Whitewater Packrafting 101: 10 Things You Need to Know to Paddle Safe + Strong

To celebrate the launch of our newest product, the River Rescue Throw Bag, we asked Hyperlite Mountain Gear ambassador Mark Oates to put together a comprehensive guide to technical paddling—call it packrafting 101. A certified whitewater instructor and outdoor educator, Mark regularly leads trips through the remote Tasmanian wilderness near his home zone. Ever detail-oriented and meticulous, Mark produced a thorough treatise on how to get the most out of any day on any creek in your boat, and get home in one piece. Huge thanks to Mark for sharing vital expertise that is sure to make us all smarter and safer as packrafting continues to blow up. 

Words by Mark Oates // Photos by Dan Ransom + Mark Oates

You’ve got the latest and greatest packraft, you’ve got the cool hardcore creeking helmet—call it a complete kit—and you even have some decent river miles under your belt. So, now you want to take it to the next level. But wait…

Is there something else that you still need? Why do others make paddling hard rapids look effortless, while you come close to swimming? Why can some packrafters hit that particular eddy every time but you consistently struggle to catch it? How come your friends can easily surf waves for ages, yet you find it challenging to simply paddle across strong currents?

Is it the boat? Is it the river? Is it you? Do you simply need more time on the water?

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River of Dreams: Packrafting Oregon’s Kalmiopsis Wilderness

Packrafting

Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ambassador Mike Curiak’s adoption of ultralight techniques and philosophies evolved slowly, he says, as garage gear and his own DIY stuff became increasingly available. But now, Curiak, who owns and operates LaceMine29, a company that builds high-end, hand-built wheels for 29-inch bikes, fat bikes and 650b bikes, simply lives light.

Mike’s also no slouch behind a camera. Case in point: this astoundingly gorgeous account of his recent trip to Southwestern Oregon’s Siskiyou National Forest, an ambitious itinerary that included running some pretty serious water in an inflatable packraft.

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HIKE YOUR OWN HIKE: Q&A WITH PHILIP WERNER

Philip Werner never wanted to be a thru hiker. While he respects thru hikers and their achievement(s), he prefers to hike his own hike, which, to him, means hiking and backpacking both on and off-trail on journeys of his own design. People often equate hiking and backpacking with thru hiking. However, the vast majority of hikers and backpackers don’t hike on National Scenic Trails. Werner estimates there are probably 10,000 or more non-thru hikers for every Appalachian Trail and Pacific Crest Trail thru hiker. We recently chatted with this influential hiking blogger and owner of SectionHiker.com about what “hike your own hike” means to him.

Hiking new routes, to new places and in new ways. My favorite mountain is the mountain I have yet to climb. To find new routes, I look at maps a lot and work off trail lists and peak lists. For off-trail routes, I mainly use caltopo.com to plan my bushwhacks and a map and compass to hike the routes. I really enjoy planning unique trips to places I want to visit. I can’t think of a time where I’ve used someone else’s route on a trip on purpose.

What are some of the “new ways” you have hiked over the years?
Winter backpacking, mountaineering, bushwhacking, peak bagging, waterfall climbing, day hiking and nature viewing. There are lots of styles of hiking and combinations of these styles.

Plus, I’m constantly learning new backcountry skills and folding them into my adventures, adding endless new facets to my experiences. I’ve incorporated backcountry (cross-country) skiing, Tenkara fly fishing and
 traditional Flycasting with a reel into my adventures lately. This summer, for example, I’m doing a series of backpacking trips to remote alpine ponds in New Hampshire and Maine to fly fish from a packraft. That’s just one example of a trip that includes numerous activities—backpacking, fly fishing and packrafting. And this coming winter I plan to combine winter backpacking and backcountry skiing on some trips into the Pemigewasset Wilderness.

Read the rest of the article here.

The Real Deal: Your Adventures

Greg Hanlon Alaska Packrafting trip
Greg Hanlon recently returned from an incredible adventure through wild Alaska. Check out a full gallery of his awesome packrafting, thru hiking and mountaineering photos below. Thanks Greg!

We love hearing about your big adventures. Please share your photos and stories with us by emailing info@hyperlitemountaingear.com. Also let us know your favorite piece of Hyperlite Mountain Gear. Right now we’ve got friends embarking on numerous backcountry trips, including:

  • David Weinstein and friends are heading to South Greenland to packraft and hike cross country later this summer. David is carrying our 4400 Southwest Pack;
  • British big wall free climber, Leo Houlding, and his climbing partners are packrafting and hiking through Renland in North East Greenland, with the objective of putting up a first ascent of a massive granite formation called the Mirror Wall. They’re using our UltaMid4 and UltaMid4 Insert, the Ultralight Stake Set II, a wide variety of CF8, CF11 and Roll Top Stuff Sacks;
  • Greg Hanlon just returned from a packrafting, mountaineering and thru hiking adventure through the remote Gates of The Arctic National Park and Preserve (see awesome photo gallery below; all pics courtesy of Hanlon). Greg used our 4400 Porter Pack; and
  • Author and adventurer Chris Brinlee Jr., Olivia Aguilar and Gilberto Gil are thru hiking the 210-mile Sierra High Route, which runs loosely parallel to the John Muir Trail, joining it for 28 miles. Chris is using our UltaMid 2, Gilberto is using our Echo II Shelter System, and the whole team has a full assortment of CF8 Stuff Sacks.

Read the rest of the post & see photos here!

The History of Going Light

Stripped Down: The Philosophy of Going Light

Old Fashioned Backpack
Photo courtesy of Kevin Dooley / Foter / CC BY

Now & Then

Major changes have taken place in the world of backcountry travel in the last half century. Adventurers now rock climb 3,500-foot walls in record speeds and hike thousands of miles carrying backpacks that weigh less than a small dog. Pioneers have questioned tradition and tested boundaries, transforming their adventure sports and the gear they use for those sports.

When Warren Harding, Wayne Merry and George Whitmore first climbed El Capitan, Yosemite National Park, they spent 47 days on the route using “siege tactics.” They hammered in hundreds of pitons and fixed thousands of feet or rope. Nowadays, people regularly climb their famous route, The Nose, in less than 24 hours. Alex Honnold and Hans Florine climbed it in just over two hours in 2012!

Likewise people have been trekking and camping long-distance on horizontal terrain since the early 1900s, regularly carrying one-third of their body weight (50 to 70 pounds). But thru hikers like National Geographic “Adventurer of the Year” Andrew Skurka and winter Pacific Crest Trail record breakers, Justin Lichter and Shawn Forry, have revolutionized hiking. They ditched the metal canteens, woolen knickers and cotton sleeping bags, replacing them with innovative, often custom-made equipment that was not only lighter, but also more streamlined, durable and effective. Imagine Skurka trying to hike the 6,875-mile Great Western Loop in 208 days with an external frame pack. No chance. Read the rest of the article!

Packrafting New Zealand

Two boaters packrafting New Zealand's Arahura River.
Arahura — is this scenery for real!?

By Wyatt Roscoe, packrafter & outdoor adventurer

Packrafting Paradise: New Zealand Delivers

The fact that climate change is exaggerating extremes was easy to see as we arrived for two weeks of packrafting in New Zealand two months after the largest floods in 40 years. We then boated through a record breaking drought. However, we found water and took Alpacka Raft’s new White Water boat for some fun rides throughout the incredible two islands.

Our journey took us from Auckland down to Murchison, where we ran the Matakitaki and Buller before heading to the infamous West Coast. Hyperlite Mountain Gear’s bullet proof Cuben Fiber packs helped us get our gear there in ultralight style.

Taking our Alpacka raft on a wild ride.
Taking our Alpacka raft on a wild ride.

 

Over a few beers in Hokitika we talked to local boaters about the low flows and potential runs. We decided to hike into a classic helicopter run on the Arahura. The scenery was wild and after taking our time to film and photograph on the 10-mile hike in we were left only with the afternoon to boat out. Because of the low water a normal four- to five-hour run took us almost seven hours and many portages to reach the top of the last gorge. With darkness impending we choose to stash our boats and return in the morning to finish the run.  The plentiful sand fly bites didn’t keep us from sleeping well that night after a full 14-hour day of paddling and hiking. The next morning we finished running the “cesspool” after an exciting portage on the first drop.

With minimal flows on the west coast we drove south Queens Town in search of bigger water. We found it. The rapid Citron promptly trounced us and quickly put some things in perspective. These boats are meant for back-country runs with lower flows and not your class IV-V big pushy water.  Weighing just over 13lb they have a way of making themselves at home in big holes and not standing up for themselves against huge laterals.  I had big dreams of dispelling the idea that all packrafters are swimmers now that we have this new boat, but unfortunately we did nothing but reinforce it. They continue to get easier to role but with their wide base it takes some getting use to.

Checking out the drop while packrafting in New Zealand.
Checking out the drop.

We decided to take the boats back to their home environment and did a two-day hike into some Lord of the Rings worthy mountains.  If you’re thinking about packrafting New Zealand, it’s a total must. This trip into the Landsborough included real Kiwi “track” that took us over a pass that gained and lost almost 10,000 vertical ft in two miles. Not a switchback to be found and with 50lb packs proved to be a memorable two miles.

The boat out took us through some beautiful valleys and provided some fun class III and in less than five hours we were back at the road. This is what the boats are meant for: compressing what would have been 16 hours of painful hiking into five hours of stunning paddling.  Our trip concluded as we headed north back to Auckland and running Maria Falls and the classic Kaituna run three times. It was a glorious two and half weeks that taught us a lot about the boats and let us see a truly spectacular country.

Maria Falls
Maria Falls
Packrafting across New Zealand.
Packrafting across New Zealand.
Running waterfalls was a highlight on the adventure.

The Untamed New England Adventure Race, 2014

By Alex Provost

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Four racers.

What is adventure racing? According to Wikipedia it is, “a combination of two or more endurance disciplines.”

While planning our gear for Untamed New England 2014, we came to realize that we would be short on space with our actual packs as we would have to carry our two Alpacka packrafts with our four piece Epic paddles and standard adventure race gear like food, clothes and first aid for most of the four days. Not only would we have to carry about 40lbs of gear each, we would have to do it in the notoriously thick bush in Northern Maine. To put the icing on the cake, we were told that the middle race bushwhack could take up to 48 hours. I needed a solution and fast. I did not wanted to hang our gear outside the packs and risk a hole in our boats, lose paddles and lose time by getting entangled in the bush. I immediately thought about those super slick white Hyperlite Mountain Gear packs that I had tried quickly at this same race two years ago. I remember they were ultralight but did not know how tough they really were. After some researching, I decided to reach out to Dan St. Pierre, co-owner. I was already very late and the only way to make this work would be for Hyperlite Mountain Gear to ship the packs directly to race HQ at Northern Outdoors. Read the rest of the article!

Hike Fast. Paddle Hard. Dance All Night.

The First Annual AK Packrafting Festival

This past July Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ambassador Luc Mehl and friends participated in the first annual McCarthy Creek Packraft Race and Whitewater Festival in Wrangell Mountains of Alaska.  We’re hoping this event, organized by Kennicott Wilderness Guides and McCarthy River Tours and Outfitters, will become an annual happening.  Hyperlite Mountain Gear is psyched to support the rapidly growing packrafting community by making some of the best packrafting packs available. 

Read on for the report on the inaugural 2013, festival.

McCarthy Packrafting Festival Poster

The McCarthy Creek runs through the Wrangell Mountains outside the quirky/charming outpost town of McCarthy, Alaska at the edge of Wrangell St. Elias National Park.  The creek runs fast and strong with rapids up to rated by American Whitewater as a class III+(V+). 
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Packrafting in Baxter State Park, Maine

Baxter State Park – View of Mount Katahdin

The Hyperlite Mountain Gear team puts our gear to the test. This year CEO Mike St. Pierre and John Mansir hiked and packrafted in Northern Maine.

Baxter State Park  is over 200,000 acres of wilderness located in northern central Maine. The park includes Maine’s highest peak, and it lies at the end of the Appalachian Trail. It’s also home to Mount Katahdin (also called Baxter Peak).  The park is “forever wild” (no electricity, running water, or paved roads inside the park boundary) and sees only sees only about 60,000 visitors each year so there’s plenty of opportunities to find empty trails and private stretches of lake and river for paddling.  Visit the Park’s website here for more information.

Mike and John began their adventures hiking from the Freeze Out Trail (which is the wildest and northernmost trail in the Park) to Webster Lake. They packrafted down Webster Stream (class II, III) to Second Lake and then across Grand Lake to Trout Brook and out.  Check out their video: Packrafting Baxter State Park on YouTube

Floating the East Branch of the Penobscot

A report and video from Hyperlite Mountain Gear’s Mike and Josh on their adventure on East Branch of the Penobscot River in Northern Maine.

On the weekend of September 22 and 23, Hyperlite Mountain Gear founder and CEO Mike St. Pierre and Josh Mansir once again demonstrated their ability to play just as hard on Saturday and Sunday as they work at Hyperlite Mountain Gear during the week.  The weekend’s adventure was a hike (carrying Hyperlite Mountain Gear packs of course) into remote Maine’s remote Lake Matagamon where they inflated their packrafts and then ran the East Branch of the Penobscot River

Baxter State Park, Maine

Lake Matagamon (or “Grand Lake Matagamon” as it is sometimes called) is located in Northeastern Maine.   The is known in Maine for its fishing, many remote islands and scenery.  Its a great paddling lake.

Lake Matagamon

Approximately half of the lake is located inside the Northeast corner of Baxter State Park, the jewel of Maine’s state park system and the home to Maine’s highest peak, Baxter Peak (or Katahdin).

Map of Baxter State Park showing Lake Matagamon and the East Branch of the Penobscot River

For Mike and Josh, Lake Matagamon was there stop moving by foot and switched over to paddle.  They pulled their packrafts and drysuits out of their Hyperlite Mountain Gear packs and hit the water.  From there they followed the East Branch of the Penobscot River approximately 47 miles to Medway, Maine.

The packrafts loaded on the riverside.
Gourmet breakfast at camp

Along the way Mike and Josh had their share of slack water — we heard some whining about aching shoulders when they returned.    But they also had their share of excitement.

To see the video, follow this link: