Packrafting is all the rage right now, and for good reason. Mitch knows his way around a paddle and is bringing you some hot tips to take your packraft game to the next level.
What Is a Packraft?
A packraft is an inflatable boat that weighs only a few kilos, capable of paddling some serious whitewater, and it compresses down to the size of a sleeping bag.
Packrafting is the key to new-age adventures, where once remote rivers and lakes might have been a geographical headache, they are now a highway to bigger and faster journeys. If you’ve discovered the weird and wonderful sport of packrafting and have already made the investment, here’s 5 ways to pimp your packraft to tackle your dream adventure.
1. Perimeter Line
Unless you’re packrafting in a swimming pool with a team of lifeguards at the ready to save yo ass, you should have a perimeter line to help with self rescue. A perimeter line is simply rope or webbing that is tied around the perimeter of your packraft. If you capsize it helps massively to have a line you can hold onto – use it to stop your boat floating away, flip it rightways up, reenter the boat, or as something buoyant to hold onto for when things are rough and you can’t enter the boat. A perimeter line also helps when you’re carrying the boat or want to tie off to something.
Personally, I used 8mm cord because I had it lying around, but I’ve seen ~25mm tubular webbing used too and thought it worked nicely. Some important points when tying a perimeter line; firstly, make sure the line isn’t too loose, otherwise it’s easier to slip a hand or foot through during a capsize and risk entrapment. Secondly, brush up on your knots and tie something that’ll be reliable – the figure 8 and bowline are favourites of mine.
If you’re doing multi-day paddling adventures then I can’t recommended a Tizip enough as a sweet upgrade to your packraft. Never heard of a Tizip? It’s a magical zipper commonly used in scuba diving drysuits that won’t allow air or water to enter. When used on a packraft it allows you to directly access the space inside the tubes to store gear, which has many advantages.
Firstly, it allows you to add an additional layer of protection to keep your gear dry. I’ve yet to discover a system of waterproofing gear that is totally bombproof, but I think that storing gear in an airtight space is about the best you can get. There is always the slight chance that you could hit something sharp enough to slice the packraft so I’d recommended waterproofing your gear as if you would store it on the outside.
Secondly, having a heavy pack strapped to the front of your packraft will cause you to plough through the water – making paddling and manoeuvring harder. If you connect up your drybags into a tasty gear sausage (see photo above) and distribute the weight around the raft evenly, your centre of gravity is lower so you’ll sit better in the water, find paddling easier and have improved visibility over the front of your boat.
Tizips will typically come preinstalled on your packraft for an additional cost but if you’ve already got your packraft and would like the sweet as benefits of a Tizip then it’s possible to buy them separately and install yourself.
3. Tie Down Straps On The Bow
I’ve seen occy straps, ratchets, buckles, ropes, and webbing all used to lash gear to the bow of a packraft. I’ve tried a few systems but this is my favourite for its simplicity. For a cheap and quick solution you can pick up the 2m long high vis straps with cam buckles for $5 each from a hardware store. Bloody bargain in my opinion! Make sure to choose something that will hold up against rust too.
Your mentality when lashing things to a packraft is that gear must remain fixed to the boat if you capsize, so you won’t be chasing (or diving for!) lost items. You need to be confident that your gear will be secure when you’re paddling white water, and if you capsize.
Hot tip for strapping a pack down: Invert the waist belt straps and clip it around the front of the pack it creates a flatter surface that will sit nicely on the bow of the boat. Also, try to position your pack so that it doesn’t inhibit your paddling in any way.
4. Paddle Leash
Something that I use occasionally but is a controversial point in all paddle sports, is a leash to connect your paddle with the boat. If you drop the paddle in the water – intentionally or by accident – then it’s easier to retrieve. The downside is the high risk of entanglement in the event of a capsize, so weigh up whether or not it’s acceptable to use a leash in your environment. Personally, I’ll use one when I feel that my chance of capsizing is close to zero, but if I’m in any kind of fast moving water or surf then I’ll forgo it.
For a simple and lightweight option, I use about 1.5m of thin cord with a small loop tied onto one end and attach the other end to a loop on my packraft. Using the small loop, I can larks foot/girth hitch this around the paddle to tether it to the boat. However, a short leash made of a thick visible material (such as tubular webbing) will reduce the risk of entanglement, so experiment and make up your own mind.
5. Extra Loops/Connection Points
Packrafts will typically come with half a dozen connection points glued around the perimeter of the boat, but sometimes this isn’t enough. An extra connection point I like to include is a loop on the floor of the Tizip space to fasten the dry bags and prevent them from sliding around the inside of the boat.
The brilliant thing about packrafts is their versatility. Lightweight, packable, and a capacity for large loads mean they open up a huge range of possible adventures. With that in mind, the above list is far from comprehensive to all the weird and wonderful ways you can customise your boat to make it suit your needs. Get out there and get creative!