Gear Review: Kokopelli Hornet-lite Packraft

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The east end of Honey Lake Valley, Flanigan has a alkali flat that floods

Buying a packraft for touring in the driest state sounds a little crazy. But during the storms of 2017 Nevadan deserts flooded. The desert’s alkali flats, playas, ancient lake beds went from dusty dry hard pan to feet of water. We are coming up on 2 years since these storms dropped record rain and snow in the western part of the state and we still see surface water in depressions that have been dry over the last 20 years.

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Fallon and Stillwater Wildlife Refuges are in the Carson Sink, the desert terminus of the Carson River

The Carson River flows out out of the Sierra Nevada to die in the Carson Sink. The natural flow of the river has been altered to flow into Lake Lahontan Reservoir then distributed for irrigation in Fallon. The snowpack reportedly could fill the reservoir 1.3 times. In response crews pulled off “The Big” a diversion that routed water under Highway 95 to the Carson Sink via Sheckler Reservoir and Carson Lake. This would allow the desert to fill adding opportunities for amphibious adventure.

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White Lake is one of several North Valley basins that collect rain and snow melt from Peavine Mountain 

Two grand playas that flooded were The Black Rock and Smoke Creek Deserts. I did visit to view the spectacle and figured there had to be an opportunity here. The idea was hatched, I wanted a packraft. More adventure cyclists were writing and filming their bike/raft adventures. It wasn’t until I read the review by Greenbelly Meals that I decided on the Hornet-lite by Kokopelli Packrafts.

When it arrived I was surprised how small of a box it came in, but that is the point. I was pleased when I put the paddle together, light weight, solid, good feel in the hand. Now the test, how is it inflating the boat, at least in my front room? After messing with the valve and the inflation bag I was able to inflate the boat and top it off in under 6 minutes. I couldn’t believe it. The inflatable seat cushion took a minute. Then I climbed in. I am 5’5” and I fit just fine. I could imagine a full size pack across the bow. It was hard to imagine a bike on the bow, but that was next. I will have to have some taller friends give is a go. I was pleased by the construction and materials. This boat uses the lightest material in the Kokopelli lineup, all the specs are here.

Field Tested

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The Hornet-lite bundled in a dry bag with the included paddle

Next stop, getting it on the water. My initial thought was to drive to Stampede Reservoir and paddle around for a bit. But then I realized there has to be a first time for bike and boat… and that time is now. I drove up to Stampede Reservoir with my Surly Ice Cream Truck, outfitted with racks front and rear and my Hornet bagged in a thick dry bag with the paddle attached. When the road turned to dirt I parked, loaded the boat onto the back of my bike and was off.

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Ready to head down to Stampede Reservoir

The dirt road to the lake was a blast to ride. It is so jarring in the vehicle I was glad to be on the bike. I decided to bike along the shore counter-clockwise to find a spot to launch. I had been wanting to explore the Stampede shoreline and now I have the perfect vehicles to do so. If there are sections that would otherwise keep me from riding I could continue in the raft from another vantage. Today I picked a spot after about an hours pedal. This morning the big spectacle was a seaplane doing touch-and-goes on the lake.

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Exploring the shoreline
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Unpacked
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Inflated; 6 minutes

Unpacking the boat, inflation, disassembling and packaging my bike, loading and launching took about 30 minutes. Totally reasonable, relatively easy. First paddle strokes were amazing. The boat tracks well as long as you are paddling. Stop paddling and the raft starts to spin. Totally acceptable. I felt like the raft paddled efficiently. I felt like I sat high enough in the boat to have a good paddle stroke. There was a light breeze but I felt the raft didn’t catch the wind as I had been warned. The raft with the bike attached is cozy. I got to see fish jump and a greater variety of birds, sights missed pedaling along the shore.

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First time doing this, seamed pretty solid
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Ready to paddle; 30 minutes
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The immediate view never changes
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An hour later; a new beach with new roads to explore!

After an hour I landed in a cove. In about 20 minutes the boat was packed an on a reassembled bike. I was really pleased with how quickly the boat unpacks and packs. This time I loaded the boat on the front rack and pedaled through the forest back to the car. I was on new-to-me roads that I would not have explored otherwise.

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Packed up; 20 minutes
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Through the forest on roads I would have never tried

Nut shell:

Value; reasonable cost to get into packrafting in a single package

Easy to set-up and break down; easy to transport

Performs well, as it should

Inspiring; I am now planning my next bikerafting trips

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Numerous coves and islands to explore on Stampede Reservoir

Limitations:

Size; it fits me and my gear but I am small

Construction; light weight materials, single chamber

No spray skirt.

These limitations are addressed by other boats in the Kokopelli line. My thought is I will see where the Hornet takes me and consider other boats if the Hornet limits my adventures.

Next time:

I have paddling shoes and my cycling rain jacket that I will bring. Overall the inflatable seat in the boat did its job keeping my shorts dry but I will bring rain pants and pack away my cycling clothes to paddle dry and ride dry. I will be wearing an inflatable PFD in the future as well.

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Sand dunes in Carson Sink; follow the sand or follow the water – now both

6 thoughts on “Gear Review: Kokopelli Hornet-lite Packraft

  1. Pingback: From the Black Rock to High Points, 2019 Had Diverse Highlights! – Bikepacking Northern Nevada

  2. Pingback: Packraft and Bike on the Truckee River and Tahoe-Pyramid Trail – Bikepacking Northern Nevada

  3. joseph morgan

    Thanks for the welcome review of the Hornet-lite – in my opinion, the overlooked packraft. Unbeatable combination of weight and price. I’ve had mine for almost a year, and am very happy with it. I’m 5′ 11″ , 165 lb., and it carries me and enough gear for an overnight camping trip with no problem. Added a couple of d-rings to the stern to tie down extra gear. Not a bike rider, so can’t speak to that, but it seems to have worked great for you. I’m new to packrafting so thought I’d start with this so-called entry level model, then upgrade if I really liked packrafting.(Loving it!) I paddle mostly coastal bays and inlets, lakes and slow-moving streams, and for my purposes, it’s hard to justify an upgrade. From what I’ve read and heard, other models are more suitable for whitewater.

  4. ffelix

    Hey Kurstin,

    I just put it together that this is your blog after following it for a couple of years…duh! BTW, the seatpost fit just fine, thanks 🙂

    I have the Kokopelli Nirvana and used it this summer for several multi-day whitewater river trips in Utah: Ruby-Horsethief, Desolation Canyon, San Juan. This included some pretty stout Class III water. I also did a number of day trips on various sections of the Colorado River out of Moab–mostly flatwater but up to Class II. I paddled up to about 25 miles a day, though usually less than that. On the multi-day trips I traveled with a 14′ cataraft, so I wasn’t self-supported, and I haven’t carried a bike yet.

    I’ve been thrilled with this boat. It actually performs like a real kayak, not a glorified inner tube. Class III water was only a problem because I was intimidated and doing sneak runs…features look big when you are sitting that close to the surface! But eventually I got to places where I just couldn’t bypass the bigger wave-trains and holes, and the boat treated me just fine.

    My boat is similar to the Hornet, but with additional features that I feel are worth the small additional weight. For instance, having a backrest is really nice for long days. The self-bailing is awesome–I’d say far better (and safer?) than a spray deck unless maybe you want to do mid-winter descents? But then you’d definitely want to be wearing a drysuit, so no need for the deck then, either…it’s not like you want to plan to Eskimo roll a packraft. I have the TiZip for storing camping gear inside the tube, but haven’t needed to use it yet. Other boaters I’ve talked to about that say it works great and really helps stabilize the ride to not have gear stacked on top; probably a significant issue if you have the bike on there already. But the zips are extra maintenance.

    Let me know if you have questions and want to chat about it.

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