We spent a lot of time thinking about this one. Our need for a second large packraft, to compliment our Double Duck, was obvious. You really can’t paddle more difficult water with a kid in your lap, one previous option to getting both kids out of the front of the Duck, and we needed to get both kids out of the Duck. That boat wasn’t made for hauling, and the small tubes in the front start to drag and drastically reduce maneuverability with much above 50 pounds. Both kids (now 3 and 6) do fit in the Duck, and can often get along in tight quarters, but being able to separate them is a key strategic asset.
I saw two distinct approaches; a smaller boat to minimize weight for backcountry stuff, or a bigger boat that would be able to carry both kids well into the future. This last approach could minimize weight as well, if the second adult came along in a smaller raft.
We thought long about the Mule, at 7.3 pounds (plain floor with cargo fly) and 52 inch inner length. That size would carry one kid, for at least a while. We thought less long about the 70 inch long and 13+ pound Forager, mostly due to weight, but also the reduced options committing to a big raft would involve. We eliminated the Oryx over concerns the length/width ratio and seating would not be good in whitewater. The Ex42, with 62 inch and 8.3 pound (with cargo fly), seemed like the ideal compromise; big enough for two kids, more than big enough for one, probably big enough for two adults occasionally, and small enough to paddle solo when need or desire dictated, and well suited to hauling that moose out of the Bob when I finally draw. The Ex42 is also a good bit cheaper than the Forager or Oryx.
All that has proven to be a wise estimate.
The high volume cargo hull has performed exceptionally across circumstances. Two kids, one kid, one kid plus mountain bike, two kids plus overnight gear inside, a second adult, or just alone with day gear, the Explorer 42 paddles well everywhere. It is fast, for a packraft, on flatwater, but pivots well and navigates class III no problem. The long flat section of the hull does tend to spear into waves and features of a certain size, an inevitable tendency given the dimensions, one notably not meaningfully exacerbated by weight and or passengers in the bow. On class IIish scale features the boat is quite dry. I do appreciate how the hull design packs a lot of float into modest length, a relevant consideration for running skinny water, and for reducing the consequences of a wrap. My only issue is the extent to which the stern section protrudes further into the waterline than other packrafts, and thus is more likely to get hung up than seems strictly necessary. The same long flat section of hull makes it almost, sorta possible to edge the Ex42, canoe style. It still paddles like a packraft, but varies enough from the main line to be interesting for the packraft connoisseur.
Detailing, such as it is, is primarily good. The long, thick seat works well providing additional stiffness (laterally and longitudinally) and keeping two passengers off the rocks and out of the water. The kids do dispute the right to sit on the leading edge, suggesting that the ideal two kid outfitting would involve a full length seat, or an additional scout seat to take up that forward space. For our use thus far, I don’t mind the lack of any sort of backband or support, but those with less ideal seated posture have wanted this. The only modification I’ve made is gluing in a rear grab handle right above the end of the cargo zipper. I find the roll out and grab maneuver essential on swift and tight creeks, and the lash points down near the point of the stern are utterly useless in this respect. Perhaps they are down there to provide a grab loop for rescuing swimmers? Speaking of that cargo zipper, for all the irritation it can create with micro leaks, having one on a family boat is mandatory. Packing for an overnight with multiple kids is dead easy with the cargo fly, approaching or perhaps exceeding the ease of a canoe or big raft. Most encouragingly, the build quality seems to be improved over out past Alpackas. This is the first of the now six boats we’ve had from them that didn’t have some sort of wrinkle or oddity in the taping.
We anticipate having the Ex42 still in heavy rotation many years hence. We may not need to buy another multiperson raft again, as LB has been keen enough building his solo paddling skills that by the time both kids don’t fit in the Ex42 together, he’ll more often than not be paddling himself.