Kokopelli Recon self-bailing packraft: Tested

By Paul Karis 28 June 2022
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The Kokopelli Recon self-bailing packraft helps open up a world of river-based exploration, as we found out.

The Kokopelli Recon self-bailing packraft has reinvigorated my love of exploring and floating down rivers. Having a traditional whitewater kayaking background, I didn’t really ‘get’ what packrafting was about. After researching a bunch of rivers within two to three hours’ drive of Sydney, it became apparent that many of the beautiful, remote sections involved either steep hike ins, steep hike outs, or both. The idea of packrafting was starting to make a lot of sense.

What didn’t make sense was the type of packraft to get as the designs are quite varied. In the end, they sit on a spectrum with super light and packable on one end to robust, heavy and less packable at the other. Each has its merit depending on your intended activity. 

The rivers I was eyeing off have rapids that range up to Grade 4. On an international rapid grading system of 1 to 6, 1 is small, easy waves and 6 is nearly impossible with a definite risk of life. Having built up my river skills and experience over many years of kayaking, Grade 3 is what I call fun. Grade 4 is difficult; it gets the adrenaline going and is a bit scary.  

To run these sorts of rivers and rapids, the boat I needed would have to be at the heavier, robust end. Made from tougher fabrics, the boat can be inflated to a higher pressure allowing better performance in challenging water and can take more of beating from the rough and tumble of more serious rapids. The downside would be a heavier load to hump down and up the typically steep valley sides.

The Kokopelli Recon’s robust build quality was a boon in the more challenging Grade 3 and Grade 4 rivers.

Kokopelli is a highly regarded packraft company based out of Denver, Colorado, and the packraft I eventually selected – and have been using all summer – is the Kokopelli Recon self-bailing. These self-bailing models don’t have spraydecks. They are more like a traditional raft with drainage holes that let water out of the boat.

Through the wet La Nina summer, the Kokopelli Recon and I were put to the test on sections of the Shoalhaven, Wingecarribee, Wollindilly, Colo, Grose and even the Hacking river in my backyard in the Royal National Park. Oh, the places you can go with a packraft! 


First impression out of the box is that the Recon is one tough unit. It’s built from commercial-grade 1000-denier (D) reinforced PVC (basically the same material as full-size rafts). It also has raft grade Leafield D7 valves which allow for high pressure inflation. The self-bailing design works by a combination of the inflatable floor and drain holes that allow water to automatically drain from the boat.

The raft comes standard with inflatable floor, supportive backrest, barrel pump, compression straps and a repair kit. If you intend to run rapids, I strongly recommend adding a set of thigh-straps to the purchase to keep you securely in the boat and allow for more precise paddling. The boat weighs 8.2 kg on its own. Add another 2.5kg for the inflatable floor, backband and thigh-straps.

A TiZip is an optional extra which I went for. This is an airtight zipper that allows you to open the pontoon and store your gear inside instead of lashing your pack on the front of the raft. It makes the boat more stable and balanced if carrying a bit of gear for a multiday trip. There are eight reinforced stainless steel D-rings for lashing your gear.

In the field

The first outing was a two-day trip on the Shoalhaven Rover from Horseshoe Bend to Badgery Spur. Seems obvious, but ensure you have a good pack when you have a decent hike in. I didn’t, but I’ve learned. While not as light and packable as other models, the raft can be rolled and compressed to the size of two large sleeping bags.

A packraft’s DNA is all about it being light and compact enough when deflated and rolled up to be carried in (or on) a backpack to access remote waterways.

When overnighting, you’re going to have a lot of gear. Once you’ve packed paddling gear, it seems like there’s not much room left. Perhaps this is where bikepackers and packrafters intersect. Weight and packability of gear is closely scrutinised and anything vaguely luxurious is piffed. We were super-impressed with the TiZip and the internal packing space of the pontoons. It swallowed everything like the boot of an old Valiant. If you don’t have to hike, there is definitely room for luxuries!

On the water, you immediately notice the manoeuvrability. The boat feels light and turns quickly and you have a nice high vantage point with the inflatable seat. The first few rapids were fun as we effortlessly punched through small waves and holes. On the more serious and technical rapids, I realised I couldn’t always hold my planned lines. When the boat gets swamped, it becomes heavy and less agile. While it drains relatively quickly (approx. 20 seconds), on a long rapid that can be too long. There is definitely a case for the spraydeck option, but there’s also pluses to the open raft style, like having the ability to quickly jump out and scout a rapid. It’s also less intimidating to new paddlers who can feel ‘trapped’ with a spraydeck.

Over the course of the summer, I learnt the capabilities of the boat and of myself. There is no shame in portaging rapids that you just aren’t feeling confident to paddle. Packrafts flip a lot easier than kayaks and often when you least expect it. This keeps you humble!

The final word on the Kokopelli Recon self-bailing packraft

I am super stoked I took the plunge into packrafting. It opened my eyes to the ‘whole’ journey and a bigger outdoor experience – the hike in, time on a remote river, the stunning beauty of river valleys and gorges, an experience with friends who may never have taken up kayaking, and in some instances a solid hike out (if you like that kind of thing!).

The Kokopelli Recon impressed testers with its manoeuvrability and the high vantage point – ideal for scouting ahead before committing to running rapids.

The Kokopelli Recon self-bailing packraft has been excellent for the rivers and activities described and I am looking forward to many more water-borne adventures with it. The craft’s manoeuvrability, robust construction and well-thought design have given me confidence to go with its impressive capability. However, be sure to do your research and consider your own requirements as something else on the packraft spectrum may be more appropriate. Most importantly, buddy up with someone who knows river safety.

RRP: $1699 (with TiZip $1999) See Packraft for more info.