Tag Archives: group packraft test

Packraft Group Test: Alpacka Yak

Packraft Test Intro • Supai Matkat • MRS Microraft  • Aire BAKraft • Nortik Trekraft • Summary

pgtYAK09pgtBAK14It was time to hop into my boat – a 2014 model Yak. You can read more about it here. There’s no real need to go on about it too much as it’s a well proven product. It’s use here was more to aid real time comparisons with the other four boats on test. I did this Medway run in it last year at an average of 3.4mph which for a packraft is pretty good going. Today with all the yaking and picture taking it was more like 1.1mph.
pgtYAK13I knew the Yak was a tad short when I chose it and I see now that the tapered bow exacerbates that slimness at the feet. For me it’s fine bare foot, not so comfy in footwear. Because of this I rarely use the inflatable backpad to fill out the space.
pgtYAK05It’s great to see how Alpacka have evolved since my first Alpacka, an old-shaped decked Denali Llama back in 2010. The ‘fastback’ stern introduced a year later was a convincing reason to sell the Llama and get a Yak. The stern prong acts both like a skeg, reducing the yawing pgtYAK10motion at the bow – and adds buoyancy at the back of an inevitably back-heavy design, so improving the trim. It’s no surpeise to see the MRS and Nortik adopting similar designs. The old-style deck on my 2011 Yak was no better than before, better than nothing but feeling fragile and not that effective. Now Alpacka seem to have sorted that with a permanent, more kayak-like design also found on the Trekraft, and while I’m not convinced myself, the Cargo Fly is another ingenious innovation.
A question you might ask is having tried the competition, would I buy another Alpacka? as with all of them I bought it direct from the factory during a sale and either picked them up over there or got it brought over. I liked the fact that I could order a boat to my specifications (lighter floor, custom colours), even if that process took a long time and was incorrectly delivered. But I like to try new stuff so should my Yak be attacked and shredded by a pack of rabid Tibetan mastiffs, it’s good to have new stuff to choose from.


gpt-dimchart

Packraft Group Test: Nortik Trekraft

Packraft Test Intro • Supai Matkat • MRS Microraft  • Aire BAKraft • Alpacka Yak • Summary


pgtTRK15After a chilly lunch at East Lock, sheltering against the wind behind a couple of upturned boats, it was my turn to try the Nortik Trekraft.
The day before I had all the boats out in the garden and have to say these Russians look like they can cut and assemble a German-designed packraft just as well as anyone else. Maybe it’s not so hard, but I doubt it. The manufacturer Triton has been making folding and inflatable kayaks for years. In Germany slightly different models are sold under the Faltboot brand who are part of Out-Trade who designed the Nortik Trekraft – or something like that. Like a lot of Russian-made gear, I’ve read that some Triton kayaks have an unrefined, agricultural reputation that can be mistaken for ruggedness and durability.
pgtTRK12Feathercraft’s unsold-in-Europe BayLee ought to get a look in, but if one assumes Alpackas are the current state of the art then, like the MRS, the Trekraft is up there. The early production run Trekraft we had was just under 3.1kg on the water. Newer versions of the same model are said to be some 200g lighter.
The truth will be in the durability of course, as out of the box a €600 packraft floats just as well as a £30 slackraft. As with a lot of outdoor gear, you can pay a lot more to gain a small advantage, which can include image as much as performance.
pgtTRK11You wonder if heat welding the joins with tape without also sewing each panel’s seams is strong enough? Well, if you assume that, as with welding steel, the two pieces become joined on a molecular level then it must be, though that didn’t work so well on our Matkat test boat. In this way you’d think sewing (as the MRS and Alpacka do) is as redundant as riveting over a steel weld. Sewing may be more to do with aiding reliably accurate assembly without recourse to tape. And anyway, the Trekraft handled the Store’s 0.5 bar pressure test as well as the rest.
pgtTRK04pgtTRK01Other details on the Trekraft include four plastic D-rings on the bow, easier to use than tape loops but possibly prone to sub-freezing brittleness and attached by a relatively small contact area compared to a typical 3-inch patch. The seat (left) is a bit less thick than the other two test boats with seats, and is held in place with four small velcro tabsgpt-trekseatvelc biting both sides of the loop part (right). If the loop tab on the seat was full length it would enable some forward positioning options – and this raft has the interior room to do that. As it is, velcro does have a finite life span and is a pain to replace compared to bits of Alpackan string (or reusable zip ties which I prefer in my Yak).

gpt-trekdekjoinA nice touch unique to the Trekraft is taping the floor to the hull inside the boat where otherwise grit can gather and work its way into the join. Same goes for the spraydeck on the decked Trekraft (orange, right – not tested here).
pgtTRK13For the moment the Trekraft only comes in one size and one thing that put me off when the dimensions became known was it seemed too big inside. Even on flat water a packraft works best when it’s a snug fit in width and length, just like a shoe. On a kayak, footrests do the same. Our Nortik came in at 134cm inside, the MRS and Yak were 117 and 120cm and the MRS felt just my size (helped by the non-tapered foot box). In width too the Trekraft is from 9- to 5cm wider than the other two (the Supai was widest at 43cm). Tube diametre is 29cm; midway between the Microraft and Alpacka.
pgtmu-16I have to say though, getting in and paddling away I didn’t notice any ‘looseness’, though I and others did stuff some bags down at the bow to take up the slack and stop us sliding down. The raft is actually nearly the same overall length as my Yak in which I am well jammed; the added inches are accounted for by the Yak’s longer stern prong.
pgtmu-13We noticed that at each changeover (~40 mins) the Trek needed a puff or two up its one-way valve, though not enough to make us bother looking for a leak. All the boats except the pump-pressured Aire needed this, though part of that may be my preference to paddle a boat that’s as hard as my lungs will permit. Also, the afternoon cooled off and showered to the point where I at least was numb and shivering by the time we reached the tea shop in Yalding. So much for early summer in the Garden of England. There’s more on each boat’s inflation procedure on the introduction page; the Trekraft does have a small operational anomaly.
604_12mod-bilgeOn my second spell in the Trekraft I found water oozing up through the floor after a few minutes. It turned out I’d inadvertently been sitting on the bilge pump (right) which had slid under the seat. The edge of the intake had pressed against the floor and pushed a slit a few millimetres wide through the fabric. Normally you’d avoid any edged object pressing under 90 kilos into a packraft’s single-skin floor, but I’m not sure this would have happened so quickly on my Yaks’ more robust floor (but which I’ve also holed one time). I did notice that while paddling the floor seemed to wobble more than it does on my Yak, as if it’s either less rigid or not as taut. You can see it in the groupie photo or here.
extrafloorFloor fragility
was something I addressed (rather clumsily) with my very first Alpacka (right) and is why I now run a double thickness ‘butt patch’ on my Yak, plus a closed cell foam heel pad at the front. How ironic that the bailing pump caused the need for a bailing pump. A bit of stray tape stemmed the flow and at Yalding Robin pulled out a proper bit of gaffer from his batbelt and fixed it for good.

https://vimeo.com/125670094

pgtmu-10One benefit of the Trekraft’s generous internal space is the ability of packing your gear low in the boat, not strapped over the bow blocking the view of some oncoming hazard – or inside the hull tubes, as Alpacka’s cunning but flawed Cargo Fly system allows. I imagine that could be adapted to any TPU-coated boat though you could also try packing gear behind you as on the Aire to put you in a more balanced, kayak-like paddling position. beachbo Not sure if that’s really necessary with the Nortik and anyway, all the gear at the back would make the boat back heavy. I like the suggested idea of a beachball backrest – gives you something to do at lunchtime, too. Or of course it makes a roomy platform for bikerafting.
pgtTRK16The other useful benefit we found was the ability to fit two smaller adults in the Nortik. With the Supai out of action and the Aire not that effective as a tandem boat, Hannah and Lois didn’t look too cramped, huddled in the now repaired Trekraft for the last short stretch to Hampstead Lock. It shrugged off their 150-kilo load (left) without looking like it was about to sink. So may have my Yak, but they’d have needed prising out of that one with a hair drier and a spatula.
To me the best thing about the Nortik is the €600 price. That’s over a hundred quid less than  I paid for my Yak, even bought direct in the US. And the (properly) decked Trekraft goes for just €200 more, though it may help to pad out the insides to make a good connection for whitewatering. The weak rouble may have something to do with all this but between them, those are the two best reasons to have a closer look at a Nortik packraft.

Nortik test boat supplied by the
packrafting_store_logo

gpt-dimchart

Packraft Group Test: Summary

Packraft Test Intro • Supai Matkat • MRS Microraft  • Aire BAKraft • Nortik Trekraft • Alpacka Yak

pgtYAK03One tends to compare new boats against Alpacka because they were the innovators who took the whole packrafting game forward. Now that I’ve tried the competition I can see the gap between the Colorado-made boats and the two similar packrafts from China and Russia is much smaller than most would imagine.
starpaxBut between them these five boats occupy three different categories, with some overlap. The MRS, Nortik and Alpacka all make great do-it-all boats, especially as the later two have spray skirt options. The Supai and the Aire (in prototype form) are more single-minded and uncompromising: extreme lightness or kayak-like hair-boating agility.
Back pgtMRS16in the day the question was ‘which Alpacka should I buy and what specification can I afford?’ Now it’s great to have the choice that’ll no doubt see the new contenders evolve and others emerge.
packdogsOther vendors do exist but you can see the full range of the Packrafting Store’s 14-odd packrafts here. And don’t forget, you can rent before you buy to save you making an expensive mistake.
Thanks to the floating foursome: Bob, Hannah, Lois and Robin, for giving up a day to help out with this group packrafting test.


gpt-dimchart

Packraft Group Test: Supai Matkat

Packraft Test Intro  • MRS Microraft  • Aire BAKraft • Nortik Trekraft • Alpacka Yak • Summary
Like ultralight? See Anfibio Alpha XC

pgtMAT10Among other things Supai Adventure Gear (moto: ‘Where every ounce counts‘) makes what have become to be known as ‘crossrafts’, ultralight packrafts suited to gentle flatwater floats, canyoneering or crossing lakes while avoiding any kind of rough handling. In other words it’s like a slackraft pool toy, but at a fraction of the weight and made from fabric, not PVC film.
We were a bit unlucky with our Matkat so bear that in mind when reading what follows. We assumed the previous user had given our example a hard time and managed to put no less than two holes and a split in it. That’s two more punctures than I’ve collected in ten years with IKs and five years of packrafting. The Packrafting Store has since been informed by Supai that that boat was part of a batch with production flaws. Blowing the boat up out of the box revealed a puncture under the stern (not unexpected in that position) but once that was fixed another leak emerged  from a split seam.
pgtMAT02hotsunThe seam may well be a manufacturing fault, or the black boat could have been left out in the hot sun for too long (right) – a lesson I’ve learned the hard way with a previous IK and one reason I did this to my current kayak.
Had the Matkat been my boat I’d have either sent it back or hot-ironed the split shut (as I’ve successfully done on an old Alpacka seat). But I didn’t want to risk inadvertently melting a hole in the test raft, so I played it safe with some Bostik 1782. That done, the raft still seemed to lose pressure – or was it just me? I checked the cap and valve and then tried to check the exterior seam for other leaks in the bath, but the Matkat’s bulk makes this awkward to do unless you have a bathroom out of an Imperial Leather advert. So I decided I was being fussy. These ultralight crossrafts are always a bit floppy, aren’t they?
pgtMAT16But now, ten minutes downriver from Tonbridge Town Lock I wasn’t being fussy as the boat got soggier and soggier and my arms strained with the effort of hauling it through the water. Even getting in saw the boat fold up under my weight and take on water; that’s why I’d brought a bailing pump.
pgtmu-09Another ten minutes downstream and I had to call in a top-up (I couldn’t reach the short tube for fear of swamping). As air was slowly lost the boat didn’t actually get lower in the water. Instead you sank lower into it as the raft collapsed in on itself. Your backside sags at least six inches below water level making paddling the metre-wide raft even more awkward (you’ll want a long paddle with this one – even with no leaks). Pumped up it was briefly much better – or as good as a Matkat can get, but I needed another top-up before the next chute and a welcome raft change over.
pgtMAT18pgtMAT19Looking at the photos it doesn’t look that bad, does it. But that’s because, like a slackraft, the weight of a person on the water gives the the boat form. Step out (above right) and it became unnervingly limp.
fx2-jpadIt was the same for everyone in what we christened the ‘Bin Bag’. I now know how my mate Jeff felt a couple of years back, paddling his execrable slackraft for nearly a week along far northern Australia’s Fitzroy River (right). Paddling a wide,  soggy, unresponsive boat is as much fun as cycling on flat tyres. But like a slackraft, even at full pressure I doubt a Matkat’s thin fabric can’t attain rigidity of a conventional packraft. That’s the price you pay for an inexpensive boat that can almost fit inside a large jacket pocket and weighs less than my lightest carbon schmarbon stick.

supai196Robin and I briefly tested Supai’s Canyon Flatwater II (left) in late 2013 and, while both attracted to the ultralight crossraft concept, came away unconvinced. The Flatwater floated with 80-kilo Robin in it, but lacked reassuring buoyancy once anything other than the gentlest of paddling was called for. Robin was inches from shipping water over the stern and settling it off into a bobbing cycle could see it swamp (The near-freezing conditions and inappropriate clothing may have influenced our paranoia). The black Matkat is Supai’s answer to the ‘XXL version’ we hoped to see.
pgtMAT17Back on the Medway over lunch I finally tracked down a tiny hole in the top of the raft near the inflation port. I’d expect damage underneath and maybe another seam to blow, but this was the last place I’d look. So however it happened, it does make you wonder if 75D polyester is pushing things a bit too far for the realities of wilderness adventuring rather than goofing about. su-msrfabIncidentally our Matkat’s fabric didn’t look the same as the red Flatwater II we tested – there’s no embossed diamond pattern. Instead it has the same texture as the MSR water bags I compared the red boat to (right), though I can’t say the Matkat felt any thinner than the red boat.
pgtMAT20We’d hoped (and even suggested that) Supai make a longer boat with fatter tubes, something more suited to grown men carrying gear. Instead the Matkat is simply a Canyon with 8cm oversized tubes. Now at least a metre wide and 43cm wide where you sit, we weren’t even sure it would fit down the first chute out of Tonbridge. That makes it wider than the Aire BAKraft but you’re sitting up to a foot lower down, well below water level. That’s made worse with no seat. Knowing that I brought an old Alpacka seat base for everyone to use. Bare that in mind in the pictures. Above left is Lois; at 65kg the trim is just about level but she’s sitting some 4-inches higher than normal.
pgtMAT01Like the Canyon, the Matkat has seven reinforced attachment points punched out from extension tabs along the peripheral hull seam (left). They may all be better used to thread in a perimeter grab line than for attaching heavy gear. Or maybe tie gear off a grab line to avoid a thin line’s direct force on the tab’s hole. More so than other packrafts, the extremely light Supai’s will take off at the slightest gust – and if that happens on the water following a capsize you could be in trouble. Hence the suggested grab line if not even a tether when paddling in windy conditions.
pgtMAT11All day the Matkat languished at the back of the pack as each stoically endured their spell in the Bin Bag, periodically asking “how far d’you say to the next chute?” A shower hosed us down and as we neared Yalding tea shop Hannah on her second spell was getting lower and lower in the water until just her head and arms were visible above the sides. It was decided to abandon ship and enact an on-water emergency evacuation. We unclipped the Aire’s bulky backrest, Hannah crawled onto the BAKraft and with Lois they shot off downstream like a skimmed pebble. The Matkat was aired down and stuffed into a raft.
pgtMAT15CanyonvsKatI said as much when the Matkat’s dimensions were announced a couple of months agoBy taking the easy way out and using the same floor pan and internal section, Supai missed a trick by making this a fatter, wider raft (100 x 175cm, but see the intro) rather than a slimmer, longer one. As it is both Supai models could easily lose 5cm of width inside; it’s not like you’re going to be bracing the thing through Grade III whitewater. It reminds me why the Alpacka-style extended stern works so well: it adds buoyancy where it’s needed but without width – and it lengthens the water line for greater speed.
Suapi-PhotosThere is a place for an inexpensive sub-1000-gram crossraft. I could have used one myself in Turkey the other month where the 3kg weight and bulk of my Yak became a chore over 200kms. But no matter how flat the water – be it Scotland or Alaska or the Lycian shore – alone you want to feel secure mid-river, estuary or lake if a gust comes up, a swell rolls in or an oil tanker’s wake surges towards you.
The 792-g Matkat has the added buoyancy the Canyon lacks, but the claimed payload of nearly 150 kilos feels improbable in the real world; the momentum of that weight against any wave will see it plough in. The Matkat is now so wide for it’s length it paddles little better than a tractor inner tube wrapped in string (click one back in that slideshow to see what happens to Supais when used too hard).
pgtMAT06supai06And with this estimated 30% added volume over the Canyon (right) you could really use an air bag, even if they make it an optional extra. (More on inflation – and a suggested solution – in the intro). A  seat can be up to the user: they could to sit on a pack or buy a 150-gAlpacka for $25.
Sevylor TrailBotpgtMAT21To be fair a full day on a calm river is not a leaking Matkat’s forte, though it’s interesting to note it handled all the chutes, including the steep Sluice Weir, (left) without shipping any more water than the other rafts, including my snazzy Yak. As I mentioned in the Canyon review, what we wanted next was the same boat but just bigger all round (not unlike the long lost Sevylor Trail Boat, above right) because it looks like that would work. Perhaps a 75D crossraft couldn’t contain a longer hull without folding. Whatever the reason, if it ends up weighing 1106 grams, is made of a more rugged fabric and comes with an air bag, then so much the better. For other crossrafts see this.

gpt-dimchart

Packraft Group Test: MRS Microraft

Packraft Test Intro • Supai Matkat  • Aire BAKraft • Nortik Trekraft • Alpacka Yak • Summary
See also Anfibio Alpha XC – 2018

pgtMRS17yeahbabyAfter being pulled out of the Matkat this was much more like. I was gliding along, whoosing forward with each paddle stroke, tucked under the deck of the MRS Microraft. Yeah, baby! However unfair, we all admitted that whichever boat you used after the Bin Bag was the best boat of the day.
pgtMRS19A Chinese-made packraft sounds like a hard sell, especially when it so closely resembles a Gen II decked Alpacka that it risks being labelled a cheap knock off. But the price of the Microraft isn’t cheap, and as far as we could tell neither is the build quality. With China’s enduring if outdated ‘made in Hong Kong’ reputation and MRS’s unsophisticated website on Aliexpress, this can be something that’s hard to get your head around. But we forget that good and cool stuff is made in China too: when’s the last time someone scoffed at an iPhone because it was made in Chengdu? The difference is that pgtMRS13iPhones are probably designed in some groovy Californian creative play pen. That’s not the case with MRS but whoever’s behind them is definately not in the knock-off or pool toy game and has gone out of their way to make this comparable with Alpacka in more than just looks.
pgtMRS07The deck may look identical to the thin velcro-and zip item I had (but rarely used) on my first two Alpackas. But the Microraft differs significantly in having parallel side tubes (like a white water raft) and less bow upturn. You imagine the parallel tubes simplify construction a little and I didn’t sense any noticeable tracking drawbacks on the water. On the contrary this arrangement makes for a footbox that’s as wide as the seat so that even in this Small/Medium 120-cm-long model my large feet weren’t jammed as they are in my 177-cm long Yak.
pgtMRS04pgtMRS18At 27cm the Microraft does run the thinnest tubes of the bunch and I noticed that Bob (at 85kg – right) looked quite low and back-heavy (I’d have been even lower) while Hannah and Lois looked just right in this raft. And we’re told that a side benefit of slimmer side tubes is better edging in rough water. The picture from the Store (left) clearly show that the Microraft can tackle the white water with the best of them.
pgtMRS11The seat is threaded in with string like Alpackas and our boat came with nine attachment loops, four up front, two at the back and three inside. The fabric has less of a shiny sheen too, but is applied to both sides so is more puncture resistant. Another thing I liked about the MRS was the non-featherweight air bag that feels so much nicer in the hand than my Alpacka’s net curtain. (They say restos with heavy cutlery can charge more). And the valve cap attached to the valve body: a simple solution to lost caps held on with string.
pgtmu-24I never trusted that lightweight ‘Cruiser’ deck on my Alpackas, and the attachment was messy with exposed positioning tape peel;ing away on a hot day. But as our test day grew increasingly chilly and wet, so everyone in the MRS including me was pleased to tuck in and zip up, like a granny by the fireside. It’s not a bomb-proof solution to white water – the decked Trekraft or self-bailing BAKraft are probably better, but it sure slows down the swamping while keeping your legs warm.
pgtMRS21Only the 1000-euro price tag needs some getting used to; it feels too close to an Alpacka while you assume Chinese workers’ wages aren’t, even if their workmanship and the materials used are hard to tell apart. If you took off the MRS label, I could have easily been fooled that this was a new Alpacka model. And that alone must be worth the price.

MRS test boat supplied by the
packrafting_store_logo

gpt-dimchart

Packraft Group Test: Aire BAKraft

Packraft Test IntroSupai MatkatMRS Microraft  •  Nortik TrekraftAlpacka YakSummary

pgtBAK04logo_aireA muddy bank below Porters chute and it was my chance to mount the BAKraft – that’s ‘BAK’ as in Backcountry Airlight Kayak. The concept was developed in Idaho by a guy called Cory Walker until nearby Aire in Meridian, ID stepped in to help finish the job.
aire-forceThe result is a ‘packraft’ that resembles Aire’s shorter whitewater IKs like the 14.5kg, 2.9 x 1.1m Force (right), right down to the rockered ‘banana’ profile, bladdered ‘AIRECell’ construction and high, self-bailing floor.

I’ve long admired Aire’s IKs from afar and came close to buying one a couple of times, but besides being unknown in Europe, the weight, price and the bladdered design always put me off, even though some are guaranteed for up to a decade.
pgtBAK07As a packraft-like-kayak I wasn’t so sure about the BAKraft either. Intrepid wilderness adventurer Forrest McCarthy took an earlier prototype down the Grand Canyon last autumn, but a promised full review has yet to appear. In fact the long post had surprisingly little to say about the new BAKraft: “very responsive yet amazingly stable” was the limit of it.
The BAKraft pitches itself as a hybrid IK/packraft or maybe even an ‘SoT’ packraft that seems more suited to whitewater than packraft trekking. It’s important to note that the boat we had was a prototype and at the time of writing Aire were midway through a ‘production/material’ cock up that had set them back a few weeks. It’s unclear exactly what that was but it’s possible that some of the reservations you will read below may be addressed.

pgtBAK18Whatever turns out, we’re assured the final version will be much lighter because both the Aire and BAKraft websites claim BAKrafts will be ‘7lbs 2oz’ (114oz or 3.23kg). On the water our prototype weighed in at 4.25kg with seat and thigh straps – that’s over a kilo or nearly a third more than their target weight. The final production BAKraft will have to go on quite a diet, even if this claimed weight follows the supposed ‘industry standard’ of a stripped out boat with anything removable removed (that’s how Alpacka do it).
pgtBAK24There’s more on each of the test boat’s construction in the intro page but  the most obvious place to save weight will be in the heavyweight material used for backrest. It’s a PU-coated nylon which feels about 500 denier and weighs 458g.
In our prototype it looks like the same fabric was used in the I-beam floor where you’d imagine it might be needed. So Cory the designer explained in an email when I was trying to square the weight anomaly.  You may agree with him when you undo the side zips and see how thin a urethane AIRECell actually feels. I’ve never actually seen one before and I wonder if this is the same weight as used on their IKs and rafts.
pgtBAK08Other than that our prototype was a bit over-generous with attachment points: a line of eight along each side of the floor (similar to Aire IKs), four more on the deck and two under the bow and stern with metal rings. There are even what look like carry handles midway under the boat (right). For portaging, perhaps? Who knows but there’s some scope for a little weight saving before the floor takes a urethene AIREcell.
pgtBAK06The first thing they might consider is ditching the whole ‘ISC’ (‘inflation, seat, cargo’) bag idea. As an inflation device you’ll have read it’s cumbersome and anless I’m missing some trick it doesn’t work for long as a backrest either, because a roll-top seal is not an airtight seal.
pgtBAK12I anticipated this and sure enough the backrest slowly collapsed as you tip further and further back until you look like someone in a deckchair on Brighton beach. This is partly because the semi-rigid seal strips in the bag opening are folded and sewn into the uncoated side of the fabric which is textured, rough and therefore not airtight. Rolling the fabric the other way – PU coating out – to make sleeves for the strips would have made a more effective seal. It’s hard to think someone like Aire of all people didn’t anticipate this. There is a twist-lock valve at the back of the bag (part of the convoluted inflation system described on the intro page) but you can’t reach it on the water without getting on your knees and turning round (a long Supai-like top-up tube might help if they persevere with this idea).
pgtBAK25Fact is, the best use for this ‘ISC’ bag is simply a trunk. Right from the start we piled all our stuff into it in the vain hope of making it a more supportive backrest, but it’s not in an ideal place for weight distribution and trim. Everyone who paddled the BAK looked back heavy. With the raft’s bow sticking up, a sudden gust on steep wave might flip you over backwards, surely not a good thing in a creek boat. As it is the BAKraft’s pgt-lowboartshigh bow and buoyancy would make it hard work touring all day into a headwind, wherever you stash your gear.
bakyakI say ditch the ISC which ruins the elegant lines of the boat anyway. Let the user sort out their own baggage requirements if needed. Then supply something like a Feathercraft BayLee-air bag or their handpump (just $35) and concoct a simple stiff-backed, non-inflating backrest. Aire knows all about that; I used one of their IK seats years ago on my Gumotex Sunny. It was the best thing around at the time. Otherwise, fit a TiZip in the ISC bag or revert to the sealed inflatable pillow or thwart backrest shown above left.
pgtBAK21On the water you sit high on the inflated floor – a necessity to keep you out of the water that sloshes around the self-bailing ports. On getting in I instinctively pulled on the thigh straps; they helped a bit from sinking backwards against the backrest but interestingly I didn’t feel the lack of a seat pad made my paddling stance uncomfortable which makes me think shoulder-to-water height may have more to do with it than bum-higher-than-feet. That height helps you reach past the metre-wide sides and, with the pump-assisted 2psi pressure in the tubes, the BAKraft skims along quite efficiently, pgtBAK17even if I was leaning back at 15°, 16°, 17°… Sagging backrest apart, a much longer paddle would be needed to genuinely assess comfort.
I can’t say I perceived any drag from the bailing ports, the comparatively high pressure saw to that and the pronounced rocker saw the raft easy to turn (though no packraft is exactly short on turnability). Obviously the chutes didn’t give the Aire any grief; this raft was gagging for some meaty white water which in southeast England is as commonplace as a herd of stampeding wildebeast.
pgtBAK27Not being a white water thrill seeker I wasn’t inspired by the half-finished BAKraft. It’s too heavy and bulky for packraft travels and the backrest and inflation system needs rethinking. The thigh straps are a start, but a footrest is also needed for steep impacts or just general paddling efficiency (easily done with all the attachment loops).
But even if they do get the weight down to the claimed 3.23kg, I feel the BAKraft is much better used as a creek boat than a traditional packraft for pgtBAK13wilderness travel. And even then, Sven from the Store admitted in the rapids it was quite a steep learning curve compared to regular spray-skirted whitewater packrafts with a much lower centre of gravity and so better stability. The buoyancy is massive but it’s a tippy boat, both side to side and front to back. Doubtless I wouldn’t last five minutes in it. He also found the Dyneema floor a bit slippery when wearing nylon clothing and the thigh braces not so comfy (I find fitting braces floor-to-floor works best, as shown in the video below).

pgtBAK29pgtBAK28Towards the end of the test we got a chance to test the BAKraft’s payload claims when we abandined the Matkat. Lois and Hannah paddled it two-up with a total weight of 150kg with all the gear. Lois at the back found herself sitting in water until Hannah hung her legs out over the bow to counterbalance things. But for her it wasn’t a viable paddling stance and it’s not designed to do this of course. If you’re looking for a small double packraft, the Trekraft worked better.
pgtBAK05The BAKraft will suit experienced whitewater rafters who prefer not being hemmed in by spray skirts and can handle the boat’s lively characteristics. I can see skirt-scorning BAKrafters scrambling way up to some inaccessible mountain river to pull off a first descent which would have been a chore to get to with any other type of boat.
pgtBAK15When it was all over I was reminded of the other factor that’s always put me off bladder (‘inner tube’) boats. They take ages to dry while leaves and other riverine detritus collected in the nooks and crannies which all need a good hosing. With a TPU packraft it’s just a quick wipe, shake and vac. (The black Supai dried even faster.) A production BAKraft won’t get around that, but hopefully some of the flaws we found in this prototype will get sorted in the final version.

Packrafting Store page.

gpt-dimchart