Tag Archives: packraft speed

2011 Alpacka Yak – first impressions

I’d parked the RV at the end of a 55-mile track south of the highway at Hole in the Rock, the top of a gully which drops 500 feet down to Lake Powell and which is bit of a scramble in places. If this was the Australia that I know, the chasm would be plastered with ‘Gorge Risk‘ signs. Looks like the Americans have got over all that, if it ever existed here. What you see – a steep, boulder-chocked gully where you want to take care – is what you get.
Getting down and back up from the lake wore me out for a day, but what was I complaining about? In 1880 Mormon pioneers spent six weeks here lowering two dozen wagons to get across what was then the Colorado river (read right) to get to a new settlement on the far side.
Once on the water I only went for a bit of a splash-about in a flooded arm off the main body of the lake as it was a bit windy and I wasn’t sure what weather lay ahead. By the time I got back to the top it had clouded over and stayed that way till I left the GSENM a few days later.
Changes on the conventional looking pre-2011 rafts are summarised herepointy ends, greater length, extended stern, 2-part backrest/seat and a deck that zips right off. I also have a feeling the floor’s made from a chunkier or stiffer fabric and so the extra butt-patch I had specified (left – done for free) may not be so necessary – but it sure feels worthwhile when scraping along a boney Scottish burn.
On the water first impression was not so good – oh dear the 4-inch shorter Yak was seemingly narrower at the front than my old Llama and I couldn’t put my feet side by side when pressed against the front (left image on the right) – this wearing size 11 Keen Arroyos (fairly wide). But deflating the alpackas2011backrest from full gave my legs more room and I actually found that both feet placed flat on the floor below the bulge of the side tubes worked fine (right image above right), just not so sure if this is so intuitive for brace control. I checked the front interior width of my Llama against the new Yak and it’s only an inch wider. In the picture left the new Yak and Llama fronts seem near identical in interior front width.
Getting back in the longer Llama, I now see the reason my feet didn’t jam was that I had a few inches gap between the front of my feet and the inner front of the boat where it tapered off. Sat against the back I could never reach the front to brace which is why I got the Yak. Also, the UDB on the new Yak may have constricted my feet a bit that day. Paddling a few days later without the UDB, I can’t say I noticed the foot jam. Got all that?
Other fascinating facts from my comparative measurements (above right) show the new Yak is only 8 inches longer then the Llama, so a new Llama ought only be 12″ longer, not 20 inches as estimated from the Alpacka website’s measurements at the time. The new Yellow Yak is nominally 4 inches shorter inside than an old Llama.
Other than that it feels much like the old Llama. Like they claim, turning/spinning doesn’t seem to be affected by the increase in length, but I’m sure the Yak’s bow yawed less from side to side as I paddled, due I suspect to the extended tail damping the paddle-induced pivoting effect, rather like a rudder or skeg. I did have my part-filled UDB strapped to the front where any weight tends to reduce yawing anyway. It was the first time I used the UDB on the water and have to admit the added guarantee of its girth and buoyancy was reassuring should a Colorado river barracuda make a bite at my Yak. Couldn’t really do any speeding in the conditions – it may be just half a mph faster, but that’s still some 20%.
As anticipated, the new 2-part seat is a real improvement. No more having the backrest flop down as you’re trying to get in quick off a steep bank or into a fast flow with a need to line up or burn. Like on my Llama, I just clipped the seatbase onto the hull tabs with a single snaplink each side (inset, left) rather than mess about with the string they supply. Makes taking it out and drying/cleaning the insides easier.
Later on, washed up on the wrong side of the Virgin River Gorge in northwest Arizona, I also found the part-deflated backrest a handy way of portaging the empty boat – a bit like a Sherpa’s headband (left).
So, bottom line, not huge difference in operation apart from less yawing which was never that bad anyway once you compensated for it. Can’t say I noticed any added buoyancy/better trim with the longer back, but it might be noticable from the another PoV. The zip-off skirt is a nice idea; one less thing to unroll and dry after. The added snugness I dare say I’ll appreciate in rougher conditions and it sure is nice to have a yellow boat for a change!
There was a discussion on BackpackingLight about the new shape and here Roman D gives his opinion for a harder core of white water utility. More pack-Yak adventures this summer.

Packraft sailing

See also this post

First sunny spring day around here so we went out to try out the flip-out disc sail I made over the winter on my Llama and Steve’s Big Kahuna. Wind was forecast at about 8 mph but was gusty – a bloke in a dinghy sailboat said it was up to 15 mph.
Folded and clipped on the packraft, the sail sits out of the way and can be opened and – more importantly – closed easily with a twist, as long as you have a clip of some sort to keep it closed (and that clip is attached to the sail so it does not spring off and sink to the bottom of the lake…).
Initial impressions were disappointing, I did not rip off across the reservoir like a hooked marlin out of a Roadrunner cartoon. But watching the vid back it’s clear the boat did noticably drift downwind across the reservoir with the sail aloft, often at speeds similar to paddling (about 3 mph). Problem with the sail on the Alpacka was the boat soon turned off the wind one way or the other, swinging left and right. The pointier Kahunayak was better, especially once Steve trailed his paddle like a skeg. Didn’t get to try that on the Llama as I was fiddling about with the string trying angle the sail so as to steer the boat into the wind. This worked quite well in correcting the direction as you can see in the vid, but staying in that position was a problem.
Could this be due to ‘wind-spill’ off the flat disc sail which lacks dishing like a WindPaddle? Maybe. It will be interesting to try it on my ruddered Incept IK when it turns up, as well as the new-shape Alpacka which I am picking up next week.
More testing to come this summer up in windier Scotland with my all-new packboating flotilla. Or just enjoy this 2014 video from Finland by JP. More here at leftbound.

Inflatable kayaks – do you need a skeg?

Updated Summer 2020

See also this about rudders
And read this about decks


Short answer: Yes.
It’s easier to go straight while paddling as hard as you like, and since 2014 all Gumotex come with them, as do many other IKs. Some can be mounted or removed by hand even from an inflated boat.
And if not, it’s easy to glue a kit to any IK (see below).


A few years ago Gumotex introduced a slip-on skeg which was near identical in shape to one I’d had made in the alloy-skeg days, but in tough plastic and with clever tool-less mounting (above). I’ve fitted these plastic skegs to older Gumotex IKs and other IKs. The kit is under £20 + glue, and the skeg is tough. Just make sure you glue it on really well; it helps if your boat is made from a matching rubber fabric as the supplied Nitrilon patch. or make your own patch from same fabric.

I fitted the tough Gumotex skeg to my Grabner Amigo IK (above) and at sea used it all the time. But on the shallow Spey (below) that boat didn’t handle at all well without a skeg, possibly because the a tailwind pushed the high back around. It was really quite annoying as a few years earlier my broadly similar Sunny managed the Spey fine, so it clearly varies from boat to boat.


If you’re an experienced paddler you’ll have acquired the knack of going straight without a skeg – handy for paddling shallow rivers where the skeg would drag. A little more paddling finesse and small constant correction is required, especially if powering on.
It’s good to learn the technique: fix your eyes on a tree or marker on a distant bank and paddle as gently as you like towards it, not looking away and keeping the nose of the boat in line with the marker. By using very light strokes you’ll see it can be done if it’s not too windy when again, a skeg helps with tracking (going straight).


I even found I could paddle a ten-foot Solar (below) without a skeg. Once you know you can go straight without a skeg, it’s just a matter of adopting the same finesse but with a bit more power. Only when you attempt the speeds of a Maori war party will the deflection get too much because you can paddle faster and still go straight with a skeg. Out at sea or on busier rivers, I always use a skeg.



I’ve often thought a hinged retractable skeg with a spring or just weight could be a good idea: it would pivot backwards when dragging in shallows, then drop back down when there’s enough depth. Seems SUPs also have this problem and in the US, FrogFish have made such a thing for boards, but they say the spring can be a weak point. I’ve envisaged something more normal skeg size as I can imagine in rapids drifting sideways into a rock or something might put a lot of leverage on such a long skeg. SUPs don’t normally do rapids.
Especially if your kayak has a rudder mount, I think it would be quite easy to make one, if you think it’s worthwhile.


On a shorter, wider, slower packraft the consensus seems to be skegs make little difference. I can believe it before I knew it and now I know it. The bow still yaws or pivots a little left to right as you paddle; less so with a load mounted on the bow. Tracking – going straight – is not the same thing and not a problem on a packraft because you can’t go that fast. You move along with a moderate left-right bow shuffle which it’s true, does limit your speed – but speed is limited by a packraft’s hull shape anyway. Or is it?
If anything, a packraft skeg fitted under the bow rather than the stern might limit this yawing, but I imagine you’ll destroy the instant turning ability for little actual benefit. Good for crossing a long lake in a hurry maybe. Can’t say I’ve seen this idea mentioned, though I am sure someone’s tried it. 

In 2011 Alpacka invented the extended stern (right; bottom) which has the same effect as a skeg. It’s been widely copied by other manufacturers and it definitely works.
below; clip on skeg on my MRS Nomad. Tried it once but generally not needed.

S1 - 9

Denali Llama packraft – handling and speed

On the water – ferrying and re-entry
I’ve tried the boat two up, over a couple of full days, with a test 12kg pack lashed to the bow and with the skirt deployed. I’ve tried it with a Thermarest floor, with padding behind the seat (to move me forward) and in rapids that I suppose might be WW2.
I’ve found ferrying (paddling against to current to get across a river) very easy and controllable. Stability is not an issue and flat water tracking is fine. Getting back into the high sided raft without a PFD from deep water took a few goes without pulling the unloaded boat over or bringing a little water in. I found hanging the paddle away off the far side like an outrigger stops the raft flipping too easily. With a PFD and maybe a load it ought to be easier, but still takes a bit of effort as the sides are so high and the boat is so light. As with other types of boats, re-entry is something you want to know how to do before you need to know how. With a full front load I imagine re-entry might be easier over the back.

Tracking and maneuverability
Unloaded, the bow yaws a foot or so from side to side as you paddle along but the boat stays on line. In this vid my g-friend looks all over the place, but bear in mind she is a foot too short for a Llama and half my weight. With a 12kg bow load, it yaws much less, with me in it a few inches maybe. In fast river bends it does feel a bit clumsy at times, like you’re being swept along and can’t do much about it (a feature of all rafts, I suspect). I miss the responsive directional lunge you can do in a nippy IK to get you out of a fix, though they say thigh straps may improve that.
I’ve found this directional flaw is just a matter of adopting an assertive technique as well as good positioning early on; a packraft is never going to maneuver as well as a 10-foot kayak. Bouncing or pushing off a rock is no drama, but being swept into an undercut or low, spider-laden trees is less fun. You can change orientation quickly with a firm stroke or two – in other words you can point left or right in a jiffy, but moving off in that direction is less responsive, though may well come with technique and hard shoveling. To be honest, my 4-metre Sunny IK was no point-and-squirter either, and would have got hung up on some bendy runs which the Llama slipped through like a cork.
Of course the benefit of poor tracking and short length is the ability to spin a 180 with just one stroke. This doesn’t help that much when you’re being swept towards somewhere you don’t want to be, but I’ve found that the technique can be used to spin-off and backup past an obstacle. You’re heading for a rock you can’t avoid say; it’s easier to draw hard and bring the back round and pass the rock backwards, then spin back to point forward again and line up for the next obstacle. It’s something that hardshell playboaters probably do all the time.
Interestingly, I had a day out in France with Llama and Solar IK and a mate who had no kayaking experience (though some canoeing and a rowing past). He took to the skegless Solar very quickly but although my weight seemed to have more trouble controlling the Llama, possibly because he kept his weight too far back and so yawed too much (as in the vid, above) which slowed him down. That day was so shallow we walked as much as we paddled.
With a load of about 12kg the nose sits lower (see a few pics down and the Scotland report) and the tracking improves at the cost of spinning ability which the Llama has to spare anyway. More stuff could be stored inside.

A Llama is slower than a Sunny or any pointy-ended boat, but it’s something you’ll only notice in non packrafting company. Last year on the Ceze river, g-friend was usually behind me in the Solar with me in my longer Sunny IK. This time she was usually ahead. We had a drag race but within a few strokes she was in front and extending her lead in the Solar. No contest there; you can’t paddle a giant inner tube fast through water, even if you are a glorified yuppie!
Alone or in a pack of paks, who’d notice speed? You paddle with the normal effort and the boat is as fast as it is; current plus say 2.5mph. I paddled our local French river and averaged 2.7mph, with 6.3mph max speed down a rapid. There is more on speed in a touring/hiking scenario on this page.
Up in Scotland recently I made some categorical speed observations with a GPS. No wind or current gives you a sustainable 4kph or 2.5mph. You can push it to 5kph but you’ll wear yourself out, look inelegant and frighten the fish with your splashing. Back winds, tides, rapids and tsunamis all give you more. I’ve recorded up to 10mph of the River Lochy, dropping through rapids I presume, and a steady 5mph with a back wind on a freshwater loch. Interestingly, a Llama is as fast backwards as forwards, but as a paddling technique that is much less sustainable and when you go flat-out backwards, the weighted stern eventually buries itself in the water and it’s all hands on deck.
In rapids paking is as easy (or as out of control) as an IK; just line it up, keep it straight and watch for rocks. When you do get it wrong it’s like a dodgem car bouncing harmlessly off the rocks. And when the underside gets hung up on a low rock and turns you sideways across the current it’s still much more stable as it has less flank, more side height and more width than a kayak. Some water may flow over the side, but I’ve only every got a litre or less. There’s a video here of me on a quiet Scottish river in spate.
I found a lot of the time on the above shallow river, I lent over to lift off the bottom with one arm when it grounded out. In a higher-sitting IK it’s easier to get out and so you’d probably hop out and by doing so spare the floor a rubbing.

Skirt, seat and floor
After six hours on the Ceze I can’t say the Llama felt any less comfortable than a Sunny, though you’re more jammed in. The Llama seems to swamp a little less readily than the Solar or Sunny – but anything over WW2 will come over the back sides.
However it has a secret weapon – a retractable spray skirt – something I often thought of applying to my Sunny IK in some way. It can get clammy under there on a warm day, but if it means less pulling over and tipping out, that’s fine with me. If you’re thinking of buying an Alpacka – don’t hesitate and pay the extra for the skirt. You won’t regret it.
You can deploy the zip-and-velcro skirt mid-stream in about a minute if Niagara looms ahead or it starts raining – and retract it and roll it up in about two minutes. The cover comes with a tab to yank on if you capsize or need to jump out fast. Another nice touch is a little ‘cod-piece’ air chamber in front of you that inflates to stop water from pooling in your lap. Most times the side velcro comes undone after energetic maneuvering through rapids, so letting water in, but perhaps I haven’t got a good sealing technique yet. Most of the summer I used the Llama without a skirt, either because it was warm or I was in a dry suit, but for heavier WW it’s a must and is partly what makes the packraft so versatile and better in rapids than a non-bailing IK.
Alpackas have no inflatable floor which can mean a sudden whack in the arse when it bottoms out on a submerged rock – or a bash at the heels when you have a bow load and big feet like me. The inflatable seat reduces butt impact of course but I worry about how the floor underside handles all this abrasion – there are already some noticeable scuffs and since then I glued on a second layer of material. See Llama mods.