Paxson: "If there's one 'rule' of packrafting that belongs in the neglected plastic tote of packraft history, it's the notion that the sport requires a four-piece whitewater paddle. True, packrafting emerged on the boating scene with obvious whitewater aspirations, and packrafting's biggest evangelists promoted the sport as a revolutionary way to run gnarly backcountry rapids. Take, for example, the cover of Roman Dial's 2008 book Packrafting! which is something like packrafting's Old Testament. It shows an Alpacka raft half-buried in a frothy mane of whitewater, the boater bracing above the waves with a whitewater paddle. It is absolutely true that packrafts can handle serious water, especially now that Alpacka's thigh-strapped Vectran boats have hit the market. In line with that philosophy, every paddle sold through the Alpacka website (as of July 2016) is oriented toward whitewater.

But it's also true that many packrafters will never use their boats above Class 2, if that. The revolutionary feature of packrafts isn't--or isn't just--that they can handle big water. It's that they're incredibly light, incredibly small, and incredibly portable. While many packrafters will never run book-cover-worthy whitewater, they will float across still lakes humming with insects or down wide blue rivers. Maybe with a fishing pole in hand, and maybe a beer, too.

Which brings us to the Werner Camano. The Camano isn't billed a a packrafting paddle, because it's not. Rather, the Camano is a well-known high-end touring kayak paddle, designed for use with a kayak on the ocean or on lakes. The Camano sports a semi-transparent fiberglass blade and a carbon-fiberglass shaft. LIke all Werner paddles, the Camano is made in the USA, in Werner's Sultan, Washington factory. Though it is sold in a four-piece configuration, the version I used on Cinders is stock from REI, in the clasic two-piece configuration, with a red blade.

On our expedition we encountered two bodies of water: Soluka Creek, in the Katmai backcountry, and the immense Naknek Lake. We hadn't intended to run Soluka Creek, and I was nervous about using the Camano in the splashy, rocky water. The paddle performed very well here, however. It is more than powerful enough to maneuver a packraft, and the length--though not ideal in very tight corridors--allows you to remain more upright in rivers and paddle with a little more finesse. The paddle tolerated plenty of abuse in the bony creek, though it was clearly scratched and a little bit roughed up along the edge after the first day. Though I enjoyed the Camano every second in the creek, it's clear that this paddle doesn't belong around rocks.

As soon as we hit Naknek Lake, however, the paddle performed like a Ferrari. Its light weight and the stiffness of its carbon-fiberglass shaft were clear from the very first stroke. Using a longer paddle (my Camano is a 230) also allows a more comfortable paddling position over the course of a long day. On a lake, this paddle was fast, efficient, and sleek. And there's no doubt that it's a looker, too: its red fiberglass blades are semi-transparent, especially when wet, and when they're backlit they look like spun strawberry candy.

My only critique of the Werner Camano is that the 'Smart View' adjustable ferrule (the connection between the two halves of the paddle) quickly became too tight. Since the first couple uses, I've had to dip both ends of the paddle in water before it will snap together. Once it's made, the connection has zero play. Overall, this is a fault I can tolerate, especailly since the reverse (a paddle that snaps together easily but that has a loose connection) would be worse. Still, this is an annoyance in a paddle that costs as much as a department-store bicycle.

Bottom Line: Packrafters should be much more open to using high-end touring paddles for flat and slow-moving water. The benefits are immediate and obvious. The Werner Camano is a beautifully-executed--and just beautiful--piece of equipment. It is very light, stiff, powerful, and attractive. While it really doesn't belong around rocks or in creeks, it handily outperforms 'packraft' paddles in larger bodies of water."

The Werner Camano on Naknek Lake, Katmai National Park

Compared with a four-piece paddle, a two-piece will be lighter at the ends and potentially a little more efficient. The tradeoff is that your paddle will inevitably stick up our of your pack and can snag on brush while you're bushwacking.

A Werner Camano resting in a Kokopelli packraft, on the edge of Naknek Lake.