Tag Archives: Inverpolly lochans

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

Loch & Sea: kayaking to Achnahaird

mix01mixteosmapMy grand plans to try out my new packframe on a trek from Loch Maree back to the Summers got radically downsized to a day out from Inverpolly. Down at Boat Bay (left) we pumped up the IKs and set off along a route I’d packrafted a couple of years ago.
mix10Surrounded by the singular Assynt peaks, Sionasgaig loch is an amazing place to splash about in a paddle boat, but at kayak speeds that stage was over rather too quickly. Just as well though, as I was trying the Amigo without a skeg, and two-up it wasn’t working. Into the wind was possible with one paddling, but out on Sion with a side wind, even with one in control the lighter back kept swinging off the wind. We put a bag in the back, but at the Sluice Portage (above) we had to commandeer the skeg off Craig in the Gumo Solar who up to that point was loving his day out on the lochs. I assured him the Solar was manageable without a skeg as long as he applied appropriate levels of paddling finesse. This low level, almost sub-conscious correction to the tracking is something that’s difficult to achieve when two people are paddling one boat. It’s a shame that a skeg is such a vital accoutrement – or is it?
We’d all want them for the Enard Bay sea stage, so at the end of Loch Uidh Tarraigean, g-friend nipped back a couple of miles to the car where the forgotten skeg hopefully lay under a seat. By the time Craig and I had portaged over to little Loch na Dail, crossed it and walked up to the road, the car arrived with the errant skeg.
mix13After lunch we rolled the boats up, coasted down to the fish hatchery on the River Polly and set off down the track towards Inverpolly Lodge and Polly Bay beyond. We’d crept up here on our bikes a few months back, to check out ‘Loch Sal’ bay north of the lodge. There’s boat ramp and fish pens there, which was good to know when I passed a while later on my Enard Bay paddle to Lochinver.
mix15First time there and Polly Bay glittered invitingly at low water. On with in the skegs, in with the air and out we go into the flat calm. While exploring a bay round the corner, Craig managed to spot an otter gnawing over its lunch at the back of a chasm. Not noticed one of those out here before.
We worked our way around the coastline fringed with kelp exposed by the very low tide. Further along, winkle pickers were at work at Garvie Point, but then cloud rolled in on an annoying north wind; that is why you want skegs at sea. The little Solar bobbed about on the waves, but Craig seemed to be managing fine. We edged round Camas a Bhothain bay – no seals at play today – and slipped through the reef into Achnahaird Bay.
mix26holdingpatternIt was now quite chilly and my proposal to form a holding pattern for three hours until the spring tide filled the bay was roundly vetoed. When Achnahaird Bay fills right up on spring tides, you can paddle up the Loch Raa outlet stream almost to the road junction car park, for the short portage to Raa. As it was, there was enough flow to tow the boats all the way up. We’d left a bike here so the Mrs cycled back over the hill to get the car, while Craig and I paddled across Loch Raa and then to the north side of Loch Vatachen. I did this bit without the skeg and was reassured to find that one up the Amigo tracked at least as well as the Sunny did in the same state. Perhaps it’s all down to more centred weight and the aforementioned correcting finesse. I’ll be on the River Spey in a couple of weeks where it’s good to know a skeg won’t be needed.
Sinking in the mushOn the north side of Loch Vatachen we aired down for the short but arduous slog up the hillside to the peat track that leads back to Polbain, a more direct route than following the road. Maybe it’s down to late summer growth, but the grassy tussocks and toe-dragging shrubbery made for an exceedingly tiresome, one-mph haul. Each step required lifting to knee height, and crossing the boggy stream course midway ingested one of Craig’s cherished flip-flops (left). Struggling a bit with his kayak in a shoulder bag, I was amazed it had managed to stay with him that far. My well-used Teva Omniums clung better to my feet if not the ground, and the heavily loaded packframe sat securely on my back, but I wouldn’t want to spend all day doing this.

mix37By the time we reached the peat track where locals periodically  excavate their allocations, the sun was setting over the Assynt peaks to the northeast. From here it was a short downhill walk to the village and, after some 12 miles, attending to all the food that was fit to eat.

mix36

Suilven packraft triathlon

The forecast was good and with time running out, such days cannot be ignored.
Let’s go and do Suilven‘ I said to the Mrs.
Better still, let’s take the bikes and the packraft, park the car at Inverkirkaig, cycle to the trail head, climb up the north side, down the south side, and paddle Fionn Loch into the River Kirkaig for the footpath back to the car to get the bikes.’

What was the last bit again?
‘Paddle the loch up the River Kirkaig to the car and get the bikes.’
O K then‘.

It’s a hilly 6-mile ride from Inverkirkaig along the WMR and up to Glencanisp Lodge where the road ends. From that angle Suilven (above) rises like a sperm whale’s head over the gorse and lochans. Maybe it was the sunshine, but Glen Canisp that day looked like something out of  a Scottish Tourist Board advert, and was made all the more appreciable by the easy quadbike track we followed east. One time that would be great walk to follow the 14 miles all the way through to Cam Loch and the A835 near Ledmore.
Of course, as ever these days, I was eyeing up the pack-potential of the Abhainn na Clach Airigh river too; actually string of easy lochans and gorges (left), linked with flat or frothy river stages. That too would be a great run, more probably from the Ledmore end, and with a handy bothy at Suileag. Or cook up any combination you like; with boots and a paddle the possibilities here or anywhere in northwest Scotland are infinite.
There comes a point directly north of Suilven’s twin-peak saddle (right) where you have to leave the easy track and head south into the bogs and up. You can’t see a path up the side of Suilven, but it pretty much follows the creek running down from the saddle; an hour and a half’s slog from the quad track that’s as steep as any track can be, without using your arms. And yet, as long as you keep chipping away (left), it’s always quicker and easier than it looks. And it’s quite a thrill to approach the saddle and have the Loch Sionascaig vista erupt before you (below right) as you catch you breath.
G/f decided to rest here while I took on the last 130 metres up to the summit, about 20 minutes away. For some reason a ‘magnificently pointless’ dry stone wall straddles the summit ridge near here. A quick look on the web came up with no convincing reason to its origin, though it does extend downwards enough on each side to stop agile stock either leaving or getting to the summit. And on the actual top there’s certainly enough room to graze a few sheep as well as curiously closely cropped grass. We’d not seen a sheep all day so unless deer make the climb you do wonder what grazed the grass up here? More Suilven summit mysteries.
From anywhere up here we could see the way back; the put-in near last week’s camp and the 2-odd miles along Fionn Loch to the entrance of the River Kirkaig (left). These waters define the border between the counties of Ross & Cromarty and Sutherland. While I was planting the flag, G had been scanning the scene below with binoculars and had spotted the waterfalls on the River Kirkaig we very much did not want to get sucked into.
lochanssWe set off back down the looser south side slope, don’t want to go on but it was another validation of the knee-sparing Packstaffing Way. Without it it’s hard to see how anyone would not stumble or slip a couple of times. Passing the spot I reached last week, strange barking sounds emerged from the heather. A grouse in distress? Turns out G with better eyesight had seen a couple of dashing deer right in front of me.
Down by Fionn Loch I wasn’t convinced two-up in the Yak was going to work or be safe. But we tried fitting in on the bank and in fact it was roomy enough with my legs out over the sides. So we put in and pushed off west across the loch (left) for the river, initially following the shore. Then as it became clear the 3-kilo boat-in-a-bag managed its 160kg (350lb) load fine, I set the engine for full ahead against what I perceived [incorrectly] was a slight current as well as a breeze. Amazingly (or perhaps not) I’ve never seen my packraft track so well with the near-perfect trim.
About 40 minutes later the entry point to the river loomed, with a mild rushing sound caused by the race of water flowing off the loch. We were a little edgy, knowing a deadly waterfall lay not far ahead. We let ourselves get swept in and as soon as I entered the river the boat handled differently, like a kayak in a backwind. It was the current of course wafting us onward. I went as far as I dared and stopped paddling for a moment – a louder rumbling of white water became evident. Two up, sluggish and with no BAs, we didn’t risk it and headed for the bankside footpath.
Rolling up and looking back, it seemed hard to believe we come up and over ‘Pillar Mountain’ as the Vikings had named the prominent maritime landmark of Suilven. By taking to the water we’d saved a bit of time over the path and rested the legs for the last hour’s trek back to the car and a short drive back to Glen Canisp Lodge to collect the bikes. All up, a great day out; 7 miles cycling, 2 paddling and a dozen on foot. And the Yak had proved itself as able handle the two of us for similar flat water transits.


Packrafting the River Kirkaig
The minor waterfall (left) we took out before might be rideable by the likes of Roman Dial and his intrepid chums, but the thundering 100-foot Falls of Kirkaig (see map, above left) would only appeal to gonzo hairboaters high on Red Bull and Go Pros. From there though, the river far below the track seemed packable to the brave, certainly at a point where the path drops down right alongside and the river where it broadens out, just under a mile or so from the road bridge. All grade II or less; even I could manage much of it. Beyond the bridge it’s just half a mile to the sea at Loch Kirkaig, which would be satisfying to pull off, but even at the relatively high levels (now dropping), it gets pretty shallow in places and would not be a clean run. But don’t take my word for it. I read the river is listed in the SCA whitewater guide, although it’s not logged on ukrivers.