Pakboats, Puffin Saranac vs Quest 150

Shopping for a folding kayak, and I’ve heard good things about the performance of the Quest 150 folding kayak. But I am also intrigued by the Puffin Saranac, which seems to have similar stats on paper but with the added benefit of being a solo or tandem!

I love the idea of having a single boat that I can use with my girlfriend but also paddle solo, but I’m not willing to sacrifice too much in performance as a solo boat (already sacrificing enough by using a folder instead of a hard shell).

Has anyone paddled the Saranac? Can it perform as a solo touring kayak? How does it compare to the quest? Is it slow?

As a side note, is it at all possible to roll these kayaks, like if you installed knee straps?

1 Like

I am not a great reference on folders. Others better there. However when my wits are with me I can roll, that I can comment on.

Your question about knee straps is a good one if you have seen whitewater canoes equipped to roll. However I have never seen boats so equipped that were not hardshell. So there are a couple of things going on with the Puffin that could make that more challenging. One is the relative flexibility - the more the boat flexes, the harder it will be to convince it to roll up. The other is how to actually install knee straps in a folder that will be secure.

I looked at a full review of the Pakboat Quest 150. It appears to solve a couple of these problems. One is that it has optional add ons that apparently give the paddler the effect of thigh braces, the other is that the cockpit is smaller and looks to me like it can take a skirt.

The self-rescue options in the Puffin appear to me to be more similar to how you would handle a regular canoe. Doable but probably other methods than rolling.

1 Like

I own both a Pakboat Quest and a Puffin Solo (which has the same frame design as the tandem convertible Saranac). The Puffin line does not have the same structural rigidity as the Quests and would be difficult to roll, especially the longer Saranac. The Puffins are wider and deeper hulls. I have also owned and still own Feathercraft kayaks, which are very sophisticated (and costly) folders and their lower volume, narrower models like the Wisper (which I have) and Khatsalano can be rolled. The worldclass expert kayak roller, Dubside, used to own a Feathercraft Kahuna (a wider and shorter model) and he managed to roll it but I doubt many other people could achieve that – supposedly he also rolled a rubber raft at one point.

The Puffins are really more of a recreational class line of boats, great for rivers (even some open rapids up to class 2 for paddlers with experience and skills for reading and navigating mild whitewater). I would not choose them for coastal kayaking or for big open water. But the Quests have more in common with the structure of Feathercrafts and I am comfortable in mine in rough water. The Quest I have is the smaller 135 model that they made in the first years of production but it has the identical stiffer hull design and sleek proportions of the Quest 150. Because of the relatively low deck, I find I can brace my knees against the skin and frame ahead of the cockpit to control the boat. I have not tried to roll it yet, but may bring it with me to kayak skills camp in August to see how that goes. I don’t see why thigh straps would be necessary if you were paddling with the deck on. A Puffin without the deck would be impossible to roll and would challenge the best expert with one on. So if that is a parameter for you, best to forgo the Puffin.

I don’t know if they are still making it, but their XT series (Xt-16 and XT-17 which were convertible from solo to tandem too) that they made for a while had a more rigid ladder type frame, similar to the frames in their expedition worthy PakCanoes. I briefly owned a solo XT-15 and found it a sea worthy boat, but the deep hull (which made it great for packing a lot of gear for overnight trips) and higher volume suggested it would be a bear to try to roll it. And it was somewhat slow, just as the Puffins are due to their width ratio and softer hull. The Quest performs more like my hardshell (a 15’ by 21" low volume British style sea kayak).

While the notion of being able to switch from solo to tandem sounds tempting, you will sacrifice optimal performance, which appears to be important to you. Pakboats are relatively reasonably priced (you would pay over $4,000 for a high end folder like a Trak and even a used Feathercraft in top condition would cost you twice what a new Quest does.) And you have to pay extra for the second seat and for a tandem deck anyway. I’d recommend sticking with the Quest for yourself and buy a second boat for the GF or other paddling partners, maybe a Puffin Saco.


Wow thanks for all this first-hand info, you sound like a true folding kayak expert! I have a lot of paddling experience on whitewater and flat water but I have aspirations for some bigger coastal stuff and longer distances, and it sounds like the Puffin will not take me there.

You make a compelling case for buying two boats, not sure that’s in the cards right now with $ and storage limitations but I think the main point is I’m never going to find one boat that checks every single box.

Taking a Puffin Saco down some easy class 2 rapids does sound like fun, now you’ve got me thinking… do you think the Quest could handle that or is it too long and unwieldy?

Um, I would worry more about either of these boats getting torn up in class 2. They can be bony. There is a reason that whitewater kayaks are such thick plastic. And if either of these got pinned against a rock, even in class 2, that could be the end of them.

Well, I know that Cliff Jacobson likes the Pakboat canoes for Arctic trips But yeah, wrapping one isn’t a good idea. Before our 2009 Upper Missinaibi trip I ran across a blog covering much of the same sections of river. Three people plus gear in one of the 17’ models. Makes no sense to me but they did fine including the Brunswick Lake option until … Shortly upstream from Mattice at Crow Rapids they misjudged a chute & wrapped on a rock at the bottom. No harm, no foul for them. They were close enough to town that they had cell service and Owen (the outfitter) was able to come & get them with his outboard. It was a high water year & Environment Canada’s gauges had their trip at a higher level than ours 3 weeks later. Their canoe had red fabric & we could see that from 20 or so yards away as we took a clean line.

Note I qualified my remark about using Pakboats in “open” class 1 and 2, meaning not bony shallows and rock gardens. Pakboats have subatantial inflatable sponson tubes inside the skin along the sides to tension the PVC or Vinyl skin, provide flotation and also to allow the boat to bounce off obstacles, just as inflatable whitewater rafts and duckies will do. They are not as susceptible to puncturing as people who have never used them fear. Most have reinforced wear strips glued to the hulls that can be enhanced Even if they do puncture, they can be readily and quickly patched even in the field with the kits the makers provide. Nit easily done if you bash a hole in your plastic or composite boat.

Guides for remote fly-in fishing, hunting and research expeditions have sworn by Ally or Pakboat folding canoes for at least 40 years for portability, toughness and versatility.

Do some YouTube seaches to see people using their Feathercrafts or Pakboats in a range of conditions.

I stand corrected re Pak Boats in moving water with some decent water cover. Hard to know how it would work out for oper w/o knowing more about the moving water they are talking about.