As the rear of the boat was sucked back into the eddy fence, I felt water rushing down my back. "Paddle! Hard! Now!" I yelled to my little companion in the front of the boat. In tandem, we gave it all we had and managed to eke back into the current, leaving the foot-high eddy boils behind us.
Such is life in a packraft, which is more sensitive to load:boat weight ratios than other boats, making the consideration of weight even more critical when there are two people sharing a single six-pound packraft.
Fully decked out – two people in one boat, with a fully skinned out gear and supply of weight of 40 pounds, including the boat.
We graduated from Webelos in April (me as Den Leader, Chase with his Arrow of Light) and immediately crossed over into our new Boy Scout troop, particularly enthused about our first outing: canoeing the Jefferson River in June. Because this was a family trek, we weren’t confined to the constraints (and some of the freedoms) of camping and cooking using the Patrol Method (the BSA philosophy by which groups of boys camp and cook as a single unit of 4-8 people). Instead, we’d camp and cook together as father and son.
When we saw the trek on the calendar, we looked at each other and smirked: the obvious message that neither of us needed to communicate was that this would be a great opportunity to try out the new Alpacka Double Duck, a two-person packraft designed for calm water.
Along with the packraft – which, once occupied by two inhabitants, doesn’t have much room remaining – we’d share a bunch of other stuff too: first aid kit, cook kit, shelter, firestarting supplies, and go pretty thin on the rest. We would eliminate a shelter floor, sleeping pads, and gas stove; we’d both bring hoodless down mummy bags that weighed 17-19 ounces each (snuggling for warmth if we needed to), leave home that extra "insurance layer" (snuggling for warmth if we needed to), employ multiple use items as much as possible, and eliminate some food weight (snuggling for warmth if we needed to).
We didn’t actually have to employ our contingency strategy (snuggling) and fared rather comfortably on the trip, traveling down the river fully skinned out with about 40 pounds of gear and food for the two of us. That 40 pounds included all of our gear, supplies, clothing worn, boating gear, and of course, boats.
The big platform of the Double Duck makes it a very stable boat, allowing Chase to paddle on his knees, one of the more comfortable positions he found.
It’s no surprise that I’m a fan of Alpacka rafts (www.alpackaraft.com). I’ve enjoyed "two-in-one boat" trips before, in what was formerly known as the Alpacka Dory (now called the Fjord Explorer). The Dory/Explorer benefited two people in rough water conditions with an upturned bow and stern that helped to spill waves to the side without filling the boat. However, interior room was pretty cramped, especially for longer floats. For this trip, we used an Alpacka Double Duck, the company’s newest model.
At less than six pounds, it’s remarkably light for a boat that accommodates two occupants in comfort. Neither bow nor stern is upturned on the Double Duck, so it’s intended for flatwater paddling only, thus making it the perfect choice for a river like the Class I Jefferson. However, at 6,000 cfs, the diversion dam we’d have to cross would be too much for the Double Duck, so we’d portage around. Also, because we’d be a package of 300 pounds (including boat, gear, food, water, and people), we’d be pretty cautious negotiating the Jefferson’s gigantic eddies, which form during the snowmelt season and have been known to swamp canoes, rafts, and drift boats alike.
In addition to the raft, we’d each take a kayak paddle – the powerful Sawyer Packraft Paddle for me and the easier-to-paddle Alpacka Ultralight Paddle for Chase. Together, we could forward- or backferry around obstacles quickly, and double paddling would be essential for us to make it into the tiny, hidden side channel that led to our campsite – at a right angle to the Jefferson’s 6 mph current. Hitting that side channel meant that we would avoid a half-hour of hip-deep swamp portaging to our campsite.
My paddle would serve a dual use – as our shelter’s center pole (without the blades), while remaining paddle parts would be distributed around the mesh skirt of the shelter to seal it to the ground for mosquito protection. PFDs and the inflatable seats from our boats would serve as pillows and footrests while sleeping, and, in case snuggling wore itself out, as insulation if worn under our rain jackets. Finally, the packraft would provide ground protection and padding, since we weren’t bringing sleeping pads or ground cloths.
Shelter and Sleeping
We wanted a shelter that provided full-perimeter protection with the ability to create a sealed floor with our remaining gear. Ron Bell makes a silnylon pyramid shelter that may be my favorite river shelter. It can accommodate two packrafters sleeping on their boats with plenty of room for additional gear; it has a low peak for good wind-shedding ability, a noseeum mesh bug skirt, and reinforcements at the peak for using a packraft paddle (stub or blade) in the apex. The result is a roomy shelter with zippered entry for only 22 ounces (see Gear List).
We’d use the packraft, our two dry bags (50L and 65L), our rain jackets and pants, and two pack liners to completely seal the floor of the shelter. This proved an important strategy, since mosquitoes were settled into the grass when we pitched our camp, only to come alive as the sun went down.
We packed our gear in three dry bags – a 65L bag lashed to the bow and a 50L bag that Chase used for a seat. The little dry bag is for our lunch and cameras, and we kept water bottles in the floor of the boat.
We each used hoodless sleeping bags made of down – a Feathered Friends Vireo (17 oz) for me and a Western Mountaineering Tamarack (19 oz) for Chase. The bags provided plenty of warmth for the 40-something-degree nights, and we relied on the full perimeter shelter to keep the wind at bay. Headnets took care of renegade mosquitoes that somehow managed to penetrate our other defenses.
We didn’t bring sleeping pads. I’d love to tell you that we created comfortable and warm beds from forest duff, a skill borne of years of practice and experience, but a Scout is Trustworthy as they say, and we must confess to committing a cardinal sin of lightweight backpacking: we brought camp chairs that unfolded into beds. In our defense, they were light! While the Crazy Creek HexaLite chairs (high back for me, standard model for Chase) were not as comfortable as an inflatable pad, they were comfortable enough, especially when combined with the natural sponge bed of grassy… ahem… swamp we stumbled upon inside our shelter after we had pitched it. The chairs served multiple uses, of course – they weren’t just a sleeping pad. They were cooking seats, talking seats, writing seats, and sittin’ seats, both inside and outside the shelter.
Limited volume and the desire to minimize weight were not considered when we were dreaming about relaxing in a camp chair, but somehow, these concepts were at the forefront of our decision to select a cooking kit. We opted to leave stove and fuel at home, though we didn’t want to build fires on the grassy island, and we most certainly wanted hot food and, more importantly, hot coffee (as much a benefit to Chase as to me). After deliberating a number of options, we settled on a BushBuddy Ultra cook kit that included an 1100-ml titanium pot (my eating bowl), a 550-ml titanium mug (Chase’s eating bowl), two folding titanium spoons, and two 400-ml titanium mugs (for Chase’s cocoa and Ryan’s coffee).
Our meals were simple, one-pot style and included both hot and cold cereals, potatoes, noodles, and lots of easy snacks. Remember, we brought camp chairs, so we wanted to spend our time relaxing in them instead of cooking, eating, and fussing with recipes. Plus, our previous experience has found that the most dismal campsites (this one certainly qualified, being a swamped island inhabited by blood-sucking monsters – ticks, mosquitoes, and leeches) can be cheered up with a crackling BushBuddy keeping warm brews going.
With time and care, a floorless shelter can be made bug-proof even in the worst mosquito conditions. This one has a noseeum mesh perimeter and we used extra gear as a “floor.”
The Jefferson has one of the highest silt loads of any river in Montana during snowmelt. The silt load was so high on our trip that we could hear the silt particles colliding with the side of the packraft – a sound imperceptible when only one or a hundred particles smacks the boat – a hair-bristling hiss when the particle collisions run into the millions at any instant of time. The result is that preparing treatable water from the Jefferson this time of year is a chore. Normal water filters clog instantly, and the silt load is not only unpalatable, it reduces the efficacy of most chemical methods.
To combat this scenario, we used a combination of carrying enough fresh water to guarantee that we wouldn’t die of dehydration before the end of the trip (about 8 liters between the two of us), and sort of an experimental system that I wasn’t sure would work: a little baggie of water dope (I used my own personal mixture of iron salts as a coagulant and calcium hypochlorite for a little first stage sterilization, but a similar process can be accomplished with Reliance Pur packets).
After adding the water dope and mixing rapidly to induce coagulation (I did this in a 15L dry bag), I slowly stirred the soup with a big stick for a few minutes to induce flocculation. Then, I let the bag sit for ten minutes (by hanging in a tree) to settle the floc. Finally, I decanted the clarified water from the top of the bag into water bottles through several layers of cotton bandana, and polished the whole bit off by treating with chlorine dioxide tablets. The end result was water that looked and tasted nothing like its parent sludge direct from the Jefferson (full disclosure: I did not actually sample the parent sludge before making this comparison).
For a long trip with big groups, this type of water treatment is ideal, but I found the process laborious for two people on a short journey. I also found a little trickle of a side channel that flowed through the swamp, exiting a bit tea-colored, but clear of sediments. I filtered this through the bandana to remove the rough organics, treated with chlorine dioxide, and was happy with the results.
This trip effectively served as sort of a shakedown for us. We were only paddling thirty miles of the Jefferson River, and it was to be our first prep trip for a much grander adventure that we’re planning in 2010 – completion of the 149-mile Upper Missouri National Wild and Scenic River. With this gear list, we felt well-prepared, and in spite of high water, hordes of bloodthirsty companions, and the short preparation time that comes from being hyper-involved in multiple activities at once (running a business, Scouting, Little League, and the demands of spring yardwork), we enjoyed a rather posh level of comfort.
The Gear List
|FUNCTION||MODEL (RYAN)||WEIGHT (RYAN)||MODEL (CHASE)||WEIGHT (CHASE)|
|Dry Bag||Pacific Outdoor Equipment Pneumo LT 65L||10.0||Pacific Outdoor Equipment Pneumo LT 50L||8.0|
|Pack Liner||BPL XXL Pack Liner||2.7||BPL XL Pack Liner||2.1|
|Sleeping Bag||Feathered Friends Vireo||17.0||Western Mountaineering Tamarack||19.0|
|Camp Chair||Crazy Creek HexaLite Chair (Long Back)||18.5||Crazy Creek HexaLite Chair||14.8|
|Paddle||Sawyer Packraft Paddle||28.0||Alpacka Ultralight Paddle||23.0|
|PFD||NRS Clearwater Mesh||34.0||Cabela’s Type III Ski Vest (Generic)||11.0|
|Mug||Evernew 400 Mug||1.2||Evernew 400 Mug||1.2|
|Spoon||FireLite SUL Folding Ti Spoon||0.4||FireLite SUL Folding Ti Spoon||0.4|
|Water Bottle||1L Platypus||1.2||Evernew 600 Bottle||0.8|
|Underwear||Beartooth Merino Short||3.5||Spandex Short||2.1|
|Shirt||Thorofare Shirt||3.7||Lightweight Polyester L/S Shirt||3.2|
|Pants||Thorofare Pants||3.8||Supplex Convertible Pants||5.8|
|Wet Socks||Smartwool Liner Socks||1.6||Smartwool Trekking Socks||2.1|
|Paddling Hat||Bandana||1.0||Supplex Hat with Wide Brim||2.8|
|Sunglasses||ZRE Racing Shields||0.7||Prescription Transition Glasses||1.2|
|Rain Jacket||NRS Endurance Splash Top||12.0||Red Ledge Jacket||6.1|
|Rain Pants||NRS Endurance Splash Pants||13.0||Red Ledge Pants||4.2|
|Warm Shirt||Beartooth Merino Hoody||8.6||Midweight Capilene L/S Crew||5.4|
|Warm Pant||Beartooth Merino UL Long John Pant||3.9||Midweight Capilene Pant||4.9|
|Insulating Top||BPL Cocoon SUL Hoody (PL1)||7.1||Polartec 150 Pullover||7.5|
|Shoes||Salomon Tech Amphibs||22.5||Adidas Mesh Something or Others||13.2|
|Dry Socks||Smartwool Expedition Socks||4.5||Smartwool Trekking Socks||2.1|
|Warm Hat||none||–||Polartec 150 Balaclava||1.9|
|Headnet||BPL Mosquito Headnet||0.3||BPL Noseeum Headnet||0.7|
|Toiletries||Toothbrush, Meds||1.0||Toothbrush, Meds||0.4|
|Knife||NRS River Knife||4.0||Buck Whittling Knife||0.9|
|Whistle||ACR Whistle (attached to PFD)||0.7||ACR Whistle (worn around lanyard on neck)||0.7|
|Light||Fenix L0D||0.8||Petzl e-Lite||0.9|
|Camera||Ricoh GRD||5.0||Pentax Optio WP||5.5|
|Journal||Mini Moleskine + Pen||0.9||Small Spiral Notebook + Pen||0.8|
|Total Personal Gear|| 211.6 oz
|Toiletries||Toothpaste, Purell, Sunscreen, DEET||2.5|
|Shelter||Mountain Laurel Designs Packrastafaramid||22.1|
|Stakes||BPL Hi-Vis Lazr Ti Skewer x 8||2.1|
|Packraft||Alpacka Double Duck (weight includes bow line)||93.1|
|Lashing||5mm Cord, 18" Shockle, 2 S-Biners||5.8|
|Throw Bag||NRS Pro Compact||9.3|
|Inflation Bag||Alpacka, Large Volume||2.9|
|Small Dry Bag||Pacific Outdoor Equipment Pneumo LT 5L||3.1|
|Cookpot||FireLite SUL 1100||3.0|
|Firestarting Kit||Sparkie, Wetfire, Esbit Tablets, Tinder-Quik, in 5×4 Aloksak||1.1|
|Water Bags||MSR DromLite, 6L + Pacific Outdoor Equipment Pneumo LT 15L||8.9|
|Water Treatment||ClO2 Tablets, Ryan’s Homebrew Water Dope||3.5|
|First Aid||Bandaids, Butterflies, Krazy Glue, Leukotape, Pills||1.2|
|Repair||Tyvek Tape, Aquaseal, Heavy Sewing Kit||1.4|
|Food Storage||BPL UrsaLite Bear Bag Hanging Kit||2.1|
|Total Shared Gear||167.1 oz