Do you need a packraft for a packrafting adventure?
Well yes, but no... In 2015 I decided I wanted to exploring the possibilities of packrafting for the first time. One problem though, I didn’t have the budget for an actual packraft at the time. These beautiful lightweight inflatable boats come with a hefty price tag and I couldn’t justify the prices for a first time investment without knowing if I will actually like packrafting. So with a bit of searching around Google I discovered the Sevylor Fish Hunter 210 - It’s not quite the packraft you would associate to this growing adventure movement, but it could possibly be the alternative solution for a beginner keen to explore more water systems. After countless hours of researching all possibilities for packrafts and sourcing out more information on the Fish Hunter 210 I decided to go for it. I purchased this “budget” packraft. A few days later of anxious waiting, the postman to deliver my new Fish Hunter 210. What I first noticed before unboxing was its size, it looked reasonable even while still within the box. After removing all the packaging I felt pretty comfortable at first glance that it could roll up to a manageable size - nothing like the size of an actual packraft, but it would definitely fit in or attach to a backpack.
So does it make a good packraft? From my experience, Yes. I’ve paddled several hundred miles in my Sevylor Fish Hunter 210 and along the way I’ve had a lot of fun. The biggest trip was from the source of the Danube River in Germany to the Austrian/German border over a month. This river starts of shallow and narrow with plenty of obstacles from natural weirs to man made dams to navigate through and around. My most enjoyable trip was the most recent on the Bow River that runs through Banff National Park, Canada. We launched in the tiny town of Lake Louise and paddled to the town of Banff. The Bow is a much faster river than the Danube, and it definitely has some fantastic rapids to navigate trough from Grade 1-3. Just be careful of log jams. When not paddling with I’ve rolled it up and attached to my backpack or placed inside my backpack and walked many miles with it. It is on the heavy side, but I would say it's definitely manageable for a couple of miles. The reward of walking to the river definitely makes the hike worthwhile.
Overall Review The Sevylor Fish Hunter has three main air chambers - Outer wall, Inner wall, and floor. These three main air chambers use Boston valves to inflate and deflate. Then there are two slim chambers that run the length of either side for stability and extra rigidity - these are inflated by your typical plug valve found on most water inflatables. I’ll give you a summary with some pro’s and con’s for using it as a packraft from my own extensive experience. I think it’s best to start with the con’s. Con’s
Weight - Your typical packraft with come in around 2kg, the Fish Hunter 210 is about 6kg - But manageable. No skirt attachment - If you’re going to be in rough waters or heavy rain there is no way to attach a skirt for extra protection. I did however dust of the sewing machine to create my own skirt that velcroed around the dinghy. Speed - I will be honest in flat or slow moving water it's draining mentally and physically if using it to cover long distances. I can’t compare this to your typical packraft a I’ve still not used one. The plastic mounts - After hours of paddling you will notice that the plastic oar mounts will occasionally get in your way and rip off skin around your nails. Gloves will solve this problem, or if you have a dremel you could reduce the size of the mounts, then sand and smooth. This goes for the fishing rod holder, if you have the time, tools and patients you could reduce this/remove.
Pro’s Weight - I know I mentioned this in the con’s, but I would also say it's a pro due to its overall size and price. 6kg boat for around £100 or $130USD... Amazing. Stability - Very stable in fast waters. On the Danube River, Germany and on the Bow River, Canada we took this down some hardy fast flowing falls with some aggressive water without any issues. Size - Plenty of room for one person to sit comfortably and lots of room for additional storage for expedition kit. I’m 6ft3 if that's any indication to how well I fitted. Sleeping - The Fish Hunter 210 also makes for a very comfortable bed. Some of my best nights sleep on the Danube RIver were laying in this boat. Inflating - Pumping up the Fish Hunter 210 couldn’t be any easier, attach the Boston valves and insert the foot pump. You could easily have it inflated in 5-10 minutes. Same goes for deflating, super easy. Remove Boston valves and roll up. Pack up time easily within 5 minutes.
Price - Compared to a new packraft, the Fish Hunter 210 makes a fantastic “budget packraft”. It’s easily a third of the price of most actual packrafts.
Rigidity - On both the Danube River and Bow River we didn’t take it easy, we went over and through things that you probably shouldn’t do with an inflatable boat. It’s tough anti-abrasion material went over rugged rocks, got poked by sticks and bounced of other materials that you would have thought may put a hole in the boat... but they didn’t. Super tough boat which explains its 6kg weight. A bitch to sink - Ok, so one time I thought it would be a good adea to go over a man made wooden weir. It looked like an amazing drop, and it was an amazing drop to paddle over, but silly me didn’t see a nail in the weir sticking up even after a recce. I snagged the nail head and ripped a hole in the outer chamber. Despite losing the outer chamber I didn’t sink due to the backup of the other main chambers. With a quick paddle to shore and two hours later, I successfully patched the fist size hole to continue this journey. Luggage space - The Fish Hunter 210 has a lifeline that goes around the dingy and two handles front and rear. These attachments make it perfect for attaching dry bags so the stay snug and tidy inside the boat while in rougher water. Hauling around - When transporting the boat and kit round on planes, trains or automobiles it lives in an Overboard 60L waterproof duffle bag with my Point 65 Sweden four piece paddle, PFD, throw rope, paddle jacket and extra kit. The handles front and rear make it perfect for portaging around dams and other obstacles.
Again, Yes the Fish Hunter 210 makes a fun and fantastic packraft for those looking to discover this amazing way to navigate waterways.... Go buy one and enjoy some paddling. I’m now looking forward to moving from this boat to an actual all purpose packraft for future adventures. One of the best locations to get advice or even purchase your packrafting gear in the UK would be Backcountry.Scot.