Packrafting with Butterflies
A few weeks ago, two out of the three UK based GG trail ambassadors disappeared into the wilds of Torridon, North West Scotland for 5 very wet and windy days. We went equipped with 2 packrafts, 2 Mariposa backpacks, a bottle of whisky, 10kg of coal and more cheese than was good for us. Well, the coal was only carried as far as the mountain hut, but our shoulders still knew about it!
Here's what we thought of the Mariposa as a big load carrier for wet and dry gear, and a few ideas about what might be useful in a boating specific edition in the future.
The Mariposa is super stable with a heavy load, both on the boat and on the back, the internal stay giving structure to the bag where needed in both contexts. On the boat, the internal stay kept the packs rigid against the bows particularly when we attached the packs 'frame down', pushed forward away from the spray decks and towards the front of the boat. The internal frame meant the sack didn't mold around the bows and prevented straps from slipping. Using the black attachment points on the face of the pack, the ice axe loop, a couple of mini carabiner (and a small dose of cunning), a reassuringly secure and very nicely balanced tie down to the front of the boat was achieved.
When backpacking, crossing trail-less ground, scrambling over glacial erratics and squelching through bog, the pack remained secure and didn't once shake either of us from an optimal centre of gravity. Moving with a heavy pack is inevitably slower, especially over rough ground. But our packs moved with, and not independently of us. The minimal internal stay provides just enough support without moving the weight too far away from the spine.
The long pocket on the side is just about perfect for holding paddle blades and shafts. We also discovered that on day-out boating excursions, one bag was more than sufficient to hold 2 sets of rafting gear plus plenty of other kit for the day. The long pocket will easily hold 2 broken down/split paddles.
This long pocket also serves to keep loose bungee cord to a minimum. The strapping system could be simpler still for a packraft ready bag, to reduce snagging potential on rivers. 2 webbing straps with mini snaplocks, 1 on each side, rather than bungee cord, might be sufficient to keep paddle shafts and other items tied down securely, with minimal additional weight.
The dyneema fabric is robust and whilst not fully waterproof, beads and repels water surprisingly well. In comparison to other dyneema bags we've used, the contents stayed drier for longer and the fabric itself didn't seem to absorb too much water. And because the fabric was so tough, it once again made us wonder if all the bungee we had attached was necessary - it certainly wasn't needed to compress the bags, which retained their shape well.
We're still debating what an optimal front pocket looks like on a packraft bag. Full mesh obviously lets water in as well as out, which means after a big water paddle, gear comes out wetter than it went in. Otherwise, we love the big front pocket - its strong and big enough to take all manner of flotsam, both for boating and backpacking.
The capacity of the Mariposa is 69 litres, so it can carry at lot of stuff and carry it well. All gear and food for a packrafting trip lasting maybe 7 days will fit in the pack, and the pack will still carry the load comfortably. So for trips of a week in 3 seasons, the Mariposa is already a great option.
But the big score for a packrafting ready backpack will be to allow for longer periods without resupply, or room for winter insulation and a drysuit, and that means primarily one thing… more volume! We'd like a really burly, slightly more stripped down pack in the region of 79 to 85 litres, and for all of that additional volume to be internal to the main body of the pack itself. Given how comfortable GG have made the Gorilla and Mariposa already, even under big loads, might it be possible to push the envelope still further?
A wider top opening, or even an 'inverse teardrop' design, may be a good way to go, given that heavy items such as boats or food will usually sit at the top of the pack. The current width is useful for packing insulation and sleeping kit, and also (we understand) makes the bag compatible with bear canisters, so wider at the top, not narrower at the bottom may be a more useful way forward to increase overall volume.
In conclusion, the Mariposa already performs pretty brilliantly as a load carrier and packraft bag. The fabric is tough and it carries beautifully. An even a beefier and boatier edition with a simplified tiedown system and even more volume would definitely get our vote.
Mariposa = a spanish butterfly ;)