I thought I liked the idea of packframes for pack boating – a rigid rucsac harness frame without the bag element. The boat, paddles plus dry bags are all lashed to a frame, alongside a bag.
I considered this when I first got into pack boats and searched for the L-frame backpacks I recalled from the late 1970s. Nothing doing apart from horrible old Campari stuff, so I settled on a cheap ex-army A.L.I.C.E packframe and adapted it to take the harness of my ancient MacPac backpack (right).
I tried it out on the Coast to Coast walk as a kind of modular backpack with various roll-top drybags and an Ortleib bike pannier (left). It looked kind of shabby and wasn’t so comfortable, plus it was too small and lacked a big enough L-shaped platform to support the weight of a the gear. Good thing it cost me next to nothing then.
For the second stage of the C2C walk I splashed out on a TNF Terra 65-litre backpack, the first new pack I’ve bought since I was a teenager. I can report that modern backpacks are pretty damn comfy. Instead of an exterior frame which went out with glam rock, the TNF uses a moulded plastic board to provide the vital hip-to-shoulder stiffening element so the weight rests on the hips not the shoulders.
At 2.3kg the Terra was actually not that light, despite having a pretty flimsy body and I realised it was a bit small for pack boating operations, with their added requirements in gear.
My 96-litre submersible Mk 1 Watershed UDB (left) is bigger, but is just a sack with thin shoulder straps (it since been redesigned as more of a duffel). With no longitudinal rigidity it’s not comfortable but more significantly, is not stable either with the way the straps are positioned, or perhaps that’s because it’s just very tall.
I ungraded the TNF to a bigger Berghaus C71 65+10 backpack (right; 2.6kg) with a snazzy articulated hip belt pivot. Without the harness the 1.1kg UDB could slot into that and so, even if it does weigh in at 3.7kg all up, I have a comfortable modern backpack with a totally submersible UDB ‘liner’. (I used the Berghaus on our Assynt-Cape Wrath Trail variant – above left.)
Nearly there. In the US one time I saw some packframes at a hunting outfitters in Flagstaff (right) that were much better than anything I’ve seen in the UK and going from just $80. They had hinged L-sections to support loads, and looked like an ideal carrier for the UDB and boats. As it stands, my UDB is still my preferred haul bag for overnight pack boating activities.
Tatonka Lastenkraxe review
Lastenkraxe? A Nordic nutcracker? An uncredited evil troll out of Harry Potter? Tatonka is a German company who produce some crafty and functional stuff, such as their pot/cup. A little research reveals that Lasten + kraxe adds up to ‘load bearer’ + ‘rucksack. Vorsprung durch kraknik.
The Lax differs from the hinged hunters’ frames by having a well triangulated, rigid platform. A bit over the top for load bearing perhaps and it certainly won’t slip under the bed so easily. But besides being rated at 50kg, the platform provides the unexpected benefit of standing up straight when placed on flat ground. No need to look for a rock or dry bit of grass to perch your pack, or support it to get into the back.
It weighs 2.7kg but feels lighter for the amount of alloy in there. And like all modern packs, you can adjust the harness to suit your back length, as well as do the usual micro-adjusting to the chunky hip belt and shoulder straps and the all important, non-elasticated, sternum strap.
The Lax will obviously work fine for packraft expeditioning, plus kayak day trips where a trolley can’t be used, but I wanted to see if carrying my Amigo IK was a viable option for camping too. The Amigo weighs about 15kg ready to go, and as you can see takes up much of the packframe when strapped on vertically. Horizontally would make more space above, but having walked about five miles on road, track as well as very rough hillside, treating the Amigo like a packraft will be a tall order.
I recall the Terra backpack on my first packrafting trip in 2010 weighed 18kg with a few days’ food and a drysuit. The Amigo is at least 12kg heavier than a packraft so that’s 30 kilos. I was walking around with about 20kg which felt like plenty. As said, the Lax is rated at up to 50kg which is hard to believe; the stitching alone would be under immense strain.
Realistically, camping with the kayak would work best where there was more water between short and fairly easy walks (few bogs and steep inclines – not really Scotland then). Of course, having a kayak as opposed to a packraft makes lone coastal paddling and sea loch crossings less intimidating.
Comfort is as good as can be expected with a 20-kg load, but I think it’s safe to say a rigid frame is less compliant than a modern frameless backpack like my Berghaus C71 (right; 2.6kg). On one stage the lower frame was digging into my hips through the hip belt, although on the next walk I must have adjusted it better and it was fine over terrain that at times was barely walkable. I wasn’t using a packstaff this time, but off-piste that would be a great help.
Early days yet, but quality of construction seems good. I like the lift handle and generous padding. One thing I’d like to see on any harness like this is a pocket or two on the padded hip belt, or even just a bit of tucking mesh.
The platform construction looks solid and as well as being a pack stand, with a some cushioning would also make a solid camp seat when unloaded (below right). This is a much discussed and under-rated item, and one on which you could even lean back on, just like you weren’t supposed to do in school.
The solidity of this structure also opens up the possibility of adding that nirvana of urban packboat portaging – trolley wheels. More about that later, if I get round to it. Rrp in Germany for the Tatonka Lastenkraxe is €170. My green one cost £95 off amazon. Black ones were another 20 quid.
In my packframe investigations I discovered that in the Tarta mountains of eastern Europe there’s a local ‘iron man’ sport of ‘Nosicsky’ (‘portaging’): carrying massive loads on wooden L-packframes. Perhaps it was once a way of resupplying mountain refuges when the mules were on strike. As you can see right, over 200kg was a record one time, but it proves that L-frames were the original do-it-all packframe, long before modern backpacks found frameless alternatives that kept the weight closer to your back.
I also came across the Kiwi Aarn website which showcases a frontal load ‘FlowMo Bodypack’ to help improve you posture and balance weight distribution. They’ve designed two pockets for the front straps to carry dense but compact items (like water) while still being able to see where to put your feet. Sounds like a good idea but many of us, like Jeff on the right in the Kimberley (with my old Terra 65), have come up with a similar solution intuitively, when needing to carry a day pack as well as a backpack. Still, it’s an idea worth considering when you have a 15-kilo boat on your back.
Since I wrote this I did try a similar idea on our CWT recce, well at least carrying the packraft on my chest. It did feel good on regular ground – better posture, less stooping – but on gnarly terrain the bulk got in the way of the ground at my feet which got dangerous in the places we were walking. To be fair Aarn acknowledge this limitation.