Last year I purchased a larger pack so I could fit all the packrafting paraphernalia inside, rather than having it strapped on the outside, risking damage or loss of gear, not to mention the discomfort of an overpacked bag and the difficulty negotiating technical or off track terrain. So I stumped up and purchased a 70L Aarn Load Limo, because if I'm going to carry a heavier pack I'm darn well going to do it in comfort.
Since I didn't want to go off on an expedition without trialling my new gear I devised a short in and out route that would see me doing a little paddling, a little tramping, some packing and unpacking of said packraft in new bag, and I could bag another hut I hadn't been to yet. Oh, and I also had new shoes to trial.
Tramping boots are not the best shoes to take on packrafting trips as they are heavy, bulky and even heavier when wet. But they are great for serious tramping. When combining both tramping and paddling on one trip, was there another option? I decided to trial a pair of trail running shoes after Iain had walked the entire Great Ocean Walk in a pair of Hoka One One trail shoes and had raved about how comfortable they were.
I haven't had much success tramping in trail shoes, ahem massive toenail blisters from my Salomon running shoes. I read the reviews and decided that the Speedgoat looked to be a good quality shoe for technical trails, and they felt very comfortable with lots of toe room when I tried them on in the shop. But would they stand up to an actual tramp, and would my toenails survive?
I drove down to Manapouri, inflated the raft and paddled up the river and around the lake shore a few hundred metres before landing on a beach, packing up the raft and heading off along the track. You only need a watercraft to cross the river, but the day was pleasant and it's always nicer to paddle further than carry one's gear on one's back.
I was headed for Back Valley Hut, a small backcountry hut that was the only hut in that area I had yet to bag, having visited Hope Arm Hut on my epic first packrafting adventure to Mt Tititroa. It was a pretty easy stroll up the valley, with only a little bit of swampy ground to get through. The shoes were comfortable, but I had forgotten to bring my tramping poles, which meant taking extra care with my footing so I didn't twist an ankle.
At the hut I spent some time perfecting the best way to pack my raft inside my pack. Folding rather than rolling the packraft allowed me to place it within the pack more easily, and then put everything else in and around it. This included my four piece paddle, my drysuit, and my PFD, as well as my usual tramping paraphernalia.
Packed and ready, the return trip was uneventful. The pack was comfortable to wear, the shoes were not an issue, and unpacking and inflating the raft also no big issue. Since I put the rest of my pack contents inside a dry bag there is no need to make the priority easy access to the packraft. I takes no time at all to remove the rest of the pack contents, pull out the packraft from the bottom of my pack and repack the contents. Should I use the Ti-zip to store my gear inside the packraft, the contents are already in the dry bag ready to be stashed. Sorted!
I launched further along the lake shore, where the track first joined it, which meant I got to paddle a little bit more on the way back. It was still far too short a trip but the objective had been achieved. Successful trial of new gear, and one more hut bagged!
I trialled one more piece of gear on this trip, also a success. I had been struggling with cold hands when wet, either whilst tramping or paddling and had been looking at various options, including neoprene gloves and pogies (a neoprene pouch attached to your paddle that you put your hands into), but the solution that covered both bases was found in a Montbell shop at Sapporo Station in Japan: rainshell gloves. Worn with or without liners, they cut windchill and keep me so much warmer. Perfect for paddling in cooler months, and great for cold wet days on the trail.
I booked in to a backpackers in Te Anau overnight and put all my gear out to dry. Somehow I misplaced my rainshell gloves, but they turned up in the communal lounge the next morning, so I headed off on my next expedition with all my new gear accounted for.