Luc Mehl Tells Us About His New Book!
Luc, you are a bit of a legend in the packrafting community! Can you tell us what motivated you to write your book?
The Packraft Handbook started as a short safety manual. I had been teaching swiftwater safety courses for the Swiftwater Safety Institute for a few years and wanted to figure out how to get safety techniques out to more people. I was only reaching 30-40 people a summer with the in-person courses. But after writing the safety and rescue content, I realized that it would be even more valuable to write about how not to need rescue! (Duh!) So, I added chapters about equipment, boat control, risk assessment, and so on.
What is unique about your book?
Well, there are only two packrafting books on the market (one is out of print), so it was pretty easy to be unique. The Packraft Book is comprehensive, twice the length as the other books. It is also heavily illustrated (150 illustrations) for visual learners. When I approached Sarah K. Glaser about the project, she explained that she could convey much more than a photograph by showing what happens underwater, motion, etc. She was right! We are all extremely fortunate that she was interested in working on this book.
Who will benefit from reading The Packraft Handbook? Is it more for novices or experienced packrafters?
It really is for everyone. New boaters will benefit from chapters on equipment (choosing which paddle to purchase, etc.) as well as the general river running strategy and concerns unique to open water environments (lakes and oceans). More experienced paddlers will benefit from the trip planning and equipment repair chapters … concepts that will enable them to paddle remote rivers. Some of the most rewarding feedback has been from rescue professionals and Class V kayakers who said they still learned from the book and that it was a valuable resource for all paddle-sport enthusiasts, not just packrafters.
What is it about packrafting that keeps you returning to it over the years, and why have you dedicated so much time to helping others enjoy the sport?
For me, in Alaska, packrafts just open up a ton of opportunities. We have limited road access but tons of water. Hiking has become packrafting, and it is very unusual for me to carry a pack that doesn’t have a boat in it.
I’m a visual person, and I love seeing, collecting as many landscapes as possible. Packrafts have allowed me to see thousands of miles of Alaska that I couldn’t have visited otherwise.
As far as why I’ve dedicated so much time to helping others in the sport … I experienced a significant loss when Rob Kehrer drowned during a packrafting trip. We had been traveling together just a few days before and had a ton of mutual respect. We had also been cutting the same corners (rain gear instead of dry suits, etc.). Rob’s death made me think … that could have been me. There was no reason that it was Rob and not me. So that put me on a ~7 year journey that involved learning to kayak (for better boat control skills), getting trained and then teaching swiftwater rescue, and ultimately creating The Packraft Handbook.
What advice would you give someone who is just starting out?
Start on a lake! That’s what we do in our safety classes. Look at the boats, evaluate the outfitting for entrapment/entanglement hazards (e.g., a paddle leash could wrap around your body in turbulent water), adjust the seat and backband for a proper paddling position, then practice falling out of your boat and climbing back in.
Any must-have gear for going out?
There is a bunch of must-have safety equipment … a good life vest (good = USCG-approved [in the US] Type 3 vest, proper fit, etc.), whistle, drysuit if you are going on cold/glacial water, helmet if you will be in shallow water, appropriate footwear (my worst packraft injury was a broken toe while scouting a waterfall!).
The other stuff I almost always carry includes a knife, lighter on my inside pocket, communication device, and an extra jacket.
Is there anything else you would like our readers to know?
Packrafting has literally been life-changing for me, and I never expected that. I want everyone to experience the joys that I have while packrafting. But I also want people to go into the sport as informed as possible … informed, not lucky. I was very naive about the risks of playing on the water, and it took a loss to teach me that lesson. I hope that The Packraft Handbook helps other people progress safely ... without needing the loss of a friend as motivation.
Thanks so much Luc for taking the time to share with us, we wish you all the best with your new best-seller!
Order your copy of The Packraft Handbook while supplies last. (Shipping is only available in North America).