Tag Archives: Watershed UDB

Tested: Six Moon Designs Flex PR review

See also:
NRS Paragon
Tatonka Lastenkraxe

Updated August 2021

In a line adaptable, adjustable and comfortable heavy-hauling pack harness designed for packrafters.

Cost $280 Six Moon, USA; €289 Anfibio Store Germany.

Weight (verified): 1525g in Large (shoulder straps 212g; hip belt 376g; back panel 937g).

Where used Four-day packrafting recce on Knoydart, covering about 50 miles, and another 3 days packrafting (about 25 land miles).

The Flex PR was supplied free for testing and review by Six Moons and Anfibio

Carries heavy loads as well as a proper rucksack
Includes no less than nine pockets
Four-strap adjustable hip belt

As expensive as some top-of-the-range ultralight backpacks
Loads of black buckles with very long black straps on the black back panel
Fixed shoulder-strap mini-pockets a bit small and too high
Wide outer panel means too much slack to cinch down the side straps fully


What They Say
The [new for 2021] Flex PR is a multi-use pack specifically designed for pack rafters. The Flex PR is a 50L dry bag with a removable suspension system designed for carry heavy loads in comfort. Whether you are portaging on a canoe trip, hunting in the backcountry, or doing trail maintenance, the Flex PR will keep your gear dry, your accessories handy, and your back comfortable.


I’m on the TRAYNE!!

Review
I’ve long been a fan of pack harnesses as I call them; aka: portage packs or multi-use packs. Once combined with a bombproof dry bag like my aged Watershed UDB, your packrafting load-carrying needs on land and water are solved for under 2kg. Lash all you needs to the harness and hit the hills.

It took me years of experimenting with ex-military and hunting-focussed metal-framed versions before I discovered backpacking-oriented ‘soft’ harnesses like my NRS Paragon. No longer made, the Paragon was a basic 100-dollar harness and a bit on the small side for me. The fully adjustable Six Moon Flex PR is up there with the best hiking load-carriers.

What’s wrong with a regular rucksack? Well, they’re not waterproof like a dry bag can be, and if you have a proper dry bag you’ve less need for a backpack which is just more bulk. Plus, once you account of 4-5kg of rafting clobber, it won’t all fit in a normal rucksack and on the water you may end up with a soaking backpack.
I tried this on my very first multi-day packrafting adventure from Morar to Rannoch Moor back in 2010 with my Alpacka Llama, carrying a huge roll-top vinyl dry bag (left). It sort of worked, but once you get into it, a dry bag lashed to a pack harness works best. Wet things are separated or more accessible.

I jumped in the deep end with my Flex PR, carrying an initial load of 18kg on a four-day tour of the Knoydart peninsula with my Rebel 2K. My plan was rather over ambitious for a new area, so it turned out to be more walking than paddling. I came back to do it better a couple of weeks later so the Flex PR has had a week’s heavy hauling, covering about 70 miles.

Out of the box the Flex PR comes in three sections: the load-carrying back panel incorporating the fabric strap-down flap which wraps up and around your dry bag and then cinches down at the sides. The lumbar panel is supported by a removable, pre-bent ribbed alloy stiffening rod which you want to take care not to bend or break. The wide hip belt slips in through a sleeve at the base of the back panel and velcros in place; and the shoulder harness slips down into another velcro sleeve with various adjustment marks. At 6′ 1″ (1.85m) and after some experimenting, I settled on the longest setting, as below left.

I do wonder how securely velcro will hold the weight after a while, but it’s not like you’re undoing it several times a day, and most of the weight rests on the hip belt with velcro on both surfaces.
The PR has loads and loads of straps: six on the hip belt; twelve plus a bungie on the back panel, and three on the shoulder harness. With your own dry bag you may need a while to configure the PR to your liking, but after that you can leave it be. You may also be tempted to snip off the excess on the straps, but initially it’s better to knot them up or try and tuck them out of the way until you know for sure which ones really are too long. Better too long than too short. (The foot-long shoulder-top tensioning straps are primary candidates for the snip.) After a day or two, in an effort to reduce strap overload I detached the removable stabiliser ‘Z’ straps. Six side straps and two over the top ought to do the job. These Z-straps had some interesting removable buckles (above right) I’ve not seen before.

6MD 50L dry bag with purge valve
Sea to Summit Big River 65L

You need a rugged and dependable dry bag to put up with prolonged rain, persistent waves and rough handling, although with my Rebel 2K I’ve lately joined the ranks of packrafters stowing baggage inside the hull, not out on the bow. And so on the water a submersible-grade dry bag becomes less critical.
The Flex PR is designed to be used with 6MD’s 50-litre, 227g (8oz) roll-top dry bag (another $45; left) which includes four side loops which match up with the harness’s side straps. (Note: I didn’t ask for, or use this bag.) What it’s made from or coated with is not stated on the link above, but one review listed ‘210D TPU-coated Nylon’, which sounds the same as a lightweight packraft hull. It includes a purge valve which will release any air after the bag is rolled up for packing and as you cinch down. Nice touch.

Although the Flex PR has generous external storage and additional lashing options, I do feel that 50-litres is a minimum for a few days out in the back country. Better a larger bag and add another couple of rolls of the closure. Something like the ovalised Australian Sea to Summit Big River 65-litre TPU roll-top (above right) will work. This is TPU laminated on 420D nylon with a white lining and a textured, ripstop exterior. It weighs 315g (verified) and has hypalon side loops which more or less line up with the Flex’s side straps. It goes from 40 quid in the UK. Their Hydraulic Dry Bag (not the Dry Pack) is thicker at twice the weight and about $100 (not sold in the UK).

It took the first trip to realise my large, sausage-like UDB duffle was not suited to the Flex. Every morning I had to re-lash my black UDB into the harness, made harder by everything being black. When bothered by swarms of midges or rain, you don’t want to have to think about re-lashing the pack correctly each time, and there were times the long, thin load felt lopsided. I’ve since tried to tidy up the set-up by tucking in unneeded loose ends and tying coloured ribbons to the important cinch straps, just like better tents have colour-coded markers for poles. A top-loading dry bag mounts and works more like a rucksack, so I bought myself the S2S Big River and didn’t look back.

Don’t mention the B-word
Twin bag test

As mentioned, the Rebel 2K’s massive 140-litre in-hull storage capacity now makes a bombproof, over-the-bow dry bag like my trusty UDB redundant.
Back home, I dummy rigged two old dry dry bags (20 and 40L; left), but I can see it might still be a faff lashing on each time, just with more colour. However, one benefit of this twin-bag idea would be they pop straight into the 2K’s capacious TubeBags with no emptying and repacking. That would be handy on a trip where you’re switching between walking and rafting more than once a day.

Pockets
One of the best things about the PR are the numerous pockets which do their best to replicate a regular backpack, adding to convenience on the trail, something I missed on the Paragon. There’s a small hidden zipped pocket inside the back panel, two big fist-sized zip-ups on the hip belt and two detachable side pockets. With a stretchy outer fabric, these will easily each take a 1.5 litre water bottle or a rolled up cag. They can clip in line with the side cinch straps (below left), or can be Molle’d (daisy chained) from behind. Attaching them in line would make tensioning easier, but unless your load has a massive girth, the width of the pockets combined with the wide back panel makes it difficult to fully tension a normal sized pack properly before you run out of adjustment. Maybe my Sea to Summit bag was an odd shape, but it’s 30% bigger than the 6MD dry bag. setting the rear panel buckles two inches further in would do the trick. One way round this might be to slip you paddles down the sides to add girth.

Next, you have stretchy cinch-up pockets sewn to the shoulder straps but, as others have noted, they’re too small to secure anything bigger than a Garmin InReach or maybe a small phone, and are set oddly high. On me they were level with the tops of my shoulders. Although they have to dodge the chest strap, that can be Molle’d up or down in five positions. It would be better if the pockets were Molle-backed too. As it is, it’s easy to buy accessory shoulder-strap pockets for your bigger items.
Not done get. The wide outer cover has a big open sleeve which swallows a four-part paddle, and in front is a long stretchy, gusseted zip pocket for more of whatever you’ve got. On top of that is a criss-cross elastic cord which I used to attach a WindPaddle.

Packraft underneath is vulnerable to scuffs but low CoG.

My walk was quite hard: 18 miles on day one, followed by a tough crossing from sea level up to 1500 feet and back down to sea level. While I got a few initial aches from old injuries initially carrying over 18kg, at no time did my shoulders get sore which proves the stiff harness panel was taking the weight at the hip belt (and from there down to the hard-pressed feet).

And the hip belt is particularly good: the pockets aren’t waterproof but are a useful size (unlike the Paragon), and the twin straps each side mean you can cinch it in snugly, whatever your hip shape. I’d have preferred a bigger hip belt buckle and in fact found all the Flex’s clip buckles oddly hard to link; they didn’t readily clip together, possibly due to relatively soft, bendy plastic. But may be it just taking familiarisation.

Packstaff hangs from hip belt tensioning straps.

On the way back to Inverie I decided to take the packraft out of the UDB and strap it underneath, using the fitted straps for this purpose. Surprise, surprise, the lowered load carried much better. Hung outside and quite wide but out of sight, the rolled-up boat is vulnerable to getting snagged on wire fences, farm gate latches, or when being hauled about in transit.

Knoydart Trip Two
I returned to Knoydart with a chum and a 65-litre S2S Big River (below). Left attached in the harness’ side straps, this made the Flex work as intended like a regular rucksack; no need to re-lash or adjust too much every morning or when swapping from walking to paddling.

Roll top closure may seep through eventually; a cover easily tucked in under the pack straps

Using the 65-litre bag, I did wonder if 50 might well be adequate, but this was with minimal and compact camping kit. Any warm- or spare clothing or a dry suit would soon need more volume in the dry bag.
We had two half-days of lashing rain; my mate fitted a shower cap over his regular rucksack and I found the water had seeped only a little way through the rolled folds of the Big River.
The bigger your bag the more tight rolls you can make on the closure, but actually in pouring rain it would be fairly easy to tuck a cover over the closed dry bag rolls to stop any rain collecting there.

With everything within the pack loaded into six bags, it took just a minute to transfer them into the Rebel 2K’s hull and zip it up. I then used the chunky Gumotex dry bag which held the packraft as a footpad on the packrafts’s floor (to stop gritty boot heels prematurely chewing up the boat’s floor) and found I could easily shove the empty harness under my knees and zip up the deck. This made repacking the Flex at the shore relatively quick easy, though it always takes 20-30 minutes to get going.

The Flex PR now carries its load as well as can be expected and the S2S Big River offer added capacity for cold weather gear or a dry suit. I must say I didn’t really miss the lack of a purge valve; you burp the bag in the usual way then roll it down. Any spare air will be squashed out by the compression of the straps.
The combination now offers reliable waterproofing on foot, while the pack would work OK on the bow, though in-hull storage and the harness under the knees is more secure all round.

PS: On both trips I used my roomy 20-litre Anfibio DeckPack (below) as a handy day pack for which it worked very well. The stuff inside is behind a waterproof zip, is easily accessible on the move and up to a point, keeps the lashing rain from wetting out your cag.

Second opinions from She-ra Hikes and TheTrek

Thanks to Six Moon Designs and Anfibio for supplying the Flex PR.


Packyaking in Whitianga (NZ)

MRS Nomad Index Page

nzwhitmap
diver

At 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 dancer’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.’

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pacificoh

Tides 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.
A 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
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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 cliffs 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.

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Settling 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.

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handpump
beg18

On 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. 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 judiciously 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.

nzyacht

Anyway, 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 a jetty below a cliff leading to a dwelling hidden in the bush, I spotted this pioneering-era carving.

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Beyond 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
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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 supposedly 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 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.

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My time 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.
It’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 - 10
trolley
ort140
ortliebrolled

For 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.
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 one 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

Packrafting Quick Guide
Packboat rescue and survival aids

fx-gear

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. 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 ;-)

1. A pack for your raft

paragonnrs
nrsparagon01

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 waterproofness trounces all-day carrying comfort. I find the best combination is my submersible UDB duffle that’s tougher and as airtight as a packraft. It also provides high-volume back-up flotation should you get a flat on the water; important and reassuring. And with a genuinely submersible bag 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 theKimberley, I used the UDB’s basic integrated harness: just sewn-on straps. For Turkey which was mostly walking, I fitted it into NRS pack harness (above left and right; no longer made) whose capacity easily exceeds its straps and your back.
In Germany Packrafting Store sell the more sophisticated 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 the packraft harness seem 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

pad-abmr

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 a good one like 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 more than a couple of days or it’ll be hard to separate.

feather

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. The Anfibio Wave had infinite feathering and 10cm length adjustment.

Cheap alternative: A TPC 2-piece or similar.

3. PFD (‘personal flotation device’)

bbuey
499_1

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 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. Aired down at any other time, you’ll barely know you’re wearing it.

Cheap alternative: A used foam PFD.

tevafloater

4. Wet shoes
I’m on my second pair of Teva Omniums (left) which are 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.

5. Day bag or case

P1290855
peli11

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.

pelicone
pellington

I adapted a Peli 1400 (left) 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 24,000 feet, but I do want reliable submersability so I don’t have to think twice if I flip the boat.

chatwalk

Recently 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 Kindle 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. 
Otherwise I used 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 of 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 replaced the Chatty Bag with an Ortlieb Travel Zip and haven’t loooed back. As for a camera? This is what you want.

Cheap alternative: large, clip-seal lunchbox and a plastic bag.

6. Repair kit

tyvec

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 rosary.

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Watershed Mk1 Ultimate Ditch Bag (UDB) review

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See also: Ortlieb Duffle RS140

Weight (without backpack harness) 1100g

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

udb88

I’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 aren’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.

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Initially, 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 included 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 the NRS Paragon pack harness suited my needs best.

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What 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.

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Watershed 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 also used Watershed’s 80-litre  Westwater (above – more like 70L) for packrafting day trips, but pushed it a bit hard on one cross-country MTB ride which ripped out one of the strap fixtures.

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trolley

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’.

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What more is there to say about 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.

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The 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

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

Cost $100 from NRS but no longer made. The Six Moon Flex Pak is similar and a bit more sophisticated. I’ll be testing one of those shortly.

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.

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

Where 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 too small and awkward to get to.
Not made anymore.
Padding a bit lean over a long day on rugged terrain.

What they [used to] 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?
It took me a long time to find 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.
I 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. 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 drybag, neither of which would also last a prolonged immersion. All that bagging makes access a faff.

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Then in 2010 I got myself my still brilliant Watershed UDB – a 1.1-kilo, 96-litre holdall made from a bombproof fabric and with a chunky drysuit zip – that is drysuit-dry not roll-top ‘drybag’-dry.
I like my Mk1 UDB (also 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 reassuring secondary buoyancy should my single-chamber packraft boat go flat on the water.

nrsparagon09

The UDB came with a rudimentary backpacking harness which, like the handles, were sewn to the bag. As we all know, a load-carrying backpack needs 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-black

As 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 (left). 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 and then doubling up as a camp stool.

nrsparagon01

On 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.

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My load was around 17-kilos + water and other 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 parched as the weather warmed up and usable cisterns got strung out.

Once 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.

The lightweight NRS Paragon could easily take my current Seawave IK rolled up for short cross-country portages to and from the water. It will worked well with my other Watershed backpack – the 70-litre Westwater (left). Like the UDB, that bag came with rudimentary shoulder straps but became all the more useful and comfortable as a backpack once strapped to the Paragon. The pictures 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; light but $$$

tonka-6
packframe

I thought I liked the idea of packframes for pack boating – a rigid rucksack harness and frame without the bag element. The boat, paddles plus dry bags are all lashed to a frame, alongside a drybag.

In the US one time I saw some packframes at a hunting outfitters in Flagstaff (left) 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

lastenkraxe-black

Tatonka Lastenkraxe review
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 an eye-watering 50kg, the platform provides the unexpected benefit of standing up straight when placed on flat ground and being a ready-made camp seat.

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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.
The 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.

I 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 – so not really Scotland then). Of course, having a kayak as opposed to a packraft makes lone coastal paddling and sea loch crossings less intimidating.

Comfort 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 (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.

Early 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. This is a much discussed and under-rated item, and one on which you could even lean back on, just like you weren’t supposed to do in school.
The solidity of this structure also opens up the possibility of adding that nirvana of urban packboat portaging: trolley wheels. More about that 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.

In my packframe investigations I discovered that in the Tatra 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, 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.

tonkae-jeff

I 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 to 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 left 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.

cwtwh3-01

Since 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, 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. 
I replaced the Chattooga with an Ortlieb Travel Zip.

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.

udbb

Apart from my down sleeping bag which might be too much of a risk, 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 – unlike a Gumotex IK bag).

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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
As a backpack the UDB has been surprisingly 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 UDB

Having 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 and 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.

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Watershed 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. (They now claim it to be 65L) 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, but 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 ZipDry seal (as above left) 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 a Lastenkraxe packframe with the packraft rolled up beneath it, or in a harness like the NRS Paragon or Flex PR. The only drawback is the slippery texture and shortness doesn’t sit so well on the bow of a packraft  (left) compared to the UDB.

Alpacka Yak 1 (Decked) Main Page

See also:
Packrafting the Fitzroy River (NW Australia; 5 posts)
Alpacka Yak around Suilven mountain
Alpacka Yak to Suilven mountain
Urban Packrafting: the Death Weir Kebab Tunnel
Slackrafting to Clashnessie
Intex Slackraft vs Alpacka
Packrafting in France – Ardeche Gorge
Packrafting in France – Chassezac
Escalante packraft recce
Trying out bikerafting
Packrafting a Force 6 gale
Packrafting the Oscaig river
2011: Llamas get the point

After all that lot I sold my Yak and bought a non-decked, two-colour Yak in a 2013-14 sale

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 here: pointy 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 backrest 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 seat base 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 a 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 noticeable from the other 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.