After a chilly lunch at East Lock, sheltering against the wind behind a couple of upturned boats, it was my turn to try the Nortik Trekraft.
The day before I had all the boats out in the garden and have to say these Russians look like they can cut and assemble a German-designed packraft just as well as anyone else. Maybe it’s not so hard, but I doubt it. The manufacturer Triton has been making folding and inflatable kayaks for years. In Germany slightly different models are sold under the Faltboot brand who are part of Out-Trade who designed the Nortik Trekraft – or something like that. Like a lot of Russian-made gear, I’ve read that some Triton kayaks have an unrefined, agricultural reputation that can be mistaken for ruggedness and durability.
Feathercraft’s unsold-in-Europe BayLee ought to get a look in, but if one assumes Alpackas are the current state of the art then, like the MRS, the Trekraft is up there. The early production run Trekraft we had was just under 3.1kg on the water. Newer versions of the same model are said to be some 200g lighter.
The truth will be in the durability of course, as out of the box a €600 packraft floats just as well as a £30 slackraft. As with a lot of outdoor gear, you can pay a lot more to gain a small advantage, which can include image as much as performance.
You wonder if heat welding the joins with tape without also sewing each panel’s seams is strong enough? Well, if you assume that, as with welding steel, the two pieces become joined on a molecular level then it must be, though that didn’t work so well on our Matkat test boat. In this way you’d think sewing (as the MRS and Alpacka do) is as redundant as riveting over a steel weld. Sewing may be more to do with aiding reliably accurate assembly without recourse to tape. And anyway, the Trekraft handled the Store’s 0.5 bar pressure test as well as the rest.
Other details on the Trekraft include four plastic D-rings on the bow, easier to use than tape loops but possibly prone to sub-freezing brittleness and attached by a relatively small contact area compared to a typical 3-inch patch. The seat (left) is a bit less thick than the other two test boats with seats, and is held in place with four small velcro tabs biting both sides of the loop part (right). If the loop tab on the seat was full length it would enable some forward positioning options – and this raft has the interior room to do that. As it is, velcro does have a finite life span and is a pain to replace compared to bits of Alpackan string (or reusable zip ties which I prefer in my Yak).
A nice touch unique to the Trekraft is taping the floor to the hull inside the boat where otherwise grit can gather and work its way into the join. Same goes for the spraydeck on the decked Trekraft (orange, right – not tested here).
For the moment the Trekraft only comes in one size and one thing that put me off when the dimensions became known was it seemed too big inside. Even on flat water a packraft works best when it’s a snug fit in width and length, just like a shoe. On a kayak, footrests do the same. Our Nortik came in at 134cm inside, the MRS and Yak were 117 and 120cm and the MRS felt just my size (helped by the non-tapered foot box). In width too the Trekraft is from 9- to 5cm wider than the other two (the Supai was widest at 43cm). Tube diametre is 29cm; midway between the Microraft and Alpacka.
I have to say though, getting in and paddling away I didn’t notice any ‘looseness’, though I and others did stuff some bags down at the bow to take up the slack and stop us sliding down. The raft is actually nearly the same overall length as my Yak in which I am well jammed; the added inches are accounted for by the Yak’s longer stern prong.
We noticed that at each changeover (~40 mins) the Trek needed a puff or two up its one-way valve, though not enough to make us bother looking for a leak. All the boats except the pump-pressured Aire needed this, though part of that may be my preference to paddle a boat that’s as hard as my lungs will permit. Also, the afternoon cooled off and showered to the point where I at least was numb and shivering by the time we reached the tea shop in Yalding. So much for early summer in the Garden of England. There’s more on each boat’s inflation procedure on the introduction page; the Trekraft does have a small operational anomaly.
On my second spell in the Trekraft I found water oozing up through the floor after a few minutes. It turned out I’d inadvertently been sitting on the bilge pump (right) which had slid under the seat. The edge of the intake had pressed against the floor and pushed a slit a few millimetres wide through the fabric. Normally you’d avoid any edged object pressing under 90 kilos into a packraft’s single-skin floor, but I’m not sure this would have happened so quickly on my Yaks’ more robust floor (but which I’ve also holed one time). I did notice that while paddling the floor seemed to wobble more than it does on my Yak, as if it’s either less rigid or not as taut. You can see it in the groupie photo or here.
Floor fragility was something I addressed (rather clumsily) with my very first Alpacka (right) and is why I now run a double thickness ‘butt patch’ on my Yak, plus a closed cell foam heel pad at the front. How ironic that the bailing pump caused the need for a bailing pump. A bit of stray tape stemmed the flow and at Yalding Robin pulled out a proper bit of gaffer from his batbelt and fixed it for good.
One benefit of the Trekraft’s generous internal space is the ability of packing your gear low in the boat, not strapped over the bow blocking the view of some oncoming hazard – or inside the hull tubes, as Alpacka’s cunning but flawed Cargo Fly system allows. I imagine that could be adapted to any TPU-coated boat though you could also try packing gear behind you as on the Aire to put you in a more balanced, kayak-like paddling position. Not sure if that’s really necessary with the Nortik and anyway, all the gear at the back would make the boat back heavy. I like the suggested idea of a beachball backrest – gives you something to do at lunchtime, too. Or of course it makes a roomy platform for bikerafting.
The other useful benefit we found was the ability to fit two smaller adults in the Nortik. With the Supai out of action and the Aire not that effective as a tandem boat, Hannah and Lois didn’t look too cramped, huddled in the now repaired Trekraft for the last short stretch to Hampstead Lock. It shrugged off their 150-kilo load (left) without looking like it was about to sink. So may have my Yak, but they’d have needed prising out of that one with a hair drier and a spatula.
To me the best thing about the Nortik is the €600 price. That’s over a hundred quid less than I paid for my Yak, even bought direct in the US. And the (properly) decked Trekraft goes for just €200 more, though it may help to pad out the insides to make a good connection for whitewatering. The weak rouble may have something to do with all this but between them, those are the two best reasons to have a closer look at a Nortik packraft.