Monday, 26 March 2012

Ship shape and Bristol fashion

These are just some externalised thoughts on the gear I took at the weekend. Now that I have added the element of packrafting to my outdoor experience I am finding that I have to cope with a mite more cold and wet than previously and that there might be some more specialised equipment required. Please feel free to share your experiences. Trial and error is a useful learning tool but so to are shared experiences. 

While a drysuit will be REQUIRED when I start bobbing about for 'sport' in the maw of some of western Norway's steep rivers (why are there no gentle rivers on this side?!) I think most proper packrafting trips (combining hiking and rafting) would be best served with separate jacket and pants. Both times I've been out so far I have used some second-hand Kokatat Deluxe boater pants, fairly simple Gore Tex pants with two noticeable differences to the rain pants I normally use for hiking, those being adjustable neoprene ankle and waist closures. These seem to go some way to reducing the ingress of water when you're getting in & out and sitting in your boat. The ankle closures can be opened for normal hiking to allow more airflow. These seem like a great balance of boating comfort and hiking adaptability and I will obtain a new pair (without all the holes and tears...) before the longer trips planned for the summer.

I used my normal rain jacket on this trip and it kept me dry in most of the time. Previously I have used a more specialist 'paddling jacket', again from Kokatat, which is a fairly standard Gore tex rain jacket but with neoprene wrist closures. The wrist closures do a better job of keeping the water out of your sleeves when paddling or putting your hands in the water, water that finds its way in on my normal jacket, even with their velcro cuffs cinched tight. While I can see times on long paddles when the 'paddling jacket' would be drier than a standard rain jacket there is a weight and cost implication. Neither of these jackets will keep you 'dry' in a 'swim' and I think I will stick with a regular hiking hard shell jacket for now as it is cheaper, lighter and a better cut for hiking.

A combination of baselayer, windshirt, hard shell, foam PFD and upper body workout kept my torso toasty this weekend. My legs didn't feel cold, despite the frigid water, insulated by my Thermarest pad acting as the boat floor. I carried a fleece hoody and pants just in case and wore them at night, under my lightly insulated jacket and pants in camp. Trial and error will find that sweet spot between carrying too much clothing and getting cold. Please chime in with your experiences.

While my Astral whitewater PFD (purchased second hand) is fully featured and doesn't interfere with my paddling stroke at all it is bulky (or more accurately - a more difficult shape to pack) and heavy. I will look for something between that and the ultra light, super simple recreational PFD I use when canoeing which unfortunately doesn't sit well on top the Alpacka spray deck (too long in the body).

Lastly on the clothing front I got my sock arsenal wrong. I packed my 0.5mm neoprene socks instead of the 2mm and suffered chilly feet both in the boat and slogging through the bogs that had, until recently, been under snow. I think I misjudged the season due to the unseasonal sunshine. I also gambled on taking two pairs of thin wool socks and no dedicated fluffy wuffy sleep socks. Again, chilly feet around camp (but oddly fine in the quilt). Maybe early season packrafting requires a full quiver of: two pairs of hiking socks, one pair of sleep socks, one pair of neoprene boating socks and my Gore Tex socks for wearing inside my soaked shoes at camp.

Talking of cold, it was too early for my summer quilt. I wish I had taken my WM bag.

The Jetboil Sol Ti stove has been a joy to use on the whole. I like the concept of a super fast gas cooker, especially when packrafting. Almost instant hot drinks and food after any particularly wet boating, or unexpected 'swims'... It's miserly consumption should make it good choice on longer trips too. I would test these claims but I am not so analytically minded and others have done a far superior job. If I know the estimated 'grams of fuel used per litre boiled' for guesstimating required fuel on a specific trip then that's as scientific as I need to get. My unit is displaying some of the 'discolouration' that has caused some consternation among the blogosphere but has so far not morphed into a molotov cocktail as others have predicted. The neoprene sleeve is a bit 'meh' and the handle is useless but I doubt I will 'hack' this thing at all.

The Duomid looks a good shelter for using when packrafting. Three pieces of my paddle act as a sturdy support so I'll be looking at a set of the new crop of tiny, collapsible hiking poles to steady myself on my ageing knees as they will no longer be required to double duty as shelter supports. Smaller trekking poles will also be unobtrusive and easier to pack when the pack is on the bow. There was also enough room in the Duomid to put my fairly long Denali Llama upside down under there, acting as a luxurious mattress. With all the other paraphernalia required when rafting I think this will be my shelter of choice on solo trips. I took the Locus Gear DPTE and MLD pole extenders but think I'll leave these at home in future in an effort to keep things simple and lighter.

I humped all my gear along in a GoLite Quest pack. It was a bit of an experiment and while it has several nice features (the frame-sheet offers superior support to my frameless Pinnacle), ample volume and a fantastic price tag it just doesn't cut the mustard. Carrying weights like this really requires a wrap around hip belt too I feel. Just like shoes I think a packs primary requirement is fit and I will have to look elsewhere.

The learning experiences continue.

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