Keeping your feet dry

Much of the technique stuff here is related to technical boating. Most of my experience has been “traveling style.” Like, no hard stuff, but no scouting either.

A critical skill for traveling style boating is keeping your feet dry. Generally I’m fairly comfortable with wetting my feet walking across streams and such, but I hate to soak my feet anew just before a long sit in the raft. Erin and I have found it’s quite possible to launch or land in most conditions without ever wetting your feet. I thought I’d share our methods, and would love to hear other ideas we haven’t thought of.

Basic calm-beach entry/exit: Place the boat in the water with the bow (weighted with a pack) pointing toward the shore so that the bow is barely on the bottom. Step over the pack on to the bottom of the boat. If you place the boat in the correct water depth your feet will push the boat’s bottom down to the bottom of the water, so you can stably stand without the boat moving. Then sit down, the force of your butt-plant launching the boat off the beach. Or, if you need to mess with a deck, sit more slowly, arrange the deck, and then push off with the paddle. To exit, reverse this process after ramming the packraft onto a beach.

The flop entry: For entering the boat from rocks or logs where the boat is in deep water. The basic idea is to reach with one foot so that you can hold the boat in place, then launch yourself into the sitting position in the boat. Packrafts are stable enough that this works better than might be guessed, especially if you have a pack counterbalancing your flop onto the seat.

The heal-hook exit: This works best for exiting the boat onto rock, and will only work if the rock is not a lot higher than the water level (say, less than 8 inches.) Approach the rock broadside and reach out with your shore-side foot, hooking the heal over a bump or crack in the rock. Use this anchored leg to pull the boat up tight, and then smoothly transfer your weight from the boat to the foot on the rock.

Big boat entry/exit: Sometimes it’s necessary to enter or exit a dock or large boat. To exit the packraft, pull up broadside, grab the boat gunnels with your hands, then stand up. The packraft supports your weight, but the big boat provides the stability to stand. At this point it’s pretty easy usually to clamber into the big boat. The packraft entry is pretty similar.

The scootch: Sadly not all water is deep enough even for a packraft. If you have shallow water between you and deep paddling water (or between you and dry ground), “scootch” across the shallow stuff. This can also be useful when you encounter shallow bars in rivers and don’t want to wet your feet. Scootching is never graceful, but generally involves planting your paddle and jerking the boat across the bottom with your stomach muscles. In extreme cases Erin and I have used the two halves of the paddle seperately, or walking sticks, so that you can use your arms to lift your weight just as you scootch the boat forward with your stomach muscles. It’s very exhausting. To my knowledge it is the only way to cross water that is frozen too thick to break through with the packraft, but where the ice is too thin to walk on.

The slide: You can see this in some videos of people rafting hardcore stuff that would definitely get your feet wet, but the basic idea is to enter the boat on top of a slope that is either steep enough or slippery enough that you can slide down into the water. I’ve dropped vertically off river banks that are several feet high without wetting my feet, and have slid down snow slopes into rivers. In the latter case you can develop enough forward momentum that the boat may be unstable until it slows down, so be ready to balance!

Surge entry/exit: In surging swells, you can sometimes follow a surge up a beach or into rocks, then plant a paddle and prevent the boat from being pulled back as the surge retreats. Then you can simply step out. When entering the boat, watch the surges until there is a large retreat of the water, then scamper down, drop the boat, and sit in it before the water returns. Of course, sometimes this doesn’t work out as planned…

Fast-bank exit: In a year of packrafting from Seattle to the Aleutians I only swam twice. Once was in experimenting with this exit method. We were repeatedly crossing deep fast glacial braids, and I wanted to get out on banks where the water was moving swiftly along. What I found was that a very rapid version of the heal hook could work… but you had to time it to be exactly as the boat bumped up against the bank. Point upstream and paddle hard, minimizing your speed relative to the bank. Angle the bow in so the boat will bump against the bank broadside, and exactly as it touches the rock launch out onto your bank-side foot. I did this nicely twice in a row, and the third time got casual. In moments I was up to my neck in fast-moving glacial water… oops…

While I have nothing to add to your detailed and useful post… I just wanted to say it’s good to finally see you guys here on the forums. :slight_smile:

Now I have a new way to procrastinate online! :slight_smile: Thanks for the welcome.

Awesome stuff from the voice of (massive) experience. You have my full attention.

Somewhat tangentially, what did ya’ll use for socks on the big 'un? Your “not wetting the feet before sitting for a few hours” point rings true after this last weekend backpacking. My soaked wool socks and Montrails were fine, as long as I kept walking.

We were very happy with the synthetic Teko socks… I think it’s the one they call “Ecopoly Light Hiking Sock”. They are comfy (though maybe a tad tight around the calf), light, and wring out to be amazingly dry. Their wool socks were good as wool goes, but I like the synthetic better.