Before we begin this inflatable voyage, I’d just like to point out that I have no packraft experience – none, nothing, zero, in fact bugger all. I have never sat in one, paddled one or fallen out of one … which is handy because it probably means that I’m in (or not) exactly the same boat as most of you. The questions I ask, will likely be those questions you would and the stupid things I do, may hopefully save you from having to repeat them.
|Doesn’t it just make you want to grab a paddle?|
Longshore International are based in the south of our lovely country from where, they design and sell packrafts. Any of you that have ever priced up a packraft will probably have also uttered the words “how much?” to yourself too. There’s no denying that a ‘proper’ packraft represents quite an investment but Tim at Longshore has brought his range of rafts to the market at a price that might help make ownership a reality rather than just another idle daydream. The raft here is a Longshore EX280 MKII. It’s the biggest raft in the range and I’m told, the most popular. The extra length isn’t just useful for carrying extra kit – although coming from a bikepacking perspective that shouldn’t be overlooked but it also means that you can take any long-suffering friends you still have, along with you. At £560, it’s still a fair old chunk of cash but it’s a chunk that’s quite a bit smaller than much of the serious competition … ask yourself, “what price adventure?”, then remind yourself that you’re a long time dead and finally, remember that you can’t take it with you. See, sounds much better now doesn’t it?
|This is what you’ll find contained within the box – add paddle and PFD and go rafting.|
The raft arrives with everything you need to get underway excluding a paddle and buoyancy vest. In the box alongside the raft you’ll find, an inflation bag, repair kit, a carry bag / pack and some brief yet informative instructions. With a level of feverish excitement usually reserved for 8 year olds at Christmas, you’ll soon have a soft and floppy raft lay on the floor in front of you.
|Looks a little bit sorry for itself but it’s very quickly perked up.|
In total there are 4 things that require the attention of your inflation bag and / or lungs. Main raft tubes, rear seat and backrest and front seat … obviously, solo voyagers can remove this if the wish. There’s a simple and effective Boston valve on the stern (pointy end but in this case, it’s at the back) and another on the rear seat. Being somewhat excited, I connected the inflation bag to the valve on the main tubes and blew those up first. Once the tubes have ‘taken shape’ it’s simply a matter of screwing in the first half of the valve and then topping the thing up by mouth. It really doesn’t take many breathes to get the tubes firm and fully inflated. Once done, just add the screw-on valve cover to seal everything off.
|Boston valve – simple and effective.|
In hindsight I probably should have blown the rear seat up first as it’s slightly awkward to reach the valve once the main raft is inflated … not impossible and not actually difficult, just not as easy as I could have made it. The rear backrest and front seat don’t require the inflation bag and are instead inflated very quickly by mouth via an extended valve tube.
|It might be pointy but this is the back!|
Once inflated, the previously limp (urethane double-coated) nylon tubes are transformed into a sleek craft that’s capable of firing up the adventurous imagination even when sitting miles from the nearest water. The EX280 has 6 luggage attachment points – 2 at the rear (stern) which come with a grab line attached and 4 at the front (bow). If you choose to remove the front seat, an additional 4 fixing points become available. That’s probably more than enough to securely strap down a bike and anything else you might like to carry whether journeying through Alaska or heading forth from Formby beach for the afternoon.
Casting a finely honed critical eye over the boat, everything looks to be as you’d hope. The seams are straight and even, the attachment points look to be substantial without being industrial and it possesses an air of something designed for a purpose and well executed in pursuit of it.
|Rear seat and backrest. Inflate to suit.|
|Front seat and backrest. Backrest is fully adjustable by means of straps and appears like it’ll provide plenty of support for your victims.|
When the fun’s over and dry land beckons, deflation is a simple matter of undoing all the valves and pushing the air out. Once flat, fold it into 3 length ways and either roll up or fold. I’ll admit that while I can get the air out (mostly) and roll it up fine, I’ve not yet fully mastered getting it packed down as small as it can be. I know it’ll go smaller and thus easier to pack and carry but my first efforts are somewhat lacking … luckily the carry-pack has enough volume to counter my ineptitude.
|My packing skills still require a bit of work. Luckily there’s plenty of room in the pack.|
The maps have being out and the blue bits that I’d generally ignore are now potential destinations. Those places that I previously skirted around are now future byways … and I’ve always fancied the idea of sleeping on an island. I’ll be back very shortly.