When my partner Kirk and I started packrafting almost 10 years ago, we soon learned one of the biggest challenges in the sport was not the rafting part, although I was on a steep learning curve to becoming a white-water paddler, but actually packing the boat.
The big appeal in packrafting was our new-found ability to walk into more remote rivers and creeks, then launch our boats in places that are inaccessible to vehicles (FYI - Kirk is to rivers as I am to trails, so packrafting combined our most favorite things). Your typical whitewater kayak weighs 45 pounds, and even an inflatable kayak weighs about 35 pounds. Our packrafts weigh closer to 8 pounds (winning!), but when you carry a boat into the backcountry there are other items needed to make your trip safe and successful. Those extra items can be a challenge to pack in a typical backpacking-style pack. On a packrafting trip we usually have: a PFD (life vest), a helmet, throw bag, dry suit, warm layers, paddle, river shoes, dry bags, pin kit (rescue gear), and then all the camping gear: first aid kit, food, water filter, tent, etc. Even when carrying an ultralight backpacking set up for camp, the boats and extra gear combine to make a LOAD, a heavy and cumbersome load.
When Six Moon Designs came out with their Flex pack in 2015 we were stoked to have a better way to carry our gear, and have since then put on the miles. We’ve done several week-long river trips and plenty of weekend hike in/boat out adventures. Over that time we’ve tallied up a list of modifications that would make the Flex pack even more of a power-house. Last year we had a chance to sit down with Whitney at Six Moons to discuss updates to the next generation of portage packs, and we are thrilled with the results.
The Original Flex vs. Flex PR
At first glance, the Flex PR pack looks very similar to the original, minus the fun new color choices (I went red, Kirk chose green), but when we look closer, the features have been modified in ways that provide much more versatility and flexibility. What does that mean for you? More options for fit and comfort.
The complete redesign of the exterior panel of the Flex PR has loads of improvements:
1. Width of the panel: The front panel is roughly 3 ½” wider, which translates into better load stabilization, which in turn allowed the front mesh pocket to be bigger, but more about that in the next paragraph. The wider exterior panel means the straps that go across the top to clip to the back panel are also wider. Imagine carrying a bear canister into a remote wilderness river in Montana, the wider those top straps are apart, the better that canister stays securely strapped down. We found it fits a boating helmet better too. Finally, the bottom portion of the bag (which holds all of your gear in place) is also wider - again, providing more surface area to contain the various items you may be carrying.
2. Front pocket improvements: The new double pocket is a game changer! I previously struggled to find a secure place to store my four-piece whitewater paddle, but the pleated pocket behind the existing mesh zipper pocket has changed all that. Place for paddle, check! And because the pocket is now pleated, the front mesh pocket can be used even when the other pocket is maxed out. On a recent trip I had both pockets full, and was able to easily get in and out of the zipper portion. The front pocket is 3” taller, and features the same bungee cord configuration as on the original Flex, a bungie that helps you attach even more odds and ends (did we mention packrafting isn’t exactly ultralight?) as desired.
3. Daisy chains: We love daisy chains! The addition of webbing along the entire exterior panel on either side of the front pockets, tacked every 2”, creates 9 loops on either side, and a bottom ice axe or trekking pole loop on each side. This improvement enables countless options for straps to help you further compress the pack contents, or attachment points for carabiner opportunities; boaters usually have an endless supply of carabiners to clip things to themselves and boat while on the river. I use these daisy chain loops to clip my throw-bag, helmet, and water bottle. Kirk pointed out these daisy chains can also be used to attach skis to the back of the pack, or even a gun scabbard if using it for hunting. Like we said, the options are endless.
4. Bottom stabilizer straps: The addition of a detachable “z-strap” configuration on either side of the bottom panel goes a long way towards keeping the body of the pack in place. Secure pack load = a happier packrafter. Because the straps are adjustable, they can accommodate different sizes of dry bags to expand or contract as needed.
Side Stabilizer Straps
The new side straps bring even more versatility to the pack:
- Buckle/strap configuration: The Flex PR’s usefulness goes through the roof with the improved buckle and strap configuration. Previously the buckle was sewn to the exterior panel, the strap to the back, but now both exterior and back panels have webbing sewn to the pack, so the buckles can be moved (or easily replaced should a buckle break) and reconfigured between different straps on the pack. Because the double ladder-lock buckle is now in the middle, the pack can be stabilized from either the front or the back. All of the buckles are the same, which makes it easier to mix and match straps from different places on the pack, and the strap placement now matches the sewn-in loops on the 50 liter dry bag that is available as an accessory. With a dry bag securely attached the the pack, the whole system operates more like a typical backpack
- Removable water bottle pockets: These new features are great. The Flex PR comes with a water bottle pocket for both sides of the pack, and because these external pockets also have full-lenth daisy chains on the back in addition to buckles on the side, they can be moved and attached to many other places on the pack. Buckle them into the side straps if you have a large load, or move them somewhere else on your pack, even using a carabiner to clip it on...it’s totally up to you.
Shoulder Yokes and Hip Belts
We know one size doesn’t fit all, so Six Moon Designs’ interchangeable shoulder yokes and hip belts all contribute to a better pack for all:
- Shoulder yoke: Kirk and I are both using Six Moon Designs’ new S-Curve shoulder yoke. The longer sternum strap slider is easy to use; simply move the strap attachment to find the right placement. And, the longer slider creates the opportunity to have a bigger and taller shoulder pocket. We also realized the new sternum strap whistle is removable. Pop it off and put it in your pocket if you go for a stroll, you’ll still have an emergency whistle should trouble arise (the new whistle sounds more ear-piercing to me...which is a good thing if you need it!).
- Versatile hip belts: The hip belts come in four sizes, and the zipper pockets on each side are plenty large enough to fit lots of snacks. The articulated buckles on the front help to cup your hip bones, which in turn helps to securely and comfortably transfer some of the load weight off your shoulders.
In conclusion, the biggest improvements in the Flex PR pack all add up to endless trip possibilities. Kirk and I are looking forward to all the different gear/pack/trip scenarios we can come up with when using the redesigned pack. We are starting to experiment in the SUP (Stand Up Paddleboard) world, so we already know we want to use the Flex PR to haul our inflatable boards up stream for some river SUPing. A multi-sport adventure is much more likely now that we can easily strap our skis onto a fully loaded packraft and Flex pack. I could go on, but I think you catch our drift. Thanks for the collab Six Moon Designs!
Photos, words, and design help by Renee "She-ra" Patrick!