Saturday, May 11, 2013

Annual Fly Casting Clinic in Bettendorf Hosted by K&K and St. Croix Rod Rep

   The annual K&K Fly Casting Clinic was held May 11, 2013, at Middle Park Lagoon, in Bettendorf, IA.  Dan Johnston, a St Croix Rod rep, Cedar Rapids, and Erik Mattley, a former K&K Hardware employee, were the fly casting instructors.  Approximately 20 people, either wishing to hone their casting skills or picking up a fly rod for the first time, attended the clinic.  Dan provided St. Croix rods and the Hawkeye Fly Fishing Club provided additional rods for those who didn't have their own with which to practice.  K&K Hardware provided lunch.

   Aside from Dan's classically excellent demonstrations of  fly casting techniques & one-on-one casting instruction, he also provided basic information on stringing up the fly rod, how to safely separate stubborn rod sections, and how fly line loads the rod & carries the fly to its intended (hopefully!) destination.

The casting clinic has been held yearly on the Saturday prior to Mother's Day.  Classically, another volunteer provides attendees with fresh breakfast made on the outdoor grill, then beginning fly casting instruction commences, followed with lunch, and then the instruction of the advancement of casting skills rounds out the day.

   To learn more about fly fishing including casting, tying flies, or where to fish, visit your local fly fishing club, fly fishing shop, or, perhaps, an outdoor store. In the Quad Cities region, please visit the link to the local branch of the HFFA's website for contact information and please note that all are welcome to attend meetings or club outings.  For more information, you may also send 'Twitch' an email at .  Finally, K&K Hardware, Bettendorf, IA, offers fly tying supplies and fly fishing rods/tackle.



Saturday, May 4, 2013

AQUAPAC WET & DRY BACKPACK: In-Depth Description & Review

   The Aquapac Wet & Dry Backpack was used in March 2013 on a rainy fly fishing weekend with snow still on the ground.  Also wearing layers for warmth, we hiked along trails and through streams, & ‘bushwhacked’ through the woods.  During the light rain and after setting it in the snow, the backpack remained waterproof & comfortable.  I’ve used the backpack on other fishing/wading trips but no rain or snow was present.  Later, I ‘water-tested’ the backpack at home and the results are posted below.  (11/27/13: Additional updates and comments provided near end of post) (3/17/14: final update on product changes/improvements and customer service provided near end of post)

   This waterproof, IPX6 rated (*1), backpack is made of a TPU-coated fabric with taped seams and has a 25 liter capacity.  Lying flat, it measures approximately 15”W x 26”L.  There are 3 inner compartments to this backpack. The backpack itself creates the largest compartment and it contains an attached, pull-out, inner fluorescent-colored pouch, of similar length to the backpack. This Velcro-sealed pouch has a smaller, clear, velcro pocket fully attached to the pouch’s outer wall.  The fluorescent pouch is water-resistant since the Velcro does not seal fully on the left and right edges. The clear pocket Is water-resistant but not designed to be waterproof.  It is a good location to stowe keys, cell phone, etc.

   The exterior of the backpack has a ~14” long mesh pocket on the left and right sides.  These pockets can hold a thermos, a packable rain jacket, tripod, or a fly rod tube, etc.  There is a small, rear, Velcro closure compartment that contains a ‘back support’, which is a 1/4” thick flexible pad.  It can be removed from the backpack and used as a light seat pad.  This rear compartment could also be used to house a small hydration pack (1.5L to possibly 2L size) when the pad is removed.
The backpack is predominantly black with a small, fluorescent orange overlay, the blue Aquapac logo, and a lashtab with a carabiner.  The adjustable shoulder straps are lightly-padded mesh.  A covering over the mesh allows one to add more carabiners.  There is a sternal strap, adjustable in snugness of fit, and it can also be moved up and down.  An adjustable, unpadded waist strap is present and can be removed.

   The backpack appears designed to optimally fit the average-sized man.  When layered, including waders, for our weekend of fly fishing in winter weather, friend Kate and I took turns wearing the pack and found it to adequately fit each of our body types.  I’m 5’7” & wear sm-med tops while Kate is 5’3” and much more curvy ‘upstairs’ than me (Later, my 6’2” friend, Scott, donned the backpack over a shirt and the fully extended sternal strap clicked in place over his broad chest.).  With all the straps tightened appropriately, the pack held firmly to the back.  It didn’t seem too long for our body styles.  At home, when I fit the backpack over a sweatshirt, I had to fully tighten all the straps to achieve a snug fit.  The dangling portions of the tightened shoulder straps hung down at least 2 feet, necessitating that I wrap them around themselves. 

   The up and down adjustment of the sternal straps accommodated a woman’s shape but also allowed access to the large chest pockets on my wading jacket.  The shoulder straps were comfortable on our trip, but the clothing layers added extra padding.  For a quick trip, simply throwing one strap over my shoulder was comfy, forming naturally to my body.

   It is not necessary to use the waist strap, but it may contribute to an improved ergonomic fit.  On my 2nd outing with the backpack, this strap wasn’t used and I was comfortable & did not experience excessive pack movement.  The waist buckles extend a fixed 3” from their attachment points on the backpack.  The waist strap is adjustable in length and clips to the buckles.  Kate and I both found it challenging to clip and unclip the buckles during each of our turns to wear the backpack.  I helped Kate with a waist strap buckle because she could not adequately reach it.  The 3” buckle length is simply not adequate when wearing bulky clothing or for use on a less flexible person.

   Overall, the pack serves its purpose quite well.  It is a very good day pack for hiking or fishing and would also work well with other pack items on a multi-day float trip.  The main closure seals like a dry bag and the backpack remains waterproof. Due largely to the style of closure, it is not rated by Aquapac for submersion.  To clarify an element of the backpack’s use, An Aquapac representative answered my question about float trips, “Any roll-top dry bag is limited by how well the user closes it. Folds must be crisp and tight, with nothing trapped in them.  If that’s the case, then the backpack will be fine in the sloshing water of your canoe.” (**See March, 2014,  update below, re: waterproof & canoe trips**)

   The interior is especially nice.  Having 2 large pockets, with one brightly colored,
allows one to separate wet/dry clothing or clean/dirty items and to see items more readily than with an all-black interior.  The 3rd pouch, small and clear, is one of my favorite features.  I truly appreciated knowing my key fob was dry and that I had easy access to it.

   If I thought a day would turn hot and sunny, I’d consider using something else when hiking, largely due to the pack’s primarily black color and the lack of any ventilation between pack and back. 

   They aren't perfect, but I really like the exterior, full length mesh pockets.  In rainy/wet conditions, the mesh does not hold water and dries quickly.  However, the mesh did allow cockleburs to attach themselves to the pockets.  The elongated pockets easily held a fly rod tube & a thermos – a huge plus for the cold-weather fly angler!  A typical water bottle sits low in the pocket and it’s not practical to remove the bottle while still wearing the pack.  This is an inconvenience, but more importantly there is little chance of bending over and having a water bottle unknowingly fall out of the pocket.  I wish there was a single, shorter pocket sandwiched over one of the longer pockets to give one the choice of easily accessing a water bottle.

   At most, the ‘back support’ provides very light stabilization to the back (remember, this is for a day backpack) but I definitely appreciate the padding it provides between the pack’s contents and one’s back.  It’s also advantageous that the support is removable for quick drying or to add a hydration pack.     

   I found the shoulder straps to be comfortable and to offer adequate padding to serve
the pack’s intended purposes while keeping it lightweight and quick drying.  The sternal strap adjusted well for snugness, and each half conveniently adjusted up and down along the shoulder straps.  Again, the buckles of the waist strap are too close to the bag which will make it challenging for some to attach/detach this strap, but I don’t feel it’s necessary to use it.  Because I had to wrap some of the dangling straps around their snug counterparts and due to the location of the waist strap buckles, it did take me longer to remove the pack.  While I don’t wish for Aquapac to make different sizes of wet/dry backpacks, I do wish they made packs that came in two different sets of strap lengths to better fit a wider range of body types. 

1)  I put clothing in the backpack and placed the backpack in a small sink containing ~ 4 inches of water.  After 30 minutes the clothing and the backpack’s interior remained dry.  This could represent the backpack sitting in shallow water on the bottom of a canoe.
2)  I flipped the fluorescent interior pouch to the outside of the backpack and then both dunked that pouch and sprayed it and its clear pocket (avoiding their closures) with water.  Their interiors remained dry.  Wet clothing would not affect dry clothing stored in the other pouch & keys would remain dry in the small pocket.
3)  I repeated the first test, packing the backpack with clothing and planning to leave it sitting in water for 1-2 hours.  I’d removed the ‘back support’, put 4-5 inches of water in the sink, & added the backpack.  After 20 minutes I checked on the pack and saw much of the water had drained from the sink.  I checked the backpack’s interior and found moisture at the lower rear section.
4)  The next day, I used the high pressure selection on the garden hose sprayer and & gave the pack a good hosing for a couple of minutes –to represent my home-version of an IPX6 ratings test.  I had not replaced the ‘back support’.  The backpack’s interior again became damp at the rear bottom.  So, I turned the pack insideout, set it in the sink and added water.  Primarily, dots of water appeared right on the bottom rear seam of the backpack, despite that the seams had been taped.  This seam is also the seam for the base of the ‘back support’ pocket. 
 * In August 2013, I followed-up with Aquapac about the waterproofing concerns.  Please see the final paragraph in the 'Verdict' section below for details.

Rated IPX6 waterproof, with no zippers to fail.  Multiple interior compartments with ample space for day trip.  Decent fit.  2 long, exterior, mesh pockets won’t hold rainwater but will hold water bottles, a tripod, or thermos.  Can be used with small hydration pack.  Can attach carabiners.  Lightweight & packs down fairly small when not in use.  No PVC in backpack & it remains pliable in cold weather.  Backpack color blends with environment.  Quick company response to emails and an excellent warranty/return policy.

Waterproof but not submersible due to closure style, & sample backpack did not ‘pass’ home waterproof tests.  Dangling portions of tightened straps are too long for certain body types & waist buckle attachments are short.  Long lengths of exterior mesh pockets make it difficult to access a water bottle while wearing the backpack.  The backpack is black and would make the wearer or pack contents hotter if the day became hot & sunny.

   Would I recommend the Aquapac Wet & Dry Backpack?  During online comparisons of other waterproof backpacks of similar size, the Aquapac seems to be a good bang for the buck & the warranty is great!  Communication with Aquapac staff was prompt and they gave me the impression they really take pride in their products.  This backpack is appropriately simple in its design yet it contains excellent, practical features.  Specific to the fly angler, features on the backpack would make it ideal to:  stow in a canoe for a day float trip; for quick & secure thermos access during winter steelheading; and to carry fly rod tubes during night fishing for salmon.  If the sample backpack had passed my home waterproof tests, I would’ve heartily recommended this waterproof backpack.

   In my opinion, the greatest value of Aquapac's backpack lies in the claim that it is IPX6 waterproof-rated.  My hope is that I simply received a flawed backpack.  If this is not the case, I could not recommend the backpack based on its cost in relation to its limited scope of use in the outdoors.  Again, Aquapac appears to stand behind its products.  I intend to send pictures of the home waterproof test findings to Aquapac.  If there are any information updates or changes to their backpacks, as appropriate I will update my post or write a new backpack review.  
   * August 23, 2013:  After I sent pictures to Tim Turnbull, CEO, in May I was asked to return the backpack for testing.  Not having received further correspondence, yesterday I emailed Mr. Turnbull & reminded him that I would update my post if they had made any changes to the product, etc.  I had a reply sitting in my inbox this morning.  I haven't received another backpack for testing to personally confirm Aquapac's findings, but Mr. Turnbull's response is quoted here:  Hi Lisa. Sorry if nobody got back to you. I checked and this was the answer from the Director who looked into it: “Yes, the sample returned had defective seam-sealing at the base of the bag and on part of the back-protector pocket, where water under pressure was seeping through. We’ve flagged it as a QC problem with the factory and they have said that they’ll pay more attention to it. It was human error. We've tested some random samples by hosepipe and filling with water and I’m happy that it was an isolated or low-volume problem.”  
   *November 27, 2013:  In October I purchased another Aquapac.  Great sale price, so if it performed like the others, I figured it still wasn't a bad deal.  I'm glad I bought it on sale.  While I didn't test this backpack as thoroughly, it also leaked.  I placed it in water similarly to how it might sit in a canoe.  At a minimum, this one also leaked at the region of the back-protector seams.  About 3 tablespoons of water entered the interior of the pack in 15-30 minutes.  I plan to use it in snow or rain but would be cautious in a heavy rain.  On a positive note, the yellow-green pocket remained waterproof when briefly submerged in water to just below its opening. However, the small, clear pocket where a cell phone and key fob would likely be stowed did have leakage from a bottom seam.
   *March 17, 2013:  I got around to letting Aquapac know that this pack leaked, too.  Again, they wanted me to return it.  I opted to use their normal warranty claim process.  I was very pleased. I sent an email and received a response with an RMA number the next day.  It cost me ~$6 via USPS to return it rolled up in a small box.  I received my new pack in less than 1 week from initial contact. Excellent customer service!
   Yesterday I water-tested it. I simply put some weight in the backpack and placed it in a bucket filled with water.  The exterior was about 50% immersed for 5 minutes.  No leaks.  I then sprayed it thoroughly with the shower head.  No leaks/damp spots.  I then submerged it to about 30% from the top for 15 more minutes.  No leaks and heavy beading to the exterior!  Finally I unzipped (Unzipped? Yes, this is a recent change to the Wet and Dry Backpack) the yellow inner pouch from the backpack and submerged the pouch until only the upper 30% remained dry.  Yet another pouch interior remained bone dry.  The small, clear pocket attached to the pouch did become slightly wet inside but it was never intended by Aquapac to be waterproof.  I wish this was sealed better as most folks would likely carry phones etc., in it & extra water-tight insurance here would be welcome.   However, I'm very, very pleased I took the time to go through the warranty process.  I am exceptionally happy with this backpack & I will take it with me on many fishing trips, especially the wet or snowy ones!  
   **During recent correspondence with Aquapac, it was suggested that their new Toccoa Daysack would be more appropriate for canoe float trips.  The Toccoa has welded seams & would stand up better to the long-term water immersion that backpacks are frequently subjected to when placed in the bottom of a canoe.  And yes, a review of the Toccoa might be forthcoming on this blog.
   Tip:  If you plan to purchase the Wet & Dry backpack, check to see if it has the added zipper.  I wonder if Aquapac has also made improvements to ensure its backpacks are more consistently meeting its IPX6 rating for level of waterproofing.    
Any follow-up comments by blog readers would be welcome!  
The Aquapac Wet & Dry Backpack retails for $85-95.00.
   Aquapac was founded in 1983 by 3 windsurfers in the UK.  Tim Turnbull is the CEO.  Aquapac offers an excellent 5-year warranty and return policy.  The company product line includes waterproof cases, bags, and pouches that come with a waterproof rating (IPX) in  either the ‘Submersible’ or ‘Stormproof’ product range.
   Other products that would be popular with a fly angler:  digital or SLR camera cases/bags, especially  items allowing one to take pictures and adjust dials through the bag; similarly-styled cell phone cases and pouches, and very light dry bags with detachable shoulder straps and a divided inner compartment.   (main website)  (Excellent YouTube review of backpack)  (Aquapac’s waterproof rating page & IPX6 summary)

*1)  IPX6 waterproof rating, which is the greatest level of waterproofing in Aquapac’s ‘Stormproof’ product range.
IPX6 Definition: Protected against heavy seas/temporary flooding - Water projected at all angles through a 12.5mm nozzle at a flow rate of 100 litres per minute at a pressure of 100kN/m2 for 3 minutes from a distance of 3 metres.

   I acquired the backpack directly from Aquapac under my request for a review & under atypical circumstances.  Mr. Turnbull, CEO, was aware that I would honestly report any discovered pros/cons in my review.  My earlier viewing of an excellent YouTube review of the product (see link above) had already left me with a positive impression of the backpack, but I wondered how well it would serve the fly angler who both wades and boats.