The Backup Plan(s)

Having noticed a trend of castle-adjacent waterways forming in our canoeing adventures, Simon and I decided to commit to it, and met at Biskits to form a plan.

When the Easter weekend arrived, we headed north, stopping at Sainsbury’s in Penrith to gather supplies. Simon had spent a significant portion of the drive so far listing the number of layers he had brought with him, scaring me into buying a hoody from the Tu Clothing aisle… just in case. A quick (and delicious) coffee from Chopping Block, and we were on the way.

Atop my car’s roof rack, we had with us a pair of Ions (the Pyranha kayaks… the number of actual ions was, presumably, several orders of magnitude greater) and modest ambitions of breaking up the drive with an interlude at Lochmaben. Here, we’d planned to paddle a short distance on the appropriately named Castle Loch and find somewhere on its shores to set up camp for the night. When we arrived at Castle Loch, however, we found the castle to be hard to spot, and the loch itself to be rather uninteresting, and also a designated nature reserve.

With the first part of the plan abandoned, we checked the Isle of Mull ferry schedule, and quickly abandoned that part of the plan too when we realised it was completely sold out.

It had been a few hours in the car, and the coffee we’d drunk earlier had had enough time to take effect and lead to us feeling a different call of nature, so we swung by a services. Simon had sworn he’d only abandon our planned lunch of tortilla wraps with grains and hot dogs for a KFC, but as soon as we walked past the McDonalds on the way to the toilets and saw the Creme Egg McFlurry adverts, we knew we were too weak to resist. The McFlurry machine was out of service, of course, but the damage had already been done.

The part of the original plan we could go through with was to continue on to Beyond Adventure in Aberfeldy, where we would swap the Ions for a Burgundy Venture Ranger 162 with Skeg (no, that’s not a typo – this video explains all), and borrow a canoe paddle for Simon.

A quick turnaround at Beyond Adventure (including a look at their new racking to house a Pyranha Kayaks Demo Fleet), and then we continued on to Tummel Bridge where we finally packed out into the canoe and got on the water. I gave Simon a quick lesson in breaking into and out of the flow, and then we set off downstream, knowing we’d have to paddle back upstream the next day.

The River Tummel flowed out into Loch Tummel (I do love the unspoilt and uncomplicated nature of Scotland’s toponymy) via a surprisingly shallow estuary. As our paddles clipped rocks with almost every stroke, I was increasingly glad we’d borrowed a sturdy, plastic-bladed paddle for Simon, rather than him using my slender, lightweight wooden paddle, which is intended for deep water use only (it was still along for a ride in the bottom of the boat as a spare, though).

We emerged into Loch Tummel proper, and the large building on the southern shore, which appeared interesting at first, became less and less appealing the more of it that came into view – we soon realised it was a hotel, probably popular on account of the spectacular views, but it felt a shame that they ruined everyone else’s in the process.

In contrast, there were several other magnificent and stately homes on the opposite shore, and we took time to appreciate them (and catch our breath) in the diminishing light on the frustratingly frequent occasion we’d mistaken a headland for the island we intended to camp on, and sheltered behind it before emerging to battle against the wind once again.

A father and son raced around the grounds of one mansion on quad bikes, and in the grounds of another, I spotted a Pyranha Fusion in one of my favourite colourways (Lime/Blue/White).

As sunset closed in, we began to consider some alternative areas to set up camp, although none were ideal – especially the one which was in the middle of an archery course! We pressed on, though, and finally reached the island we were aiming for; Simon jumped out to pull the boat ashore as I watched the tiny bat which was darting about above us.

We’d heard the clamorous sound of geese as we approached the island, and despite there being several swimming nearby as we approached, we remained foolishly hopeful they weren’t nesting on the island – a quick exploration proved otherwise, and thanks to a traumatic experience on Derwentwater, we decided to move on. As we paddled across to a promising-looking section of the loch’s shore, we saw several others camping next to their vehicles along this same side; it was good to see people enjoying the outdoors responsibly in whatever way they’re most comfortable doing so.

As Simon set up the tarp, I started dinner. I’d made the process a little more complicated by forgetting the gas converter for my Trangia, forcing me to boil some water in my Jetboil (during which I discovered that the logo changed colour as the contents start to boil – such a useful feature!) and then transfer this to a larger pan in which I cooked some tortellini over the standard Trangia meths burner. I mixed in an excessive amount of desiccated veg which Simon had made, and took the meal to the next level by slightly overcooking everything – the best thing about campsite food, though, is that it usually comes after a long, hard day’s exploring, and therefore tastes fantastic no matter what!

Earlier in the day, Simon had mentioned the concept of doing some exercise before getting into your sleeping bag, so you could trap the heat generated and have a cosier night’s sleep – I covered this in a most efficient way by wrapping up in multiple layers (socks, a long sleeve base layer, thermal onesie, walking trousers, a shirt, my panic-purchase hoodie, and a down jacket) and then wrestling myself into the sleeping bag and bivvy bag simultaneously while trying not to slip off my roll mat and become one (with a capital ‘M’) myself, on account of the grassy slope next to the tarp that led straight off a 2ft drop to the rocky beach and straight into the loch.

Simon wasn’t far beyond the tarp, practising his fire-lighting skills, but there was no chance I could move even so much as to free an arm and lift the edge of the tarp to observe, so I settled down for the night.

I fell quickly to sleep, only waking occasionally to throw myself over and allow one arm to regain feeling as the other slowly lost it, or curse gravity and a poorly chosen sleeping spot and shimmy back up the roll mat. Each time I slid downhill, my feet drifted out from under the tarp, but thankfully the bivvy bag kept them and my sleeping bag dry through the midnight showers, although these didn’t help the background urge to go take a private, up-close look at a tree.

The morning arrived as if it were sent via Royal Mail (i.e. it was in good condition and the right place, unlike a Hermes/Evri delivery, but not necessarily as prompt as a DPD delivery). The first, and most important task was to make coffee; a chance to use possibly my favourite combination of outdoor adventure gadgets, the Jetboil and an AeroPress GO. I’d usually forgo sugar and milk in my coffee while on an adventure, but Simon had thoughtfully grabbed some sugar sachets for me from the service station we visited the day before, and I’d picked up some Coffee-Mate during our Sainsbury’s supply run. The coffee was paired with a peanut butter Nature Valley bar, and that was breakfast.

We paddled back up the loch along the opposite shore, and the opposite way round (I don’t mean backwards, just that Simon was in control in the stern of the boat), which gave me an opportunity to take in the views as all I had to do was paddle forward. I’d poured my coffee into my new YETI Rambler tumbler which I’d purchased at the National Outdoor Expo, and I’d occasionally take a break from paddling to burn my mouth with the still-alarmingly-hot contents.

As we approached the River Tummel estuary, we pulled into the shore for a comfort break (and I took the opportunity to order some Lord of the Rings miniatures which had just gone on sale that morning) before swapping back to our usual positions in the boat, ready to take on the difficult task of paddling back upstream.

We tacked from eddy to eddy, and whenever possible used the longer eddies to creep up the riverbank, but there were still numerous points at which we had to get out, get our feet wet, and walk the canoe back upstream. I even tried lining at one point, but found that my grasp of this particular skill was woeful – time to book a course, I think!

When we finally arrived back at Tummel Bridge Power Station, a chap who’d told us he hoped we were good paddlers as we put onto the water the day before, spotted us again and said he was relieved to see us back alive. I’m not sure what to make of that! Once we’d loaded the canoe onto the car, I drove up alongside the River Tummel, pointing out the best bits of whitewater to Simon, and eventually winding up at Riverbank Cafe.

Rested and refuelled, we headed across to Loch Tay on account of Finlarig Castle (Loch Tummel supposedly had a castle on the island we’d initially planned to camp on, but we’d forgotten about it until we returned to the car, and obviously neither of us had spotted it when we were exploring the island… but perhaps we were distracted by the numerous, panicked geese).

Finlarig Castle turned out to be a short drive from the loch, but we decided to check it out anyway. Whilst getting changed in the castle’s car park, we got talking to a friendly local, and he told us about a lesser-known route up and over the hills to Loch Lyon via a single track road littered with cavernous potholes – it sounded like just the type of adventure we were looking for, so we decided to go for it… but first, to the castle!

Having had our fill of castle exploration, we set to driving down what appeared to be a dead-end road alongside the River Lochay. As instructed by the chap we met at the castle, we kept going long past the point at which it felt like there was definitely no through-road, and eventually arrived at a large gate with a sign warning us that if we didn’t close it behind us, we’d awaken a Balrog of Morgoth (or something along those lines).

The drive after this point was an exercise in zig-zagging wildly up a single track road, balancing each wheel on the precipice of potholes that looked as though they’d swallow my car whole, and as I’d only just had my suspension springs replaced, I was keen to avoid that possibility.

Our new friend had described Loch Lyon as ‘the most scenic loch in Scotland’; when we arrived, we were sure we must be in the wrong place. The landscape was shapely, but barren, and there was an imposing dam at one end of the loch. Being man-made, the banks of the loch were also rough slopes of shale which scarred the hillsides, rather than the naturally beautiful shores we enjoyed on Loch Tummel. After a quick wander, we decided Loch Lyon wasn’t for us, and prepared to move on.

A quick look at the map (luckily pre-loaded on my phone, as the signal was non-existent) showed we could continue along the same road, which had improved drastically since our pothole dodging adventure, towards Dunalastair Water.

Some background is required before the next section of the story; a few months earlier, during one of our regular catch-ups over coffee (this time at Coffee Block in Stockport), Simon surprised me by pulling out a ring… unfortunately, no-one else in the café noticed, so I couldn’t act all flustered and scream ‘YES!’ before Simon had a chance to tell me it was actually meant for his partner, Catherine.

Jumping back to the more recent past, en route to Dunalastair Water the conversation turns to stag dos, in the course of which Simon surprises me again by asking if I would like to be his best man; no sooner had I said yes (this time in all seriousness), than I realised there was a herd of highland cattle crossing the road in front of us. I slowed right down as we passed within feet of possibly the cutest calves I’ve ever seen.

When we arrived at Dunalastair Water, we checked out a few locations to put-on and just so happened to choose a lay-by alongside another section of the River Tummel. We found an appealing looking section of forest a short way downstream, but sadly after finding a beach where we could jump out and explore, we realised it was surrounded by a high fence, so we jumped back in the canoe and continued.

As the river opened up, we found ourselves choosing our route through a cluster of islands. We may have almost gone accidentally back upstream on a fork at one point, been forced to drag the canoe over one particularly shallow section, and had to dodge one or two strainers formed by fallen trees, but we made it to Dunalastair Water!

The evening was closing in, so we found a larger island (accompanied by another bat, but thankfully no geese) and searched it for a suitable area to set up camp, Many of the flatter, drier areas were dissected by animal tracks (meaning the chance of ticks was high), but we continued searching, gathering firewood as we went (which made it increasingly difficult to squeeze through the denser areas of forest).

We came dangerously close to getting lost, shortly before deciding to set up in a spot right next to the first place we looked, proving conclusively that not everything you look for is exclusively in the last place you look.

Our chosen spot was just a short walk from where we’d landed the canoe, and here is where we decided to cook dinner. On the menu this evening was pasta with hot dogs (is it still a menu if there’s only one option? I suppose the pasta or hot dogs could have been served separately…). Simon then built another fire, and as I hadn’t yet entered my cocoon, I managed to enjoy it too.

It’s amazing how drastically setting up your roll mat somewhere flat and going to take a private look at a tree before you cocoon yourself in 8 layers of fabric can improve your quality of sleep.

The next morning we set off to paddle back up the Tummel for the final time; this involved passing a couple we’d seen setting up their tent the evening before as we headed downstream, and I feel the confused looks they gave us as we now headed back upstream were probably justified. They likely thought we were some sort of expert canoeists with superhero strength; little did they know, much of the rest of the journey back upstream looked like this…

The last rapid, whose water was a little too deep and banks a little too steep, did call for us to summon what remaining energy we had to paddle hard and ferry glide back upstream, but thankfully the car wasn’t much further beyond this – we slowly re-packed the car and got changed before loading the canoe on the roof to return to Beyond Adventure.

The last part of the adventure was to head home, and having managed to avoid a private look into the distance with my back to a tree, we visited the first Starbucks on the way – unfortunately, I was too eager and only realised past the point of no return that the cubicle I’d rushed into had no toilet paper. I was left with no choice than to pull my trousers up just enough to preserve my modesty, and shuffle along the corridor (which was in full view of the whole café) to the next one.

Of course, it would be rude to pass Tebay services without calling in, and I couldn’t help but pick up some particularly fancy tortellini so I could right the wrongs of my campsite cookery earlier in the trip.

Nepal, 8 years in the making…

I originally wrote this article for Wired for Adventure volume 13, which was also published online here. Having gotten carried away as usual, these articles were much shorter than the full story below.

Words by: Mathew Wilkinson

Photos by: Sam Brown, Sagar Gurung, Mathew Wilkinson

About the author: Mathew has been hooked on whitewater kayaking for just over a decade and a half, but still finds he has to remind himself to paddle at the top of bigger rapids. He is the Head of Marketing at Pyranha, P&H, and Venture, and enjoys telling the world about the exciting and innovative canoes and kayaks produced about 100m from his desk in Cheshire, England.

If you only take one thing from this tale of adventure, I’d like it to be that no matter what obstacles your mind or the world throw in front of you, keep on pushing through them until you reach where you want to be.

The prologue to the movie based on my whitewater adventure in Nepal would be compiled of hazy footage of various gatherings of friends and I from as early as 2011, circling around the details without getting to grips with anything other than our beverages… that is until 2019, when one of those friends had had enough, booked himself on a trip, and sent us the details to decide whether we were joining him or not.

Looking at the extremely reasonable cost of guiding and flights (there was a reason they were so cheap; you’ll see!), and with the looming feeling that this might be THE chance, it was hard to say no… so I paid my money and finally began leafing through the Nepal Whitewater Guidebook I’d purchased in 2013.

They say if you buy cheap, you buy twice, and that was certainly the case with our flights; Jet Airways went bust in April of 2019, but after a short panic, we (Alfie!) managed to get a refund and rebook with Etihad.

Thankfully, the rest of the lead-up to the trip was quite relaxed. George, Alfie, and I had a ‘warm-up’ trip to the ice cold whitewater of the French Alps, spending our evenings in the highest ski resort in Puy-Saint-Vincent watching thunderstorms – as it was the off-season for skiing, the accommodation was quite cheap, but driving up and down the mountain every day to get to the rivers was rather inconvenient. Are you sensing a theme?

George had gone out to Nepal early, and Sam and Tony (a friend of Sam’s from a previous kayaking holiday to Uganda) were travelling separately, so myself, Alfie, Will, and Ben (all of whom, along with George and Sam, I’d met in Manchester University Canoe Club) gathered at my house to throw all our kit in a pile, decide what of it we actually needed, and then attempt to split that evenly between our hold baggage so each bag was under the weight limit.

My ‘bag’ was a kayak; a Pyranha 9R II Large, to be precise.

I’d poured over Bren Orton’s YouTube video about flying with a kayak before heading to the airport, and knowing my kayak was definitely over the maximum length, and thanks to all the kit I’d packed inside it, almost certainly over the weight limit too, I followed his advice to a T; park it far away from the desk so it looks smaller, bag it so you can claim it’s a surf board, and then ‘accidentally’ lift some of the weight while it’s on the scales.

The young lad on the check-in desk looked almost as nervous as I felt, but seemed confident in what he was doing and unfazed by my unusual baggage… that was, until he reached a snag in the system and called his manager over… uh oh.

My luck held out, though… even through being sent from the oversized baggage desk to an even larger scanner, ironically placed in what must have been the smallest room in the whole airport; if someone had videoed Alfie and I wrestling a kayak full of gear into this room while trying to maintain the illusion that it was small and lightweight, it would have gone perfectly to the Benny Hill music.

Eventually, I was waving goodbye to my ‘surf board’ as it disappeared into the mysteries of the world behind the rubber curtain; is this the same world as behind the pins at a bowling alley? We’ll never know. All I could do was cross my fingers that we saw it again on the other side, and be thankful that I didn’t have to unpack all my things from it and be the first person ever to buy a suitcase from the airport.

The adrenaline crash must have been massive, as I don’t really remember much of what happened next beyond snapshots of playing Monopoly Deal in various areas of Manchester and then Abu Dhabi airports, and never quite being sure what meal I was eating whenever we got food.

The second plane from Abu Dhabi to Kathmandu was quite a bit smaller, but through its window I was relieved to see my kayak had also made the transfer.

We’d pre-booked transport from Kathmandu airport to our accommodation, and sure enough, as we emerged with VISAs in hand, a tiny Bedford Rascal arrived with a roof basket. The driver jumped out, climbed onto the van’s roof, and gestured for us to pass the kayak to him, securing it with some fragile looking twine. I was too tired and/or polite to protest, so we went with it.

The ride that followed was reminiscent of the opening credits of Naked Gun, as the van twisted and turned through the narrow, pedestrian-filled streets of Nepal at speed; the only difference was that no one was jumping out of the way… or really even looking concerned in the slightest.

After a brief pit stop at our hotel, we headed out again to find George; he’d done some important ‘research’ in the few days he’d spent in Nepal before our arrival, so we followed him to the bars. The first one involved climbing up several flights of the steepest, narrowest stairs I think I’ve ever experienced, passing through several small rooms filled with people sat on padded floors, until we reached an empty one at the top. It felt like the entire building could tip forward at any moment, but the whisky helped ease those nerves.

In the second bar, we got our first taste of the Nepalese rock scene, as well as momos, which Wikipedia describes as ‘bite-size dumplings made with a spoonful of stuffing wrapped in dough’… picture Chinese dim sum, and you won’t be a million miles off. In fact, China and Nepal share a border, so you won’t be any miles off.

Another bar had a mezzanine floor with a balcony above that, and a large, fibreglass tree stretching up from the ground floor and through both. On the mezzanine floor, there was a room built into the tree that we promptly locked a quite-inebriated George in. We’d later find out he’d lost his bag in this bar, and feeling guilty, head back in vain to find it.

We picked up Sam and Ben somewhere along the way, and ended the night in a gay bar. I always find these to be reliably welcoming, but this one did have a slight air of tension – Nepal is quite progressive in terms of laws relating to LGBT+, but societal pressures to live a ‘traditional’ lifestyle still remain. 

I’m not known for being a party animal, but now and again I find a night out is just what I need after a stressful experience; this particular one, plus sufficiently lowered expectations of the hotel, meant that I slept beautifully… well, perhaps not, but it was certainly restful!

I promise I’ll tell you about the kayaking soon… but there really wasn’t a moment of this trip where I wasn’t fascinated, both on and off the water!

I couldn’t tell you what we ate for breakfast the next morning, but what I do recall is that I had a cup of ‘Nepali tea’ and immediately realised I was amongst my people… it was milky, sugary, and lukewarm. Hate me if you must.

Walking through the streets of Kathmandu towards the Swayambhunath Temple, also known as the ‘Monkey Temple’, we passed dogs, chickens, cows, and more, all calmly walking the streets with the humans… that was, sadly, with the exception of one monkey. He was (presumably) joyfully swinging between powerlines when one short-circuited and exploded, sending him to the ground with a thud.

The crowd of people in the vicinity had just recovered from the shock (I wish I could say the same for the monkey), with one of them heading to his aid with a bottle of water, when the broken powerline lying on the ground began to snake around, sparking ferociously, and then exploded again. We quickly got the fudge out of there and hurried along the street until we were no longer under the spaghetti tangles of powerlines and phone lines that are commonplace in Nepal’s cities.

After climbing the many steps to the top of the temple, admiring the myriad of prayer flags and monkeys, we headed back down, being overtaken by monkeys sliding down the handrails.

That evening, we visited the small unit where the guiding company we’d booked with were based, and quickly went from thinking we were on a trip of 7 friends, to realising the group was at least double that. The kayaking world is a small one, though; I already knew a few of the others, and we became fast friends with the rest, who hailed from Japan, the USA, Sweden, Belgium, and the UK. We all went for dinner that evening to get to know each other.

A brief discussion with the guides about boats over breakfast the next morning presented an opportunity for me to play a prank on Sam; he’ll tell me at every opportunity how inferior Pyranha kayaks are to his favourite brand (who I won’t give him the satisfaction of naming here), so naturally, I let the guides know that he’d told me in no uncertain terms that he absolutely must have a Pyranha Burn for the trip. I had to rapidly backtrack when I realised that’d be the only boat loaded on to the coach roof rack for him to use over the first half of the trip, though!

Crisis averted, we all piled on to the coach and left Kathmandu for the first river of the trip, with the guides stood on the coach roof to lift the powerlines over the boats – I don’t know what they’re paid, but it isn’t enough!

River 1 – The Trishuli

A few hours later, we reached the banks of the Trishuli, unloaded a mess of kayaks and people from the coach, and began what should be a simple process of getting into our kit and on the river, but always seems to take exponentially longer the more kayakers are involved.

When we’d finally gotten on the river, one by one we checked our roll, and then split into 3 groups which set off in turn towards the first rapid… and then promptly merged into one, mega-group that would remain for almost every other river on the trip.

The river itself was, at times, approaching some of the biggest volume water I’ve paddled, with large horizon lines you’d slowly see more of the river behind as you approached, and then only at the last minute spot where the person in front of you had wound up, or catch a fleeting glimpse of a clear path through the chaotic water. With only the briefest of descriptions shouted over the roar of the water to a bustling group of kayakers before each rapid, you really had to believe in your own judgement, and learn from the mistakes of those in front of you!

After the river, we were loaded back into the coach amongst the bags and under a roof full of kayaks to be transported across hours of ‘main’ roads that would have been described as impassable in the UK. As some were still in the process of being built, it often felt like the workers had just forgotten to put out the cones and we were driving through their construction site.

Our destination was Pokhara, where we’d spend the next few days of the trip within driving distance of the Upper Seti and Modi rivers. Along the way, we’d set up a WhatsApp group titled ‘Guys & Team’, as this was how the head guide frequently addressed us before issuing a confusingly conflicting series of statements under the guise of a briefing of the day’s itinerary.

A long, uncomfortable coach ride after a day of kayaking meant we were looking forward to bed when we reached the hotel, so it was a crushing disappointment when we realised not enough had been booked for us to have one each, and each group of 3 had to play Rock Paper Scissors to see who got the single bed and who shared the double. If we hadn’t gotten to know each other well enough already, the unlucky ones amongst us soon would!

River 2 – The Upper Seti

The Upper Seti was more technical than the Trishuli, which is generally the kind of paddling I prefer. There was even occasion to get out of the kayak, climb up to a ruin atop a cliff, and scout a steeper rapid leading into a gorge before we headed back down to run it in smaller groups. I was relatively pleased with my line, right up to the point I mounted a rock at full speed, did a 180, and had to finish the rapid backwards.

In contrast, the section through the gorge was quite calm… until someone mentioned they’d seen a snake on the gorge wall, and the head guide started yelling at us all to get out of the gorge right away.

As we approached the get-out, we paddled towards a footbridge draped in prayer flags, and received confused stares from people who had just gone to wash their clothes in the river and weren’t expecting 15 people in brightly coloured kayaks to float by.

River 3 – The Modi

Like the Upper Seti, the Modi is a boulder-garden style river, with a select few lines winding through the boulders; the sustained, mega-train approach to guiding did not pair well with this style of river, as we were all trying to stay close enough to the person in front to see the line they were taking, but not so close as to lose any space to pick up speed and clear a feature if we needed to.

In a boat as fast as the 9R II, playing such a close-quarters game of follow-the-leader often just simply was not an option, and I found myself on more than one occasion forced into an alternative line, or even having to boof* over the person in front after they’d gotten stuck in a hole**. I was frustrated as this rarely meant I was able to run the rapids with any style, I was just rolling the dice and taking what I was given.

*a move where you ‘jump’ the kayak horizontally over a drop to clear the hydraulic feature at the bottom.

**a type of hydraulic feature often found at the bottom of a drop, which recirculates and can hold a kayak if you don’t have enough speed going through it.

Singing loud to rock music is generally how I vent any frustrations, and thankfully Nepal has a strong rock scene, so we headed out to some of the clubs in Pokhara that evening to embrace it.

There are certain tropes that go along with the rockstar image, and Nepalese rockers have fully embraced those… some lead singers would take advantage of any break in the lyrics to yell, “MOTHERF*CKERRRRR!”, or tell the audience to put their middle fingers in the air, and most bars featured a band delivering their interpretation of Rage Against the Machine’s ‘Killing in the Name’, or ‘Zombie’ by The Cranberries. We jumped around and screamed along into the early hours regardless, knowing there was no paddling the next day.

Looking back now, it feels strange to have had a rest day after just 3 days of kayaking, but when I remember how much of a feat of endurance the coach rides either side of the kayaking were (and yet Nicki had managed to crochet almost the entire body of a lion pattern during these without so much as a scratch!), I realise why it was necessary.

We used our rest day wisely by doing the most relaxing thing imaginable; taking to the chaotic, cavernous-pothole-littered roads of Nepal on mopeds, some of us having never so much as sat on one before. Riding one from the rental shop to the hotel in nothing but sandals and shorts was the first stupid idea, deciding to drive them up a winding, mountain track (thankfully in trousers and shoes now) was the second, and driving them back in the dark was the third; but damn, was it liberating!

Only Alfie, George, Will, and I were stupid enough to take on this adventure, and as lovers of puns, we promptly named ourselves the ‘Momopeds’, with each of us being named after a different flavour of momo we’d found and devoured on the trip so far; ‘Chicken’, ‘Mixed’, ‘Veg’, and ‘Buff’, respectively.

Some much-needed decompression and a small reminder of home came in the form of a rooftop bar showing Rick & Morty episodes on a big screen later that evening. As Morty says, “Nobody exists on purpose. Nobody belongs anywhere. We’re all going to die. Come watch TV.”

River 4 – Upper Marsyangdi

Unbelievably, the Upper Marsyangdi featured only the second cause to get out of the kayak and go take a look at something; there was a chunky, S-bend rapid avoiding a large hole and an even larger boulder. I managed to stick the first move, but on the second bend I went right through the guts of a ‘pit’ of water which threw me and my 9R II over backwards and left me rolling in the confused water afterwards.

The rest of the river was a bit of a cage fight, between technical rapids and big volume, mixy water, but it was all the more fun for it.

That evening we moved to what was without a doubt the worst hotel of the trip; I wasn’t expecting great things from any of the hotels, but this was the only time I had to cocoon myself in my sleeping bag liner to avoid touching any of the sheets or pillows at all. It was a good job I was tired from the river and sleep wasn’t a choice.

River 5 – Lower Marsyangdi

The Lower Marsyangdi offered no warm-up time at all, and it was straight into the meat of the rapids; overall it felt quite similar to the Upper, just a little more continuous and slightly fewer boulders.

Although it was right next a road with trucks thundering past in the middle of the night and occasionally sounding their excessively tuneful horns (as is the fashion for trucks in Nepal, it seems), I think the next accommodation we graced was my favourite. It consisted of some metal framed, canvas tents with proper beds built into them, next to a beautiful pool and a covered dining area where we were served dal bhat for absolutely every meal.

This new accommodation also marked a turning point in the trip, when the head guide left one of the younger members of his crew in charge, and suddenly we were having much nicer, more helpful chats about what we’d be doing the next day.

River 6 – Lower Bhote Kosi

The Lower Bhote Kosi was a step down in intensity, and a chance to unwind a little… so naturally, it’s where I had my first out-of-boat experience of the trip (i.e. I capsized and swam). No cool story, no good excuse, I just let my guard down and gave up a little too easily on my roll. Something I need to work on!

River 7 – Balephi

The get-on for the Balephi was right in the centre of a small town, and a few of the locals, curious about what we were up to, came over as we were kitting up… this made it a little awkward, as after a long coach ride, a few of us were looking for secluded spots to have a wee!

The river itself may have been my favourite, possibly because it was a little low and felt familiar to how in the UK we’re generally forced to experience most runs, with just a little less water than you’d like, or perhaps it was just because it lent most towards the boulder garden style of paddling I prefer, with plenty of flares off smooth boulders up for grabs.

How’s this for a sign of the difference in leadership style; our new head guide had spotted the different comfort levels and preferences in the group and sat us down that evening to talk us through the intended choice of river for the next day, but also to offer an alternative option.

Knowing it was the last river of the trip, feeling more comfortable under the leadership of our new head guide, and reassured by the fact we’d finally be split into smaller groups, I’d decided to go for it and test myself on the harder option, the Upper Bhote Kosi.

River 8 – Upper Bhote Kosi

On the coach ride to the river, I felt the absence of Ben and Sam, both undeniably better boaters than I. Glimpses of the river did nothing to ease the nerves, and neither did the imposing dam being built just above the get-on by a Chinese construction company.

As promised, we were split into three smaller groups, and George, Alfie, and I were in the third group in line… more nerves were gathered waiting in the eddy*. I’d gotten myself to the point where, when our guide left the eddy, I had to follow right after him, get stuck into the river, and just get it done.

*a calm bit of water at the side of the river.

The next 500m or so were chaos; I saw our guide disappear over the first horizon line, then as I planted a stroke at the edge of the same drop, saw the bow of his kayak flying towards my face as he was backlooped by it. It took a few powerful strokes to get me out of the towback, and then I caught a small eddy to see our guide swim out of his kayak. Alfie and George descended the drop and joined the fray as the three of us scrambled to get the guide, his kayak, and his paddles to the riverbank.

Rescue complete, we set off once more… only for the guide to get stuck in another hole and swim again. This time he decided he’d had enough, and the three groups became two. Not the most comforting start to what was an already intimidating river.

The rest of the river was pushy, but enjoyable; I remember distinctly one 90-degree bend at the foot of a towering cliff, which cast a shadow over the whole river. Trying to pick out a route as you hurtled towards the horizon line and transitioned from bright sunshine to gloomy dark was quite a challenge, but eventually I spotted the curling wave we’d be headed through the tunnel of, as well as Nicki being capsized by it… I put in a couple of good strokes and braced myself for a similar experience, but the 9R II’s speed saw me through.

As the river eased off towards its end, we were unwinding and reflecting on its events when I caught an edge and spun towards a concrete wall at the side of the river; I thought nothing of it, until I saw the rusty sections of rebar sticking out into the river. I began scrambling to get away from the wall, when the back of my kayak hit something hard and stopped dead; I had just enough time to look around and realise the bottom of one of the stanchions had crumbled and the stern of my kayak was now wedged in the cage of rebar it had left. I had to get out of there, and quick.

Once I’d exited the boat and resurfaced, I realised I was now in the water and travelling at speed without my kayak to protect me from being impaled. I was thankful that George and Tony were there to help get me to the riverbank though, and eventually I was safely on dry land, unscathed apart from the loss of a shoe. Definitely one of the scariest swims of my life.

With that, the kayaking segment of our trip was over, so we said our goodbyes to the guides and the rest of the group (after one more rock club and a final Rage Against the Machine singalong!), and then made plans for the last couple of days before our flight home.

Nagarkot had come up as having one of the best views of the Himalayas, so a few of us went for one more coach ride to check it out. Our mission on arrival was to find a hotel high up the hill with the best view possible, so we walked up to a group of three right at the peak, decided the first two were too expensive (even though in reality, they were still less than the price of a night in a Travelodge at home!), and booked in at the third. Success(?)!

Will, or rather, his stomach, wasn’t feeling up for the 5am start to catch the sunrise over the Himalayas, so Alfie, George, and I left him behind; in the end, he probably got the best deal as we’d half-jogged a fair distance, snuck into another hotel’s grounds, scrambled through some bushes, and stood on a wall for an hour or so in what we thought was a prime spot, only for a mist to roll in at roughly the same rate as the sun rose, and a swarm of giant hornets to explode from a bush just a few metres in front of us!

Adventuring done, we headed home. Just a few short months later, all the handwashing practice would come in useful when the COVID-19 pandemic hit; I was so glad we squeezed this one in when we did!

Operation: Menorca – Part 2, The Problem With Tarps

It was as I watched the girls putting the finishing touches to their tarps in the fading light that I realised I’d fucked up…

My new Alpkit Rig 7 tarp looked great, but the fact that it required the addition of poles, guy-lines, and tent pegs in order to be of any use had completely escaped me; luckily, Cress helped me to make inventive use of the P&H Kayak Sail Mast (with the attached stays acting as guy-lines), and it wasn’t long before I was fighting with the mosquito net, which also needed tent pegs to keep it in its optimal position, i.e. actually covering any part of my body.

The girls found my ordeal rather amusing, but eventually we all managed to settle down for the night, despite the awful smell coming from what must have been a nearby sewage runoff; it was just as we were drifting off to sleep (or perhaps being overcome by the fumes) that I heard the shuffling of feet on the beach, and then the thud of several clumps of sand hitting our tarps followed by the mischievous laughter of the local teens who had thrown them; it appears that wherever you go in the world, you can always rely on the presence of chavs.

I was suddenly aware that we were camped on a beach that was more or less in the centre of a small town, and that camping on the beaches was reportedly forbidden; the evening was also chillier than I’d anticipated, so sleep didn’t come easy, but I must have managed to drift off eventually as the next thing I knew, I was waking up to the sounds of the girls packing their boats.

The evening before our departure from the UK I’d essentially thrown everything I owned that was even vaguely related to kayaking and/or the outdoors into the car, so most of the morning was spent deciding what I actually needed and loading it into the kayak, being careful to avoid the same situation as last time I’d paddled with Sonja and Erin (I’d packed, rather generously, for what I though was a 5 day expedition, but was actually only a 3 day trip).

Eventually we were paddling out across the bay, and everything was exactly as I’d anticipated; the weather was warm, the water was topaz-esque in both colour and clarity, and perfectly still… until we left the shelter of the headland that is!

Patagonia (1 of 1)-7

Cress, on the Cress-t of a Wave

I found myself paddling side-on to waves larger than anything I’d envisioned at any point after the words ‘no tides’ had been used during planning; my bearings fluctuated between turning to run with the waves, then turning perpendicular to them again to avoid being carried towards the jagged rocks and cliff face to my right.

I was paddling so frantically that I’d raced away from the others, despite my erratically zig-zagged course, so it was a great relief when a short while later (although it didn’t feel that short) we regrouped in a small, sheltered spot. The nerves still had me feeling unstable, but being one of the more experienced paddlers in the group, I knew we’d certainly be figuring out a way to cut this day short and it wouldn’t be long before I’d be on dry land again.

That wasn’t the case; everyone else seemed to be having a great time!

Pride got the better of me, and I kept my nerves under wraps as we peeled out and carried on, I raced ahead once again, eager to get to within site of somewhere to land; it’s amazing how isolated you can feel just a few metres off the coast when all you can see is cliffs, and waves which you occasionally catch glimpses of your expedition buddies over.

Eventually we reached a relatively sheltered bay, and jumped out of the kayaks to allow one group member who was suffering from sea sickness to recoup. They were resolute to continue but I, however, had decided that enough was enough…


Operation: Menorca – Part 1, The Mysterious Banging Noise

This was not the trip I was expecting…

First of all, there was absolutely no drama in strapping 5 P&H Sea Kayaks (four Scorpio MKIIs and a Delphin) to the roof of my car, they just seemed to magically fit; this may be a misconception due to the fact that Tim kindly did the actual loading of the kayaks for us though!

Once the gear (including a beautiful selection of VE sea kayak paddles, and a box packed with shorts, t-shirts and sunglasses from the wonderful people at Dewerstone) had also been loaded up, Sonja, Anna, and I set off to Menorca, waved off by a small group of slightly-over-enthusiastic individuals holding hand-drawn signs (seriously, I work with a group of complete nutters; maybe that’s why I fit in so well?)

Our journey from Pyranha HQ consisted of a medium-sized drive to Dover, a quick ferry to Calais, and an epic mission through France and in to Spain, getting as far as a service station just outside Barcelona before we decided to investigate the ever-increasing volume of the persistent banging noise coming from the car roof; two minutes of fidgeting later, and I’d made absolutely, one hundred percent sure that the front edge of the driver’s side roof rail was no longer attached to the car… damn.

We formulated a plan (and I had a bit of a sulk) in a Spanish Burger King with free WiFi, and after some mildly-excessive use of the spare roof rack straps to secure the kayaks, we set off for a Volkswagen dealership in Barcelona, enlisting a Spanish-speaking friend en route to warn the garage in advance, avoiding us trying to explain the issue in loud, excessively deliberate English garnished with a generous sprinkling of hand gestures.

The lady at the VW dealership was lovely, and spoke immaculate English, but she couldn’t help us; she sent us on our way with the details of two other garages on Menorca, which we had every intention of taking the car to…

The next task at hand was successfully negotiating the maze that was Barcelona’s road network, after which my mood was instantly rectified by the discovery of a harbour-side sushi restaurant, and the following eight and a half hours of sleep on the ferry to Mahon were also incredibly welcome.

We arrived in Mahon ready for breakfast, where a small café with friendly staff offered us ‘tostada’ and were even kind enough to share their knowledge of the local garages, but as most were closed (it was a Sunday), and the issue had become much less pressing now we had made it to the island, the draw of fulfilling the role of stereotypical tourists won out.

Setting about exploring Menorca on foot, it wasn’t long before we were met by Sonja’s equally wonderful mum, Maureen, who by sheer chance had booked her own little Menorcan adventure that coincided with ours!


Maureen and Sonja at the port of Mahon.

After racking up another 3 café visits (including a spot of Tapas… I could get used to this!), we parted ways with Maureen (for now at least), meeting team member number 4, Cressida, before heading for Es Grau to meet Erin, who completed the Operation: Menorca group.

Quite suddenly, I realised the expedition Sonja and I had first discussed during an alarmingly stressful spa visit months earlier (that’s a story for another day) was now becoming reality…

The five of us (Erin, Cress, Anna, Sonja, and myself) then paid a visit to Menorca en Kayak, whose staff were immensely generous with their extensive knowledge of what Menorca has to offer for sea kayakers, going as far as to give us a set of laminated maps marking various points of interest, potential campsites, and places to restock our supplies, as well as promising to keep an eye on the car whilst we were away.

With all the important stuff behind us (at least for today, excluding all that ‘actually-doing-the-expedition’ business that was to come), we settled in to a waterfront restaurant for (supposedly) our last taste of luxury before we began our expedition; Cressida, who I had only previously met via Skype during the aforementioned spa visit, quickly united us all in giggles by ordering a duo of seafood dishes which can only be described as relentless (and that’s coming from me, possibly the greatest seafood lover there is!)

Our final task of the day was to choose our spots on the beach, and set up camp for the night…

To Be Continued.

Immersion Research 7Figure Dry Top Review

I’ll be completely honest, I bought my Methyl Blue 7Figure Dry Top because I already had a 7Figure Dry Suit in Lime Green and couldn’t quite convince myself it was a good idea to have two dry suits just because I couldn’t decide which colour I liked best.

Flying Start

Photo: Kirstie Macmillan, Paddler: Mathew Wilkinson, River: Tryweryn

I didn’t really need a cag, as my 7Figure Dry Suit isn’t too heavy to wear in the Autumn (even though it’s nice and toasty in the Winter), and my Rival Shorty Cag is pretty effective at keeping me comfortable even when the Summer sun starts to fade away.

I’m pleased to say that I’ve had several moments of rational thought on the subject since buying my 7Figure Dry Top though, and I still don’t regret the purchase; it’s great having that extra flexibility in my gear selection for those days where the weather could go either way, or it’s right in-between the perfect temperature for a shorty cag or a dry suit.

The 7Figure Dry Top also isn’t just half of the dry suit; it shares many of the same benefits, like super comfy yet highly durable material, surprisingly high levels of dryness that are yet to fade and a great fit, but it also adds in fuss free neoprene over-cuffs at the wrists.

I gave the dry suit 5 stars, so this probably deserves 5 and a half – it certainly blows any other dry cag I’ve ever owned out of the water, and in the water is exactly where I want to be (or preferably on it)!

Immersion Research 7Figure Drysuit Review

This thing is UNBELIEVABLY comfortable, and I don’t just mean the super silky material that feels almost like it’s flowing through your hands when you first unwrap it!

Not-so-Low Force

Kayaking becomes somewhat of a spectator sport when you’ve lost your boat, but at least I was dry! Photo by Martin-In-Teasdale.

I’ve had drysuits from several brands that have either been way too snug (even when I’m not being overly optimistic with my size choice), or make me look like MC Hammer and thwart my efforts to gracefully traverse even the lowest of fallen trees; the IR 7Figure Suit has no such issues, so I spend much less time squeezing air out of it and barely notice it’s there when I’m moving about on/around/in the river.

I’m probably the definition of an average paddler, so in the 12 months I’ve been using this suit it has seen several rough swims, a few hacks through dense undergrowth and plenty of clumsy moments getting into and out of kayaks, and it’s still bone dry and going strong.

I could complain about the neoprene over cuff of the neck being a little loose or say that the rear entry zip could be slightly better placed, but compared to the other dry suits on the market right now, that would be like saying my gold bars are a little too heavy, or my new Ferrari isn’t quite the right shade of red… This suit is great, and so is the price, so go buy one!

(P.S. I also love the unobtrusive neoprene waistband that keeps the suit up when you’ve taken off the top half, and the bright colours are beautiful!)

Don’t Lose Your Kit, Label It!

I’ve scrawled my contact details (and some funky designs) on to various items of paddling kit using many different implements over the years; Paint Markers, Sharpies and even Radiator Paint have been previous favourites, but I’ve been introduced to a better solution…


2 Sheets of Toughtags and some offcuts of other colours they were kind enough to send me for a purpose you’ll see later…

Toughtags are fantastic! They don’t scratch, crack or rub off and it doesn’t matter how bad your handwriting might be, as they’re printed in an easily readable font!

It can often be difficult to write legibly on smaller items of kit too, which is another advantage of Toughtags, as even the smaller font sizes are still clear.


Two labelled carabiners, and one in progress; Toughtags were originally designed for climbing gear so are perfect for this!

If you’re on a safety course, or dealing with a real life whitewater rescue situation, it can often be a pain in the bum to work out whose carabiners and pulleys are whose after everything has calmed down again; labelling them with Toughtags is a great way to make yours immediately identifiable.

For us kayaking types, Toughtags even offer an extra-long tag that will wrap around any size of paddle shaft (probably one of the most lost items when on the river!) – just send them an email asking for the longer tags!


Comparison of the regular sized Toughtags (top) and extra-long Toughtags (bottom).


Labelling my Werner Sho-Guns with the extra-long Toughtags.

Labelling your kit doesn’t guarantee you’ll get it back, but with no real GPS tracking option that is compact, waterproof, affordable and has a long-lasting battery, it’s the best chance you’ve got; it’s even mandatory at places like Lee Valley (so they know who to blame when a stray item jams the pumps!)

Make sure you include an email address and phone number (with international dialling code), so that whoever finds your kit has plenty of options to get in touch with you. If you have any specific medical needs you could even have these printed on Toughtags to stick on your helmet incase you’re unable to communicate those needs to the emergency services after an incident.

The strong, waterproof glue and durable material of Toughtags isn’t just great for kayaking kit, the offcuts shown in the image at the top of this article were used to replace the tattered colour coding labels on my tent poles, and they’re still going strong too!


P.S. I felt a strong sense of irony when completing this article, as I’ve recently lost my own, unlabelled kayak – should have followed my own advice!

If it Ain’t Broke, Make Sure You Have a Repair Kit Handy for When it is!

Until recently, I’ve never carried a repair kit whilst on the river, under the assumption that if I broke any of my equipment I’d either just deal with it or get off the river.

As Chris Brain pointed out to me on a 4* White Water Leader Assessment though, it isn’t always that simple; the toolbox in your car might be incredibly comprehensive, but it’s no use when you’re miles away in a remote gorge with a loose seat and 6km of grade IV to negotiate before the nearest egress.

Bits and Bobs for All Sorts of Jobs

Left to Right, Top to Bottom: Paracord, Butane Welding Pen, Tenacious Tape, Dental Floss + Needle, Footrest Nuts, Miscellaneous Bolts & Nuts, Waterproof Repair Patches, Pocket Tool, Cable Ties, Permanent Marker, Zip Lube, Waterproof Glue, Spare Bung, Duct Tape, Container, Security Torx Bit, Plumber’s Mait, Plastic Welding Rods, Nylon Nuts, Sandpaper + Stanley Knife Blade.

So, I got to putting together a kit to fix the most common issues whilst kayaking, and here’s what it consists of (I won’t go into too much detail with every item, as most have several, fairly obvious and straightforward uses that would take forever to list, but I will pick out some key pieces and give a little more info on them):

A Durable, Water Resistant Container

I’m generally quite picky with my gear choices, and as soon as I started thinking about putting my repair kit together I had a very clear picture of what sort of container I wanted to use – unfortunately, I had no idea if it actually existed!

What I was looking for was a flexible, transparent, pouch style semi-dry container so I could stuff plenty of bits inside without it taking up too much room in my Ocoee Bag. Initially I was looking at pencil cases and document pouches, but nothing I found had a zip that looked like it’d stand up to any abuse – then I walked in to Tamarack Outdoors and saw the perfect solution, the Exped A6 Sized Vista Organiser.

Duct Tape, Paracord and Cable Ties

Plastic Welding Kit

A boat split is probably one of the worst kit breakages you could have on the river, so it’s worth having something with you to repair it; a plastic weld is the neatest and strongest way to do this.

Some people will just carry a lighter and a teaspoon or similar item to smooth the surrounding plastic over the split, but as usual I’ve gone the whole hog and got an Antex Gascat 60 Butane Torch Kit and some Plastic Welding Rods. I chose the Gascat as the lighter is handily built into the lid, and it’s necessary to buy the kit so you get the flame attachment (I don’t carry the other bits with me). I also have some Sandpaper and a Stanley Knife Blade to neaten up the split before and after a weld.

Pocket Tool

The Leatherman Piranha 2 is very compact, and has a screwdriver and various spanner sizes to suit most brands of kayak. I swapped out the additional screwdriver bits for Allen Key ones, and I also carry a Security Torx bit, as these fit the best kayaks in the world (Pyranha, of course!).

Spare Bung and Footrest Nuts, plus Miscellaneous Bolts & Bits

Plumber’s Mait

This stuff is fantastic for quick repairs of boat splits, or for awkward cracks that can’t be welded easily; it’s a putty-like material which is available from most DIY stores and will set solid, even when wet!

Some people will also carry a strip of flash bang for quick split repairs, but this is very difficult to remove afterwards and I’ve decided that I have enough repair options with the plumber’s mait and plastic welding kit.

Items for Quick Dry Gear Fixes

No one wants to paddle for a long period with a leak in their cag, and it could even be quite dangerous if the rip is big enough to cause any of your kit to fill with water; McNett make Tenacious Tape™ and Patches that can be used to do bombproof repairs on small holes or seams and bigger tears.

Drysuit Zip Lube

Spraydeck Repair Gear

A ripped spraydeck can mean anything from distracting drips on your legs to having to stop and empty your boat every couple of hundred metres, but sewing it back up with cotton thread will only last for a short time before the cotton deteriorates and breaks; instead, it’s best to sew a deck using dental floss and a strong sewing needle, then seal the repair with Waterproof Glue.

I’ve still never had to use any of the above (touch wood), but I now feel more confident knowing they’re always on the river with me.

What’s in your repair kit?

My Manbag is Better Than Yours

Several months ago, I bought myself a Watershed® Ocoee Dry Duffel Bag from Go Kayaking North West, and I honestly think it’s the best step forwards in equipment I’ve made since I moved from separates to a drysuit; here’s why:

Everything is Now in One Place*

Coaches say this all the time on Rescue courses, but it really does help to have all your emergency kit in one, easily accessible place – now if anything happens on the river, I can just grab my Ocoee and have my First Aid Kit, Small Group Shelter, Phone, Simple Repair Kit, Warm Hat, Survival Bag, Head Torch, Snacks, Warm Drink and Car Keys on me for whatever the situation is.

Better still, if I’m not near my boat or I’ve already got my hands full (metaphorically or literally), I can just ask someone else to ‘go grab the orange bag from the back of my boat’ – no long lists, no confusion, no faff.

(*My more ‘immediate’ rescue kit like a Knife, Whistle, Sling, Pin Kit and Throwline are usually even closer to hand in my BA pockets or elsewhere on my person.)


During a canoeing trip on the Spey, I had my Ocoee under the seat with Waterproofs, Suncream, Lunch, Drinks, a Camera, Snacks and a few other bits in; despite plenty of splashes, some rain, being left outside overnight and a fair few hasty closures before hitting a bigger rapid and getting swamped, there wasn’t once a single hint of moisture inside the bag over the whole 3 days.

There’s a great story on Watershed’s blog about an Ocoee that was lost in a river for 3 months, you’ll be amazed at the ending…

The Build Quality is Reassuringly Reliable

The bag fits snugly under the seat in an open boat, and even though it’s been dragged in and out of there many times against the gritty bottom of the canoe, as well as regularly being stuffed in the back of my kayak and yanked out again by one of the straps, there isn’t even a hint of wear or weakness.

The US Military use these too, so I’m sure there’s plenty more than just canoeing and kayaking that it’ll withstand! Much better than worrying about your bag being plagued with miniature holes if you treat it roughly.

It’s Just the Right Size

Being duffel style, the opening of the bag (measuring around 33cm) is along it’s longest side, so it’s super easy to see exactly what’s inside and get to the bigger items without having to take everything else out too. The Ocoee is also an ideal size to carry all the essentials and still fit in the back of your kayak (it’s around 15L capacity and measures roughly 23 x 41 x 20cm), so you don’t have to fuss with lots of smaller bags or part-fill a bigger bag and then struggle with hundreds of folds on the closure and having to squeeze out loads of excess air.

Watershed also do a bigger Chattooga Dry Duffel, and an even bigger Yukon Dry Duffel, as well as loads of other cool things like Padded Dry Duffels for Cameras and Kayak Airbags that double as Storage Bags.

It’s Really Easy to Carry

The integrated carry handle feels strong and is super comfy to hold, which is great as the bag could get heavy if fully loaded with camera kit. The bag itself only weighs a little over half a kilogram, which isn’t unreasonable compared to other ‘heavy-duty’ duffels.

If you’re filling the Ocoee full of heavy equipment, carrying it for long distances or need your hands free, you can purchase a separate Shoulder Strap which is a great addition!

Plenty of attachment points on the bag mean you can easily mount the shoulder strap where you like, or attach the bag to something else you’re carrying, as well as being able to easily secure the bag in your boat so it won’t float off during a swim or if you get swamped.

It’s Highly Visible

Ok, this may not be an exclusive feature of Watershed bags alone, but it’s still good to know that if I put it down anywhere and forget where it is, the light fades or worse still it floats off, it won’t be too hard to find again thanks to the bright orange colour.

You can also get the Ocoee in Blue and Clear, or if you don’t want to be seen, it comes in Camo, Black or Brown too!

It’s Easy to Use

The ZipDry® Closure is really quick and simple to seal, but incredibly effective; it does need lubing regularly though to make sure it closes fully. This type of closure is much more reassuring than a fold closure, and you can fold it down too for extra peace of mind; it’s also easier to leave a little gap for squeezing air out.

Better still, you can get the Ocoee with an inflate/purge valve, so you can get all the air out to make fitting the bag in the back of a kayak easier, or so you can ensure you have enough air in the bag for it to float if you’re canoeing or rafting.


Another thing that really impressed me about Watershed’s products was the option to order them without packaging, which not only saves you money, but is also even more environmentally friendly than recycled packaging.

Lunch on my Own Private Island

The flask peeks out to check if the coast is clear, little does it know that Mat is watching, and thirsty!

The Watershed Ocoee is absolutely amazing for canoeing, kayaking, rafting, general outdoors use or anything; it might look a little like a handbag, but with all the advantages it brings, I couldn’t care less!

Have you ever used one?