For a couple of years until 2020 Longshore International was the first and only UK-based outlet to offer branded packrafts sourced from China. As far as I know, up till that time the only option to buy new packrafts in the UK has been the Alpacka outlet up in Aviemore.
At the time of writing this in 2018 Longshore had five models (right) starting at £495 as well as a custom option, all laid out a particularly well-designed website which keeps it all simple.
Their boats all closely resemble Alpackas new and recent. The Alpacka cat is well and truly out of the bag. But as with bicycles or an axe, there are limited ways of doing packrafts. Without resorting to gimmicks, most of the genuinely worthwhile ideas and innovations have all been done. All that remains is for prices to drop to attract more than enthusiasts, or possibly lighter and stronger fabrics like Vectran. The boat we tested was the EX280 Expedition, pitched as a heavy hauler or a tandem.
What they say:
The EX 280 is ideal for river, estuary or coastal cruising and can be paddled by either one or two people. It could also be used for fishing or as a tender to a small yacht. As our longest packraft it tracks well and is the fastest and easiest to paddle.
Out of the box
The EX280 cost £550. We chose to try it as a double rather than a load carrier as it’s something new to me and I imagine is also an attractive idea to other recreational paddlers; a compact, light boat for enjoying time on the water. At my request the EX we got differed from the website images in that it had a backrest fitted for the front paddler. I can’t see paddling being comfy upfront without one of these.
After weighing in at 4.6kg with strap and air bag, once unrolled I was pleased to see how long it looked; I’ve had IKs nearly as long. Solo or two-up, that ought to add up to steadier tracking which packrafts do well anyway, but also less bow yawing which can slow a packraft down.
The EX uses the usual 210D nylon-core TPU for the hull, but on this boat it’s coated inside and out like the original Alpackas. A few years back Alpacka quietly slipped in single-sided hull fabric; it saves weight, price and bulk of course, but counterintuitively they also claimed single-sided was more tear resistant. Can’t see how that unless the core fabric is different, but Longshore reckon a double-coated hull is stiffer – and longitudinal rigidity becomes important once a low-pressure inflatable boat (packraft or IK) exceeds a certain length. I know from my IKs that a stiff PVC like my old Incept can help make a boat more rigid compared to more pliable synthetic rubbers like Nitrilon or Hypalon. To fill the EX up took about 18 airbag-fulls.
Side tubes are 28cm and parallel, as are most of their models. The consistent 40-cm interior width makes the EX nearly a metre wide which for smaller persons or those sat low can interfere with paddling. It’s also a roomy 173cm long inside with the whole boat clocking in at 276cm in length. At that length two adult paddlers need to cross their legs, but hopefully not so much that knees get in the way of paddling.
The seat bases are a horseshoe at the back and a flat pad in the middle, both with solid-looking twist-lock inflation nozzles. But they imitate Alpacka’s overkill lace-up attachment system which makes removal or adjustment a faff. There’s got to be a better way of doing it and, at least at the back, the Anfibio Alpha XC we tried the other week had it – a simple strap and buckle; easy to lift, adjust or remove the seat for cleaning and drying (or sitting on at camp). On my Yak seat I’ve eliminated much of the lacing and fitted reusable zip tie. If the EX was my boat I’d work out something similarly for the forward seat which wants to be easily adjustable or removable. The rear inflatable backrest aids comfort a bit, and the front is better than nothing although an SoT-style backpad (as on my Seawave IK) would provide better support. Tim from Longshore says he’s getting some in.
Seats for long packrafts
With a regular short packraft it makes sense to sit and lean against the back. With the now usual extended sterns the boat sits level enough and you stretch your legs out forward, braced off the bow with a slight knee bend. Some whitewater singles do have a back brace to position you more centrally off the back to improve agility and reduce the chance of bandersnatching (backflips) when coming out of rapids.
Putting a second paddler in a packraft loses the important solid backrest. A back band helps, but unlike an IK, the non-inflatable floor can’t help sagging a few inches in the middle, lowering the critical bum-to-heel level to zero or even less. Pictured left: the bum is on a seat so probably just a little higher than the heels. For comfort and an efficient paddling stroke, you want your bum higher than the heels; just a couple of inches makes all the difference, especially if wearing a lot of cold-weather clobber. Added height also helps get the paddle over the inherent width of a packraft; away fron gnarly whitewater packrafts have stability to spare.
As usual, those micro-dosing dudes at Alpacka worked it out by inventing the seat tube for the discontinued Gnu which you straddled like a horse or a jet-ski, knees down. The tube gets you higher and spreads the load across the floor, but depending on the elevation you do wonder how comfy that will be all day. It gives a good ‘forward attack’ position for racing but you lose on easy floor storage for touring which is why they invented the TiZip cargo storage solution for inside seat tube or the hull around the same time.
The other way round it is to have a seat or even a plain net suspended from four points on the side tubes which support most of your spinal weight, virtually eliminating floor sag. Again you lose on backresting, but canoers have managed like this for years; the higher your bum the less a backrest is needed as the paddling action pulls your weight forward.
Alpacka had three types of seats for the Gnu: the full-length straddle tube; shorter individual kneel seats and an inflatable suspension bench seat – all pictured right and it’s possible the replacement model will be similar. All are also suited to canoe style paddling and all of these ideas could be adapted or experimented with on a double like the EX280.
The EX features a moderately extended stern common to most packrafts these days. When paddled solo at the back it adds buoyancy where it’s needed, trimming the boat, while solo or two-up acting as a skeg and increasing the waterline, helping tracking and reducing bow yawing which all helps with speed.
Here you’ll find the simple but effective Boston valve – see this for how they work. I wish my Yak had one of those. There are also two tape attachment loops with another four at the front. I didn’t use them but it looked like the foremost front ones could be a little higher up the hull sides and the rear ones back a bit behind the taped seam. That would give a broad platform for a pushbike which this big boat could easily handle.
At 840D double-coated, the chunky floor does not spare the grams either and has a generous, 4-inch glued overlap with the hull tubes.
The tidiness of all the taped heat-welded seams matches my own Yak which you’d assume is a standard to match. Either packrafts are dead easy to assemble once you have a system and training, or factories have worked out how to reliably manufacture them without any distortions which I’m sure I’d end up with if they handed me some scissors and a heat gun.
On the water
Too much work meant plans for an overnight trip got shelved, but what I was more interested in was how it handled as a double. We nipped out one evening to try the EX for size. I assumed that my 92kgs would be best sat at the back but with the standard position of the laced-in front seat there was more room for me up front. The much lighter and one-foot shorter g-friend snagged the proper back support at the stern, but looking at photos of both of paddling it (below), the boat floated perfectly level with this arrangement which must be right. Up front my crossed ankles tucked under the bow comfortably enough but once inflated, the back rest felt squidgy and unsupportive. When deflated it made more room and less squidge but put me off the back edge of the seat pad which, as said, was too much hassle to move back.
I also realised that with my weight pressing down the centre of the boat, the floor sagged so that even after fully inflating the ~4-inch thick seat, I was still probably sitting level with my heels – not really a sustainable paddling posture. Sat low also made it initially awkward to clear the near metre-wide sides with my 230-cm paddle until I adjusted the technique. At the back the g-friend with a 220-cm stick was also not always getting a clean draw. Depending on your height, I’d say a 220-cm paddle would be a minimum for this wide boat, but see below.
It didn’t take long before the pool-toy hoon in me wanted to see ‘what’ll it do’ [mister]. A couple of flat-out bursts recorded a brief high of 4.3mph, with a much more sustainable 3–3.5mph in the near flat calm conditions. Even two-up, in a paddle boat max speed is determined by the hull shape which soon hits a wall. I snatched a 4.2mph paddling alone sat in the middle. But of course with the shared effort, two of you can sustain cruising for longer or with less cumulative fatigue. We’re not much faster in my twice-as-long Seawave, though the paddling effort is much less as that thing glides like no packraft ever will.
As expected, the length of the EX allied with the action of two paddlers pretty much eliminated any distracting yawing at the bow common to packrafts paddled solo and without extended sterns. Tracking (maintaining a heading) was easiest with me adding steering input from the front, though I think it’s more normally done by the rear paddler.
We both briefly tried paddling solo in both positions. You’d expect less yawing with me sat in the middle of the boat and I suppose that was the case, but it sure was nice to stretch out for a change. This long boat won’t be so manoeuvrable in white water; shorter, more agile packrafts are available for that, with decks or even self-bailing floor.
Next evening we set off for the ox-blood red sandstone cliffs on Rubha Dunan below Achiltibuie township. All was calm but I took the sail on the off-chance and on getting in after a damn good tempering, I slotted it under my seatpad for more support. Good idea! It raised me a couple of inches into an efficient paddling posture and the whole boat felt transformed. I’d topped up the air with all I had and have to say on the water the EX was surprisingly stiff for its length which must be helped by the relatively thick fabric. Despite being nearly 3 metres long this is no soggy slackraft.
The warm weather had brought in swathes of dying jelly fish which was a reminder we were in a single-chambered boat about a millimetre thick. If a seal mistook it for a tasty blue sea-pastille all we’d have is our pfds and the seat pieces. It’s all in the mind of course, but out on the water in an untried packraft you can feel vulnerable so I kept close to the shore. There’s more to look at here anyway, but things like a thick floor and double-sided hull were reassuring.
We found ourselves rounding the point sooner than expected so decided to paddle back the way we came and on along the beach towards the hostel, before hopping out, rolling up it and walking back to the car.
Shore! Huh! What is it good for?‘
The EX280 is a spacious solo boat with heaps of room for easily stashing gear accessibly on the floor, so improving visibility. And it has buoyancy to spare if you also want to lash a bike across the bow without jabbing your shin on the pedals or oily chainrings. (I felt rather cramped bikerafting in my Yak the one time). Solo, I’d consider setting up a proper seat midway between the two as they are now to centralise my weight more like a kayak; if you have the room why not use it.
As a double it makes a fun rec boat that’s surprisingly nippy for a packraft, helped by negligible yawing. The width means you want to pump those seats right up and consider a floor pad below to add height for adequate paddle clearance over the sides. At nearly a metre wide, there is stability to spare. And for day-long use the front paddler would benefit from the better support of a back band, as mentioned above.
Alternatives include Alpacka’s Explorer 42 available in the UK from £995 but 23cm shorter inside, their interesting Gnu (from £1180 but discontinued in 2018) with a longitudinal seat tube for two to straddle, or a solo canoe seat bench, both giving good height to get over the 101.5-cm width. Then at the Packrafting Store in Germany from €800 to €1270 you have the very light Sigma TX (160cm internal); MRS Adventure X2 (170cm) and the Kokopelli Twain (225cm) and Barracuda R2 (215cm); these later two look like they have enough room to uncross the legs.
So at £550 with two-week returns and a year’s warranty on workmanship, the Longshore EX280 is a well-made and robust packraft which is amazingly good value and available in the UK. It’s suited to two paddlers with an average height of 5′ 6″, or solo paddlers with heavier payloads who don’t mind carrying nearly 2kg over the absolute lightest alternatives.
Thanks to Tim at Longshore for supplying the test boat. More about it here.