I picked up a Flytepacker this winter, but didn’t have a chance to try it out until this weekend. I’ve been curious as to how the Flytepacker would perform on open water, so I went out to a local lake and did some testing; using a Garmin 910xt GPS enabled wrist watch to time the results.
The test consisted of a ~0.62km loop around a small island and then two short sprints in each raft to attempt to determine top speed.
The paddle was a 210cm Aquabound manta ray fiberglass paddle. All accessories (pfd, clothing, gloves) were the same for both rafts.
Both rafts were unloaded, with no gear attached other than the passenger. Both rafts were fully inflated and tempered briefly before use.
I ran both rafts in the “default” configuration, as they were purchased, and presumably, how they would be used in the field. For the Flytepacker this meant no seat, and no spray deck. For the Yak this meant a small inflated seat, backrest, and “classic” spray deck.
Impressions with the Flytepacker
After being used to my Yak, my first thoughts about the Flytepacker were that it was light. Maneuvering it on the beach at the start was very easy, you could pick it up and spin it, flip it about like you were Hercules. You can do the same with the Yak, but you definitely feel the weight and momentum a bit more.
Once getting in the water, my next impressions of the Flytepacker was that it really turned on a dime and it was very easy to spin around in a 360. This was very apparent while trying to paddle in a straight line as it definitely yawed-side-to-side a great deal, much more than I was used to in the yak. Now, the yawing isn’t a big deal to me, I was used to it for the yak, and I know from looking at GPS tracks that you still move in a straight line.
The next thing I noticed was that without a seat that the paddling position was very low; my arms and shoulders were quickly feeling the strain of having to hold my paddling arms higher at what felt like an unnatural height. The combination of low seat and wide feeling of the boat, meant that it was difficult to achieve what felt like an efficient stroke, and I could feel myself quickly being fatigued with holding my arms up.
The position of the boston valve on the Flytepacker quickly became a problem, as it got in the way of almost every paddle stroke.
I checked the GPS watch and I was humming along at an average speed of 2.5 km/hr, with no real wind on flat seas.
The next thing I noticed was that my legs quickly were soaked, even though my paddles had drip rings.
My impressions of the Flytepacker were favorable. It could hum along at what felt like a decent speed, felt pretty stable. My chief complaint would have been the paddling position and the location of valve.
Impressions with the Yak
The first thing upon entering the Yak that I noticed was that with the seat you were positioned much higher up on the water, and that the boat felt quite a bit narrower. The combination of the higher seat and narrower boat meant that the boat felt “twitchy”. I am used to “twitchy” things: everything from high performance kayaks to racing road bicycles feel “twitchy”, but that twitchiness translates to a high-degree of controllability and responsiveness.
The next impression was that after being in the Flytepacker, the Yak felt like it was keeping bang on course. When I first started using the Yak a year ago, the first thing I noticed was the yaw, but after being in the Flytepacker the yaw felt non-existant.
The next observations were that the seat, and narrower boat meant that the paddling position was much better. I felt like I was much more efficient, had a higher paddling cadence, and just all around felt more comfortable. During the trip with the Flytepacker I had to actually take a couple of rests, simply from holding my arms up at the required height. On the Yak I felt like I could go all day.
Of course, with the spray deck, I was much drier.
By the numbers
Here is an image of the spreadsheet by the GPS.
Two things are apparent: The first is that the Yak was quite a bit faster than the Fltyepacker, consistently at least 2km/hr faster in all tests. The next is that my heart rate is higher with the Yak. I will talk about possible reasons for this in the conclusion section.
Conclusion and thoughts
Let me preface my conclusions with a couple of obvious caveats. The Flytepacker is quite a bit lighter and significantly less expensive than the Yukon yak. At best this is an apples to oranges comparison. But, both are very capable of handling the conditions of a calm flat water crossing, and I wanted to some numbers down, and give my impressions.
Particularly, it has been speculated that flat water performance of the Flytepacker might be the same as an Alpacka. I would say that the Alpacka is in a different class than the Flytepacker, both in terms of speed, sustained speed, effort, and comfort. There were no waves or wind on my short test, but my experience says that a decked alpacka would be much better in rougher open water conditions. My feeling from this test is that the Flytepacker would be suitable for calm flat water crossings, but wouldn't be that great when it came to sustained flat water travel.
About the heart rate monitor
I wanted to have the heart rate monitor to try to compare speeds of the two boats at the same effort. But it was clear from the start that the paddling position of the Flytepacker was such that I just couldn’t get my heart rate up, asiIt was difficult to get a high cadence efficient stroke going. At the end of the loop with the Flytepacker, my arms and shoulders were actually starting to get tired, and I wasn’t really having fun. At the same point with the Yukon Yak, I felt like I could go on all day, even though my heart rate was higher. Also because the Flytepacker test was first, it might have warmed me up a bit. To put the numbers in perspective, my resting heart rate is in the low 50s, and at 31 years old I can regularly hit 200bpm, and have done 13 hour multisport races with my heart rate the 150-160 range, so an average heart rate of 141 during the Alpacka loop would be a sustainable all-day rate for me although it might seem high in “absolute” terms compared to other people.
With the Flytepacker I just didn’t feel like my aerobic system ever came into play, my shoulders and arms felt like the limiting factor right away. With the Yak I really felt that my paddling was much more efficient.
Would a seat fix the Flytepackers speed? I think that a seat and higher paddling position on the Flytepacker would be essential for longer stretches of flat water. A seat would definitely increase the comfort, and might increase the speed a bit, but I think the narrow and longer yak will always be faster than the Flytepacker.
Comparing the Flytepacker and the Yak in this manner means that the Flytepacker is clearly the underdog, and I don’t want to be too negative on the boat. The performance per dollar of the Flytepacker is very high, and it is worth every penny.
My thoughts on the Flytepacker are that it would be pretty capable of flat water crossings, high alpine lake fishing. You will definitely get wet, and with the relatively fragility of the boat, landings on rugged shorelines might be tricky.
The Flytepacker in stuff sack weighs in at a scant 1041 grams. My Yukon Yak with seat, backrest, and spray deck weigh in at a portly 2850 grams, but I think my boat is a bit heavier than average.
Once packed up, the Yak is surprisingly small for its relatively heavy weight. The packed size with spray deck isn't much bigger than the Flytepacker when packed up.
The Flytepacker fills a niche role. If you are primarily a hiker who wants to do short crossings, or fishing small alpine lakes, the cost and weight of the Flytepacker really make it a no-brainer.
As soon as the water crossings become larger, more exposed, longer, or colder, the added weight of the Yak would quickly be worthwhile.
A few pictures: