Apr 12, 2013

My Extra Heavy Packraft Outfitting

Since receiving my 6lb. Llama I have acquired a lot of extra weight in accessories. D-rings & attachment points, foam floor, seat back, thigh straps, Cargo Fly with bags, hip pads, self adjusting grab loops (handles) all add up the weight to get my boat up to the 8-10lb set up depending on the accessories I decide to install for each given trip. I have found that by making most of my own accessories I can have the features I want and try and conserve the weight as much as possible.  Currently I have 2-4 different set ups, I just install what I need for different trips. Am I going to be out for a week on easy water or a day trip on a class IV piece of water, each has different set ups. Here are some pictures of some of the random extra parts we have come up with.

Right at 10 lbs. loaded up!
Stripped down and light.

Not so light with hip pads.
Hip pads added, everything is so much easier with Hip Pads!  I have seen some photos of inflatable ones being developed, but air moves and it cannot do what is meant to do, hold your ass down in the seat when you're upside down!

I have a few different sets, removable and adjustable, thick and thin. Here seen with a heavier padded set of thigh straps unlike the simple strap set up above.
All are backed with velcro, to be interchangeable. I use these on all my other boats also (kayaks)
Thick and thin for different winter and summer clothing options.  Closed cell foam is awesome, so easy to shape.

Padded Thigh Straps.  Made some of these years ago for a friend with an IK and had a extra set.  Really not needed but comfortable, the 3 point attachment with the simple loopie strap seen above is pretty bomber, comfortable, no rub spots and lighter.

How did I get the velcro on the boat?
PVC Fabric with Velcro glued on and then laced into the seat, I wanted it to be removable also. This also allows more adjustability of the seat. My seat in my Llama is moved foreword 4" -  8" depending on if I have a dry bag up front or not and the spray skirt works fine.
Simply used what was there to move the seat foreward.

Self adjusting grab loops.  A lot easier than a piece of accessory cord for a swimmer to hold onto, and it snaps back tight so not be dangling.  Breaking strength you ask, it will rip out the  attachment point on the boat before grab loop fails.  I have a small 8" one on the front also.
Zipper, we all know what this is :)
Sadly after sending my boat in for a retro fit for the Cargo Fly it was returned with a zipper installed but with a large 4" section of the zipper that was not fully glued all the way to the side of the zipper patch on the boat, had to fix this myself.  I do wonder about the quality control at Alpacka, every factory attachment point on my boat (patches and seat attachment) when I received it new was in a different place (right -vs-left) with up to a 2" difference, and the spray deck is far from centered on the boat???

And bags for the inside.  Note the zippers going in different directions, really hard to get the right side bag (lower one in the picture) out of the boat once it is inflated with the zipper going in this direction.  I have been told I got a mis-made bag and trying to get it replaced but with no luck yet.  Inside attachment points are a few inches different placing one bag further forward than the other.  Probably not a big deal and I love the cargo fly system, but I just like to think people care about the product they are making, maybe I am just a little too much of a perfectionist.

Homemade backband, so much better than that thing Alpacka sends out with the boat IMOP.  Plus with the seat moved forward the boat can be trimmed out (how it floats and paddles) not just to put something behind the seat.... the boat paddles better!!!!  We all do not weigh the same so trimming the boat is important in my opinion, have your friends look and see how your boat floats with you in it (for roadside), and with you and gear in it (for backcountry/overnight).  The water line of the boat should be level.

Super simple back band with bungee cords to keep it stable.

Small piece of yellow fabric glued through existing patch.  Replaceable when it rips out and you can clip things like dry bags in.

Quick release buckle for adjustability... 0" to 8" forward.

Foam floor with with holes to keep if from floating up and moving from any water in the boat.

Extra foam for ankles and heels... rocks hurt!

Although not part of the boat, I love the my throwbag and want it attached to my person, not my boat.

 Throwbag made to be worn around my waist, Unclips off waist band and the waist band doubles as a sling for rescue systems, 5000lbs breaking strength. I tested it and then made another (many years ago worked for a climbing company making climbing gear) but this one is ready to be retired.

Some of my new creations with this set up the boat is right under 11 lbs.
Rigid foam seat (with inflated under-seat that can be adjusted while paddling) with molded hip pads all parts attache directly to the boat and can be removed easily.
Hip pads Velcro to the boat, and cut outs in the seat for the hip pads keep the seat from moving back, very rigid set up.  I can stay in the boat while upside down without any pressure on the thigh braces allowing for a better hip snap to roll.

Velcro on the boat is sewn to a piece of PVC material and then glued to the boat.  I can use this set up with just an inflated seat also and prefer this to the "lace in" system shown above plus quite a bit lighter if I do not need the full blown seat.

2" of foam under my butt along with a 2" crotch wedge to keep me from going foreward.  The extra rigid foam can take a pretty good rock hit off a drop without breaking my tailbone. The inflated under-seat helps protect the floor of the boat and give it a little give for sharp rocks.

Photo`s a little blurry, but back of seat raises up to help (along with the back-band) keep my body forward and snug in the boat and inflated under-seat attaches through the foam seat via a piece of 1" webbing to a tri-glide which attaches to the boat.

4" foam bulkhead cut to fit the boat exactly with 1" foam foot/ankles paddling that attaches to the boat.  Along with the seat this set up really makes it feel like a hard shell kayak.

Not shown in this picture but there is a strap that attaches these two pieces together and to a attachment point on the floor of the boat.
So there it is, a bunch of random pictures for people who like to "geek out" on outfitting boats. With all these parts and pieces I can really customize the boats set up for any kind of trip depending on the kind of trip and the amount of weight I want to carry.  All the foam pieces stack together nicely and fit inside my life-jacket and can be attached to the outside of my pack.  Weight of foam with life-jacket is about 4lbs.

Rigid thigh braces to come.



  1. If you guys get back to eastern Oregon this year give me a shout before hand. You should check out the self-bailing Baylee River Runner Packrafts we have, maybe take one out on a half-day float on the Wallowa or something. I would be curious to hear your feedback comparing them to your Alpacka's.

    Also, will be doing a Joseph Creek float soon (flows allowing) if you are interested. Shoot me an email to grant@minamraftrentals.com if you want to try it out.

  2. Both of thise ideas sound great! We'll be in touch...when do you think flows will be good on Joseph Creek?

  3. Flows are good on Joseph Creek now and ending as soon as the rain ends. The snow on Joseph Creeks headwaters (pretty low elevation) is gone and this years snow pack is a bit below average anyway. We have been getting rain (snow the past 3 days) so things are still flowing on Joseph Creek. The stream gauge has been discontinued due to budget cuts, but we have been doing a visual check on the old stream height gauge on the lower end when I or my wife does a shuttle run to Heller Bar.

    I and two other paddlers set a date earlier this winter for this years run. I think flows will hold out, but send me an email for details. We set aside 3 days (coming up soon) for this years run. I have a couple different options for starting points depending on flows. The flows may get skinny, but the precipitation is cooperating so far.

  4. Hi Kirk,

    Nice outfitting! I see what you mean about the backrest, I bet that thing would be light!

    Also, I haven't seen hip pads before,do they help with rolling?



    1. Hey Jeremy
      Personally I think hip pads help with everything. If you do not have to put as much pressure on your thighs and knees to hold you butt down and body in the boat when your upside down you can have more snap and range of motion in your hips/thighs to roll the boat. And bracing is more precise and easier. I have always felt that a roll is nothing more than a 3-dimentional brace and a brace is just a small part of a roll. Plus you can tell your friends you did not flip you were just bracing with your head underwater, and that sounds better.
      I see a lot of people in random packraft videos entering eddies and leaving eddies to return to the current without leaning the boat and getting the upstream edge up in the air. The beauty of a packraft is it is very user friendly and you can do this without the water flipping the boat, but if you can lean the boat (without your weight shifting side to side) the handling and where you can get the boat becomes more precise. It is pretty hard to get proper lean if your weight is shifting side to side. I am a skinny guy so filling the space makes a huge difference in lateral motion and the hook at the top keeps your butt down in the seat transferring more movement to the boat.
      I also think that the third point of attachment for the thigh straps (close to the knee) make a huge difference in rolling and bracing. Less range of motion before what you are doing with your knees and hips is transferred to the boat.
      The hip pads are not something I use on all trips because there bulky to pack, but depending on the run I just decide if I want them or not.
      Anyway there was a long explanation of "yes I think it helps".



  5. Hi Kirk,
    what's your opinion on cargo zip?in your opinion a explorer 42 without zip or a llama with zip for long river trip?

    1. Probably depends on what kind of water you think you will be paddling. Whitewater, flatwater, some of both? More of one than another? Do you want a skirt? (not sure if the explorer is made with a skirt) How tall are you? How much gear/food in weight will you be caring for typical "long river trip"
      Some of these might help answer the question a little better.

  6. It's for a 25 day self supported with long flatwater and up to class 4 withewater and many portage.I could do a MYOG deck on a explorer 42.i'm 5' 11''.Around 80 lbs food /gears.(a good part of weight on the floor of the explorer 42)
    i'm concerned about relability and complexity (pack/unpack)of the cargo zip?Do you like the cargo zip?

    1. It sounds like for that specific trip the Explorer 42 might be a better choice than the Llama but it is a really "big" boat. You could do the same trip with a Llama with or without the cargo fly so I would say ask yourself if all your trips will be like this in weight/duration or if shorter/lighter trips are also in the future.

      Keep in mind that if you plan to put the majority of the weight on the floor it needs to be supported not just thrown on the floor. Most of the wear on the floor occurs below where you sit and where your feet are. An unsupported 30,40,50lbs of gear is going to sag down and even contacting one sharp rock with that much weight is going to damage or rip the floor out if the impact has no place to go. The extra inflated seat that comes with the boat will help this but when strapping it in it still needs to be able to move up and down. But having the 80lbs of gear entirely on the top of the boat is going to be really tippy in whitewater.

      I am the same height as you and in the Llama there is a lot of extra room in the boat. I can put two 15-ltr. bags in the boat plus myself and still have room. For control (mostly whitewater) you need to have something for your feet to push against and for shorter trips there would be an additional 20" to fill with something.

      The Cargo Fly is awesome, you do have to take care of it but I do not have any worries about failure in the long term. If you just splash some water on it when you are taking out to make sure its clean, lube it occasionally and don`t just throw it down in the dirt you shouldn`t have any problems. But it does have limits to the weight you should put in the boat. Personally I put my camping gear in the boat (15-20 if I have luxuries) and keep my food, which can be the majority of the weight, separate and in the boat in a supported bag. You could put more weight in the boat but would never want to completely fill the bags. Once again if you come into contact with something the stuff needs to have someplace to go or damage can and will occur.

      I think personally I would go with the Llama with or without the cargo fly but the boat would definitely paddle better with a cargo fly, and would feel comfortable doing a trip that was that long on the water, but if all of my trips were that long (I wish all my trips were that long) then I might think about the bigger boat.

      Either way Alpacka rafts are awesome and I do not think you will ever regret your purchase.


    2. Kirk,
      if i understand your "supported bag" didn't touch the floor?strap between two tie down in the inner space between tube without touch the floor?
      One advantage for the explorer 42: faster by 1-2 km/h .(packraft.de store info)??
      With gear in the cargo zip ,any speed advantage on flat water?
      thanks for your opinion

    3. Bags can be supported like you mentioned above, completely not in contact with floor or with a "thick" inflated pad or "thick" soft foam. Basically if the floor does not have a place to move and conform to the rock you hit, something is going to break or rip.

      The seat that comes with the boat is inflatable supportive and allows the floor to conform to obstacles you may hit, good reason to not blow the seat up as tight as possible, that would be a good way to pop your seat when you hit something.

      The floor will support the weight no problem, you just want to give it room to move when you hit things.
      Look on this site for a good example.. June 1, 2012 titled "learning the hard way". Renee put her cook pot in the bottom of a small dry bag then strapped it down tight to the floor. Check out the bottom of her boat and the cook pot. Very mellow river and the damage happened in one day.

  7. Hi,

    I noticed on your site that you might have a post about installing thigh straps. The link seems to be broken.

    I've finally decided to get another alpacka and have another go at installing thigh straps, the first time was a disaster, this second time, I really want to be successful.

    Will the following items ensure that I get a successful bond?
    4x http://www.nrs.com/product/1468/aire-1-pvc-d-ring-patch
    Glue: http://www.nrs.com/product/1901/clifton-urethane-adhesive


    1. Hey Windmill,

      I will try and get the link fixed today so that it works. The PVC d-rings should work fine. I personally would try and use the Clifton "Two Part" adhesive:

      Or Two Part Stabond adhesive:

      The two part is just a stronger bond.

      Other things you will need:

      MEK to etch the material and prep/clean it
      but you can get this anywhere and avoid hazardous shipping charges.
      Sand paper, paint brush, rubber gloves, two paper cups, and a heat gun or hair dryer (the hair dryer is "VERY" important). Most all PVC glues are "heat activated" and without the heat it will stick but it will probably also fail to hold very long.

      Anyway I will try and fix the link where there is more detail, and also check out https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UfgV1LUI-Pw


  8. http://adventureswithpackraft.blogspot.com/2012/09/outfitting-boats_10.html

    The link is fixed! Sorry about that, the above should take you to that post

  9. Thanks guys, I will head to my local paddling store this weekend to order the materials. I used stabond a couple years ago, but failed to get a good bond, hopefully this time will be different.

    Would this packraft specific patch hold up to rolling? Or am I better off sticking with the AIRE ones?


    They are 5" diameter, instead of 4" which is kind of nice.

    Additionally, do I keep my boat inflated for the patch installation or deflated? Does it matter? Last time I had it inflated, but found it difficult to install my foot end patches.

    Thanks for your help!

  10. Personally I would not trust those NRS to hold a dry-bag on my boat let alone your body weight (just very cheaply made), I would try and get something with a metal ring and a covered apron, they are a lot stronger. If you get a good d-ring and do a good glue job a 4"patch is more than enough. I have pulled loaded up 2000lb. gear raft against the current with a z-drag system off these same size d-rings and they hold up fine. On a packraft the rest of the boat will rip away before that d-ring comes off if glued properly.

    If you go to a paddling store they should be able to find you a 4" in any color you want in PVC from 2"-10" but 4" works really good.

    You can do your gluing inflated or deflated makes no difference, just make sure you have some good orientation marks to get the d-rings faced in the correct position while inflated or the thigh straps will pull on them crooked and the inner stitches are not as strong pulling at an angle.


  11. Wow, very impressive stuff here. I have had a pack raft for a couple of years and recently took a whitewater kayaking class to learn some basics for future raft trips. I've taken my llama down some local class II/III water and the differences between the kayak and raft are many, but primarily I feel so much less control over a raft. Your mods look amazing! I can imagine the world of difference they make. I could see these being stock on a future Alpacka. Great blog!
    - Blake in SC

  12. Are your self-adjusting grab loops something purchased or made? If purchased, what is it? Thanks!

    1. Not purchased, I made them and they are super simple to make. All it is is a piece of 1" tubular webbing cut to the size you want when stretched out, then run a piece of light weight bungie cord through it sized to let the webbing max out and still snap back. Once these two lengths are made I fed the bungie through the webbing and sewed the ends to keep the bungie cord at the ends and tied it on the boat, but you could also just tie it on the boat keeping the bungie in the knot if you do not have a sewing machine.
      You should try making some, I find them handy.

  13. That is a lot of accessories, Kirk! I guess being a long time boater gave you the knowledge and skills to come up with your own accessories. And it’s pretty neat that most of it is detachable, so you can make sure that it meets the needs of your every adventure. Thanks for sharing this, and good day!

    Kent Garner @ Whites Marine Center