Experiences from MRS Barracuda R2 Pro packraft

For last two months we have been spending most of our spare time taking our new boat to places and really enjoying it. We have been paddling in Finland, mostly on small rivers and but also on larger lakes. As there is little information available on Barracuda R2 Pro, I decided to write a post about our experiences so far.

Pack-what?

Barracuda R2 Pro is a two-person inflatable boat that is small and lightweight enough to carry on your pack, hence the name packraft. Compared to regular one-person packrafts, the tandem design makes it a bit more like a normal boat. Not as super nimble and small when packed, but faster and better at tracking.

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Almost inflated Barracuda almost ready for river Espoonjoki.

Barracuda R2 Pro comes with quite a few features. It has built-in white water spraydeck and skirts for both paddlers, as well as an integrated storage system inside the tubes. The material is more robust than on typical packrafts. To my knowledge Barracuda was born out of a collaboration between the German reseller Anfibio (Packrafting Store) and the Chinese Micro Rafting System (MRS).

 

Summary

Barracuda can be best summarised as a jack of all trades. It is not particularly bad at any use case, but also not the best option for any use I can think of. Barracuda works quite well for white water paddling, long-distance paddling and packrafting (trips combining paddling and hiking).

The limits of the boat can be reached in sea kayaking and freighting. Packrafters should avoid large open waters most of the time, but Barracuda does push this boundary farther then pretty much any other packraft (when loaded and used correctly). Also as a freighter a packraft is no match for a hard-shell canoe, but the large Barracuda with internal storage system extends quite far also there (but there are better two-person packrafts for freighting).

Paddling distances

Barracuda is a great long distance boat, for a packraft. This is mostly due to being a two-person boat and hence having better tracking and higher hull speed, but also partly thanks to design choices such as the hull shape and the internal storage system.

The internal storage system is an important feature to use when paddling longer sections of flat water. It basically means that there is an air-tight zipper for accessing the inside of the large side tubes. The boat comes with two dry bags, which have a tube-like shape and each take about 60 liters of cargo. They can be inserted inside the side tubes and attached there. Additionally, there is something like 100 liters of empty space in the front, where you can store large items like an empty haul bag. And of course you can also cram cargo to the rear ends of the tubes, but that might get complicated.

With the internal storage system, you don’t need to carry cargo on top of the packraft, unlike with more typical rafts. Having bulk and weight on the side tubes makes the boat more robust and behave like, well, a normal boat. If I was to travel a longer distance without camping gear, I would actually consider adding some dead weight to tubes. Another important consideration is wind resistance. Without cargo on top of it, Barracuda is quite aerodynamic and low. Our limited experience is that with a wind speed of about 5 m/s (gentle breeze, large waves, some white foam) you can still paddle casually and with 10 m/s or a bit more (strong breeze, large waves) you need to work  hard but can still make good progress. Beyond that it will probably be a real struggle.

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Lake Päijänne with 4 m/s wind.

Barracuda is half canoe, half kayak. It can be paddled in canoe style, with short single paddles and each person working on their own side. Barracuda allows to also have kneeling seat configuration, which I consider the only option for canoe style. I am sitting in the front, but my wife sitting in the back usually prefers normal seat configuration. In any case, having two options is a good thing. In canoe style we reach average speed of  4,5 km/h on flat water with casual paddling. You can get it over 5 km/h with some effort, but it is not maybe worth it. The maximum we have managed was 7,1 km/h, but that was a gym exercise of its own. The boat is snug and comfortable for us, a pair of 165 cm and 175 cm tall paddlers. Very tall people might struggle, though probably the rear seat would accommodate also a taller rafter.

For kayak style both paddlers use long double-bladed paddles. We have not yet experimented with this style, but it seems to be quite popular among tandem packraft users. I expect a slightly higher travel speed in kayak style. You can also quite conveniently paddle Barracuda with a single kayak paddle from the rear seat, as long as there is weight on the front as well.

Single packrafts tend to sway with each stroke, which apparently can be remedied by installing a fin on the bottom of the boat. With Barracuda having a fin would be totally unnecessary and considering how many times we have already navigated very shallow waters, I consider it as a major advantage that the boat has a smooth (and extra strong) bottom while still providing good tracking.

As a long distance boat, the Barracuda is an improvement over one person packrafts. It is a bit faster, has noticeably better tracking and is more resistant both to wind and waves. A normal hard-shell kayak will still pass you without much effort, though.

Running white water

We had close to zero experience from white water before we got the Barracuda and still our experience would round down to zero on most scales. Even though Barracuda is basically two MRS Alligator 2S Pro white water packrafts attached together, it is not primarily a river running vehicle. But it handles white water better than most other two-person packrafts and should also outperform a typical hard-shell canoe, maybe also larger hard-shell sea kayaks, being smaller, easier to turn and less likely to flip.

The advantage of a one-person packraft is that it is very short and nimble, so that you can navigate among the river’s features and stop on eddies to plan ahead. They also go over rocks with just a couple of centimers of water. Also in this case the Barracuda is more like a regular boat. It is still quite nimble, but not insanely fast to turn like one-person rafts and does not fit in the tiny places where smaller rafts do. When trying to go over larger rocks with very little water on them, the Barracuda will get stuck from between the persons or under the rear person. But it will not flip and getting out is quite easy.

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Gentle rapids on river Perankajoki, Suomussalmi.

So far we have been running class I-II+ rapids on our river and lake trips. That level you can do with canoe style paddles, but it has become evident that for any serious white water fun you need to paddle in kayak style. Also, the kneeling style is a no-go on river sections with rocks, so you will need to change seating styles quite often. Knee pads might make river running less painful, but you still would get stuck more easily on the shallow bits.

For white water purposes, the Barracuda has extra strong materials and a white water spray deck. Using the spray skirts is quite essential, as is attaching the seats properly when running anything a bit faster. The internal storage system is a great thing to have, because it turns your cargo from a problem to an advantage. If you flip the boat, it is easy to flip back, unlike a normal packraft with a backpack tied on top. And the spray skirts detach easily, should you roll. So far we have tried these features once in a real situation.

Packing, rafting, portaging, camping

Finally we come to the core of packrafting: packing while rafting (or vice versa). This is the area where the Barracuda probably shines the most. It provides 60+60 liters of internal drybags, something like 100 liters of additional internal space, maybe 20+30 liters of space under the deck and of course many options for attaching cargo on top of the boat, as well. Under the deck you have space in three places, but 1-2 of them will be occupied by your feet and if you change your seating configuration and have larger items there, you need to also move them. Without the fixed spraydeck you would have more flexibility, especially when it comes to bulky items.

People are often surprised by the internal storage system. Sounds awkward? What if the zipper leaks? Will it still float? Will it make the boat handle poorly?  After a bit of training it really is not awkward. As long as you can keep of your stuff in the long drybags and not having to repack, getting them in and out of the boat is not that much of a trouble. There are attachment points inside the tubes, which you should use because otherwise your cargo will shift during portage and on white water. It is too early to comment on the longevity of the system, but the general consensus seems to be that the zipper works on the long run, if you don’t operate it when dirty.

When it comes to buoyancy, rest assured, the boat will float also when the tubes are filled with cargo. Your cargo will still be mostly air, so it has little impact on buoyancy. For example, 100 liters of camping gear could weigh 30 kilograms. So it is only “replaces” 30 liters of air in the tubes, not 100 liters. As mentioned previously, putting cargo inside the tubes of the boat will not make it handle worse, but quite the opposite. This is one of the key selling points of the whole contraption.

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Still waters of Repovesi National Park. Highly recommended for packrafting!

On water, your cargo will not very likely be a problem. What about the packing part? Barracuda is a packraft, so it packs well. However compared to single rafts you need partly different strategies. If you pack the boat carefully and squeeze hard, you can fit it inside Osprey Talon 33 and attach accessories (paddles, skirts, skirt coamings, inflation bag, internal sacks, vests, repair kit) outside the Talon. The other person can then carry snacks, camping gear etc. Most of the time you would want to choose a bigger pack, though. The challenge with big proper backpacks is that you have to attach them on top of the boat when paddling, as they cannot be rolled.

We use two Osprey X-Tremer XL 113L bags (with matching red-black colors, of course), which are large enough to take a lazily packed boat, all accessories and both of the 60 liter cargo bags as they are. Portage is then simple when you can just stuff everything into the X-Tremers and go. When paddling, you can roll and store the X-Tremers inside the internal storage or have one of them partly rolled on the deck as a daypack. So far we have had the other bag on the deck, with lunch food, stove and some extra clothing in it. It might be actually more convenient to keep it also inside the boat, as it probably takes only minutes to get the boat inflated again after a lunch break. We will experiment with this approach in future.

 

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You can dive, too.

It takes less than 10 minutes to inflate and set up the boat from scratch. Most of the time it still feels too much for a short portage and you want to carry the boat as it is. If you have a small packraft and have attached your pack tightly on top of it, you can often just lift the whole thing on your back. With Barracuda your weight will be mostly on the internal bags, so a different approach is needed. We have added attachment points on the flat sides of tubes (one in front, one in middle) and bought wide nylon carrying straps. With those straps, two persons can easily lift the loaded boat and carry it for some hundreds of meters.

You can also drag the boat on the ground. However we don’t want to do that, as the bottom gets enough beating already on shallow waters and rapids. In some special cases this technique is needed, like when passing between two close-by trees, and of course when landing and launching.

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The longest portage in Hossa National Park. Probably would have been better to just pack it.

We have been doing packrafting trips of 1-3 nights out, sections of hiking up to 5 km, and very frequent short portages. Besides portages, we stop for snack and lunch breaks, or sometimes have them on the boat, as you can turn around to face each other and even operate a Jetboil-style stove on the deck (!)

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Morning, well, a late morning, on Hossa National Park.

Barracuda starts to feel like a camper van when you have travelled with it for some time. Or maybe even better, you could describe it as a giant purse. During the daytime you have all of your stuff there and lug it around, by paddling most of the time (hopefully). In the evening you rip the “purse” open and build a camp, leaving the empty hull lay on the beach for the night. And on the next morning you pack it all up and are ready to go again!

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