Suilven Packrafting ~ gear report

Impressions of some of the gear I used on the Suilven trip. There’s an older ‘Packrafting in Scotland’ gear page here.

Packstaff™
Made of the two shaft sections of my Aqua Bound paddle and now with a metal- tipped ‘nib’ riveted to a piece of old Lendal.
In the terrain I was tramping over, this is such a great walking aid. No need to expend energy balancing over tussocks and rocks with a pack on your back; take some of the strain off your legs and knees and just lean on the pole like a handrail, use it to probe a boggy patch that could be firm or knee deep; use it to vault over ditches, use it as a monopod to rest a camera on full zoom; use it as a tarp pole, tent peg – you name it, it will do it.
Mine happens to be well balanced, just the right thickness to grip securely (warm, too), and because you can easily slide your hand up and down as a sleep slope requires, it’s much more useful than a pair of trekking poles with a moulded cork handle. And when you get to the water it converts into a paddle!

I’m now using it for all our mountain walks around here, and most of the time it’s much more useful than a burden. Of course it’s nothing more than a shoulder-high stick which any self-respecting medieval pilgrim would have used along the way, but mark my words, some time soon a packstaff will be re-invented and become the new must-have trekking accessoire obligé

Kokatat Swift Dry Pants
I’ve been looking for an alternative to my full-on drysuit for less lethal packrafting (as opposed to sea kayaking), and the Swifts look like the lower half of the solution – the top half is yet to be pinned down, but will a regular walking cag will do.
I’ve only used them for half a day but I was not sweaty and they did not leak, but then I didn’t wade around up to my waist and was wearing the long SealSkinz over the top like riding boots. XL is my size which fits great, the waist is high and there’s a very handy thigh pocket – always useful on a packboat or open IK with no deck. I deliberately chose dry trousers with no sewn-in socks as my drysuit has those. With the Swifts in future I’ll just wear short Seal Skins and have no worries about the sewn-in socks getting holed by gravel. Time will tell how they wear and perform. They cost me around £100 from i-canoe in Ireland. Since then I glued on latex socks.

SealLine XL Mapcase
Never had a mapcase but now I find it very useful on the water for the obvious reasons. Ortlieb does a roll-top; SealLine uses a ziploc which as you can see on the left, works fine. The size means you can have a large map area or other info on view and so don’t need to open it unnecessarily, and there’s a ring in each corner for attachment. Again, time will tell how it wears.

Seal Skin long socks
I know, I look a bit of a knob wearing these in shorts. But the fact is these socks genuinely extend your wading ability while keeping your feet dry. The feet may get cold as you step into deep water and ‘feel’ wet, but that’s just foot sweat getting chilled – they soon warm up again. In the tent what to do with wet, muddy socks? Take them off and turn them inside out! No mess.
They’re like a pair of ‘Wellington socks’ or mini waders. As I left for Suilven I realised I should have grabbed my knee-high gaiters too, mainly to protect my woolly wellies from the brush. Sure enough, at the end of the trip there were bits of twig knotted into the woolly fabric, which was all roughed up and scuffed. Next time I’ll know; wearing gaiters may reduce the prat-effect too. They cost about £30. Quite a lot for a pair of socks and tbh, I expect them to leak eventually.

Watershed UDB
Watershed UDBHats off again to the UDB as a land and water submersible backpacking haul sack. No complaints, although I was only carrying 10-12 kilos. It just sits on your back like a coal sack and best of all you know it won’t take in any water and can act as a back-up buoyancy aid. More UDB here.

When I got back from this trip I was all set to give up on my Black Diamond Lighthouse (now called a HiLight) – a single-skinned tent using ‘Epic‘ ‘breathable’ fabric – I bet that’s now gone the way of Ventile from the 1970s. Reviews of the BD-L here – the lower rated ones reflect my feelings. It worked OK last year over two rainy nights, but as so often happens with Epic tents, it has its off nights which can mean a miserable experience: what you might put down to condensation (which is easily managed) is actually rain dripping off the top cross poles. If I’m to be doing more packboat touring in Scotland I’m going to need a waterproof tent. Using Todd Tex fabric, the famous Bibler Ahwahnee is exactly the same design as mine, but at double the price and double the weight (so what’s the point you wonder?). But it is actually waterproof.
I spent hours on the you-know-what researching possible alternatives. Although outside the stuff can go under the upturned raft, I do miss a porch as well as external clip- or sleeve poleage for easier pitching without opening the tent in a downpour. I considered a 1.1kg Tarptent Cloudburst 2, or a Macpac Macrolight. Luckily I didn’t get as far as Terra Nova or Hilleberg websites before I figured there’s nothing that wrong with my tent that a splash of Fabsil proofing over the vulnerable flat-to-the-rain roof section might not cure. Plus the fact that back at the house, while it was drying, pegged out in the garden, a gust of wind picked it up, blew it over our house, over the road, over the store and into the field behind before it caught on a wire fence. It survived all that without a scratch as far as I can see, so I’ll give it another chance. The steep sides can’t let rain in anyway, and it really is such a light and compact shelter that’s roomy for one and OK for two, it dries in a shake, stands without pegs (I never use guys), and has a nice big door. If the Fabsil doesn’t do the trick or makes the condensation much worse, I may have to give up on the BD for packboating in Scotland and go double-skin. I do like the idea of a tent that pitches fly first and can be used just fly, or just inner. There must be tents like that. Or maybe I should get a Nemo Morpho airtent to go with my airboats… More on tents here.

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