Since my first trip on the Chetco River I've been looking for a lightweight inflatable kayak for hiking into remote and challenging rivers. Last year AIRE introduced the BAKraft Hybrid, a 7 foot long boat constructed with a urethane bladder and protected by a Spectra outer layer. This was a step in the right direction, but not big enough to run difficult whitewater with overnight gear.
Recently AIRE has been designing and prototyping a 10 foot, 10 pound version of the BAKraft called the "Expedition." The wonderful people at AIRE sent me a prototype to abuse for a few weeks. Here are some of my observations from paddling it over the past month.
Rough and Ready Creek
My first BAKraft adventure began by hiking 10 miles through the South Kalmiopsis to paddle the first descent of the North Fork of Rough and Ready Creek.
After a day and a half of hiking we made our final descent to the river. My pack was 25 pounds lighter than it would have been with a traditional inflatable kayak which was the difference between a pleasant hike and an arduous one. We put on the river in the afternoon of day two and paddled a few miles down to a camp.
The river canyon gorged up on day 3 for the steepest section of whitewater. Half way down one of the most difficult and longest rapids I tore a foot long gash through both layers of the boat requiring a field repair.
The prototype BAKraft was constructed from a new test material so I was a aware of the higher than normal possibility of a field repair. The tricky part was that I had to do the repair by myself on a small island in a light rain.
I was impressed by how straightforward the repair was in the cold, wet conditions where a typical glue repair would have been very challenging. It started by putting Tear Aid over the tear in the inner bladder. Then I pulled out the needle and thread to sew up the outside layer. It was nice to have a K-Pump (instead of the slower inflation bladder) to quickly inflate the boat up after the repair.
After about an hour repairing the boat we packed up and continued downstream through the remainder of this very beautiful and uniquely special river.
West Fork of the Hood River
After our expedition to Rough and Ready Creek, the nice folks at AIRE sent me another prototype made from a much stronger Spectra outer shell. Spectra is a strong and proven material against both punctures and abrasion. It is also very UV resistant.
The first place I took this new boat was the Class IV West Fork of the Hood River. The West Fork is a more traditional style river with some big holes and long, complicated rapids. As I suspected, the BAKraft performed flawlessly when ferrying, catching eddies, and maneuvering. It did fine punching through holes, but I would have preferred more volume in the bow so the boat resurfaces more quickly.
After paddling the West Fork I was really happy with the boat design and how it handled in difficult rapids.
Middle Fork of the Hood River
Before taking this boat on a long wilderness expedition like the Chetco River I wanted to make sure that the boat made from the Spectra material is durable. The boat is so light (we jokingly refer to it as a beach ball) that it's hard to believe that it can withstand heavy abuse. To test it's durability we took it down the the steep and rocky Middle Fork of the Hood River for a couple days.
I abused this prototype BAKraft. It was dragged over countless wood portages, wrapped it a few times, and was slammed into many rocks on it's way down this shallow, rocky river.
After a few days on the Hood River I'm sold on the Spectra fabric and boat design. It's ready for our trips on theChetco River this spring.
General impressions of the BAKraft expedition
- The boat design is solid and performs in difficult rapids. I would like more volume in the bow and stern for punching through holes
- The Spectra material seems to be bomber. We put it through some solid abuse portaging logjams and paddling over shallow rocks on the Middle Fork of the Hood.
- The small volume of this boat when rolled (slightly bigger than a sleeping bag) is wonderful when packing it on your back. This boat would be great for packing on horses and/or international travel.
- The material has a "slippery-ness" to it I've never experienced with other inflatable kayaks. It slides over shallow rocks brilliantly and boofs like a hardshell kayak. This was an unexpected advantage of the Spectra fabric.
- The lighter boat is REALLY nice when portaging.
The BAKraft Expedition could be your all around boat but really shines for the trips that require a hike in for a multi-day trip. I want to thank the team at AIRE for continuing to innovate with new fabric and boat designs. This boat will allow us to offer some innovative new commercial trips and allow me to paddle some remote rivers that have been on my list for a few years.
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It is truly an honor to outfit trips on the Chetco River through the Kalmiopsis Wilderness. This extraordinary trip begins with a 10 mile hike (with a heavy pack) to the river followed by 20 miles of paddling Class III and IV rapids (and some portages) in an inflatable kayak. It's a challenging journey but you are rewarded with absolute solitude and beauty. Last week a few hardy souls joined us to make this epic journey at a flow of 500 cfs. The Hike First of...
Last week we returned to the spectacularly beautiful Chetco River. This mighty river has it's headwaters in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness and flows 56 miles to the Pacific Ocean. We are lucky to outfit and guide a few intrepid groups down this river each year. Anyone who has been down the Chetco will talk about it's amazingly clear water, jaw dropping scenery, and the hard work it takes to get there. Developing the techniques and equipment to run this style of trip has been a fun project...