May 2021: Promoting the packrafting “Culture of Safety”

What is the “Culture of Safety”?

The packrafting Culture of Safety is an effort to normalize safety. We want it to be normal to wear a life vest, paddle at appropriate water levels, seek training, and feel comfortable pointing out dangerous outfitting or habits that you notice at the put-in.

I wrote The Packraft Handbook to serve as a common framework as we develop our Culture of Safety. Check out my Zoom presentation for the American Packrafting Association to learn about this strategy.

Use and follow these tags in the month of May:

#cultureofsafety
#packraftsafety
#thisispackrafting

Why Now?

People are listening. Between hype for the forthcoming The Bikeraft Guide and The Packraft Handbook, and crawling out from COVID, the global community is HUNGRY for this information. Manufacturers and safety instructors are currently overwhelmed with demand.

What’s the Goal?

No packrafting fatalities in 2021. The last packrafting fatality was in May of 2020. We’ve gone 12 months; let’s close out the year.

How do I Enter to Win the Prizes?

To be eligible for drawings: participate … and join/update your eligibility on the Things To Luc At mailing list.

Participate by joining the #cultureofsafety conversation and enter to win sweet prizes.

There are many ways to join the conversation:

  • Create content: Ask questions, make short videos, etc.
  • Engage: Respond to questions, provide resources, etc.
  • Share: Share #cultureofsafety resources each week and let folks know about The Packraft Handbook!

Prizes

  • Alpacka Raft: Custom-designed salmon Classic packraft. Size medium, you pay shipping from Alaska, can be international (female-identifying or non-binary only).
  • Hyperlite Mountain Gear: Backpack (US-only)
  • Anfibio Packrafting: Accessories bundle … AirSail, pump, skeg, leash! (Eu-only)
  • Aqua-Bound: Four-piece Whiskey fiberglass paddle
  • Revelate Designs: Harness and Egress Pocket bundle
  • Packraft Europe: Store credit (Eu-only)
  • Backcountry.Scot: Enrollment in safety course (UK-only)
  • Four Corners Guides: The Bikeraft Guide (US-only)
  • Yukan Canoe: 200 CAD credit toward packraft course (Whitehorse, Canada)
  • Big Agnes: Sidewinder +20 sleeping bag

The Plan: Weekly Themes

Each week of May will be dedicated to a content theme. The themes match the organization of The Packraft Handbook.

Brands, instructors, and individuals are encouraged to create and share insights, products, resources, questions, and answers relevant to the weekly theme.

I assume most of this messaging will take place on social media, but please use whatever mediums you have access to. Make this personal and run with it. Don’t hesitate to use this to drive awareness of your products or services. This is meant to be a horizontal organization: everyone contributing as they feel fit.

Week of May 3rd:
Foundations

  • Getting started
  • Equipment (outfitting hazards)
  • Boat control, fit
  • Basic paddle strokes, edging
  • Wet re-entry (self-rescue)
  • Learning and how to progress

Week of May 10:
Rivers and Open Water

  • How rivers work (discharge, gradient, etc.)
  • River running
  • Open-water crossings
  • Hazards specific to rivers and open water
  • Conservation efforts

Week of May 17:
When Things Go Wrong

  • Rescue
  • Repair
  • Medical emergencies
  • Close-calls
  • Lessons learned

Week of May 24:
Putting the Pack in Packrafting

  • Carrying cargo (bikepacking, etc.)
  • Backpacking equipment
  • Camping (Leave No Trace)
  • Trip research and planning

The Tone

I think it is important to keep this messaging inclusive … call people in (celebrate what is done right) rather than calling people out for mistakes. Celebrate questions and find ways to be constructive with criticism.

Thanks all, let’s do this!

The Packraft Handbook

Intended to provide a common framework as we build our Culture of Safety… order yours!

51 Comments

  1. This is my summer to experience packrafting for the first time (Alaska ANWR and Montana in The Bob). I would love more information/tips about taking a bunch of inexperienced packrafters down the S Fork of the Flathead in August.

    1. Those are two primo destination for your first season! I think you will want to get comfortable with everything in the “Foundations” part of The Packraft Handbook … make sure everyone’s boats are rigged safely, practice wet re-entries in a pond first, practice paddle strokes, etc.

      1. Thanks for the feedback. Ordered your book and very much looking forward to the read and next weeks theme

  2. I’m brand new to packrafting. What tye of packraft do you recommend for beginners? Are there places in Anchorage that rent them? What about places for classes and beginning raft trips? I should probably buy they book. I bet it answers a lot of these questions lol.

    1. Yep … you will probably get a lot out of the book!

      There is at least one rental option in Anc, I can’t remember the business name, but I bet you can find it by searching online. Packrafting Alaska offers frequent introductory courses that would be a good place to start. I offer more advanced courses, but not as often.

      The Ak FB packrafting page is a wealth of knowledge and trip reports … that will be a good resource for you too.

      1. Thank you! I ordered a copy of the book. I will look into classes and renting a packraft or buy one eventually.

    1. I did geek out a bit (and learned a lot) about tides in the Open Water Crossings chapter. Sarah Glaser made a wonderful illustration showing how the tides vary between standing and progressive wave models between Ireland and England. It is a perfect example!

  3. I often find myself in a position where there are no other packrafters around and end up on easy (flat) water because I just can’t seem to completely avoid floating. I therefore depend a lot of secondary safety measures such as emergency contacts, beacons, lowing expectations, etc. Will these topics be included in these themes?

    1. This is a great question … and I don’t know where it will fit into the themes. If you have an instagram account, I would ask there, using the hashtags for this campaign.

      For my part … going solo requires lowering risk tolerance. I would pay more attention to my equipment and walk anything that looks like it poses any threat … “lowering expectations” as you say. But things like emergency contacts and beacons … if something goes wrong in the water, you probably don’t have time for those folks to be any help.

      I included an excerpt in the book from Zorba Laloo in Meghalaya India. I asked Zorba about how he created a paddling community there. He was going solo and then built a community so that he would have partners. It was an inspiring effort.

      1. I’m glad someone else brought up going solo…I know it’s not optimal from a safety standpoint but (very) often the choice is to go solo or not get to go at all. Coming from a sea kayaking background I look at it the same way as far as staying well within my skill level when solo since there’s much less margin for error. It’s a little less forgiving than, for example, going on a solo hike.

  4. Really looking forward to the week of the 17th “When things go wrong”! Definitely could use more knowledge here!

  5. Thanks for providing a link to your recent APA presentation. I could not catch it live.

  6. SO excited for the next few weeks and themes. I am a brand new beginner in the packrafting world and I want to dive right in! I tend to get the “wobbles” in a kayak in certain situations so I am looking for any advice to get started strongly in pack rafting and learn how to be comfortable. Does anybody have advice and tips on taking kayak knowledge and experience and bringing it into the packrafting world (paddle strokes, equipment recommendations)? Ready for this new adventure and want to be prepared and SAFE as possible! #packraftsafety #thisispackrafting

    1. You will find the packraft to have much better primary stability (stability on flat water) than a kayak. But the packraft has less secondary stability (stability on edge). So … less wobbles, but the trade-off is that when you start to tip over, it is hard to recover. One thing that will make a difference is thigh straps … they enable you to influence the boats edges, similar to a kayak.

      Other than that, most concepts are the same … paddle strokes, etc. The packraft sits more shallowly in the water, so draw strokes end up being very effective in packrafts.

      Mark Oates has some excellent information online about how to packraft. Those resources will be especially useful if/as you seek more technical water.

  7. These illustrations are awesome! Reminds me of “Sea Kayaking Illustrated” by Jon Robison

  8. Just got done listening to your podcast! Spoke to me so much, being a Kuskokwimmy myself from Bethel. I got into all the ‘outdoors for fun’ late in the game. I got my narwhal last summer, but only got out a few times. My bf just got his expedition for this summer, so I’m looking forward to doing a lot more in and around anchorage. He ordered me your book a while back, so we are both stoked to read all that you’ve gathered. Thank you for bringing a serious light in safety for packrafting… its easy to overlook that (sadly). This won’t be the last you hear of me. 😁😁 happy to join the club.

    1. Hi Tina! Thanks for the note. Yeah … Bethel Kuskokwim doesn’t really make you want to do a bunch of paddling, does it? But the ice skating was inspiring 😉

      There are some rivers that feed into Togiak Lake that I would like to paddle, but can’t figure out a cheap way in. Trail Creek, I think.

  9. Hey Luc, thanks for putting out great packraft/general boating safety resources here and elsewhere! Considering that 70% of Earth’s surface is covered in this “water” stuff, the drowning video you shared a few weeks ago was something every human needs to see! I had never actually seen “the foam,” even after taking 2 full WFR courses, ~4 WFR recerts, various whitewater rescue trainings, and as many CPR recerts – why!?!!. And I am lucky to have not seen it live in ~25 years of boating. Hopefully your #cultureofsafety education efforts keep it that way! Looking forward to getting your book on my shelf.

    To the new boaters encountering this thread: the most valuable “safety resource” I’ve found/experienced is time spent practice swimming cold class II-IV whitewater – with trained/experienced instructors and other class participants present for safety and feedback. A drysuit was “highly recommended” when I first did this, but I was too broke…so used a wetsuit+some wool layers instead – it sucked, and I bought a drysuit as soon as possible after that.

    Stack the deck in your favor by buying Luc’s book, reading it, then investing the $$$ in formal classes/training + the right gear ($$$$). Even your experienced friends are unlikely to provide the same quality of education as experienced pros who are being financially compensated for their focused time/effort/organization, unless you are very lucky. As ancient Greek poet, Archilochus said: “We don’t rise to the level of our expectations; we fall to the level of our training.”

    These safety investments will set you off right and, like Luc says, should be wrapped into the up front costs of buying a packraft. Like other boats, a packraft is also a hole in the water that you can pour lots of money into!

    1. Thanks Kory, I agree with all this. When my swiftwater courses have more new folks than experienced, we give up the technical rescue systems to spend more time just swimming. And the swimming is actually pretty fun in a drysuit and proper layers. Just got back from 36 degree water in Juneau!

  10. Hi Luc! My husband and I have an outdoor company (@wateliving) and we are waiting on our first pack raft to arrive this summer. We got a tandem one and are both super eager to try it out. Thanks for posting all this helpful content, especially with all the cute pictures. It makes it that much more enjoyable to read through. I was a swim teacher for a while so I really support water safety, even more so when it’s in flowing water. We will definitely be referring back to your notes so that we can be as best prepared as possible before we go out. Love what you’re doing here and excited to get your book!

  11. So in life and on water, I am a worry wart (my husband can confirm this, haha!) . When it comes to water specific hazards, are there any suggestions to be aware but not overthink it? Interested in what everybody has to say!

    1. This is one section of the book where I learned a lot in the process of research and deciding what to write. Here is how I broke it down:

      Hazards are all of the things we can’t control (in life, not just water!) … cold, wind, landslides, earthquakes, waves, rocks, etc.

      In rivers, the hazards are usually pretty easy to identify … they are relatively static: rock, wave, hole, tree. Hazards can change at different water levels, which is why there are more fatalities at higher water levels.

      In open water, hazards are often more environmental, and can change rapidly. These are the hazards that concern me the most … currents, wind, waves, cold water. You can start an outing in calm conditions and get caught by rapidly increasing wind … this has caused three fatalities.

  12. I’m curious about knowing when to pull off the river and scout log jams etc. other than forest rangers and satellite images is there a way to know before it’s too late? I am concerned about my group going nutzo and want to maintain the fun while imposing some risk assessment and caution. Thanks.

    1. I hear people say “expect wood around the corner” and also “assume the rock is undercut.” The right thing to do is scout every corner.

      in practice this can often be done from the boat … I’ll either stick to the inside of the bend so that I can get out on a point bar … orient the boat at an angle upstream so that I can paddle against the current and give myself more time to look around the corner. there is a nice illustration of this in the book.

      in some cases the outside edge of the bend feels like a better option … you can see more of the river this way.

      one skill i developed later in the game is the ability to slow my downstream progress … this gives me a lot more time before the “it’s too late” moment.

  13. As a WFR I carry a first aid kit and feel fairly confident in helping with backwoods injuries. I know swift water rescue course would be beneficial but what gear would you consider standard for river rescue on a pack raft trip? Obviously, avoiding danger is a great start. I’m thinking throw bag to get someone out but are there specific items and skills I can educate myself on before the trip. Things to share with friends who might be first time paddlers.

    1. My inputs (in no means highly experienced in pack raft safety but it’s transferable from other water travelling):
      – A throwbag as you mentioned
      – Dry Bags (and more dry bags). Keep that warm change of clothes dry.
      – System to create some kind of stretcher (or sled) using paddles, the raft itself, etc.
      – Knife and Whistle – both easily accessible on body

      I bet others would have more to add to this list!

    2. I think the only additional medical supply I’d consider adding for water is a pocket CPR mask. i bought some very cheap “Archer” brand masks … can carry it in my life vest pocket.

      Other rescue supplies…
      As Jordan mentioned: knife, whistle, spare clothing
      fire starter (carried inside drysuit)
      communication device (carried inside drysuit)

      and depending on the application … throw rope, a couple locking carabiners, a sling or two for an anchor.

  14. So to kick off this week’s theme of packing/camping, what size packs do people usually use when bringing a raft? I’d be interested to know for day trips in particular since those are often the easiest to make happen in the midst of a busy life.

    1. I have to admit to looking forward to my initial Packraft trip but I’m planning to use my 70 liter Hyperlight. Of course it depends on your typical duration and destination. My thoughts are that the extra layers required for some locations are filling up my pack.

      Would love to hear how others limit/share gear.

    2. My wife and I have been really happy with the HMG packs … I’ve been using them for about 10 years and lost track of what other brands are selling. The HMG 4400 is great for day trips and I use a 5400 for our multi-week trips.

      Features I’d look for:
      * Ideally 3 lbs or less in weight (empty)
      * waterproof material
      * can be folded length-wise to fit in the cargo zipper if you have one
      * good hip belt and padded shoulder straps for carrying

      Volume can be tricky, and I often end up with some things securely strapped to the outside of my smaller pack.

    3. I use a 60l modified backpack (form HIKO) – modified means: shoulder straps and a (better=more comfortable) belt are removable (I like them dry when I get out of the water) – and I make some “rigging” for the paddle and so on – it’s still “light” but ok – it’s “big enough” even for the safety equipment // of course I’ll prefer a HMG but too expensive and I’m in Europe – BUT know I have an packraft with TIZIP, (modified my old alpacka) so the bag can be smaller and the straps won’t get wet…. (thinking about a 40l for daytrips…).

  15. Trip Planning!
    I love Gaia and Caltopo

    Gaia is great for driving off-road as well as hiki and paddling. Many diff overlays and layers including USGS, USFS, satellite, historical and Natgeo.

    Caltopo has fire history, slope angle map builder.

    Gaia allows you to download maps to your phone do you can nav even without service.

    Caltopo allows you to print or send personalized maps for reference.

    A paper map is always good for backup. Would love to hear how others plan their adventures.

    1. My work flow is Google Earth –> Gaia. I also load the route on my inReach in case the phone fails during the trip.

      I heard that Gaia is going to lose (has lost?) the ability to download the ESRI World View layer. That’s my MVP layer (with USGS topo and Google Earth where Esri isn’t crisp enough).

      And paper maps/compass for backup.

  16. One thing my husband has taught me is that is worth it to spend the extra amount or time researching gear for its durability, value, etc as well as just making sure things are ultralight and doesn’t add unnecessary weight. I agree whole heartedly on the big 3 items to have be ultra light! It makes a difference and helps prevent close calls on being close with a weight limit, and overall just helps your experience packrafting and camping! Do others agree and feel this way or have any other advice on ultralight gear that has helped them or success stories on making the switch to ultralight gear in their backpacking/pack rafting journey?

    Also grabbed my copy of the #packraftinghandbook today and can’t wait to dive in and study up in this new adventure and world I am diving into! Now just to get my own packraft, haha!

    #packraftsafety #thisispackrafting

  17. Looking for simple packraft trip people have done in the Yukon. Just getting into it and needs ideas for trips.

  18. Looking for the top must do packrafting destinations for a beginner (specifically Alaska but open to country wide)! Does anybody have suggestions for destinations as well as some awesome gear!? We have basic ultralight backpacking gear but really looking to expand out of the Midwest and jump in with both feet in the packrafting world! #thisispackrafting #cultureofsafety

    1. A list of ‘classic’ destination would be so cool! I wonder if the APA would be interested in taking that on … compiling information about top destinations. Great idea!

      In Alaska, one of my favorite day trips is the McCarthy packraft festival “up and over” race route. The hike and the water are both really cool. This is a good one to do during the race, even if not racing, because the community sets up safety in a few relevant places. There is a Class IV rapid that is routinely portaged.

      Jule Harle is writing a packraft river guide for Alaska, that will be a welcome resource.

  19. Currently I identify in the “getting started” stage of the packrafting world and community! As interest turns into passion to really get started I have been so excited and have found myself watching so many videos, reading so many posts and can’t wait for my copy of the #packrafting handbook! One question I wanted to open up and ask is if anybody has their top overall experience where they learned something BIG and it has stuck with them to this day- whether it be by mistake or learning the hard way I love personal story/testimony especially in something I am so new at and excited about! Re-entry, hazards, personal conservation efforts, over or under planning a trip, gear praise/mistakes, etc. , I am all ears and genuinely interested!

    If anybody has personal experience and would like to post or talk, let me know!

    #packraftingadventure
    #cultureofsafety
    #thisispackrafting

    1. It has been so cool to see people’s stories on FB and IG … mistakes made, lessons learned. I included a lot of those as insets in the book … celebrating the learning curve!

  20. Looking forward to reading the book and will keep continuing to follow and save and engage with other posts/videos I see! I am such a visual learner so looking forward to the insets/graphics as well as the continual posts and stories of others on my journey into the packrafting world! The best way is to learn from others, practice and learn from yourself/experiences and repeat!! Thank you for the advice on where to look- I am looking forward to it! Definitely celebrating the learning curve early on in this new interest/passion/adventure!
    #thisispackrafting

  21. Can’t wait for the books to arrive here in Whitehorse, we are eagerly awaiting them! Thanks for all your amazing work and in concentrating on safety.

  22. So I have a question! Packrafting takes not only a lot of physical strength at times but especially mental strength too. Being new into this world and lifestyle and working on skills and getting gear, etc. I wanted to post and ask how everybody stays mentally strong out on the water and any advice for a huge worry wart and over thinker over here! I want to have thrills, safely of course (#cultureofsafety) but don’t want to overthink things too much while thinking clearly to make decisions and stay positive and overall be mentally open to anything that I need to paddle through! Since mental health is so important, I’d figured the topic of safety would be the perfect place to post about! #thisispackrafting

    1. Worrying isn’t a bad thing … rivers can be dangerous and our brains are smart to send alerts. People talk about ‘good fear’ vs. ‘bad fear’ in this context … good fear keeps us safe, bad fear holds us back.

      In my classes we progressively build a safety net so that folks can choose (challenge by choice) to try something new and outside their safety zone. I think this is one good way to gain confidence and comfort.

      Sarah Histand’s Ski Babes and Summer Strong programs incorporate a lot of mental health concepts into the fitness programs … fitness to play outside. That might be a great resource for you if you aren’t already part of those communities.

      1. Love it! Good fear and bad fear is the perfect way to put it and I totally understand that! Also love the “challenge by choice” approach to gain confidence in situations and know how to keep composed while still seeking that thrill!

        Also I literally just signed up the other day for Sarah’s Summer Strong program! I am so excited for it and the community and resources look and are amazing already. Ready to merge mental and physical health while getting adventure ready as I dive deeper and deeper into this new outdoor and packrafting journey I am on. Looking forward to getting started tomorrow!

        #thisispackrafting
        #cultureofsafety

  23. Received the book! Just as advertised: quality production, great art and info. I love the way you present the material. Thanks for your effort!

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