Tag Archives: nortik trekraft

Packraft Group Test • Introduction

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Supai Matkat • MRS Microraft  • Aire BAKraft • Nortik Trekraft • Alpacka Yak • Summary

It’s 2020 and things have moved on. See also:
Anfibio Nano RTC
Anfibio Alpha XC ultralight
Longshore International EX280 double
MRS Nomad S1 kayakraft

The range of packrafts has slowly expanded since I bought my first Alpacka Llama in 2010 and Alpacka rafts themselves have changed a lot in that time. But here in the UK people are still slow to see the benefits of these lightweight portable boats.
Much of this reticence must be due to the price of these niche-interest boats which, at a glance look not much different from what I call Slackrafts: disposably cheap vinyl beach toys. Another reason might be that packrafts appeal more to outdoorsy types looking for a new way to enjoy the wilderness or countryside, but with no interest in acquiring the technical skills far less the storage and transport issues of hardshells. They won’t come across these boats very often but as this test clearly proved, anyone can hop into a packraft, set off down river in a straight line and tackle an Environmental Agency Grade III canoe chute. The testers all ‘got it’ and by the end some were already cooking up packrafting adventures.

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We’re comparing a prototype Aire BAKraft as well as the new Supai Matkat, both from the US; the Russian-made, German-branded Nortik Trekraft, and the Micro Rafting System (MRS) Microraft from China.
The unusual Aire calls itself a hybrid IK-packraft, the Supai is an ultralight ‘crossraft’ intended for flatwater use. The other two more closely resemble Alpackas in current or former iterations. My current 2014 Yak made a fifth boat on our test, one which I at least could compare against the others.

These four boats were lent to us by what is now called the Anfibio Packrafting Store in Germany which sells, rents and now makes under its own Anfibio brand, the biggest range of packrafts and packrafting gear in Europe. Sven at the Packrafting Store helped clarify or correct technical aspects in this review but the opinions, observations and most measurements are our own. Some of the more exciting photos are also from the Packrafting Store. 
We asked NRS to participate: they didn’t answer. At the time Feathercraft’s packrafts were another option but Feathercraft is no more.

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For this group test it would have been great to set off across the hills of Wales or Scotland, deploy the boats and then follow a river, hop out, walk some more, set up camp and swap notes.
The reality of combining good weather and four other people with the free time to help do all this was slim. So we settled on an eight-mile day trip down the Medway River in Kent (above): me and four testers who’d all paddled (some with trousers rolled up) but had never packrafted. At each lock and chute we swapped boats, so everyone tried each raft at least once.

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Me – Height 1.83m; weight 93kg
Experience: Into IKs and packrafts for day trips and touring. On my third Alpacka.

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Bob – 1.78m; 85kg
Lilo incident, Margate 1965.

Lea River canoe lessons, Harlow 1980. 

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Hannah – 1.75m; 75kg
Much canoeing, some kayaking, love touring. 
Don’t understand eddies, yet.

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Lois – 1.62; 63kg
Dicking about on the Thames in Gumotex IKs and a Dagger. Rely on enthusiasm rather than skill.

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Robin – 1.78m; 85kg
Scouts canoeing, NZ white water, Colorado kayaking, various inflatable trips, usually with tides.

How the packrafts were weighed and measured
Weighing was done using the classic Salter 1004 SSDR digital kitchen scales. They come with a classy brushed steel finish and still rate at 4 stars on amazon. They were checked and registered 500ml of water as weighing 500g.

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Each boat was weighed exactly as it came out of the box, and then weighed again as it was actually paddled, without air bags, repair kits or straps (where included). It was then weighed again before going back in the box. All dimensions were also taken twice, the second time using stakes to get the external measurements at the widest points (above). Internal dimensions were taken at the shortest point, usually halfway up the curved tube side. Measurements from other sources may vary; there’s a table at the bottom of each review’s page and the summary for quick comparison.
* Our exterior measurements for the Matkat were 3- to 5cm less than the Store, but 4cm longer and 1.6cm slimmer than Supai states. Unnoticed leaks during the measuring stage may have stopped us pumping the boat up to actual size. 

Construction
All these packrafts are made from pliable fabrics which form airtight vessels when inflated by human power alone. That’s about 0.03 bar or 0.4psi according to the Packrafting Store’s tests and probably too low for a regular manometer to measure accurately. The BAKraft uses an in-line ‘squeeze pump’ to potentially attain 0.17bar or 2.5psi – firmer than most vinyl IKs. All the models used here except the Supai were pressure tested to an impressive 0.5 bar (7.25psi) by the Store without exploding into a blaze of TPU. As a comparison, my old Grabner ran 0.3.bar as was as stiff as a gangplank.

Hardshell-like rigidity is an inflatable boat’s goal, and while design and shape might come into it, some rafts become more rigid than others and so perform better. The best rafts use a fabric (or construction design) which becomes stiff when inflated but is pliable when folded (especially at low temperatures) as well as being durable against sharp impacts and abrasion. Among other things you could add resistance to UV rays, ready supply and ease of assembly in the factory, repairability on the trail, and a range of fabulous customer-friendly colours.

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Broadly speaking the hulls of the Alpacka and MRS use ten panels of urethane (TPU) coated nylon fabric which are sewn together. Tape is then heat welded over the seams. The Alpacka fabric is only coated on the outside; the Nortik uses a similar double-coated fabric to the MRS (above; green, but not our Trekraft), but the Nortik’s seams are heat-welded with thicker tape (no sewing). 

Double-coating adds weight and other technical aspects of proprietary coated fabrics vary greatly; they’re often specifically formulated for a raft manufacturer. The benefits of an inside coating are a second barrier to punctures when a light scratch to the exterior reaches down to the fabric core but doesn’t actually cut through it.

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The floors on the Yak, Nortik and MRS are glued on then taped over (Nortik on the inside, the other two outside). They’re typically two or three times the denier rating (thread weight) of the hull fabric.
The Alpacka uses something called ballistic nylon which sounds cool but I’ve found is far from bulletproof. No part of an inflatable raft weighing just three kilos can be expected to be. Occasional repairs are all part of ownership, like a bicycle’s tyres. So is rinsing any grit out the boat before it works its way into the nooks and crannies. On the right click the extra large picture to have a close look under the boats and compare workmanship.

The superlight Matkat is in a class all of its own, entirely made from 75-denier ripstop polyester with a single urethane coating on the inside, the same weight (and sealing method) as an MSR water bag. The red picture below right is of another Supai we tried which you’ll see had a diamond pattern on the surface. The black Matkat we used here had a plain surface like an MSR bag. On both boats the four panels (floor, inside, top and bottom hull) are heat-welded together. It’s possible to repair these seams with a hot iron (or glue).

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The Aire BAKraft prototype we tested used a thin and slightly stretchy urethane  film ‘inner tube’ or collar supporting the hull, and a much thicker and stretch-free urethane-coated yellow nylon fabric for the I-beam floor (left). These bladders or ‘AIREcells’ as Aire calls them, are contained inside a sewn-up shell of fabric which need not be air- or watertight. If I interpreted the owner’s manual correctly then the BAKraft’s green exterior shell is made of Spectra and the grey interior of lighter-weight Dyneema fabric. You may know stretch-free Dyneema guy lines found on better tents. 

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The urethane bladder can be accessed for repair via long zips (left); the nylon floor can be pulled out for repair from each end. On packing or refitting care must be taken not to twist the bladders. I’ve never been a fan of it (for reasons explained later) but this AIRECell system has been used by Aire on their PVC whitewater rafts and IKs for many, many years. With minimal seams compared to a traditional packraft hull, air retention is excellent.
On all the boats seatsbackrests and decks (where present) are typically made from urethane-coated nylon with seams or joins heat-welded and maybe taped.

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Inflation/deflation
If you’re combining walking with navigating bodies of water – packing + rafting – you want a boat which inflates and deploys without any faffing about. In this respect the Microraft was the best of the bunch. It used the proven screw-in inflation bag (see video below) and, being a small volume boat, took about ten ‘scoops’ to fill up. The main valve cap is attached with a short plastic ring tab – no fiddly bits of string. Top off the air pressure by blowing all you got into the twist-lock valve and with practice you’re good to go in three minutes.

In the video below, from arriving at the beach to paddling away
takes about 8 minutes. Speeded up 15x. A jet passes overhead.

My Yak followed exactly the same inflation procedure, but being a higher volume boat (a little bigger than the one in the video above) took twice as many ‘air-grabs’ to fill up before topping off with lung power. Every time I do this I wonder whether my super-thin airbag will split or unravel at the seams if I scrunch too hard. I can feel the air leaking through the sides.

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Like the MRS, the Trekraft’s airbag is also made from a reassuringly thick fabric, but is spoiled by a push-in plug, even though there’s obviously a thread in the boat’s port. Compress too hard or if it’s wet and the bag plug might pop out, so inflate gently.
Instead of using the old twist-lock to top-off, the Trekraft has a one-way spring valve stem with a cap (which came adrift and eventually got lost). This valve (above left) is dead easy to use and avoids the risk of over-tightening a cheap plastic twist-lock valve (as on older Alpackas). But when airing down, with the spring valve you can’t suck and seal the remaining air out unless you jam something in the valve as you suck. Packraft or IK, this ability to suck your boat down is handy for compact packing.

Next comes the Matkat. No airbag supplied even though the Supai website states: ‘We are working on developing an inflation sack to work with our valves hopefully we will have it released in mid-2014.’ When we tried the smaller red Supai Canyon Flatwater II in late 2013 we found it took about fifty breaths to fill, plus topping off. The higher volume Matkat takes about eighty breaths. I like breathing but that’s not something I’d want to do more than a couple of times day to save the 100 grams of an airbag.

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Unlike the Alpacka, Nortik or MRS, the Supais use a male threaded dump valve which protrudes from the boat and onto which screws a cap with a thin tube and the twist lock valve on the end (right, red boat) – a neat and simple system that’s just about accessible for on-board top-ups.
Alpacka use an identical threaded valve port but on their air bags; it’s a regular American plumbing ¾-inch size. If I had a Supai packraft I’d get an Alpacka airbag for $20 and then either find a female-to-female plastic connection, or jam on a short section of clear plastic tube to join them together. That way I can save the hyperventilating for Glastonbury.

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That leaves the BAKraft. Even before I received the boat I had my doubts after seeing pictures of the convoluted inflation system which Aire suggest.

The BAKraft uses Halkey Roberts (or very similar) valves, as found on proper IKs and whitewater rafts: one in the floor and one for the urethane bladder that fills both sides of the hull, or what what they call the ‘collar’. These valves work like car tyre valves (or the Nortik top-up) – a spurt of high pressure opens the seal and a spring seals it shut – except that you can lock them open by pushing and twisting the valve stem. This is necessary to deflate a boat easily, or to loosely pre-inflate it without having to push against the valve spring. These valves are really designed to be used with pumps not flimsy air-catching inflation bags, far less lung power. A simple and compact push-fit pump like a K-Pump will work. A high-pressure stirrup pump with a ‘Summit’ bayonet connector on the end will be even quicker, but is way too bulky to travel with.

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With the BAKraft you’re supposed to use the backrest/cargo bag as an inflation bag and scrunch air into the boat via a tube fitted with a bayonet connector (left). But the backrest bag’s weight, odd shape and relatively small volume makes this task awkward, even past an opened intake valve which is still a restricted airway. I gave it a go  but soon saw that, while I’d get there in the end, it was going to take ages. 

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Bagpiper

Once the boat has ‘shape’ you’re then supposed to quickly close the boat valve then splice in a low-volume/high-pressure hand-squeeze pump into the ISC bag. The squeeze pump has another one-way spring valve in it: charge it with air from the backrest then squirt air by hand past the closed valve until the boat is firm.
This squeeze pump is quite a clever idea but at about 150cc a go will take a while to do the job. Sorry to say I wasn’t even curious to find out how long – I’d guess at least 15-minutes for the whole inflation, same as it took to pump up my 4.5-metre kayak the other day with the one-litre K-Pump Mini. So instead I reached for my Bravo stirrup pump – it took two minutes – and on test day I brought my compact K-Pump which took about twice as long.

I see now that I’ve actually RTFM I used an alternative method. The image above right suggests you don’t use the backrest bag to charge the squeeze pump, but just blow then squeeze the hand pump directly using an oral tube, like a silent bag pipe. If I’d thought of that I might have tried it as it’s a much less clumsy way of topping off the BAKraft.

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All the other packrafts here run at an air pressure that’s governed by the lung power you can exert through the top-off twist valve (left). But with a one-way valve you can pump more air into a raft (that goes for the Trekraft’s top-off valve too, now I think of it). The BAKraft is made to run an IK-like 2.5psi although you’re warned not to over-pressurise or allow it to happen. That can be easily done of you get carried away with a stirrup pump or leave the raft out in the hot sun.
It may have seemed clever to give the necessary backrest multiple uses, but it works only a little better for filling the boat with air than it does as a backrest (see review). I’d recommend getting a $20 Feathercraft inflation bag which comes with the ‘Summit’ bayonet fitting from their BayLee packrafts (they also use Halkey-like valves). And if you don’t get on with the oral/hand pump system, then get a 600-g K-Pump Mini too. I’d guess using both these devices will more than halve the inflation time.

From the four corners of southern England the throng gathered at Tonbridge Town Lock, the boats got pumped up, cooled off in the water then topped up some more. Then, after a quick groupie, we set off down the easy first chute. I took it upon myself to get in the Matkat while I was still feeling fresh.

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 Supai Matkat • MRS Microraft  • Aire BAKraft • Nortik Trekraft • Alpacka Yak • Summary

Packraft Group Test: Nortik Trekraft

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

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Feathercraft’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.

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You 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.

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Other 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 tabs 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).

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A 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).

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For 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.

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I 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.

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We 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.

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On 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.

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Floor fragility was something I addressed (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

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One 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. 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.

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The 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). 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. 

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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.


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Nortik Trekraft at the Packrafting Store

Full review here

nortikinflatorpakGTbannerThe Packrafting Store in Germany are now selling the Russian-made Nortik Trekraft. As mentioned a few months ago, it does bear an uncanny resemblance to a standard Alpacka, right down to the ‘fastback’ stern. In appearance you might call it a knock-off, but it has it’s own distinctive attributes and anyway, every rotomolded creek boat you ever saw looks the same.
trekalpakOverall the tubes are a bit smaller diameter than an Alpacka and the whole boat is only thermo-welded but not sewn (as other boats are). Very slightly thinner tubes may provide less buoyancy but add a lot more room inside (1.34m). You’re feet aren’t jammed against the bow too, nortikrolliewhich is a plus over my Yak.
This extra foot room also allows positioning bags low down in the boat. The bow has less of a lift which means it won’t ride over waves so well but be less slowed by head winds. In white water situations that slack space in length and width will be less good for quick turns and feeling connected to the boat. Even on flat water I find it’s good to push against nortikundersomething with the feet to make an effective power stroke.
It occurs to me that you could put a bag behind you and then be more centrally seated, like in a kayak. A few years back whitewatards were trying that with Alpackas to reduce bandersnatching which was the partly why Alpacka introduced the elongated stern in 2011. The Nortik uses that idea too.
nortiktopThe Trekraft is made from double-sided TPU-coated nylon as opposed to whatever Alpacka uses – higher-spec’ polyester TPU? The ‘roller-press’ coating method Trekraft use is less expensive to manufacture but makes the Trekraft about 20% heavier than a similar-sized Alpacka (we’re talking ~500g here).
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nortiksideIt’s going for €599 with tax and free shipping in the EU. Right now with the weak Euro for us Brits that’s a good deal.
pgtTRK09Enough speculation and interpolation. Recently I tried out a Nortik Trekraft for a day, along with a few other alternatives to Alpacka packrafts. The green, early-production batch Trekraft I used (left) weighed 3331g on the water, so plus carry and air bags and big repair kit. That is 430g more than my customised Yak once I added extra floor patches and other bits, but subsequent versions are expected to weigh some 200g less..

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Gumotex Framura

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Even with the new Rush models for 2020, Gumotex still claim their Framura IK is their fastest boat. For coastal ‘yaking the numbers certainly look great:
16kg + 4.1m x 75cm wide

That’s 29.5″ and about as wide as you’d want to be in a proper IK. I see that in France it’s homologated for use as a kosher ‘Cat C, 10km from shore’ sea kayak while in North America it’s sold as a Swing EX.

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Oi! Not sure I’d be dragging my IK over the sand like that.

From the bow shape it looks like it’s based on the slightly shorter but much wider Swing 2 – or the longer but also wider and higher pressure Seawave. That lightweight deck is fixed and has Swing-like struts to keep it up and shed water. Access is by straight zips or down the hatch. If they’re like the Swings they probably leak.

As for pressures, the Framura runs a disappointing 0.2 bar/2.9psi, not the 0.25 bar of the Seawave. But I read that Gumo-recommended max pressures are on the conservative side: the side tubes can be run up to 50% higher with great improvements in rigidity (the floor runs an 0.2 bar PRV so can’t be over-pressured). I also read somewhere they got 12kph out of a Framura while testing at sea. The best I ever got out of my Java or Incept was a short burst of 10kph.

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In 2016 they introduced a rudder kit (left) for the Framura/EX. I made one for my Seawave but in the end, could not be bothered with it on day paddles. On multi-day runs where you get the weather you’re given, a rudder may be a good idea.

I like the look of the 4.1-metre-long Framura but I liked my Seawave more. Framura, by the way, is a nice spot on the Italian Riviera, not far from Portofino. Not, as I thought, a hint that the new boat uses a frame(ura) to maintain rigidity. That rarely works with IKs, in my experience. You do wonder if the new hybrid Rush 2 supercedes 2015 Framura.
More Framura in this video. See also this.

I’m not convinced the 0.2 bar Framura is that much faster than a longer, stiffer Seawave. And I also suspect it has not been such a sales success either. Perhaps claiming the former has something to do with the latter.

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