Properly hiding ones paddle

A few days ago I read Dan’s account of a trip in the Caribou Mountains of BC.  Highly recommended, and guaranteed to fire the imagination.  What astonishes me is that both Dan and Will completed the trip, with hours of monstrous, worst-case bushwacking, with their paddles strapped to the outsides of their packs.  Dan lost both shaft sections, and did a bunch of wilderness paddling with his paddle blades wedged and taped to a branch.

In my book, your packraft paddle should (almost) always be inside your pack.  The exceptions being a specialty pocket which can hold the blades with mechanical certainty, or with the paddle in two sections, shafts upwards, while for instance hiking well cleared trail.  I now know of multiple people who have improvised shafts with sticks, not all with the same success Dan created, as well as multiple people who have either gone canoe style or used a pack framesheet trimmed down to sub for a lost blade.

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Packing a paddle in your pack is a pain, and often puts your pack at increased risk of holes.  The pack at top, a proto of what became the current Seek Outside Exposure, is 28″ tall max, which made it just possible to squeak the longer section of a Werner Shuna.  The zip opening provides little margin for error here, hence the awkward looking pack job, because it was awkward.  The smaller pack pictured immediately above is 30″ tall along the back, short enough to sit under the shoulder, tall enough to hide a paddle when cinched.

For bike rafting you don’t want a shaft tap to the back of the helmet when rolling steep slickrock, which highlights the desirability of packing the shaft along the side.  This video details the most delicate and complex load I can recall, between the raft gear, ski gear, and wood stove, but the way I packed the paddle was the same as always.  First, the bulk of the gear goes in as usual, with more maleable stuff at the bottom.  Then, the blades go in tip down along the front, with shaft pieces go in along one side right against the front corner.  This last is significant, as it both gives you a bit more height to work with (provided your pack has tapered lower corners, as it should) and moves the hard edge of the end away from the likely abrasion point.  Even so, it’s not a bad idea to have a bit of extra protection along the base of the front (as shown in last weeks pack).

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The larger point here is to have a pack that’s big enough to fit everything without the packing having to be excruciatingly exact.  As shown above, I’ve learned (repeatedly) that a really big pack is not a bad thing.  We made things work on this trip, but a bigger pack for things like paddle pieces and PFDs would have made things simpler and more secure.  There is some rudimentary complexity to making a huge pack unclumsy, but it can be done.

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5 thoughts on “Properly hiding ones paddle

  1. I had the same thing happen once right before I was about to do a lengthy bit of ocean paddling to my takeout. Not fun and quite stress inducing.
    My paddle has not and will almost certainly never be on the outside of my pack again.

  2. Your post (and my recent experience) make a good argument for having the paddle inside. The widespread norm of having it on the outside might be partially the result of how paddles are normally depicted, and partially due to an under appreciation for the importance of the paddle. Paddles are one of the hardest pieces of gear to improvise effectively, yet risking one on the outside doesn’t feel that reckless until you lose one.

    1. I’m amazed you were able to fab such a functional substitute. My attempts to field splint trekking poles with green wood have never worked out very well.

  3. Yeah, paddle in the bag generally seems like the way to go. If the wooden shaft hadn’t held up, plans C and D (hand paddling; me towing you) could have presented some problems on the fast and high Clearwater. I will say though, in defense of all of us with those Instagram-worthy setups with the paddle in only two pieces strapped to the outside of our bags, that it feels a lot more secure two me than in 4 pieces. The longer shaft gives better leverage to strap it down and makes it much easier to feel and hear the second a branch reaches out to steal it. Plus it’s not that hard to adjust it lower on the pack for the really dense sections. That being said Dan can attest to my somewhat obsessively asking if I still had both sections sticking up, so the equation may change for me solo. And I had two pieces of coaming stripped off the outside of my pack (willow branches made a surprisingly robust substitute) by the brush which really should have been stowed away. So totally agree there’s no shortcut to the safety of the inside of the pack, and the consequences of lost paddle pieces could be big.

  4. I still have a two-piece paddle–if you’ll recall it rides on either side of my pack through ziptie loops, blades up. Far from compact but at least it’s basically impossible to lose short of the pack being completely upside down and shaken. I see from the photos that Dan’s conpanion has a similar setup.

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