Spanning over 284 miles in Central Oregon, the John Day River meanders through a diverse landscape of volcanic remnants, ancient basalt flows, and colorful sedimentary layers. It stands out compared to famously green and vibrant mountain rivers in Oregon, both in total scale and in unique geology. It flows undammed across the arid Columbia Plateau, which makes for a fantastic early season packrafting itinerary.
In Early April, my friend Scott Nechemias pitched me on an idea to go explore the class I section of river from Thirtymile to Cottonwood. I’d barely heard of the area, let alone spent any time there, so it took little convincing. Scott, on the other hand, has spent years hiking along the canyons, occasionally using an ultralight packraft to cross the river to connect his footsteps.
His idea was to make a 7 mile approach hike into the river, use packrafts as a floating basecamp, and link up some of his favorite hikes along the way.
That’s my idea of a perfect trip - and exactly the type of itinerary that would be ideal for putting the new Sockdolager Bow Bag through its paces.
The idea behind the bow bag is that it needs to perform well in three scenarios. On the approach hike, it seamlessly integrates with the load hauling backpack as an external pocket for additional storage, including the packraft paddles.
Once at the river, it transitions easily from the rucksack to the deck of the packraft, where it provides easy access to snacks, water, and first aid kits.
And once arriving at camp, a couple of small backpack straps can be attached to convert it into a minimalist daypack for side missions.
On the Approach
Our route to the river was a little under 7 miles, almost all downhill along an old dirt track. The hiking is fairly easy by packrafting standards, and on this trip we were carrying a Hyperlite Mountain Gear Porter 4400, a Seek Outside Divide 4800, and a prototype 85 liter Sockdolager backpack. The bow bag integrates perfectly on each of them - the only difference is the Divide already has an external mesh pocket as a stock feature, so the optional paddle pocket on the Bow Bag is not necessary on that pack.
On the Porter and Sockdolager packs, there are no external pockets so the paddle pocket is perfect for carrying our 4 piece breakdown paddles.
One tip for using the bow bag in this arrangement is to avoid overstuffing it, the ideal setup is for the Bow Bag to lay as flat as possible against the backpack, and avoid stressing the zippers with a bunch of lateral pressure.
On the River
The forecast for this trip was for rain every day, with highs in the low 50s. We opted for all decked packrafts for the added warmth - in this case two Alpacka Gnarwhals, and one Wolverine. Because the Bow Bag has a perimeter daisy chain, it can be laced onto almost any packraft universally, as long as the boat has attachment points for the webbing straps to girth hitch on to.
One big advantage of a lightweight non-waterproof zipper is it is much easier to open and close the zipper conveniently. Where a sealed waterproof zipper can often take two hands and a fair amount of effort to open, the molded tooth Vislon zip is much more effortless. For added security, there is a small loop at the head of the zipper that you can pass the zipper slide through.
As a Day Pack
Perhaps the feature I am most psyched on though is the bow bag's ability to easily convert into a day pack. This is super convenient when you want to do a side hike but not use a full size daypack, or if you are doing a hike away from your boat. The bow bag comes with an optional 1 inch wide set of minimalist straps that clip into the perimeter daisy chain. This is a comfortable setup for carrying some snacks, water, a light jacket - probably up to 6 or 8 pounds. We used this setup for a six mile day hike with a couple thousand vertical, and it performed super well.