Tag Archives: Packrafting Store

MRS Nomad S1 packraft review [video]

MRS Nomad S1 Index Page

S1 - 43apslogoThe application of what has proved to be durable, light and compact packraft fabric and reliable construction methods into slimmer, kayak-like forms was bound to happen. MRS’s 2.9-metre Nomad S1 is among the first solo examples I know of, co-designed with Germany’s Anfibio Packrafting Store whose Alpha XC we tested a couple of weeks ago.
Fyi: in December 2018 I sold my 2014 Alpacka Yak and bought this ex-demo boat.

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Is it a very light solo kayak or a long packraft? I’d classify it as the former, a boat that ought to paddle better than a packraft on current-free, flat water, and S1 - 15even manage some calm coastal paddling. The Nomad could be mistaken as the solo version of MRS’s tandem undecked Barracuda R2 double. But the R2 is a boat with seats which can be adapted to canoe-style kneeling, much fatter tubes and has a different bow/stern as well as not having a deck. The 1299-euro Nomad S1 is a stand alone boat.

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What they say:
Once packrafts broke conventions in water sports. Now the Nomad S1 is breaking conventions in packrafting. The central seating position and symmetrical bow and stern are similar to a conventional kayak, producing similar paddling dynamics. At 5kg, the gross weight is more than most solo packrafts, but the Nomad remains a very packable boat for easy travel and exciting adventures.

nomadbox‘Sign here please’
Off the van, out of the box and straight onto the kitchen scales. Kerching: that will be 5.1kg please. Take away the large skirt and coaming rods and it’s down to 4.5kg, and a year later rigged up to my specs with a long lanyard, footrest, OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAalternative non-inflatable seat back with a mesh pouch with bits in it, it is a real-world 4.7kg ready to go (right).
Hull fabric is your usual 210D TPU but coated inside and out (like old Alpackas) for improved rigidity, with a floor in chunky 410D with aramid fibre reinforcement. The hull panels are stitched, then heat welded with tape; the floor gets glued to the hull and all the joins look neat and crease free. The deck and seat parts are lighter PU-coated or ripstop nylon.
Unrolled, it looked like a lot of boat to have to blow up with the air bag. So I decided to speed things up with my IK barrel pump, using a bit of garden hose as an adaptor via the air bag screwed into Boston-style valve. More on those here. It took less than 5 minutes pumping. Later, I decided to try regular airbagging and found it only took 15 bagfulls to get it ready for topping off – less than you’d think. S1 - 37To top off I found a shorter section of garden hose fitted neatly into the one-way valve port and makes it much easier to give the boat a few lungfulls (left) and get the high-capacity boat nice and firm. A short bit of hose also fits into one adapter on my K-Pump which I usually use to top up my IK. With a K-Pump you can get it good and firm. The Packrafting Store offer a small Bravo foot pump for those who don’t have the lungs S1 - 19of Dizzy Gillespie. You do want to get this long boat as firm as possible, especially if you’re well-fed like me. But the Store recommends not to overdo it with a pump, and in the current warm spell I’ve been careful to air off a bit if the boat gets left in the sun all day following a max top off in cold water.

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S1 - 14S1 - 16Once aired up the boat has a good shape – nice pointy ends; a promising sign in boating circles. The S1 is symmetrical like many IKs, and each end has a generous volume helping achieve a claimed buoyancy rating of 200kg. I can believe it; two of me in it and I bet it would still have plenty of freeboard.
The deck seems to be less flimsy ripstop fabric than I recall on my previous Alpackas. And unlike those boats which had a long perimetre zip,S1 - 7 the Nomad has two parallel zips along each side ending at the back with makes it dead easy to partly open and get to the ‘trunk’ without complete removal. Good design. You also wonder if the zipped-up deck might help tension the boat by constraining the sides when getting bent about in rough water. Maybe.

 

 

S1 - 6The 80cm x 49cm hatch is nice and big; I (1.85m) could get in and out with ease, though maybe not just after Christmas while wearing a drysuit and thick fleece. There are zips along the hatch rim to insert the 4 pieces of coaming rod to make a firm seal for the spray skirt elastic. It struck me paddling later with the deck deployed that fitting the rods would create a 1–2-inch high lip which would keep out some water rolling down the front deck. The supplied spray skirt looked huge and had braces; but I never actually tried it. Rolled up to the front, the velcro straps seem way too long to cinch down the deck. It didn’t really matter, they tucked in well enough. Maybe the extra strap length is to roll the unused skirt in there too.
S1 - 17The two-piece inflatableS1a - 4 seat and backrest are not your ordinary packraft affair. The anatomically curved backrest hangs from a six S1a - 5adjustable pivoting mounts using q/d clips (right) to reduce stresses on the mounts and help fine-tune your back support. A TPU sheet sewn to the inflatable chamber takes the buckle tension. This backrest won’t flop forward as on some packraft one-piece backrest/seats – very handy when clambering in, especially through the hatch. The whole backrest weighs 310g and costs €39 if you want to fit one to your boat. S1a - 1It detaches in seconds, handy to allow a passenger to temporarily hop in.
Solo, the mass of your weight settles on the thick, seat pad. It’s attached via the usual, very much not easily adjustable or removable lace-up tab mounts, except they’re glued on halfway up the hull sides at the 32-cm narrow point (left), not down on the floor’s edge as on regular packrafts. One problem with this laced set-up is if you want to move the seat much more than an inch or two forward or back. Depending on your weight there will be fewer holes taking the load. It can’t be beyond the wit of packboat design to allow easy removal or repositioning.

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The S1’s seat arrangement partly supports the paddler’s weight from the big side tubes and so limits undesirable ‘bum sag‘ (underwater image above): the weight of the paddler deforming the floor which can’t be good for hydrodynamics or floor wear and tear in the shallows.
Paddler weight pressing down midway in a long, low-pressure boat – even with an inflatable floor – tends to make it bend in the middle in rough water or a swell. You can see they thought about this with the longer-than-normal packraft. It was the problem that limited my old Gumotex Sunny (water came over the sides in rapids or a swell) which was eventually solved by getting the more rigid, higher pressure Seawave (and which is solved entirely by drop-stitch technology).

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S1a - 2S1a - 3Flip the boat over and you can see that there are slight bulges at each end (left). I’m told it’s a cunning design feature to produce ‘negative rocker’ (opposite of upswept ends) and help with tracking and speed. The similar-sized EX280 we tried was flat floored and I must say it seemed to work. The S1 tracks fine without the skeg.
The 410D floor has a good overlap of glue where it attaches to the 210D hull tubes covering the tube seams (glued because I think you can’t easily heat weld two different deniers of TPU). The quality of the taping is all as neat as you like, with not a single strand of stray glue or malformed creasing.
S1 - 9S1 - 8The skeg (or directional fin) is Gumotex size but slips on like a Sea Eagle IK (‘American box fitting’  iirc, same as on iSUP boards) into a moulded plastic slot glued up the stern. It locks in place with a flat pin on a string so when removed you can secure the skeg somewhere via this pin and string. I do the same when packing my Seawave so as not to misplace the sometimes vital skeg. Even when not mounted, that skeg pad is the lowest part of the boat which scrapes first so usefully sparing the floor from damage.
S1 - 5Other than that you have four well-positioned attachment loops, with a broad base to secure anything up to a bike. There’s the same arrangement on the stern. These mount points become less essential because you have space behind the seat to stash stuff low and retain stability and visibility. There are two more long loops inside, with another pair of mount points at the front for thigh straps. The test boat also had some handy string handles knotted on to the outermost attachment loops.


S1 - 26S1 at Sea
There are no rivers near here bigger than a boulder-filled burn right now, so we took the S1 out along a rocky coast, along a slightly surfy beach, then rinsed it off with a quick sail down a freshwater loch.
I don’t know if it’s the greater size, the kayak-like handling, the reduction of front-to-rear yawing or the elevated seat, but on a less than smooth sea I took to the S1 straight away. Despite being another single chamber packboat, it inspired confidence that I’d not necessarily experience in my smaller Alpacka Yak.
I paddled it without the skeg and as expected, can’t say I missed it. The S1 - 23Nomad tracked very well and, compared to my Seawave kayak, doesn’t really produce enough glide per stroke to send it drastically off course, notwithstanding the small corrections you subconsciously make as you paddle along. I wonder if the lightness of the boat as well as its flat floor are what makes these intuitive micro-adjustments in tracking so effective. Who knows, but if attempting longer, more exposed sea crossings (I’m talking a mile or more, not Nova Scotia) a skeg must be a good idea to stop the boat getting pushed about from the sides, especially with a tail wind.
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S1 - 25Without the skeg I appreciated the S1’s agility nudging in and out of the rocks as a light swell rolled in. Stability was very much not an issue; being jammed in more or less at the narrow 32-cm width with feet touching the distant bow and the well-designed backrest all helped. My hips are 40-cm wide but I didn’t really notice the squeeze as I nzt - 13would were I down on the floor. Up to a point you can brace with your shins which are so close together there wouldn’t be much play to pull on thigh braces (actually not so – they work OK; right).
S1 - 31Over by the beach occasional foot-high waves were thundering on the shore; a chance to get knocked about a bit and have some fun. The stability made it easy to play around, with enough agility, clearance and central weight to spin quickly in the shallows before getting beached. Sure, some water came in, but on a warm day it’s a lot more fun playing with an open boat. To drain it just hop out, flip over, flip back and hop back in.

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Even without the skeg, the central, kayak-like paddling position, as well as the length (Length-Weight Index 3.38 – about half that of a typical hardshell sea kayak), pretty much eliminates your typical packraft yawing. Not so sure about crossing over and circling the Summer Islands – it’s still a single-chamber craft – but I can see coast-hopping being enjoyable in the way it wouldn’t be in a regular solo packraft. On the way back from the beach against a quartering wind, the GPS recorded a brief high of 4.1mph paddling along normally.
S1 - 42We nipped over to freshwater Loch Ra which is now so low I had to wade a couple of hundred metres to find some depth. The skeg was now on but I can’t say I felt like it made much difference the way it would do on my IK. We went out on my Seawave a few weeks ago and the forgotten skeg was a right pain downwind. Upwind it’s barely necessary.
I hooked up the WindPaddle to the yellow string handle. The breeze was blowing S1 - 45only about a 6-8mph but the Nomad picked it up and ran with it up to 3.5mph – as fast as I could have paddled. Again, I don’t think the skeg helped with the tracking as the boat was effectively being dragged along by its nose like a wet towel.
Later in the afternoon I went back out onto the loch, paddling up briskly to the windward end where I let the sail take me back down. It wasn’t blowing enough to break any records but it’s nice to sit back and listen to the plink-plink of the water slapping under the bow. Mid-loch it felt like it was doing a good 4mph.
I’m really getting into this WindPaddle; I like the way you can steer up to 30° either side of the wind. On this boat it was easy to pull the sail down, cross it over once and tuck it under the knees, even with the deck on. There’s more Nomad WindPaddling here.
Back at the bank I removed the sail and the skeg and went for a scoot upwind, across-wind and downwind, but still can’t say the boat was hard to track. Maybe with more of a backwind it would get out of shape, but by then the waves would briefly lift the skeg out on the crests and possibly push it around. It’s nice to have the option but also good to know the Nomad handles well enough without a skeg on loch and coast.

Fyi: if you think your boat also needs a skeg (directional fin), the Store sells an inexpensive skeg and glue-on patch from 420D floor fabric. There’s a template here.

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Nomading it Up
Good to know first impressions can be correct. I saw the promise in the Nomad S1 when I first clocked it on the Packrafting Store’s website. It is nearly the same length but more than half the weight and rolled-up volume of our old Gumotex Solar 300, but longer than the current 9-kilo Gumotex Twist 1 which, at just 2.6m has only half the buoyancy (ie: not much at all).
S1 - 36Trying it out on sea and surf-ish and loch, with sail and without skeg, I could seriously consider replacing my Yak with a Nomad (later, I did). I think there’s a potential for a skirt-free model and I’d even mrss1lightsuggest the skeg could be an option too (P-Store make one of those too, now: S1 Light; right no skeg, deck, or braces and a 4-mount foam backrest).
The main drawback is the €1299 price – that’s about £1150 or the same as a top-of-the-range, made-in-Europe Gumotex with a deck or rudder option and a signed certificate from Brzeslaw Gumotek. Longshore sell the less sophisticated EX280 double in what looks like the same fabric for half that price, and the Store themselves have albeit basic packrafts from €470. They say the deck costs a lot to make and fit but fabric and assembly in China can’t be that disparate. Of course the price you pay is right for a boat which gives you years of fun, as I have found. An Austrian Grabner double IK can cost over €3000, so can an Incept.

Alternatives to S1
As for alternativesfamily there is really nothing like the Nomad at the moment, though I bet Alpacka are watching and waiting to move into packayak territory. Partly it’s because the extended stern idea has greatly improved the dynamics of packrafts, positioning the paddler more centrally but adding length without interior space. Nortik’s uninspiringly named FamilyRaft (right) is the same length but over a metre wide and looks like Advanced Elements’ tacky Packlite.
You might try and make the similar-sized long - 19and weight EX280 (right) into a solo kayak-like boat. But the Longshore is 12cm wider and the bow is much blunter. It looks more like what it is: a long packraft made for two, not a solo ‘TPU kayak’, and of course it has no deck or skeg.
twistarn2I’d say closer comparison to the Nomad are actual IKs, among which I’d include Gumotex’s Twist 1, Twist 2 (right; both undecked) and the fixed-decked Swing 1. The Swing actually looks (and I hear is) a bit crap by Gumo’s standards, with an odd deck design and excessive width. Those three boats cost from just £369 (T1) up to £549 for the Swing 1, but are all at least twice as heavy while the T1 has half the claimed payload of the Nomad. If the Nomad is on the limit for packability, an 11-kilo IK definitely is.
barracWhat about using the two-foot longer Barracuda R2 (right) as a solo touring packboat? Many of the solo touring IKs recommended on this site are longer tandem boats over 3 metres, like my Seawave adapted for single touring use. I have found the crux to avoid the Sunny-like sag mentioned above is a high-pressure hull like my Seawave, all Grabners or my old Incept.
I’m not convinced a 3.65-m long, lung-pressure Barracuda R2 would not sag a little under solo, centrally positioned use. You could get around that with a drop-stitch floor panel but that’s more stuff and needs a powerful pump. The other riskier way round would be to run higher hull pressure using a pump. I do that to my Seawave to improve performance, but have added pressure relief valves (easily done on a packraft too). Better though, to run a boat (or anything) within its design limits.
So a Nomad may be on the weight limit of classic land-and-water packrafts, but it certainly makes travelling somewhere by plane or a train or on a pushbike much less of an effort than with even the lightest IK, while giving IK-like performance once on the water, be it a gnarly river, a windy loch or a rocky seashore. Kayakraft? Packayak? It’s definitely not a kakraft.

Thanks to the Packrafting Store for supplying another test boat. More about it here.

The Nomad is another co-development between Anfibio Packrafting and MRS (Micro Rafting System). Combined with MRS’s manufacturing expertise and fabric know-how, our years of packrafting experience helped refine the design of the final product. Serial production takes place in the Far East with manufacturing carried out in small, hand-built batches. All products have an extended three-year warranty.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Tested: Anfibio Packsuit (drysuit review)

Anfibiodry-6Even in summer the benefits of a drysuit for northern UK paddling are like wearing overalls to get stuck into a messy job; you know you’re covered. You can wade in as deep as you like and take all the splash that’s going without risking getting chilled should your underclothes get soaked when a waist or limb seal leaks. And for me, nervous of the deep and often paddling alone in the northwest (even if it’s rarely more than a mile from shore), it’s an added layer of security.
hyperdryMy old Crewsaver Hyperpro drysuit (left) cost only £180 and did the job amazingly well. But even at only 2kg, it was heavy enough to need internal braces and was often too hot and sweaty for fast paddling, even in a northwest Highlands summer. In fact I wonder if it was more of a jet ski-ing suit not suited to paddling? When it comes to exposure, should you fall in, being wet from trapped sweat is nearly as bad as being wet from seawater. Once pressed against your body by water pressure, I’m told the actual benefits of a drysuit in slowing down hypothermia Anfibiodry-1are only measured in a few extra minutes. To be agile enough for paddling, drysuits are not immersion or survival suits (right) made to snuggly bob around for hours until the RNLI find you. In such a scenario it’s the fleece underneath a gulregular paddling drysuit that can make a difference and I have a Gul one-piece (left) for  those chilly days. At anything above single-digit temps it’s just too warm, but if anyone remembers romper suits from their toddling days, they know how comfy it is to wear a onesie over their nappies. They go for about £25 (try amazon); well worth it in my opinion and handy on a winter’s motorbike ride too.

Whatever clever membrane fabric the Crewsaver used, it was better at keeping water out than venting my steam. And anyway, I’ve never experienced the magic of breathable membranes which I believe work under a much narrower set of parameters (temperature gradients, fabric saturation and cleanliness) than we imagine, even if they’re surely better than wrapped in bin bags and duct tape.

troposBefore the Hyperpro I briefly owned a nice and light Kokatat Tropos dry suit (left) which I sold in haste and which closely resembled this Packsuit. Kokatat don’t use the Tropos fabric anymore so maybe it’s just as well I flogged it. The closest thing they now sell is the Hydrus fabric 3L for around £680 in the UK.

As often happens with gear for a given activity, it takes a bit of trial and error to find what actually fits your needs, rather than the full-on expedition stuff you think you need – or what’s going cheap at the time in your size. I’d often wondered what exactly a semi-dry suit was – a half-arsed fabric that sort of keeps water out? Sven at Packrafting Store explained: it’s a drysuit with a comfier neoprene rather than latex neck seal. Latex (as on my Hyperpro) seals very well but worn all day it gets uncomfortable. Apart from some sad celebs and Tory politicians, no one likes being auto-asphyxiated for fun. I recall Anfibiodry-3reading some guys who paddled South Georgia island in the South Atlantic fitting ‘venting hoops’ into the latex neck seals of their top-of the range Kokatat drysuits during less stormy episodes to stop them choking or boiling over. Unless you expect to be frequently immersed or hosed over in storm- or whitewater conditions, a clingy latex neck seal is less useful than on the wrists. Meanwhile for the feet Sven confirmed what I felt: integral latex socks are the way to go; heavier than taped fabric versions  but much easier to repair, more robust for walking plus reliable and better than ankle seals in keeping feet warm. Full latex socks, latex wrists and neoprene at the neck; the best all round combination of drysuit sealage for my sort of paddling.

crewsaver-hyperdryThe Crewsaver had a horizontal back zip, the Tropos was front diagonal while the Anfibio is front horizontal. The back zip may look neat (right) but when tired or cold I found the articulation required to unzip myself was quite an effort. It does mean you can open it on the water to vent off while guarding against frontal splash, but it would be hard to zip up in a hurry. Anfibiodry-8Front diagonal doesn’t seal so well with spray skirts they say (not an issue with me with IK&Ps) and so it’s hard to find fault with the front horizontal format.

I found the Packsuit easy to get into, light enough not to sag and the zip easy to work and ascertain that you’ve sealed it properly. The Anfibio suit uses a light, plastic TiZip Masterseal dry zip (left and below) that’s lighter and easier to slide than the usual chunky brass YKKs I’m used to. Wax or silicon spray is all the TiZip needs, as with YKKs.
303Anfibio’s Packsuit can weigh as little as 800g in smaller sizes. My XL version was custom tailored and with the latex sock and the relief zip options weighs 1332g and rolls up to about half the volume of my Hyperpro. Weight is saved with no cuffs covering the latex parts which are said to be vulnerable to UV. A regular dose of 303 (right) should see to that. There are also no pockets or other features, just what you need to keep you dry.

Anfibiodry-5Best of all, on our four-day paddle around the Slate Islands I found the Anfibio Packsuit unobtrusive to wear. Unlike with previous drysuits, I rarely felt the need to peel off at the slightest stop and the relief zip was a no brainer, enabling on-water ‘defuelling’, just like a B52 on a long-range mission Wearing just a shirt and runner’s leggings, I never felt hot on the water Anfibiodry-4nor got chilled, and during a downpour on land one evening was happy to wear it right up to the point we scurried for our tents.

Sorry to say I forgot to do an immersion test but will get round to that. I did find that the stretching made the inside coating peel off the neoprene neck seal – see picture below – but don’t know what this coating is actually for. It’s certainly not waterproofing so doesn’t really matter. Other than that, no issues.
packrafting_store_logoI received the Packsuit in return for editorial work on the Packrafting Store website. It costs from €399 with tax and in my custom spec would have cost €530.

Another good lightweight drysuit I’m told is a Stohlquist EZ for $500.

P1040386

Anfibio Buoy Boy inflatable packrafting jacket

Updated May 2018 – see bottom of page

bbboyBack in 2015 Packraft Store in Germany sold us a couple of pre-production Anfibio inflatable packrafting jackets in December to try out. These came without the big mesh pockets, unlike the current production item, left.
Called a Buoy Boy, an ‘inflatable jacket’ or buoyancy aid is all they claim to be, not a PFD, far less life jackets. They don’t even claim to have the rescue/harness elements suited to white water recoveries, as found on better PFDs. A warning label inside spells it all out. Instead your Buoy Boy bad boy is just a compact, unobtrusive buoyancy aid that’s well suited to sedate packraft touring.
bouyboYou clip the waist clip and hook the strap under the crotch to stop it riding up, as can happen with a regular PFD then zip up the front. Our prototypes had two ‘push and blow’ valve tubes inflating the two chambers (three breaths each). These chambers don’t cover the lower back which is composed of a thick, stretchy mesh below the inflated collar (left), so avoiding that lj55inelegant ‘pushed-up PFD’ look in your packraft. The rear collar around the neck might even float you unconscious, face up, like a proper life jacket, but that would be a happy coincidence and despite the appearance, it is not a design element.
lj44We weren’t even planning to take our regular PFDs on this particular trip, so a compact option came in welcome, especially when a late-night boat ride required them.
Best thing: it’s unobtrusive to wear deflated, doubling up as a high-viz vest whose benefits we also appreciated when road walking in the Scottish  midwinter gloom. We even inflated them while walking in freezing conditions to act as extra insulation, while at other times the Buoy Boy ought to be less hot than a regular PFD; another problem I’ve found when foam PFDs and paddling in 25°C+.

packrafting_store_logolj2Weight is from 340g to 400g for a Med/Large. My ‘M/L’ was a snug fit once fully inflated over all my mid-winter clobber (I’m normally 42″ chest). A great bit of kit that I can see becoming my regular day-tripping BA, especially when I have to wear one due to regs rather than need to due to conditions.

499_1Update.
I used my orange BBoy proto just about all the time as most of my paddling is flatwater and it’s great not to feel cluttered. I bought myself a larger L/XL with horizontal valve straps and very handy large frontal mesh pouches – just what was needed. Unfortunately it was black – I prefer brighter colours for safety and photos.
Now in 2018 colours are blue (S), yellow (M/L) and black or yellow (L/XL) – hooray! A roomy Large on me weighs 450g with crotch strapPrice is €99. More details and photos here.

boyboy

Replacing twist-lock valve on Alpacka

pakv1Ages ago I must have over-tightened the twist-lock mouth inflation valve cap on my Yak, probably ham-fisted ahead of a tense crossing. Actually it’s not so hard to do to the cheapo plasticy valves. And once you’ve gone too far and rounded the threads, the valve will only seal in the exact right position and with less tension than normal.
pakv3With a trip coming up, I set about replacing the black valve cap, but for the life of me could not locate one on the web in the UK, googling every permutation of ‘twist, lok/lock, valve, cap’. Fancier oral inflation valves exist for scuba BCDs but I wanted to keep it simple.
Trying to order from the US came up with $50+ postage for a 50-cent part. It gets even more fascinating but, to cut a long story short, eventually Supai Adventure Gear (there ultralight packraft previewed
here) sent me eight valves for $12. And then Alpacka unexpectedly replied and sent me a couple of theirs for free.
pakv4I thought just the softer plastic twist cap could be yanked off the white threaded section and replaced, but the blue cap Supais came threaded to the white bit, so perhaps caps and threaded sections are a unit and separating them pre-damages the threads. Don’t want that so the old valve needs to be cut off the red inflation tube.

Still here? Turns out the Supai valve has a bigger bore than my 2011 Yak valve but when trying to over-tighten a Supai valve as a test, I couldn’t manage it with my bare hands so it seems to be better than what came with my Yak in 2011. Looking closely it’s hard to see much difference in the design or materials, but even though the diameter is about 2mm more than the Alpacka valve, with a bit of glue as lube, it slips easily enough into the cut off red tube end.

Moral of the story: if you need to replace your thread-damaged Alpacka inflation valve you’ll need to cut the old one off and may prefer to replace it with a blue Supai unit (unless Alpackas have changed in the last couple of years).
In North America you can but these valves for a $1 or so from Advanced Elements, Feathercraft, NRS, Alpacka and Supai. The inflatable seats on my old Incept from NZ also had them, and iirc they were notably chunky. I’ve since learned that the Packrafting Store in Germany can sell you a twist valve for an Alpacka or a Supai.