Monday was the calm after the first big storm of autumn, a sunny day to packraft 8 miles along the Medway from Tonbridge to Yalding station. With recent heavy rains, I was expecting a noticeable current on the usually placid Medway whose flow is constrained by numerous locks.
I’ve been caught out on this river before by massively dropped water levels (usually during winter maintenance), so I remembered to check the river status on the website. Oddly it claimed all was normal, but the Medway was clearly up to the grass and I wondered if the five canoe chutes downstream may be closed. Oh well, each lock or weir has a handy low-level jetty so a little portaging will be some extra exercise. It wasn’t till I got back home that I saw they’d issued the warning you see above left.
The noise of the thundering weir at Tonbridge Town Lock put me on edge, and as I set off across the carpet of white scum the over-loaded weir had generated, I was mindful of the latest in a series of revelations about how much raw sewage gets dumped directly into English rivers and coasts by water treatment plants (it’s said fines are cheaper than treatment). A week ago it’s said public outrage had forced the government to reverse a vote against regulating raw sewage dumping. In fact, it seems intensive livestock production is a greater threat to healthy, biodiverse rivers. A few months ago activist George Monbiot exposed how the Wye (which we packrafted last spring) was choking to death from the effluent produced by cattle, pig and chicken installations in its catchment area. The brown, flood-charged brown waters swirling around me now took on a different meaning.
The Medway was moving like a proper unfettered river at a pace I’d not seen before. Small eddies, boils and whorls spun up to the surface at each bend or constriction, and occasionally the boat got pushed or pulled about.
On arriving at Eldridge Lock, the very shallow-gradient chute had burst its banks, so to speak, and was twice as wide as normal, with the metal edges of the channel hidden in the brown murk. A little taken aback, I was too focussed on keeping the packraft in line to take a photo. Once down, the powerful eddies belting out of the churning weir right alongside the chute took a bit of digging to get across, before carrying on downstream through the frothed-up scum. As a longer boat could have got crossed up and flipped over in the unconstrained chute, you’d think think they’d have closed it.
Downriver, the gate was closed on the Porters Lock chute, which appeared the same as normal and perfectly straightforward. With the base of the chute separated from the adjacent weir’s turbulence, I slipped under the bar, as I’ve done before, and shot the chute with ease.
The next two chutes at the similar East- and Oak Weir Locks were also unflooded if flowing briskly within their sides. But the gates were too low to slip under, so I rolled out of the boat and carried it down to the jetty.
With the strong current and a helpful back breeze, I got to the final chute at Sluice Weir in what felt like no time. Branches and other debris obscured the entry point which, even at the best of times, is difficult to nose up to to check the chute was clear without getting sucked in.
Because you never know what may be jammed half way down the chute until you tip over the edge, I decided to cross over to the jetty on the other bank and have a look before hurtling down.
Just as well as, although the chute was clear and running shallow within it sides, the thundering weir alongside span a back eddy clockwise right into the placid drop zone. The packraft would have almost certainly skimmed over to the flow, but as I was right by the put-back-in jetty, the ‘dare’ didn’t seem worth the risk. Messing about near weirs can end badly. Maybe it was a matter of timing on the day, but it seemed ironic that two potentially dodgy chutes were open, while the three straightforward ones were closed.
All that remained was the last mile or two to Yalding Weir and on down the short, deadwater canal to Hampton Lock for a wipe, roll up and the 14:40 back to London.
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). Used with Sea to Summit 60L dryback; 316g. Usable total 1840g.
Where used Four-day packrafting recce on Knoydart, covering about 50 miles, and another 3 days packrafting (about 25 land miles).
The Flex PR was supplied free for testing and review by Six Moons and Anfibio
Carries heavy loads as well as a proper rucksack Includes no less than nine pockets Four-strap adjustable hip belt
As expensive as some top-of-the-range ultralight backpacks Loads of black buckles with very long black straps on the black back panel Fixed shoulder-strap mini-pockets a bit small and too high Wide outer panel means too much slack to cinch down the side straps fully
What They Say The [new for 2021] Flex PR is a multi-use pack specifically designed for pack rafters. The Flex PR is a 50L dry bag with a removable suspension system designed for carry heavy loads in comfort. Whether you are portaging on a canoe trip, hunting in the backcountry, or doing trail maintenance, the Flex PR will keep your gear dry, your accessories handy, and your back comfortable.
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.
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.
With the exception of a few rivers … (Lugg … Severn … and the Wye), there is no confirmed Public Right of Navigation on other physically navigable, non-tidal rivers in Wales. Canoe Wales
The Wye is the only river in (mostly) England where you can paddle for days and over a hundred miles, and not need to dodge a weir, portage a lock or confront a scowling angler. Even the few towns are historically intriguing. The whole valley is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (‘AONB’), or ‘countryside’ as some call it. You don’t even need a BC licence: from Hay-on-Wye the river uniquely has PRN (‘public right of navigation’; like a footpath’s ‘right of way’). There is no other river like it in England so I don’t know what’s taken me so long, other than the prospect of another staycated summer makes you reappraise your own backyard.
I invited myself to join Barry who lives near the river and who’d just bought himself an MRS Nomad. He’d done Hay to Hereford once and pronounced it a bit tame, so proposed Hoarwithy (Mile 51 from Hay) to the tidal finale at Chepstow (Mile 107 according to the table, left, or Mile 100 in the same sourced EA pdf guide.
Fifty-odd miles: two long days and a bit, we estimated (wrongly). Our riverine transit had to be timed to meet HW at Brockweir, 7 miles from Chepstow’s sole jetty, otherwise we’d be stranded by tidal sludge or swept out into the Severn and end up in Tristan da Cunha.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a tidal profile like Chepstow: on a Spring tide the water can rise nearly 9 metres is less than two and a half hours, then take over ten hours to drop. This is because your Atlantic Ocean is piling into the western edge of the European land mass, including the funnel of the Severn (with Wye) estuary, creating among the highest tides on the whole darn planet. The game of ‘grab the jetty’ would make an exciting conclusion to our trip, especially as we’d have to be on the water before dawn to time it right. The guidebook warns: continue beyond Chepstow at your peril. Most canoeists dodge the tide timing game and take out at Brockweir.
I thought I’d do the Wye in my Seawave, but then decided all that space and speed and glide would be too easy. Anfibio did me a deal on the Rebel 2K I tested last autumn (they’ll readily drop the tax to the UK so you don’t pay it twice). The three-night paddle would be a good test of their internal storage system for packraft touring. And the wet bits in between, a good test of the boat. My review of the 2K here. Short version: with a good, rain-fed current, the Wye is a fabulous, easy and scenic paddle. We saw just a couple of Gumo Safaris on a bank, and some club rowers out of Ross. Plus loads of parked up canoes waiting for the rental season. I hope to do it again in the summer. With no lifts, I’d try to leave Hereford early for Symmonds Yat free camp (see below). It’s 43 miles but in the conditions we had could be an easy ten hours. And if you don’t make it, no bother. Then it’s five hours paddling to Brockweir where an early afternoon HW could bring you two hours into Chepstow for a train home.
I had a chance to take a prototype Anfibio Rebel 2K out for a short paddle the other day. A couple of hours trapped between weeds and weirs on an obscure urban waterway meant I wasn’t able to properly try out the test boat’s many features. Just another packraft you might say. There’s now a booming cottage industry of packraft makers, each seeking ways to make their very similar looking boats stand apart from the competition. How is the Rebel 2K different?
The Rebel 2K derives its name for a claimed weigh of under 2000 grams without the optional TubeBags: Anfibio’s answer to in-hull storage (more below). The boat we used was not standard and with the seat removed weighed about 15% more (as listed above. * Anfibio reweighed the same seatless boat and got 2450g). Saying the Rebel ‘… hardly takes up more space than a 2L drinking bottle..’ is a bit wide of the mark. That’s broadly true of the Nano RTC I tried the other week but, like most similar-sized TPU packrafts, the Rebel (210D hull and seat, 420D floor; 75D deck) rolls up to about the size of a compact 2-man tent. I like the ‘olive & lemon’ colour scheme and the whole boat looked put together as well as any packraft I’ve tried over the years. They’re really can’t be that much to it!
Besides the fitted TubeBags, the boat we tried had handy grab lines front and rear and a second patch for a frontal skeg. It may also have had patches for thigh straps inside. The front and rear tracking fins are a novel idea I’ve only seen on some drop-stitch IKs. Neither were fitted on our short spin. They weren’t needed and as you can see, they’d have probably stopped us in the thick weeds. I know that my blue, 60-cm longer Nomad certainly never needed the rear skeg (tracking fin) the way many IKs do.
Sure, like all packrafts the Rebel waggles its bow left and right in response to paddle input, but it still goes where you point it, gales notwithstanding. It would have been interesting to see how the frontal skeg affected this yawing. Assuming it eliminated it, would it have made the Rebel easier to paddle faster but at the same time harder to turn? That could be useful for longer crossings where a packraft’s relative lack of speed can hold you back. One for next time.
We used the Anfibio hand pump (left) to firm up the boats but had to back off the Rebel a bit to get the curved deck zip to close. With that done the 2K was taught and crease-free.
Normally I’m not a fan of decks, certainly not fixed ones, but on a chilly October day both I and Bob were glad to be tucked in and protected from splashes. One thing I’d like to see added is a tab on the right tube to secure the unzipped deck. [Edit: I’ve since been told it is a standard feature on production models.]
The TubeBags are also an interesting concept. Even before hearing of early failures, I was never won-over by Alpacka’s Cargo Fly (hull zip) innovation of 2014. Benefits in visibility and stability by storing luggage in the hull tubes were genuine, but is it a good idea to meddle with hull integrity in a single-chamber inflatable? The fewer failure points the better and who hasn’t had a zip jam or break? Now these airtight zips are commonly seen options on all packrafts and must be more reliable, but the zipper will always need care to seal well, especially in this era of pump- assisted hull pressures.
Like a hand pocket in your jeans, the TubeBags are pouches fitted into the side tubes and accessible from the cockpit via IPX7 zippers (left). But the 70-litre pockets must be packed and zipped up before the boat is inflated. Then once inflated and on the water they cannot be opened because the hull pressure behind them will cause the contents to disgorge until the pouch itself spews itself inside-out, leaving a slight drop in hull pressure. So if they’re not a handy ‘glove box’ what’s the point? Well, for starters once the boat is inflated the surrounding hull pressure keeps the bags’ contents pressed in place a bit like reverse vacuum sealing. Leave the pouch zip a little open as you inflate the hull and the contents will all be squished firmly in place. Then close up the zip up. Plus separate chambers add some back-up emergency buoyancy, and a faulty zip need not be critical to hull pressure. As with all in-hull storage, TubeBags won’t be that handy for day paddles but are a great way of storing stuff securely and out of the way on over-nighters. Once at camp you loosen the main valve to drop hull pressure a bit (as below). Then you can access your TubeBags. This will only work well when you’re on the water all day without interruptions. Portages with a loaded boat might be awkward compared to unclipping your bag from the bow and the rhythm of classic packrafting: walking then paddling then walking then paddling, might be slowed down a bit. But as long as you have a drybag or pack big enough, you can always bung it on the bow. You don’t have to use the TubeBags.
Other than that, the Rebel is fairly normal packraft. I found plenty of room my legs and hopping in off my kayak-like Nomad (my last paddle in it, as it turned out), it sure was nice to have something solid to lean on. As it came, with deck, tube storage and two fins, the Rebel would cost around €1000 and looks like a great do-it-all expedition boat. I can see it being ideal on a big French river where weirs are easily bypassed by shooting down glissieres (chutes). The cached baggage will be out of sight when leaving the boat moored and popping into a village for a pan au choc and visibility and stability in rapids will be improved.