Tested: ROBfin Big Boy L Packraft review

In a line
Nippy self-bailing 3-chamber PVC / high-pressure packraft/IK suited to white water and surfing.

A nippy, light, taut IK with raft valves
Tough, German-made 1.1mm PVC
Mini barrel pump will get it to 3psi eventually
Integrated thigh straps/footrest work well
Thick floor forms a keel to limit yawing
It’s heavy for a packraft
Heavier paddlers will still get a bit of wet bum on flatwater
0.2 bar ≠ ‘3.5psi‘ as printed on the yellow label

What They Say
Completely new concept of packrafting. Instead of mushy packraft, you get a High Pressure Packraft from extremely heavy duty fabric, that takes you anywhere and make it fun!
Stable and self–bailing (realy self-bailing) packraft with performance of hardshell boat. Fast and manoeuvrable, good for beginners, for experienced boaters or experts as well.
Packraft for bigger boaters or for long expeditions, sometimes called Big Bro. For paddlers and gear up to 140 kg. Fast and responding boat from extremely tough fabric. High profile bottom with comfortable seat, self-bailing up to 5 secs completely full boat (with standard load).

Price: €750

Out of the box

The Big Boy is the second largest in ROBfin’s range of four packrafts, rated for loads of up to 140kg. Self-bailing holes in the floor set limits on payloads; tape them up and you may well be able to carry more without sitting in water, but heavy hauling is not what a self-bailer is about.

Although PACKRAFT is emblazoned boldly along the sides, this is not your typical, single-chamber TPU Alpacka or Anfibio, but more like an IK with three chambers including an inflatable floor.

Made from stiff, 1.1mm PVC, raft valves and the small Bestway Air Hammer will get 3psi (0.2 bar) in there eventually. The stiff hull works well with the integrated footrest/thigh straps for a better connection with the boat. You may notice below left how the floor expands and thickens towards the back to add more buoyancy in the seating area where it’s needed.

On the Water

Where I live there’s no white water for miles. The Lee River White Water Centre on the other side of London would have been fun to visit, but was closed for Lockdown and requires passing an assessment course before they let you loose on the two short artificial courses.
So the ever-reliable Medway and its sporty canoe chutes would have to do. And with the recent rains the river should be moving right along. But on arriving at Sluice Weir there were barriers everywhere, and the river level above the lock was several feet below the jetty. The upper Medway was closed for winter maintenance works. I’ve been caught out like this on the Medway before. Better to check at http://allingtonlock.co.uk.
So after waiting weeks to try out the ROBfin on a sunny day, all I got was a muddy, flatwater paddle. It was altogether a bit of a washout.

My big IK barrel pump inflated the boat in no time. The yellow conformity label says ‘0.2 bar/ 3.5psi’, but 0.2 = 2.9psi, so that’s what I put in. At this pressure the PVC ROBfin was firm like an IK and not mushy like a packraft. Setting off downstream, the way the floor drops like a keel helps the boat track reasonably well, though you can’t power on without the need to correct once in a while. If you stop it veers off to one side. With gentle strokes, you move along with none of that bow yawing you get with a packraft. The packraft-like 1-metre width meant it was stable too, even with the higher seating position.

As it is, the water level in the boat was only about two inches below where I sat, so any fast moves or turns brought it up momentarily. You will get a bit wet. Judging by some brisk riverside walkers, the boat was managing over 3mph against the current, and back at the lock it was easy to wipe down and dry.

It’s a shame I wasn’t able to get splashy with the ROBfin; it would have been fun to belt flat out down the bigger chutes to test out the bailing, and mess about below them. The taut hull means the thigh straps work well and the short length would make it agile in the rapids. And should you tip over, getting back on would be dead easy. For playing in white water I’d sooner get a boat like this than a decked packraft and the ROBfin is much cheaper than a Chinese-made Kokopelli Nirvana.
Packraft or IK? I’d settle on the latter which might put it up against a 12-kilo, 3.3m Gumotex Safari at more or less the same price. The shorter, wider ROBfin would be more stable a fun boat in the right element. What a shame I never got there.

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5 thoughts on “Tested: ROBfin Big Boy L Packraft review

  1. Steven Brown

    Thank you for your great review
    My 2 questions are:
    1: on a packraft I get a 840 denier floor and 420 denier tube. I understand the tub on the robfin are thicker and probably stronger but I am concern on the floor air chamber sticking down a bit more than a packraft and rubbing on rock and difficult to repair. Do you know the floor denier rating?
    2: I do not seem to have many photo or video of the actual packing size. Is it (despite being slightly bigger and heavier) still easily packable on a backpack for a multi days hike?
    Thanks for you help
    Stephane

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  2. Alex MultimodalPackrafting

    Thank you, as expected again a very thorough and balanced review garnished with yoursignature mix of personal touch and self-deprecating humour.
    Good to know the ROBfin tracks reasonably well, and I am glad you covered the effect the self-bailing holes have on casually paddling calm waters: not really fun without dry pants and a big minus I apprehend and which hasn’t been mentioned in any other review so far.
    Taping up the draining holes sounds like a promising idea, do you think using something like duct tape on the inside would at least reduce the water intake in a significant way?

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    1. Chris S Post author

      Thanks Alex. It was a shame I did not get to use the ROBfin as it was supposed to be used.
      I think with any self-bailer you have to expect some wet bum effect. Depends on paddler weight but some boats are worse than others. Of course if you are hammering through whitewater you are getting wet all over.
      I would tape on the outside – it’s easier to get to and take off. But I would not use duct tape which will leave a residue.
      A thick vinyl tape will do the job and peel off easily. I can see there being days when you just want a dry, flatwater paddle.

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      1. Alex MultimodalPackrafting

        Thanks Chris for the helpful response and the taping tips, and makes sense concerning the general wet bum effect with self-bailers!
        There seems to be an opportunity to try it out later this year and swap packrafts for a day with a Slovak friend, where I would also experiment with packing a light folding bike in the back on calm water.

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