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Help for a prospective packrafter
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Ike Jutkowitz
(Ike) - M

Locale: Central Michigan
Help for a prospective packrafter on 10/16/2011 13:30:35 MDT Print View

Looking to take my self-propelled backcountry travels to the next level and have started saving up for packrafting gear. I've read Roman Dial's book, these and the forums, and lots of trip reports, but still have a bunch of gear related questions. I'm a reasonably experienced canoist, but with no kayaking or packrafting experience. Plan to use the raft on a mixed bag of Michigan's rivers (mostly class I and II until further experience is gained, then who knows), Adirondack rivers and lakes, Lake Superior shoreline.

Questions: I'm just under 5'8 and should fit into an alpaca fine. Would the advantage of sizing up to a yukon yak in terms of stability be worth it, or do I stick with the alpaca?

I'm thinking of buying a werner shuna 210 cm paddle and learning to use a high angle stroke. Does this size sound about right?

Inflatable (stormy seas) vs inexpensive foam vest? Having a hard time finding weights on these and would appreciate a couple of recommendations.

Also would love a decent lightweight drysuit recommendation. Mostly to be doing 3 season trips but could see doing some combined snowshoeing/packrafting in winter as well on calmer rivers.

I know this is a bunch to answer. Thanks for any feedback you can give that would help make these decisions easier.

David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
re: packraft noob on 10/17/2011 08:55:08 MDT Print View

Do it Ike, you'll love it!

The problem with sizing up, as you no doubt know, is being able to do something (move seat forward, put a drybag in the bow) to keep yourself wedged in during whitewater. A bigger boat is also heavier. On the other hand, in addition to stability you'll have a bit more room to lash things on (ie a mountain bike). I've been happy with my yak, which is "classicly" the right size, and would by it again. The weight savings is good.

The Shuna rocks. So, so good. Treat it like a good canoe paddle and it'll last. Not as durable as a nylon blade, but for me so worth it. You paddle water, not the paddle with it. 210 is a good length.

I prefer a foam PFD. It provides more mental security, and makes a nice camp seat and pillow. The one mod I did is to cut the back open, remove, the foam, cut it in half, and put both halves into the upper half of the vest. This keeps it from messing with the backrest and deck.

I don't know of any drysuit that's cheap or light! Kokatat has a great reputation, and I've been happy with my bare-bones model, but it takes up more space than the raft. I don't use it that often. Neoprene socks, some Kokatat Deluxe Paddling pants, a raincoat, and extra core insulation (a thick fleece vest is great, especially as the one flaw of a rain coat is letting your sleeves get a bit wet) is my usual approach to wilderness whitewater trips. Along with trying really hard to not swim. The pants are great, they keep your pants dry very well, which makes a surprising difference.

Ike Jutkowitz
(Ike) - M

Locale: Central Michigan
re: on 10/17/2011 11:01:20 MDT Print View

Thanks Dave.
Seems like each time I finish a trip (and before I've even made it home) I'm already asking myself "What next". Your trip reports and blog had a lot to do with the answer I came up with (and the selection of the shuna paddle). Any particular PFD? MTI seems to be a popular company.
I really appreciate the help.

j lan
(justaddfuel) - F

Locale: MN
Re: Help for a prospective packrafter on 10/17/2011 11:03:53 MDT Print View

I would say from my experience the smaller boat and for sure a foam PFD.
It doesn't weight that much more and I just strap it to the outside of my pack.
I use the astral v-8 which has a high back that allows for the alpacka seat to come up and weighs about a pound.

Packrafting is so fun.

One thing that is really different coming from a canoe background, Is there is not serious forward motion. When you are on a river, there is a lot of backpaddling to change angles and course, you can get decent purchase, but think about more angling it gently through than powering through situations. Makes everything much less nerve wracking on the whitewater.

Good luck!

David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
packraft and canoe on 10/17/2011 12:44:11 MDT Print View

I came to packrafting from a canoing background, and the prior knowledge of reading water made the transition easier. Performance wise, a packraft is almost directly opposite of a tripping canoe.

Any PFD that fits and doesn't chaff your arms works. I use an older, basic Stolquist I've had for a decade or more. It has fairly flexible foam which makes it a bit easier to pack, and I think weighs 15 oz or so.

Andrew Badenoch
(77Zero) - F
packrafting gear thoughts on 10/17/2011 16:53:25 MDT Print View

I'm 6'1" and packraft with the same gear I use in my sea kayak when on shorter trips.

*Werner Camano 230cm
*Kokatat MsFit Tour PFD
*NRS Mariner suit (eVent)

Paddle: It's harder to translate high-angle paddling to packrafting than kayaking. It's still a good goal to keep a high paddle angle to minimize the lateral force that tends to turn the boat rather than propel it. With a longer paddle, it's possible to get the blade in the water farther forward (closer to your feet) which is a more efficient part of the paddling movement than the part of the stroke out to the side and aft (particularly with a horizontal blade). Unfortunately, the tubes of a packraft are so thick that they prevent the paddling stroke from truly being similar to that of a picture-perfect kayak stroke... they simply force you to drop the angle to get around them. I'd maybe go a little longer than 210 to compensate for the lower angle forced by the wider tubes. I remember Roman mentioning shooting for a longer paddle in his book, but I don't remember the specifics.

Boat size: I'm not sure about the Alpacka stats off the top of my head, but my general thinking would be to go longer if it doesn't increase the width. I paddle a llama. Sometimes I think it would be nice to have a longer boat, but this is primarily because I do more bikerafting than just packrafting. With the bike and the pack strapped to the front, things can get a little cramped. If you're planning on paddling class I & II, I wouldn't worry about trying to go smaller on boat size to increase bracing. I might not worry about it even if you were planning on paddling a little bigger water... but maybe. Because of their flat bottom, packrafts are super easy to turn for navigation in tight areas. I don't necessarily disagree with what others have said about whitewater paddling, but you mentioned lakes and I/II rivers so I'm filtering everything through that lens.

PFD: I love my Kokatat foam PFD when I'm in the boat. I haven't had to modify it at all, and the back doesn't interfere with the seat or paddling stroke. However, it's inconvenient to pack a foam pfd from just the sheer bulkiness factor. It's not that big of a deal to just strap it on the outside of my pack on a day trip, but it does seem like it's always in the way when off trail hiking and/or getting snagged on branches when riding down a tight trail. This is probably a function of trip length where the farther you hike/bike, the more annoying it becomes (exponentially at some point). For this reason, I'm considering switching to one of the inflatables -- as long as I can find one that doesn't interfere too much with paddling. I sometimes paddle with my hydrostatic auto-inflating Mustang Survival PFD when I'm not planning on getting wet. It's the vest I use for sailing. It's fairly unobtrusive when uninflated, and much more compact than my Kokatat vest.

Drysuit: This is the most frustrating part about bikerafting/packrafting to me. For some reason, all drysuits seem to be designed for the Stay-Puft marshmallow man. They use tons of extra fabric which makes them even bulkier than they already would be. I've worn Kokatat GoreTex suits and they're perhaps worse than my eVent suit, but I don't like either option. Perhaps the Reed Chillcheater paddling suits are cut more for normal people... though they're not technically submersion suits. If you're paddling I & II water, I'd probably ditch a drysuit and work with the suggestions mentioned by others. I love the Chillcheater fabric in terms of feel, and the suits might be lighter, but it's probably not tough enough to wear for significant lengths of time out of the boat. I'm frustrated to the point of experimenting with some MYOG stuff in the drysuit category.

Hmm... the tone of this response might be overly critical. Basically, don't let the decision between foam/inflatable or drysuit/not prevent (or slow you down) from pulling the trigger into packrafting. Safety considerations notwithstanding, it's a pretty flexible activity... and really fun.

Takeaways: I've never felt like I wanted a shorter boat or a shorter paddle... but it's hard to get those questions wrong.

I've always felt like I wanted a lighter/more compact PFD and a lighter/more compact drysuit... There's just no perfect answer on those questions.

Edited by 77Zero on 10/17/2011 16:56:36 MDT.

j lan
(justaddfuel) - F

Locale: MN
Re: packrafting gear thoughts on 10/18/2011 07:44:18 MDT Print View

Andrew brings up many excellent points. Especially, with the more mellow water/lakes the bigger the boat that you want. I think that both dave and I were approaching it from a more whitewater perspective where a tight fit gives you lots more control over the packraft by bracing against the sides and ends and turning with your hips.

I have a 220cm paddle based on recommendations from Roman dial's book. Again I think this is a calmer water - longer paddle, bigger boat - longer paddle situation.

Ike Jutkowitz
(Ike) - M

Locale: Central Michigan
re: help on 10/18/2011 08:34:25 MDT Print View

My ultimate goal is whitewater. Because I solo most of my trips, I plan to start on calmer waters until pretty comfortable. I'd like to make my purchases with the goal of being able to do class III and up in the future.
Really appreciate all the comments.

rOg w
(rOg_w) - F

Locale: rogwilmers.wordpress
deleted on 10/18/2011 08:38:30 MDT Print View


Edited by rOg_w on 05/28/2012 16:50:39 MDT.

David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
paddle length on 10/18/2011 08:43:12 MDT Print View

Long paddles for touring and short paddles for whitewater seem to be the way to go. The AK hard whitewater guys are all using 197-193 paddles, and Roman told me that during the Magical Mystery Hellbike from Yakutat to Gustavus he had his Sawyer as long as it would go for the open water ocean paddling.

I'm not a fan of the Sawyer for a couple reasons, but the utility of the length adjustment cannot be argued with (it's essentially a really huge flicklock).

When I do multiday packraft trips I have a really big light pack (that I made). I can fit all my packrafting stuff (including foam PFD), an UL three season kit, and 5+ days of food inside. Bushwacking with a PFD outside would be not so good.

I've been surprised this year what I don't need a drysuit for. I didn't bring one on this trip ( and even though I ended up waist deep in Danaher Creek on numerous occasions dealing with log jams I did fine. I've ran plenty of low-end class IV this year sans drysuit as well (and swam!). Not saying a drysuit doesn't have a place (and I agree they could be cut a lot better), just that good technique can let you get away without one quite often.

j lan
(justaddfuel) - F

Locale: MN
Re: paddle length on 10/18/2011 12:48:45 MDT Print View

Dave, I have been following your blog for a while now and am really inspired by your adventures.
So, no drysuit packrafting down rivers with icewalls? That's gnarly! What did you wear and did you insulate the bottom of your packraft?

David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
drysuits on 10/18/2011 14:56:12 MDT Print View

No ice walls on the creek/river during that May trip, though it was cold enough to snow the previous night.

All I had on my legs were Hydroskin socks, liner socks, powerstretch tights, and Featherlite pants. Big fleece pullover under the rain shell on top. A few hours after the log portages I did have to bow to the inevitable and pull over to make a fire and some soup, as I was shivering in the boat by then. Not recommended, but doable. Waterproof paddle pants don't keep you dry, but keep the flushing and resoaking under control and that adds a lot of warmth.

Ike Jutkowitz
(Ike) - M

Locale: Central Michigan
re: Places to paddle on 10/18/2011 17:38:29 MDT Print View

Hi Rog,
I don't know that I've thought beyond my training plan which was as follows:
Inland lakes: Sylvania Wilderness Area and McCormick Tract Canoe trails
Relatively calm rivers: Manistee River Trail and Michigan Shore to Shore Trail (100 mile hike from Oscoda to Gaylord, then float the Ausable Canoe Marathon Route)
Lake Superior Shoreline: Pictured Rocks hike, then coastline paddle

After that: Whitewater (Menominee, Black River, Presque Isle)
I'll happily take any suggestions you might have.

@Everyone else- Thanks. I think my list is starting to come together.

Andrew Badenoch
(77Zero) - F has a new post that's relevant... on 10/19/2011 13:21:54 MDT Print View

Winter Kayaking Tips and Resources

...good commentary on the drysuit question in specific water temperature ranges and a gear checklist.

Though it's mostly about sea kayaking, a lot of Bryan Hansel's stuff easily translates to packrafting. And... I mean... the name and logo are basically the same as this site, but in a slab-serrif typeface, so how can you go wrong?

Edited by 77Zero on 10/19/2011 13:24:10 MDT.

Travis Leanna
(T.L.) - MLife

Locale: Wisconsin
Re: paddle length on 11/27/2011 23:46:40 MST Print View

I vaguely remember this topic coming up before, but can you illustrate your reasons against the Sawyer? I'm not incredibly experienced, but I absolutely loved my Sawyer during my Isle Royale trip. What am I missing with other paddles?

(I ask this in genuine interest, not snarky-ness)

Ike, I've got limited experience with pack rafting, but did Isle Royale this summer. Ive also taken my Yak out out on Lake Michigan and various Wisconsin rivers and lakes. As far as fit, I'm 5'10" and find the Yak to be a good fit, but ever-so-close to being too small. Overall, I'm glad I went with it. Height can be a decent indicator of fit, but torso vs. leg length is a better one.

As far as a life vest goes, all I've used is a Stearns self-inflatable belt pack (13 oz.) Let me be clear that I've not yet taken my Alpacka on anything above a class II river. If I were expecting rough lake conditions or anything above a class II, then I'd go for a foam vest.

Again, take my word lightly because there are many people far more experienced than I, but I've kayaked and canoed recreationally, and I think that the Alpacka rafts are much more stable. If in doubt, always go with the safer option.

Edited by T.L. on 11/27/2011 23:55:23 MST.

David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
re: paddles on 11/28/2011 13:00:12 MST Print View

Travis, I don't think you're really missing much. Compared to the Sawyer a Werner is stiffer and has a better blade shape which provides a more powerful catch. They're both excellent paddles and the differences are pretty subtle.