With its roots based in the Alaskan wilderness, the humble packraft is a small, inflatable boat that is designed to be light and compact enough to fit into a hiking pack or the front of a bike when deflated, while being reliable enough for backcountry traverses and big whitewater. Recent advances in materials technology and design innovations have made packrafting an increasingly popular mode of wilderness travel and recreation. A perfect fit for hunters, anglers, adventurers, and paddlers of all kinds, packrafting offers a single traveler the ability to hike in and float out on a day trip, link water and land sections of longer expeditions, or run whitewater you wouldn’t otherwise be able to access.
The basics of packrafting are simple: carry your pack raft to the water, inflate, and go! How far to carry it is up to you. Weighing in at only 5 to 10 lbs and packing down to the size of a sleeping bag, packrafts allow you to access areas like high alpine lakes and headwaters that a hardshell would never see due to its weight and bulk. Add a PFD, 2 or 4-Piece breakdown paddle, helmet, and pump if necessary, to complete your paddling kit. For an additional 10-15lbs, the blue on the map becomes wide open.
Despite their bright colors and plastic appearance, packrafts are hardly pool toys! Some of the white-water specific boats have features such as spray decks, thigh straps, and self-bailing floors. Some packrafts have even made use of the tubes as a dry storage compartment to use while the boat is inflated. Whitewater packrafts tend to be a little heavier than their touring counterparts as they are generally subjected to greater abuse. Nearly all packrafts will feature lash points for strapping your pack, dry bag, skis, mountain bike, fishing rod, or anything else that needs to be secured while paddling.
Despite the wide array of uses, there are a few tradeoffs to take into account when packrafting. Though the materials are as durable as any other lightweight inflatable fabric on the market, a repair kit should always be carried as punctures can occur. Also, you will want to consider wearing a drysuit or other paddle-specific clothing depending on the air and water temperature as it is a wet activity, especially in whitewater!
Whether you’re upgrading your backpacking weekend, exploring the wilderness for weeks on end, or are looking to hang out on an alpine lake for the day, the packraft is going where hardshells never dreamed of.
Check out our selection of top-of-the-line packrafts from brands such as Kokopelli, AIRE, NRS and more! Where will your packrafting adventure take you?