm side tubes and the distinctive frontal keel under the bow to keep it on track (and which Gumotex have vaguely copied on the Rush models). Quoted weights vary as usual: from 17kg to a ‘hull weight’ of 20kg on the official US website. For a 15.25-foot PVC IK, 44lbs sounds about right.

Sea Eagles only sell these boats in ready-to-paddle packages which include a paddle/s and a pump as well as the usual wrap-around carry bag and repair kit. They start at $1600 or £1299, though in the US are regularly discounted by nearly 30%. When you read scathing ‘reviews’ of otherwise perfectly good IKs panned for not coming with a pump or paddles (even if that was clear at purchase), you can see why SE do this. Just don’t expect a stiff and light paddle.
Upgrades include seats with proper backrests, as well as better paddles, three-seat combos and even rowing and motor rigs. And one thing that sets SE apart is the phenomenal 180-day return period and three-year warranty – at least for US customers.

Though you’ll struggle to see any evidence of this, the DS floor is removable, so it should be easy to clean and dry the boat. Assuming the floor comes out easily, the hull still has somewhat redundant closeable floor drains. Some outlets claim these to be self-bailing ports. There’s a big difference between the two: the former helps drain inaccessible cavities to help dry the boat without removing the floor; the latter allows waves that pour over the sides to drain away via holes in the floor – ideal for whitewater or surf. Such boats need thick floors to sit you high above the drain ports so the kayak doesn’t have water sloshing across the floor and soaking your butt. The 465 (and similar Aquaglide Chelan) doesn’t have a thick floor, though if you’re light you can give it a go. As it is, any 15-foot IK will be a handful in whitewater or surf conditions.

Oddly, the 2014 manual still online suggests you put the same 3.2 psi (0.2 bar) in the DS floor as the tubeless side tubes. Later models have ‘max 8-10 psi labels at the valves, but there is no way you’ll reach that pressure with the archaic foot pump supplied in some base packages. Then again, the couple in the video below inflated their 465 by foot pump. They represent perhaps the recreational core of SE’s customers: prepared to spend four figures but not that bothered about performance or equipment.

One thing that seems to be missing from online images are footrests. For all but the most undemanding recreational paddlers (which may be most of SE owners) a solid footrest to brace off makes a huge difference to paddling efficiency, while also stopping you sliding down the seat. It can have benefits to stability too, although at 91cm wide (36″) that won’t be a problem on the FT as some might find with the FDS Razorlites. Some D-rings could easily be glued on, but for what you pay, it’s odd to not see them included. They’re not even an accessory part. the drainpipe/strap idea I use on my IKs would work fine here.

What they call Deluxe seats are comfy looking vinyl blobs which sit you 5 inches up and clip to the hull sides (as well as the seat base). But because the backs are inflated (via Boston valves), they’ll have little support to lean on because low-psi inflatable backrests tend to crumple under pressure. Non-inflatable foam-board ‘tall back’ seats (found on most other Chinese-made IKs) are supplied in pricier packages will have better back support, except the base is thinner. A slab of foam underneath will see to that, but without footrests you may not notice the benefits.

The innovative Needleknife frontal keel is inflated via a raft valve accessed by a hole in the front floor. Flat, DS-floored boats need some help here, and it does appear to greatly improve tracking, especially while not adversely affecting turning. If that’s the case you do wonder if a long, low slip-on plastic skeg, or just a keel strake as of the Chelan 155, might not work as well with less assembly complication. Perhaps the Needleknife’s softer profile works better, especially in sidewinds where the keel (and low sides) is said to deflect the boat less. There is a large slip-on skeg which is now more swept back, but could still be a bit on the long side. Luckily it’s easily replaced or shortened, but the boat will need some sort of skeg to track well.

Coastal Packrafting

Rebel 2K main page

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tested: FlextailGear Max USB rechargeable Packraft Pump

See also:
Pumps for IKs and Packrafts

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

Cost £22 on amazon (with discount voucher).

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

Where used Scotland.

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

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

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

Apple, pump with nozzle and my Boston adapter

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

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

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

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

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

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