aire bakraft in the Grand Canyon

My favorite boating adventures are often the hardest ones to access. Whether heading to put-in by plane or by foot, the right choice of boat is critical for a smooth trip.

With the BakRaft Expedition 10ft, Aire has released an outstanding 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 can easily fit into a bag or onto the outside of a backpack. While there are lighter and smaller boats out there, the BakRaft is unmatched for its ratio of size to performance in technical and high-volume whitewater.

Durability of the aire bakraft

Testing such a lightweight boat, my initial concern was how the BakRaft’s durability would hold up in California’s rocky whitewater. My first test was low-volume, class V boating on the Headwaters of the Kern. The Headwaters are steep and continuous. Sharp and protruding granite abounds.

After multiple laps down the Headwaters, I can confidently say the BakRaft’s durability is excellent. The outer shell of the BakRaft Expedition is built from ripstop PVC and has thermally welded seams. After lots of scraping on granite, the worst damage I did to the BakRaft was scuffing the outer shell.

Aire Bakraft whitewater performance

The technical performance of the BakRaft impressed me during the Headwaters tests. I used frequent draw strokes to plane across the river – the boat’s flat bottom enables it to glide with ease. I found that a single draw stroke could consistently get me 1-2ft of lateral movement, critical in setting up for technical moves.

My other performance question was how the BakRaft would handle high-volume boating. That question was addressed when I embarked on a high-water expedition down the Rio Marañón, the headwaters of the Amazon River. When we launched in March 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 12 days on the river, we took the BakRafts through massive class IV+ whitewater. The boat handled the big stuff exceptionally well. The outer tubes of the BakRaft are large, making it possible to highside through waves if you come in sideways. The pointy nose of the boat cuts into large features and holds angle – especially important when wave trains are stacked.

Aire Bakraft Build and features

Unlike many of its competitors, the BakRaft Expedition is a sit-on-top boat. The boat includes an adjustable and removable backrest as well as thigh straps for stability. One shortfall of the BakRaft is that there are not built-in footcups or pegs to press your feet against. This is by design, though, as you can rig bags to the front of the BakRaft to achieve a similar outcome.

Eleven nylon rigging loops run down each side of the BakRaft. I was initially skeptical about the strength of the loops, but after having rigged considerable gear weight in heavy conditions, I am impressed by their durability. I witnessed the straps hold up against dangling bags for miles after a prolonged capsize and recovery. The only rigging loop failure I have witnessed came after a friend cut through a loop after an inadvisable amount of tugging a wet cam strap against it.

The BakRaft features carrying/flipping straps on the bottom that are important for safety. Righting a fully-rigged flipped boat is difficult – especially one loaded with 20+ days’ worth of expedition gear and provisions. The nylon flipping and carrying straps on the bottom of the boat are solid and easy to grab while swimming. I’ve had no issues righting the BakRaft quickly – even while fully loaded and in current.

The bottom straps are also effective for portaging. 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.

Field repairs of the boat are relatively simple. There is one urethane air tube for the exterior walls of the BakRaft and one for the floor. The tubes are independent of the PVC shell. As a result, a tear of the exterior PVC does not mean that you will necessarily lose air. Most tears on BakRafts are limited to the outer shell and do not lead to a loss of inflation. I have seen Type A, Duct Tape, and patch sewing all work as temporary repairs of the outer shell.

One great non-boating feature of the BakRaft is that it makes a comfortable bed. For an average-sized human, it is possible to deflate the tubes and floor slightly and knock out on the floor of the boat.

The BakRaft makes an excellent bed. In the background, Muro Poso waterfall drops 400+ meters into the Rio Marañón

BakRaft Expedition overall impressions

  • The weight/packability of the BakRaft Expedition are top-in-class. The boat is easy to carry for backcountry or international usage.
  • The performance of the boat is solid in low and high water. Tearing against rocks is a concern at very low flows, and stability becomes an issue at very high flows (outside of normal ranges). High-performance draw strokes make the BakRaft nimble in technical conditions.
  • Updated outer shell PVC has increased the BakRaft’s durability compared to previous iterations like the BakRaft Hybrid.
  • Nylon rigging straps are durable and functional. Well-designed flipping/carrying straps on the bottom of the boat make recovering swims and portaging straightforward.

On the whole, the BakRaft Expedition is an excellent choice for anyone in the market for a packraft. Aire continues to innovate their fabrics and design, and I am excited to see what future models of the Expedition look like.

Aire Bakraft Video Review.

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