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First impressions of my new PR-49 packraft on the Chena River

By Troutnut on October 12th, 2013
This week I bought my first boat. I've done countless trips with family and friends' canoes, packrafts, and other rafts in and out of Alaska, but this is the first watercraft I've owned, because I never had space in my garage for a canoe and most places I want to fish in Alaska don't have road-to-road float opportunities and require miles-long portages.

This year I began to pay attention to packrafts, small inflatables that can easily be carried for miles yet are worthy of serious whitewater. I was inspired by the remote trips and whitewater adventures of Luc Mehl and Roman Dial. However, I'm more interested in backcountry hunting and fishing than adventure racing, and the ultralight Alpacka rafts they use aren't designed for loads as heavy as a man with a dead caribou, or two people in one boat in whitewater (i.e. float trips with my wife).

For the last few years, a Fairbanks-based wilderness company called Pristine Ventures has been working on bigger packrafts to handle big game hunting. Their latest model, the PR-49 "Packraft Alaskana", has excellent reviews on the Alaska outdoors forum and other places. At 15 pounds, the PR-49 is three times heavier than an Alpacka, but if that extra 10 pounds means the difference between floating or carrying 150+ pounds of meat back to the car, it's an easy choice. They're also made of tougher material, and are large enough for two people and a disassembled caribou. When they went on sale this week, I bought one.

In one of the last weekends before Fairbanks freezes solid for seven months, my wife and I took this boat for a 10.5-mile float down the upper Chena River, in a popular and familiar stretch from 3rd Bridge (on the North Fork) to 1st Bridge (on the main stem). We parked at the take-out, loaded the raft and gear on our mountain bikes and in my backpack, and rode 6 miles up the road to the put-in. This is a tame stretch of river, mostly Class I with a dash of Class II, and with the water extremely low (545 CFS at the 2nd Bridge gage) it would be a good test of the running raft through several inches-deep riffles.

I really like the PR-49's layout. A rope all the way around the tubes provides attachment points for locking down gear bags, hanging frequently used items in convenient spots on carabiners, etc. The seats are just nylon sheet strapped to both sides of that rope at several points strapped to the loops that hold the rope, one of which (the "cargo sling") can be extended to cover the front half of the raft to hold cargo (like meat) off the floor. It's a very nice lightweight system, but I found in a pond test earlier this week that I sank lower in the seat than I'd like (EDIT: Whoops! I had the seats attached incorrectly, which is why they sagged. See reply by PR49er.). This time, I brought the Therma-rest NeoAir ultralight inflatable pillows we use for camping, strapped them to the seats, and they made perfect cushions to elevate us to a comfortable height comparable to canoe seats (but softer and more comfortable). We both had enough legroom, and there was cargo space to spare.

With both of us and quite a bit of gear in the raft (probably about 350 pounds total), it only drafted about 2-3 inches. We got hung up in the shallows once when I steered us into 2-inch-deep water, but we cruised through several other shallow riffles without ever having to get out and push again. For a raft, the boat tracked well with two people in it, not wobbling side to side with every stroke like packrafts (both this one and Alpackas) tend to do in still water with just one paddler in the back. It was still very easy to turn and avoid obstacles. Several times I carefully planned a line to miss some hazard, and then easily missed it by 20+ feet because the boat was so mobile. I steered into the few splashy wave-trains in this reach, and the boat kept us high and dry. It felt much more stable (less "tippy") than a canoe.

This tame trip really wasn't a hardcore test of either the boat's packability or its whitewater handling, but the experience left me excited about what I'll be able to try next summer.

Photos by Troutnut from the Chena River in Alaska

Snowy gravel bar From the Chena River in Alaska.
Snowy gravel bar
StateAlaska
LocationChena River
Date TakenOct 12, 2013
Date AddedOct 13, 2013
AuthorTroutnut
CameraCanon PowerShot D10
Beautiful sunset, just four or five "almost theres" from the car. From the Chena River in Alaska.
Beautiful sunset, just four or five "almost theres" from the car.
StateAlaska
LocationChena River
Date TakenOct 12, 2013
Date AddedOct 13, 2013
AuthorTroutnut
CameraCanon PowerShot D10
This little slough along Chena Hot Springs Road was beginning to freeze over, but the main river was not. From the Chena River in Alaska.
This little slough along Chena Hot Springs Road was beginning to freeze over, but the main river was not.
StateAlaska
LocationChena River
Date TakenOct 12, 2013
Date AddedOct 13, 2013
AuthorTroutnut
CameraCanon PowerShot D10
Ready to go From the Chena River in Alaska.
Ready to go
StateAlaska
LocationChena River
Date TakenOct 12, 2013
Date AddedOct 13, 2013
AuthorTroutnut
CameraCanon PowerShot D10
Close-up of gear setup From the Chena River in Alaska.
Close-up of gear setup
StateAlaska
LocationChena River
Date TakenOct 12, 2013
Date AddedOct 13, 2013
AuthorTroutnut
CameraCanon PowerShot D10
Floating down the North Fork From the Chena River in Alaska.
Floating down the North Fork
StateAlaska
LocationChena River
Date TakenOct 12, 2013
Date AddedOct 13, 2013
AuthorTroutnut
CameraCanon PowerShot D10
 From the Chena River in Alaska.
StateAlaska
LocationChena River
Date TakenOct 12, 2013
Date AddedOct 13, 2013
AuthorTroutnut
CameraCanon PowerShot D10
 From the Chena River in Alaska.
StateAlaska
LocationChena River
Date TakenOct 12, 2013
Date AddedOct 13, 2013
AuthorTroutnut
CameraCanon PowerShot D10

Most recent comments on this post (latest on top)

PR49erOctober 14th, 2013, 12:14 pm
Fairbanks

Posts: 1
Hey Jason, great article and thanks for the review of your new PR-49.

Revisit the DVD Owner's manual and all the pics I've shared on our site.

Note that you have the seat slings improperly installed, lashed to the perimeter line around the boat instead of the actual anchor points designed for the seats. The Loop discs are intended to secure the seat and cargo straps, to prevent you from sagging too low. Install the straps through the loops and secure tightly before you top off the tubes. Once the tubes are topped off, the seats and cargo sling will be taught and wont sag with your weight.

If you use the flip line as anchor points and the line gets cut from wear or injury, your seat (and you) plus your cargo will hit the floor or get tossed from the raft...catastrophic judgment error.

http://www.pristineventures.com
OldredbarnOctober 14th, 2013, 10:36 am
Novi, MI

Posts: 2536
Jason,

Interesting looking boat. I have been talking it over lately with the wife a bit. She has used a kayak from time-to-time and enjoyed that. I wouldn't mind something I could fish from and float around marshes etc looking for water fowl...

Spence
"Even when my best efforts fail it's a satisfying challenge, and that, after all, is the essence of fly fishing." -Chauncy Lively

"Envy not the man who lives beside the river, but the man the river flows through." Joseph T Heywood

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