Stow Floats

Stow Floats - Green River 1996
Stow Floats – Green River 1996 (photo by Mary)

Stow floats are rear float bags designed to carry gear as well as aid floatation. Until 2012, when a new boat shorter of length necessitated new bags (and a new 4 piece break down, or take-a-part, paddle), I used stern stow floats made of a lightweight urethane coated impermeable material and welded seams similar to, if not the same as, the material used in early models of self-inflating sleeping pads. They sealed with separate, and easily misplaced, slide closures similar to the camping style refillable squeeze tubes of old. Having used them since the late 1980’s, they were as blemished with Aquaseal repairs as a pizza faced teenager. Although I am quite careful with my gear, the sliding and cramming of bags into a boat smeared with gritty sand takes an inexorable, unavoidable toll. Even tiny, imperceptible holes can permit water into stow bags sitting in water within the stern of your boat all day long.

Here’s a tip if you use lightweight stow floats. Upon your return home, fully pressurize them with air (e.g., close and blow them up) and check for leaks by pressing them in a bathtub partially full of water, where escaping air bubbles below water level will reveal breaches and tiny holes alike. Mark the locations by ‘X’ing them with a pencil. When dry, treat with Aquaseal and they should be ready to go for your next trip. Given that I was never entirely trusting of the waterproofness and robustness of these floats, I always carried two large trash compactor style plastic bags with me on river in which to stow gear, in case the inevitable happened. It never did.

Stow Floats - MF Salmon 2012
Stow Floats – MF Salmon 2012

With new boat in mind, I purchased a set of more contemporary bags, one yellow, one red, to more easily identify packed gear on the river. They are much, much heavier duty than other bags, with built in zip lock style end seals and handles for ease of transport off river. These particular bags seem over built for anything but true expedition use, with buckles and straps that can interfere with loading into the stern of a boat, but I don’t see the likelihood of repairs any time soon.

Until my most recent boat, I worked out of only one stow float during the day, packing the same one with lunch or extra clothing needed when paddling (ergo, the color coding). I now carry a third, much smaller, waterproof bag, of the same make as my present stow floats, containing the day’s essentials. It is carabinered into the boat, nestled behind my seat.

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