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July 2021

Kokopelli Nirvana Self Bailer Packraft Review

Written by: David Wilson
Photos by: Chris Kimmel - Alpine Edge Photography

Boat Set Up:

  • Kokopelli Nirvana Self-Bailing Packraft with TiZip
  • Kokopelli 3-point thigh-strap

  • Werner x Kokopelli Powerhouse Paddle (4-piece breakdown)

Packraft Versatility

The packraft is arguably one of the greatest pieces of gear to gain traction over the last handful of years, and I think that is largely due to its versatility. If you want to access remote rivers and lakes, avoid the need for complicated shuttles, take on a multisport adventure, or if you just want a small lightweight boat that fits in the trunk of your car, the packraft checks all those boxes.

The packraft's ability to pair with so many other activities is really exciting! I’ve integrated the packraft into hiking trips, whitewater rafting trips (small boat to play on rapids and explore tributaries), days at the lake with kids, bike rides, fishing trips, and hopefully some ski trips very soon!

Setting Up the Packraft

Similar to other sports like backcountry skiing, you want transitions to be quick and simple. Thankfully, Kokopelli has managed to succeed at this. With Kokopelli's clever two-stage inflation process, with an inflation bag to build volume, and a flexible straw to build pressure (and respiratory strength!), inflating the boat can be done quite quickly—as little as 5 minutes! However, like learning to roll the packraft tight and neat to fit in a backpack, perfecting the efficient use of the inflation bag, especially in wind, is a bit of an art that takes some time to really master.


I have paddled hard shell and inflatable kayaks before, but this was my first experience with a packraft. I was very excited to see how the Kokopelli Nirvana, with its unique construction, would feel on the river.

I was immediately impressed with how responsive Nirvana was. It felt like a top bobbing on the water, ready to spin whichever direction the paddle guided the bow. This made navigating obstacles a lot of fun, as I could quickly maneuver the boat around rocks with ease. The Nirvana’s fairly aggressive rocker on its bow and stern is noticeable as you cut through eddy lines, currents and waves with a sense of control.

Inflatables of all types have definitely come a long way over the last number of years, and the Nirvana is no exception. I wondered if a boat that was blown up with a bag and a straw would have enough rigidity to surf waves. It absolutely does! This is definitely a testament to the quality engineering put into this boat.

Packraft Paddler Position

Kokopelli seemed to have found the sweet spot here, engineering their Nirvana to keep the paddler high enough that they could make deep, efficient paddles, and sit above any pooling water, but low enough that you don't feel too top heavy and unstable.

The paddlers position in the kayak is very easily modified by adjusting the webbing of the EVA back-band, bringing the paddler further forward or back. Not only does this allow for easy adjustment of position to accommodate aggressive white water, or a more relaxed afternoon float, it also makes it easy for friends of different sizes to jump in and give the Nirvana a try!

Kokopelli also sells an aftermarket 3-point thigh strap set. These, I would argue, are a must for anyone who is looking into paddling white water. These thigh straps definitely level up your feeling of control when things get splashy. The thigh straps allow you to use your hips to help control the position of your kayak which is hugely helpful when eddying-out, re-entering the current, navigating a rowdy section of water, or surfing a wave.

One initial concern with the thigh strap was the ease of escape. This was tested out several times and it was no problem at all, other than maybe a brain freeze from a cold mountain river!

Kokopelli has thoughtfully designed the thigh strap with a third attachment point in the centre; with this attachment point, the strap stays in position instead of moving with your legs, which allows you to escape when things aren’t going according to plan. Although I wasn't able to successfully roll this packraft (yet), a friend of mine showed me that with the thigh straps, it is possible! Definitely a goal for this next summer!

Although the Nirvana is designed as a white water boat, I had to try paddling it on some flat water to see how it felt. On one trip, a friend and I hiked into a lake with our 3 and 5 year old boys and paddled 5km across a lake to camp.

As expected, it was definitely slower than a canoe, and had a fair amount of bow movement with each stroke. However, we found by adjusting the EVA back-band to sit further back, this reduced the bow movement considerably and made it a very enjoyable paddle. Even though flat water is not the Nirvana's favourite playground, I would not hesitate to bring it out for a float again!

Size and Weight of the Kokopelli Nirvana Self Bailer Packraft

My least favourite part about river trips is arranging vehicles so that you can get back to the put in at the end of the trip. Although, there have been times where I’ve done this with the packraft, it isn’t always necessary. The ability to have a bike stashed at the take out, take the bike with you on the packraft, or hike back to the put-in is made possible by the Kokopelli's lightweight and compact design.

When I first got this boat I was shocked. It seemed lighter and smaller than I had anticipated.

I decided to weigh and measure our set up, as it would be on most paddles, with the thigh straps, patch kit, and Ti-Zip feature; it came in at mere 10.8lbs and approximately 16”x9” when all rolled up. It is definitely possible to shave some weight with a different back band, opting out of the Ti-Zip feature or thigh strap. I however, don't think it would be worth losing the benefits of some of these features for the weight saved.


With how lightweight and thin the material of the boat seems, I have to admit, I was (and still am) pretty paranoid about puncturing, tearing, or damaging the boat. Although I still am careful with the boat, I feel a lot more confident in its durability after a season of use. Inevitably, if you are in white water, at some point you will bump up against rocks, brush against sticks, and slide onto an unexpected shallow rocky bank as you hop out of your boat to scope ahead. There were definitely a couple times where I cringed thinking, “that will leave a mark”, but was pleasantly surprised to find the boats still look great! After a season of use, there were no patches needed and no major wear marks. I am really impressed!

Loading the Packraft Up

On our overnight trips we had a lot more gear to pack along on the boat than we would on most day trips. The very large air chambers keep you afloat while still maintaining a lot of Nirvana's playfulness, even when weighing it down with 250lbs (me and overnight gear).

One concern I had with packing gear was how it would fit and be secured on the boat. When running white water I didn't want loose gear, or for my lanky 6’3” frame to feel trapped or cramped in the boat. Thankfully, this didn't seem to be too much of an issue, largely due to the optional Ti-Zip feature. This feature allows you to store gear inside the boat! Brilliant! It saves a lot of room on deck, and keeps your centre of gravity low.

We stashed items like tents, sleeping bags, Thermorests and any other gear not needed while on the river below deck. Impressively, the zipper seems pretty bomber! I was a little hesitant about this feature at first because it seemed like a potential weak point, but I wouldn't trade it now. We never had any leaks or issues at all. I have pretty high confidence that this zipper will last as long as we keep taking care of it (I would imagine sand to be one of its worst enemies).

One of the few things I was going to suggest as an improvement on the Nirvana was to have some gear tie down points inside the boat so the stowed gear doesn’t shift its weight around inside as you navigate your way down rapids. However, it turns out I didn't look hard enough. They thought of that too! There are two webbing tie-down loops inside the boat to do exactly what I hoped.

Above deck we kept our pack, some food, water, layers of clothing for the day, and anything else we needed on the river. This mostly was kept inside the pack that we strapped over the bow using the D-rings. This felt secure and didn’t seem like too much of a nuisance or discomfort. However, one suggestion I would make when attaching any gear on top of the boat, would be to make sure the bag or gear is not sticking out of the sides too much as it can interfere with paddle strokes.

Self Bailing Packraft

I did struggle to figure out which Nirvana would suit me better; the self bailing, or spraydeck version. Although there are definitely trips where the spray deck might be preferred, I am very happy I ended up with the self-bailing version. It allows for easy transitions in and out of the boat, weighs less, and seems a little more versatile when bringing along a kid, a pet, extra gear, or some easily accessible beverages; while at the same time not having to deal with the hassle of a spray skirt or worry about water pooling in the boat.

The Werner x Kokopelli Powerhouse Paddle

The Werner x Kokopelli Powerhouse 4-piece breakdown paddle with Kokopelli branding is a high-functioning and good-looking gem! Not only was I impressed by its incredibly light design, and its packability, but also by its quality construction. The precision and care that was put into crafting this paddle is evident throughout, but really stood out in the connection points. They couldn't fit more perfectly! This snug, precision fit is exactly what you would hope and dream of in a 4-piece paddle that is relied on to guide you through or around rock gardens, waves, holes, and eddies!

There is no play in any of the paddle's three connection points. I could see this being a real concern with lesser quality paddles, where play in the joints would reduce the captains feeling of control and create potential weak points in a critical piece of gear.


It is quite evident that there has been a lot of thought and passion put into these sweet little vessels! They are versatile, responsive, durable, light, packable and a tonne of fun! A few years ago packrafting wasn’t even on my radar, and now it's hard to find an adventure where I am not thinking of ways to integrate a packraft into it somewhere! Having a packraft in the arsenal definitely changes the way I look at maps and plan trips. The river is no longer an obstacle to cross or a hazard to avoid, but a sought-out part of the adventure!