My favorite boating adventures are often the hardest ones to access. Whether it’s international expeditions, or long hike-ins into the Sierra, the path to the put-in is an important part of a trip. Whether traveling by plane or by foot, the right choice of boat is critical to physical and logistical ease. With the BakRaft 10ft Expedition, Aire has created the optimal boat for accessing the most remote corners of the boating world. Weighing in at 12lb and rolling to the size of a large sleeping pad, the BakRaft is the easiest craft to transport in its class of boats. While there are lighter/smaller boats out there, none match the combination of the BakRaft’s lightweight specs to its handling in both technical and high volume boating.
With such a lightweight boat, my initial concern was how the BakRaft would perform in challenging whitewater. My first big test for the BakRaft came with low volume, highly technical boating on the Headwaters of the Kern. The Headwaters are steep and continuous, and only safe to run at low-volume flows. When the water is low, exposed sharp granite is abound – and the durability of the BakRaft is put to the test. I was introduced to BakRafting by Tom Horn, a prolific BakRafter based on the Kern. My first trips down the Headwaters were done borrowing BakRaft Hybrids from Tom – an earlier, smaller alternative to the 10ft Expedition. Durability was a big concern with the Hybrid as the outside shell easy to tear on protruding granite. That durability issue has largely been resolved with the 10ft Expedition. The outer shell of the Expedition is now built with PVC and has thermal welded seams. The PVC shell is built to be ripstop – and the functionality of the technology is solid. I have yet to see any large tears on the new BakRaft Expeditions.
One big plus of the BakRaft in low-volume boating is the ability to use draw strokes to quickly move laterally across the river. The bottom of the BakRaft is largely flat, and it is very slippery. As a result, a single draw stroke can get you 1-2ft of “gliding” lateral movement. The high-performance of that maneuver is attributable to the design of the BakRaft.
The other performance question I had was how the BakRaft would handle high-volume boating. That question was more than addressed when I embarked on an high-water expedition with three friends down the Rio Marañón, the headwaters of the Amazon River. When we put-in onto the Marañón in late February of 2020, the river was swollen to an enormous size – flowing between 20-40k CFS depending on the upstream rainfall. The Marañón is in many ways comparable to the Grand Canyon of the Colorado in terms of its difficulty and rapid size. Over the course of 12 days on the river (an expedition cut short due to Covid) we took the BakRafts through massive class IV+ whitewater. While there is certainly a limit to the size of hydraulics that the boat can punch through, it handled much better than expected in the big stuff. The outer tubes of the BakRaft are large – it is possible to do a legitimate highside through waves if you hit them sideways. The pointy nose of the boat does a good job of cutting into large features – I felt that I was generally able to keep my angle when hitting big stuff straight on.
A big factor for safety, especially at high water, are the carrying/flipping straps on the bottom of the BakRaft. Righting a flipped over boat when fully rigged is a difficult task – especially with 20+ days worth of expedition gear and provisions. The nylon straps on the either side of the center-bottom of the BakRaft make it easy to get your body weight over the boat and grip something solid when pulling the boat back over. I had a harrowing swim in a particularly large rapid on the Marañón, and the ability to right the boat when exhausted was crucial for my safety.
The nylon straps on the bottom of the boat also make portaging the BakRaft a breeze. You can carry the BakRaft with the bottom straps, and your rigged gear will face away from you on the top of the boat. If your rigged gear is too heavy, a two-person portage on shoulders is easy to do given the slim shape of the BakRaft.