What is packrafting? We talk to the promoter of this discipline in Poland, Marcin Zdybal
In OM’s series of tips we take under our magnifying glass another unique outdoor activity. This time we asked the creator of the only Polish packraft, a passionate water adventurer, diving instructor and professional firefighter, to unravel the mystery shrouding packrafting, Marcin Zdybal.
We discover packrafting (pic. Pinpack Packrafting)
Michal Gurgul: Before we get to the substance, please tell us what the outdoors is for you? How it happened that you took up packrafting?
Marcin Zdybal: In the past I have achieved very good results in diving and swimming competitions. However, later I fell seriously ill and fought for my life, this changed my perception of great achievements and rewards. The new perspective made me realize that in my memories it is not the won competitions and the next medals on the shelf, but the small, everyday adventures that occupy the most important places. Many such spontaneous outings, when my friends and I would pack our backpacks and go somewhere nearby, without a plan, still bring a smile to my face today. I have been swimming and diving for 35 years, also my professional life has always been related to water, but only a few years ago I discovered that being above it is the best way to relax.
That’s why you started creating packrafting equipment?
My wife and I fell in love with packrafting a few years ago. At that time this equipment was not available in Poland. We thought that packrafting is a lot of fun and we ourselves are rediscovering already known places, but this time from the perspective of water so we started thinking about whether to create such equipment in Poland. We wanted to show others what new opportunities this offers in travel. We have a lot of cool places in our country for packrafting or bikerafting. Floating on a river, we see that even big cities, from the water look completely different. All the hustle and bustle and noise of cities can be left behind and even in highly urbanized areas one can find wilderness.
Packrafting or bikepacking, it’s the adventure in nature that counts (photo. Pinpack Packrafting / Adam Klimek)
Even near the city where you live?
Of course. To packraft you don’t need to buy expensive tickets or use airplane flights, which have a huge impact on the environment. The world is a global village, and I’m not saying you should stop traveling, but it’s worth remembering that this travel can also take place in a completely different space. When I have a free 48 hours, I take a packraft and float a small section of a river near my home, and this already allows me to be close to nature and thus relax.
What such a trip looks like? What packrafting is and how it differs from kayaking or pontooning?
Packrafting gives you more opportunities. Thanks to the fact that the equipment is small and weighs little, you can pack it in your backpack. Can easily fit in it along with basic camping gear. You get off the bus or train and look on the map for the nearest water. If it’s a lake – you cross to the other side, if it’s a river – you float down it at any distance. If the water level in the river in some place turns out to be too low, you can pack packraft and continue your hike on foot. You take turns hiking and rafting. Packrafting can also be combined with other disciplines – bikepacking and even skydiving.
Bikerafting on the Dniester River (fot. Pinpack Packrafting / Adam Klimek)
Is it difficult? Is training needed, or is common sense enough?
Any form of contact with water provides opportunities to learn about nature, but it also carries great risks. The state of weightlessness is achievable only in space, and we can also achieve a similar state in water – but here you have to be alert all the time. In my 18 years as a firefighter, I have pulled dozens if not hundreds of drowned people out of the water. Nonetheless, I believe that by exercising common sense we will be safe. Having a fast car, you can drive slowly and safely, and you can get carried away by emotions and drive riskily – it’s up to you. In my experience, 99% of accidents are caused by alcohol or bravado. A small percentage are unfortunate accidents.
Course, e.g. canoeing, it certainly can’t hurt, but you might as well arrange your first trips with more experienced people and gradually gain practice. It’s a good idea to start in calm water and practice emergency situations such as capsizing or packraft puncture in safe conditions. More dangerous than the very beginnings can be the routine – the second season (as in the case of motorcyclists). Therefore, it is important to maintain self-discipline and remember the dangers of being on the water. Packrafting, however, is nothing complicated, and over time everyone will develop their own methods of operation.
Rafting such a river requires great mastery of packraft and a lot of experience. It is best to start the fun on completely calm water (phot. Pinpack Packrafting)
You mentioned earlier the environmental aspects of packrafting. Do they matter a lot to you?
In my opinion, the basis of packrafting is experiencing closeness to nature and a sense of freedom of movement. I would like to encourage people to do this form of leisure, because it is great fun, which teaches respect for nature and does not require a huge investment in equipment and trips, and our carbon footprint is relatively small, as long as we do not travel by plane to the other side of the world. People today are reprimanded to buy more, new better, better than the one you have, which is still good… and this is often not needed to feel happy.
You also used this approach when creating your products.
I am aware that packrafts are not cheap, but when designing them we wanted them to be extremely durable, lightweight and their construction to be as simple as possible, so that when you are in the biggest wilderness you can repair this equipment yourself if necessary. The simplicity of the repair also means that this equipment will last you for years. The material of which the packraft is made is polyurethane, which has embedded “reinforcement” inside thanks to which it is so extremely durable. However, I know that this is not environmentally friendly cannabis production. An additional burden on the environment is transportation. However, with the use of this material, I hope my customers will be able to enjoy their packraft for years, and maybe a lifetime.
Packrafts ready to float (fot. Pinpack Packrafting)
How much does a packraft cost?
It depends on the model and version you choose, but the prices are between 2,500 PLN and 3,400 PLN. Our smallest model and latest creation called Compact weighs only 2.5 kg, and yet we managed to keep the same material in production as in previous models, which gives it unprecedented strength.
To this we must add oars.
Prices vary widely. We work with one of the best manufacturers of paddles TNP company, which especially for us produces paddles folded from four elements, which packs well together with packraft, the price of these paddles in our store is 220 PLN. But you can buy paddles from as little as £100 in the chains, and for a start they will probably suffice.
What other equipment we need to take with us on a packrafting trip?
In addition to basic camping equipment, you should take care of your safety. A belaying vest and waterproof bags for packing your luggage are a must, so that you can stay afloat in case of problems and capsizing. On white water you also need a helmet (if we combine our trip with bikepacking, we can use a bicycle helmet). During my expeditions, I always try to use every thing in several ways to reduce the weight and amount of equipment. You can use the pacraft bag to collect rainwater or pack some of your belongings in it, the packraft itself can be used as a mattress to sleep on or a shelter from the rain, etc. If we are planning expeditions in winter you will additionally need a dry suit. We also always need to take care of communication and inform family or friends of our plans before we leave.
Packrafting forces a minimalist approach to packing (fot. Pinpack Packrafting / Adam Klimek)
We have accumulated a bit of this equipment. The total investment in your own kit is an amount of approx. 3000 PLN. However, I know that there is a cheaper alternative.
If you want to explore pacrafting without investing in equipment this is also possible. Our packrafts are available for rent, along with paddles and vests. The cost of renting such a pledge is only PLN 150. At the beginning of the week we send a package to you by courier, and the following week we ask you to return it to us. There is then plenty of time for rafting. If after the rafting trip you decide to buy a new packraft then the purchase price is reduced by the cost of the rental so then the equipment rental turns out to be free of charge.
You spoke earlier about the unique properties of the packraft material, but I guess any material can be punctured? What happens in such a situation?
This is an important question. We must remember that the packraft is built from a single chamber – if there is a leak, the air goes out of the whole pontoon. That’s why a vest and all other means of buoyancy are important. Using them, we must first of all get to shore as quickly as possible. With traditional materials such as PVC, you need glue to make repairs. In the case of our packrafts, all you need is a special tape. You locate the leak, drain and seal it. Onward trips can be started basically immediately, but if it is cold it is better to wait 20-30 minutes.
From what you have managed to tell us, it seems that you have learned firsthand the value of these small adventures, short trips, time spent in nature and close to water. You have created a product that makes these adventures possible and promotes an activity that is in line with the idea of respecting nature. What’s next?
I want in some time, when my professional situation changes, to focus on organizing trips and expeditions for people who would like to learn about packrafting. I hope to share my passion with others.
In this case, I wish you – and future adepts of packrafting – dreams come true.
Packrafting can mean micro-adventures in the “backyard”, but also big expeditions, like the one to Patagonia (pic. Pinpack Packrafting)
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