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DIY Packraft Early Review

What the Heck?

Packrafts are inflatable rafts that are light enough to pack on a bike or in a backpack. Though they are all light, many have whitewater capability. In general, the lightest flatwater models weigh 1-3kg and the whitewater styles can be as heavy as 5kg.

I heard about DIYpackraft.com through internet searching. He is a one-man part time operation making raft kits that customers must assemble for themselves. By assemble, I mean cut, align, heat weld, and seal. The kits consist of a pile of fabric scored with the pattern, and some valves. There is an optional TZip waterproof zipper to allow you to open the tube and store bags in it.

I Bought Some.

Manufactured packrafts are great, I’ve tried a few. But I wanted packrafts soon, and that meant I needed to improve drastically on the $4000 cost of a pair of manufactured packrafts. DIYpackraft fit the budget.

I bought the required tools while waiting for the rafts to arrive. They arrived on time, with the password for the instructions, and the kits enclosed in a no-frills wrapping. I was glad to see that I hadn’t wasted money on frivolous packaging.

I Build Some Rafts:

The kits are very basic, the fabric is scored, but needs to be cut out. I was a little disappointed in the depth of the scoring, it was inconsistent and sometimes even hard to see. The uneven scoring was my biggest complaint about the whole experience.

In any case, in about 27 hours I had yellow raft built. Sealing the leaks was definitely not as difficult as some of the customers on the forum complained of, but neither was it easy. In hindsight, I would have practised some large seams like the floor seams before doing the actual raft welding.

Let’s Paddle!

Once the first raft was assembled, it was time to hit the water. I strapped the raft to my bike and fit a test paddle in between running some errands. Though there were some leaks, I could refill on the fly, and I was happy with the performance.

After some quick patching, I was ready to bring a passenger, and by that I mean a kid.

I arranged a field trip with one of my Hobo Daycare™ girls on a day when she was the only client.

The Red Raft:

Once I had the second raft made, I brought Fiona with me. Her paddling experience is limited, and highlighted how well the rafts handle. With a slight load on the front to keep it down and help the raft track, she could manage the raft in the riffles of the river.

Post Testing Use:

I’ve had my rafts out for several weekend outings now, I’ve written about them previously on this blog. While both rafts had some persistent leaking, I’ve only had to re-inflate about once per hour or less. I spent a couple of hours last week doing some further sealing and they seem to be much improved. None of the leaks have been random, they have been consistently in the hardest to seal places, or in places where I made an error in assembly.

Conclusion (for now):

I really like these rafts. After re-working the yellow one due to some deficiencies with my iron, it has been great.

I feel confident taking my rafts up to class 2 rapids (with a bike strapped to the bow!), though by some standards I’ve paddled class 3 with them. I built spray decks for both of them, and they really help keep the waves out.

Make no mistake, these are not an easy weekend project. They require attention to detail and meticulous assembly. They will not forgive poor assembly. I am confident that if I get a third, it will be incrementally better than the first ones.

For those willing to commit the time to assembling them properly, these are a budget-friendly entry into the world of packrafting. For others, these will be a frustrating experience. If you enjoy working with your hands, crafts, or sewing, than these are the bargain start to a packrafting hobby.

Stay tuned for a longer term review some time next year!

Post Script:

Yes, you want the zipper!

Disclaimer:

I bought these with my own money. I have no relationship with DIYpackraft.com other than as a customer. I did not warn him that I was doing this review, nor did he ask me to do it. I did not get a discount for being an obscure winter bikepacking blogger.

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Solstice Weekend Bikerafting Overnight on the Bow River

Life moves pretty fast. You don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it


 Ferris Bueller

Where Can I Go Bikeraft Camping Near Calgary?

I got myself a couple of packrafts this year, and I’ve been itching to take them for a long trip. Since quick trips involving rivers are generally unidirectional, combining the rafts and bikes is a win as far as retrieving my car at the end.

The Bow River in Banff National Park offers enough current to keep things interesting, and a highway that Parks Canada claim is a cycle-friendly route to reach a put-in point. Add to that, just a few km down the river from the Castle Junction put-in point is a a water-access-only backcountry campground where we could book a spot.

Two Packrafts Means I Need to Bring a Friend

We aren’t quite ready to leave the kids behind for a weekend, so we generally split into parent/kid pairs, or go as a family. Fiona is usually my best bet for adventures, she loves to sleep outside and try new things. She also has been really keen on the packrafts in general and has been out on the Elbow River near our house a few times. So it was that Fiona signed up for this trip. I booked the site on Friday afternoon.

Give’er

We drove out to Banff Saturday afternoon, got the bikes out of the van, and hit the road. The Banff Parkway is less-bike hostile than the Trans-Canada highway, but it has narrow shoulders and enough rental RVs on it to make it scary, even if the speeds are low by car standards. Even if 98% of people give you lots of space to pass, that leaves you with some near misses on a ride like this.

With a long break at the Johnston Canyon trailhead, we got to Castle Junction and put in by 7:45. I knew the paddle wouldn’t be long, there was a good chance to see wildlife in the evenings, and the sun doesn’t set until after 10pm, so I wasn’t in a hurry.

The paddling did not disappoint. We saw a herd of elk, and many cool waterfowl. The current was fast, and there were many rifles and waves to keep things interesting. Fiona was pretty good at spotting the sweepers that were waiting for us on every bend. One bend had a herd of elk. We also saw many different types of waterfowl.

Sleep, Repeat

Our burrito dinner was its usual delicious, and after some reading, we settled down to sleep.

We learned an important lesson in the morning about inflating rafts, the bikes need to be removed, unless you really like the inflation by mouth part, in which case, if you leave them on you’ll get lots of it. Turning the boat upside down so the bike is at the bottom seems like it would work, but the inflation valve is then under the boat. I did have some good luck with propping the bike up with stuff.

The second day’s paddling featured the rapids at the Redearth Creek Junction. We pulled into a large eddy to scout the rapids. I was pretty confident that Fiona could handle them, and so we opted to paddle them rather than take the portage.

Fiona loved them. I was a little tense as I followed closely, prepared to rescue if needed, but Fiona navigated well, and the water was high enough to cover most of the rocks that might be a hazard at lower levels. The boats handled quite well. I had installed spray decks on them in anticipation of the rapids. Even without skirts, the decks prevented the waves from filling up the boats and making them handle like, well, like they were full of water!

For future trips, I might try for an earlier takeout point since getting to the bridge required getting through a long stretch with almost no current. Packrafts are not ideal at covering distance on flatwater. Fiona was not happy about how tired her arms were for the “very boring” flat segment. Either way, we both had a great time.