What type of paddles are you all using? Are they feathered or flat? Whitewater or general purpose?
It seems like most of the folks at the Whitewater Rescue training in Jackson had Splats. I really liked my Manta Ray but lost it. I’ve been using an unfeathered paddle and am a little reluctant to go with the 45 degree Splats. I’m looking at the Aqua-Bound carbon Stingray 4-piece paddle (at REI for $160)
“The Sting Ray is the “jack of all trades”. Perfect for general-purpose recreational use and light touring, the Sting Ray excels at all kinds of paddling. Solid in the water and light in the hand, the soft dihedral cross-sectional shape of the blade gives flutter-free performance and great ease of use.”
I used some kind of heavy, cheap paddle for the last half of my trip through Lodore and did fine with it. I’m wondering how much of a difference a whitewater blade makes compared to a general purpose blade.
What type of paddles are you all using? Are they feathered or flat? Whitewater or general purpose?
Both the Splat and the Manta Ray are 7.25x18"
while the Stingray is an inch narrower - 6.25x18"
I had bought whatever that first paddle that was recommended a few years ago by alpacka on this site, probably a manta ray. I’ve used it mostly for other paddle trips from canoeing to kayaking and like it alot. I use it flat.
Does anyone have experience with a Pacific Designs paddle? They seem to be about as light and affordable as PR paddles get. I found reviews of their T-1 paddle here: http://www.paddling.net/Reviews/showReviews.html?prod=1192, and they were mostly positive. At 190 cm this new Ultralight paddle doesn’t seem long enough for standard use, at least according to my PR guide (Roman’s book).
I am responding to your paddle question from the perspective of a pack rafter, sea kayaker, and WW kayaker and I use a wide range of paddles. The Pacific Design’s paddles are a good option for recreational paddlers but are not rugged enough for expedition use. Pacific Design’s was/is? the OEM supplier of the Dory convertible rowing and kayaking paddle sold by Alpacka. Five people I pack raft with purchased Alpacka dories in combination with a Pacific Designs rowing/paddling convertible paddle.
I did two packraft trips last year with group members who broke Pacific Designs paddles. The first failure occurred on the Upper Sacramento River in CA. The shaft snapped from just powering a packraft during an up river ferry; the paddle did not hit a rock. That paddle set and the other sets owned by fellow pack rafters I know were then modified by the manufacture to add a reinforcing sleeve to the inside of the shaft about at the midpoint. After those modifications the shafts held up but the ABS plastic blades that are riveted to the shaft tore on a couple of blades that were next used on a SF Flathead river trip in Montana’s Bob wilderness. They have now all switched over to beefier paddles. I have used the same Werner 4-piece white water paddle for five years of packrafting and two multi-month folding sea kayak expeditions along the Alaska coast without any type of paddle failure. I have used a Werner one piece blade in my WW boat for five years without a paddle failure.
The Alpacka site recommends 210 cm length paddles for their boats. Roman recommends 215 cm lengths for pack rafts. I recommend that you purchase a copy of a forward stroke training DVD by Brent Reitz or Greg Barton and studying it. Learning this high angle racing technique will provide three packrafting benefits. First, you will learn to use your torso for propulsion rather than your arms. Your arms will tire but the large muscles of your torso will allow near effortless dawn to dusk paddling. Second, the high angle technique will minimize the yawing inherent in any short length boat such as a packraft. Third, you will be able to use a 210cm high angle white water paddle rather than a 215cm to help reduce the paddle weight. When you need to quickly power to avoid a rock or hole or brace in highly aerated water then the larger blade surface (min. of 1000 cm2) and higher thickness of a white water paddle provides a significant safety margin. 2 lb + is required for an adequate WW paddle. Also add drip rings to the shaft to keep you dry. Offset the paddle weight and drip ring weight by using a rubber bumper on the paddle shaft in place of hiking sticks. Use two halves of the paddle and drip rings to provide vertical friction in combination with rope or Velcro to hold up your tarp up.
With your long distance backpacking accomplishments legendary, you should easily qualify for a pro discount from a premier carbon fiber 4-piece white water paddle manufacture such as Werner or Lendal. For a lower price but less strength, Aqua Bound or Sawyer is also an option.
I’ve got a Splat, and other than problems with ferrules getting stuck (covered elsewhere), I think it’s great. It has been EXTREMELY robust, and cheaper than anything similar I could buy in Oztralia. I do also use it for sea-kayaking, but I must say that my mate’s expensive carbon fibre scooped out paddle (forgotten what brand) is a whole lot nicer and cleaner to paddle, but it’s one piece and impractical for rafting. Overall I reckon the Splats are great.
Thanks for the excellent reply. What is the specific Werner model that you use and recommend? I’m definitely looking for something that will last – not only because it’s less expensive in the long-run but because on long expeditions I want to have confidence in the durability of critical gear, paddles included.
As a side note, it’s been both fun and intimidating to enter the packrafting world. WW is mostly foreign to me and the volume of information about gear and technique is overwhelming at the moment. But, I see packrafting and other backcountry activities – like climbing and skiing – as central components of future expeditions that are more unique and adventurous than what I could do if I just stuck to backpacking.
Also, you mentioned the option of using paddles as trekking poles. Is this really worthwhile? My favorite poles – the Backpacking Light STIX – weigh just 8 oz for the pair (without straps or baskets, of course), and I’m inclined to think that the superior performance of legitimate trekking poles makes up for their weight, no? There is something to be said about the simplicity of using paddles for trekking poles, but there’s the counter argument of weight v performance. Please share your insight…
I recommend that you use either a Sawyer packraft paddle or a carbon fiber Lendal touring shaft in combination with their carbon fiber XTi WW blades.
My pack rafting paddle takes substantially more abuse than the paddles used with my WW boats or touring boats. My experience is that backcountry travel typically includes a lot of shallow water (in which I end up using the paddle as a pole to push my self). Also while walking around the log jams and dangerous drops, I end up using my pack raft paddle as a walking staff to keep my balance amongst the river bank rocks.
I called Werner this morning to ask about a replacement for my Werner pack rafting paddle I have used since 2004. . That paddle is no longer in production. The closest current model is their fiberglass Corryvrecken. Their 4-piece WW shafts are only available in 194 and 197 cm lengths. They said that I could order a custom 4-piece touring shaft for their Corryvrecken (207-230 cm). Unfortunately they don’t feel it is strong enough for WW use at Class III and above.
Carbon reinforced nylon blades are used on the Aquabound Mantra Ray and Splat. Erin and Hig tried using the Manta Ray for an expedition but big chunks of the blade broke off after hitting rocks in cold weather. Another problem is that Nylon expands when it absorbs water and binds inside the shaft ferrules. Werner tried to use this lower cost material for WW blades and ended doing a recall. They ended up replacing all of these blades with fiberglass ones. If you sand down the ferrule so that it doesn’t stick after absorbing water, then it is too sloppy until it does absorb enough water. The Splat is a beefier blade but I think this material is still risky for cold weather use and it will still expand in the shaft ferrule and prevent disassembly.
The Sawyer hybrid material packrafting paddle was used by Erin and Hig on their most recent expedition. Since this was sponsored gear I don’t know if they are at liberty to candidly discuss any failures they experienced. Part of my paddling group has started using these paddles. They are definitely more robust than the Pacific Outdoor paddles. When I compare the Sawyer’s apparent paddle strength to my old Werner or a new Werner Corryvrcken touring paddle it appears sadly anemic by contrast. This may still be a viable option but, not the one that I am going to try next.
The Lendal 4-piece carbon fiber touring shaft (>200 cm length) in combination with their WW XTi blades appears to me to be the near ideal expedition pack rafting solution, although expensive. I have purchased this paddle configuration for pack raft testing this year.
If you are going to be backpacking more than paddling, then trekking poles are probably worth the weight. When pack rafting an equal or longer distance than backpacking I question the extra weight. I don’t need trekking poles for my shelter because the paddle is used in combination with one of my silnylon pyramid tarps (Gatewood Cape, Duo Mid, or Megalight). I use my PFD and foam torso pad on top of my inverted raft and under my silnylon tarp to sleep. When backpacking, I store my paddle blades in my packs hydration sleeve. I use the two shafts connected as a walking staff plus a rubber chair leg protector pushed onto the shaft bottom. It is similar to the staff that Colin Fletcher used to carry. I rationalize that it is one pound less in my pack and that it substantially aides my backpacking on rough terrain.
Andrew, I don’t mind saying that - in this case as a representative of Alpacka - I’m really impressed by Richard’s knowledge on this subject - and I’m enjoying learning more from reading his posts.
Our experience backs up what you’re saying, Richard. Every paddle is a compromise. We recommend 210cm, because it seems to be the average-best for our boaters, but it ultimately depends on individual body mechanics, technique, etc. It’s not a “right answer/wrong answer” situation.
Hig & Erin are at liberty to say whatever they want regarding any gear they recieved, paid for or provided, by Alpacka Raft. We don’t do the “you can’t say what you think” thing . Alpacka gave Hig & Erin some Sawyers to test for us - and they’re welcome to publicly state all observations.
Yeah, we really like to be able to say what we think. We certainly wouldn’t accept a sponsorship if someone said, “Here’s some cool gear. If you don’t think it’s cool, you’re wrong, so you can’t talk about it.”
Before I go into the Sawyer Paddles, I’ll say that neither Erin or I pay that much attention to the subtleties of the way paddle blades move through the water. In our experience the packraft’s limits are not your ability to exert force on the water… we use a whitewater paddle on flat water and feel totally cool with that. What we pay attention to is weight (and swing weight), durability, alternative uses, and packability.
Overall we loved these paddles. We were a little skeptical of those cedar cored blades and the clamp when we started, and then we beat the crap out of them for a year and were amazed at how well they did. They aren’t perfect, but they’re very good.
How we used them: We’d shove off beaches, run rocky rapids, and put our all into hard paddles around points against the tide. We also shoveled snow and sand, used them for shelter support, and packed them tight in our packs.
Blades: They are incredibly light. Basic construction is a cedar core, a transparent structural covering (fiberglass?), some carbon-fiber reinforcements, and a reinforced edge (also carbon fiber?). The cedar has a grain, so the easiest way to break them is straight cracks running the length of the blade. We had two cracks, one from shoving a paddle into a pack in a way that bent it along this line, and once when a large bear stepped on one. In both cases the crack was only through one side of the transparent covering, and we successfully repaired the paddle in the field using dental floss and Aquaseal (that’s how we repair everything). The main sign of wear was along the edge. I think another month of abuse would probably wear through the edge in places. Also there was minor impact damage that extended into the wood at the point on the edge of the blade where the wood fibers are parallel to that edge. These happened fairly early on, but never spread.
Clamps: These paddles have a clamp that affixes to a cylindrical central shaft. We have a version of the paddle with two clamps, which is totally unnecessary and heavier, hence Sawyer has gone to one clamp and then a normal pin for their production version. The advantage to the clamp is that it allows arbitrary length and feather settings. We would change the length sometimes, I just measured it… Normally we’d use it at about 213 cm. To power against the current, we’d go down to the minimum of 204 cm. And when we were paddling the longboat we’d extend out to the max of around 235 cm. But we would have been fine with a fixed length paddle. The extendability was quite nice setting up our mid shelter, since you could pop the paddle into place and then extend to stretch the shelter tight. We also used the arbitrary feather to train ourselves out of feathering to a flat blade to lessen wrist fatigue. So overall the clamp is kind of nice, but not a necessity, and they add weight. The weakness of the clamp is that the coin screw that allows you to adjust the tightness bottoms out eventually. So once the shaft wears down a bit, it becomes loose even if you tighten the screw all the way. A host of ours, Kathy Todd in Valdez, pointed out an easy fix: Simply take the screw out and file off the end. In the field you could probably find an abrasive rock and achieve the same result more slowly.
Hig - Thanks for the encouraging review on the Sawyer.
Richard295 - Thanks for another excellent post. Your knowledge is invaluable, certain to save me and a lot of others time and money.
I’ve spent way too much time today looking at paddle options, weighing cost v performance v weight. Here’s how things look…
Sawyer Packrafting Paddle
- 29 oz
- If it was good enough for Erin & Hig, I think it’ll be good enough for me too
Lendal Carbon Touring Shaft + XTi WW FG blades (I can’t find the CC blades anywhere)
- ~$340 from REI and MEC (not including any applicable import duties)
- 38 oz (10 oz shaft, 28 oz blades)
- According to what I’ve read out there (in this forum and elsewhere), this would be a really nice PR paddle, though it’s substantially heavier than the Sawyer
Lendal Carbon Touring Shaft + Kinetic 700 touring blade
- $340 from REI
- 32 oz
- It’s a touring blade, not a WW blade. Not sure if this offers the desired durability…
Note: I emailed Lendal to get their thoughts on an ideal PR paddle but their North American customer service email address bounced – not sure what’s up with that. So I faxed them and supposedly it has gone through – I’ll let you know if I hear back.
- no longer has an appropriate PR paddle (per Richard295)
Aqua-Bound Splat Carbon
- 33 oz
- Issues with blade durability and ferrule sticking
At the moment I’m leaning towards the Sawyer. I wish that I could report back that I’ve found something better – i.e. lighter and/or better performance – but I didn’t (which is okay too – now I know.)
Anyone else want to make another recommendation or add something?
Hig, can you go into your “dental floss and Aquaseal repair”? How does that work out? How do you do it?
I ve been useing two component epoxy glue with very good results.
The Sawyer cracked on a stupid thing: I sat down on it in the car …
It cracked straight through from the middle of the shaft along to the beginning of the carbon reinforcement. However it still did hold good strengh, so it was not loose. That is what is meant by: “blade cracks and fractures, if they occur, seldom render the paddle unusable”
I filled the gap with glue and put extra glue on the surface of both sides. Bomb proof! No difference to the uncracked blade.
Having some left over from the two component epoxy glue I reinforcement the whole blades with a thin layer and some extra bulge on the edges. It makes a very scratch resistant surface!
I also like the feature of the clamp for extending on tarp set ups. But I would be fine with a fix 210cm length. http://picasaweb.google.de/sven.schellin/PaddelPedale#5324851032780031938
Based on Hig’s expedition experience, the Sawyer appears to be the best solution for your application. You mentioned that you couldn’t locate the Lendal Xti CC blades. I bought mine at MEC. http://www.mec.ca/Products/product_detail.jsp?FOLDER<>folder_id=2534374302701285&PRODUCT<>prd_id=845524442623570 for $234 USD.
Aqua Bound in BC may be able to offer more durable fiberglass blades for a 4-piece Manta Ray or Splat carbon fiber paddle. I’ve also had durability problems with the AB cf/nylon layup blades, which AB subsequently replaced at no cost. I continue to use the cf blades, but was offered the choice of slightly heavier fiberglass replacements. I’m unsure what sort of arrangement AB may be able to offer a prospective customer, but you may at least want to talk with them. Ask for Joe Matuska.
For more on the Sawyer paddles, see the following thread: http://www.alpackaraft.com/forums/viewtopic.php?f=16&t=175
There was a spate of broken Sawyers last summer. The company was great about replacing the broken blades, but I still remain very leery of getting far from the road with only my Sawyer. It’s a beautiful paddle, but I still don’t trust them to hold up to the demands of serious whitewater in remote parts of Alaska.
Brad’s right: there was a spate of breakings, we think came from a single group built together. After that, Sawyer beefed the blades. We also changed our product description: in our first testing, they seemed as tough as the Splat, but we subsequently felt we found that generally they were much tougher than the carbon fiber manta ray, but not as tough as the fiberglass manta ray & splat. The earlier description can be seen referenced in the link above.
We’re still trying to quantify exactly what’s hard on which paddles. Although our own experience has been that the Splats are toughest, that’s really up for debate, as evidenced in this thread. I’m going to get in touch with Aquabound, and see what the bigger pattern they see is, as far as fiberglass vs. cf blades.
On the Sawyers, I almost want to say it seems like there’s some sort of “hardness of use threshold,” since they last on trips like Hig & Erin’s, but some people can go out and very quickly break them.
I just took a look at the old tread brad posted. Our blades definitely didn’t seem vulnerable to the weird cross-grain break he experienced across the tip of his paddle. I’m thinking of some hard sprints against a tidal rapid where we were putting our all into each stroke after months of paddling to get in shape… we were even nicking rocks, and no such problem. And popping blocks out of hard snow using the paddles… So I’d lean toward believing there was some sort of manufacturing problem on Sawyer’s part that was unique to that batch.
I’d guess the two-part epoxy would work well too, but I just don’t carry that in the field. As with some of the other cracks people have described, both of ours were only through one side and the cedar, leaving intact fiber on one face. So we just had to create strong tension across the face where the break opened up. First, as with any Aquaseal repair, I did a careful cleaning with Alcohol. Then I put a bead of Aquaseal along the length. Into the wet Aquaseal I put dental floss and zig-zagged it along the length of the repair, with a zig-zag width of about 1/2 inch (maybe even less). As it dried some parts of the dental floss popped out of the glue, so I did 2-3 coats with Aquaseal, each time pinning down and sealing in more of the dental floss. I’m not sure, but in some similar situations I used a bit of silicon impregnated nylon to press down the patch of glue. After curing, the silicon peels cleanly off the Aquaseal. I would take a photo and post it but my camera is on time-lapse duty watching the volcano right now…
We’ve also used the Aqua Bound paddles and had a couple manta rays break in cold conditions. In one case it was just from a gentle push off the beach, which surprised me. Aqua Bound replaced the paddles at no charge.
I suggest that expedition paddlers carry one or two packets of Hardman Blue 2-part epoxy packets to repair any blade crack that occurs. Each packet only weighs 3.5 grams. It provides 2,765 PSI shear strength after 24 hours and has excellent adhesion to both the wood core and the fiberglass sheath used for the Sawyer paddle. This epoxy can also be used with the nylon and graphite blades used on the Aqua Bound paddles as well as all fiberglass or all carbon fiber based paddles. Optionally a small wrap of fiberglass cloth can also be used with the epoxy to fix more catastrophic paddle failures. The epoxy packets only cost $.95 each and can be purchased on-line from https://www.hirekogolf.com/hireko/orderportal/catalog_presentation/by_group/0/951/0/0/0/0/0 Hopefully Alpacka will consider carrying these packets to facilitate one-stop shopping for our pack rafting needs.
Richard, thanks for this tip. That sounds like a good item to pack along, considering the minimal weight. However it’s been my experience so far that a cracked blade often means the paddler is left without the part that cracked off, with no prior warning (ie, no hairline cracking). Or so it goes with the AB carbon blades, anyway. (Twice now this has happened.)
What were the temp and the paddle use when the chunks broke off? What size chunk broke off in each case? Do you still use AB nylon/carbon blades?
A missing chunk is more serious than a hairline crack because the blade will move erratically through the water. As I mentioned in my original epoxy post, “Optionally a small wrap of fiberglass cloth can also be used with the epoxy to fix more catastrophic paddle failures.” A chunk falls into this category. Overlap the fiberglass cloth patch and the missing chunk and then epoxy the patch.
If the AB nylon/carbon blade is the only type an individual or group is using, Hardman Doubble-Bubble orange packets will bond slightly better than the blue. The set time is more than double the blue and I am not aware of an individual packet source.