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.
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).
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.