Cost About €170 from Packrafting Store (with their bag) or $100 from NRS.
Capacity Vertical strap adjusts out to 1.96m; horizontal straps up to 1.8m. That’s a pack volume of some 200 litres but I imagine anything more than 25kg will be hard carrying. For that you’d want a Lastenkraxe.
Features Padded hip belt with small zip pockets, chest strap, fully adjustable 3-belt pack harness, padded plastic backboard; ice axe loop; padded pouch with elasticated cord on the back.
Where used On a 200-km walk with packraft along part of SW Turkey’s Lycian Way. And a few day’s walking in Umbria carrying a holdall.
Good points Q/d clips make getting to the pack easy; more comfortable than you’d think; fully adjustable; capacity for bigger loads than you can probably lift. Pouches could easily be added to the side straps.
Bad points Zip pockets on hip belt good idea but too small and awkward to get to.
What’s wrong with a normal backpack?
I took a long time discovering that NRS’s Paragon was just what I needed for travelling with a paddle in my pack™. It then took another year to get round to testing it properly on a long walk with a small boat.
I admit a decent conventional rucsac is better suited to walking long distances over rough terrain with heavy loads. I tried that on my first packrafting trip in Scotland, carrying a giant PVC drybag for my TNF Terra 65 while on the water (right). Although it’s not happened yet, the problem would be capsizing at which point the roll-top ‘drybag’ couldn’t be expected to seal for long. Because of that everything inside that mattered needed its own dry bag, neither of which would also last a prolonged immersion. All that makes access a faff.
Then in 2010 I got myself my brilliant Watershed UDB – a 1.1-kilo, 96-litre holdall made from a bomb-proof fabric and with a chunky drysuit zip – that is drysuit-dry not roll-top ‘drybag’-dry.
I like my Mk1 UDB (no longer made) because it’s a genuine immersion bag so doesn’t require back-up drybagging of the contents. Zip up the heavy seal and it’s as airtight as your pack boat and good to go. What’s more – especially on a packraft – a bag like this provides 96-litres of dependable and reassuring secondary buoyancy should my single-chamber packraft boat go flat on the water.
The UDB came with a rudimentary backpacking harness which, like the handles, were sewn to the bag. As we all know, a backpack works effectively with some kind of rigid frame or plate between the waist belt and the shoulder straps so the weight can rest low on the hips, not hang high from the shoulders. When walking for days with typical 18-kilo loads that makes a big difference to comfort and stability. The UDB’s token harness wasn’t designed for this and anyway, was poorly positioned on the bag.
As you can read here, I did the usual searches for ex-mil packframes and thought of cutting up a regular used backpack, but not before buying a Tatonka Lastenkraxe (right). That system, based on hunter’s L-frame packframes I’d seen in the US, can certainly carry a load but even with its huge padded straps and belts, at 2.7kg is a bit OTT and clanky for packraft travels. I think these sort of packframes are more suited to man-hauling very heavy loads or relatively easy terrain.
On the Trail
At Gatwick check-in the Paragon slipped easily inside my UDB, avoiding the problem of stray rucsac straps getting caught in conveyors or landing gear. At the other end, fitting it took 10 minutes and I was out of the airport on the 3-km walk to the nearest hotel.
I had concerns that the rigidity of the backboard (or ‘lumber support system’) wouldn’t be up to it, but of course once any pack is solidly strapped to a bendy board it can flex with the body but will maintain the distance between the hip and shoulder belts. Only the strap mounting arrangements can come adrift under the load and for me they didn’t.
My load was around 17-kilos + water and other bits in a small waist bag. That’s one flaw in running a UDB: there are no handy side- or mesh pockets to use, far less a slot to take a 3-litre water bladder. I was planning to rig something up between pack and harness but never got round to it. Early on, the Lycian Way was initially well provided with gushing springs, wells and cisterns meaning I could get by on just a half-litre bottle. Later, I needed another bottle but even then was often a little too parched as the weather warmed up and usable cisterns got strung out.
Once something works OK I tend not to fiddle. I might have tried extending the back length to drive the weight more to the hips. The strap and back padding is not in the plush Lastenkraxe league. While I did have problems managing my balance on the gnarly and awkward coastal paths, in the end I can’t blame that on the Paragon, just the load, the terrain and me.
The lightweight NRS Paragon could easily take my current Seawave IK rolled up for short cross-country portages to and from the water. It will also work well with my other Watershed backpack – the 70-litre Westwater (left). Like the UDB, that bag came with rudimentary shoulder straps but will be all the more useful and comfortable as a backpack once strapped to the Paragon. The pictures left and right show a little more clearly how the pack wraps around a bag.
Now I know it works I may look into fitting fatter shoulder straps on the Paragon’s straps and other minor mods. Or maybe I’ll just leave it as it is.