some new mods

Before heading south to NZ last month I tricked out my main boat (a Llama, even though a Yak has been my boat-size) for WHITEWATER. This is not about running the occasional Class III. If that’s all you are interested in is Class II and maybe the occasional Class III, then this stuff I am saying doesn’t really matter for you. The stock Alpacka boats are pretty much all you need. But if you’ve started feelingy the adenaline itch…read on!

To begin with, the bigger boat is much more stable in bigger water and radical low volume than the smaller Alpacka boats I have used for a decade now – but without the mods it has, I’d have been slopping around in the boat and/or hitting my bum on rocks, and/or bander-snatching like crazy. Here are the mods:

First were the thigh straps. These pull me forward off the stock placement of the seat, so I fixed that and solved some other problems. (Tim Johnson, too, gets pulled off his seat, but hasn’t fixed the problem. Consequently, Tim hit his butt so hard that he walked a bunch of rapids on the Arahura, rapids that wonky ole’ me RAN, not 'cause I was more skilled, but just 'cause I was un-bruised.) I know that putting in thigh straps is going to be a big point of inertia for most Alpacka users and a still smaller subset will actually cut their seat out and move it forward – which is really too bad. Fat thigh straps and a more centered seat pretty much end bandersnatching dismounts. Watch some of the NZ videos on YouTube (Arahura where Tim has thighstraps but has not moved seat and Landsborough, Taipo, Oparara, Nelson Lakes, and Mokinihui where seats are moved in all boats and all boats have thigh straps) and see how many flip over backwards. Very rare now, but side roll upsets are more common. That’s because of thighstraps. BTW, the thigh straps in three boats provided as demos in NZ (used by five people on many different rivers and trips of hours to days) all wound up with substantial wear in the FEET AREA. Holes developed there because the hard shoes hit rocks and the feet wearing the shoes are forced more downward onto the floor of the boat by the thigh straps. I got more wear there at the feet in each of the three boats in a month of paddling than in the butt sections over the multi-year life of the three boats.

So, second most important mod was the seat cut free and now velcroed in. Yes I glued velcro to the seat and to the boat and now the seat moves and comes out. Makes it better for drying when it comes out and for repairs.

Third, I have a big beefy back rest, also with velcro holding it in place. I reckon that my backrest is the same size and dimensions as an Explorer seat. The boat is supremely comfy. No numb legs, super back support, and super control and stability.

Fourth, I glued some “strap plates” onto the bottom of the boat about between my knees and strap the BEST SIZED DRY BAG (15 L) right there with a strap. Oh my, does that make the boat feel like a dreamy, fantasy rock shoe (snug and fitting with control and no pain)! With thigh straps and that drybag full of overnight gear I am set for backcountry Class IV. The boat is much more nimble than with weight on the bow. The weight is centered by the center of gravity. SWEET!

Fifth is for FIVE INCHES of VELCRO on a center opening spray deck. I get out fine (thank you) when upside down underwater with thigh straps, the mondo-velcro and the drybag. This is the second secret to a dry boat (the first is be smart about where and how you paddle in whitewater); the third secret is listed below.

Sixth is the bi-modal “fun-rail”. More experienced boaters than I had commented/warned on the danger of foot entrapment on the full fun rail so even though I glued on a total of ten tie downs I cut two off (the ones where my hands paddle) and now just use the four in th efront and the four in the back for 1/4 inch polypro line that doesn’t go around the mid section of the boat (just the bow and stern – four patches in both places) . I find this really useful to grab onto so I don’t get flushed away from my boat and I have in real combat situations towed swimmers with the rear one. I thought I’d miss the mid line but do not, but do like having chicken line on bow and stern.

Seventh is the third secret to a really dry boat: two sleeves/pockets with velcro closures on either side of the center closing velcro at the top of the skirt. Each pocket holds a partially inflated 2 L Platypus bag, although any plastic stiffener would likely work. This is simply awesome. Oh what’s that I hear? the water dam on your spray deck is dependent on the PFD you use? Yes, that’s true, so…

Finally, while not boat mods, if you are wanting to stay dry in whitewater consider a “two piece” whitewater LJ (i.e. life jacket), the kind with front and back foam but connected without side foam. Then wear it so the front foam is high and you will have an amazingly dry boat. Also, if you want to paddle white water Class IV then get a stiff kayak paddle. I have now paddled with several people who have a 4-piece “packraft paddle” (like Aquabound) and a ONE-PIECE Werner (or other glass/carbon fiber) kayak paddle. All of them find the “real” kayak paddle so much better than the floppy, packraft paddle, that they are willing to carry in the one piece instead. Let me reiterate that: they have the choice of paddles and even for a multi-day trip of walking they bring the real paddle. Best, but expensive, is a 4 piece “real paddle” that is just as stiff and responsive as a single piece real paddle (but weaker) but can be broken down for ease of trasnport.


Do you have any pictures of these new mods?

Yes photos are at my blog:

had trouble posting them on the forum…

This is great. Velcro makes a lot of sense for the seat, repairing my tied-in leaky seat was a pain (Alpaca generously offered to replace it, despite it most likely being my fault for leaving it overinflated in the sun).

I’m surprised that you say this doesn’t matter for those folks not regularly in Class III/IV water. More control and more stability is good in any water surely? Though if you aren’t wearing a helmet I suppose spraydecks and thigh straps are not good ideas. But the points about boat length, centering weight by moving the seat and with gear under your knees, and adding rails - these all seem like good ideas applicable across the board, and none of them involve big weight penalties. Even sizing up the boat is only an extra 5-10% of boat to carry. Regarding boat sizing, do you mind if I ask how tall you are?

You should be able to just refer to the originals hosted on your blog using the [ img ]http://…jpg [ img ] tag.

I am likely around 5’ 11" or 180 cm and wear 32" = 81 cm inseam pants.


How does the new forward position of the seat interact with use of the spray skirt/canopy opening? Was that part of the reasoning behind wanting a center opening on the canopy? Do you think that moving the seat forward is as safely compatible with side opening skirts as having the seat in the original position?

Keep up the good work! And thanks.


Yes there is certainly a skirt imposed limit and in all three boats it does feel like where the seat is now results in pushing onto the forward of top opening. Indeed, extra velcro helps keep the opening from splitting open with this new pressure. A benefit is the pressure also helps keep it up.

Another point that needs mentioning are knees: they are now more rasied and one person was unable to close the side-opening boat with the thigh straps because his knees were too high and pushed up on the skirt, preventing its easy and secure closure. That is another reason that there is so much more velcro on the yellow boats. By putting more hook on the opening side of the flap (where a “flap” is one side of the center opening skirt) it extends the effective width of the flap.

To be clear, one or the other of the the two flaps needs to be a bit wider to compensate for the knees being raised and pushing into the deck. We widened the one side by sewing backing on velcro and then sewing that on the flap extending its width by several (4 inches in one case).

I have read your stuff. It is an interesting for me. I have also seen the image of your mention link. I want to just to know that is it fact image? Because it looks nice. I am appreciated for it.

After a few months of testing, I am completely hooked on thigh straps in my packraft. They provide an unprecedented level of control in technical water, are easy to get into and out of, and facilitate an eskimo roll. When I get in a boat without thigh straps or forget to slip my knees into them it is a very naked and sloppy feeling. Yup, thigh straps are the ticket.