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Thread: Packraft Pros and Cons: Fabric Quality

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    webmaster Michael Strahan's Avatar
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    Default Packraft Pros and Cons: Fabric Quality

    In the last year I have seen two catastrophic tube failures on packrafts in field conditions, on video. In both cases the hunters were on remote rivers where their hunts were compromised as a result of the failures. In both cases a puncture resulted in a four-foot-long blowout of an entire tube, which was not repairable in the field. In the first case the boat was damaged as a result of dragging it through lengthy sections of shallow water. in the second case the boat was punctured by a sharp object. in both cases the tube literally exploded, resulting in the aforementioned four-foot gash. Though it is conceivable that a hunter could haul enough supplies afield to deal with a failure of this magnitude, it seems to me that even with the right materials on hand, most hunters not only lack the training on how to perform a repair of this kind, but field conditions may also work against you (nearly impossible to control heat and moisture in the field, which is essential to obtain a good patch bond).

    At this point I'm trying to figure out whether tube failures of this magnitude are just part of the risk of using packrafts, or whether these occurred because of inferior workmanship concerning the fabric itself. Seems to me that a properly-constructed base cloth would, by design, prevent a large rip from occurring as a result of a simple puncture. But I'm not a packrafter. I'm going to investigate this further, but I am interested in learning more about the aspect of fabric quality, and whether or not there are certain brands that are designed to prevent failures of this kind. Or is this simply part of the risk-assessment packrafters must calculate when they're figuring out their boat needs for a remote hunt?

    Has anyone out there experienced a failure of this kind with an Alpacka raft? They have been at the packraft thing a long time, and if this is common, I would expect to see it equally distributed across brands. And let's not turn this into a brand-name bash festival. This is important info for packrafters to know about.

    Mike
    LOST CREEK COMPANY: Specializing in Alaska hunt consultation and planning for do-it-yourself hunts, fully outfitted hunts, and guided hunts.
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    Member DannerAK's Avatar
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    Im not a fabric expert, but i do have a lot of time in rafts and pack rafts both commercial and recreational. The described tube failures could be a manufacture issue or more likely user misuse. I would like to know if the boats were overloaded and if they were over inflated. I've seen over inflated and overloaded cat and raft tubes explode. If properly loaded/inflated, they should not explode as described. Just my thoughts and opinion.
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    Member Mkay's Avatar
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    Last May one of our party had a long strait tear on his packraft at Lion's Head. This was fixed with some type of TYVEK material (glue?). It held and we rafted out to the bridge.
    My child was inmate of the month at Mat-Su pre-trial Correctional facility.

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    webmaster Michael Strahan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DannerAK View Post
    Im not a fabric expert, but i do have a lot of time in rafts and pack rafts both commercial and recreational. The described tube failures could be a manufacture issue or more likely user misuse. I would like to know if the boats were overloaded and if they were over inflated. I've seen over inflated and overloaded cat and raft tubes explode. If properly loaded/inflated, they should not explode as described. Just my thoughts and opinion.
    Excellent observation regarding overloading. I believe this is a common situation on float hunts, where hunters are carrying their body weight, a complete camp, food and an entire game animal.

    Mike
    LOST CREEK COMPANY: Specializing in Alaska hunt consultation and planning for do-it-yourself hunts, fully outfitted hunts, and guided hunts.
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    Member Yukoner's Avatar
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    Tyvek tape is a mandatory for any packraft trip, that and UV cured seam seal. Not taking Tyvek would be like forgetting your ammo. Tyvek can be applied even if the material is less than dry. Amazing stuff. Much better than Duct tape.
    My experience with my Denali Llama is that it is incredibly tough for the weight. And thats the key. Its an ultra-light boat. You can take it where you can't take anything else. If one is flying in to a put in, there are more heavy duty (and heavier) rafts available. Dragging loaded Packrafts down the shallows is asking for trouble IMO. And running into sharp objects can be the bane of any raft.
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    webmaster Michael Strahan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Yukoner View Post
    Tyvek tape is a mandatory for any packraft trip, that and UV cured seam seal. Not taking Tyvek would be like forgetting your ammo. Tyvek can be applied even if the material is less than dry. Amazing stuff. Much better than Duct tape.
    My experience with my Denali Llama is that it is incredibly tough for the weight. And thats the key. Its an ultra-light boat. You can take it where you can't take anything else. If one is flying in to a put in, there are more heavy duty (and heavier) rafts available. Dragging loaded Packrafts down the shallows is asking for trouble IMO. And running into sharp objects can be the bane of any raft.
    How does the Tyvek tape hold up when it gets wet? And if the repair is below the waterline, does it stay put over a few days without peeling?

    -Mike
    LOST CREEK COMPANY: Specializing in Alaska hunt consultation and planning for do-it-yourself hunts, fully outfitted hunts, and guided hunts.
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    AQUASEAL is your friend! All alpackas come with a tube but it is always nice to have more. aquseal can be applied fully wet and still stop a leak

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    Member Yukoner's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Michael Strahan View Post
    How does the Tyvek tape hold up when it gets wet? And if the repair is below the waterline, does it stay put over a few days without peeling?

    -Mike
    Even when wet, that stuff is bomb-proof. Its what Alpacka recomends for extensive wilderness emergency repairs. Ugly as sin, but gets it done. They have a video of using it to repair a Grizzly slashed raft that most would consider destroyed. It works so well that if you don't remove it soon, it becomes pretty well permanent. Far superior to duct tape. Wait, I said that already!
    Auqaseal is you buddy for sure, but only the UV cured stuff, otherwise it takes forever. When we go out, my friend takes a 1/2 roll, and so do I. Keeps the bulk down. You can't wrap it around your paddle for use later like Duct tape though.
    My buddy has an old Mad River Explorer that was pretty much rippied in 1/2 from gunnel to keel on the Wolf river a while back. We sticthed it back together with cord, replaced the gunnel section with Alder, and patched over all with Tyvek tape. That was 15 years ago, and it was still going strong up at his trapline with the same repair until a Grizz ate the boat. More or less.
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    An out of the box pack raft could use some modifications before used on a hunt. I glued aire 1'' d-rings around my boat because they ones provided are often weak sauce. Also I sprayed a light urathane coating on the bottom. Just two light coats helps againts punctures and drag or even "schooching" wear in low water. If not aware there is a product called teflon tape out there that is amazing. Its clear and easy to use. wipe said tear with alcohol and let it evaporate. Then cut your patch with round corners and put it on like a sticker pushing all the bubbles out of it. This can be used on the bottom side of the raft where it can handle cold water and weather without comming off. I have seen some amazing feild repairs done with this stuff. Also noted that different manufactures use different denier fabrics which directly relates to durability. I have noticed while repairing pack rafts that the coatings over the base fabric which some are coated on one side and some on both . Example: if it is coated on both sides its less likely to linear rip along the weave creating those long tears mentioned in earlier posts. A matter of ounces in fabric weight can make a difference. All the pack rafts are great boats but us hunters tend to push these boats to there limits and beyond. Be prepared for those tears. They can be fixed in the field with a little bit of knowledge and the proper repair kit. Atleast well enough to limp out of the field. One last thing while in the feild......wash your boats down well if on overnight trips or anytime you leave it unattended due to bears and mice like chew on these guys no different than a large raft.

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    webmaster Michael Strahan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mrgsholly View Post
    .. there is a product called teflon tape out there that is amazing. Its clear and easy to use. wipe said tear with alcohol and let it evaporate...
    Are you thinking of "Tear-Aid Tape"?

    And you are gluing it in place? It already has an adhesive backing...

    Mike
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    Quote Originally Posted by Michael Strahan View Post
    Are you thinking of "Tear-Aid Tape"?

    And you are gluing it in place? It already has an adhesive backing...

    Mike
    Tear aide is a good product for sure but tends to stretch where teflon tape does not. Tear aide works best on bladdders that need to stretch with inflation. No glue needed teflon tape it has good adhesive back already. I have repaired holes as big as a baseball where a mouse chewed through the boat and tears greater than 15" long. We really started pushhing the product about a year and a half ago its relatively new addition to our repair kits. My friend brings ten feet of it with him at all times on the water after struggeling with field repairs in the past and to help fellow rafters in need. Since we are on repair kits topic: just a reminder for everyone to check the glue in your repair kit before the season starts as most glues we tend to use have only a one year shelf life before they go bad. It isn't something you want to find out when its time to repair and often gets over looked. Your aqua seal should be fine as long as you can squeeze the tube and feel it move around inside. Small alcohol wipes can be found at kfc and fred myers.

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    IMO with experience in packrafts, tube blow-outs occur when the packrafts are maxed out with psi (3.0-3.75 psi) and under heavy loads, afixed with halkey roberts type valves inflated with an air pump. Helps provide maximized flotation, but creates inner tube pressure. The blow out I experienced this year was due to a rogue browtine on a moose I was trying to tie off to while it floated downstream. I had my full body weight down on one tube, then a tine came up from underneath and popped the tube under my weight...it exploded. IMO, this had more to do with point pressure and inflation psi, not fabric quality or workmanship...just physics.

    Alpackas: I have never seen an alpacka with a tube rupture, mainly becuase they cannot be inflated to 3 psi or higher with the inflation system that comes with the boat, and topping off by mouth still only gets inflated to 2.25-2.5 psi.

    Most packraft fabrics are between 210 denier and 420 denier...lightweight urethane or PVC...but that's how they remain so light to pack.

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    webmaster Michael Strahan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Larry Bartlett View Post
    IMO with experience in packrafts, tube blow-outs occur when the packrafts are maxed out with psi (3.0-3.75 psi) and under heavy loads, afixed with halkey roberts type valves inflated with an air pump. Helps provide maximized flotation, but creates inner tube pressure. The blow out I experienced this year was due to a rogue browtine on a moose I was trying to tie off to while it floated downstream. I had my full body weight down on one tube, then a tine came up from underneath and popped the tube under my weight...it exploded. IMO, this had more to do with point pressure and inflation psi, not fabric quality or workmanship...just physics.

    Alpackas: I have never seen an alpacka with a tube rupture, mainly becuase they cannot be inflated to 3 psi or higher with the inflation system that comes with the boat, and topping off by mouth still only gets inflated to 2.25-2.5 psi.

    Most packraft fabrics are between 210 denier and 420 denier...lightweight urethane or PVC...but that's how they remain so light to pack.
    Larry, you have a lot more experience with packrafts than I do, but we both know something about raft fabrics. I know that it's difficult to get a lighter coating to bond through a heavier denier base cloth. Do you think this makes using a heavier denier base cloth a non-starter with packrafts? It seems to me that the small weight gain that would be realized with a thicker denier would be more than offset by the benefits of a much stronger boat.

    And for those who don't know, the word "denier" is a French term. The number indicates the weight, in grams, of 9,000 meters of thread. Thus, a higher denier number denotes a thicker thread. I believe (don't take my word for it, I could be wrong) that there are certain base cloth weaves that are specially designed to prevent large rips (hence the term "rip-stop"). But of course if the threads are weak to begin with, then you're in trouble anyway. The remaining issue is thread count. How many threads per square inch? Thus, a boat with heavier denier could still be a weak boat if the thread count is low. That's because inflatable boat fabrics gain their strength and tear-resistance from the base cloth. There's a more complete discussion of this on our Inflatable Boats Page.

    Mike
    LOST CREEK COMPANY: Specializing in Alaska hunt consultation and planning for do-it-yourself hunts, fully outfitted hunts, and guided hunts.
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    I'm not techno savvy with specs for fabric. If I were innovating new material and base layer denier weaves, I'd experiment with Kevlar base wrapped in PVC or Urethane. It would cost a fortune, though.

    Blow outs are so rare that this discussion really only applies to "what if" factors. In that case, I'd go with the highest quality packraft you can buy that suits your needs, and then always have on hand a robust repair kit for extreme repairs in the field.

    To experiment with heavier base fabric and then apply the plastic coatings to enough material to make a boat, the Minimum Order QTYs would be 300-500 boats for many overseas factories. Some companies won't even discuss the option unless MOQs reach 1000 units. That ain't happening on this end. It would also add up to 5 lbs to the carry weight of a boat that is 9' long and has 13-15" tubes. Weight and cost prohibitive IMO.

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    In my very limited rafting experience I've found everything is a trade off. You can have super durable OR you can have lightweight but give up some durability. I've ripped holes in the floors of an Alpacka before, but I don't fault Alpacka for it as it was supremely boney river and I was too lazy to get my fat hiney out of the boat when I should rather scooched across a LOT of rocks during the float. The end result was 20+ pinholes in the floor which I repaired as best I could with tyvek tape.

    I have yet to experience tube failures in a boat, but granted I've only help float otu two animals in packrafts so my experience in that regard is limited. That said however, if you start beefing up a packraft (adding weight) you quickly turn it into something its not....you soon drop the "pack" part of the raft out of the equation and left with just another raft. The allure for me is I can take rafts on trips that woudl otherwise have to pay for another plane load or hike into areas with the raft on my pack that others simply can't get to without either hiring a plane or horses (both of which I don't have) so for me its just another option. I'm fully aware the packrafts are simply not as strong as standard rafts and I don't expect them to be or have an illusions that they are. That said they are a lot stronger than most (mainly those who have never even used them) give them credit for. Though my total packrafting mileage can be logged in less than 500 river miles unlike Larry's likely 1K+ and then some, I still feel these little boats provide a niche that other rafts simply can't fill. So long as you know the limitation going in they can sure either open up a lot of country for you that you can't access otherwise or even save ya some coin in plane loads over the years...both of which they have done for me already.

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    Quote :So long as you know the limitation going in they can sure either open up a lot of country for you that you can't access otherwise or even save ya some coin in plane loads over the years...both of which they have done for me already.


    Exactly why i want to use one of these.Trip i have in mind is 4 days in by horse or 6 hours by jetboat.Drop off hike over mountain range into an area no one else is hunting.Drop into different drainage that jet boats can't get up because the water is too low in late August.This drainage flows back into the original river that i jetted up then from there float back with Giant B&C Ram to my truck .This saves me time and money.

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    Member Yukoner's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ramcam View Post
    Exactly why i want to use one of these.Trip i have in mind is 4 days in by horse or 6 hours by jetboat.Drop off hike over mountain range into an area no one else is hunting.Drop into different drainage that jet boats can't get up because the water is too low in late August.This drainage flows back into the original river that i jetted up then from there float back with Giant B&C Ram to my truck .This saves me time and money.
    Sounds like a heckuva plan. I wonder what I keep doing wrong? That is, the missing giant B&C ram part.
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    Shot in the dark here... The fabrics I use are vinyl impregnated nylon scrim. I notice they stretch more along the warp than they do the waft. That means that the nylon threads, when inflated are slightly further apart perpendicular to the tube orientation. Perhaps the manufacturer could rotate the material 90 degrees and get a better rip-stop result?

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    webmaster Michael Strahan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by the nikster View Post
    Shot in the dark here... The fabrics I use are vinyl impregnated nylon scrim. I notice they stretch more along the warp than they do the waft. That means that the nylon threads, when inflated are slightly further apart perpendicular to the tube orientation. Perhaps the manufacturer could rotate the material 90 degrees and get a better rip-stop result?
    That sounds odd to me (at least, I have not encountered that issue). Could it be a base cloth quality issue? don't want to get into bashing the product, but is it a cheaper brand boat, or does it come from a reputable company?

    -Mike
    LOST CREEK COMPANY: Specializing in Alaska hunt consultation and planning for do-it-yourself hunts, fully outfitted hunts, and guided hunts.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Michael Strahan View Post
    That sounds odd to me (at least, I have not encountered that issue). Could it be a base cloth quality issue? don't want to get into bashing the product, but is it a cheaper brand boat, or does it come from a reputable company?

    -Mike
    No Mike, Totally different product in a totally different market but using inflatable fabrics as concrete air forms. I am just trying to think outside the box and apply what I have seen in my business to your question. My airforms ALMOST never tear transverse, almost all tears are longitudinal. Tears NEVER cross a seam-perhaps that could be the solution?

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