Klymit LiteWater Dinghy Packraft
Review and Modifications

Updated 7/17/2015
Original post 10/6/2014.

This page describes modifications I made to my Klymit LiteWater Dinghy (LWD) to make it more of a heavy water packraft. 
After making the modifications, I took the LWD to the Oregon coast for sea trials, and am quite impressed with it.  I now have a quite capable packrafting setup for a total expense of under $250, including packraft, spray skirt, back cushion, lightweight life vest and a 4 piece paddle.  

Here's a link to a YouTube video of those trials.

Here's a link to my 2015 Alaska packraft trip report.

First, a few words about the LWD.  At around $150 and 2 lb. 3 oz., the LWD is one of the lightest and most affordable of what might be called serious packrafts.  Unlike more expensive packrafts, it's fabricated as a 2 dimensional object, using 2 identical pieces of fabric which are heat-sealed together to give shape to the inflated raft.  The relatively simple design allows much of the manufacturing process to be automated, hence the low cost. 


Earlier this year I purchased one online for about $150 and was impressed with the fabric, quality of construction, small packed size and light weight.  Nonetheless, I returned it as it appeared too much like a pool toy and I didn't like the funky crease that appears along the side of the inflated raft.  However, after reading Steve Graepel's review of his Oregon coast adventure in a LWD, I changed my mind and re-ordered it.  I'm glad I did as it's proven to be much more than a pool toy. 

The modifications I've added include a spray skirt assembly, back cushion, tempering tube, pack straps and paddle tether.  These, along with the LWD and its inflation bag weigh a total of 3 lb. 8 oz.  I also made a floatation vest which weighs 6.5 oz.  These modifications are described below.   

The primary modification I wanted was a deck and spray skirt to help prevent waves from swamping the boat and to make paddling more comfortable in a cold rain.  The deck and spray skirt design I came up with is, like the packraft itself, relatively simple.  It uses two identical pieces of 1.1 oz. siliconized ripstop nylon fabric.  The two pieces are similar in size and shape to the LWD itself.  The two pieces are laid one on top of the other and sewn around their perimeter to form a large sack.  The spray skirt is then sewn into the top piece.  Webbing loops are sewn into the perimeter seam for lashing down packs, etc.  The LWD goes inside the sack and is then inflated.  In surf trials, the deck/spray skirt assembly effectively kept most of the water out of the boat.  It also gives the LWD another layer of protection. 

A minor problem during sea trials was the spray skirt's tendency to ride down around my waist, forming a pocket that caught quite a bit of water when waves came over the boat.  I've since added two suspender-like straps that go over my shoulders to keep the top of the spray skirt up around my chest.  This modification needs to be water tested though, to be sure I can easily escape after capsize.  I'll be reporting on that soon.  (See below)

LWD with spray skirt assembly and pack strapped to deck.   
I also added a back cushion which is nothing more than a box wine bladder (see the photo below).  The spray skirt helps to hold it in place.  The box wine bladder cushion is a HUGE improvement in comfort while paddling.  This can hardly be over emphasized.  It allows a sitting posture, rather than lying down and transforms the LWD into a very comfortable raft.  I wouldn't consider paddling the LWD any significant distance without it.


LWD showing spray skirt assembly and back cushion made from a box wine bladder. 
Note the DIY life vest made from nylon fabric and two wine bladders. 


Another view of the LWD with spray skirt assembly, back cushion and pack strapped to deck. 
Fabric sticking out the back is an access hole so the boat can be inflated with the spray skirt assembly in place. 


Inflating the LWD through access hole in spray skirt assembly.  For faster inflation, I usually gather a large garbage bag around the deflation valve. 
Several inflations from the garbage bag get the LWD mostly filled, then I close the deflation valve and finish inflating with the inflation bag that comes with the boat. 



Bottom view of LWD spray skirt assembly. 
Interesting how it sucks up against the bottom of the boat.

I also added a tempering tube to the filler valve cap.  The reason I wanted it is that although the boat can be inflated on land until it's quite firm, when it goes into cold water the air compresses, causing the the LWD to lose pressure.  This happens to all packrafts.  The tempering tube allows me to add more air after I'm in the boat.   This is the one modification I made that's not strictly necessary.  Instead, you can just do this:  Inflate the boat, leaving the inflation bag attached to the filler port on the boat.  Put the boat in the water, let it sit long enough for the cold water to cause the boat to lose pressure, then top it off with the inflation bag.  Detach the bag, close the cap on the filler port and paddle away.  The only real advantage to the tempering tube setup I show here is in the event that a slow leak appeared while out paddling.   
  

Tempering tube made from a modified nylon 1/4" MPT x 1/4" barb fitting from the local hardware store.  The tubing is 1/4" ID, inserted into larger tubing to accommodate the
blue and white NRS float bag valve.  The NRS valve is just a backup valve since the filler port on the LWD has a built-in one way valve.
  

Closeup of nylon fitting installed in valve cover. 
As I mentioned above, this modification makes tempering a bit more convenient, but isn't a necessary modification.    

 
Using tempering tube to top off LWD. 
Tempering can be done by blowing into tube or holding the inflation bag tightly around the tempering tube as shown.


I also made a simple paddle tether from nylon cord and a 3/4" quick release buckle.

I also made a lightweight life vest from nylon fabric and a couple box wine bladders.  (Thanks to all my friends for their diligent consumption on my behalf:) 

Flotation vest made from nylon fabric and two box wine bladders. 
It supports me well in the water and weighs just 6.5 oz.

Last, I'll say a few words about the paddle I'm using.  It's a 4 piece Airhead paddle I purchased on Amazon for $37.  It weighs 38 oz.  Most of the weight is in the blades, which I plan to make narrower.  I'll report on how that turns out and what the weight reduction is when I'm done. 
     
10/6/2014 Update:

As mentioned above, the sprayskirt tended to ride down in my lap where it collected water coming over the deck.  To prevent this, I added webbing suspenders with quick release buckles to the top of the spray skirt.  As can be seen in the photo below, this worked well to keep the spray skirt up around my chest.  I tested it yesterday in the Willamette River, which was a good thing because it didn't work very well.  Here are a couple YouTube videos to demonstrate.  Klymit LWD SpraySkirt Test #1 in which I nearly choke laughing, and Klymit LWD Sprayskirt Test #2 which goes better but not well enough.     
     

Sprayskirt with suspenders to keep it up on my chest.  Predictably, it didn't allow a quick escape after capsize.  
Next, I'm going to try shock cord instead of webbing.
 
10/25/2014 Update:

I recently modified the paddle and sprayskirt shoulder straps as described below.

I made the Airhead paddle blades narrower to save some weight.  Blades are still the original length, but I used a block plane and orbital sander to shave them down to a maximum width of 5-3/4".  Weight is now 35 oz.  Not bad for a sub $40, 4 piece paddle.

Airhead paddle blade after narrowing.

I also modified the spray skirt straps.  Instead of using shock cord, as I'd originally intended, I used velcro to make a very quick and easy release.  Since this is an important safety feature, I've posted several images below.


Bottom 6" of shoulder straps are velcro.  Pulling the cord between them instantly pulls the velcro apart, releasing the straps. 


Ready to pull release cord. 

Release cord pulled.  Ready to exit raft. 
 
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