Category: Bikepacking + Packrafting + Multisport

For a rapidly increasing number of people, the ultimate adventure involves more than one means of human-powered transportation. Hiking, biking and paddling—all at once? How does that qualify as minimalist or ultralight?

Simple: without the lightest, high volume pack and the slimmest, sleekest shelter, bikepackers and packrafters won’t be able to bring everything they need for increasingly ambitious trips. Multi-sport means an almost never ending multiplication of possibilities. This catalog of ever-more epic outings includes trip reports, how-tos and gear guides for bikepacking, packrafting and creative combinations of the two.

LEARN MORE: SHOP PACKRAFTING AND MULTISPORT BACKPACKS

You Don't Need an Ankle to Packraft

Photos by Jessica Kelley

One of three recipients of the Kyle Dempster Solo Adventure Award, Jessica Kelley followed a circuitous broken-ankle led journey through a variety of modes of wilderness travel to finally hatch her own 1,300-mile bike and packraft trip in Alaska.

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AN ALASKAN ODYSSEY BY WHEEL AND WATER

Words by Bjorn Olson

Howdy Hyperlite Mountain Gear Blog Readers!

I wanted to introduce myself along with the rest of the small team that will be joining me this fall on a previously un-attempted fat bike and packraft trip through an intriguing and rarely visited corner of Alaska. Our little cadre of three will be made up my girlfriend who is, amongst other winning traits, my principal trip-partner, best friend, a naturalist/artist and well-versed wilderness adventure bum, Kim McNett.

Daniel Countiss, a veteran to rowdy and remote fat bike expeditions, a former Georgian and now fellow Homer, Alaska resident, will also be joining us. Daniel is a professional welder and is owner/operator of the custom bicycle company Defiance Frameworks. His personal bike is a customized reflection of the terrain we regularly find ourselves traversing – light but strong, simple, big tired, and capable.

 

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THE ALSEK RIVER: TIME TRAVEL THROUGH THE VANISHING ICE AGE

Words by Brad Meiklejohn // Photos by Tim Kelley

In June 2018, Tim Kelley, Gunnar Cantwell, Tom Diegel, and Hyperlite Mountain Gear ambassador Brad Meiklejohn paddled and walked from Haines Junction in the Yukon, Canada to Yakutat, Alaska, completing the first packraft descent of the Alsek River. The Alsek is one of the legendary rivers of North America, in a league that includes the Stikine, Colorado, Columbia, and Susitna, and was the last major river in North America to be navigated.

Much of the Alsek remained terra incognita until 1971 when Walt Blackadar completed the first full descent, including a solo run through Turnback Canyon. Blackadar, the boldest kayaker of his generation, wrote: “I want every other kayaker to read my words well. The Alsek is unpaddleable! I’m not coming back. Not for $50,000, not for all the tea in China.”

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Exploring the Gates of the Arctic via Packraft

Words by Dulkara Martig // Photos by Ben Weigl & Dulkara Martig It was mid-August, and fall was fast approaching in Alaska. Locals were squeezing in their last summer trips before the winter set in. Bears were munching on the last of the berries. Bursts of orange, yellow, and red danced across the tundra, and fresh […]

The post Exploring the Gates of the Arctic via Packraft appeared first on Hyperlite Mountain Gear Blog.

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Monumental: A Journey Through Katahdin Woods & Waters

“WE FOUND ENDLESS POTENTIAL FOR WORLD CLASS OUTDOOR RECREATION, AND AFTER FIVE DAYS, WE WERE COMPLETELY IN TUNE WITH THE UNQUESTIONABLY WILD PLACE THAT SURROUNDED US.”  // CAIT BOURGAULT

 

Local and national controversy has surrounded Maine’s recently established Katahdin Woods & Waters National Monument in recent months. There’s been plenty of noise generated by these debates, but none of it has touched on the reason the monument was created in the first place: to protect and encourage public access to Maine’s natural beauty and outdoor adventures. World-class camping, canoeing, kayaking, mountain biking, hiking, hunting, fishing, wildlife, and sightseeing are all at every visitor’s fingertips. In September of 2017, a team of four Maine-born photographers and filmmakers set off into Katahdin Woods & Waters to document the land in hopes of encouraging more public use. Their film, Monumental, documents a five day, 64-mile-long human powered circumnavigation of the park by canoe, bike, and foot. 

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Oh, Canada: Packrafting The Northwest Territories

Words & Photos by Paul Burbidge // Videos by Dylan Stewart

We’d made the Mackenzie River and the trip was over. We still had 100 kilometers of river to paddle but the unknowns were behind us and we started paddling by ourselves, in our own heads. We were already partly home and tied up with future activities, work, spouses etc. Or maybe this was just me. I struggle with being able to see my future. The Mackenzie River is wide, slow and straight. Wide means two kilometers wide and straight means sections long enough that the river has a horizon line- like the ocean. There is no unknown. Our next few hours were laid out in front of us. They would be long and hot and we’d have to paddle to make up for the lack of current. Our paddling didn’t seem to have any effect but we moved along.

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Bikepacking Alaska's Nulato Hills

Video by Luc Mehl // Photos by Luc Mehl + Eric Parsons

The Nulato Hills are a relatively unknown area of Western Alaska, even to experienced ambassador Luc Mehl, who has grown up in the state and is well versed on what it has to offer. But, after researching any satellite imagery he could find, he decided that the region looked ripe for a bikepacking route. So, Luc teamed up with Revelate Designs founder/owner Eric Parsons to come up with a ~100-mile route along Muskox trails from the village of Nulato. We recently caught up with him for a quick chat about the trip and some insight into exploring such an untravelled wilderness.

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Packrafting Alaska's Arctic Wildlife Refuge

Words & Photos by Don Carpenter

Alaska’s Arctic Wildlife Refuge is awe inspiring- it is big, wild, remote country. Mountains are stacked upon mountains, interspersed with free flowing rivers. The Refuge stretches from the south side of the Brooks Range, over the glaciated high peaks of the range, and across the coastal plain to the Arctic Ocean. I often marveled at the remoteness, as I realized how far we were from the nearest village or road.

[Note from Don] When I wrote this story, I had no idea that the debate over drilling within the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge would surface again so soon. This debate has gone on for decades, and drilling is again on the table. The US Senate has just passed a tax bill that includes an amendment that would allow drilling on the coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge.  The House of Representatives and the Senate need to reconcile their bills and then it will go to the President. If you are opposed to oil development in this place, now is the time to speak up.  If you are so inclined, please let your representatives know you are against drilling in this incredible place.

 

We had been following fresh wolf tracks up an unnamed drainage since leaving the main river canyon. We knew they must be close by, but hadn’t seen any yet. Greg was the first to spot it on the hillside above us. We watched as the gray and black wolf moved up the slope and then lay down. What followed was an intimate interaction with a family of wolves in a wild and remote landscape. Barks grew into howls and a series of calls and responses rang across the valley. Soon, young pups appeared on the other side of the canyon. We listened to a symphony of howls for over an hour and watched as the family regrouped and slowly made their way into another side drainage.

Hiking Towards the Leffigwell River
Hiking towards the Leffingwell River

Logistics can be challenging for an Arctic trip. To maximize our time in the Refuge, our group chose to fly in and out with Kirk from Yukon Air. This added some cost, but offered us the most time in the hills. We flew into the south side of the Brooks Range, hiked over the continental divide, navigated 3 rivers out of the mountains, crossed the coastal plain and ended at the Arctic Ocean. Traveling a total of 160 miles over 14 days.


Floating the upper Kongakut River

However, we were not going to the Arctic Refuge to travel 20 hours a day. We wanted time to take everything in- to savor morning coffee, fish, look for animals, and enjoy the magic of the Refuge. Thus, we travelled light, but we weren’t focused on a few extra ounces. We had plenty of food, including makings for pizza and pancakes, and even had whiskey left to toast the friends we’ve lost when we arrived at the Arctic Ocean.


The current slowed as we approached the Arctic Ocean

I had high expectations for the trip. And the Refuge exceeded them all, easily. Our pace allowed us to take in the wonder of the Arctic. We enjoyed surreal moments in camp basking in the midnight sun, watching birds, and glassing for animals. Our pace also lead to several wonderful animal interactions… watching and listening to the pack of wolves and observing a grizzly for over an hour from a hillside above camp.


Fresh wolverine tracks near camp.

Traveling by foot and packraft through the Brooks Range was stunning, but the coastal plain was truly unique. This plain can seem barren from afar, but I found it beautiful, diverse, and vast. We saw a large variety of birds and waterfowl— eagles, jaegers, harriers, harlequin and merganser ducks, tundra swans, geese, gulls, arctic terns, plovers, sandpipers, and many other songbirds. Many of these birds were nesting on the coastal plain.

The fragile tundra of the coastal plain was teeming with wildflowers and we saw signs of bear, wolverine, and wolf. We also experienced fata morgana— an Arctic phenomenon that produces mirages and made it appear that the pack ice on the Arctic Ocean was inland ice cliffs that could be impassable.


Gravel bar camping on the coastal plain

We knew there was a good chance of encountering large numbers of caribou on the coastal plain. The Porcupine herd, numbering approximately 180,000, gathers on the plain in June and July to calve and feed.

On our flight in, we learned from Kirk that the herd had amassed on the coastal plain, but about 30 miles west of our intended route. They might move east, directly into us, or head south into the mountains, and we would never see them. In the end, we saw very few caribou. Ironically, this lack of caribou sightings was perhaps the most incredible wildlife experience for me.

On our pick up, Kirk asked, “Have you seen any caribou, I’ve been flying, but seem to have lost them.” Last he had seen, the herd had split into two groups of 90,000, and then vanished. At 180,000 strong and with 720,000 legs, they could be anywhere. On our flight out, we finally spotted a few groups of 10,000 or so, up a small tributary of the Hula Hula. I am glad we still have country big, wild, and remote enough for 180,000 caribou to give us the slip!


Porcupine Caribou Herd in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (2008) // Source: United States Fish and Wildlife Services

A week before flying to the Sheenjek, on a trip to Colorado, my friend Dirk took me to meet Bob Krear. Bob is a 10th Mountain Division veteran, having fought in Italy during World War II. He was also a member of the 1956 Sheenjek expedition 1956 Sheenjek expedition, led by Olaus and Mardy Murie. The findings from that research expedition played a large part in the formation of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

During our visit with Bob, we heard stories of fighting in the mountains of Italy during WWII, tales of the Sheenjek expedition, and from his work with the National Park Service. As we chatted on that Sunday afternoon, I flipped through a book Bob had written about his time in the 10th Mountain Division and what he had done since WWII. Bob had written that his role in the 1956 Sheenjek trip, and the part it played in the creation of the Refuge, was one of his proudest achievements. I thought of my visit with Bob often as I traveled through the vast Arctic landscape.

The work of Bob Krear, the Muries, and others from their generation, laid the foundation for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and a legacy of wilderness for future generations.   As I look forward, I think this quote from Mardy Murie is as powerful today as it was in 1977.

“BEAUTY IS A RESOURCE IN AND OF ITSELF.  ALASKA MUST BE ALLOWED TO BE ALASKA, THAT IS HER GREATEST ECONOMY.  I HOPE THAT THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA IS NOT SO RICH THAT SHE CAN AFFORD TO LET THESE WILDERNESSES PASS BY- OR SO POOR THAT SHE CANNOT AFFORD TO KEEP THEM.” – MARDY MURIE

Alaska Lands Bill testimony June 5, 1977 in Denver, Colorado.  

Don Carpenter is a guide, outdoor educator, and co-owner of the American Avalanche Institute.  He has been guiding and teaching in the mountains since 1998 and an owner and instructor at the AAI since 2009. His winters are busy with logistics and avalanche courses at AAI and ski guiding. Spring, summer, and fall find him guiding, running rivers, packrafting, and chasing elk.  Don, and his wife Sarah, live in a straw-bale home they built on the western slope of the Tetons.

Don has also shared his LNT principles in a previous post from his 2015 trip to the Refuge: Leave No Trace Principles in Alaska’s Arctic Wildlife Refuge

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Whitewater Packrafting 101: 10 Things You Need to Know to Paddle Safe + Strong

To celebrate the launch of our newest product, the River Rescue Throw Bag, we asked Hyperlite Mountain Gear ambassador Mark Oates to put together a comprehensive guide to technical paddling—call it packrafting 101. A certified whitewater instructor and outdoor educator, Mark regularly leads trips through the remote Tasmanian wilderness near his home zone. Ever detail-oriented and meticulous, Mark produced a thorough treatise on how to get the most out of any day on any creek in your boat, and get home in one piece. Huge thanks to Mark for sharing vital expertise that is sure to make us all smarter and safer as packrafting continues to blow up. 

Words by Mark Oates // Photos by Dan Ransom + Mark Oates

You’ve got the latest and greatest packraft, you’ve got the cool hardcore creeking helmet—call it a complete kit—and you even have some decent river miles under your belt. So, now you want to take it to the next level. But wait…

Is there something else that you still need? Why do others make paddling hard rapids look effortless, while you come close to swimming? Why can some packrafters hit that particular eddy every time but you consistently struggle to catch it? How come your friends can easily surf waves for ages, yet you find it challenging to simply paddle across strong currents?

Is it the boat? Is it the river? Is it you? Do you simply need more time on the water?

 

Experienced packrafters like Hyperlite Mountain Gear ambassadors Mike Curiak and Luc Mehl make it all look easy. In fact, they make it look too easy. The reality behind the jaw-dropping photos, the insane videos and the inspirational stories is actually quite different—it involves serious dedication and commitment. Whether it’s Mike paddling huge volume rivers like the Colorado on a self-supported Grand Canyon winter trip or Luc hucking waterfalls in Mexico, a huge amount of time, thought, energy and purpose has gone into getting them to that level.

Experience and advanced skills are not something that can be gained overnight. In fact, it actually takes years and years of development and a considerable amount of both formal and informal training. If you want to take your own skills to the next level, to paddle harder rivers or even just become a safer paddler, then consider taking the time to deliberately focus on improving your technical, safety and trip planning skills.

#1 – PADDLE WITH PURPOSE


Most packrafters, and I definitely include myself in this group, are guilty at times of being ‘lazy’ paddlers. Deliberately train yourself to not fall into this category, or at least not too often anyway. Packrafts, with their increased stability and ease of maneuverability, lend themselves to paddlers taking the easy option of minimal effort. For beginners, this is where packrafts shine. However, if you consciously decide to Paddle with Purpose you will be surprised at what can be achieved in a packraft. Being deliberate about the particular strokes you take, the lines you choose, the exact spots you want to hit and the eddies you wish to catch, leads to a significant improvement in boat control. Strive to paddle technically, as a slalom paddler would, and follow the old adage of “Boat, don’t float!” There is a big difference between floating and surviving class IV versus actually technically paddling class IV.

#2 – PADDLE FEATURE TO FEATURE


Advanced whitewater kayakers actually use river features to their advantage rather than being intimidated by them and avoiding them. Don’t look at the end of the rapid or getting through without capsizing as your only goals. Instead break the rapid down into manageable sections and work out how you can use each of the features to your advantage. On technical whitewater sections, go from one eddy to another in order to set up opportunities to maintain control, or regain control if necessary. You don’t actually need to stop in every eddy, but by temporarily catching each one you create infinite opportunities to change your line, your speed and your momentum.

You can also use surf-able waves to slow your movement down the rapid. That way you can position yourself to inspect the features ahead and to protect those behind you. Once you know you can slow yourself down you will have a lot more confidence to tackle lengthy or continuous rapids.

Another tip to make dealing with rapids easier, particularly in big volume water like the Grand Canyon, is to take the inside line. Rivers and rapids are rarely straight and water is pushed to the outside of bends as it moves downstream. You can often avoid the more powerful features by looking to cross the inside lateral waves that line the main tongue of the entry into the rapid. This will allow you to steer clear of the meaty stuff on the outside of the bend.

You can even use the edges of holes to slow yourself down and change your direction of momentum. Also look for features that are going to set you up to ski jump (‘boof’) over hydraulics or large holes. My preference is often to zig and zag my way down a complex rapid by going from a feature on one side of the river to the opposite side on and so on. The advantage of this should become apparent in Tip #3.

#3 – IT’S ALL ABOUT MOMENTUM


Water has momentum. Your boat has momentum. Use these to your advantage. Remember to always build your momentum so that you can use it to your benefit. If having lots of momentum is going to be a disadvantage then go initially into the rapid slow with minimal momentum. Once you have then discerned the best line, you can then build momentum to set yourself up to take the line.

Many paddlers make the mistake of trying to catch an eddy by starting their approach from immediately above it. When you do this, you are creating downstream momentum that is often parallel to your objective. This downstream momentum is likely to take you straight past your goal. If you find yourself spinning helplessly down the eddy line or regularly washing out from the bottom of the eddy then this is often the cause. It is possible to catch eddies from immediately above but it is challenging as it requires the skill to plant your paddle at just the right time and place and the ability to edge your packraft in order to halt your downstream momentum.

Instead, if you want to catch a large eddy on river left then start your approach to it upstream from the opposite side of the river. By working from river right you build cross current momentum as you paddle, which will drive your boat deep into the eddy.

At the same time, if you want to catch a small mid-stream eddy behind a small boulder, aim to wash off your speed and momentum by the time you cross the first eddy line. Otherwise your momentum may take you straight out the other side of the eddy and you will have missed both it and the opportunity to stop at that particular location. Note that the ability to instantly ‘stop’ yourself moving downstream on a river is a significant safety advantage, not just for you but also for your teammates.

The one time that you do want downstream momentum is when you are about to hit a large hydraulic. Plant your paddle as far forward as you can and drive your boat forward with speed. Try to use your paddle to get hold of the water moving downstream on the far side of the hole so that you can make use of the momentum of this water. When water is moving downstream faster than you and in the direction you want to go then you often do not even need to do a forward stroke. Instead, simply plant your paddle powerfully within this current and hang on for the free ride. Use the current to draw you towards where you want to go.

#4 – CONNECTION IS KEY


In order to paddle technical rapids well, you need your packraft to respond to subtle shifts of your weight and to each and every part of your strokes. If you are not physically connected to your boat you are at the mercy of the water. The primary advantage of this connection is that it allows you to edge the packraft—all the way from a few small degrees, to allowing you to quickly combat roll your packraft if you happen to flip. If you wish to become an advanced paddler the ability to edge is absolutely crucial and it should be one of your primary objectives.

The main way to gain such a connection is to have decent thigh straps or knee cups and a moveable backrest that holds you upright and forward. However, there are a number of other factors that allow an advanced paddler to have exceptional control. A rigid boat equals control whilst a soft boat equals the exact opposite.

These days you can get packrafts made out of stretch resistant fabrics with one-way inflation valves that can be inflated to much higher air pressures than the earlier models. Likewise, many self-bailers are incredibly rigid due to their inflated floors. Having a solid connected to solid packraft means that you are able to create and transfer power between you and your paddle as well as between the boat and the water.

#5 – CONSIDER WHETHER YOU HAVE P.A.S.S.E.D.


If you are struggling at times to cleanly nail eddies or to stay balanced when entering strong currents, then consider whether you have P.A.S.S.E.D.

This acronym allows you to prioritize what you need to think about in order to efficiently enter or exit an eddy with control. It can also be used to set yourself up for the ideal ferry glide or a surf on a wave.

P = POSITION
 Work out where you want to ultimately end up. Do you want to end up deep in an eddy or do you want to turn close to the eddyline so that you can quickly turn again? Next consider where you initially need to position yourself on the water in order to achieve this. Generally aim to position yourself so that you have space to build cross-current momentum that will drive you towards your end goal. For further explanation on building and using this momentum and where to position yourself, refer to Tip #3.

A = ANGLE
 Aim to cross the eddy line at an angle of around 45 degrees. If it’s a slow current you can choose to open the angle up slightly. Alternatively, if it’s a super-fast current you may want to reduce your angle of entry—depending again on how quickly you want to turn or where you aim to end up. If you are ferry gliding into an eddy, open up your angle of entry just prior to crossing the eddy line. Otherwise you may not have sufficient angle to drive across it.

S = SPEED
 Think about how much speed you need to cross the eddy line. The wider and stronger the eddy line, the more speed is needed to cross it. When followed up with the appropriate stroke you can quickly turn forward speed into a carved turn (see Tip #6) that will have you turning on a dime. At other times you may want to enter with minimal speed, such as when ferry gliding or setting yourself up to surf a wave.

S = STROKES
 Using the right stroke at the right time will set you up to turn quickly or allow you to slow your turn if required. See Tip #7 for comments on mastering such strokes. Using the correct stroke will also help to stabilize you and to set you up for your next move. From teaching packrafting to others I have found that the easiest sequence of strokes to master when tying to catch a large eddy is to actually do two or three forward strokes, but only on the inside of the turn. For example, to catch a large eddy on river left, use two forward strokes on your left as soon as you have crossed the eddy line. This seems counter-intuitive but when combined with aggressive edging it works incredibly well as it gets you away from the eddy line and more into the middle of the eddy. See Tip#6 for further explanation.

E = EDGING
 If you always paddle your packraft flat to the water then you are missing out. Many packrafters get away without edging their boats, but putting the time into learning this skill will change your paddling completely. Edging allows your boat to ‘grab’ the water. When moving with speed into an eddy, or into the main current, the more you edge the packraft the more quickly you will turn. This is a big advantage if you are trying to catch tiny eddies on a fast flowing river. Edging also reduces the chance of catching your edge and of ‘tripping up’ and losing your balance. You can only edge though if you are connected to your boat (see Tip #4) and it is a skill that takes practice. Failure to edge in a packraft can result in you ‘drifting’ or ‘sliding’ straight through a mid-river eddy and out the other side.

D = DEPTH
 Consider how deep, or how far into, the eddy you want to go. Do you want to do a quick turn and then head off again very quickly downstream or do you want to drive deep into the back of an eddy to come to a complete stop? Likewise, when entering currents, consider how deep you want to go across the current before you turn. Many packrafters try and turn too quickly, often without edging. The result is a spin on the spot, edges getting grabbed, balance and speed lost. If you turn too quickly you can easily end up turning on the eddy line rather than in the main current or in the actual eddy. This is not ideal since eddy lines are areas (and indeed sometimes quite large areas) where confusing water currents grab the boat from all angles. Always try to make sure that you get fully across the eddy line before turning.

Although ‘depth’ is the last thing you deal with when catching an eddy or entering the main current, it is also actually the first thing you think about when you consider your end position and your start position. The amount of depth that you want to go into the eddy or main current actually determines your position, angle, speed, strokes and degree of edging.

#6 – CONTROL YOUR TURNS


Packrafts turn almost too easily and as a result a lot of less experienced paddlers get caught in the confused water either side of eddy lines. As such, new paddlers end up feeling unbalanced and out of control a lot of the time. It can make it difficult to catch eddies well or enter the main current cleanly. On fast flowing rivers you actually need to counteract the boat’s natural desire to turn on the spot. This allows you to drive either deeper into the main current or deeper into the eddy—both of which will give you more control and improve stability.

The advanced method for controlling your turns is to learn to carve them. Yes, packrafts can carve! That is, if they are paddled at sufficient speed and appropriately edged with the right strokes. A carved turn can be used to turn ridiculously quickly in a tight spot or to drive yourself deep into or out of an eddy. For the former, aggressively edging the boat while putting in a bow rudder allows the boat to do a quick carve turn. Alternatively, if you wish to go deep, try double or triple paddle strokes only on the inside of your turn while edging the boat at the same time. The advanced version of the latter is to initially hold a stern draw and then finish with a stern rudder, all while maintaining a decent edge.

#7 – MASTER TECHNICAL STROKES


If you wish to become an advanced whitewater paddler then you will benefit from consciously working on mastering a range of specific strokes. Technical paddling strokes deliver maximum efficiency and power while keeping you balanced in the boat. Learn strokes like hanging draws, the bow draw, bow rudder, the stern draw and stern rudder and the C-stroke. Likewise practice braces such as low supports, and don’t forget to focus on your forward paddling technique—an often overlooked area for improvement. Learning to forward paddle only on one side (the inside of your turn) whilst simultaneously edging the boat is a skill worth mastering.

By doing the appropriate stroke at the right time you will not only stay upright, you will also be able to turn on a dime. If you wish to turn super quickly, master the bow draw. Conversely, there are often times when you don’t want to turn too quickly and for this a subtle stern rudder works well. Once mastered this particular stroke will allow you to drive yourself deep into the back of an eddy or a long way across the main current after exiting an eddy.

Be very wary of using large reverse sweeps as these often negatively impact upon your position. They are great if you simply want to turn on the spot and have no downstream momentum. However, when moving downstream and fully applying this stroke, although your bow is turned back upstream or away from the downstream danger, you   created momentum that pushes your stern downstream even faster, to exactly where you do not want to go.

#8 – LEARN TO BOOF


To ‘boof’ is to lift the bow of your packraft and to drive the boat forward at the same time. A good boof allows you to jump hydraulics or holes as well as to drive over the top of submerged rocks and into eddies. Boofing also allows you to clear the bottom of large drops which keeps you from going deep and potentially getting caught in the backwash of the hydraulic at the bottom or from hitting a submerged object. The opposite to boofing is diving, traditionally a common problem with early packrafts, and often seen in early packrafting videos. This is particularly because the short, soft boats would get driven deep underwater at the base of a drop due to the weight of a heavy pack on the bow and the lack of rigidity in the tubes.

Mastering the boof will get you out of a whole lot of trouble. The ability to keep your bow up allows you to retain control of your boat rather than having the current decide which way to send you.

#9 – TAKE KAYAK LESSONS

Absolutely the best way to improve your technical whitewater paddling skills is to spend some time in a kayak under the tutelage of a qualified whitewater kayaking instructor. You will make significant progress in an incredibly short amount of time. Ideally, sign up for a two or three-day or even a week-long course. Everything you learn in a kayak will be valuable for your time in a packraft.

Sometimes it seems that packrafters are trying to reinvent the wheel when it is completely unnecessary. Kayakers have been paddling serious whitewater for decades and they have learned a few things along the way. Packrafters would do well to embrace the lessons that both kayaks, and kayakers, can teach.

#10 – BUILD A TEAM & THEN PADDLE AS A TEAM


One of the most enjoyable aspects of whitewater paddling for me is the teamwork involved. Working with others to overcome challenging, often unknown and sometimes potentially dangerous situations creates an incredibly rewarding and powerful experience. As mentioned in the previous blog on ‘10 Tips to keep you safe on whitewater’ “when things go wrong the outcome is often determined by the team that you have around you.” Thus, make sure you have a great team around you! And, if you don’t already have one, then build your own team.

The best way to achieve this is to find like-minded paddlers with similar goals who are keen to deliberately train and paddle together and support each other. Technical paddling skills, safety and rescue skills, river communication, group management, gear knowledge and trip planning skills all take time to learn but are equally worth it.

Once you have a team, paddle as one! Watch out for each other by always knowing where everyone else in the group is. Position yourself and your team members so that you can protect each other. Consciously set safety on rapids and talk about how the group will deal with incidents before they actually happen. What you will be able to achieve as a team will be far greater than what you can achieve as an individual.

The best thing about consciously working on developing these ten strategies to improve your paddling is that ultimately they will not only help to make you more proficient paddler they should also make you a safer paddler.

Stay Safe and Happy Boating!

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Foolz Tour IV aka Desert Therapy in South Central Utah

Words & Photos by Steve “Doom” Fassbinder // @republicofdoom Say you were given the unfortunate choice of having only one place in the world to explore in your life; what would it be? Not a scenario that I would ever want to settle for, but if forced my answer would come without hesitation. Southern Utah. […]

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