Ultralight Freedom in the Backwoods Expedition 85

Ultralight Freedom in the Backwoods Expedition 85

Summer is the season to get lost. And summer days on lazy rivers are near perfection. After a turbulent 2020, when a lot of parks and popular recreation areas closed for the summer, we’re all desperate this season to make up for lost time in the woods. And, I’m not the only person searching for my own slice of paradise.

Finding a quiet spot anywhere this year means I’ll need to pack light to navigate overgrown forest roads. I’ll have to work harder and travel farther to uncover new places. And when I finally arrive, I need a durable and compact craft to explore the water. The Backwoods Expedition 85 is my new ultralight workhorse for solo water adventures.

The Backwoods Expedition 85 paddling in a river at sunset

The Expedition 85, is light and small enough to toss in the back of my truck and plenty capable of handling light chop, lazy rivers, and hidden alpine lakes. At just 12 pounds, the Expedition’s inflatable floor and seat add rigidity and make for a more comfortable paddle. It’s a great companion for fishing and paddling small rivers and lakes or any occasion where you need to conserve space. And after a stretch of warm weather and heavy runoff, the rivers are finally dropping.

I’ve always been drawn to rivers more than any other water. Rivers are constantly changing. They’re romantic and dangerous at the same time. And water running over rocks is some of nature’s best ambient music.

Access to rivers can be tricky, especially if your requirements are like mine – to be essentially alone. The river I’m exploring is known for jet skis and party pontoon boats. Its swimming holes are full early and often. Parking near the easy access points is a headache. But it’s a big river. You can escape the crowds with some luck and Google Maps peeping if you’re willing to burn some calories on research.

I spotted a promising gravel bar on Google Maps, but access wasn’t clear. It was surrounded by mostly private land, without a clear path to the water. I made a few calls to state recreation agencies and asked around at nearby fishing shops. Dumb luck finally revealed the way. There’s a small access road that leads to the gravel bar. It’s unmarked but open to the public. I packed a cooler, a comfortable chair, the Backwoods Expedition 85, and headed towards the river.

Paddler sitting in a camp chair next to a truck and the Backwoods Expedition 85

After missing the unmarked access road several times, I asked a weary resident for help. I got the sense that she didn’t love the idea of giving up directions to the access road, but manners and assurances that I just wanted to quietly enjoy the river eventually won her over. I finally landed on the empty gravel bar. I set up my evening camp as the sun began to set. The Expedition 85 pumped up in minutes and the water conditions were pristine. At 8’-6” long and a capacity of 300 lbs., there’s enough room for one person and some gear storage for longer paddles. The quick-release fin helps me track in currents and is great for navigating shallow water.

Outside of a few passing fishing boats, I had the gravel bar and the river to myself. That’s like hitting nature’s lottery. Sunset painted orange and purple across the sky as I paddled and explored the river. Fish began to rise around me and a chorus of frogs sang. Deer grazing along the bank froze and watched as I drifted past them through the current.

I burned some calories on the search and put miles on my truck. And along the way, I’ve invested in lightweight and versatile gear, like the Expedition. In return, I found quiet and solitude on an otherwise crowded river. It was the kind of evening I’ll be chasing for the rest of the summer.

Truck with a canopy camper parked on a gravel bar with a paddler in the background

Wild Human is a Pacific Northwest-based media agency that tells stories about people and brands that are doing good things for their communities and the planet.

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