2010 Yukon Yak at left, 2013 Scout at right.
Earlier this year I bought the Scout to see if a lighter, simpler, cheaper but still high quality packraft could fulfill many of my requirements. The utility of the main line Alpackas are well established, but their packed size and weight (6 pounds for my Yak, above) ends up being a significant burden for someone with a well-honed backcountry kit. For mere river and lake crossings the lighter and much cheaper options for Supai Canyon Gear and Flytepacker seem solid. I want something in between. Whitewater is never going to be my overall focus, and thus if weight could be saved and I could still have a reliable boat for serious backcountry conditions I’d be well served.
The Scout is 2.25 pounds less than the Yak. More significantly, it packs into 3/5 the space. It is short enough that I can’t fit my feet inside and have my knees low enough to not interfere with my paddle stroke. It lacks bow upturn, and has smaller diameter tubes. Interestingly, the sterns of both boats are almost identical.
When I rig the Scout for floating I use my Thermarest Prolite XS as a seat. Fully inflated, folded into thirds, and lashed down using a dedicated 1/2″ strap it is very effective at keeping my butt out of water in the boat and from bouncing off rocks. My pack goes between my legs, with one strap encircling the pack and lashed to the front tiedown, another holding the pack down and lashed through both rear tiedowns. A full 60 liter pack will fit here, stable and unobtrusive, or a smaller pack with snowshoes. Stuff like skis or a bike are not possible, save for very short and gentle crossings.
Most importantly the Scout is an Alpacka. Material and build quality are both high. You can slither down gravel shallows and bounce off stuff with just as little concern in the Scout as you can with a main line boat. In this area Alpacka is still unmatched (outside the heavy Feathercraft Baylee).
The Scout has definite limits, but they’re not as significant as I thought they might be. The combination of small tubes and short length means that stability and floatation are much less than a full size Alpacka. You’ll take on more water and be more vulnerable to flipping, all other things equal. The raftalounger position is great for waves firehosing down your rainpants, but doesn’t impede paddling power too much. I am quite comfortable running mild to moderate rapids in the Scout, I just know that my margin for error is smaller, and that my clothing will need to keep me warmer.
So who is the Scout for?
Experienced packrafters running mild water in lower 48 conditions, or harder stuff in warmer temps, may find a Scout suitable if overall efficiency is a priority. Tentative paddlers and folks who get cold easily need not apply. The Scout is more at home on smaller and warmer waters, and for this reason the arena of application will be much smaller in places like Alaska. Because the Scout is less forgiving and less dry, there will be occasions when the pure boat weight savings will be offset by more clothing, or the desire to bring a PFD when you otherwise might leave it at home. Most people will buy a Scout as a second boat to compliment a main line boat. If you take a friend rafting for their first time, they can use the big boat, and you the Scout.
An interesting case study is the current Wilderness Classic route. The Scout would be a bit scary in the very upper reaches of the Tasnuna, where cliffs made putting in obligatory. Almost all of the rapids in the next few miles could be portaged at the cost of 10-15 minutes, and on the lower flat river the small boat would only be a disadvantage if it were raining, and would be better against the headwind we fought last year. Crossing the Copper in the pool toy would be a bit nerve wracking, but wouldn’t have any practical disadvantages if conditions were similar to last years. Similar things could be said about the Chitina. It sounds like a full-on boat is what you want for the Klu, but I’m not going that way and have a very low risk tolerance for whitewater in a wilderness setting. In short, I’ll be very tempted to bring the Scout and enjoy the smaller pack, given that 85% of the route time will be walking, and 60% of that will be in bad to heinous brush.
Another example is the famous South Fork of the Flathead, best floated (for scenic and fishing reasons) in late July and early August. It’s possible to have cold rain that time of year, but the water isn’t too cold and the weather is usually very kind. Given the choice of the two boats, I’ll almost certainly select the Scout and enjoy the smaller, lighter pack on the 25 mile hike in.
The Scout isn’t for everyone, but it might be for you.
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