Tag Archives: Watershed UDB

Packyaking in Whitianga (NZ)

MRS Nomad Index Page

nzwhitmapAt a Dive shop in Whitianga on the North Island’s Coromandel peninsula half a day from Auckland, I asked the teenage girl left at the till which way the tidal currents flowed around here. She smiled at me like I was an idiot and explained slowly.
‘Well, when the tide comes in it like, comes towards you, and when it goes out, it sort of goes away.’
Before I got into sea paddling that’s what I would have said, but I explained what I meant, that tidal flows moved to and fro in a given direction along a coast, not just in out, in out, like a Can Can diverdancer’s legs At any constriction or headland it’s a good thing to know when planning or timing a paddle. She looked it up on the internet.

‘Anticlockwise.’

‘Thanks.’

pacificohTides apart, did I really think the surging expanse of the Pacific would be calm enough for a humble 10km coastal packayak round the cliffs of Cook Bluff to the famous and much fridge-magneted tourist icon of Cathedral Cove (painting below)? No, but now on my wavelength, Dive Girl went on to offer me tomorrow’s gloomy forecast: 4-metre swells, 35 knot gusts and occasional showers of razor-billed flying fish.
nzwhitibayA good day for a cliff walk then. Coming back next evening from Cooks Beach, I  was a little appalled to see Mercury Bay awash with white-capped rollers, as if some tsunami was on the go. Surf’s up, if you have the nerve.
It was right here in 1769 that Captain Cook and his crew – on the hunt for the fabled Terra Australis – first raised the British flag on the New Zealand shore while engaged in observing the transit of Mercury.

cathcov.jpg

Maybe I’d get a chance the day after, my last. But even in the calm morning the storm’s after-swell was still pounding the nzlonebaycliffs and beaches of Mercury Bay. Who knows how it was at the Cove of Broken Dreams which, they said, was still closed from the land side, anyway.
Luckily, the cliff-rimmed natural harbour of Whitianga was sheltered from all this Pacific aggression. And better still, the tides were ideally timed to be swept into the inlet, before getting spat out on the mid-afternoon ebb like a retching gannet’s breakfast.
nzwhit - 3Settling up on a grassy strand near the marina, I realised I’d left my pfd at the hostel – this after noting a warning sign advising that all in <6-m long boats required them. Oh well, if spotted hopefully the harbour master will zoom up alongside me on his jet ski and lend me one for the day. As it was, I was heading inland where there’d be no one.
Once tempered up via my hose extension, I scooted over the yacht-clogged harbour mouth, ferrying across the strong current filling the shallow inlet, tilting marker buoys as it went. I was told later that, partly as a result of dredging a channel for marina access, that Whitianga’s natural harbour was fastest flowing in New Zealand.
nzwirshelfOn the west side, under a wave-carved overhang (left) I hopped out to temper the MRS again. I like an inflatable as firm as possible but am finding, perhaps due to its larger than normal volume for a non-pump inflatable, that the S1 commonly needs a second pump up a few minutes in.
I’m now wondering if something about half the size or volume of my 600-g K-Pump Mini would be handy to get the Nomad up to operating pressure in one go.handpump This ebay pump (right) cost me just 3 quid posted and is actually similar to the mini pump Alpacka initially offered with their $2000 Alpackalypse. With a pump like this, after high-volume air-bagging, you could beg18judiciously pump to a highish pressure on the shore – assuming the cheapo ebay pump can hack it. Yes, a pump’s another thing to carry/lose and the comparatively bulky K-Pump will do the job in a few short strokes. But unlike a paddle, it’s not ‘mission critical’, as they say in the movies.
Fitting a PRV and being able to pump away until the PRV purged (as I do with my Seawave IK) would be even easier, because you could also happily leave the boat out on a hot beach without fear of it exploding into a thousand ribbons of ruptured TPU. PRVs are unknown on packrafts so maybe I’m over-thinking it, but double-tempering is a bit of a faff even if, as humans go, I have a good pair of nicotine-free lungs.
nzyachtAnyway, I padded southwards, weaving among the lifeless yachts and cruisers, reminding me of our Hayling Island paddle last summer. Let me tell you, in this world there are a lot of massively under-used boats bobbing around and gathering algae.
Once past a sinister big black tug, the bay opened out and I was in the clear. Nearby, alongside an jetty below a cliff leading to a dwelling hidden in the bush, I spotted this pioneering-era carving.

nzwhit - 2

nzwhit - 1Beyond here the shore looked oddly mangrovey and inaccessible. Mangroves this far south at nearly 37°? I’d only ever seen then around Darwin where I’d once eaten a so-called oolie worm which feeds in their trunks. Sure enough, turns out hereabouts is the southermost extent of mangroves.
I’m not so keen on this sort of drab coastline, but live and let alternative lifeforms live, I suppose. In fact it was fun to probe the passages below the shady groves as it was due to reach 30°C today.

s1nzmangro
It took a bit more idle nosing about before I finally located the channel leading southeast to the two small rivers which fed the harbour inlet. The channel narrowed as the nzwhit - 7supposedly slack tide swept me into the tangled maze of salt-loving woodland. Curving left and right, south and east, as the scaly boughs closed in, it occurred to me that this far down in the bay wouldn’t be a great place to get lost and then stranded in thigh-deep, oolie-ridden silt for the next few hours. Who knows how quick the tide turns. Anticipating this, I’d clocked a hilltop landmark over on the western hills to help orientate myself, then pushed on in as far as I dared, getting maybe 500m from a shore before spinning around into the still-rising tide and scuttling back out into the open.

nzwhitbaymapp

The tide really ought to have turned by now, carrying me back the way I’d come, but the forecast nor’westerly was on time and in my face. Luckily the Nomad’s generous stub nose stopped me making a mockery of the harbour’s 5-knot limit so it was a long hour’s slog back to the harbour mouth, bent against the breeze and slapping waves. A similarly windy afternoon on the Wairoa River a few days back must have got me into paddling shape, so the effort was all put down to good exercise.
Once past the marina, I’d hoped to slip below the jetty, under the harbour master’s cabin and out into Mercury Bay itself. Maybe cruise below Shakespeare Cliffs and then land on Buffalo Beach, like a proper Pacific navigator. But it was not to be. Chances are I’d have just embarrassed myself, tumbling through the surf and into the shore fishermen’s barbed hooks.
My timenzwhit - 6 was up in NZ. Next day, rolling my cleverly adapted UDB (more below) to the bus stop, all was as calm as a kiwi’s cozy nest. I was reminded how sea kayakers must feel when they haul all the way up to the Summer Isles to be met by tent-bothering gales, only to find great conditions as they pack up.
nzwhit - 12It’ll be there next time and for sure the east side of the Coromandel looks like the fantastic place for some fabulous sea paddling. The beachside hostel I stayed at laid on hefty old SoTs for free and there were plenty of kayak touring outfits in town and around. Give it a go if you ever find yourself down here.

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nzwhit - 10trolleyFor this trip moving from airport to airport and in a bid to spare my creaking back, I mated my trusty Watershed UDB to a chopped-down lightweight folding trolley I’ve used on previous packboating trips. With chunky zip ties and a strap, the shortened frame fitted securely to the rugged UDB’s back harness tabs.
My load was way under the airline limit, but the thinking was that, once packboating my planned river for a few days, the UDB and small trolley would still be compact, compared to a regular wheeled travel bag.
ort140
It was all a way of stopping myself buying the painfully pricey but actually only 500g heavier Ortlieb Duffle RS 140 I’ve been eyeing up. Fitted with an IP67 TiZip (not as good as the UDB’s brass drysuit zip), it’s the biggest ortliebrolledone they do, so ought to take my Seawave IK and gear. Lacking a backbone frame of Ort’s RG duffles, the 140 actually rolls up even smaller (right) than my DIY contraption.
A handy side benefit (which might also apply to the airtight Ortlieb), was that being able to inflate my UDB into a rigid airtight sausage made it easier to wheel around (but not as comfy as a full-framed wheel bag). I got some odd looks giving my bag a blow job by the arrivals luggage carousel, because at departure check-in I had to tug the zip open a bit to ensure it would air-off safely at 32,000 feet.
In my hand I carried my nifty Ortlieb 30-L Travel Zip.

Six Packrafting Essentials

fx-gearThe basic gear you need for packrafting adventures.
For general camping kit (sleeping, eating, washing, etc) you’ll find lists all over the internet and beyond. I prefer a 1-kilo down bag, a roomy tent, a thick, full-length air mat and a Pocket Rocket-like burner with a big Tatonka or MSR 500ml+ pot/cup.
Below, I suggest cheap alternatives in green. A cheap alternative to a proper packraft is of course… a Slackraft! You’ll only every buy one once ;-)


nrsparagon011. A pack for your raft
Do you use a regular hiking backpack packed with your boat and dry bags within drybags, or a purpose-made drybag pack with usually a rudimentary integrated harness, or carried in a separate packframe harness (below right)?
If you’re a first timer and own a regular hiking backpack, make do with that, but having tried both I prefer the latter. You’re on the water so waterproofness paragonnrstrounces all-day carrying comfort. I find the best combination is a submersible UDB duffle with an easy-to-use full-length drysuit zip closure that’s as airtight as your packraft. It also provides high-volume back-up flotation should you get a flat on the water. This is important and reassuring. And with a genuinely submersible bag like this there’s not need to pack stuff in endless dry bags ‘just to be on the safe side’. A UDB or similar is as airtight as a jam jar.
For short approach walks like on the Tarn, or the Kimberley a few years ago, I used the UDB’s basic integrated harness. For Turkey which was mostly walking, sixmoonI fitted it into NRS pack harness (above left and right) whose capacity  probably exceeds its straps and your back. In Germany Packrafting Store sell the more sophisticated American Six Moon Flex Pack (right), a ‘drybag hauling system’. You can lash anything that fits within the straps in these harnesses, including your rolled-up boat.
Remember: with any big backpack the key to support and comfort is a stiff connection or frame between the hip belt and shoulder strap mounts so the weight can be carried low around your hips, not hanging from your burning shoulders.
Cheap alternative: any old rucksack and a tough bin bag.

pad-abmr2. 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 one- or two-piece, but a good one like the Aqua Bound Manta Ray pictured will still be under a kilo and anyway, you’re in a slow packraft not a razor-thin surf ski. mantaray1
Some four-parters don’t like being left assembled when wet; don’t leave it more featherthan a couple of days or it’ll be hard to come apart.
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 (right blade rotated 45° forward) over the years. Left handers will go the other way.
Cheap alternative: A TPC 2-piece or similar.

499_13. PFD (‘personal flotation device’)
A proper foam pfd is bulky in transit but is essential for remote solo paddles or white water (as might be a helmet). For flatwater paddles Anfibio’s lightweight inflatable Buoy Boy jacket (left) has twin inflation chambers, rolls down to less than a litre in bbueyvolume and comes with handy net pockets and a useful crotch strap to stop it riding up when you’re flailing around in the water. Aired down at any other time, you’ll barely know you’re wearing it.
Cheap alternative: A used foam PFD.

tevafloater4. Wet shoes
I’m on my second pair of Teva Omniums (left) which are pretty good do-it-all wet shoes that are OK for walking too. 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.

pellington5. 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.
peliconeI adapted a Peli 1400 (above) with a seatback net on the outside and a strap inside the lid to hold my Macbook Air (right). Volume is a useful 9 litres, but at 2kg the 1400 is a bit over the top. I don’t really need to throw it out of a Hercules from 14,000 feet, but I do want reliable submersability so I don’t have to think twice if I flip the boat.
peli11Recently in France I used a smaller Underwater Kinetics box (22cm x 16 x 8; 540g, 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 P1290855Kindle Fire and bits, or camera and wallet and bits. Its light enough to carry away from the boat and also happens to make a handy camera stand for self timer shots. chatbagOtherwise I use my old yellow Watershed Chatooga bag (left, yellow), a 30-litre holdall with a big rubbery zip-loc seal and made from a hard, polyurethane that you can’t imagine getting pierced too easily. I can pack a flysheet, sleeping bag and airmat in there, but on the Tarn as a daybag I found it a bit too big to get my feet out quickly, and after years chatwalkof use one flat seam was separating (easily glued up).
With both the Peli and the Watershed, I find opening a bit slow or effortful if, say, you want to get to a non-waterproof camera quickly. Nothing you can do about the Peli’s heavy clamps, but a drysuit-type zip instead of the Watershed’s seal would be better. I hear something like this may be in the works and I also have an idea for and under-knee day bag.
Cheap alternative: large, clip-seal lunchbox and a plastic bag to carry it in.

tyvec6. 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 years of packrafting
Cheap alternative: Duct tape and a rabbit’s foot.

 

fx-range

Watershed Mk1 Ultimate Ditch Bag (UDB) review

udbUpdated 2019

See also: Ortlieb Duffle RS140

Weight (without backpack harness) 1100g.
With trolley (see below): 2700g

Capacity 96L (verified).

Size (fully ‘inflated’) 90cm long x 38cm wide. Circumference 120cm.

Features Grab handles at each end; holdall handles; basic backpack harness; small zipped mesh inside pocket; one-way inflation/purge valve.

Fabric: Don’t know exactly, a tough, abrasion-proof nylon fabric with a glossy coating on the inside.

Cost About £120 in 2011. No longer made. The new shape with slick fabric is 78L and here – or the orange pic in the gallery below.

udb88I’ve been using this big holdall for four years now on kayak and packraft trips in France, Australia, Turkey, the US and in the UK, as well as a side bag on my motorbike. As it’s among my favourites it gets an upgrade to its own page.
‘One dry bag to rule them all’ I wrote back then and my UDB still ticks that box. Your typical roll-top dry bags isn’t submersion proof, yet in paddle sports submersion is a likely scenario. Using roll-tops I found myself packing drybags inside dry bags to keep important things like clothes and down bags dry. With the UBD you can just chuck it in and zip it up.
udbwakInitially I tried using the UDB as a backpack (left) but, like trying to do that with any holdall, it’s only a short term solution that puts a huge strain on your shoulders. Plus I found the harness was poorly positioned so the pack sat high on my back, further increasing the centre of gravity, but running the shoulder straps loose (as left) didn’t work either. It became clear the include harness was not intended for anything more than short hauls. What was needed was a frame of some sort, or a better harness. You can read a summary of my experiments here. In the end I found the NRS Paragon pack harness suited my needs best.
udb6What I like about my UDB is that it’s a simple, rugged and basic big-ass bag with handy handles and a reliably submersion-proof closure. There are no gimmicks unless you count the purge valve. On the water it eliminates any worries about stuff getting wet and of course it’s something to hold on to if your boat get shot out from under you by a dozy spearfisherman.
2bz2Watershed still make bags with drysuit zips – see the gallery below or the website. But they’re either huge or just a bit on the small side or are priced for military procurement departments only.
I’ve also used Watershed’s 80-litre  Westwater (top left – more like 70L I reckon) for packrafting day trips, but pushed it a bit hard chatbagon one cross-country MTB ride which ripped out one of the strap fixtures. Like their handy 30-litre Chattooga day holdall (right, yellow), the Westwater has their slick watershedding fabric which is tough for sure but less agreeable or grippy when pressed against your back all day. And like the UDB the straps have the legal minimum paddling (though are easily replaced). Both use their chunky giant fold-over zip-lock closure which I’m sure works as well as a drysuit zip. But if it had to be one bag it’s my UDB – ‘One dry bag to rule them all’.

nzwhit-10
What more is there to say trolleyabout the Watershed UDB? How about that in 2019 I adapted it with a cheap, chopped-down lightweight, big-wheeled  folding trolley (right) from previous packboating trips to carry my packraft to Australia and New Zealand. With zip ties and straps, the trolley frame lashed securely to the rugged UDB’s harness tabs and I could roll it with the top handle. It weighed in at 2.7kg.
Interestingly, the rigidity provided by the UDB once fully inflated (as above) helped make it more comfortable to wheel and less of a sack on wheels. But one thing I did notice is that without a full-length telescopic metal frame the set up tends to bob up and down annoyingly as you walk.
ort140The thinking was that once packrafting a river for a few days (I never made it), the UDB trolley would still be more compact than a regular wheeled travel bag, while enabling wheeling along paths and long gravel roads to get to the river.
It was all an attempt at not blithely splashing out the huge but pricey Ortlieb Duffle RS 140 (left) which I’d been eyeing up. A few months later I eventually did buy a used RS140 for the Seawave but can still see plenty of years use in the UDB.

 

Tested: NRS Paragon pack harness revıew

See also Tatonka Lastenkraxe

nrsparagon02In a line Surprisingly effective and well-featured carry-all pack harness.

Cost $100 from NRS.

Weight 1340g.

Capacity Vertical strap adjusts out to 1.96m; horizontal straps up to 1.8m. That’s a pack volume of some 200 litres but I imagine anything more than 25kg will be hard carrying. For that you’d want a Lastenkraxe.

Features Padded hip belt with small zip paragonnrspockets, chest strap, fully adjustable 3-belt pack harness, padded plastic backboard; ice axe loop; padded pouch with elasticated cord on the back.

nrsparagon10Where used On a 200-km walk with packraft along SW Turkey’s Lycian Way. Walking in Umbria carrying a holdall. Day trips with packraft.

tik Q/d clips make getting to the pack easy; more comfortable than you’d think; fully adjustable; capacity for bigger loads than you can probably lift. Pouches could easily be added to the side straps.

cros Zip pockets on hip belt good idea but too small and awkward to get to.

What they say
The NRS Paragon Pack is the epitome of versatility. Rather than buying an entirely new dry bag, the Paragon™ Pack allows you to retrofit your existing bags into the ideal portage pack.

What’s wrong with a normal backpack?
I took a long time discovering that NRS’s Paragon was just what I needed for travelling with a paddle in my pack™. It then took another year to get round to testing it properly on a long walk with a small boat.
r-on-lochI admit a decent conventional backpack is better suited to walking long distances over rough terrain with heavy loads. I tried that on my first packrafting trip in Scotland, carrying a giant PVC drybag for my TNF Terra 65 while on the water (right). Although it’s not happened yet, the problem would be capsizing at which point the roll-top ‘drybag’ couldn’t be expected to seal for long. Because of that everything inside that mattered needed its own dry bag, neither of which would also last a prolonged immersion. All that makes access a faff.
udbThen in 2010 I got myself my brilliant Watershed UDB – a 1.1-kilo, 96-litre holdall made from a bomb-proof fabric and with a chunky drysuit zip – that is drysuit-dry not roll-top ‘drybag’-dry.
I like my Mk1 UDB (no longer made) because it’s a genuine immersion bag so doesn’t require back-up drybagging of the contents. Zip up the heavy seal and it’s as airtight as your pack boat and good to go. What’s more – especially on a packraft – a bag like this provides 96-litres of dependable and reassuring secondary buoyancy should my single-chamber packraft boat go flat on the water.
nrsparagon09The UDB came with a rudimentary backpacking harness which, like the handles, were sewn to the bag. As we all know, a backpack works best with some kind of rigid frame or plate linking the waist belt and the shoulder straps so the weight can rest low on the hips, not hang high from the shoulders. When walking for days with typical 18-kilo loads that makes a big difference to comfort and stability. The UDB’s token harness wasn’t designed for this and anyway, was poorly positioned on the bag.
lastenkraxe-blackAs you can read here, I did the usual searches for ex-mil packframes and thought of cutting up a regular used backpack, but not before buying a Tatonka Lastenkraxe (right). That system, based on hunter’s L-frame packframes I’d seen in the US, can certainly carry a load but even with its huge padded straps and belts, at 2.7kg is a bit OTT and clanky for packraft travels. I think these sort of packframes are more suited to man-hauling very heavy loads or relatively easy terrain.

nrsparagon01On the Trail
At Gatwick check-in the Paragon slipped easily inside my UDB, avoiding the problem of stray straps getting caught in conveyors or landing gear. At the other end, fitting it took 10 minutes and I was out of the airport on the 3-km walk to the nearest hotel.
I had concerns that the rigidity of the backboard (or ‘lumber support system’) wouldn’t be up to it, but of course once any pack is solidly strapped to a bendy board it can flex with the body but will maintain the rigid distance between the hip and shoulder belts. Only the strap mounting arrangements can come adrift under the load and for me, they didn’t.
My load was around 17-kilos + water and nrsparagon03other bits in a small waist bag. That’s one flaw in running a UDB: there are no handy side- or mesh pockets to use, far less a slot to take a 3-litre water bladder. I was planning to rig something up between pack and harness but never got round to it. Early on, the Lycian Way was initially well provided with gushing springs, wells and cisterns meaning I could get by on just a half-litre bottle. Later, I needed another bottle but even then was often a little too parched as the weather warmed up and usable cisterns got strung out.
nrsparagon04Once something works OK I tend not to fiddle. I might have tried extending the back length to drive the weight more to the hips. The strap and back padding is not in the plush Lastenkraxe league. While I did have problems managing my balance on the gnarly and awkward coastal paths, in the end I can’t blame that on the Paragon, just the load, the terrain and me.
2bz32bz4The lightweight NRS Paragon could easily take my current Seawave IK rolled up for short cross-country portages to and from the water. It will also work well with my other Watershed backpack – the 70-litre Westwater (left). Like the UDB, that bag came with rudimentary shoulder straps but will be all the 2bz6more useful and comfortable as a backpack once strapped to the Paragon. The pictures left and right show a little more clearly how the pack wraps around a bag.
Now I know it works I may look into fitting fatter shoulder straps on the Paragon’s straps and other minor mods. Or maybe I’ll just leave it as it is.

nrsparagon06

Packframes: Tatonka Lastenkraxe review

See also: NRS Paragon
Stone Glacier also worth a look but $$$

tonka-6I thought I liked the idea of packframes for pack boating – a rigid rucsac harness frame without the bag element. The boat, paddles plus dry bags are all lashed to a frame, alongside a bag.
frameI considered this when I first got into pack boats and searched for the L-frame backpacks I recalled from the late 1970s. Nothing doing apart from horrible old Campari stuff, so I settled on a cheap ex-army A.L.I.C.E packframe and adapted it to take the harness of my ancient MacPac backpack (right).
alicepakI tried it out on the Coast to Coast walk as a kind of modular backpack with various roll-top drybags and an Ortleib bike pannier (left). It looked kind of shabby and wasn’t so comfortable, plus it was too small and lacked a big enough L-shaped platform to support the weight of a the gear. Good thing it cost me next to nothing then.

gear-TNFpackFor the second stage of the C2C walk I splashed out on a TNF Terra 65-litre backpack, the first new pack I’ve bought since I was a teenager. I can report that modern backpacks are pretty damn comfy. Instead of an exterior frame which went out with glam rock, the TNF uses a moulded plastic board to provide the vital hip-to-shoulder stiffening element so the weight rests on the hips not the shoulders.
udbwalkAt 2.3kg the Terra was actually not that light, despite having a pretty flimsy body and I realised it was a bit small for pack boating operations, with their added requirements in gear.
My 96-litre submersible Mk 1 Watershed UDB (left) is bigger, but is just a sack with thin shoulder straps (it since been redesigned as more of a duffel). With no longitudinal rigidity it’s not comfortable but more significantly, is not stable either with the way the straps are positioned, or perhaps that’s because it’s just very tall.
udbergberg-cwtI ungraded the TNF to a bigger Berghaus C71 65+10 backpack (right; 2.6kg) with a snazzy articulated hip belt pivot. Without the harness the 1.1kg UDB could slot into that and so, even if it does weigh in at 3.7kg all up, I have a comfortable modern backpack with a totally submersible UDB ‘liner’. (I used the Berghaus on our Assynt-Cape Wrath Trail variant – above left.)
packframeNearly there. In the US one time I saw some packframes at a hunting outfitters in Flagstaff (right) that were much better than anything I’ve seen in the UK and going from just $80. They had hinged L-sections to support loads, and looked like an ideal carrier for the UDB and boats. As it stands, my UDB is still my preferred haul bag for overnight pack boating activities.
Good analysis, history and list of packframes

Tatonka Lastenkraxe review lastenkraxe-black
Lastenkraxe? A Nordic nutcracker? An uncredited evil troll out of Harry Potter? Tatonka is a German company who produce some crafty and functional stuff, such as their pot/cup. A little research reveals that Lasten + kraxe adds up to ‘load bearer’ + ‘rucksack. Vorsprung durch kraknik.
The Lax differs from the hinged hunters’ frames by having a well triangulated, rigid platform. A bit over the top for load bearing perhaps and it certainly won’t slip under the bed so easily. But besides being rated at 50kg, the platform provides the unexpected benefit of standing up straight when placed on flat ground. No need to look for a rock or dry bit of grass to perch your pack, or support it to get into the back.
It weighs 2.7kg but feels lighter for the amount of alloy in there. And like all modern packs, you can adjust the harness to suit your back length, as well as do the usual micro-adjusting to the chunky hip belt and shoulder straps and the all important, non-elasticated, sternum strap.
tonka-1The Lax will obviously work fine for packraft expeditioning, plus kayak day trips where a trolley can’t be used, but I wanted to see if carrying my Amigo IK was a viable option for camping too. The Amigo weighs about 15kg ready to go, and as you can see takes up much of the packframe when strapped on vertically. Horizontally would make more space above, but having walked about five miles on road, track as well as very rough hillside, treating the Amigo like a packraft will be a tall order.
tonka-5I recall the Terra backpack on my first packrafting trip in 2010 weighed 18kg with a few days’ food and a drysuit. The Amigo is at least 12kg heavier than a packraft so that’s 30 kilos. I was walking around with about 20kg which felt like plenty. As said, the Lax is rated at up to 50kg which is hard to believe; the stitching alone would be under immense strain.
Realistically, camping with the kayak would work best where there was more water between short and fairly easy walks (few bogs and steep inclines – not really Scotland then). Of course, having a kayak as opposed to a packraft makes lone coastal paddling and sea loch crossings less intimidating.
berghausc71Comfort is as good as can be expected with a 20-kg load, but I think it’s safe to say a rigid frame is less compliant than a modern frameless backpack like my Berghaus C71 (right; 2.6kg). On one stage the lower frame was digging into my hips through the hip belt, although on the next walk I must have adjusted it better and it was fine over terrain that at times was barely walkable. I wasn’t using a packstaff this time, but off-piste that would be a great help.
tonka-4Early days yet, but quality of construction seems good. I like the lift handle and generous padding. One thing I’d like to see on any harness like this is a pocket or two on the padded hip belt, or even just a bit of tucking mesh.
The platform construction looks solid and as well as being a pack stand, with a some cushioning would also make a solid camp seat when unloaded (below right). This is a much discussed and under-rated item, and one on which you could even lean back on, just tonkae-2like you weren’t supposed to do in school.tonkae-1
The solidity of this structure also opens up the possibility of adding that nirvana of urban packboat portaging – trolley wheels. More about that later, if I get round to it. Rrp in Germany for the Tatonka Lastenkraxe is €170. My green one cost £95 off amazon. Black ones were another 20 quid.

nosickyIn my packframe investigations I discovered that in the Tarta mountains of eastern Europe there’s a local ‘iron man’ sport of ‘Nosicsky’ (‘portaging’): carrying massive loads on wooden L-packframes. Perhaps it was once a way of resupplying mountain refuges when the mules were on strike. As you can see right, over 200kg was a record one time, but it proves that L-frames were the original do-it-all packframe, long before modern backpacks found frameless alternatives that kept the weight closer to your back.
aarnI also came across the Kiwi Aarn website which showcases a frontal load ‘FlowMo Bodypack’ to help improve you posture and balance weight distribution. They’ve designed two pockets for the front straps tonkae-jeffto carry dense but compact items (like water) while still being able to see where to put your feet. Sounds like a good idea but many of us, like Jeff on the right in the Kimberley (with my old Terra 65), have come up with a similar solution intuitively, when needing to carry a day pack as well as a backpack. Still, it’s an idea worth considering when you have a 15-kilo boat on your back.
cwtwh3-01Since I wrote this I did try a similar idea on our CWT recce, well at least carrying the packraft on my chest. It did feel good on regular ground – better posture, less stooping – but on gnarly terrain the bulk got in the way of the ground at my feet which got dangerous in the places we were walking. To be fair Aarn acknowledge this limitation.

Watershed Bags: Chattooga, Mk1 Ultimate Ditch Bag, Westwater

‘One Dry Bag to rule them all’

Roll-top dry bags (right) – even the best ones –  aren’t really submersion proof, are they. That’s fine for a SinK with hatches (unless they get flooded), but no so good for an IK, packraft or any open boat on rough water or in crap weather. When I pack for either packrafting or IK I find myself putting roll bags within roll bags to make sure important things stay dry while hoping I don’t flip as I know they’ll not resist a couple of minutes submersion.
A year or two ago I came across Watershed Dry Bags from the US which seal with a big rubber Zip-Lok like seal (see image below) – ZipDry they call it. They’re expensive, but were available in the UK.
In an effort to get one dry bag to you-know-what, I’ve got myself a 30-litre Chattooga ‘day bag’ duffel (below left) and by chance on eBay an ex-demo Watershed Ultimate Ditch Bag turned up at 20% off (still £130). So that’s actually two bags.
The Chattooga is not quite the rich yellow of the brochures, but a bit translucent which actually makes seeing inside easier when the foam and fleece liner  is not used. That’s another £18, but it may absorb ‘high point’ knocks to the outer skin as well as protect what’s within, though I’ve never used it as it takes up space. The shell plastic is a hard, slippery polyurethane rather than the soft rubbery vinyl of something like a SealLine Baja bag. It’s all RF welded and very solidly built. With the bag top rolled down as it is with a roll bag (not actually necessary) I’ve found this is submersion-proof.  Once in a while a spray of 303 as a moisturiser along the seal grooves helps it seal readily. The bag sits fixed to the mid-floor lashing point in my packraft between my legs for easy on-the-water access, and it fits neatly in the front of my IK and on the back of my bike. I’ve also divined that if things get desperate the Chattooga can work as a paddle float (left). My Chattooga got nicked in 2012 and I’ve since replaced it with another which seems a little thinner and shinier material, but otherwise seals the same. 

Ultimate Ditch Bag (more here)

The since superseded Mk 1 Ultimate Ditch Bag (UDB; left) was unique to Watershed; a plain, big 96-litre duffel with basic detachable backpack straps, handy grab handles on each end and accessed by a single tough, dry suit-style waterproof zip, rather than the press-together ZipDry closure as with the rest of the ‘civilian’ Watershed range. My experience with dry suits is that amazingly, these zips actually work long after the material delaminates. Ortlieb have lately brought out similar bags in their usual soft fabric, but using what they call a TIZIP which looks like an ordinary YKK wetsuit zip to me and is only rated to the IPx7 standard (explained in the image right). I spent a couple of hours floating about in my Crewsaver drysuit the other weekend and nothing leaked; the UDB would manage the same while keeping the contents dry, and the fabric is much tougher than Ortlieb’s PVC. You could classify a UDB as ‘IPx∞’.
The UDB also has a complex, chunky inflation/purge valve for compression packing once the zip is done up or even to inflate the bag as a buoyancy aid if you’re in really dire straights and your boat loses air. This is reassuring when paddling a relatively flimsy packraft through a school of agitated swordfish or sea porcupines. If the boat goes flat you have a huge buoyancy aid to keep you out of the water and slow down hypothermia. And it can be used empty as an effective float bag inside a hardshell, folder or decked IK hull to limit the bailing required after capsizing or swamping.

Apart from my down sleeping bag which might be too much of a udbbrisk, I’m now able to simply pack and access things normally in the yellow Chattooga and the UD Bag and so can downsize my collection of dry bags which were gradually taking over the room.
The UDB has proved itself as a functional packrafting backpack for the walking stages – more below, sea kayaking in Australia and remote river packrafting out there too. The good thing is the detachable straps can be modified or replaced with something better, although the UDB lacks any rigidity to carry its weight on a hip belt and as I say below, the shoulder straps’ position is too central. Plus you don’t want to strain those ‘probably-not-for-hiking’ harness fittings and risk tearing them off the bag (although they’re sewn to a patch as left, which is glued to the body, so not much chance of that rupturing the bag fgw-udb-4– unlike a Gumotex IK bag).

2013: Watershed redesigned the UDB as a smaller, 78-litre duffel now made from their tough, glossy PU-coated fabric, but still with the dry suit zip and purge valve. Or check out their pricier military range of packs, below. IMO while not perfect, harness wise, the original UDB was a better bag. The canvas textured fabric gripped better, didn’t wet out, and the size and shape were just right to slip into a slim kayak or across a packraft’s bow.
Watershed UDB

The 96-litre UDB is big enough to take the raft, a dry suit, paddle blades, tent, sleeping bag and 2 days food

Walking with the UDB
Watershed UDBAs a backpack the UDB has been suprisingly good at carrying a load in Scotland for up to 3 days (40 miles). Part of the reason for the tolerable comfort was that the UDB’s relatively rough fabric and frameless ‘coal sack’ form grips right across the entire back like weak velcro and so helps spread the load. The chest strap helps greatly too, though I’ve half a mind to try the chunky, wide clip-on thigh straps from my kayak as shoulder straps to get two uses from one thing. It does lack exterior pockets like a conventional rucsac, but that can be got around by having pockets in your jacket or a using a waist bag.
Watershed UDBHaving used the UDB again in Utah and overnight in Scotland, I’ve reconcluded that the shoulder straps are located too much towards the centre of the pack which means that the pack sits too high on your back (see walking pic, top right), making you unstable at times. Loosening the straps to make the pack sit lower but isn’t the same thing as it’ll just be loose. Up to a point you could pack heavy stuff low laxpackframeand anyway, it’s clearly not designed as a full-time pack, but I must say that’s how I’ve used it when packrafting. It’s so convenient to just use it as a waterproof/submersible holdall: chuck stuff in, zip it up and get on the water. Occasionally I run beeswax along the zipper; a bar of soap will do the same and smells nicer. I’ve since got myself a packframe (left) but decided an NRS Paragon pack harness was the best solution to portaging. I used the UDB like this in Turkey.

watershedwestwaterWatershed Westwater
Recently I walked and cycled the Coast to Coast with an 80-litre Westwater pack featuring a regular ZipDry seal, thin shoulder straps with chest and an added hip strap. The load was only about 12kg but I found myself unstable in the hills as, with no proper hip belt, the weight was hanging high from the shoulders. On the Lakes stage it was very hot and the back was very sweaty, watershedwestbut it carried OK. Once I got on a bike and the weather broke, the pressure on my butt became exceedingly painful (no surprise there).
The pack is handy in that in dry weather you can simply roll the top over and clip it down, not using the seal (as above right) and so easy day access. While sealed up in the wet you know the insides will keep dry. Again, I can see the Westwater working well lashed to my more comfortable Lastenkraxe packframe with the packraft rolled up beneath it, or in the NRS Paragon. Only drawback is the slippery texture and shortness doesn’t sit so well on the bow of a packraft  (left) compared to the UDB.

stennOther Watersheds
Watershed make a backpack called the Stennis (left) using a YKK zip. Being ‘tactical’ it costs nearly double, runs at a capacious 121 litres. In fact, as shown on the right, their packs can reach the size of letterboxes. They seem designed to contain regular packs for wet environments, rather than for all-day hauling. Shame, but as with the UDB it wouldn’t be too hard to fit some better padded straps and save the poor guy’s shoulders. Here’s a review and closer look. Warning: it’s tactical. 

2011 Alpacka Yak – first impressions

I’d parked the RV at the end of a 55-mile track south of the highway at Hole in the Rock, the top of a gully which drops 500 feet down to Lake Powell and which is bit of a scramble in places. If this was the Australia that I know, the chasm would be plastered with ‘Gorge Risk‘ signs. Looks like the Americans have got over all that, if it ever existed here. What you see – a steep, boulder-chocked gully where you want to take care – is what you get.
Getting down and back up from the lake wore me out for a day, but what was I complaining about? In 1880 Mormon pioneers spent six weeks here lowering two dozen wagons to get across what was then the Colorado river (read right) to get to a new settlement on the far side.
Once on the water I only went for a bit of a splash-about in a flooded arm off the main body of the lake as it was a bit windy and I wasn’t sure what weather lay ahead. By the time I got back to the top it had clouded over and stayed that way till I left the GSENM a few days later.
Changes on the conventional looking pre-2011 rafts are summarised herepointy ends, greater length, extended stern, 2-part backrest/seat and a deck that zips right off. I also have a feeling the floor’s made from a chunkier or stiffer fabric and so the extra butt-patch I had specified (left – done for free) may not be so necessary – but it sure feels worthwhile when scraping along a boney Scottish burn.
On the water first impression was not so good – oh dear the 4-inch shorter Yak was seemingly narrower at the front than my old Llama and I couldn’t put my feet side by side when pressed against the front (left image on the right) – this wearing size 11 Keen Arroyos (fairly wide). But deflating the alpackas2011backrest from full gave my legs more room and I actually found that both feet placed flat on the floor below the bulge of the side tubes worked fine (right image above right), just not so sure if this is so intuitive for brace control. I checked the front interior width of my Llama against the new Yak and it’s only an inch wider. In the picture left the new Yak and Llama fronts seem near identical in interior front width.
Getting back in the longer Llama, I now see the reason my feet didn’t jam was that I had a few inches gap between the front of my feet and the inner front of the boat where it tapered off. Sat against the back I could never reach the front to brace which is why I got the Yak. Also, the UDB on the new Yak may have constricted my feet a bit that day. Paddling a few days later without the UDB, I can’t say I noticed the foot jam. Got all that?
Other fascinating facts from my comparative measurements (above right) show the new Yak is only 8 inches longer then the Llama, so a new Llama ought only be 12″ longer, not 20 inches as estimated from the Alpacka website’s measurements at the time. The new Yellow Yak is nominally 4 inches shorter inside than an old Llama.
Other than that it feels much like the old Llama. Like they claim, turning/spinning doesn’t seem to be affected by the increase in length, but I’m sure the Yak’s bow yawed less from side to side as I paddled, due I suspect to the extended tail damping the paddle-induced pivoting effect, rather like a rudder or skeg. I did have my part-filled UDB strapped to the front where any weight tends to reduce yawing anyway. It was the first time I used the UDB on the water and have to admit the added guarantee of its girth and buoyancy was reassuring should a Colorado river barracuda make a bite at my Yak. Couldn’t really do any speeding in the conditions – it may be just half a mph faster, but that’s still some 20%.
As anticipated, the new 2-part seat is a real improvement. No more having the backrest flop down as you’re trying to get in quick off a steep bank or into a fast flow with a need to line up or burn. Like on my Llama, I just clipped the seatbase onto the hull tabs with a single snaplink each side (inset, left) rather than mess about with the string they supply. Makes taking it out and drying/cleaning the insides easier.
Later on, washed up on the wrong side of the Virgin River Gorge in northwest Arizona, I also found the part-deflated backrest a handy way of portaging the empty boat – a bit like a Sherpa’s headband (left).
So, bottom line, not huge difference in operation apart from less yawing which was never that bad anyway once you compensated for it. Can’t say I noticed any added buoyancy/better trim with the longer back, but it might be noticable from the another PoV. The zip-off skirt is a nice idea; one less thing to unroll and dry after. The added snugness I dare say I’ll appreciate in rougher conditions and it sure is nice to have a yellow boat for a change!
There was a discussion on BackpackingLight about the new shape and here Roman D gives his opinion for a harder core of white water utility. More pack-Yak adventures this summer.