The lure of solitude – paddling in remote pristine lakes, down secluded rivers or along forgotten coastlines – has spawned the development of small, packable kayaks and rafts. Companies such as Alpacka Raft, Feathercraft and NRS have all designed lightweight, inflatable “packrafts” weighing less than 10 lbs.
One of the more unique inflatable kayaks to arrive in 2014 is the new Packlite kayak from Advanced Elements – an environmentally-friendly, PVC-free, 7′ 10″ minimalist weighing in at 4 lbs with a street price of $299. Having seen the prototype model last summer, we impatiently waited the chance to test one out.
Last week opportunity arrived, and we took an initial look at the Advanced Elements Packlite pre-production run.
AirKayaks Special!: Use coupon code PACKLITE at checkout for free economy shipping. For more details or to purchase, visit the Advanced Elements PackLite Product Pages and the Advanced Elements BackYak Packlite System (with paddle and pump) at AirKayaks.com.
Getting Started with the Packlite
The shipping box weighs 7 lbs.
Inside, the kayak arrives in a small carrying bag, measuring 18 inches wide by 16 inches deep, tapering to 9 inches and about 7 inches tall. The kayak folded size is 11 x 11 x 5 inches. We weighed the bag – the kayak is indeed a lightweight 4.7 lbs. in the bag.
We unpacked the kayak – or rather unfurled the kayak – and laid out the parts. Surprisingly simple – just the body, the carrying case and repair kit.
Setup/Inflation Instructions for the Advanced Elements PackLite
Unfurl the kayak body.
The Packlite features two main inflation chambers utilizing a military valve – this is located on the top of the hull towards the stern. The military-style plunger valve is simple to use – with your finger, twist the plunger slightly to the “up” position to inflate (air goes in but doesn’t come back out) and “down” to deflate (air comes out).
Use the attached screw on adaptor to lock to the valve. This friction fits over the Boston valve attachment (conical nozzle about 1/2 inch in diameter) found on most pumps.
Pump up the first chamber (farthest back) until it begins to fill out. Unlike many other brands, many of the Advanced Elements series of kayaks features an inner and outer chamber, with a floating “interior wall.” By pumping up the first chamber partly until it fills out, you “center” the inner wall. Then move over to the second chamber. It took about 25 full pumps each side with a double action hand pump (30+ seconds each) to reach the recommended 2 PSI. Screw on the valve caps to protect the plungers.
Using the same Boston valve adaptor, fit it OVER the twistlok valve on the floor chamber. Pump this up until fairly firm (1 PSI) but there should be slight give when depressed. Twist the valve shut. How do you tell if you’ve pumped it up enough? If you lift the kayak up by one handle, and it sags in the middle, it needs more air.
Take the kayak carrying case, and attach the narrow end to the handle d-ring, and then the two side d-rings – this becomes an integrated storage compartment. While the photo shows it with the mesh side up, one could also put the mesh side down, keeping more water out of your gear.
All-in-all, just a few minutes with a double-action hand pump and you’re done!
Features and Specifications on the Advanced Elements PackLite Kayak
The kayak material is PVC-free – a lightweight, high-density, polyester ripstop with a polyurethane laminate coating for protection.
The ripstop adds to the kayak durability in case of puncture. Four “extra layers” of polyurethane coating around the hull and interior well provide extra abrasion protection.
There is one molded rubber carrying handle in the bow – while it is simple enough to balance the PackLite on your pinkie, in a gust of wind it might blow away. So, secure it under your arm.
There are three inflation chambers – two military valves for the two main chambers, and one twistlok for the floor. With the inner/outer design on the main chambers, if one deflates, you still have another chamber surrounding you.
There are 6 front d-rings for attaching gear – two on either side of the handle – and another four positioned 18 to 24 inches apart, and 15 inches deep. An additional 4 d-rings are located at the stern. These are positioned 26 inches apart tapering to 12 inches apart and 12 inches deep, beginning 6 inches from the stern and 6 inches behind the paddler.
The underside features a “sculpted” i-beam hull and electronically-welded seams. The hull shape is very similar to the Advanced Element Firefly – while there is no tracking fin, this particular shape in conjunction with the 8 i-beam ribs creates a tracking element enhancing performance.
The zippering carrying bag/integrated storage bag measures 18 inches wide, tapering down to 9 inches, and is 16 inches long. A mesh gusset on one side expands to 7 inches deep. The flip side is made of the same material as the kayak body, with printed inflation instructions. Swivel clips on three sides allow quick connect/disconnect to the kayak d-rings.
We took measurements. The Advanced Elements PackLite is 93 to 94 inches long and 36 inches wide. The seating well is 52 inches long and 16 inches wide with 7 inch walls – the side tubes are approximately 9 inches wide. Carrying capacity is 250 lbs.
The Advanced Elements PackLite On the Water
I took out the PackLite on a day with slight chop.
This is a very easy kayak to get into. Basically – plop. You’re there. First thing to note, when getting into the kayak, water will drip in from your feet. As there is no seat, one rests against the back of the kayak bladder. While there is a side gunnel that pools water, some runs down the center ribs, ending up right where you’re sitting.
I paddled out onto the lake. It’s a well-known fact – shorter, lighter-weight vessels can exhibit nose wag which will be highlighted when one stops paddling, as the nose tends to drift towards your last paddle. I certainly experienced wag, but one learns to find the “cadence” of the kayak. Wag can be minimized utilizing shallower and gentler paddling strokes.
At 5’4″, I found the kayak to be perfectly roomy, in fact my feet didn’t reach the front.
I next took the PackLite out on a calmer day, this time bringing some added weight to the front – my new paddling buddy, Cleo. By removing the front bag, the kayak is certainly roomy enough for smaller adults to bring a small dog (Cleo weighs 30 lbs) or a small child. While I was somewhat concerned about claws (let’s face it, this is a LIGHT kayak), Cleo’s are not sharp and Advanced Elements encouraged me to bring her along. The added weight minimized nose wag, and the material was rugged enough to handle Cleo’s incessant interest for everything in the water. While attempting to keep Cleo from jumping towards a floating leaf, I managed to run over a large submerged rock, bumping into an extended log with protruding limbs. I held my breath for a minute, but the kayak didn’t skip a beat.
I next took out the kayak with a 13 lb backpack slipped under the front bag. Bingo. Nose wag really decreased, in fact the kayak paddled well – really well – and was pretty zippy. The pack provided the added benefit of acting as a foot brace, which really helped with the paddling. Here’s my second thing to note – the kayak can turn on a pinhead. The first stroke or two you will need to over-correct to get back on track, but once that happens it tracks pretty well.
My only gripe at that point was the water puddling in the floor, making for a wet ride. The addition of a lightweight “spray deck” clipping onto the d-rings would be a great boon, or a small inflatable seat to raise yourself up off the floor. To test that theory out, I set out again with a small 1 inch padded half seat – something like the Seattle Sports paddlers pad. Bingo #2. While my cargo bag was a bit wet, and there was water pooled around the edges, I was dry.
While my husband was not available to take the PackLite out for a test ride, our friend Lee Johnson has been using the PackLite for several weeks. At 6′ 1″ and 215 lbs, here are some of Lee’s observations:
“My first time out was an almost windless day. On the water, it behaves very much like the Firefly. For my size, adopting the “Lazy Paddler” position (leaning back against the main chambers for lumbar support) helped the tracking. Moving forward in the cockpit seems to make the kayak “waggle” more with each stroke and to make it more susceptible to turning when slowing down and gliding. The only problem I had (and trust me to find a way to discover a problem) is that 2.5 hours into the first bit of paddling, I somehow managed to untwist the Twist Valve a bit and deflate the floor.
With respect to the PackLite’s safety, I ran the little kayak up a cement ramp on the lake, just to test its ability to withstand abrasion. This is a ramp that poked little holes in my flip-flops but the kayak came out of it unscathed.
Today I paddled the new PackLite for two hours in chilly conditions. The water was so cold that one’s feet went numb after a minute, and one could see one’s breath. Amazingly, after two hours, I was still comfortably warm, thanks to being surrounded by insulating air chambers.
The PackLite is a gem! It takes about three minutes to set up: roughly two dozen pumps on each main chamber (a couple more to top off) and about ten on the floor, using my double-action hand pump. What a great kayak for harsh conditions, thanks to its quick set-up. It behaves very much like the Firefly, whose form it uses, which means that it is a fine and incredibly stable ride, although only four pounds in weight. The two main chambers, extra layers of strength on the hull and inside of the cockpit, and tough material inspire confidence in its safety and durability. I now ensure that the Twist Valve on the floor sits up on my thigh so I don’t inadvertently untwist it by sitting on it.”
Deflating and Storing the PackLite Kayak
One of the biggest boons is the ease with which the kayak dries off – just wipe it down with a towel. Airkayaks note: Bring along a couple of microfiber towels used for washing cars. These work great as a sponge, for mopping up water splash-over while paddling and for drying off the kayak quickly.
The PackLite is extremely easy to deflate – open up the military valves and then the twistlok. To ensure getting enough air out to fit back in the bag, you might want to use the pump “deflate” mode on the floor. Then fold the kayak in half, and then in half again. Starting at the bow, start folding up every 7 inches, pushing air out of the main chambers as you go. Once finished, it should fit nicely back into the bag.
Bottom Line on the Advanced Elements PackLite Kayak
Paddlers looking for an incredibly lightweight kayaking option will find the Advanced Elements PackLite a real treasure.
And when we talk about lightweight, let’s put that into perspective. At 48 oz., the PackLite weighs less than most laptops, less than a gallon of water, less than a ream of paper – and certainly less than my handbag.
Set up is extremely quick and very simple. Drying off and packing up is just as easy.
The addition of a pack or weight in the front really adds to the performance – in fact, the kayak paddles extremely well and is surprisingly zippy.
The PackLite is a great choice for remote backpacking, as the infinitesimal size makes it a no-brainer for those exploring remote bodies of water. It’s also perfect for paddling across that pesky river between you and your destination. Just drop your backpack in the kayak, paddle across and keep trekking.
The PackLite is not an ocean touring kayak, it is not meant to battle waves. It is not a whitewater kayak nor for thrill-seekers. This is a kayak for those that want to spend a day in fresh air, listening to grebes, lapping shorelines and relaxing.
It is also a fabulous choice for those traveling by plane – not only is it small enough to fit in the overhead bin, you can actually stuff it into a good-sized handbag.
I also see the PackLite as a great option for seniors or those with disabilities, as the boat is simple to inflate, incredibly easy to carry, and very easy to climb into. While one sits against the inflated back chamber, a small stadium seat would add comfort for those with back problems, while raising one’s rear up high enough to avoid getting wet.
Environmentally-conscious paddlers will find the PVC-free materials appealing.
Couple this with the incredibly affordable street price of $299, and there aren’t many excuses for not getting out on the water.
For more details or to purchase, visit the Advanced Elements PackLite Product Pages and the Advanced Elements BackYak Packlite System (with paddle and pump) at AirKayaks.com. You can also watch our YouTube video on the PackLite kayak, below.