PACK RAFTS MIGHT look like pool toys. But the small, personal watercrafts are no joke. Try sitting in one sometime on a river and you’ll see why — the solo-size watercrafts can be paddled through rapids with precision and control.
Formerly a niche activity, packrafting has become popular with the adventure set. New products are making packrafting more affordable, and how-to clinics are cropping up around the U.S. where anyone can learn the game.
I have toted a packraft along on wilderness trips for years. Here are seven reasons I think you should give the up-and-coming activity a try.
1. Carry a Boat in Your Backpack
As the name implies, packrafts can be packed up small. Many models fold to the size of a rolled-up sleeping pad. They weigh 5 pounds or less, but offer a fully capable boat that’s inflatable and ready to paddle in minutes.
2. Get Off Trail (and Onto the Water)
You’ll look at a wilderness map in a whole new way. That inlet you formerly needed to hike 10 miles to get around? Inflate your raft and paddle straight across. Having a boat in your wilderness-exploration arsenal literally opens new worlds.
3. Whitewater or Lakes
I’ve paddled Class III rapids in Colorado in a pack raft. I’ve used them to float across frigid mountain lakes. “Packs rafts are the Swiss Army knife of boats,” says Andrew Mattox, an explorer who formerly worked at Alpacka Raft. “They are small, versatile, packable and a jack of all trades.”
4. No Car Shuttles
Paddle a section of a river and then hike back to the start. The carry-ability of a packraft opens up new ways doing things outside. No longer do you need two cars to ferry boats from put-in to take-out during a whitewater day.
5. Take a Class
Organizations from the National Outdoor Leadership School to the Alaska Kayak Academy to Backpacking Light now offer beginner through advanced packrafting classes at locations around North America.
6. More Affordable Gear
Alpacka Raft LLC was, for a few years, the only good wilderness pack raft widely available. Prices hover around $800 and above from the brand. New models from Supai Adventure Gear, Klymit and NRS make the sport more affordable. However, expect to pay a couple hundreds dollars minimum for a quality boat from any brand. The Klymit LWD, at $225, is one of the least expensive on the market.
7. Access Deep Wilderness
Explorers like Andrew Skurka use pack rafts to journey through trail-less regions. During his Alaska-Yukon Expedition in 2010 Skurka hiked and paddled for thousands of miles. He notes that a packraft enabled him to travel “with much greater efficiency.” He continues, “I can float effortlessly down fast-flowing rivers … paddle across large saltwater bays; and I can rest my feet and conserve calories for another time.”
“Learn To Packraft” Video Series by Backpacking Light
National Outdoor Leadership School (Alaska pack-raft course)
Alpacka Raft LLC
Alpaca Raft, $870-$920
Supai Adventure Gear
Canyon Flatwater 2, $300
Klymit LWD Raft, $225
NRS PackRaft, $575
Roman Dial’s Blog (a well-known packrafter)