This Super-Lightweight Boat Folds Into A Backpack

Swiss designer Thibault Penven’s folding dinghy would be right at home in Steve Zissou’s collection.

Thibault Penven says he was walking along the banks of Lake Geneva last year when he met a "passionate" fisherman. The details of that meeting remain mysterious, but it must have been a pretty good conversation—it inspired Penven’s graduation project at University of Art and Design Lausanne (ECAL). "I decided to design a boat," the industrial design student remembers, "intended for use as a shuttle between the shore and a boat."

Ar Vag is Penven’s answer to the traditional dinghy. Unveiled at Design Miami last week, the boat folds into a tiny square of material that can be worn as a backpack. Ar Vag isn’t meant for long adventures—rather, it’s a shuttle to take you from shore to a larger boat. Like Paul Elkins’ foldable kayak, Penven’s boat is super-lightweight. And unlike traditional inflatable dinghies, Ar Vag assembles in minutes for Life Aquatic-style exploits (that’s how I imagine using it, at least).

Ar Vag’s assembly sequence seems similar to a run-of-the-mill camping tent. The plastic sheet unfolds and a series of metal rods are strung along its edges to give it shape. The bench is what keeps the whole thing stable ("like a keystone," explains Penven), acting as cross-bracing for the flimsy shell. When it’s completely folded up, the boat can be worn like a backpack.

"The hull of the boat consists of a series of fiberglass sheets, covered with heat welded plastic tarpaulin," Penven writes in a press release. Heat welding is a pretty common industrial fabrication technique, involving the use of a heat gun to create watertight seams between plastic pieces. But it’s rarely used in schools, or by independent designers. Penven says that learning the process was "very difficult… but very rewarding."

[Images courtesy ECAL/Nicolas Genta; H/t Design Boom]

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  • mercedes1407

    They sell them in the gift shop of any Carnival cruise line to use in case of an emergency or to help tow your cruise ship home.

  • jank

    Some optional oarlocks could be designed to fit into the slots at the bench's ends. Perhaps an optional small rudder at the back could designed also.

    I know several people who like to hike into a campsite. I imagine rowing into one would be just as satisfying.

  • Ed Hroncich

    That is the usual position when one rows. Paddling --for canoes, one usually faces forward.
    Since he has only one oar or paddle I guess he really should face the other direction. Tough  to try incorporating oarlocks  as in a regular rowboat.
    Very clever idea. I too wonder what something like this would cost.