Tag Archives: packstaff

Suilven Packrafting ~ gear report

Impressions of some of the gear I used on the Suilven trip

Packstaff™
Made of the two shaft sections of my Aqua Bound paddle and now with a metal- tipped ‘nib’ riveted to a piece of old Lendal.
In the terrain I was tramping over, this is such a great walking aid. No need to expend energy balancing over tussocks and rocks with a pack on your back; take some of the strain off your legs and knees and just lean on the pole like a handrail, use it to probe a boggy patch that could be firm or knee deep; use it to vault over ditches, use it as a monopod to rest a camera on full zoom; use it as a tarp pole, tent peg – you name it, it will do it.
Mine happens to be well balanced, just the right thickness to grip securely (warm, too), and because you can easily slide your hand up and down as a sleep slope requires, it’s much more useful than a pair of trekking poles with a moulded cork handle. And when you get to the water it converts into a paddle!

I’m now using it for all our mountain walks around here, and most of the time it’s much more useful than a burden. Of course it’s nothing more than a shoulder-high stick which any self-respecting medieval pilgrim would have used along the way, but mark my words, some time soon a packstaff will be re-invented and become the new must-have trekking accessoire obligé

Kokatat Swift Dry Pants
I’ve been looking for an alternative to my full-on drysuit for less lethal packrafting (as opposed to sea kayaking), and the Swifts look like the lower half of the solution – the top half is yet to be pinned down, but will a regular walking cag will do.
I’ve only used them for half a day but I was not sweaty and they did not leak, but then I didn’t wade around up to my waist and was wearing the long SealSkinz over the top like riding boots. XL is my size which fits great, the waist is high and there’s a very handy thigh pocket – always useful on a packboat or open IK with no deck. I deliberately chose dry trousers with no sewn-in socks as my drysuit has those. With the Swifts in future I’ll just wear short Seal Skins and have no worries about the sewn-in socks getting holed by gravel. Time will tell how they wear and perform. They cost me around £100 from i-canoe in Ireland. Since then I glued on latex socks.

SealLine XL Mapcase
Never had a mapcase but now I find it very useful on the water for the obvious reasons. Ortlieb does a roll-top; SealLine uses a ziploc which as you can see on the left, works fine. The size means you can have a large map area or other info on view and so don’t need to open it unnecessarily, and there’s a ring in each corner for attachment. Again, time will tell how it wears.

Seal Skin long socks
I know, I look a bit of a knob wearing these in shorts. But the fact is these socks genuinely extend your wading ability while keeping your feet dry. The feet may get cold as you step into deep water and ‘feel’ wet, but that’s just foot sweat getting chilled – they soon warm up again. In the tent what to do with wet, muddy socks? Take them off and turn them inside out! No mess.
They’re like a pair of ‘Wellington socks’ or mini waders. As I left for Suilven I realised I should have grabbed my knee-high gaiters too, mainly to protect my woolly wellies from the brush. Sure enough, at the end of the trip there were bits of twig knotted into the woolly fabric, which was all roughed up and scuffed. Next time I’ll know; wearing gaiters may reduce the prat-effect too. They cost about £30. Quite a lot for a pair of socks and tbh, I expect them to leak eventually.

Watershed UDB

Watershed UDB
Hats off again to the UDB as a land and water submersible backpacking haul sack. No complaints, although I was only carrying 10-12 kilos. It just sits on your back like a coal sack and best of all you know it won’t take in any water and can act as a back-up buoyancy aid. More UDB here.

When I got back from this trip I was all set to give up on my Black Diamond Lighthouse (now called a HiLight) – a single-skinned tent using ‘Epic‘ ‘breathable’ fabric – I bet that’s now gone the way of Ventile from the 1970s. Reviews of the BD-L here – the lower rated ones reflect my feelings. It worked OK last year over two rainy nights, but as so often happens with Epic tents, it has its off nights which can mean a miserable experience: what you might put down to condensation (which is easily managed) is actually rain dripping off the top cross poles. If I’m to be doing more packboat touring in Scotland I’m going to need a waterproof tent. Using Todd Tex fabric, the famous Bibler Ahwahnee is exactly the same design as mine, but at double the price and double the weight (so what’s the point you wonder?). But it is actually waterproof.
I spent hours on the you-know-what researching possible alternatives. Although outside the stuff can go under the upturned raft, I do miss a porch as well as external clip- or sleeve poleage for easier pitching without opening the tent in a downpour. I considered a 1.1kg Tarptent Cloudburst 2, or a Macpac Macrolight. Luckily I didn’t get as far as Terra Nova or Hilleberg websites before I figured there’s nothing that wrong with my tent that a splash of Fabsil proofing over the vulnerable flat-to-the-rain roof section might not cure. Plus the fact that back at the house, while it was drying, pegged out in the garden, a gust of wind picked it up, blew it over our house, over the road, over the store and into the field behind before it caught on a wire fence. It survived all that without a scratch as far as I can see, so I’ll give it another chance. The steep sides can’t let rain in anyway, and it really is such a light and compact shelter that’s roomy for one and OK for two, it dries in a shake, stands without pegs (I never use guys), and has a nice big door. If the Fabsil doesn’t do the trick or makes the condensation much worse, I may have to give up on the BD for packboating in Scotland and go double-skin. I do like the idea of a tent that pitches fly first and can be used just fly, or just inner. There must be tents like that. Or maybe I should get a Nemo Morpho airtent to go with my airboats… More on tents here.

Paddles for IKs and packrafts

Updated Summer 2020

See also: Anfibio Fly

pad-abmr
shovelorspade

Like most beginners I started my IK-ing with a super cheap 3-piece TNP shovel. Then, after picking up a much better used 2-piece fibreglass Lendal Archipelago which eventually seized up, for Shark Bay in 2006 I splashed out on a decent light, rigid, bent-shaft, adjustable, low angle 2-piece, 230cm Werner Camano. At £230, it cost more than my first two boats but over 13 years on I have no regrets. The Camano just works.

highangle

To me bent shafts and an indexed, ovalised grip make ergonomic sense for steady, all-day paddles rather than pulling fast moves in rapids. It’s just more compatible with the non-rectilinear human form. I did notice that when I swapped back to the slightly heavier straight Lendal (before it seized) there was noticeably less flex, but well over a decade later, the Camano is in great shape and is still my favourite for sea kayaking.

The Camano is a low-angle paddle, but I think my style, if you can call it that, is high angle, and in fact I read that high angle is the right way to do it. I find that wide, high-sided and relatively unresponsive IKs and packrafts encourage or require an energetic ‘digging’ style compared to a smooth gliding hardshell.

A paddle for  packrafting
The way I see it, even more so than most IKs, a packraft has high and fat sides and you sit low inside. So that ought to mean a long paddle to get over all that plastic and into the water. Paddling with the 220cm, big-faced Aquabound paddle, I didn’t really notice any issues other than some squeaking as I rub the sides occasionally. Longer would not have made much difference.

At less than 3kg a packraft is extremely light but it’s not an efficient shape for gliding through water. However, once on the water with a paddler in it, the total weight is nearly the same as a more glidey IK, so it boils down to the need to propel the hull using a paddle with a large surface area. Some might say a bigger blade will mean more yawing, but I figure you just dig less hard and anyway, with practice, yawing is easily controlled. Providing you have the strength, a bigger face ought to give the speed which packraft and IK lack. There are times (mostly at sea or on white water) when speed and power can mean safety.
In the US I got myself an Aqua Bound Manta Ray 4-piece high-angle in carbon (below, 220cm). Weighing under 900g this one feels more flexy than the Camano, but fits right in the bag and so makes a great packrafting or back-up paddle – apaddleinyourpack, so to speak. Mine has the two-position snap button offset which I run at 45°. You can also get an infinite-position Posi-Lok version.
The compact and light Manta Ray (70cm longest section, left) is ideal on short day trips with public transport and with no load to haul on the water. It has been fine for UK packrafting and makes a great packstaff, too, but it doesn’t always come apart easily like the Werners. Dry or wet, don’t leave it assembled for days or weeks, especially after sea use (that probably goes for all multi-piece paddles).
I’ve used my Manta sea kayaking in Australia as well as packrafting – it was fine for both. For the price this is a great paddle – so good I sold it to my Ozzie mate and bought another. I’ve never seen a 4-part Manta for sale in the UK, but in Germany the Packrafting Store sells TLC Mantas.

paddles1
paddles2

I also have a straight, fibreglass-blade Werner Corrywrecken (£200 years ago). It’s the biggest paddle Werner do in 210cm+ 2-piece touring paddles, and anyway it’s only got 0.7m2 blades compared to the Camaro’s 0.65m2. At 220cm (same as the Manta Ray) I’ve also gone as short as I dare to get over the fat sides of a packraft.
There’s no indexing on the straight, carbon shaft, just a little ovalisation as on the Aqua Bound. The Corry’s face is a tad bigger than the Manta Ray (right and above) but the whole stick feels much more rigid (it’s 2-piece). It’s 7% lighter than the Manta Ray and 17% lighter than the stiffer Camano – initially you notice this. I compare my Corry and Camano in my Incept sea kayak here.

Weights & Measures
According to the kitchen scales the weights of these paddles are:

  • Werner Camano 230,  2-piece – 988g – stiffest
  • Werner Corrywrecken 220, 2-piece – 816g
  • Aqua Bound Manta Ray 220, 4-piece – 880g – least stiff but still fine

So now I have a long, comfy low-angle Camano for long, loaded IK sea trips; a straight, rigid, light, shorter big-faced Corry for packboating and guests (the Mrs likes it), and a compact, 4-piece Aqua Bound Manta for travelling.