Tag Archives: boston valve

Tested: Anfibio Alpha XC packraft review

anfibiologoalfa - 21The Packrafting Store in Germany was one of the first Alpacka dealers in Europe, but now sells several other brands of packrafts from China, Russia and the US. It’s probably the only ‘packrafting supermarket’ of it’s kind and in 2015 we group tested a selection of their boats.
anfibsThey also produce their own Anfibio branded packrafting gear, like the dry suit and inflatable jacket I use myself; the latter has become my go-to ‘pfd’. anfi - 10In cooperation with MRS in China whose boats they were the first to import into Europe and whose design they’ve influenced, they’ve now added three lightweight Anfibio packrafts to their lineup of over a dozen boats: the Sigma TX double; Delta MX single and smallest and lightest Alpha XC which we tested here. I knew the XC would be too small for me so that job went to my g-friend who’s over a foot shorter and 40+ kilos lighter. It costs just €470 plus one type of seat or another.

anfi - 5Alpha symmetry
In a bid to keep costs down and make them the lightest in their class, Anfibios are all symmetrical, with identical bows and sterns and parallel sides. Unless it’s like their double-elongated Barracuda R2, a conventionally short stern can make a boat back-heavy without a balancing load over fx1-mepadthe bow, as right. Even my original, first-generation green Alpacka Llama had a fattened stern to compensate for this. This is why Alpacka’s now much-copied elongated stern from 2011 (my 2014 Yak, above left) was such a clever innovation. It trimmed (‘levelled’) the boat by effectively positioning the paddler more centrally and also acted as a skeg to further reduced the side-to-side yawing of the bow which short, wide packrafts are prone to. (It’s important to recognise this yawing is just an annoying left and right ‘nodding’ of the bow; people often confuse it with tracking (‘steering’ or going where you point it) which packrafts do better than some kayaks.

Weights and measures **
anfi - 9alfameAfter checking the kitchen scales (1000ml = 1000g √) the Alpha weighed in at 1822g out of the box; the bare boat was 1422g.
Interestingly, at 120cm the interior length is actually a bit more than my Alpacka Yak. At 185cm tall, I can sit in the Alpha with backrest deflated and with the same comfortable knee-bend as my Yak. Meanwhile, with legs flat on the floor g-friend has some 15cm of foot room to spare up front.
anfi - 8Anfibio have missed a trick here. Assuming I am at the upper level of average adult height and weight, and geef is at the other end, I think Anfibio could offer another model 10 or even 20cm shorter, more like Alpacka’s ultrabasic Scout (right); Scoutlet’s call it an Omega XS. There are many, many packrafts for people of my height or more, but very few for 5-footers if you take the view, as I do, that in a packraft you want to fit snugly, feet pressing against the bow with knees slightly bent. Being shorter would make the ‘Omega’ at least 200g lighter and enable that snug fitting for the majority of shorter-than-me persons. Like a shoe that fits right, that means better control, comfort and efficiency and is one reason I choose to replace my original Llama with the shorter Yak. Perhaps there are buoyancy issues in such a short boat which means tubes need to be fatter, speed suffers and you effectively end up in a slackraft. You don’t want that.
The 25-cm side tubes are the slimmest of the Store’s dozen-plus boats, but we both found the 32cm interior width, a bit tight for comfort. Slimmer hipped individuals will feel right at home. All this doubtless carefully juggled volume, length and width adds up to a recommended payload rating of 110kg. That’s plenty for most folks who are lighter than me. The next-size-up Anfibio Delta MX weighs only another 225g but is rated at a massive 180kg.

** May not all exactly match Anfibio’s figures

alphaxcdims

The hull is made from the 210D, single-coated TPU, sewn and heat welded (no glue). Most packrafts are made from this wonder fabric. I think the slight translucence of the yellow Alpha makes it appear thinner than my Alpacka alfa2botsYak, but feeling the fabrics up, they’re the same or very similar.
You’ll notice that, unusually, the taped join of the tubes is around the perimeter of the boat, not hidden under where the floor attaches to anfi - 3the hull.
The floor is smooth, double-coated 420D TPU and feels tough without making the boat bulky when rolled up. The width of the heat-welding attaching it to the hull is little more than a centimetre in places. Perhaps putting the side tube join elsewhere eliminates a weak spot at the floor and reduces the need for excessive overlap, as with the 8cm on my Yak of the Longshore. As it is, we’re assured that TPU hull fabric will tear before a properly heat-welded join separates, but as with any packraft, I’d be careful putting too much pressure on the floor. “Get in bum first!” I had to remind my tester.

anfi - 4Fittings and finish
The Alpha comes with 5 taped loops with a pleasing textured Cordura finish to the patches. As other reviewers and the commenter below have mentioned, the three on the bow look too close together to securely lash down a load, far less a bike; the ‘triangle’ is too small and positioned over the domed bow. I also feel the fitting points are the wrong way round: you want the single central point at the front and the other two behind on the next panel back. Glue two here and you’ll have a stable, 4-point lashing base with another tab to spare.
I don’t really see the value of attachment points on the already over-loaded stern of a packraft, especially when it’s not elongated. I’d sooner load stuff centrally, under my knees and have a single loop here to hang shoes off or for towing.
anfi - 13The inflation valve follows MRS’ innovation in fitting a Boston valve as commonly found on cheap Slackrafts (about the only useful thing on them). For a short, low-pressure boat like a packraft (as opposed to an IK) bosvalvBoston valves are ideal. A Boston valve has two caps; the bigger one opens the main port for fast inflation / deflation. On top of that is a smaller square cap; unscrew that to access the one-way mushroom/flap valve and top-up the boat by mouth. Both caps also have nifty swivelling attachment collars so you can’t lose them while also making the caps easy to turn. The whole set-up is so much better than my old-Alpacka style dump valve which you need to secure with a line which gets in the way as you try and quickly screw it up. It also eliminates the separate twist-lock elbow valve which never felt that solid and being small bore, is harder to blow through and get a good fill, unlike the 2cm-wide Boston.
The supplied air inflation bag (see video here) is a denier or two up on my flimsy Yak one which I often think is on the verge of ripping apart. I also like the fact that it’s a bright dayglo green; you never know when you might need a signalling device.
anfi - 2The seat resembles an old-style Alpacka base with backrest, except that it cleverly attaches to the back of the floor with a single adjustable strap and buckle. Simple and effective; that is all that is needed to keep the light seat in place compared to my Yak’s OTT arrangement. You also suspect that the length of this strap may have been designed to enable a shorter paddler to position the seat a little forward so as to shove a anfi - 17bag behind it (left). Doing this centralises their weight and helps level off the trim to reduce yawing. We tried this idea on the water – see below.
One thing I recall of a similar seat on my old Llama was the annoyance of the backrest flopping forward every time I got in (an elastic fixed that). Taller Alpha XC paddlers: consider saving €34 by ordering the plain seat base and simply lean on the back of the boat instead of using the €59 backrest version. That’s what I did briefly paddling the Alpha and it felt fine.
anfi - 16Yes but what about the strap, you ask? Well that weighs in at 22g but is a good half-a-metre longer than it needs to be to cinch the rolled-up bundle (left), so some weight could be saved by snipping it.
anfi - 11As for build quality. With only my 2014 Alpacka to compare, all the taping and fitments are as neatly applied. The lack of tape over the floor panel join exposes a slightly uneven cut in places and, as mentioned, the welded band looked rather slim. The Store rates the Alpha’s durability accordingly as a result of all this weight saving, but it’s unlikely they’ve gone too far as Alpacka may have done with their short-lived Ghost. It only lasted a season or two.

On the water
alfamapalfa - 2With light winds forecast, we picked an easy circuit with about 4km of loch paddling (right) and a couple of short portages where we could carry the inflated boats. We often paddle together in the Seawave but I’m not sure if the g-friend has paddled a packraft since a quick go in my Llama back in 2010. So this would be a good test on how a beginner handled the Alpha.
alfa - 3alfa - 4Once the Alpha was inflated, geef went out for a spin to get a feel for the boat, then came back and went out again with my empty Chattooga dry bag behind the seat back (this bag seals 100% against air leakage – a true ‘dry bag’). No surprise: she yawed less and felt more in control sat more centrally. With another bag of stuff under her knees the boat sat almost level. Watching her paddle she still looked a bit low in the boat which interfered with a good paddling technique, so we pulled ohsix - 9over and pumped the seat right up and I advised trying a high-angle paddling (right) to clear the sides and get a fuller draw from the blades. As it is, on flat water no packraft is actually that satisfying to paddle – unlike a slick kayak there is no glide. The fun lies in the places they can reach and the ease of getting them there.

alfa - 9

We emerged onto the west end of Sionascaig loch (above) surrounded by the dramatic mountains of the Assynt, and turned south for the sluice. Being thorough, we tried sat right back without the bag one more time, but got the same high-bow yawing. Even with the bag I still observed some yawing, but as it was intermittent it could be down to my test pilot’s as yet unrefined packraft paddling knack, just as it can be trying to get a hardshell to go straight the first few times. Yawing is not tracking – this boat will go where you point it, but you’d imagine the pivoting is inefficient. A bit like moving off from standstill on a bicycle, my Yak also yaws wildly as I set off, but settles down once there’s some directional momentum, nodding maybe six inches left and right.alfa - 14
alfa - 16We clambered around the sluice (left) and sat down on a tiny beach below for a snack, then I went out for a quick spin in the Alpha.
At nearly twice the alfa - 18weight and of course without the dry bag behind, the boat was back heavy and very easy to spin. A light breeze was now blowing little wavelettes up the loch and powering on too hard, it shipped a little water over the back sides at one point. I reached back and felt the horizontal tape line was below the water, but the Alpha was nowhere near as edgy as the Supai Flatwater Canyon II in which I dared not even breath in too fast. Yes it yawed more than my Yak but long, smooth strokes minimise that. I’d be more concerned in less calm water, but then I’m clearly on the weight limit for the Alpha. I probably could have done this whole circuit in it but would have had to be careful which is not conducive to relaxation.

alfa - 23

Through the shallow narrows we passed alfa - 22arriving at the next ‘sluice’ at the end of the loch. It’s actually a runable two-foot drop if you take it fast. Like last time I came here, I wondered about trying it for fun, but chickened out. Beyond the pool below it becomes steep, narrow burn dropping to the next loch. So we tramped through the springy heather made crisp by over a fortnight without rain. We chucked the boats over a nasty wire fence then set off across the last little loch and the short walk back to the car.

 

Bravo Alpha
alfa - 8Being a large person, the benefits of saving a kilo or two add up to not much in my overall packrafting mass. Therefore I don’t resent the weight of my Yak for its benefits in durability and functionality. But not everyone thinks like me. Adventure racers, canyoneers and something called ‘fast-packers’ focused on absolute minimal weights while undertaking short or easy crossings will love this boat. So too might a travelling cyclist or a light person who just wants a handy, inexpensive packraft for the odd evening splashabout rather than an expedition-ready heavy hauler. The yawing is something you can minimise with good technique or balance-out with frontal loads or weight shifting, as we did.
For the price of just €470 + seat, this must be the cheapest decent packraft around. No one likes excess weight but I know I’d feel more confident paddling a proper TPU packraft like the Alpha over Supai’s amazingly light but unnervingly skimpy alternatives The extra 700 grams I can save in peace of mind.

Anfibio Alpha XC at the Packrafting Store
Tirio outfitters in Wales use Anfibio boats

alfaline


 

We also recently tried out the Longshore EX280 double. Read about it here.

longblue

Skinning the Sevylor slackraft

As promised, I’ve invested in a Sevylor Caravelle PVC dinghy. Cost: £34 delivered complete with pump, oars, repair kit, manual in ten languages and a box which is bound to come in useful one day. The heavy-duty Super Caravelle model, as modified by Narwhal, is out of stock in the UK until next summer, although an Intex Sea Hawk is the same thing and can be ‘skinned’ of its outer hull (as in the graphic, right) in the same way to make a lighter, narrower and nippier ‘PVC packraft’ – see bottom of the page. That’s the purpose of what is being done here, in case you’re wondering.
Pre-skinned and rolled up, the Sevy was about the size and weight of a proper Alpacka packraft, but awaft with that dizzying scent of PVC which takes you back to Mallorca in the late 1960s. Fully inflated, it’s too wide to take seriously, but it stayed like that long enough to enable the outer chamber to be surgically removed with a bread knife. Unfortunately it’s on this outer chamber that the half-decent ‘high volume’ Boston valve is fitted – all the rest (2 floor chambers and the inner hull) get poxy, beach ball-style push-in valves which, in the latter case, take a while to inflate due to the pencil-thin aperture. Perhaps the Boston can be grafted onto the inner hull; what’s the worst that can happen? I’ll find out soon enough as it also took so long to deflate the remaining hull by squishing the push-in valve I decided to cut it out there and then and slap on the Boston valve from the trashed outer hull over the hole (above left). This was the first time I used MEK solvent to clean PVC. This stuff is pretty damn potent and ‘cleans’ the PVC a bit like paint stripper removes paint! Tellingly, it’s also known as polystyrene cement and has uses for welding too, so use it sparingly on PVC pool toys or they’ll dissolve before you eyes.
The squidgey little foot pump (right) is very light, but slow, especially when trying to get enough pressure into the main chamber for the slide-marker to move down and line up with the ‘A’ on the SevyScale™ (below left). This is a pressure guide so you don’t burst your new pool toy – easily done with thin, stretchy PVC and sharp words. But by chance the Sevy valve plug fits neatly onto the end of my K-Pump which is much quicker at inflating. The Alpacka air bag sort of screws into the Boston valve too, but you need a K-Pump to get max pressure.
Testing the newly glued on Boston valve, the boat was losing air, but it didn’t look like the glued-on valve was at fault. As it happens the bath was full so a check revealed a tiny, half mil hole near one of the seams underneath. I’m fairly sure I didn’t jab the boat with the knife while skinning it, so it must have come like that or my carpet is sharper than I think. Lesson: test all chambers in your cheap pool toy before running a coach and horses through the warranty by attacking it with a knife – that’s if you can be bothered to send it back instead of dab some glue on the hole, should it also be faulty.
The oars are mere fly swatters as previously noted. It’s possible they could be joined together into a packrafting paddle, but why bother; there are decent Werners and Aqua Bounds under the bed so the oars can join the scrapped outer hull at the local dump.
It has to be said, once skinned it’s 36″ (91cm) wide, 60″(152cm) long and no more than 12″ high at the bow, so there doesn’t look to be a heap of buoyancy left over for the likes of bloated boaters like me, but the floor also holds air unlike an Alpacka so a spell on a river will reveal all. As mentioned, if it’s enough to stop me sinking, I may invest in gluing a spare sheet of tough nylon onto the base. It may add weight but will make the Caravette unstoppable; that’s unless a sharp-clawed bird lands on the deck or it gets splashed with MEK.
With half a dozen attachment points cannibalised from the outer hull and glued onto the stripped-down packboat with some Bostik 1782 (right), it now weighs 1550 grams; about half the weight of my current Alpacka Yak and about half the volume once rolled up. So compact, it could even make a flat-water towing platform for the Yak – for carrying a bike for example, as I’m not sure it would so easily fit on the bow, especially with camping gear.

River trials will follow shortly, or I may well head straight out to Rannoch Moor for an overnighter with Intex chum Jon who lives up there – see the vid above from last summer. He has also been inspired to skin his SeaHawk 1 bloat into a purposeful packslab (right). Might be good to take the Yak as a spare up there; if Loch Laidon freezes up round the edges the ice spikes might be too much for our pool toys. It could also be another chance to try out my disc sail (left, or more here with video) – never really gave that a good go on a packraft. 

Inflatable packboat valves and PRVs

Updated December 2018
Pumps are here

IKvalvesThe best inflation valves for an inflatable packboat aren’t the simple bungs you find on an airbed or an old Semperit. Nor the twist valves off a Feathercraft Java or an old Alpacka.
What you want are one-way valves like the high-presure ones off on white water rafts, pictured left and copied by many. Like a car-tyre valve, one-way operation as well as a secure fitting are the key, so what pumps in doesn’t push back at your or escape when you remove the inflation hose.
pump-barrelgrabvalveWith proper raft as found on good IKs valves, pushing the button down and turning clockwise locks the valve open to release air. Then, for pumping up, push lightly and turn anticlockwise so it springs gumvalvesback up to seal. This closed ‘button up’ position is the best way to transport an IK as the valve mechanism is less vulnerable to damage. To lose a little pressure (say, the boat is getting hot in the sun) just jab the valve core button, same as on a car tyre.
Old Gumotex valves were cruder versions of a Halkey Roberts; post-2010 Gumotex valves gumvalveuse superior ‘push-push’ valves (right) which lock open or close by simply pressing, like a click biro.
valvespannerI always make sure I refit the cap seal straight away to keep grit or water out.
I’ve found these types of valves to be reliable on all my IKs although this grabtoolGumotex 410C owner didn’t. Once in a while – or after the boat is new – you may want to check the valve is screwed tight against the fabric with the valve spanner, right. They’re useful too for removing the valve (or a PRV; see below) should it play up.

pump-bayopush-fitadapterWhen it comes to inserting the inflation hose, one-way IK valves can take simple push-fit adaptors as shown left; just shove the adaptor in and it sort of stays in place while pumping. It looks cheap but on a Gumotex at least, works fine.
With high-pressure boats like Grabners and Incepts and some Gumotex, you’re better off using a hose adaptor suited to bayonet fittings (right) so the hose won’t pop off as pressure builds.

Low-pressure valves for packrafts
anfi - 13Screw-cap Boston valves  are used on cheaper IKs as well as slackrafts and packrafts. They have two bosvalvcaps: the main one unscrewed (left) to dump the air, and a square cap to access the one-way valve to top off a boat (right).
valve-bostonThese are low-pressure valves using a simple soft rubber ‘mushroom’ on a stem (right) which is fine on a boat you top off by mouth, not a pump – ie: packrafts but not proper IKs. With a packraft, the one-way valve eliminates the need for a separate oral top-up valve which means one less thing to leak or malfunction.

Pressure release valves (PRV) for IKs
I’ve learned to be careful not let an IK get too hot out of the water. On a warm day you can feel the side tubes tighten like a drum. This of course happens to be good for paddling efficiency but isn’t good for the seams or an I-beam floor.
mod-esc valveThe floor tube on my Sunny had a pressure release valve (far left black disc, left); oddly it’s something never mentioned in the specs. It’s there to protect the I-beam floor which could separate under pressure (I-beam floor explained here). The valve is set at a certain pressure to purge when the air inside gets hot and expands. It means an IK can feel a bit soft in the cool morning following a hot day; don’t worry, it’s unlikely you have a leak. The handy thing with the PRV is that it makes a good guide to how hard you ought to pump up the rest of the boat without a pressure gauge. At whatever pump effort the valve starts airing off, that’s the same or a-bit-more pressure to put in the side tubes which may not have PRVs.
lefielda6The air in an IK can also get cooled, for example when pumping up on a hot day and then putting in a cool river. Because you want the boat to be as rigid as possible, after inflation it’s worth topping up once the boat has got wet; splashing helps cool the sides. Topping up – or tempering – optimises rigidity and with something like a Sunny or Solar 410C you need all you can get. In the same way, pumping up your boat in way sub-freezing temps and then putting it on water which actually ‘heat’ it up, though this is a less likely scenario.
prvk40prvtestThe higher pressure Incept K40 had PRVs on all chambers which meant you could confidently leave it in the baking sun and it would safely purge and then feel a bit soft once cooled down back in the water. Picture left – Incept PRV test with the protective cap removed and purging correctly through the centre. Right, a PRV being resealed after leaking from the edges – shown below. This was because I failed to check their tightness after buying the boat, as recommended by the manufacturer. My Gumotexes never needed such tightening in many years ownership. I ended up fitting side chamber PRVs to my Gumotex Seawave to run higher pressures but protect it fully.

prv-leak

K40 PRV leaking from the sides not through the valve. Needs tightening with special tool.

grabnerprvOddly, my Grabner didn’t feature PRVs at all, even though it runs potentially damaging high pressures. One presumes Grabner are confident enough in their vulcanised construction to think they’re not needed. I do notice that Grabner offer PRVs to fit on the end of an inflation hose (right) which purge at 0.3 bar and so dispense with the need for a pressure gauge to check how much you’ve put in.