Cross-country swimming along the Devon coast. Jonathan Cowie tests the Ruckraft, a new piece of kit that transforms any rucksack into a raft to tow across water
“He seemed to see, with a cartographer’s eye, that string of swimming pools, that quasi-subterranean stream that curved across the country.”
John Cheever’s short story ‘The Swimmer’, in which the hero, Ned Merrill, decides to swim home eight miles via the swimming pools of his friends and neighbours, inspired Roger Deakin’s Waterlog and has also influenced my own swimming adventures. I love travelling across a landscape, incorporating multiple swims and hikes or runs – it is part of the appeal of swimrun. But cross-country swimming adventures have always been stymied by lack of kit – a towfloat isn’t quite big enough to carry enough gear for a proper day out or a multi-day adventure.
The Ruckraft neatly solves that problem. The concept is pretty simple. A small but sturdy inflatable raft to which you strap a massive drybag in which you can transport all your kit: rucksack, walking boots, food, tent or bivvy, camping stove, sleeping bag. At 70 litres it holds a lot of stuff – its only limit is what you can comfortably carry on your back. Suddenly new swim and hiking routes are opened up, multi-day adventures leap out of maps at you: “We could swim across this lake, then hike along here, then cross this river, then up this fell, then across this tarn, and then we camp here for the night…”
We tested the Rucksack on a day-long swimhike along the Devon coast, using the Ruckraft to transport four day-packs, four pairs of shoes, clothes, towels, flasks of tea and water, picnic and a pair of novelty sunglasses. Our swim gang was me, Alex, Emily and Lisa.
“Just let us know you get back safely,” says the lifeguard on Bigbury Beach.
We are about to swim around Burgh Island, the first swim of our day of cross-country swimming. Our kit is spread out on the tarmac of the car park. The Ruckraft inflates quickly through a two-way valve and we pile our stuff into the massive lightweight drybag (the whole kit – raft and drybag – weighs just 1kg). Then we simply roll down and fasten the bag, strap it to the raft using the three straps, attach the leash around my waist – and swim off!
The sea is dead calm as we swim anti-clockwise around the island. Even with all the stuff I am towing the drag is minimal – it is just like swimming with a tow float.
Once we have completed our circumnavigation we empty out the drybag, get dried and sit on the beach for a warming cup of tea before packing up the Ruckraft. It deflates almost immediately with the wide valve and then rolls up with the drybag and is secured using a wide elastic band. Once packed up it easily fits inside my favourite Alpkit 20l daypack. And then we are off on our first hike!
We spend a glorious day swimming from bay to bay and walking along the coastal path. Even when the sea got a bit choppy, swimming with the fully-laden Ruckraft wasn’t a problem. By the end of the day we are planning a weekend trip to the Lake District to make full use of the Ruckraft – swimming and hiking across the fells before wild camping for the night.
Verdict: A well-designed, well-crafted bit of kit, made in the UK, that allows you to take your adventure swimming to the next level.
The Ruckraft is available to buy from Above Below at www.abovebelow.sc priced £139.99 plus shipping.