all the gear and no idea?
One we thing we get asked about a fair bit is packrafting gear. It’s a difficult balance between packing everything you’ll need v’s packing more than you can carry. Cost of course comes into it too. How do you make your hard earned dollars go a bit further? What should you splash the cash on and where can you save a few pennies? There’s plenty of advise out there and there’s no substitute for experience and testing, but here we’ve collected a few pearls of wisdom to help inform your own decisions. Lets start at the top:
This is a tricky one. Part of the beauty of packrafting is that it knits together so many activities and, as a rule, you try not to double up on gear. So if you’re using your packrafts to access a remote climb somewhere, you’ll already have your rock climbing helmet with you so you won’t need a whitewater helmet….right? Sadly this isn’t the case. Climbing helmets or cycling helmets are designed for completely different types of protection and won’t perform in river environments. Generally speaking paddling helmets protect more of your head, are often made from high density foam and flat. If you’re on deep water such as lakes, helmets are less necessary so maybe you’ll not need one, however, for river environments a adequate helmet is a no brainer.
Think about the colour of your helmet too. If you’re in deep shtoock some place, having a brightly coloured helmet is going to give your rescuers a better chance of seeing you. The worst colours for visibility in the water are white and black. The best are orange, reds and yellows. But any colour that doesn’t occur often in nature will be advantageous.
For those of you looking for that “one helmet to rule them all”, Kong make a helmet called the Scarab which is rated and tested for climbing, mountain biking, and paddling. Perhaps the last helmet you’ll ever need?
This has become more and more talked about lately. As with all gear your purchase decision probably boils down to a combination of cost, weight and functionality, so lets visit those three factors. Cost, well obviously none of us have unlimited resources. Weight, packrafting make ultralight freaks out of us all! After all the boats themselves don’t weigh much…. but after you include your food, sleeping bag, stove, shelter, paddle etc, it soon adds up. So quite right then that weight becomes a consideration. And this often means compromise. Perhaps you compromise on the nice Gucci 4 season down sleeping bag to a 2 season bag to save some weight and space. Maybe you decide you’ll just take a tarp instead of a tent to shave a few grams. Compromising might mean you wear some paddling gear to hike in or even some hiking gear to paddle in. More often than not it means putting comfort further down your list of priorities than weight, space, functionality or even cost.
One thing that I abhor from a professional point of view is seeing people compromising safety for weight, comfort, cost etc. I’ll note at this stage that working as a professional means that I approach safety from a different perspective and with a duty of care which informs my bias on this. However, this does not subtract from the validity of my point of view on this.
Ultimately, the function of your buoyancy aid is as rescue tool (be that self rescue or rescuing others). In my view it’s not the sort of item you should be buying on price, but ultimately on its ability to do what you’ll need it to do. You’ll need the right tool for the job as with anything. If you are planning on paddling lakes, or sheltered inland waterways, you won’t need as much buoyancy as is required in more aerated whitewater. Nor is it as likely that you’ll encounter any of the hazards associated with flowing water (foot entrapment, sweepers, strainers, syphons etc). In these circumstances there is a case to be argued around using lighter weight buoyancy aids. I’ve even known packrafters to use sailing type buoyancy aids that take up very little room in a pack and allow total freedom of movement. If however you are planning on running rivers with flow, then your buoyancy aid perhaps needs to come under more scrutiny. Paddling on whitewater is not a solo activity and you’ll have the safety of your paddling crew to think about. Does your buoyancy aid allow you to carry rescue equipment? Will it be compatible with a cows tail? Can all my gear be stored in a way that allows me to keep a clean profile (ie can I stash stuff away or will it all be dangling off me).