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.
The BakRaft Expedition is built as a sit-on-top boat. It is similar in style to an IK, although it is much lighter than other IKs on the market with similar performance levels. An adjustable/removal/inflatable backrest provides stability. The adjustable thigh straps on the BakRaft are pretty standard, and they do a good job of improving bracing performance. One shortfall of the BakRaft is that there are not built in footcups or pegs to press against. This is by design, though, as you can rig bags to the front of the BakRaft to achieve a similar outcome.
The rig-ability of the BakRaft is easy and customizable. There are eleven nylon rigging loops that 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 have seen the straps hold up against several miles of fully rigged, capsized floating. I did see a friend cut through one of the nylon straps by repeated heavy tugging of a wet cam strap against the nylon strap. The amount of force put on the strap was outside of normal usage, but it is something to keep in mind as you are handling them.
Field repairs of the boat are generally easy to do if needed. There is one urethane air tube for the tubes of the BakRaft and one for the floor. These are separate from 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 of a BakRaft.
One great non-boating feature of the BakRaft is that it makes a very 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 weight/packability of the BakRaft Expedition are top-in-class. This is an excellent choice for backcountry or international usage. Portaging the BakRaft Expedition is easy.
- The performance of the boat is solid in low and high water usage. Tearing is a concern at very low flows, and stability becomes an issue at very high flows. High-performance draw strokes make the BakRaft very nimble in technical conditions.
- Updated outer shell fabric has led to an increase in large increase in durability compared to previous iterations of the BakRaft.
- Rigging/design are solid. The nylon rigging straps aren’t perfect, but they are very functional, durable for what they are, and lightweight.
- The BakRaft, with its IK style design, is more fun unweighted for day trips than most packraft alternatives.
On the whole, the BakRaft expedition is an excellent choice for anyone in the market for a packraft whether it be for local backcountry trips or international ones. Aire continues to innovate their fabrics and design, and I am excited to see what future models of the Expedition look like. Check out the BakRaft Expedition, here.