I’m pretty good with logistics, planning, and processes, but brand spanking new to packrafting. Being the guy on the phone and answering emails around here it was pretty important that I get my butt in a boat to learn what this was all about. Fortunately Amy, the founder and my boss here at JHP suggested we take a day off and go packrafting.
Once the decision was made to go the next questions were…where to go and what boats to take? After a fair amount of deliberation we decided to float the Henry’s Fork of the Snake below Lower Mesa Falls. This float would allow us a true “pack in”, a bit of whitewater, and with the optional car shuttle have us back in time to pick up kids from daycare. Our original plan was to take 4 boats, an Alpacaka, Bakraft, Kokopelli, and Feathercraft but a rental came in literally minutes before we were going to leave and we ended up just taking the two newest boats in our fleet the Bakraft by Aire and the Nirvana by Kokopelli. A perfect opportunity not only to learn all about packrafting but also write a review of the two boats from a rookie’s perspective.
Might as well start at the beginning. The first thing you usually do with a packraft is put it in your pack so you can go somewhere cool. Both the Nirvana and the Bakraft roll up pretty small, the size of a big sleeping bag. The Bakraft’s material seems to compress and roll a bit easier allowing the Bakraft to be rolled tighter than the Kokoplelli and the Bakraft comes in about 4lbs lighter as well. I was a gentleman and let Amy carry the Bakraft. All of gear fit nicely in big day packs with paddles, lifejackets, and helmets strapped to the outside. I used my old backcountry ski pack while Amy sported her super light and fancy Hyperlite Mountain Gear pack.
After a steep hike down to the river it was time to unpack and inflate! Inflating a packraft is a combination between a pillow fight and blow job…hahaha…no seriously with the Kokopelli you use an inflation bag, very similar to a pillow case to trap air and push it into the raft and then finish off the raft with your breath. It was very simple and I had the Kokopelli ready to roll in under 10 minutes.
The Bakraft is a bit of another story. The process starts out the same, the seat pulls triple duty as the inflation bag, seat/backrest, and storage bag. So using the seat/inflation bag you inflate one chamber in the floor and another for the rest of the boat. Then things get tricky, because the Bakraft is self bailing and uses some really high tech materials it needs to be inflated with 2.5 PSI, more than your breath can handle. Bakraft has overcome this by providing a “hand pump” and various hoses that connect to your mouth or to the inflation bag to get air to the hand pump. The system works but it took both Amy and I working together to get the boat properly inflated. (more to come on this)
On the water
Our plan was for me to start out in the Kokopelli Nirvana and Amy in the Bakraft and then switch off during the day as neither of us had paddled both boats, we also wanted to get a ton of pictures, successfully navigate “Surprise Falls” and just have fun. Even though I had floated this stretch of river dozen’s of times in my other occupation as a fishing guide, Amy led the way since it was my first time in a pakraft.
I immediately discovered two flaws in the Kokopelli design. First the seat immediately slipped from under my butt to under my thighs dropping me several inches lower in the boat. Second there is a small hole between the spray skirt mount and where it is sewn to the deck allowing water to leak in, this was made worse because I had lashed my dry bag almost on top of this hole allowing water to puddle there and literally drain in on me. I was wet and had only been in the water 45 seconds. With the swift and splashy water there was no time to worry about this just yet, I could fix this when we stop to survey surprise falls. We stopped just above Surprise Falls to put a bit more air in both boats (the cold water cools the air in the boats making it necessary to add a bit more), check the safest route, and make final adjustments to our gear. I fiddled with the seat straps and took a closer look at the “drain” hole under the spray skirt while Amy topped off the Bakraft.
Surprise Falls was just enough of a drop and rapid to get our adrenaline going but not enough to freak us out and we both had fun paddling through. My adjustments to the spray skirt and seat were not successful as the seat slipped out from my butt as I dropped over the falls and water rolled off the spray deck onto my crotch. Oh well at least we picked a nice sunny day!
A bit below Surprise Falls we stopped for some photos, a snack, and to switch boats. My turn to try the Bakraft. Now this may have been my first time packrafting but I have spent thousands of days in driftboats and rafts as fly fishing guide and was fortunate as a kid to do a lot of canoeing and inflatable kayaking. So my first impression of the Bakraft? “Now this is a boat!” I immediately paddled across the river, grabbed an eddy, and paddled right back to Amy on the other side. I am not sure I know enough about boats to describe exactly why I felt right at home in the Bakraft but with the inflatable floor the boat simply tracked and maneuvered better. You sit a bit higher in the water which made it easier for me to see, sit, paddle, etc. In contrast Amy who is more used to traditional packrafts felt “tippy” sitting up so high in the Bakraft. The next hour of paddling was pure bliss, playing in eddies, splashing through waves, soaking up the sun, and stretching my legs with no spray deck in the way. Aire has made a packable boat that is a blast.
Aire has taken packrafting to the next level. In the past it was enough to have “a boat” that you could pack, with the Bakraft you now have a super capable inflatable kayak that is also packable. Bakraft has some work to do to make their inflation process smoother, threaded connections to the inflation bag and hand pump would make things easier as the hoses kept sliding off in the middle of trying to inflate the boat. But man once this boat hits the water….you’ve got yourself a very fun and capable boat. Be ready to pay for it as technology isn’t cheap $1299.
The Kokopelli is more of a traditional style packraft and while it too had a few quirks with the seat and strange hole under the spray skirt. It’s still a very capable boat and at $925 saves you a few bucks over the Bakraft. If you aren’t going be doing any whitewater you can get the Nirvana without the spraydeck for just $725…looking for innovative storage? Check out Kokpelli’s Renegade with TIZIP, allows you to store gear in the packraft air chambers themselves.