Here in the Canadian Rockies, many of the most scenic and rewarding waters to paddle are concealed by soaring peaks and passes in the backcountry. Vivid blue tarns dot fortress-like mountain bowls, and emerald-green lakes collect in pine-forested valleys below tree line. Although there’s no shortage of beautiful water accessible by vehicle, there is a seemingly endless supply of backcountry adventure available to those willing to travel beyond the end of the pavement.

Thankfully, modern SUPs—and high-quality carrying bags—offer the lightweight portability required to access off-the-beaten-path locations in relative comfort. With total paddleboard setups weighing less than the average overnight backpack, new and experienced hikers alike can enjoy these mountain gems in a completely new and exciting way! 

My journey with iROCKER began with a search for the perfect hike-and-paddle setup. After much consideration, I purchased two boards, the NAUTICAL 10’6” for its lightweight design and all-around functionality, and the BLACKFIN X for its enhanced stability and gear-hauling capacity.  

Depending on the outing, I mix and match pieces between the two setups. If I’m not walking far, or plan on transporting gear across the water, I opt for the higher-payload BLACKFIN, occasionally substituting the double-barrel pump for the lighter, single-barrel NAUTICAL pump to save weight. If I’m covering significant distances on foot, or climbing substantial elevation, I take the NAUTICAL, and bring the carbon-shaft BLACKFIN paddle to reduce carrying weight and increase paddling performance. I’ve carried both setups to backcountry locations without much trouble, in some cases many miles and thousands of feet up in the alpine. Here, I’ll touch on a few of the important considerations for those wanting to reap the breathtaking (no pun intended!) rewards of hike-in SUPs.

1. Go Light

The first and most obvious consideration when setting up for hike-in SUPing is weight. As mentioned, many iROCKER setups rival the weight of the average overnight bag and should feel comfortable for many hikers out of the box. The NAUTICAL excels in this regard, and still has the durability and stability required for most outings. The board features cargo straps on the front and rear for securing a dry bag and any necessary gear, and the single barrel pump can be reversed to suck air out of the board for faster and more concise packing. Shave additional weight by leaving behind unnecessary gear (but still bring a paddle-friendly PFD!) and swapping in the BLACKFIN carbon paddle.

2. Choose a Stable Platform
Board stability becomes important when you plan on transporting gear on the SUP, or when paddling on frigid water (most mountain lakes in the Rockies are ice cold!) where falling is not a pleasant (or safe!) option. For beginners, the BLACKFIN is an excellent and forgiving platform, and the board I most frequently lend to first-time paddlers to gain confidence and get used to the feel of being on the water. The higher weight and wheeled bag, however, sacrifice carrying-portability and only make it practical for short hiking distances. It should also be noted that stability is also relative to the operator; experience goes a long way towards feeling confident and stable on any board.

3. More Cushion for the Climb

Nicely padded, large volume bags are what first drew me to iROCKER, and they are a perfect fit for hike-in SUPing. The NAUTICAL bag, for example, fits the board, paddle, and pump with lots of room to spare for other hiking essentials, and can easily accommodate enough gear for overnight trips. The padded hip straps are a necessity when going long distances, as the weight of the bag is more easily carried on the hips than the shoulders. The way you pack the bag matters too. I’ve found rolling the board right-side-up, from tail-to-tip, so that the fin mounts are in the center of the roll, is the best to provide a nice flat surface to place against your back. And a good mountaineering rule is that it is better to carry everything inside the bag (paddle included!) than strapped to the outside.

4. Get Some Poles

Although the realm of hike-in SUPing is still largely unexplored here in the Rockies, it’s only a matter of time before many of the most popular, serene, or photogenic destinations start seeing regular SUP traffic. Naturally, that’s a lot of work on the legs, so it’s useful to carry some hiking poles to get the arms working too! A good pair of hiking poles can reduce the strain on your legs by up to 30%, especially going uphill, and do a lot to ease the impact on your knees when headed back down.

Hopefully, this quick intro to some of the backcountry basics helps expand the horizons for incredible paddling in places you may not have considered before! There is nothing quite like the serenity of dipping your paddle into glassy waters rarely touched, or the humbling feeling of standing in the theatre of some of nature’s most astonishing and hidden spectacles with the unobstructed views that only being on the water can provide.

About the Author:

Hi there! I’m Kayle Luft – a life-lovin’ Albertan with a passion for adventure and the outdoors. I’m a professional pilot, musician, business manager, photographer, writer, and a travel and fitness enthusiast. I’ve travelled around the world, run ultra-marathons, scuba-dived exotic shipwrecks, flown remote skies under the northern lights, survived avalanches and nights lost in the wilderness, and motorcycled, skated, skied, camped, climbed, paraglided, paddled and fished countless hours in the backcountry and all over the Canadian Rockies… An old friend once told me, “The more you LIVE, the more you’ll want to live forever” – he was right, and it’s become a goal of mine to share the joy abundant in life’s adventure. Here's to a wonderful journey!

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IG: @life.of.luft