Backpackable boat unfolds and inflates into paddling form

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The available camouflage cover for the K-Pak retails for $129(Credit: C.C. Weiss/New Atlas)

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As we've seen over the years, the compact, portable watercraft market is always welcoming new additions, including recent launches like Oru kayaks, the DinghyGo 2 catamaran and the Onak canoe. Usually these vessels rely on either folding or inflatable hardware to compact down to trunk or carry case size, but some, like the GoBoat, use a combination of both. The K-Pak from North Carolina's Folding Boat Company is another, using a blend of folding skeleton, inflatable inserts and fabric outer skin to travel to the water on your back, set up in minutes and get paddling.

The idea of a folding frame supporting an outer skin is nothing new. It's a formula we've seen used by Klepper, the oldest folding kayaking company out there, as well as others. Unlike the dual-component skin/frame seen on some other folding boats, the Folding Boat Company's design integrates the anodized aluminum frame inside the puncture/abrasion-resistant poly fabric skin, making for a more portable package and fast, simple set-up. The frame never has to leave the skin, folding down and snapping into form from inside.

The key to the K-Pak design is a segmented frame that works like a beefed-up tent frame, its short, connected segments locking together into the greater structure. Instead of simply nesting inside one another, as on a tent, the K-Pak segments secure via plastic connector sleeves. Lock the eight connector sleeves and the K-Pak springs to life from loose, flat skin and bones to three-dimensional boat.

The inflatable seat and floor inserts are also integrated into the single body and inflate to shape with a hand pump. These pieces provide added paddler comfort and improve buoyancy on the water. The only external components not integrated nicely inside are two cross members that snap into the frame to increase structural integrity.

If you're familiar with these types of boats, you might notice the folding/inflatable design bears some resemblance to the Pakboat, and that's not coincidence, nor copycatting. After developing a prototype, the Folding Boat Company's Pete Flood worked with Pakboat's Ralph Hoehn to fine-tune the design into its current form.

The Folding Boat Company estimates a four- to five-minute set-up time for its 9.2-foot (2.8-m) boat, and it shows it happening in about four minutes in the rather purposefully slow instructional video below. We're guessing you could beat that time handily when in a hurry or just as easily multiply it when taking your time on a sleepy, sunny day.

The set-up time is quick, but not necessarily quicker than other folding boats. Where the K-Pak design really shines is in folding down into a simple single-piece (+ 2 cross member) package that you wear on your back. Once the frame is flattened, the boat folds into thirds and slides into the backpack, the cross members resting on top. Other folding designs pack down into multiple bags, shoulder bags, roller cases, etc. The K-Pak backpack is a nice, relatively streamlined alternative that can also carry a folding paddle and PFD.

At 21 lb (9.5 kg), the K-Pak isn't any heavier than a trekking backpack loaded with gear. The pack's large, rectangular form might slow you down a bit, though, especially if you're bushwhacking and scrambling through heavy brush.

The Folding Boat Company launched last year, and we got our first look at the recent Overland Expo East show. The K-Pak retails for US$875.

The video below provides a good 40-second look at what the K-Pak is all about.

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