This shockingly lightweight and extremely portable kayak from Advanced Elements is easily our choice for Top Pick for Backcountry Paddling. The PackLite weighs just over 5lbs in its bag and can quickly be stuffed into a backpack and taken on your next overnight adventure in the wilderness. While it isn't our first choice for smooth tracking and efficient paddling, when trying to get out to those remote locations, you just can't beat the portability this model offers. Easy to set up, use, and surprisingly stable for its size, we loved being able to paddle where no other boats could even come close. We had some concerns about the PackLite's durability but were saved by the quality repair kit. We think this is a great way to boldly kayak where no one has kayaked before!
Advanced Elements PackLite Review
Compare prices at 2 resellers Pros: Extremely portable, maneuverable, stable, easy set up
Cons: Low durability, poor tracking, weight doesn’t include pump or paddle
Manufacturer: Advanced Elements
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Our Analysis and Test Results
While the PackLite is our Top Pick for portability reasons, it isn't our favorite for long distance paddles due to its on-water performance. But if portability is most important for you, this is a must-have yak.
The PackLite is not the easiest boat to paddle, mostly due to the features not included to keep it so portable. It is fairly wide, making it more stable than we had expected, but is quite short and has no skeg. This keeps the boat highly maneuverable and can turn on a dime. While this can be frustrating for a novice kayaker, the experienced paddler can get the hang of this kayak that handles like a play boat.
Now for the not-so-great news; the cockpit is open, and the whole thing rides so low in the water that it's not ideal for anything rougher than flat, calm waters. The seat back doesn't attach to anything and isn't very helpful, acting instead as a kind of marking point of where to sit rather than an actual supportive structure. Being so wide also makes foot and leg placement a bit of a guessing game as you try to figure out where is the most comfortable and efficient placement for paddling what feels not too far from a pool floatie. The PackLite also claims a capacity of 250lbs, but when a 220lb man used it, he had to stop it from folding in half by bracing against the bow with his legs, and even then he rode very low and took on water with even the slightest of waves. Unless you're planning to take this kayak backpacking, on international travel, or to other remote locations far from your vehicle, we much prefer the handling of just about any other kayak.
While we don't hate paddling this tiny watercraft, it certainly isn't the most comfortable boat we tested. The seat back is alright, but won't support a reclined paddling position. As the widest of all the single kayaks we tested, we appreciated the increased stability this provided, particularly because shorter boats can often be quite tippy. Smaller testers found this vessel more comfortable to kayak in, though everyone who tried it went through a period of trial and error to find their most comfortable and effective position.
Having a lower capacity than every other kayak in this review save the Sevylor K5 Quikpak meant less space for gear (or dogs!) and limited the size of the person who could comfortably use this kayak. Though the PackLite and Sevylor boast the same weight capacity, the Sevylor has much more space and still rides well above the water when full. The PackLite, on the other hand, struggles to fit even a single human 30lbs below the advertised weight limit. Additionally, being the widest of all the single kayaks in this review at 2'11", our paddlers found they had to adjust their strokes to accommodate this additional girth.
Another less-than-optimal feature affecting comfort is how you inflate the floor. Just like on the Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame, the floor is inflated using your mouth and so is difficult to reach the appropriate pressure. For us, this most typically resulted in feeling similar to sitting on a floating pool mat, as we could feel every small wave we passed over. Overall, this isn't a kayak we'd feel comfortable or confident taking on long journeys or over rough waters, but we also don't think that's the major selling point of the PackLite.
Ease of Set Up
With just three reasonably small chambers and a little seat back to inflate, setting up the PackLite is a relative breeze. Do note that no pump is included with this kayak (although Advanced Elements sells them), and an after-market pump is also not included with the weight or packed size of the boat. The waterproof material is also quite easy to clean or wipe sand and debris off of when you're ready to pack up. And though it has no scupper hole to drain water while you paddle, it's extremely simple to get all the water out when you're finished by inverting this ridiculously lightweight kayak. Deflating and packing is just as quick and easy as setting up - and as a bonus, the stuff sack becomes an on-craft storage space while you paddle and is front and center when you're ready to move out to your next epic paddle spot.
The instructions for inflating the PackLite are unnecessarily in-depth and complicated. They also request a specific pressure to which you should inflate your vessel without including any instrument to actually do that, unlike the Intex Challenger K2 and Sea Eagle 330 Inflatable Sport. We also found that the style of valves used in the PackLite is quite easy to accidentally open as we detached the pump, letting a bunch of air out that we then had to repump. And similar to the AdvancedFrame, the PackLite book of instructions recommends filling the floor with a pump, but even with four separate, standard and kayak-specific pumps on hand, we didn't find the correct adapter was readily available. We resorted to using lung power, which was rather cumbersome. Advanced Elements has several types of pumps available for purchase on their website that include many adapters, one of which is presumably the correct one for this valve.
Another minor complaint is the specific size the PackLite has to be folded to fit into its small carry bag. However, with a little practice, this wasn't too much of an issue. At the end of the day despite our initial hiccups with setting up this kayak, we found that this little boat is pretty quick and easy to set up and pack up.
This is where the benefit of owning the PackLite shines brightest! Weighing just 5lbs 4oz in its bag, this kayak is far and away the lightest kayak we tested. The next lightest kayak, the Sevylor K5 weighs nearly five times that much! The PackLite is not only the lightest but also the smallest both inflated and packed up, which is probably the reason you're considering buying it in the first place. At just 7.5 ft fully inflated and barely over a foot on its longest side packed up, the PackLite is just begging to be taken everywhere with you. Though it doesn't have any bow or stern handles like most the other kayaks in this review, at such a minuscule weight, you don't even need them!
Earning a Top Pick Award from our team for this metric, we don't have many bad things to say about our ability to get this boat anywhere with minimal effort. Our biggest complaint was that we still had to provide the pump and paddle and find ways to pack that out to remote locations. And of course the weight of those items isn't included in the overall weight of this kayak, so don't forget to add it when you're counting those ounces! Truly though, if you want a kayak you can toss in your luggage and take to South America or stick in your backpack and enjoy solitude 40 miles into the backcountry, you'd be hard-pressed to find a reason the PackLite wouldn't be an excellent choice!
Advanced Elements advertises this little kayak as having rip-stop, "eco-friendly" polyurethane. We're not sure about how eco-friendly it is, but we certainly tested that claim of "rip-stop"! The first time we took the PackLite out on the water, it ripped a sizeable hole from contact with the side of a dock. By using the included repair kit with detailed directions, however, we had no problem patching the tear and continuing to use the kayak for many more adventures. Carrying the repair kit with this thin, lightweight kayak is a must!
We had questions about the longevity of the seams of the PackLite, as they stick out at 90-degree angles from the boat just like those on your favorite river floating tube. We also noticed that the fabric became discolored in patches during use. While we didn't experience any direct issues with either of these complaints during our testing, it does raise certain questions about the lifespan of this boat. One problem that did arise (aside from the initial tear in the hull) was that the tube for inflating the floor cracked in half after we rolled the kayak up the first time. We were able to salvage it by simply discarding the broken piece and jamming the valve onto the new, shorter end, and had no additional difficulties using the MacGyvered tube. And honestly? We thought it was a little too long to begin with. So after a few initial snafus, we felt the PackLite stood up about as expected to what we put it through.
Hands down, this bitty ship is our favorite kayak to carry to the beach or over the river and through the woods. We love being able to paddle in places that no one else has dreamed they can take a boat, and we think backcountry and remote access is the major selling point of the PackLite. If instead, you're on the hunt for a boat that handles like a boss but takes up less space than a hardshell, check out our two Editor's Choice award-winners, the Oru Beach LT and Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame. Or if you're looking for a boat that handles better than the PackLite, retains a fair amount of portability, and won't empty your piggy bank, check out our choice for Best Buy, a backpack-carry kayak, the Sevylor K5 Quikpak.
Despite fewer materials used in construction, the PackLite isn't an overly cheap boat. It's still several hundred dollars, but it gets you some quality engineering that gives you access to some of the most far-flung, isolated spots you can imagine. We think the value of that level of access is hard to underestimate if you're an adventure-seeker. However, if you just want to get out on the water down the street or a couple of hours drive away, the PackLite may not hold the same intrinsic value for you.
While the Advanced Elements PackLite isn't our top pick for the paddling experience, we love what new possibilities it brings to our adventure opportunities. Being able to kayak a middle-of-nowhere lake or being prepared to kayak at any time because carrying this boat is nigh unnoticeable in a backpack really amps up our expedition potential. If what you crave is to paddle new spots in solitude, then we think you'll love the freedom you'll get in the absurdly lightweight, easy to use PackLite.
— Maggie Brandenburg