KIT REVIEW: RUCKRAFT

Cross-country swimming has got ‘next big thing’ all over it. Kate Rew tries out a brand new piece of kit: the RuckRaft

I have often wondered what could be better than swimming. Simple, outdoor, A to B swimming – getting into a river in one spot, and making my way downstream to another – is my thing. With the invention of the RuckRaft, Will Watt might have given me the answer: cross country swimming….

I have been doing A to B swims since I was a child. Methods used to deal with being separated from my clothes by the end of a swim have varied over the years, and include running home as fast as I can dodging cowpats (the early years), walking 10km in my wetsuit to the start of the swim (the middle years) and giving everything to my husband and children (the dependent years).

Well A to B cross country swimming has just grown up, with the invention of a ‘RuckRaft’, literally, a raft for your rucksack. As swimmers we’ve all seen things before that could carry kit before. Drybags and surf leashes were an early precursor to tow floats, and in 2008 a swimmer called Peter Hayes wrote a book called ‘Swim Hiking’ and invented a “swimsac” (which there are instructions on how to make your own swimsac out of a drybag, bag and armbands online). But we’ve never seen anything as smart and as purpose built as the RuckRaft: a fully inflatable, made in Great Britain, raft for your rucksack that comes with a giant drybag into which you can pour everything: tents, walking boots, picnic and as many layers of clothes as you need on for a weekend of cross country swimming.

The RuckRaft is brand new on the UK market, released 20th June. I was given a prototype to test on a recent weekend in Pembrokeshire. Here’s how it faired:

 

The claims – and the reality:

  • Packable and lightweight – 1kg. True! The inventor, Will Watt, comments that we all have our favourite rucksacks, so which for me is absolutely true – my very simple 30L ALPKIT Gourdon rucksack goes everywhere with me and happily accommodated the RuckRaft.”My friends and I have been exploring new routes across land and water – cross country swimming – for years, mixing together different bits of kit to get us from A to B whilst carrying all our gear. But nothing quite worked. Waterproof rucksacks aren’t great for hiking (no back support) and many don’t float, so can be hard to tow when swimming. Also, many of us already have a favourite, comfortable Rucksack. For swimming, tow floats are often too small to carry the kit (and picnic) you need for a good day or overnight adventure. So I created, The RuckRaft®;  which transforms any rucksack, of any size, into a raft.”
  • XL 70 L dry bag: this is huge! The prototype came without instructions so I attached it to the raft incorrectly before swimming through choppy seas, so don’t follow the images here, follow the instructions (I ended up with a slight leak in very choppy seas). The correct way is shown on the actual product.
  • 2 way valve that inflates in 30 seconds: true! Barely felt dizzy.
  • Tough materials: true. Everything about this product screams well made quality.
  • Easy to tow: true! So easy that on one swim I ended up towing an 8 year old child on top of my rucksack, and swimming was still easy. I am sure towing children is in no way recommended or advised, but the remarkable thing was that it was so easy to add that much weight.
  • Easy to swim with: the toe-tap I experienced with my leash the maker puts down to it being a prototype. ‘Your leash was too short, the new leash is 50cm longer at 2m. No tow-tap 100% guaranteed,’ says Will.

Summary: Beautifully designed, functional piece of kit that opens up a new world of cross country swimming.

The RuckRaft costs £139.99 (plus postage and packaging), and for 2019 is exclusively available through www.abovebelow.sc. Expensive? That’s always relative. “For the price of a night in a fairly crap hotel a whole new world of swim adventuring opens up!” says Will.

 

Almost certainly not recommended or suggested – but as a test of weight, an 8 year old child became remarkably easy to tow

CROSS-COUNTRY SWIMMING: THREE ROUTES

Will Watt, the inventor of the RuckRaft (his brother is the designer), shares three of his favourite cross-country swim routes. For more routes, see AboveBelow:

RIVER CAM, CAMBRIDGE

An 8.2 mile day trip including a 2 mile swim: punting, poets, nudity, swan fights and scones

Start at Cambridge train station and run over to Grantchester Meadows. It’s then a mile or two run or walk down the side of the river to the Orchard Tea rooms (tea and a scones are first class).

Then to the river. Put your swimming kit on, land gear packed into the RuckRaft and swim back up the river you just walked down. As you near the end of the riverside paths, keep swimming round two bends in the river until you come across the small, quintessentially English paradise that is Newnham Swimming club. It’s possible to join the club for £15 and it’s well worth it (the club has a naturist policy if that appeals – it does to us).

After messing about at the river, walk or run through Cambridge, along the backs of the colleges to Jesus Green Lido for a final swim. Finish with a wander back through Cambridge with a stop or two at the finest pubs (we like The Pint Shop, good Scotch Eggs).

LAKE DISTRICT

This two day trip inspired the Ruckraft. Day one loops around Loughrigg Tarn, day two takes in Grasmere, Rydal Water and Buckstone’s Jum.

Up early (before boats start at 10) and swim across Windermere from Brockhole jetty – this is perhaps our favourite launch spot ever for a swim. Swim over to Wray castle (and a stop for a coffee and cake). Then a swim around to Wray campsite and walk over to Skelwith Bridge. Dip in River Brathay, Elter Water and then a lovely hike over to the spectacular Loughrigg Tarn. After a swim there we headed up to Langdale YHA for food and bed (a few of us returned in the dead of night, and a full moon to Loughrigg Tarn for a magical skinny dip).

Day 2 was down to Grasmere, swimming the length and then a short walk through to Rydal water swimming it’s length from the beach. Hike up to Buckstone’s Jum for a dive and dip. From here you can walk down to Ambleside and Windermere, over to Ullswater or something else beautiful…it’s the Lake District.

This was the trip that inspired the Ruckraft. Be careful of Biosecurity and make sure you rinse your kit after each swim if possible, to avoid transferring NZ Pigmy Weed.

RIVER WYE, WALES

A day trip around Symonds Yat

River swims are perfect for the RuckRaft because with the kit you can swim, float downstream far as you want, safe in the knowledge that you can get out at any time with enough clothing, food, shelter to warm up, walk on or walk back.

We started at the Wye Valley YHA (camping possible) and swam, walked to Yat Rock where we paused for a picnic. From there it’s possible to swim the big loop (with current) all the way round to Symonds Yat and the famous Saracen’s Head pub or just swim half of it, get out, pack up the RuckRaft and walk into Symonds Yat. Either way, the Saracens Head pub is a good end point.

Kate Rew
Tim Bridges