Look at a map of New York City. Not the Manhattan tourist map or the iconic subway map, but an honest-to-god, navigation-worthy map that shows all five boroughs, including the warty outlying parts. Now focus on the empty spaces between the frenetic tangle of streets and landmarks — and what do you see? A hell of a lot of water.
The city, like San Francisco (80 percent water) and Boston (50 percent water), is positively gushing with the wet stuff: rivers, bays, marshes and tidal straits make up one-third of its total area. It’s a waterman’s wet dream, if only he had a place to store a boat. With high rents and small living spaces, this is an unlikely proposition. Even nimble personal craft like kayaks and canoes typically measure 10 feet long or more and, when taken from their intended habitats, become almost comically unwieldy. Boats can’t squeeze into elevators or navigate even the most palatial of apartment staircases.
So city slickers are often left high and dry, without a boat to float in their own watery backyards. But there is a class of seaworthy, stow-ready boats — small personal packrafts, folding canoes and kayaks and one far-fetched commando-grade dinghy — that are primarily made for crossing backcountry lakes and descending remote rivers, but that suit the urban explorer just as well. The bridge is yours, skipper.
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Alpacka Raft Yukon Yak
Alpacka was founded in Alaska 12 years ago with the goal of building a raft that could endure the rigors of the Alaskan backcountry. Now Alpacka is the industry standard for packrafts; their rafts are used in countless real-world expeditions to go where no other craft can. The Yukon Yak is their all-purpose, mid-size warrior. Handmade in Mancos, Colorado with premium urethane-coated nylon, it’ll navigate rocky shallows, bushwhacks and Class III whitewater — and your local park lake. And at less than five pounds, you can pack it down to the size of a two-person tent and easily haul it in any backpack or tote.
Oru Kayak’s founder lived in a shoebox-sized San Francisco apartment and wanted to get out on the city’s considerable waterways. This origami-esque folding kayak carries and stores like an oversized, 25-pound art portfolio. Once you arrive at the put-in, setup is fast (five minutes) and intuitive; the Oru is constructed from a single, seamless sheet of corrugated plastic. It’s a surprisingly versatile craft, stable and fast in flat water environments from fishing ponds to relatively protected ocean waters. Take it fishing or on an island camping excursion.
Pakboats Pakcanoe 150
If there’s a seemingly impossible-to-reach destination you’ve been eyeing — an expedition-distance island or a picnic spot below some rapids — a Pakcanoe is the tool for you. A physics-defying workhorse of a boat, it’s every bit as tough as its rigid cousins, and with the same huge carrying capacity (650 pounds). Pakboats bills the 150 as a solo canoe, but there’s room for two people and a week’s worth of camping gear. Harder men than we have taken Pakcanoes on weeks-long Arctic adventures, so it will have no problem with your everyday piddling.
Klymit LiteWater Dinghy (LWD)
Made by the mad scientists at Klymit (the people who built an argon gas-insulated jacket) the LWD is a packraft of an altogether different stripe. First, it’s ultralight, weighing in at just a touch over two pounds, and packs down small enough to slide into your briefcase. And though it looks like a glorified inflatable pool toy, it performs like a seaworthy vessel, capable of powering through Class II waves with a load of up to 350 pounds. The LWD’s unique shape also allows for a more upright, ergonomic paddling position, which makes it easier to handle long floats. The bottom line: it’s a dirt-cheap, fun little boat for exploring your local waterways.
Nautiraid Coracle 190
First, you should know that “coracle” is a fancy word for dinghy. Second, you should know that French company Nautiraid has been making high-quality skin-on-frame boats for almost 80 years, first for stealthy elite commandos and later for recreational users. As you’d expect, this six-foot-long dinghy is no plaything. Its frame is crafted from handsome ash and birch wood, and the skin is either PVC or ultra-durable Hypalon, depending on your budget. With room for two people, and the rigidity and hull strength to accommodate a small motor, it makes a fine fishing boat (where its stealth qualities are truly tested). At the end of the day, it folds down flat, and smaller than your fish tales.