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Packrafting Speeds
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Dan Durston
(dandydan) - F

Packrafting Speeds on 02/19/2012 16:45:22 MST Print View

I'm in the process of planning some raft trips for the spring/summer and I'm having a hard time finding basic information on typical speeds travelled on rivers.

I realize speeds are going to vary considerably based on the river and paddler effort, but just a really rough idea would be helpful. I'm trying to make basic decisions like is a 20 mile class III river run likely to be a day trip or an overnighter?

Is 3mph a reasonable average pace, which would then drop to 1.5 mph on flat water, and up to 4-5mph on fast but smooth flows? Or is this optimistic? I'm typically going to be on small-medium volume class II-III rivers.


Travis Leanna
(T.L.) - MLife

Locale: Wisconsin
Re: Packrafting Speeds on 02/19/2012 16:59:25 MST Print View

I can't help with river speeds because I haven't been on too many for long distances, but I can comment on flat water since you mentioned it.

Flat, non-flowing water travel speeds depend greatly on speed and direction of the wind. On a calm day with no wind you can expect speeds around 2.5 mph, give or take an mph for personal effort. If there's a really strong headwind, 20-30 mph, expect to go not much more than .5 mph and bust your butt doing it. Flipside, if it's a tailwind, expect to add an mph or two to your speed and easy travel. Crosswinds... very tough to tell how it will affect you because there are so many variables. Just aim upwind of your destination to help keep you on course.

Depending on how you paddle down rivers you could expect up to a few mph's on top of the river speed. But then there's the wind factor.....

John S.
(jshann) - F
Re: Packrafting Speeds on 02/19/2012 16:59:37 MST Print View

Guessing...speed of river current plus 1-2 mph. Let's see what others have to say.

David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
re: packrafting speeds on 02/19/2012 19:16:34 MST Print View

Such a complex question. It really varies river to river. Ideally any future packrafting guidebooks will have average mphs at various flows. It's certainly nice beta to have in trip reports.

For instance, on the same stretch of the upper South Fork of the Flathead (easy class II) I've gone 2 mph at 800 cfs (dragging on gravel bars slows you down) and something close to 6-7 mph at 4000ish. The North Fork of the Flathead (a similar river) gets me around 5 mph at 3-4000 cfs, and maybe another mph at 8000. A little below 1000 cfs, I've barely made 2 mph on one calm stretch, but made 3 mph on the slightly steeper stretch just above. Then there was the Wood River in AK last summer (glacial), which was consistently 8+ mph.

All of that assumes you're not scouting anything. This past fall we got below 1 mph on the two cruxes of the Middle Fork of the Flathead, due to low water, scouting, and portaging.

So unfortunately there are no good guidelines. Just have to get out there and see what happens.

Dan Durston
(dandydan) - F

Speed on 02/19/2012 19:55:32 MST Print View

Thanks guys. I appreciate the advice.

It sounds like maintaining at least 2mph should be feasible on most rivers that don't require scouting. I'll start off with fairly cautious time estimates. I've got a couple local rivers that I'm eager to try.

peter vacco

Locale: no. california
Re: Packrafting Speeds on 02/20/2012 10:09:09 MST Print View

it is just as those good people say. flatwater speed is all about wind, and a bit of current.
the paddled hull speed of an alpacka is generally null. you can read all about this virtual lack of forward progress from Erin and Hig's website. (ok, yes, they will "move", if paddled with vigor. this is not the same as "speed" or "rate of travel")

"river time" is one of many good things to not include on an excel spreadsheet. it's excessively variable in the short term.
MUCH more predictable is graphing the effects of strolling back into work 6 days late. (if you launch into a weather related diatribe,, "boss ... didn't you grasp that the high pressure system hanging above victoria island would toss down a SE wind and cost us some time ??? how tough is that to figure out ?? ... they will all but invariably suck it up).
HInt : when coming back to work sun-bronzed and stylishly late, for the love of god, do NOT apologize.
if you boss happens to be a woman, say perhaps this : "you have kids : so what is more important in your life ? you children's health, or some form of work ? well ... packrafting trips are a lot like that. so i'm sure we're all on the same page."

if your boss is a man, he should recognize the value of your work, and your ballsy attitude, that he wishes he had. so screw it, it's a good time to ask for that promotion you've had coming, or at least bring it up. : "it's not like I'M the one that's late, you're the one who didn't check the weather. and so what, now you're not going to promote me to plant manger ? we're going to plod along with James, for another year ... another 52 weeks of suffering with his insipid inability to make a decision without checking under your skirt first.. ? come on boss, sheesh ... throw me a bone .... "

so see, either way, screw the river rate factor. take extra food and booze.
if you really really NEED to ramp up the water travel, get up stupid early (2am) and travel in no wind conditions.
and, watch for afterdrop when you get out of a raft after 8 hours or so. it can hammer you to your knees.

peter v.

Dan Durston
(dandydan) - F

Speeds & Promotions on 02/20/2012 13:24:13 MST Print View

Thanks Peter. Enjoyable read.

Travis Leanna
(T.L.) - MLife

Locale: Wisconsin
Re: Re: Packrafting Speeds on 02/20/2012 13:35:30 MST Print View

>the paddled hull speed of an alpacka is generally null. you can read all about this virtual lack of forward progress from Erin and Hig's website. (ok, yes, they will "move", if paddled with vigor. this is not the same as "speed" or "rate of travel")

While they're not canoes or kayaks, I wouldn't say the hull speed is null, and paddling with vigor isn't always necessary. Any time you have flat water with little or no wind, you can make an easy pace of 2-3 mph. But dang, if a strong headwind picks up, you might be needing to take Peter's employment advice.

Still though, even in a light to moderate head wind you can make 1-2 mph with some steady paddling. Just think of it as "extra exercise." :)

One thing to watch out for is hull swing. Because of the type of vessel a pack raft is, the bow likes to swing back and forth with each paddle stroke. It's not too bad with a loaded pack on the front, but will be noticeably more when there is no weight up front. Try adjusting how you paddle to minimize this swinging motion and that will help with speed and efficiency. The closer your blades are to the boat when in the water, the less swing you'll get.

Rob E

Locale: Canada
hullspeeds on 02/20/2012 15:09:23 MST Print View

I am about to order a packraft and am very interested in this discussion.

One thing that I think that is interesting about the packraft for flat water is that the inherently slow hullspeed really means paddling hard will result in no increase in forward speed. For those that don't know, there is a theoretical formula to calculate the speed of a a non-planing boat ( Even if you increase the power of the engine, the boat won't go faster than this (theoretically, some things might change this, like lift from a keel or lifting of the boat to lower the length-of-waterline in real applications) Now, a packraft won't exactly obey that exact formula accounting for it's unique hull shape, but since it is non-planing (like a speed boat), the hull has some pre-defined maximum speed at which no-further paddling effort will result in any increase in forward speed.

What this means that if you are paddling at the hullspeed of the boat, then paddling twice as hard will result in nothing but getting tired.

I hope to do some speed/effort experiments with a heart-rate-monitoring with my garmin GPS enabled running watch to help me dial in how "hard" to paddle the boat on flat water. My hope is that achieving the hull speed of the boat is fairly "leisurely/medium" effort paddling pace, sustainable for a full day, and I hope to learn that speed to avoid unneeded expenditure of energy, and the theoretically low hullspeed will mean that paddling int he wind won't require superhuman strength. How this will play out in the real world... we'll see. I think the proof that packrafts are pretty good at open water conditions has been proved by trips like Erin/Hig's Seattle->Yukatat trip.

I'd love to hear any anecdotal evidence about a loaded packrafts open water full day sustainable speed


Edited by eatSleepFish on 02/20/2012 15:10:37 MST.

David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
re: packraft hull speed on 02/20/2012 15:38:07 MST Print View

My experience with hull speed jives with Travis' numbers, above. You can get to 2.5 mph without excessive effort, and going much faster (while possible) requires a lot more work.

There have certainly been trips where its been faster to get out in a lake and paddle rather than bushwack along the shore.

Travis Leanna
(T.L.) - MLife

Locale: Wisconsin
Re: re: packraft hull speed on 02/20/2012 16:00:56 MST Print View

Wind issues aside, you can leisurely paddle a loaded packraft all day and maintain a decent clip. They really are a pleasure to paddle and one shouldn't be turned off by the hull speed formula. The new boat design tracks straighter and hypothetically increased hull speed. It isn't an effort to paddle. My 5' 4" 105lb wife paddled hers for hours each day during our Isle Royale trip. She's a feisty little thing, but doesn't have high muscle bulk. She never complained about paddling during the whole trip. Luckily though, we had good weather and favorable wind direction for most of it.

Just know the capabilities of a packraft, plan the best you can, and they can open up a new world!

Edited by T.L. on 02/20/2012 16:04:40 MST.