This review is by a paddler with 30 + years experience on paddling trips all over the world. I am 5' 10", 215 lbs, 62 years old and athletic. I have no affiliation with Long Haul Kayaks, other than having an admiration for the seaworthiness and craftsmanship of their boats.
I recently purchased a Long Haul (LH) Ute Classic folding kayak that I had sailed before in the Everglades using a Balogh Sail Design (BSD) rig. The boat performed very well in that capacity. However, at just 12' 10" in length with a 28" beam, I was a little concerned about paddling speed and also just how rugged it was, having previously owned the LH Mark 1, as well as numerous other expedition quality Kleppers, Nautiraids and Feathercrafts.
On my first 4.5 mile test paddle at my local lake, using a narrow bladed Feathercraft Cormorant 4 piece paddle 230 cm paddle, I easily managed 3.4 mph using my GPS and was able to get up to 4.6 mph for 100-200 yards bursts, paddling at approximately 80% of my maximum capability. Considering the 28" beam and the lack of water line because of its shorter length, I was more than satisfied with its speed. The boat is incredibly stable because there is virtually no rocker, has a wide beam and like most folding boats, also has internal air sponsons. I did not need to use the rudder -- although there was little wind on my test paddle day -- and found it reasonably nimble and easy enough to turn, even without having any up-swept bow (as in many Feathercraft kayaks for example).
As with all Mark Eckhart designed boats, the Ute is stoutly built. The beautiful wooden frame, made of ash and birch was essentially the same quality as I found in my Long Haul Mark 1 Expedition and previous Kleppers. I found it very easy to assemble and also very solid. Of course Mark, having worked for Klepper for many years (prior to forming his own company) has made numerous design improvements over Kleppers. Assembling the Ute, the first thing I noticed is that the majority of the fittings were stainless steel. I also noted that all the ribs had a kind of quick release clevis pin that fit through the stainless steel fittings at the top of each rib (locking them into place). In addition, each rib had a cleverly designed figure 8 type stainless steel pin, designed for easy engagement, which essentially double locks each rib, as well as the two top-deck frames pieces into place. Thus, you can pick this boat up, move it all around and there is no way the ribs and frame can ever move out of place.
I'm not sure what thickness Mark uses on the bottom CSM (hypalon) hull, but I was very pleased with its ruggedness. It also comes with two narrow keel strips glued together to the bottom hull, running for approximately 16" at both the bow and stern of the boat. The top deck material he has also improved, moving away from the old cotton deck (which faded easily and was notorious for taking too long to dry out), to a robust synthetic material he calls Sea Mark (vinyl-coated acrylic fabric). He has also redesigned the foot pedals, using clevis pins that lock them solidly onto two stainless steel plates mounted on the keel board. Previous pedals on Kleppers forced you to turn a knob which cinched the pedal base together onto the keel board. However, that system sometimes slipped, which potentially created a dangerous situation when either sailing or paddling on the ocean in certain conditions. The only downside to Mark's new system is that the pedals MUST be attached to the keel board "before" you assemble the entire boat. Once attached, it is very difficult to adjust them without taking the bow section of the frame at least partially out of the boat. I also found the stainless steel snap links that attach the rudder lines to the top of the pedals could sometimes slightly rub against the No. 2 rib when I had the pedals adjusted to the holes closest to the cockpit. However, I easily fixed that (potential) problem by replacing those snap links with some smaller and more narrow ones I pick up at Lowes for a couple of dollars.
The Ute classic comes with what Mark Eckhart calls a "sling seat". It easily locks into place with a series of snap buckles on each side of the frame. I found it very comfortable as it allows you to adjust the inflation of both the bottom and the seat back sections of the seat with an inflation tube to a desired level. The valves used on those tubes also are used on the two sponson tubes and are an upgrade from the old Klepper "plug system". The problem with the old system was that if you ever lost a plug, you were out of luck; so you always had to carry spares as they were so little and easy to lose. Furthermore, it seemed you always lost too much air fumbling to get the plugs into the hole after fully inflating the sponsons. The new tubes work by turning a valve at the end of tubes as you blow air into the sponsons and then quickly turning them closed when full (like Feathercraft valves). Mark also seemed to purposely increase the length of those inflation tubes so you could easily reach them, even after being inside the cockpit in a paddling position.
One reason I bought this Ute was to have a portable and much lighter boat for trips abroad that if I packed very carefully, using the latest light-weight technical camping gear, I could be gone for at least a week at a time. I haven't tested this out yet, but just looking inside the boat, and having packed for so many trips, I feel I could easily do this. In hindsight though, I wish I had asked Mark to sew in at least a bow hatch, as I know he can customize your boat to your specific needs. However, I did ask him to design a very cool custom sea sock which I am quit pleased with. The sea sock keeps all sand and salt water out of your boat and can also be an additional safety device in a capsize (keeping water from immediately flooding the boat and potentially sinking it, if you did not have flotation or other types of bags inside it).
The boat's weight is published at 50 lbs, however like many kayak manufacturers, this weight is obviously without many of the things you might want for extended trips. My Ute has numerous very strong stainless steel D rings and a life line running all around it. The kayak also has several very robust bungee cords, bow and stern grab handles, two paddle tie downs and a very stout rudder and rudder mount/pin. Equipped like this, the boat weighed 58-59 lbs, according to my hand scales I use for travelling. Still, I am happy enough with the weight as it's a big improvement over some of the 15-16' folding boats I've owned in the past. Less weight has become even more critical to me, as I now often find myself traveling with the BSD sail rig.
My boat also came with a nice Long Haul designed tuck-under spray skirt, which is a big improvement over the old and comparability flimsy Klepper skirts that only attach to the combing via velcro (and effectively cover the most beautiful part of the boat -- the wooden cockpit combing). The Ute also came with a very robust 2 piece set of packing bags and an innovative longren packing sleeve which helps organize all your frame pieces; keeping them solidly together for airline travel. Finally, my boat also arrived with an adjustable front foot brace, which provides something to push against to keep your back straight, in case you don't want to use the rudder/peddles.
Overall I am very pleased with my new Long Haul Ute and welcome any questions about its build quality or paddling/sailing characteristics.
I'm a 62 year old athletic paddler who has been using folding boats around the world for the last 25+ years -- often on back country extended trips.. I have owned and paddled numerous Klepper models on many of these trips. Mark Eckhart's Long Haul boats are based on the basic Klepper frame and skin, but he has made several significant improvements over the years. For example, all the fittings on a Long Haul are stainless steel and there is a through pin that keeps any of the ribs from falling out of of their locked position. Also, his comfort seats are high quality and allow you to put just the right amount of inflation in them -- both for your butt and your back rest. The wood work on his cockpit combings are not just strong, but pieces of art -- just gorgeous. It's also important that Mark manufacturers all of his boats here in the U.S. (Colorado actually) and he or one of his staff, is always available should you need a replacement part, or just some advise regarding one of his many his boat models. I know he also repairs them and also does a fantastic job creating a brand new skin, should you ever want one -- perhaps to match an older Klepper frame that you may have accumulated over the years (there are lots of them out there). I've owned the 15' 9" Long Haul Mark I expedition kayak for about the last 3 years. I find it to be extremely well made and very seaworthy. The only downside to the boat is that with the rudder, it weighs close to 70 lbs. (Note: I believe Mark has recently developed an available lighter weight skin, which could save you 5 - 10 lbs, if you think you don't need all the heavy duty keep strips). However, if you want a very rugged, extremely seaworthy folding boat, I doubt you will find a better craft anywhere in the world. And I'm comparing the Mark 1 with the numerous Feathercrafts, Kleppers, Nautiraids, and Folbots I've owned and paddled over the years. Ok, so the Mark 1 is not a real fast or nimble kayak, due to it's beam (28") and the natural drag of a folding boat, but it is fast enough (I average 3-4 knots on most trips). With the quality rudder, it also maneuvers well enough for me.. The boat handles very well in chop and confusing seas and can haul just a ton of gear. Like any boat though, they can be capsized if the seas are rough enough -- obviously. I know he offers two different kinds of spray skirts -- which of course -- are highly recommended. One is the typical Klepper style velcro onto the side of the combing model, and the other, is a "tuck under" the combing style. In addition, he offers a nice sea sock, which helps keep the boat clean of salt water and sand and yet doesn't impede your feet on the rudder control foot pegs. About the seat, I have been on a few trips where I had to make a crossing in very rough water. One nice thing about the Mark I is that the seat can easily be taken out, which lowers your center of gravity just enough, so that it increases its already very stable nature. I always do this when I think the ocean might be rough, and I'm going to be far from land. It paddles just fine sitting on the keel board, and the increase in stability is well worth it. Finally, to help mitigate that weight, I highly recommend a light weight portable kayak dolly, which you can just strap onto the topside of the boat, right behind your seat. Other important things to note about the boat -- the top deck is made of a very high quality vinyl-coated acrylic fabric, and unlike the older cotton decks, does not take forever to dry out. The bottom hull is very heavy duty with extra protective keel strips -- and is now made of CSM rubber, the replacement for hypalon -- which I believe is no longer available. The frames are quite strong and meticulously crafted from ash and birch Another really nice thing about Long Hauls is that Mark is more than happy to customize the skin to your individual tastes/needs. Mine has both the bow and stern hatches that are cleverly sewn in creating a long oval shape that makes packing and repacking your gear much easier. This hatch is double layered and my gear and food has never gotten wet using this system. The heavy duty zippers always work flawlessly. In the last few years, I've gotten even more interested in Long Haul kayaks because I've found they make a fine, stable base for high quality upwind sails -- for example the Balogh Sail Design (BSD) rigs -- which I also highly recommend. The large cockpit is useful when sailing and trying to control all of your lines. Plus his "balanced rudder" works quite well controlling even the larger BSD sails. Of those, I use an 18, 32 or even 38 sq foot sail with my boat, depending on the wind and sea conditions. Of course, like Kleppers, all Long Haul kayaks come standard with a hole in the combing for the mast and a mast step on the bottom of the hull, near your feet. Finally, growing up in the Pacific Northwest, I'm an avid fisherman and have found the Mark I to work well, either trolling or mooching for Coho off of Vancouver Island. He makes various sized deck boards that lock securely to the cockpit combing. I use mine to mount a rod holder, a GPS and also a marine radio. The large cockpit allows you to use the deck board and still have room enough to land your fish (I use a gaff). Overall, I'm very pleased with the Mark 1. I believe you will not find a higher quality folding boat for over night camping trips or portable upwind sail rigs anywhere in the world -- especially if you think you might run into rough seas. On top of this, the boat comes with a nice set of very high quality travel bags that will keep your kayak safe from harm, no matter where your travels may take you. Feel free to contact me with any questions at firstname.lastname@example.org