Packrafting Quick Guide
Packboat rescue and survival aids
The basic gear you need for packrafting adventures so you don’t end up as above, or simply just inconvenienced and wet.
For general camping kit (sleeping, eating, washing) you’ll find lists all over the internet and beyond. Mixing paddling with walking, I prefer a 1-kilo down bag, a compact tent, a thick, full-length air mat and a Pocket Rocket-like burner with a big Tatonka or MSR 500ml+ pot/cup and a Gimp stove for back-up
Below, I suggest cheap alternatives in green. A cheap alternative to a proper packraft is of course… a Slackraft but you’ll only every buy one once.
1. A pack for your raft
Do you use a regular hiking backpack packed with your boat in or outside, or a purpose-made drybag pack with usually a rudimentary integrated harness, or use a separate packframe harness as pictured?
If you’re a first timer and own a regular hiking backpack, make do with that, but having tried both I prefer a harness. You’re on the water so (unless you can store in the hull, waterproofness trounces all-day carrying comfort. A submersible UDB duffle is tougher, as airtight as a packraft and provides high-volume back-up flotation should you get a flat on open water; exceedingly unlikely but important and reassuring.
For short approach walks like on the Tarn, or the Kimberley, I used my UDB’s basic integrated harness: just sewn-on straps. For Turkey which was mostly walking, I fitted it into NRS pack harness (above left; no longer made) whose load capacity easily exceeds its straps and your back.
In Germany Anfibio Packrafting now sell the more sophisticated US-branded Six Moon Flex Pack (left; new 2021 design), a ‘drybag hauling system’. You can lash anything that fits within the straps, including your rolled-up boat. ULA Epic is another one. In Europe such harnesses seems unknown.
Remember: with any big backpack the key to support and comfort is a stiff board or frame connecting the hip belt and shoulder strap mounts so the weight can be carried low on your hips, not hanging from your burning shoulders.
Cheap alternative: any old rucksack and a tough bin bag.
2. Four-piece paddle
Get a paddle that breaks down into four pieces for easy transportation. A paddle like this may not be as stiff as a good two-piece, but the Aqua Bound Manta Ray left or the Anfibio Wave (right) will still be under a kilo and anyway, you’re in a slow packraft not a razor-thin surf ski. Some four-parters don’t like being left assembled when wet; don’t leave it out of the water more than a day or it may be very hard to separate.
Even cheap alloy-and-plastic ‘shovels’ come with adjustable feathering; an ability to offset the blades. Flat (zero offset) works OK, but most find a bit of offset makes paddling more efficient. I’ve got used to 45° Right (ledt blade rotated 45° forward) over the years. Whitewaterists prefer 30°. Left handers will go the other way. The Anfibio Wave had infinite feathering and 10cm length adjustment.
Cheap alternative: A TPC 2-piece or similar.
3. PFD (‘personal flotation device’)
A proper foam pfd is bulky in transit but is essential for remote solo paddles or whitewater (as is a helmet and a whole lot more if you’re really going for it).
For flatwater paddles and calm, warm conditions Anfibio’s lightweight inflatable Buoy Boy (left) has twin inflation chambers, rolls down to less than a litre in volume and comes with handy net pockets and a useful crotch strap to stop it riding up when you’re flailing around in the water. Aat any other time, you’ll barely know you’re wearing it. Note It does not claim to be a CE-rated buoyancy aid.
Cheap alternative: A used foam PFD.
4. Wet shoes
I’m on my second pair of Teva Omniums (left) which are do-it-all wet shoes that are OK for unloaded walking. If trekking the wilderness for days with a full pack over rough terrain, you’re better off with proper lace up trail shoes or boots, but bear in mind that anything with a breathable membrane takes ages to dry once soaked inside out. I use membrane-free desert boots. SealSkin socks are another solution, while they last. More here.
Cheap alternative: Old trainers or Crocs.
5. Day bag or case
You want something light to carry your valuables when away from the boat in populated areas. Choose a bag or case which fits under your knees without getting in the way. Whatever it is, it will sit in water, get splashed or even submerged, so it needs an airtight seal. If it has handy external storage pouches or pockets, so much the better.
Recently in France I tried an Underwater Kinetics box (22cm x 16 x 8; 540g, above left) used on ebay for under a tenner. It’s about the size of a Peli 1150 but a bit less deep and took my Kindle Fire, camera, wallet and bits. It’s light enough to carry away from the boat and also happens to make a handy camera stand.
But most of the time I use a 20-L Ortlieb Travel Zip (left) which zips open easily and stores loads. As for a camera? This is what you want.
Cheap alternative: large, clip-seal lunchbox and a plastic bag.
6. Repair kit
A couple of feet of Tyvec or similar tape and a small tube of Aquaseal is probably all you need for quick repairs. Something I’ve never had to do in all my years of packrafting.
Cheap alternative: Pieces of vinyl tape stuck to you spare repair patches.