Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Gear Check: Packrafting in Patagonia

I recently spent the austral summer exploring Patagonia by packraft. This included adventures in and around El Chaltén, Torres del Piane, and Chile’s Aysén Region. During these two months my packrafting kit evolved and got lighter. The following synopsis of my gear provides a handy reference for packrafting wilderness rivers anywhere.  

River Gear: 10lbs

*A four-piece carbon Ikelos is a custom order made directly from Werner and is not available with a bent shaft.

The Patagonia packrafting adventures were primarily Wilderness Flatwater characterized by equal parts trekking and paddling. On the one occasion I did paddle rapids harder than Class 3; I was equipped with a helmet, Type 3 life jacket and throw bag.

Not having to negotiate much technical whitewater I was content with the Cruiser Spray Deck and strapping my HMG Porter Pack on the bow of my boat. This lightweight rig allowed efficient transitions and easy portages. In addition to securing my Porter Pack, I used Accessory Straps as lightweight thigh straps.

The Kokatat Lightweight Paddle Suit is a pound lighter than the Kokatat Dry Suit and the neoprene neck gasket more comfortable than a rubber gasket. While trekking through heavy rain I wore the suit as rain gear.

On a two-month journey in a foreign country with no opportunities to replace damaged equipment, I opted for a highly durable dry bag. The Sea to Summit Big River Bag proved incredibly tough yet reasonably light. To be “for sure, for sure” my down items were double packed in a Sea to Summit Lightweight Dry Bag and important documents in a waterproof accessory case.

Trekking Gear: 7.5lb


Trekking Gear for Patagonia

While the 4-person HMG UltaMid was overkill when traveling solo it was perfect for spreading out gear and cooking inside while traveling with a companion. I used an emergency blanket for a ground cloth.

The ultra-light Kathmandu Titanium Backpacking Stove is compatible with standard threaded fuel canisters readily available in Chile and Argentina. In Argentina these canisters are commonly refilled.

Clothing: 5lb

Clothing for Patagonia

Amy and Forrest McCarthy, Torres del Paine

One delightful gear discovery during my ventures was how comfortable and durable Montrail’s ultra-light FluidFlex Trail Running Shoe are. Much in-line with the writings of Christopher McDougall in Born to Run, I find my feet do best with minimal cushion and restriction.

I did not pack rain pants. Instead I wore the Kokatat Paddle Suit when trekking through heavy rain. I would often pull on the bottom half, tie the arms around the waste, and wear a highly breathable Mountain Hardwear Seraction Jacket on my upper half.

When wading cold rivers NRS HydroSkin Wet Socks were invaluable.

Patagonia is a windy place and my most useful piece of clothing for its weight was a Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Wind Jacket.

Electronics: 2lb

I have upgraded my navigation tools since I posted GPS for Wilderness Navigation. This includes the new Gaia App and Mophie Juice Pack for my iPhone. Having an iPhone also allowed me to keep in touch through FaceBook and email when passing through villages with WiFi.

I’m equally impressed with the Suunto Ambit 2. Stay tuned for an upcoming post on new GPS tools for Wilderness Navigation.

Passing through these villages and towns every couple days also provided the opportunity to recharge all my devises using a 220V to USB Adaptor. No other power sources were necessary.

Repair Kit: 12oz

Extra Floor and Tube Material
Tyvek Tape (4-meters)
Fortunately, I had few gear failures. My one incident involved hanging my Yukon Yak from a tree branch to dry overnight . Unknowingly, the stern rubbed against a rock all night due to the unrelenting Patagonia wind. The resulting holes were easily mended with McNett Tenacious Tape Patches.

Miscellaneous: 12oz

This 26-pound packrafting kit kept me warm and comfortable while traveling amphibiously through one of the wildest and most fantastic landscapes left on earth. In addition to mountains and rivers, the lightweight packrafting kit also allowed me to easily negotiate buses and airplanes.

The more you know the less you need.” 


  1. question for you - I'm going to be hiking in Iceland in the summer and there are several/many crossings of glacial rivers in my future. I was planning on just Tevas and a vigorous rubbing with socks on the other side to dry off and warm my feet. I'm guessing the majority of the rivers will be knee deep or deeper - any idea if the wet socks you've mentioned would help keep my feet functional and warm(ish) in such a situation?

    1. Yes - bring NRS HydroSkin Wet Socks. Your feet will appreciate it.

    2. Thanks. I'll get a pair and report back.

  2. unclear whether my last comment made it in.

    I got a pair of the HydroSkin socks, and they kept my feet toasty while fording glacial rivers. Tried once without for comparison and thought I was going to die. If screaming would have helped I'd have screamed. Anyway... They are in the bag for the next time cold rivers are anticipated....

  3. Hi,
    How is the long term durability of kokatat lightweight paddling suit?
    No repaire?
    hole in sock?
    still dry?etc
    a good buy for this kind of trip(and still good for many more trip)

  4. I have found the Kokatat paddling suit to be highly durable and a great value -- both in weight and cost. After a year of heavy use I recently returned it to Kokatat to have it pressure tested. Other than a small tear in the right leg (occurred while climbing over a barbed wire fence) it has no leaks, even in the socks.