I recently bought myself an Aqua Marina Tomahawk Air-K 375, after floating around on a cheap Bestway Hydro Force (right) over the summer. The choice was partly driven by availability – the Tomahawk was still on sale where others had sold out, perhaps because it was specifically listed as an intermediate to advanced kayak, while beginners are driving the shortage.
Overall I am pretty satisfied with the boat, though it’s not perfect. It comes in a fairly hefty package, but it is manageable for myself, an average fitness male. Smaller people and/or those with less strength may struggle a bit. The bag fits well and it technically a backpack. I wouldn’t want to go far with it but it works sufficiently well to get it out of the flat, down the stairs, and into the car.
Some work is required for set-up – the included pump is effective but needs some effort towards the end when approaching 10PSI. I may invest in an electric at some point. In fact the hardest bit is fitting the twin skegs: these are very stiff, and it’s difficult to apply pressure to the thin edge. I may need to take some sandpaper to get these to fit better, though I’ll try some silicone grease first. The seat and footrest are effective, a little strap threading is needed for the latter, nothing terrible. The seat straps keep their tension once set up, but the footrest doesn’t. Total setup time is about 20 mins, though that may reduce as I get more familiar with the kayak.
On the water it is a step change from the basic inflatable, though you’d expect that based on the price! It’s much faster, tracks amazingly well, and is a lot less tiring to paddle. The addition of an entry-level carbon fibre paddle provides a lot more range before fatigue sets in (though I still need to improve my stamina!). It turns relatively slowly to compensate, but I’ll take the better tracking any day.
I removed the front skeg to see if it would make it turn better. Turning was indeed a little easier, but the tracking was noticeably less effective (though still far better than the budget IK). In the end I decided I preferred both skegs, plus it’s reasonably heavy and right at the bottom of the boat and so provides a bit more stability. It would work fine without through so it’s more a case of personal preference. It is noticeably tricky in the wind – because it’s relatively light, I’m slower in a headwind than a friend with a Point 65 sit-on-top. In crosswinds the high sides catch the air which makes stability less good in a gust.
It feels a lot less stable than the Bestway (I’m 77kg). I’m constantly working to balance it though I think more use will see that become less of a worry. Once or twice I’ve had a wobble and almost felt like I’ve gone over. However I think it’s actually a little better than it seemed. I deliberately flipped it to ensure I could re-enter and it took a lot more leaning over than I thought to capsize. It is probably not suitable for beginners whose balance is questionable, though. Re-entry was a little tricky put perfectly doable.
Packing up is reasonably quick – note that I do it with minimal drying on site, then re-inflate it fully once home to give it a proper wipe-down and time to dry. The drainage issue mentioned in the article is definitely evident: it’s basically impossible to get every last drop of water out, though I’d say no more than a tablespoonful was left which is not terrible. The joins between the floor and the sides also tend to attract sand and grit – the wipe-down gets rid of most, but I suspect at least a little is starting to build up there, though I don’t know how much of an issue this is in the long run as they shouldn’t rub against each other.
Despite the ‘Intermediate to advanced’ labelling, I think a beginner wanting to move on from an Intex or similar could do worse as long as they have at least a modicum of balance and confidence. I don’t think it would be for everyone though, as there are definitely more stable FDS kayaks out there. Overall I’m pretty pleased with with the Tomahawk, and hope the construction is good enough to provide many years of kayaking to come!
In a line Super-light but sturdy packraft with a low-maintenance solution to in-hull storage.
What They Say Extremely light packraft with roll closure (RTC), which enables luggage to be stowed in the tube and thus offers higher transport capacity. Minimal pack size, 1kg light and robust enough for calm and tame waters allow combined adventures with increased payload. Price: €389
Out of the box
This pre-used Anfibio Packrafting Nano RTC came with an optional backrest seat (€57), the airbag, an optional mini top-up hand pump (€10), a strap and 3 patches but no glue or instructions. The latter appear online. On the IK&P scales the boat alone came in at 1002g. The full seat adds another 237g with the horseshoe seat base weighing 135g. All the other dimensions in the image above closely match Anfibio Packrafting’s own data.
This is not your usual shiny-exterior packraft; the Nano’s coating is instead on the inside like the plain Nano SL model. The woven texture of the 210D nylon fabric still gives a sense of sturdiness which I can’t say I felt with the 75D Supai Flatwater and Matkat we tried a few years ago. Such perceptions are important when bobbing about in the middle of a breezy loch or tackling some light whitewater. Maybe it’s the black colour, but the Nano also managed to look bigger and tougher than the virtually same sized Alpha XC (left) we tried a year or two back.
The RTC is a new idea to Anfibio Packrafting, though I see the scantily described Rapid Raft in the US uses a similar closure. The Nano differs by being a more sophisticated design, with a broadly symmetrical hull made from just three pieces of fabric: hull top; lower hull and floor; inner ring. This adds up to just two long seams which ought to mean fewer chances of errors during assembly as well as less weight. Symmetrical also means you can have the closure up-front (normal) or at the back where, with just four folds rather than five, it creates an elongated stern which adds more buoyancy where most of the weight is and acts as a fixed rudder to limit side-to-side yawing endemic to packrafts. Payload is 135kg.
The RTC has an extra TPUfilm bonded inside to ensure an airtight seal, as long as you roll it up tight with no wrinkles. Providing it works, as a way of enabling in-hull load-carrying, I’d sooner put my faith in this than a TiZip which must be kept lubed and clean and dried properly to work well. At the RTC-end you have four mounting tabs on the tube top. On this you can mount Anfibio’s DeckPack, as pictured below. Bigger exterior loads may also be more convenient here if your route includes many awkward portages where carrying the otherwise heavily loaded and inflated boat may be tricky. Otherwise, there’s a tab inside the hull to secure loads and keep them towards the RTC end. You get seat mount buckles at both ends too, though I found the fully inflated seats jammed in well by themselves. There will be the age-old annoyance of the backrest flopping forward as you get in, but used RTC-sternward you can hook it upright to one of the tabs. This backrest design hasn’t changed since I had my first Alpacka Denali over 10 years ago. What is actually wanted is lumber support which is best achieved from strap-braced backrests, as in my Nomad, but that gets complicated.
No you can’t inflate it by opening the RTC to the wind unless there’s a gale on, but it helps to fluff the boat out, and using the usual airbag, 5-7 scoops fills the boat, after which you top up the one-way Boston valve by mouth. If you find this a bit awkward, I find a section of half-inch garden hose works as a ‘blow-straw’. Or use the top-up hand pump (137g) to get maximum firmness. On the Nano it worked very well and for only €10 I’d say is a worthwhile addition for any Boston-valved packraft. More below.
“The RTC cannot be compared to the usual roll closures of simple pack sacks [dry bags]!” proclaims the website, and I can believe them. We all know that Ortlieb-like roll-top dry bags don’t have a proper seal; water will seep through and air will leak out. But the multiple rolling of the film layer, as well as the fact they’ve dared use RTC on a packraft, gives a sense of confidence. Time to get paddling and see if that confidence is warranted.
On the Water
Mid-September and it’s nearly 30°C: too good to pass by so I head for a short run up and down the Medway. Airing up at Sluice Weir Lock, I had a good feeling about the Nano, even if at 95kg I expected to be on the limit, as I was on the Alpha XC. The extra 6 centimetres all round looked enough to make a difference, and one way to help the trim (level) would be to run the RTC at the stern and as long as possible (four folds) while perched forward on the backrest seat option. In the end I didn’t feel the need to do this.
Once inflated by bag and topped up by mouth, I knew the Nano would need a damn good tempering today. A boat firmly inflated by hot ambient air will go soft once cooled in the water. Sure enough, after some splashing the Nano went as limp as a stunned trout. While doing this I was reminded of the indispensability of a bow line to manage a boat at the water’s edge. I hooked the metre-long strap through the RTC (left); better than nothing. Back on the jetty I tried the two-way hand pump: 20 pumps firmed it up. After over a decade of proven hull integrity, it’s become the norm to top-up packrafts with mini-pumps and not by lung, raising pressures up to 2psi or more. This added tautness is what differentiates packrafts from slackrafts and has a huge benefit on paddling efficiency and satisfaction.
They say don’t overdo the pumping but how are you to know? A well-made packraft may well handle a massive 0.5 bar or more before it blows a seam, but assuming the Boston one-way valve can handle it, I think the mini PRVs I tested the other day would be a useful addition to packrafts. They cost only 4 quid and you just keep pumping away until they hiss, knowing the boat’s reached the valve’s purge pressure which cannot be exceeded. It’s like an in-built pressure gauge. Fitting one to the open-ended Nano (or any TiZip packraft) would be especially easy
I decided to try RTC bow first (it made using the DeckPack easier). Once in the boat I felt fine, though from the pictures it’s clear the trim looks nearly as back-heavy as on the Alpha. Too many pies. But on these recommended ‘calm waters’ that didn’t seem a problem.
Confident I wouldn’t wet myself, I set off 2km up river for Oak Weir Lock, passing some happy Itwiters on the way (left). Those things are everywhere now! Good on Decathlon for satisfying the huge demand this summer. Within a few minutes it became clear the Nano had cooled further and needed another 50 pumps off a handy concrete slab below the steep riverbank. I also remembered that, unlike my IKs, low-floored/high-sided packrafts want the seat base pumped right up to give height so as to get the paddle over the fat sides.
Back on the move, speed and response increased dramatically, but not having paddled a normal-sized packraft for a while, I’ve forgotten how slow they are, topping out at maybe 2.5mph/4kph. Riverside walkers were outpacing me; normally it’s the other way round on the Medway, albeit heading downstream. Where noticeable, the current here is about half a mile an hour. I took off to explore some mysterious side creeks which I’d normally shoot past on my downstream burn-ups, careful to avoid the many brambles which line the river here. There’s a perception that the Nano’s textured woven surface could snag a bramble more easily than a smooth one, but should that happen it would be easy to open the RTC and slap a stick-on patch on the inside: the best place for such a repair. The heat and dense, overhanging vegetation reminded me of a boat trip I took years ago up the remote Roper River in Australia’s Top End.
Back out on the main channel and heading upstream, after a while it took some effort to move the Nano along, with the tell-tale bobbing of a soggy slackraft. A squidge of the sides showed they were soft again. More tempering needed or a slow leak, probably from the inexpertly sealed RTC. I hacked on and at Oak Weir jetty and got my weight over the bow to push the RT closure underwater. A couple of tiny bubbles popped up occasionally, but they may have been just trapped air escaping the folds.
The picture above makes it appear worse than it was, and being a hot day on cold water, I felt one more tempering may do the trick. I often have to do this with my bigger Nomad; which takes a good few minutes on the water to fully cool on a hot day. I did my best to check for tell-tale bubbles elsewhere, but anything easily spotted would have seen the boat droop in minutes.
I realised the seemingly redundant hand pump hose was actually ideal for topping up on the water. I reached behind and carefully undid the upper cap of the Boston valve (you don’t want to undo the main valve…), pushed on the pump hose nozzle and gave it another 50 jabs + 10 for luck (about 8-9 litres). With the Nano taught again, I couldn’t resist hopping out and sliding back down the shallow Oak Weir canoe chute which the Nano took in its stride. This boat could easily manage river riffles; the caveat would be too much scraping in the shallows. The exposed fibres can probably take some rubbing but it’s the coating inside that counts. I wonder if spraying a slippery coating (303 Protectorant springs to mind) on the undersides may help reduce possible wear.
I’d asked for the backrest seat option to push my bulk forward off the overloaded stern, but comfort, or a relaxed all-day paddling posture, will take some experimenting. With the unusual raised floor and seat base pumped right up, the now higher backrest had less to lean against so I tipped backwards. I should have tried deflating the seat base a bit. Even at my height (1.82m) I can still stretch my barefoot legs flat out, when in fact a bent leg is better for paddling. So you might want to fit Antibio’s footrest (as I use on my Nomad), shove a bag or shoes up there, or better still (for trim), put something behind you to act as a thicker backrest and centralise your weight (as we did on the Alpha). However you achieve it, a solid back–to-foot brace improves paddling efficiency which means it takes longer to get tired.
Running back downstream to Sluice Weir felt like it took half the time, and I got there with the boat still firm. I do wonder if wetting the inner film surface provides a better seal, just as licking a suction cup before sticking it to glass. One to try next time. I also noticed that for a short, wide raft, the Nano barely yaws left to right. Besides my fine technique honed over the years, the profile of the raised floor may help the side tubes ‘bite’, like ice skate blades. Or it may be the subtle protrusions (below) under each end of the boat which my 2.9-m Nomad also has and which are said to have a skeg/keel effect.
Either way I was confident I’d survive the sporty Sluice Weir chute, catching only a cupful of water as I hit the frothing base. With that ticked off, I paddled over to the portage jetty crawled out and aired down. Being a black boat on a hot day, the Nano dried itself off in no time.
Packing the boat up, I checked for seepage into the RTC when it had been submerged for a minute or two. As expected, water crept along the textured outer nylon surface but the inner film was dry, though as Gore Tex will tell you, air can pass where water can’t. If that was the issue, not just heat, I’m sure getting a good seal is a knack that can be acquired.
Providing they can handle the added pressure of a hand-pump, I wouldn’t be surprised to see RTC-type closures becoming more common on packrafts. Using zippers for such a critical seal always seemed a bit dodgy to me, though I’ve only read of them playing up. Besides that novelty, the sturdy 210-D Nano makes a great crossraft at a price that’s competitive with the thinner Supai boats. It’s very light, compact (3 litres rolled up), comes fitted with enough useful tabs and can be paddled RTC-stern to level off the trim, if needed. Seats are quite a lot extra, but you can sit on your gear, and for a tenner, the little pump is a no-brainer to get the most from your boat. And if the Nano’s RTC arrangement is not for you, choose the conventional Nano SL costing about 15% less. Either could make a great entry-level packraft or an ultra-light crossraft.
In a line Good-looking, roomy, high-pressure package that’s as wide as a packraft and turns like a tanker.
What They Say The innovative Moki II two-person inflatable kayak offers an option removable spraydeck and sprayskirt. Giving you even more paddling options, seamlessly convert from a one-person to a two-person boat by simply adjusting the seats. Weighing 53lbs, the Moki II features a 2 person spraydeck removable spraydeck and 2 Alpine Lake Sprayskirts, high pressure rigid drop-stitch floor, user friendly push-push valves, 9” removable tracking fin and packs down seamlessly to fit into the included full-size premium carry bag. It’s ideal for flat open waters, touring, and ocean paddling.
Out of the bag
Your ‘premium carry bag’ is a giant roller suitcase with a rather optimistic backpack harness and, on this unused boat, the pulling handle was already coming away. The bag weighs 27 kilos with everything in it and once you start unpacking, stuff just keeps coming out: hull, floor, pump, footrest, tandem deck, spray skirts and coaming rods, a skeg and a repair kit.
Based purely on online photos and specs, my Moki II preview a of months ago brought up anomalies with the boat width. Getting an actual boat allowed some of these specs to be verified in red, above. Some are out by 50% and the claimed packed size of 29″ x 14″ x 13″ is more like twice as wide. You can tell from the rambling, repetitive ‘What they Say…’ quoted from the same page above that it was hastily put together. That’s a shame as from first appearances, this cannot be said of the boat itself. And from the exceedingly low psi figures quoted, it’s not like it’s the usual ‘tactical exaggeration’ to make the Moki II look better than it is. You’d hope someone at Kokopelli might find ten minutes to correct the online specs.
Enough moaning: time to man the pump and straight away I really liked the compact black Nano barrel pump. The feet clip down, T-handle extensions screw on, there’s a lever to switch from two-way pumping (up and down) to down-stroke-only (less effort), plus a pressure gauge on top and a not-really-needed suction port for full deflating. It’s one of the best compact IK pumps I’ve seen. Kokopelli don’t list it but if you can find it online (the Aqua Marina looks similar), get one. I was easily able to inflate the DS floor to 8-10psi on the two-way setting but later, topping up on the water with the pump on the boat’s DS floor, found one-way easier to do one-handed. Being a small volume pump of about a litre, the 12-inch side tubes took at least 100 strokes to reach 3-4psi. The inflated boat now looks pretty massive so the 270-kilo payload rating does not look like a mistake or exaggeration.
It was here I realised I should have RTFM, but then again I like to follow my intuition and see if it works. I had to re-deflate the sides to allow the pumped-up floor to centre correctly. Unlike with Full DS IKs, the Moki’s round side tubes hold the floor firmly in place without the need for any clamps or tabs.
The top/inner parts of the hull (mostly yellow, grey at the back) are woven 840-D nylon, possibly backed with a PU coating for waterproofness, and certainly with a water repelling DWR coating on the outside. This stops the fabric ‘wetting-out’, although from jackets and tents I know DWR needs reproofing and curing with an iron once in a while. Without it, the nylon will soak up water and take forever to dry. Full PVC (or rubber) tubes are better in this respect but nylon makes it easy/cheap to sew on fittings like the velcro paddle-holders, footrest daisy chains, carry handles and D-rings for the seat backs, plus short access zips at each end to get to the PVC bladders, if needed.
They yellow sides are stitched to the grey PVC underside of the tubes and the PVC floor sheet is heat welded to the tubes: all very neatly done. This is the nifty thing with PVC: surgically clean heat welds rather than the laborious, messy and vapourous glue needed by rubber-based IKs.
Apart from the crinkles at the bow and stern (which have thin plastic shells inside to help tidy the form), it’s all a very neat job. On the underside is the slot-in mount for the tracking fin (skeg), a stern drain plug accessible via a zip from the inside, and up front a shallow keel strip: more about that later.
Next are seats and footrests – no loose item here escapes ‘Kokopelli’ branding. The firm EVA foam seats are common on many IKs these days, but stiffness is best suited to a backrest, not a 4cm-thick seat base which, sat on a firm DS floor, may be too low for a an efficient paddling stance and too thin for all-day comfort. It’s something easily fixed with an inflatable cushion like a packraft seat base. More seat ideas here. The generous width of the Moki II means raising the seat is unlikely to affect stability. The seat bases adhere to velcro strips sewn then welded to the DS floor. It’s an easy way of doing it while the velcro lasts. I found when sat in the front I was right at the end of the velcro; another foot would be handy, then you could fit a third kiddy seat in there. A non weight-bearing backrest is a better use of stiff foam. They’re tensioned from the front and rear to stay upright; a floppy seat base is very annoying when getting in is awkward. Wide adjustment helps you fine tune them and on the back you get a handy zipped pocket and bottle holder.
The footrests are thick foam tubes commonly found on cheaper Sevys the like, and are threaded with a strap which clips to daisy chain loops stitched to the hull sides. Unused loops could also be used for securing gear because mounting anything under the bungie laces at either end of the boat is not such a good idea for forward visibility, accessibility, security, dryness and windage. These bungies are more useful as a quick way to stash a paddle.
Set up like this, the boat is a brawny 39 inches wide (99cm) but adding the zip-on deck and coaming rods pulls the boat in to 38 inches. Including a deck is a nice touch, so is the option to use it. On IKs I find them rather less useful than they seem: they make access, loading and getting in and out more awkward and if you’re worried about getting wet, paddling may not be for you. Once you pull on the also-included spray skirts you will be snugly encased in your Moki and ready to hit the rapids or surf. I’d have sooner had these items offered as optional extras, as most others do, and seen a cheaper boat.
On the Water
Initially the Moki 2 looked huge, but it’s actually a foot shorter than our old Seawave and so didn’t look too out of place on the car roof. We set off in search of a accessible fresh water and after a while found a trio of co-joined lochs off the B8073 feeding the steam which soon drops into Tobermory.
Topping up the Moki II on the water (all inflatables benefit from a top-up once put into cold water), the barrel pump stood on the firm floor and with one handed, one-way down-pumping, it was easy to attain the 4/10psi (0.27/0.69 bar) maximum pressures. This is Scotland in late August so there was no risk of the blazing sun bursting out ripping the boat asunder.
I set off without the tracking in and, as expected, found my front load on the keel strip make for tricky tracking. The deck was easy to manage but to me is a nuisance. It zipped off in seconds and got left on the bank.
It may be a metre-wide bladder boat but it’s still a kayak and so feels great once gliding out over the water with a splish-splosh, splish-splosh. The Moki II needs a bit more propulsion to what I’m used to, but the mattress-like stability will be reassuring to beginners.
It was only flat water so the apparent stiffness from the DS floor and high-psi side tubes didn’t feel any greater than my 2.5/4psi Seawave. Unless you’re braced properly to the boat (the problem with just about all IKs) there is little actual benefit to be had in paddling efficiency, just the longer glide. In rougher water you imagine it might come down with a slap as it drops into wave troughs. According to the GPS the two of us could sustain about 5-6kph which is pretty good, but an all-out burst only recorded 8.4kph (5.2mph) when I’ve got 10kph alone in similarly long but less-wide IKs.
It soon became apparent that the Moki II tracks rather too well; something I’ve heard of other DS IKs with frontal keels or fins. Turning it even a few degrees was a huge effort. In the end we had to resort to digging the paddles in and drawing them forward to force the boat round. The problem with this technique is it kills momentum, though it’s possible you’d get used to working the boat in a less drastic manner.
You also notice that two-up there’s not much room for gear because the side tubes are so fat. The last foot or two at each end can’t be used much – again a common story with big-tubed IKs, if not any pointy ended kayak.
We scooted through the reeds which whined like sirens against the PVC hull, then passed under a rickety wooden bridge to the middle loch. This led to another reedy strait into the last loch above Tobermory and a view towards what was probably the 528-m flat cone of Ben Hiant over on Ardnamurchan. The sun came out, the sun went in and eventually the little camera’s batteries died after too much videoing.
Next evening promised to be sunny too, but it wasn’t. I wanted to explore more the slim sea loch at Dervaig and had timed our put-in at least an hour after low tide so if the narrows leading out to sea turned into the Falls of Lora we’d get swept back in, not out into the Minch. The 10-minute portage over the tidal slime raised some grumbles from the crew not used to lugging 25-odd kilos of packboat across the mire.
I managed to wade through some shoe-sucking, shin-deep sludge to reach enough water to float on without the 9-inch fin, then paddled over to somewhere deeper where the crew could hop in and the fin get fitted. First thing I’d do with this boat is cut that fin down. Another issue I noted is that the woven yellow hull fabric may shed water readily, but picks up any smeared muck rather well. More cleaning before returning to the rental place tomorrow. We headed out towards the narrows in the grim, grey light, feeling altogether uninspired.
‘The tide is going out, we’re all going to drown!’ ‘It’s just the breeze over the surface. There are no times for Dervaig but Calgary to the south and Tobermory to the north were at low water nearly 2 hours ago.’ ‘I’m telling you, the tide is going out!’
As we neared the malignant, 80-metre wide cleft on Loch An Chumhainn, ominous whorls bubbled up from the silty abyss and on entering the chasm the flow was clearly on the ebb.
‘I told you it was going out. Idiot!’
‘You watch, any minute now it’ll miraculously reverse, like it did on the Adur last week.’
I know tide times are only predictions but this was indeed odd and yes, I checked against BST/GMT and checked again I’d not misread 16.46 as 6.46pm. The tide should have been coming in for 90 minutes. I’d expect a constricted sea loch like this one to be a slow to fill and fast to drain, like Chichester Harbour in Hampshire. But that is a massive pool, Loch Chum is tiny.
We were now being swept down the Narrows of Chum at a slow walking pace and it was time to make a decision. Carrying on would take us two clicks to a jetty at Criog which we’d recce’d that morning on the bikes. That would be a long walk back to the car, so we dug in for a handbrake turn and escaped from the imminent maelstrom at a reassuring clip. I recently read a review of a Sea Eagle with a frontal keel lobe which the owner said made the boat very hard to control against a current (as you’d expect). With the Moki II we had no such issues. There is not so much to explore in the inner bay but the tide would now be even lower with even more seaweed-draped, ankle-twisting shite to traipse over before getting onto to the ankle-twisting, midge-infested peat bogs above. Wading in after the fin started grounding, in the end we found an easier take-out, followed by a 10-minute portage back to the car. I need to ask a Dervagian about these tides.
That evening I rinsed and washed the boat, but with little chance of it drying off any day soon. The removable floor made the task easier and the muddy smudges on the yellow fabric lightened up with a bit of brushing. I couldn’t be bothered to check if the inner bladders were dry as there was little I could so about it.
Summary The Moki II isn’t an IK I’d choose to own: too wide, too bulky and heavy, probably too slow solo, too bladdered and too pricey with the unneeded accessories. But it’s roomy, stiff, yellow and like any IK, is fun to paddle.
French paddleboat, board and ball-point dinghy manufacturer BIC Sport joined the full dropstitch (FDS) market a couple of years back with three models of YakkairFull HP: the 1, 2 and le trois. Made in Vietnam, the 2 goes for at least £1200 in the UK.
The ‘Full’ is an important addition to the name which gets emblazoned on the hull, because the previous Yakkair models (above right) were just called HP 1, 2 and maybe 3. They had a DS floor between regular round side tubes. The old models didn’t really jump out off my IK radar; they looked too much like some Advanced Elements IKs. But looking at the inset diagram above, it looks like they tried to address the flat-floor with a keel tube tucked underneath the outer shell.
On the water under the weight of a paddler it supposedly deformed to produce a double concave profile – a bit like the Kxone/DS Kajak AirTrek floors – and which looks like it will work better than a totally flat floor. Even with a skeg at the back, this barge-like flat floor common to DS IKs does make me wonder how they’d handle or track. Bic owner Robbo has a variety of slip-on skegs and for this run he selected a medium in orange.
You get two clip-in SoT contoured-foam seats which have a well-braced backrest but, with bases an inch or two thick, won’t raise the butt above the ankles to give an efficient paddling posture, IMHO. Many IKs are like this out of the box, but raising or replacing the seat base is dead easy. I put my shoes under my Sunny seat: much better, but really you can’t beat an inflatable seat base like a packraft seat.
For solo use it looks possible to position the front seat back to the next D-rings, except there’s nowhere to clip the foot brace, which on the Yakkair are just a couple of padded straps. You could maybe use the front seat mounts. A good way to make a firmer and more effective foot brace is to slip a bit of 4-inch ø plastic drainpipe over the strap (right).
At each end you have two chunky carry handles as well as those fairly useless elasto-nets so common to many IKs. What would you put there that wouldn’t be more secure and more accessible lashed down by your feet or behind you? Not needed today, but the Yakkety Yak has a dinky slip-in spray visor up front to keep the splash out.
Talking of splash, I was keen to see the notorious side-floor join I wrote about. Sure enough, the Yakk’s floor is glued to the hull casing floor beneath and taped the side panels. But not all the way and so water and crud will run into the cavities at each end (below left) and then run down behind the tape along the sides. You could get rid of most of it by standing the boat on its end and opening the drain at the stern. And if you think there’s a lot of grit and other debris in there, hose from the top and let it run down the inside edges and out the drain. As for drying: that will take as long as it takes.
Sat inside, the boat is over half a metre wide because so much space is saved by the flat DS panels. But measured at 87cm wide (33.5″), the FHP 2 looks a bit on the wide side. Many FDS IKs look the same but have various widths: the HP2 seems about average. The much cheaper Decathlon Itiwit X500 is an unnerving 64cm, but even it seemed pretty wide when I looked at one in the shop. My Sunny was some 20cm less wide – and that’s with round tubes!
Flipped over, the bow looks a lot better formed than a typical full-tube IK, perhaps to compensate for the flatter floor. It’s actually a solid plastic moulding so should be immune to wear as the boat comes in to shore. But coming back down the Adur into the wind and against the flow, E & L had some trouble tracking straight. The two of them combined probably weighed less than me and with the featherlight L in front, the lifted bow was not cutting down through the water – the trim was out. Swapping seats with the heavier E up front would have fixed that, but it was thought the more powerful paddler should be at the back. Kayaking lore seems to agree, though two-up in my IKs (same-ish length) my generous mass is better distributed up front. To me it’s obvious: better to have the larger mass (my torso) towards the centre of the boat, not the stern.
Watching the Yakk navigate 20-km of flatwater for a few hours didn’t me inspire to even ask for a go, far less to own one. Used to being snuggly jammed into IKs & Ps, the canoe-like width and low seats put me off and set-up was without footrests would have made it too much like sitting on a log. L & E were first-timers in this boat afaik and initially found it tippy though soon got accustomed (they looked pretty relaxed).
The quality of assembly certainly corresponded with a four-figure IK and it sure looks less bloaty than a Decathlon Itiwit we met – the IK sales hit of 2020. I suspect this image is the attraction to many FDS buyers, but for me the water and grit-trapping cavities would add extra maintenance, even if it wouldn’t be that hard to fabricate and glue in a PVC cone to seal them off for good. Then you could simply rinse, drain, deflate, wipe off and dry the Yakkair like a regular tubeless IK. And the other drawbacks: seats; footrests; thigh straps are easily added. The you’d have a stiff and spacious tourer with great paddler ergos.
New Yakkair HP1 owner, Kevin A, adds: Having just bought a Bic Yakkair Full HP1 to replace an ageing Walker Bay Airis which has become porous after about ten years of excellent service, I was very interested to read this review and I thought I would add some early impressions of my own boat. So far, I have only had it on the water once because I have ordered a new combo paddle which can be a kayak paddle, a canoe paddle or a SUP paddle – I generally prefer using a single canoe paddle but the one which I have been using for years is a bit too short for the wider new boat. You mention the width of the HP1 in your review and you say that you prefer a narrower boat but, for me, the extra width was part of the attraction. I’m not sure yet about how it affects the stability and handling but, tbh, I just prefer the appearance of the wider boat even though, as you suggest, it does make a footrest essential so that you can brace yourself better – in my other boat, I was held fairly firmly at the thighs by the narrow interior. The footrest which came with my boat seems to be a bit more substantial than the one you describe in your review. Looking around at the various marketing pictures, I think some of the details of the package are a bit variable and maybe the footrest falls into that category. But the biggest difference I have spotted is the style of the carry bag for the boat and I have to say that the carry bag which I have been supplied with is fantastic. It is superbly well made and looks like a fairly upmarket piece of luggage – on the occasions when I take the boat on public transport I will no longer feel quite so conspicuous (the downside – there’s always a downside! – is that the bag itself adds weight to the whole package). The real surprise about the carry bag is that it swallows up the entire rig – hull, paddle, pump and seat and there is still room for all the normal bits and pieces of personal kit. The downside of that, of course, is that it is very big and only just about manageable by a single person – there is definitely no chance that it will ever be carried on my back using the excellent quality backpack straps which are part of the bag’s construction (I’m seriously tempted to cut the straps off). The only area which I still have to work out is, as you say, how to deal with getting the water out of the joints between the three panels. I’m not sure that the material itself will absorb much moisture and I’m hoping that removing the end plug and propping the boat up on end for a decent length of time (half an hour?) will allow the joints to drain pretty thoroughly – if necessary, I will have to re-inflate the boat at some point in order to ensure that it is completely dry. By the way, I think that the so-called self-bailing drains are only really intended for use in seriously white water when the boat is in danger of filling up completely – in those conditions, it would be quite normal for the boat to have quite a lot of water sloshing around but the self-bailers would help to keep the level down (I only ever paddle on flat water so I have no idea how effective the self-bailers are in practice). Happy paddling!
US IK and iSUp brand Advance Elements have come up with a sleek and innovative new angle on full dropstitch kayaks (F DS IK): The AirVolutions feature a high-pressure twin-panel/chamber ‘clamshell’ design where the upper DS panel is a demi-deck. With minimal stowage below the decks, it resembles a Sit-On-Top, except – though not currently offered – should you wish you could fit a spray skirt round that coaming (cockpit rim) to be sealed right off.
‘Airvolutions do not have a ton of storage space below deck [and] are designed to be Recreational/Day Touring kayaks‘
There are Solo and Double/Solo models with dimensions below. The more I study Full DS IKs, the more I think what you gain in rigidity you sure pay for in weight over similar non-F DS IKs, some with just a DS floor. Maybe dropstitch PVC tough enough to handle the intended use and pressures is simply a heavy, bulky fabric. In its wheeled duffle the folded up AirVolution2 is a massive 4 feet high and 18″ wide. As with many US-branded IKs, the Airvolutions are on the wide side, but it’s claimed they can be stand-up paddled if you have very good balance. That’s me out, then!
13′ / 3.9m
33″ / 84cm
39lbs / 17.7kg
300lbs / 136kg
14.5′ / 4.5m
37″ / 94cm
52lbs / 23.5kg
550lbs / 249kg
Both models are rated at a high-for-DS IK 10-12 psi / 0.9 bar (though they will work with less) and have another DS IK innovation: Pressure Relief Valves (PRVs) on both panels set to purge at a lofty, iSUp-like 18psi. Why not 12psi so you can blithely inflate away till the PRVs hiss? Some pressure might be purged over a hot day from the top deck but not enough to matter.
A few iSUps have PRVS, but I’ve not seen them on F DS IKs before and many potential owners will be reassured, as it should aid the as-yet untested longevity of DS panels. PRVs limit potentially destructive over-pressurisation when inflatable boats are left in the sun. Unlike flat DS panels, traditional non-DS round tubes spread loads equally (eventually seams will fail). Left in the hot sun while you’re having a siesta, the space yarn stitching (right) in the DS panels could be ripped apart which adds up to an irreparably ruined boat.
AirKayaks™ IK in the US seem to be a favoured AE outlet right now and have done detailed reviews of both boats with loads of photos and measurements, followed by a quick flatwater spin. There you can read the double’s open hatch is nearly 4 feet (114cm) long) and, oddly, there are no footrests. Even taller paddlers won’t be be able to brace off the front cockpit rim unless the seat is too far forward. A stuffed bag would work, or it would be easy to glue on some D-rings to run a footrest strap and hard tube. On a raft-wide IK like the AirVo2, it may not be worth bothering with thigh straps. Both models run a huge 9-inch skeg which will ground easily in shallows and suggests tracking with the flat floor may need help. It’s easily be replaced with a cut-down spare.
Prices in the US are a typically reasonable $1100/$1300; in the UK the boat is mentioned but not available and it won’t be such a good deal. It would be a struggle carrying a 23-kilo boat too far so for your money you get a wheelie duffle but with tiny, pavement-only wheels and clearance. There’s also a repair kit and a high-pressure, two-way switchable barrel pump which may need some brawn to reach the full 10+psi. Because high-pressure IK pumps need to be tall and slim, they’re low volume so take a while. AirKayaks reported it needed 100-150 strokes to inflate each chamber. That is a whole lot of pumping for a DS boat, but electric car plug-in pumps are available.
The AirVolution2 looks like a great day kayak for two, but from the photo above, even tall solo users may be better off with the less huge AirVolution, unless you add a foot brace tube. With this design, either boat has less low-down storage space than a conventional fat sidetube IK like a Seawave. Storing gear under the deck bungies just adds windage and hampers steering and stability. For touring, what gear is less than 4-5 inches high could squeeze under the covered ends, and when used solo the double has about half a metre of room behind the seat and some in front.
It’s hard to be sure but inside it does look like the two panels have been ‘wallpapered over’ leaving no crevices to trap water and much more potentially damaging grit. This is a big improvement over hitherto conventional boxy three-panelFull DS IKs where water and crud gets in all sorts of hard-to-clean places. Being smooth inside, you’d think the AirVolutions could easily be drained by tipping upside down, then wiped down to dry. Maybe, but they’ve added a big plugged drain in the middle of the floor (left) to make that easier (it won’t work for self-bailing unless you’re very light). Judged against some of AE’s other ‘busy’ graphics, the blue boats don’t look too bad,
Up to now AE came up with far less elegant solutions to the problem of rigidity in long IKs. The AirVolutions: a pair of iSUp boards wrapped up and glued in the blue skin, are an interesting idea with some compromises, mostly in storage. These are day boats, not tourers, but there are many, many more day-paddlers out there.
There are a lot of full or hybrid D-S IKs coming out now, but Idaho-based Aire are sticking with traditional bloat technology with their 2020 Tributary Sawtooth upgrade which gets an extra two feet and ‘bold new graphics’, as they call it in motorbike world. Along with with NRS down the road and with whom they seem closely tied, they’re among the US’s more serious IK makers (both come from the rafting game). Before the Seawave came along I’d considered an Aire IK but was put off by: • Price (US-made models) • Excessive width • Less durable PVC shells • Slow drying bladders • Self-bailing
In other words, as far from a high-end Gumboat as you can get. It was long-extinct Sears IKs who are said to have originally come up with the idea of ‘inner tubes‘ supporting a sewn or welded PVC shell in the early 80s. It works like a bicycle inner tube supports a tyre. Aire adopted the idea a few years later which may explain why this method is common in North America but unknown in Europe. The benefits of this type of assembly are primarily economic: quicker, less laborious assembly, although bankside repairs using sticky tape on the bladder are near-instant. As explained on the IK Construction page, the bladder system involves easier sewing or welding of the shell (all shown in this Aire promo video – stills below). No glues or solvents needed, unlike ‘tubeless’ Gumotex or Grabners. Aire spins this as ‘double layer’ but of course they are co-dependant: without one the other is useless. For a recreational packboat user, bladder boats have drying issues because inevitably water seeps in between the two layers and stays there. Owners often complain about this and certainly in a temperate climate like the UK, proper drying would be a pain. It’s a lot of extra faffing to clean and dry than a quick wipe of a tubeless boat. Being rot-free plastic, leaving an IK wet won’t ruin it, the worst might be some mildew or staining, but as with all outdoor gear, storing wet is bad form and may affect durability, especially around sewn seams. Whether heat-welded or sewn, the tough 1000D PVC hullcasing doesn’t have to be watertight. It’s just there to protect the much tinner AireCell bladder which is accessed (and repaired or replaced) via long zippers (see boat below) which is the main way water seeps in between the layers. Other downsides include grit getting in between the shell’s floor and bladder. All-round, it adds up to more maintenance than a tubeless IK which dries in minutes after a wipedown.
You’ll struggle to tell on Aire’s website, but this budget ‘Tributary-branded’ range is ‘imported’: a presumable euphemism for ‘China’. That’s a word that’s even more tiptoed around in packboating world than PVC which, in the US, requires a health warning (left) to be sold in California. As always, TheBoatPeople tell it like it is. They had a hand in designing the original 13-foot Sawtooth. US-design with cheaper Asian textiles and manufacture explains the reasonable pricing. It also explains the 1-year Tributary guarantee compared to the mammoth 10 years you’ll get on Idaho-assembled Aire-branded boats with urethane (not vinyl) bladders.
Number are said to be:
Weight: 19kg (42lbs) Length: 4.65m (15′ 3″) Width: 81cm (32″) Payload: 180kg (400lbs) Construction: 500/1000D PVC with vinyl bladders Pressure: 0.17 bar (2.5psi) (PRV in floor bladder) Price: U$ 999
Don’t ask me to explain the hydrodynamics, but a longer boat in the water is a faster boat, providing it’s not ridiculously wide or high or made from concrete. Longer, narrower and lighter than Aire’s US-made $2000 Super Lynx, the 2020 Sawtooth’s length-by-width factor is a pretty good 5.74 – near identical to a Seawave. (Compare other LWF’s here).
Obviously rigidity has an influence on speed and response, but up to a point a thick PVC IK (like my old Incept) is innately stiffer than more pliable rubber-based fabrics like Nitrilon. This may explain why the Sawtooth need run only 2.5psi (0.17 bar) even in a 15-foot IK, while a Seawave runs 3.6 psi and a Grabner even more. Or perhaps the vinyl AireCell bladders (right) can only safely take that pressure?
No footrest is included even though one is needed to brace against for a good paddle stroke. But Aire IKs can have have over two dozen attachment points along their full lengths (left). So besides positioning the seat/s exactly where you want them, you can easily clip-in a bit of sawn-down plastic drainpipe, which anyway is better than the mushy inflatable footrests which come with other IKs. While you’re at it, thread in some thigh straps which further improve your connection to the boat for more efficient paddling, especially at sea and in rougher conditions.
Many Aire IKs have an unusual dropped floor (right), partly because it has to be thick to work as a self-bailer. This design also means it acts like a fat keel to help tracking while its buoyancy lifts the side tubes out of the water to produce less drag and so increase speed. The Sawtooth comes with a clip-on skeg (useful at sea) and the Boat People reckon the Sawtooth is one of the fastest IKs around.
The principle of drop-floor/high sides may work, but in a self-baling boat the floor has to be thick anyway sit you up high above the water level. That means you’re less stable unless the boat is extra wide, but the Sawtooth’s width is pretty good (certainly compared to the Super Lynx). I can see the value of self-bailing in a whitewater IK – I’d sooner have that than a deck. Not so sure in a touring IK. When heavily-loaded or two-up and passing through swell, the boat may fill from below with water. You’re getting soaked anyway, but that’s not really wanted. It’s the other thing Aire owners grumble about. Aire IKs are unknown outside the US and certainly in the UK, and although the numbers and the price of the Sawtooth 2020 are great, for the same $999 in the US, I’d sooner choose a Seawave. In fact I did. Owners’ reviews (old model).
We listened to kayakers: “I’m a good kayaker and I want an inflatable kayak that performs like a hardshell.” “I want to use public transport to go kayaking.” “Inflatable kayaks are cool but I want a kayak that moves!”
First Gumotex and now Europe-wide, French sports retail giant Decathlon have turned to dropstitch (DS) technology in a bid to improve rigidity and so, the performance of their inflatable kayaks.
Only Decathlon haven’t just added a DS floor to an existing model, but with the single-seater X500 Strenfit have designed an entire 10psi (0.7 bar) DS hull, complete with a deck sheet and coamed hatch supported by two D/S beams. (Do you need a deck?) Above left, Serge and Nanook take their X-boats for a spin. UK price is reasonable and delivered with a two-year guarantee, although the essential SUP two-way pump (right) is another 25 quid.
‘Itiwit‘ is a Decathlon water-sports brandword, contracted from ‘itinerary’ and ‘Inuit’, the latter being fur-clad denizens of the Arctic who invented sea kayaks all those centuries ago. I suppose it sounds better than ‘Inuary’. Watch the slick vid below to get your head round the unusual design. It looks like the dark grey V-floor panel is one chamber, plus a lighter grey sidewall panel each side and then the two deck-supporting thwarts or beams. And being French-designed, it conforms with their national watersports regs which allow it to stray a full 300 metres or more from the sea shore.
Vital stats are 3.8m long by 64cm wide and 18kg making it similar to an undecked but flat-floored Kxone Slider 375, and between a Gumotex Twist 2 and a decked Framura or Swing II. And it’s not made of PVC, but polyethylene (PE) over a polyester (PES) fabric core (though PVC is mentioned, perhaps mistakenly, in the blurb-chat). I’m not sure that makes a massive difference to longevity or cold-weather ease of folding. Like most other DS IKs, you can be sure it’s made in China. Because DS hulls have less air volume than regular tubed IKs, they’re slimmer (thinner walled, giving more space in the boat) and are quicker to pump up (3 mins, claimed on the X500). But that lower volume explains a modest payload of just125kg. No dims are given on the hatch size, but based on the length, I’d guess it’s 80cm long.
Below, watch Nanook film Serge as he effortlessly assembles, paddles and then disassembles his X500 in what may be real-time. The roll-top rear hatch is a clever idea; not seen that before, though it looks like water may pool there. And the proper wave-slicing V-hull dispenses with the need for a skeg to aid tracking, although the boat may benefit from a rudder or skeg in cross winds. Like most IKs, the X500 sits fairly high in the water, unlike a proper hardshell sea kayak which is barely above it. With the narrow V-hull and poor knee bracing, many report it feels unstable until it’s moving, something that is far from the profile of most IK users, myself included. Lighter paddlers have found dropping the psi a bit make the boat float lower and adds stability. But this also adds up to a fast boat, making it most sea-kayak-like IK since Feathercraft’s short-lived Aironaut. It’s not an exaggeration to say it’s a revolutionary DS IK.
Below a review by a sea kayaking chap on what looks like the balmy Med. I agree with his suggestion: would be good to see a longer version, but that will probably be a tandem which, with the fixed deck, won’t adapt to solo long-range touring. The X500 has strap–adjustable footrests but he also mentions poor knee bracing – often an IK weak spot, even with decked boats. Nevertheless, he still manages to bang out a pretty smooth eskimo roll, and it would not be impossible to glue or somehow clip on some thigh bracing straps which would greatly improve the connection with and control of the boat.
One the way back from the Regents Canal the other day, I dropped into my local Decathlon to have a closer look at the X-boat. First impressions were it wasn’t half as narrow as I expected – at least at cockpit level. The hatch is nice and big and it sure looks more kayak-like than the rest of the Itiwit range of bloats – that sure isn’t a typical flat DS floor which might explain the tippiness some report. The boat wasn’t at all saggy as you’d expect from an Intex watersofa sat in a showroom for months. But as mentioned, if your boat has a slim V-hull, you really need some knee-bracing to control any rolling. The deck felt quite slack but there must be some way of rolling it short of trying to glue in thigh braces. As always, the good thing is others will see how Decathlon took a big step forward in DS IKs, and try to improve.
There are more users reviews here as well as X500 stories from the Danube, Colorado and Dordogne on the Itiwit website.
Since 2019 the Gumotex Thaya sits alongside the near-identical and 20% cheaper 4.1-m Solar 3 (aka: ‘Solar 2‘ or ‘Solar 019‘) on which it’s based, but with a drop-stitch (DS) floor to greatly improve rigidity. The Solar was not unlike my old Sunny, running just 3psi (0.2 bar) all round. As you can see on the left, that can get a bit saggy with a well-fed solo paddler. This was the first of Gumotex’s DS-floor boats, but a basic exercise in simply replacing a floor rather than trying anything more fancy like the Rushs of 2020.
Drop-stitch fabric now makes the complicated hand assembly of pressure-vulnerable I-beam floors (left) redundant. A DS floor is a flat panel with effectively 3-4 zillion ‘I-beams’ (see top of the page) all spreading the pressure load evenly to constrain the form into a plank shape, but at a much higher pressure than an I-beam floor can safely handle. In an IK, high pressure = a more rigid hull = better glide/less effort with barely any additional weight. The only drawback is that you need a more powerful high pressure barrel pump (above right). The old Bravo foot bellows won’t do anymore.
DS is normally PVC and made in China, but Gumotex have found a way to manufacture the threading and bonding a D/S floor with their durable, flexible and environmentally right-on Nitrilon rubber fabric. It can’t be that hard. The regular, normal-pressure 3psi sidetubes ought not need the higher pressures I ran on my adapted Seawave because the 7psi (0.5 bar) DS floor greatly aids rigidity (see action video below). Gumotex’s new tag line rubs it all in: ‘Made in EU[read: ‘not China’], made from rubber[read: ‘not PV … spit … C’].
The promo video below suggests something revolutionary, but combining DS with Nitrilon can’t be that much different from doing the same with PVC. It will certainly simplify or speed up assembly. One assumes drop-stitch floors supposedly don’t need a PRV necessary to protect I-beam floors from internal ruptures when they overheat in the hot sun. Some UK outlets where claiming the Thaya has a “Safety relief valve [PRV] in the bottom of the boat” but it’s probably just a copy and pasting error. I can’t see one in any pictures and have yet to see a DS panel with a PRV until the AE AirVolution came out in 2020. The assumption is they don’t need it if tey run a modest 7psi but some claim high-pressure DS floors won’t last as long as I-beams. Without a PRV, that may be true and much will depend on running the correct recommended pressure, the quality of manufacture/assembly and where possible, leaving the boat in the water on hot days so the large water-contact area keeps things cool.
One positive thing about I-beam floors is the parallel I-tubes (left) probably don’t hurt tracking (even without a skeg). They also enable the desirable curved hull profile of a boat rather than the flat floor of a barge (for the moment DS panels can only be flat or maybe with a slight curve).
Payload ratings seem to have settled at 230kg and the movable seats are also made from DS panels. Initially I thought why? For the backrest and footrest that makes sense but who wants to sit on DS seat base on a DS floor? Of course you don’t have to pump DS up to the max to get its flat form constraining benefits and it looks like valves are regular twist-locks so you’d couldn’t get more than a couple of psi in there. Footrests are the usual inflatable pillows, but possibly also DS. I’d replace them with a section of sawn-down plastic drainpipe so you get a solid block to brace against. It makes efficient paddling much easier.
I’ve never tried one, but I do wonder how a flat-floored DS IK might handle in windier, choppier conditions where an IK isn’t exactly a hydrofoil at the best of times. A flat, raft-like floor will be stable, sure, but it will roll and pitch about more. Also, according to the specs (left) at 89cm the Thaya is a disappointing 6 or 9cm (3.5″) wider than the all-tube Solar 3 (Actual verified width seems to be 34″ or 86cm). Great for family-friendly stability; not so good for solo paddling speed and efficiency. My Seawave is 2cm narrower than a Solar 3 and with the usual care getting in, stability is not an issue. Out at sea my Seawave will swamp long before I’m tipped out. But then again, the near-rigid floor may cancel out the drawbacks of the greater width. At 18kg the Thaya is heavier than a Solar 3.
For most recreational, flatwater users the Thaya ought to be a nice family boat, but then so is a Solar 3. The Thaya costs 20% more than the Solar 3 whose days may be numbered. One assumes this
The application of what has proved to be durable, light and compact packraft fabric and reliable construction methods into slimmer, kayak-like forms was bound to happen. MRS’s 2.9-metreNomad S1 is among the first solo examples I know of, co-designed with Germany’s Anfibio Packrafting Store whose Alpha XC we tested a couple of weeks ago.
Fyi: in December 2018 I sold my 2014 Alpacka Yak and bought this ex-demo boat.
Is it a very light solo kayak or a long packraft? I’d classify it as the former, a boat that ought to paddle better than a packraft on current-free, flat water, and even manage some calm coastal paddling. The Nomad could be mistaken as the solo version of MRS’s tandem undecked Barracuda R2 double. But the R2 is a boat with seats which can be adapted to canoe-style kneeling, much fatter tubes and has a different bow/stern as well as not having a deck. The 1299-euro Nomad S1 is a stand alone boat.
What they say: Once packrafts broke conventions in water sports. Now the Nomad S1 is breaking conventions in packrafting. The central seating position and symmetrical bow and stern are similar to a conventional kayak, producing similar paddling dynamics. At 5kg, the gross weight is more than most solo packrafts, but the Nomad remains a very packable boat for easy travel and exciting adventures.
‘Sign here please’ Off the van, out of the box and straight onto the kitchen scales. Kerching: that will be 5.1kg please. Take away the large skirt and coaming rods and it’s down to 4.5kg, and a year later rigged up to my specs with a long lanyard, footrest, alternative non-inflatable seat back with a mesh pouch with bits in it, it is a real-world 4.7kg ready to go (right).
Hull fabric is your usual 210D TPU but coatedinside and out (like old Alpackas) for improved rigidity, with a floor in chunky 410D with aramid fibre reinforcement. The hull panels are stitched, then heat welded with tape; the floor gets glued to the hull and all the joins look neat and crease free. The deck and seat parts are lighter PU-coated or ripstop nylon.
Unrolled, it looked like a lot of boat to have to blow up with the air bag. So I decided to speed things up with my IK barrel pump, using a bit of garden hose as an adaptor via the air bag screwed into Boston-style valve. More on those here. It took less than 5 minutes pumping. Later, I decided to try regular airbagging and found it only took 15 bagfulls to get it ready for topping off – less than you’d think.
To top off I found a shorter section of garden hose fitted neatly into the one-way valve port and makes it much easier to give the boat a few lungfulls and get the high-capacity boat nice and firm. A short bit of hose also fits into one adapter on my K-Pump which I usually use to top up my IK. With a K-Pump you can get it good and firm. The Packrafting Store offer a small Bravo foot pump for those who don’t have the lungs of Dizzy Gillespie. You do want to get this long boat as firm as possible, especially if you’re well-fed like me. But the Store recommends not to overdo it with a pump, and in the current warm spell I’ve been careful to air off a bit if the boat gets left in the sun all day following a max top off in cold water.
Once aired up the boat has a good shape – nice pointy ends; a promising sign in boating circles. The S1 is symmetrical like many IKs, and each end has a generous volume helping achieve a claimed buoyancy rating of 200kg. I can believe it; two of me in it and I bet it would still have plenty of freeboard.
The deck seems to be less flimsy ripstop fabric than I recall on my previous Alpackas. And unlike those boats which had a long perimetre zip, the Nomad has two parallel zips along each side ending at the back with makes it dead easy to partly open and get to the ‘trunk’ without complete removal. Good design. You also wonder if the zipped-up deck might help tension the boat by constraining the sides when getting bent about in rough water. Maybe.
The 80cm x 49cm hatch is nice and big; I (1.85m) could get in and out with ease, though maybe not just after Christmas while wearing a drysuit and thick fleece. There are zips along the hatch rim to insert the 4 pieces of coaming rod to make a firm seal for the spray skirt elastic. It struck me paddling later with the deck deployed that fitting the rods would create a 1–2-inch high lip which would keep out some water rolling down the front deck. The supplied spray skirt looked huge and had braces; but I never actually tried it. Rolled up to the front, the velcro straps seem way too long to cinch down the deck. It didn’t really matter, they tucked in well enough. Maybe the extra strap length is to roll the unused skirt in there too.
The two-piece inflatable seat and backrest are not your ordinary packraft affair. The anatomically curved backrest hangs from a six adjustable pivoting mounts using q/d clips (right) to reduce stresses on the mounts and help fine-tune your back support. A TPU sheet sewn to the inflatable chamber takes the buckle tension. This backrest won’t flop forward as on some packraft one-piece backrest/seats – very handy when clambering in, especially through the hatch. The whole backrest weighs 310g and costs €39 if you want to fit one to your boat. It detaches in seconds, handy to allow a passenger to temporarily hop in.
Solo, the mass of your weight settles on the thick, seat pad. It’s attached via the usual, very much not easily adjustable or removable lace-up tab mounts, except they’re glued on halfway up the hull sides at the 32-cm narrow point (left), not down on the floor’s edge as on regular packrafts. One problem with this laced set-up is if you want to move the seat much more than an inch or two forward or back. Depending on your weight there will be fewer holes taking the load. It can’t be beyond the wit of packboat design to allow easy removal or repositioning.
The S1’s clever seat arrangement partly supports the paddler’s weight from the big side tubes and so limits undesirable ‘bum sag‘. The Nomad does not sag like the underwater image above (an unknown packraft). In this boat the weight of the paddler prsses directly on and deforms the floor which can’t be good for hydrodynamics or floor wear and tear in the shallows. Paddler weight pressing down midway in a long, low-pressure boat – even with an inflatable floor – tends to make it bend in rough water or a swell. You can see they thought about this with the longer-than-normal Nomad. It was the problem that limited my old Gumotex Sunny (water came over the sides in rapids or a swell) which was eventually solved by getting the more rigid, higher pressure Seawave (and which is solved entirely by drop-stitch technology).
Flip the boat over and you can see that there are slight bulges at each end (left). I’m told it’s a cunning design feature to produce ‘negative rocker’ (opposite of upswept ends) and help with tracking and speed. The similar-sized EX280 we tried was flat floored and I must say it seemed to work. The S1 tracks fine without the skeg.
The 410D floor has a good overlap of glue where it attaches to the 210D hull tubes covering the tube seams (glued because I think you can’t easily heat weld two different deniers of TPU). The quality of the taping is all as neat as you like, with not a single strand of stray glue or malformed creasing.
The skeg (or directional fin) is Gumotex size but slips on like a Sea Eagle IK (‘American box fitting’ iirc, same as on iSUP boards) into a moulded plastic slot glued up the stern. It locks in place with a flat pin on a string so when removed you can secure the skeg somewhere via this pin and string. I do the same when packing my Seawave so as not to misplace the sometimes vital skeg. Even when not mounted, that skeg pad is the lowest part of the boat which scrapes first so usefully sparing the floor from damage. Other than that you have four well-positioned attachment loops, with a broad base to secure anything up to a bike. There’s the same arrangement on the stern. These mount points become less essential because you have space behind the seat to stash stuff low and retain stability and visibility. There are two more long loops inside, with another pair of mount points at the front for thigh straps. The test boat also had some handy string handles knotted on to the outermost attachment loops.
S1 at Sea There are no rivers near here bigger than a boulder-filled burn right now, so we took the S1 out along a rocky coast, along a slightly surfy beach, then rinsed it off with a quick sail down a freshwater loch. I don’t know if it’s the greater size, the kayak-like handling, the reduction of front-to-rear yawing or the elevated seat, but on a less than smooth sea I took to the S1 straight away. Despite being another single chamber packboat, it inspired confidence that I’d not necessarily experience in my smaller Alpacka Yak. I paddled it without the skeg and as expected, can’t say I missed it. The Nomad tracked very well and, compared to my Seawave kayak, doesn’t really produce enough glide per stroke to send it drastically off course, notwithstanding the small corrections you subconsciously make as you paddle along. I wonder if the lightness of the boat as well as its flat floor are what makes these intuitive micro-adjustments in tracking so effective. Who knows, but if attempting longer, more exposed sea crossings (I’m talking a mile or more, not Nova Scotia) a skeg must be a good idea to stop the boat getting pushed about from the sides, especially with a tail wind.
Without the skeg I appreciated the S1’s agility nudging in and out of the rocks as a light swell rolled in. Stability was very much not an issue; being jammed in more or less at the narrow 32-cm width with feet touching the distant bow and the well-designed backrest all helped. My hips are 40-cm wide but I didn’t really notice the squeeze as I would were I down on the floor. Up to a point you can brace with your shins which are so close together there wouldn’t be much play to pull on thigh braces (actually not so – they work OK; right).
Over by the beach occasional foot-high waves were thundering on the shore; a chance to get knocked about a bit and have some fun. The stability made it easy to play around, with enough agility, clearance and central weight to spin quickly in the shallows before getting beached. Sure, some water came in, but on a warm day it’s a lot more fun playing with an open boat. To drain it just hop out, flip over, flip back and hop back in.
Even without the skeg, the central, kayak-like paddling position, as well as the length (Length-Weight Index 3.38 – about half that of a typical hardshell sea kayak), pretty much eliminates your typical packraft yawing. Not so sure about crossing over and circling the Summer Islands – it’s still a single-chamber craft – but I can see coast-hopping being enjoyable in the way it wouldn’t be in a regular solo packraft. On the way back from the beach against a quartering wind, the GPS recorded a brief high of 4.1mph paddling along normally.
We nipped over to freshwater Loch Ra which is now so low I had to wade a couple of hundred metres to find some depth. The skeg was now on but I can’t say I felt like it made much difference the way it would do on my IK. We went out on my Seawave a few weeks ago and the forgotten skeg was a right pain downwind. Upwind it’s barely necessary. I hooked up the WindPaddle to the yellow string handle. The breeze was blowing only about a 6-8mph but the Nomad picked it up and ran with it up to 3.5mph – as fast as I could have paddled. Again, I don’t think the skeg helped with the tracking as the boat was effectively being dragged along by its nose like a wet towel. Later in the afternoon I went back out onto the loch, paddling up briskly to the windward end where I let the sail take me back down. It wasn’t blowing enough to break any records but it’s nice to sit back and listen to the plink-plink of the water slapping under the bow. Mid-loch it felt like it was doing a good 4mph.
I’m really getting into this WindPaddle; I like the way you can steer up to 30° either side of the wind. On this boat it was easy to pull the sail down, cross it over once and tuck it under the knees, even with the deck on. There’s more Nomad WindPaddling here. Back at the bank I removed the sail and the skeg and went for a scoot upwind, across-wind and downwind, but still can’t say the boat was hard to track. Maybe with more of a backwind it would get out of shape, but by then the waves would briefly lift the skeg out on the crests and possibly push it around. It’s nice to have the option but also good to know the Nomad handles well enough without a skeg on loch and coast.
Fyi: if you think your boat also needs a skeg (directional fin), the Store sells an inexpensive skeg and glue-on patch from 420D floor fabric. There’s a template here.
Nomading it Up Good to know first impressions can be correct. I saw the promise in the Nomad S1 when I first clocked it on the Packrafting Store’s website. It is nearly the same length but more than half the weight and rolled-up volume of our old Gumotex Solar 300, but longer than the current 9-kilo Gumotex Twist 1 which, at just 2.6m has only half the buoyancy (ie: not much at all).
Trying it out on sea and surf-ish and loch, with sail and without skeg, I could seriously consider replacing my Yak with a Nomad (later, I did). I think there’s a potential for a skirt-free model and I’d even suggest the skeg could be an option too (P-Store make one of those too, now: S1 Light; right no skeg, deck, or braces and a 4-mount foam backrest). The main drawback is the €1299 price – that’s about £1150 or the same as a top-of-the-range, made-in-Europe Gumotex with a deck or rudder option and a signed certificate from Brzeslaw Gumotek. Longshore sell the less sophisticated EX280 double in what looks like the same fabric for half that price, and the Store themselves have albeit basic packrafts from €470. They say the deck costs a lot to make and fit but fabric and assembly in China can’t be that disparate. Of course the price you pay is right for a boat which gives you years of fun, as I have found. An Austrian Grabner double IK can cost over €3000, so can an Incept.
Alternatives to S1
As for alternatives there is really nothing like the Nomad at the moment, though I bet Alpacka are watching and waiting to move into packayak territory. Partly it’s because the extended stern idea has greatly improved the dynamics of packrafts, positioning the paddler more centrally but adding length without interior space. Nortik’s uninspiringly named FamilyRaft (left is the same length but over a metre wide and looks like Advanced Elements’ tacky Packlite.
You might try and make the similar-sized and weight Longshore International EX280 (left) into a solo kayak-like boat. But the Longshore is 12cm wider and the bow is much blunter and they closed down in 2020. It looks more like what it is: a long packraft made for two, not a solo ‘TPU kayak’, and of course it has no deck or skeg.
I’d say closer comparison to the Nomad are actual IKs, among which I’d include Gumotex’s Twist 1, Twist 2 (left) and the fixed-decked Swing 1. The Swing actually looks (and I hear is) a bit crap by Gumo’s standards, with an odd deck design and excessive width. Those three boats cost from just £369 (T1) up to £549 for the Swing 1, but are all at least twice as heavy while the T1 has half the claimed payload of the Nomad. If the Nomad is on the limit for packability, an 11-kilo IK definitely is.
What about using the two-foot longer Barracuda R2 (left) as a solo touring packboat? Many of the solo touring IKs recommended on this site are longer tandem boats over 3 metres, like my Seawave adapted for single touring use. I have found the crux to avoid the Sunny-like sag mentioned above is a high-pressure hull like my Seawave, all Grabners or my old Incept. I’m not convinced a 3.65-m long, lung-pressure Barracuda R2 would not sag a little under solo, centrally positioned use. You could get around that with a drop-stitch floor panel but that’s more stuff and needs a powerful pump. The other riskier way round would be to run higher hull pressure using a pump. I do that to my Seawave to improve performance, but have added pressure relief valves (easily done on a packraft too). Better though, to run a boat (or anything) within its design limits.
So a Nomad may be on the weight limit of classic land-and-water packrafts, but it certainly makes travelling somewhere by plane or a train or on a pushbike much less of an effort than with even the lightest IK, while giving IK-like performance once on the water, be it a gnarly river, a windy loch or a rocky seashore. Kayakraft? Packayak? It’s definitely not a kakraft.
Thanks to the Anfibio Packrafting Store for supplying another test boat. More about it here.
“The Nomad is another co-development between Anfibio Packrafting and MRS (Micro Rafting System). Combined with MRS’s manufacturing expertise and fabric know-how, our years of packrafting experience helped refine the design of the final product. Serial production takes place in the Far East with manufacturing carried out in small, hand-built batches. All products have an extended three-year warranty.”