Author Archives: Chris S

TPU Inflatable Kayaks: the Missing Link

Pictures from Zelgear and Marcin S

These days IK are mostly made from PVC, be it the hull or the bladders. Just three main IK brands still using old school synthetic rubber: Gumotex (CZ), Grabner (AT) and NRS (US). PVC gets recycled, is made everywhere and so is cheap off the roll and easy to heat weld. But is it only me who finds something unpleasantly ‘plasticy’ about PVC: the stiffness, the texture, the smell and maybe the eco-stigma.

The only PVC IK I’ve ever owned punctured on the slightest thorn and went on to do that with the next owner. And this was supposedly quality Mirasol PVC from Germany (to be fair, a mate with an older K40 had no puncture problems whatsoever). I can’t imagine any Gumotex or Grabner I’ve had ever doing that. That’s why I persevere with synthetic rubber IKs, even if I believe it’s becoming an expensive dinosaur fabric.

Synthetic rubber coatings like Nitrilon and EDPM are derived from the original DuPont hypalon. Boats must be entirely hand glued which adds to costs. But, in the same way nothing man-made has yet managed to beat the properties of leather for crashing fast motorbikes, compared to PVC, synthetic rubber remains more durable and more resistant to UV, lighter, more supple, easier to glue and easier fold compactly. After 15 years there was no noticeable deterioration in my Sunny, (below) other than a decade and a half of paddling wear and tear. A synthetic rubber IK will easily outlive a similar PVC IK.

Packrafts, meanwhile, are mostly made from TPU (as well as PVC), a different sort of polymer coating which has many of the benefits of synthetic rubber: odour-free, smooth texture, light, UV resistant, supple (crease-free), not environmentally toxic. But, like PVC, it too can be heat welded. Since Alpacka got the ball rolling, there are now loads of brands banging out TPU packrafts left, right and centre. In this time the fabric and seam technology have proved themselves to be as durable as PVC or rubber, and capable of running higher pressures. As someone on the internet observed: ‘Thermoplastic Polyurethane (TPU) is the link between rubber and plastic’.
For inflatables TPU is clearly superior to PVC in all ways except price. “It has properties between the characteristics of plastic and rubber. So, it is flexible without plasticizers, and its flexibility does not affect the design or its strength and durability.” Link

In a way, my 3-metre MRS Nomad packayak (above) was as much a TPU kayak as a packraft. With just 2psi or so, it was able to hold its shape (or my centralised weight), but now costs nearly €1400 in the decked version.

Zelgear TPU IK

While researching the Zelgear Spark 450 preview I found a 2018 ZelGear catalog. It states their now discontinued 5.2m PVC Igla IK can be requested in TPU (or the similar and much stronger Vectran which Alpacka use for their top-of-the-range packrafts). There’s more here. The weight of this long boat: is said to be just 15kg. The cost? $2000 I was told.

You may wonder if relatively thin and flexible packraft TPU could support a 5-m IK? TPU coating is also said to be more elastic than PVC, but it can’t be any more elastic than rubber. And anyway, a stretch-free scrim (woven core) takes care of that; the coating is primarily for impermeability.

An IK needs to be a lot more rigid than a relatively short and squidgy packraft. A lot of that is down to the fabric as well as the psi. That’s one good thing about inflated PVC: it’s stiff. You’d think a TPY IK would require high pressures to support a long boat which would then require bombproof seams. But add a drop-stitch floor (left) in TPU to take the load and the tubed sides would be under less pressure, so to speak. This Zelgear blog post from 2018 mentions some “some technological issues are being resolved“. I’m told Zelgear are on it.
Pictures below by Marcin S from a boat show in 2018.

With all these Asian-made TPU packrafts knocking about, some using locally sourced fabric whose quality – in my experience – is as good as the Alpacka stuff, the cost of TPU fabric may drop to a level matching the few ‘hypalon’ IKs still available.

A few years ago I predicted that full drop-stitch IKs would become the new thing. This has happened and has driven IK design and sales a long way forward . But, PVC aside, I’m still not convinced by the boxy profiles and packed bulk of FD-S IKs. Until FD-S forms can evolve (as the Itiwit X500 has shown), I think drop-stitch floors (D-SF) are certainly the way to go, if an IK is to stay undecked, unlike the X500.

There will always be a demand for cheap vinyl or PVC IKs but I predict the next big thing in high-end IKs will be TPU, including removable D-S floors in TPU. TPU is now well proven with packrafts and blends the heat-welding benefits of PVC with nearly all the better attributes of ‘hypalons’.

Seawave 2: fitting a footrest tube

Owning several Gumotex IKs with the rubbish footrest pillow (left), I came up with my footrest tube idea years ago. It’s since been copied (or maybe just implemented) by many manufacturers.
In a kayak, a footrest isn’t something you rest your feet on while watching Netflix. You lightly brace against to stop you sliding down in the seat and to improve you’re connection with the boat. To that end it wants to be solid, not mushy.
I was never really that happy with my Seawave’s drainpipe arrangement: an adjustable strap running forward from the seat and a counter-tensioning elastic pulling from the bow to keep the tube in position. Too many straps, with entrapment and aesthetic issues. All I really needed to do was glue on a couple of D-rings either side of the footrest, but I like the idea of reversible (non-permanent) modifications.

Then I remembered a clever idea someone passed on to me: straps threaded through a small piece of plastic pipe. You can buy them ready-made to jam into car doors to lash stuff down. As was suggested, these anchor straps could also jam into the cavity/channel you find on most tubed and even FD-S IKs with removable floors, where the floor meets the sides to make repositionable/removable lashing points. Also, they are dead easy to make.

As footrest tube strap anchor points they work especially well because the tension on the strap is sideways (towards the bow) for better jamming, and they can be slid forward along the channel when paddling two-up and beyond the adjustability of the strap. And best of all, no tedious 2-part D-ring gluing required.

Tested: Ortlieb Duffle RS140 review

In a line: Huge IP67 submersible roll duffle/backpack with integrated ‘trolley’.

Cost: £180 (shops seen from £185, typically £230).

Weight: 3170g (verified).

Where tested: A mile’s walk to a river on road, track and path.

ortRSspek

tik • Durable wheel design
• Rolls up
• Waterproof TiZip
• Non-rigid design less prone to damage
• Lockable main zip
• Exterior mesh pocket
• Detachable backpack harness
• Rigid handle eliminates bobbing
• Easy to remove wheels

cros • Costs a lot, but so do they all in this size
• PVC feels a bit thin
• Little mud clearance for wheels


ort140

What they say
… the Duffle RS is made to withstand the rigours of the most adventurous of expeditions while at the same time offering a high degree of travel comfort. The bag’s heavy-duty wheel system is connected to the body of the bag in a waterproof manner. The 100 mm wheels and the rigid floor plate made of contoured aluminium offer increased floor clearance – ideal for both airport terminals and rugged outdoor terrain. And given the importance of lightweight luggage, especially when travelling by plane, the bag’s designers opted for an adjustable grip that guarantees plenty of leg clearance and comfortable towing instead of a heavy telescopic towing frame. The foam padding at the base of the bag offers enhanced stability when the bag is fully loaded and the watertight zipper that runs across the whole length of the bag gives you quick access to your gear. The zipper can also be locked using the integrated wire loop and a small cable lock (not included).


Review

nzwhit-10

In need of a replacement for NZ, I chopped down a cheap folding trolley and lashed it to my trusty 96-litre UDB sausage bag (left). It was unstable but worked pretty well and all weighed in at just 2.7kg. With airline baggage limits at 22kg or so, luggage weight becomes important, but luggage must also be robust enough to withstand rough treatment, not least by baggage-weary baggage handlers.
This bodge was a valiant attempt at not splashing out on Ortlieb’s RS140 Duffle which I’s been eyeing up for months and fitted my needs: a stable and submersible roll bag with good clearance and integrated wheels. A few months later an unused, RS popped up on eBay about 20% cheaper than the shops and, like the feeble consumer I am, I fell for it. More gear, sigh…


ortort
ort-rg

Orlieb does two types of wheeled duffles: the RG (‘riGid’) series in 34-, 60 and 85 litres with a rigid floorplate or frame supporting an extendable aluminium handle (right), like regular wheeled luggage. And the more unusual frame-free ‘roll-able’ RS (‘Saggy’) series in 85, 100 and 140 litres.

ortwheel

Wheeled duffles are nothing new: all the major outdoor outfitters do models up to 140 litres. But like the Ortleib RGs, they all use rigid frames for the telescoping handles which sees weights exceed 5 kilos. None claim any level of IP-rated submergibility and few have a backpack harness which, at huge capacities, is more realistic than a shoulder or holdall straps.

In a kayak and especially a packraft, a rigid bag is a nuisance. Only the Ortlieb RS can be rolled up (below left) and only the 140 is big enough to easily swallow a big IK and gear (below right).

With wheeled bags intended for rugged terrain, large 100mm ø wheels roll over irregularities better and can give better clearance. What’s important is a solid mounting as the bearings or axles get a hammering when loaded up on rough ground. The RS’s wheels have a smooth solid feel and have replaceable bearings and the solid alloy plate – effectively part of the axle – also takes the knocks from stones. The wheels are also easily removable with a 3mm hex key. Handy if a stone gets jammed in there or mud clogs then up

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It’s the full-length TiZip which makes this bag special; IP67 rated which will do me. Because it’s long, getting my Seawave in there was easy and left 30 litres for camping and paddling clobber. If you just want a day transporter for a solo IK, the RS 100 may do you. When closed, the zip end hooks on to a stud and you can slip a padlock under an embedded cable to lock it in place (above right).
On the water, the idea is that, once you’ve deployed the boat, the bag carries the rest of your camping stuff in a more compressed form, plus with a guarantee that it won’t get wet inside. This makes the RS a truly do-it-all big-hauler on land and sea.

At the other end the two-part handle has a rigid bar and an adjustable strap for length and I found the bag rolled along better than my UDB lash-up. It didn’t bob because of the rigid handle, and it didn’t catch my walking legs either. Finally, a comfy roll bag.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Inside, a 20mm-thick foam base is glued in to protect the floor from sharp impacts; the floor gets an additional layer of Cordura on the outside too. And the compression straps incorporate a zipped document pocket. The backpack straps are thin and basic – good for stairs but not really fit for the north face of the Matterhorn. But the whole frameless soft bag sags nicely across the back and is surprisingly comfortable at 20kg all up. You’ll want to carry it on paths as below as the mud soon clogs up the narrow gap around the wheels.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The backpack straps join up with velcro to make a carry handle and there’s another handy grab handle at the wheeled end. The backpack straps are removable so could easily be replaced with something cushier, but it’s a big load to carry on the shoulders for long.
Four bag-top tabs (not really ‘daisy chains‘) allow you to lash on yet more gear, like paddles. There’s also a small zipped mesh pocket (left).
The PVC is the same thickness as regular Ortlieb roll bags. For something able to carry such heavy loads and getting knocked about in and out of airports, I’d have preferred something more durable. That would of course add weight, and one good thing with this stuff is that it’s dead easy to repair, either with tape or a dab of Aquasure.

My 100-L Gumotex Seawave backpack has been rolled up from new and is stashed for when the boat gets sold. The RS is now the Seawave’s spacious travel bag. It rolls along just as well as you’d expect: nice and stable (unlike my UDB trolley set up), has good clearance and protection, (although the Cordura picks up the dirt and mud) and sits surprisingly well on the back for a frameless backpack. My 4-part Manta Ray paddle fits right in, along with a foam PFD, barrel pump and all the other day-out knick-knacks. Full camping gear with Seawave may require an extra bag.


Adding an oral inflation/suction valve

Some reviewers say the RS is saggy to roll when not packed full. I suppose that may be true. But because the RS should be airtight, fully inflated or vacuum sealed, it ought to hold that form and be less of a wheeled sack. Yes you can squish it down and do up the zip, quick. Or you can fit an oral inflation valve protected inside the exterior mesh pocket (left). They’re hard to find online; try here or here.
Now I can suck the bag down, much like I would a boat using the pump in reverse to get it compact. Do it to RS and the bag becomes ‘vacuum sealed’ and much stiffer. There’s less chance of the belly dragging on rough ground and you’d like to think less chance of snags from loose folds. Fully inflating would not be quite as effective as I find the bag cab be into an annoying bob as you walk because the air can compress. Sucked down it’s as stiff as a board.
Another good reason for a valve on a bag like this that you can blow it right up as a buoyancy aid to cross a narrow but deep river, or to get ashore after a razorbill puffin bites your boat. Either way, for wheeling rigidity or emergency buoyancy, an oral inflation valve is handy when using such a bag for paddling.

Sealed bags on planes
Whenever I checked in my UDB for a flight I always opened the zip a bit so it wouldn’t burst or strain the seams in the decompressed hold. Turns out I was over-thinking it.
Cargo holds are pressurised at the same level as the rest of the craft; a tubular fuselage shape (right) requires it to spread stresses evenly. Yes, it is reduced to 20% less than sea level pressure. That’s why some containers occasionally leak a little.


Seawave 2: what’s the damage?

Seawave main page

Though not totally convinced by the boat, I planned to buy the new Gumotex Rush 2 in the early summer of 2020. I sold my old Seawave easily but by the time I dithered, UK lockdown discounts had ended. Soon availability of Rushs everywhere dried right up, along with so many other IKs in 2020which saw prices shoot up.

Eventually it transpired the Rush wouldn’t be back before spring 2021 (was there some flaw with the new design?). Needing a boat for a book cover, with help from a Czech chum as a go-between, I bought a second-grade Seawave direct from Gumotex, saving 15% on the CZ price (Gumo won’t sell these specials outside CZ). This was just before the price went up to nearly €1300. As predicted, Gumotex prices have risen across the board; the Rush will be €1500 for spring 2021!

Defects … are only of a visual nature (abrasions, patches, larger amounts of glue, stamp imprint, etc.) and do not affect the driving characteristics and life of the boat.

Rather unnervingly, the exact nature of each boat’s damage is not specified or identified by Gumotex. It’s the luck of the draw. On unpacking the new boat it took me a while to locate a barely visible patch on the side (left). It may not even be a hole (hard to believe how that could happen in the factory), more likely a scratch or a nick down to the scrim.

Anyway, I’m happy with my Seawave, one boat i don’t mind owning again until something better comes along. The only difference I can see between my old one are grommet/ports for the rudder kit on the stern deck. The new fabric also feels oddly tacky, like TPU, something I’m sure will go away.

The seats and footrests are the same old over-weight rubbish. Gumotex aren’t making any innovations here. Just as with my first Seawave, before the boat got wet the seats went onto eBay for fifty quid, bringing the price down a bit. I refitted my proven packraft seatbase/SoT backrest idea.

The useless footrest cushion got chopped down into spare Nitrilon patches and oral valves. For a useless, low-psi item, inside it looks amazingly well made. I plan to re-fit my footrest drainpipe system, and have a great new idea about how to fit and adjust it. More about that soon.

I took the chance to re-measure the Seawave. Yes, it really is just 30” / 76cm wide and yet looks huge in the corridor – the only place in our flat it can be inflated.
And it weighs 19kg with everything in the bag, Ditch the seats (965g x 2) and footrests (411g for both), add a single SoT/packraft seat and a mooring line, and the 4.5m Seawave is a genuine 16kg on the water. Pretty darn good.
And it’s compact too. Now I’ve learned how to vacuum-shrink a boat (you need a bayonet nozzle with valve-opening pin) and have added an oral valve to shrink down my Ortleib RS140 roller bag too (above right), the boat takes up less room than ever.

An interesting thing was pointed out to me about the Seawave and other tubed Gumboats: they are effectively made from just two big sheets of Nitrilon (plus deck pieces): the red outer/lower and the grey inner/upper (above). They touch at the edges of the floor and join in a flat seam on top of the sidetubes. Simplicity, I like that.

Preview: Zelgear Spark 450 inflatable kayak (D-SF)

Photos by Marcin S and ZelGear
See also: Zelgear TPU IK

Zelgear is a Ukrainian outfit producing PVC rafts, folders (under the Neris brand) and outdoor gear since 1999, as well as some IKs with innovative ideas.
Their current tubeless PVC IK line up includes the drop-stitch floor (D-SF) Alpha-Z II and Spark in three sizes: 370, 450 and 520cm. Zelgear are sold in Russia, Poland, Germany, the US and maybe elsewhere. As with some other importers, the ZelgearUK website currently only features the discontinued Alpha and Needle (‘Igla’) models. A Spark can be hard to find.
Recently, Gumotex Solar owner Marcin S from Poland pointed me to his detailed review of his new Spark 450 IK which has led to a closer look at this brand.

The new Alpha-Z and Spark look similar but the Alpha-Z II has round sidetubes; the pricier and heavier Spark. has twin sidetubes, like my old Incept, the discontinued Gumotex Seaker or of course the Grabner Holidays based on the old Semperit.
Stacked sidetubes provide more space inside – always useful with tubed IKs – as well as less overall width, good for speed at a slight cost to stability. In 450 and 370 sizes, the Spark is just 83cm wide vs 87 in the Alpha-Z II (according to online specs). That’s still 7cm more than my single-sidetube Seawave so there sure is lots of room in there: 43cm width inside – same as a Holiday 2 and 10cm more than a Seawave. That’s a length-width ratio of 5.42. See the full comparison table here.

Twin sidetubes are more complicated to make as they need an internal I-beam to form the tall but narrow ‘8’ profile. Although Grabner manage without, I-beams (used in non drop-stitch IK floors) benefit from a pressure release valves to protect the I-beams from rupturing if the tubes get too hot and pressures climb. Round tubes spread pressure loads evenly so can withstand over-pressure. That’s why pressurised gas cylinders are cigar-shape. But in fact the Alpha gets side PRVs too. PRVs make over-pressure worries a thing of the past, whatever your sidetubes.

It’s also possible that at the same pressure, stacked sidetubes flex less longitudinally than a round tube, but I doubt there’s much in it. Stiffness is primarily down to psi, although PVC fabric is innately more stiff than synthetic rubbers. Good on the water; less good for folding up when cold. PVC is Heytex or Valmex from Germany (or German branded, at least). PVC is said to be less durable and UV resistant than rubber in the very long term. The plasticisers evaporate (that distinctive PVC smell) and the fabric hardens. As Marcin observes at the end of his post: Spark in Nitrilon would be less bulky but costlier. That boat is the (still unavailable) Gumotex Rush 2 or the D-SF Seawave which is due in 2021.

You’ll see from the video still and above that Zelgear uses an unusual and removable D-S floor. AirBoard or AirDeck, they call it, with the unusual ‘horns’ or spars poking out to make sharply formed prows to the stern and bow – another failing with tubed IKs. It looks like the floor’s flat and wide section is D-S, the neck may be just an empty round tube and the end pieces have a couple of I-beams in them.

This is a much more complex assembly than a regular iSUP-like D-S floor panel, but the benefits are clear: a hardshell like prow without resorting to plastic mouldings or worse still, alloy ‘backbones’. Clever. The sidetubes run a very firm 0.3bar (4.3psi) and the floor is rated up to 0.6 bar (8.7psi) making a very stiff boat. (Other sources say 0.25 and 0.5).

In the video the chappy mentions opening the PRVs on inflation, and the online specs also say leave them open during use. Why would you want to close PRVs? Or does the cap push open once pressure climbs? Who knows.

Marcin mentions his Spark is a lot quicker than his old Solar. Not hard to believe when you consider the Solar is just a long Sunny, still running just 2.9psi. But the difference is quite dramatic, and so is the effect of using thigh straps on a firm D-S floor: all the energy gets transferred to better propulsion or less effort.

The Spark floor has tabs for mounting a footrest, but only when sat in the rear. As Marcin observes, another set is needed for solo paddling when sat in the middle. But that would be quite easy to make and glue on.
Talking of which, I came across this interesting footrest idea (left), possibly from a discontinued Igla. Similar to the Gumotex skeg mount, that could also be dead easy to make for any IK, and you wouldn’t have to use shin-gashing bent and riveted alloy either.

Other features with the Spark include loads of D-rings, a velcro paddle holder; seats with an inflatable base and foam backrest; thigh straps!; a generic rudder mount and fittings plus Seawave-like velcro to fit an optional deck (left).
There’s no skeg (an optional order or easy glue-on) but Marcin says the boat tracks very well thanks to the prow forms.

A fly in the ointment is the boat’s weight at 23kg in the bag where my similarly long and wide Nitrilon Seawave is 19kg. That’s PVC for you, but see this. And the PVC becomes hugely bulky once rolled up. Look at this picture of Marcin’s massive bagged-up Spark alongside his old Solar.

A Spark 450 is listed at 23,000 grn from Kiev, which works out at £800. Prices in Poland are about £940. It’s hard to find Spark prices elsewhere, everyone’s still trying to clear out the old models. Compare that to a 4.2m, round-tube D-SF Gumotex Rush 2 direct from CZ (were it available) at 30,000 CZK (£1015) and probably higher still by 2021.

I must say I’m quite impressed with the Zelgear D-SF IKs: stiff hulls, thigh straps included and tubeless, too. In a vast sea of Asian-made Shell & Bladder bloats, only Sea Eagle and the Intex K2 Excursion Pro are tubeless PVC. I still think I’d rather run a D-SF IK than a full drop-stitch floating box. But I’ve yet to try either. For more on the Spark, including pictures,, read Marcin’s kayaking blog.

Tested: Tyre pump adaptor for inflatable kayaks

You may have seen these bayonet/car tyre adapters on eBay in recent months (left). The bayonet end clamps into your IK’s raft valve (won’t work on Boston valves). The other end is a regular Schrader valve like on your car/bike wheel. Attach that to your 12-volt Halfords tyre compressor and you can inflate your IK from your car battery. No more of that effortful, back-breaking pumping!

Me, I’ve never seen the value of electric pumps for IKs. You can only use them near a power source and how hard is inflating an IK with a good barrel pump anyway? It seems some think it is

The difference between tyres and IKs:
• a car tyre is a low volume running high pressure (~30 litres @ ~30psi)
• an IK has high volume but runs low pressure (3 chambers of 50–160 litres @ ~3psi). Drop-stitch has less volume but runs much more.

That’s up to five times more volume in an IK but at a tenth of the pressure. I would guess the swept volume of my better-than-average car pump (left) is 3–5cc. My Bravo RED 4 barrel pump is 2 x 2000cc (it pumps on the up and the down stroke).
Even if my 12-volt compressor whizzes along at 1001rpm, it will still take a long, long time to fill a 160-litre IK floor. But for a fiver, I thought I’d prove myself right.

The easiest way was to pump my Seawave’s floor to the point the PRV purged at about 3psi. The actual psi is immaterial but it’s consistant.

No surprise: it took less than a minute to pump up the 160-litre floor with the barrel. With my car tyre pump it took over 7 minutes.
And if you want say 4psi in the sides, or a 10psi drop-stitch boat, the duration of the tyre pump (or effort with the barrel pump) rises exponentially. It will take forever with the car pump adapter and I think the tyre pump would auto shut-off or burn-out before it reached anywhere near 10psi.

I read about portable USB rechargable electric pumps like the Pumteck or Sunta (left) on amazon from just £15. These are great for pool toys, air beds and other low-pressure items which just need a shape, not rigidity.
The Pumteck claims an obscure pressure rating of 4.5 kPa which sounds impressive but translates to just 0.65 psi or 0.045 bar. That is slackraft presure; there is no worthwhile IK that runs such a low psi, so all it will do is save you the easy initial pumping. For a typical 3-psi IK you’ll still need some sort of manual pump to top off and on a D-S IK, forget it. If your back can’t handle a barrel pump, get a Bravo foot pump.

Repairing a huge rip in your Inflatable Kayak

As mate was getting out of a current-model full-Nitrilon Twist 2 the part of the boat under a jetty rose up into the sharp end of a bolt securing a mooring ring.

KABOOM!!

.. a two-and-a-half foot rip tore across the top of the hull in both directions with a puff of South Moravian talc. As it’s a largely linear rip in an accessible location, making the repair was fairly straightforward: sew, then patch.

Because the coated core of the red Nitrilon fabric is a woven mat, sewing is an effective way of holding the two sides of the rip together to reduce the tension on the eventual glued-on patch once the boat is inflated. You need an awl spike to pre-poke each hole for the thick polyester thread. This fabric is hard to cut with sharp scissors, let alone thread with a needle.

Rip neatly sewed up with a special cobbler’s reverse herring backflip cross-stitch. One thing that got forgotten was sanding then cleaning the surfaces alongside the rift before sewing began.

Completed repair. This would work on a PVC IK too, but most of them are shell and bladder or drop-stitch. PVC is a bit harder to glue well.

The repaired Twist back on the water.

Anfibio Rebel 2K packraft

I had a chance to take a prototype Anfibio Rebel 2K out for a short paddle the other day. A couple of hours trapped between weeds and weirs on an obscure urban waterway meant I wasn’t able to properly try out the test boat’s many features.
Just another packraft you might say. There’s now a booming cottage industry of packraft makers, each seeking ways to make their very similar looking boats stand apart from the competition. How is the Rebel 2K different?

The Rebel 2K derives its name for a claimed weigh of under 2000 grams without the optional TubeBags: Anfibio’s answer to in-hull storage (more below). The boat we used was not standard and with the seat removed weighed about 15% more (as listed above. * Anfibio reweighed the same seatless boat and got 2450g). Saying the Rebel ‘… hardly takes up more space than a 2L drinking bottle..’ is a bit wide of the mark. That’s broadly true of the Nano RTC I tried the other week but, like most similar-sized TPU packrafts, the Rebel (210D hull and seat, 420D floor; 75D deck) rolls up to about the size of a compact 2-man tent.
I like the ‘olive & lemon’ colour scheme and the whole boat looked put together as well as any packraft I’ve tried over the years. They’re really can’t be that much to it!

Besides the fitted TubeBags, the boat we tried had handy grab lines front and rear and a second patch for a frontal skeg. It may also have had patches for thigh straps inside.
The front and rear tracking fins are a novel idea I’ve only seen on some drop-stitch IKs. Neither were fitted on our short spin. They weren’t needed and as you can see, they’d have probably stopped us in the thick weeds. I know that my blue, 60-cm longer Nomad certainly never needed the rear skeg (tracking fin) the way many IKs do.

Sure, like all packrafts the Rebel waggles its bow left and right in response to paddle input, but it still goes where you point it, gales notwithstanding. It would have been interesting to see how the frontal skeg affected this yawing. Assuming it eliminated it, would it have made the Rebel easier to paddle faster but at the same time harder to turn? That could be useful for longer crossings where a packraft’s relative lack of speed can hold you back. One for next time.

We used the Anfibio hand pump (left) to firm up the boats but had to back off the Rebel a bit to get the curved deck zip to close. With that done the 2K was taught and crease-free.

Normally I’m not a fan of decks, certainly not fixed ones, but on a chilly October day both I and Bob were glad to be tucked in and protected from splashes. One thing I’d like to see added is a tab on the right tube to secure the unzipped deck. [Edit: I’ve since been told it is a standard feature on production models.]

The TubeBags are also an interesting concept. Even before hearing of early failures, I was never won-over by Alpacka’s Cargo Fly (hull zip) innovation of 2014. Benefits in visibility and stability by storing luggage in the hull tubes were genuine, but is it a good idea to meddle with hull integrity in a single-chamber inflatable? The fewer failure points the better and who hasn’t had a zip jam or break?
Now these airtight zips are commonly seen options on all packrafts and must be more reliable, but the zipper will always need care to seal well, especially in this era of pump- assisted hull pressures.

Like a hand pocket in your jeans, the TubeBags are pouches fitted into the side tubes and accessible from the cockpit via IPX7 zippers (left). But the 70-litre pockets must be packed and zipped up before the boat is inflated. Then once inflated and on the water they cannot be opened because the hull pressure behind them will cause the contents to disgorge until the pouch itself spews itself inside-out, leaving a slight drop in hull pressure.
So if they’re not a handy ‘glove box’ what’s the point? Well, for starters once the boat is inflated the surrounding hull pressure keeps the bags’ contents pressed in place a bit like reverse vacuum sealing. Leave the pouch zip a little open as you inflate the hull and the contents will all be squished firmly in place. Then close up the zip up. Plus separate chambers add some back-up emergency buoyancy, and a faulty zip need not be critical to hull pressure.
As with all in-hull storage, TubeBags won’t be that handy for day paddles but are a great way of storing stuff securely and out of the way on over-nighters. Once at camp you loosen the main valve to drop hull pressure a bit (as below). Then you can access your TubeBags. This will only work well when you’re on the water all day without interruptions. Portages with a loaded boat might be awkward compared to unclipping your bag from the bow and the rhythm of classic packrafting: walking then paddling then walking then paddling, might be slowed down a bit. But as long as you have a drybag or pack big enough, you can always bung it on the bow. You don’t have to use the TubeBags.

Other than that, the Rebel is fairly normal packraft. I found plenty of room my legs and hopping in off my kayak-like Nomad (my last paddle in it, as it turned out), it sure was nice to have something solid to lean on. As it came, with deck, tube storage and two fins, the Rebel would cost around €1000 and looks like a great do-it-all expedition boat. I can see it being ideal on a big French river where weirs are easily bypassed by shooting down glissieres (chutes). The cached baggage will be out of sight when leaving the boat moored and popping into a village for a pan au choc and visibility and stability in rapids will be improved.

More about the Revel 2K at Anfibio.