Family Packrafting Guide
We often get asked about packrafting with kids and packrafting as a family. So we decided to share a few of our experiences and some recommendations in order to make it a little easier for you to get started, or perhaps help improve your family packrafting experiences. Our first family packrafting trip was when our eldest daughter was less than a year old and many other adventures have since followed.
Firstly your adventures don't have to stop when you have kids, packrafting with the little ones is a great family activity.
Especially when children get too big to carry and they are still too small to walk longer distances, a packraft is the perfect tool to get to places otherwise out of reach. The packraft is stable, stores all the gear inside with the Cargo Fly internal storage system and packs down small & lightweight. So it's easy to return to your starting point by bus or train.
Packrafting & camping gear for 2 adults and 2 kids!
On the other hand, you also have to be flexible if you want it to be fun!
As with all plans with kids, it will never work out exactly as you planned. You will stop more often, not in the places you would have liked to, and everything just takes longer. That's just the way it is and it's better to embrace it rather than stress about it. Keep distances short, much much shorter than on a solo paddle!
Taking the right gear is key and one of the top questions we get asked.
Its a good idea to lay out all your gear so its all clearly visible and think through the different stages of your trip. What will the kids wear when? How many nappies do we need? What if the kids get wet?
Below a list of what we usually take for our kids on a multi-day family packrafting trip.
Additionally, there is of course our personal gear, safety gear, camping gear, cooking gear and food.
Daytime kids gear:
- A complete set of non-cotton layers: 1 wool body, 1 polyester tights, 1 socks, 1 pants, 1 fleece jacket.
- A sunhat and beanie. Take at least 1 spare, they are too important and too easy to loose.
- A set of rain pants, rain jacket. If its with a fleece layer integrated, it is warmer but also keep in mind that they take longer to dry when wet. The kids wear this layer on the water and in evenings / mornings when it is cold.
- A kids PFD that fits. A grab handle on the back is handy to have and for our kids it was important that they can still suck their thumb with the jacket on :-)
- A helmet if we paddle whitewater. The sunhat or beanie often goes underneath the helmet.
- Optional: a pair of light shoes.
Nighttime kids gear:
- Usually, our kids sleep in a thick winter down suit that keeps them as warm as a sleeping bag. Patagonia makes a great kids down suit.
- Underneath they wear another complete non-cotton layer (1 wool body, 1 polyester tights or pants, 1 socks, 1 fleece jacket). This layer also doubles up as emergency back up if we happen to capsize and everything gets wet.
Additionally, we always have at hand:
- Nappies for the smaller ones (preferable biodegradable ones)
- Snacks like some raisins, nuts or figs
What we DON'T take:
- Toys - the kids have to find stuff to play with
- Baby wipes - we try to avoid them in general. Instead we use water and soap to clean a baby bum (try to do this well away from the river and water sources though)
- Specific food/drinks for kids - we pack food that they also like / can eat so we can cook the same meal for everybody. E.g. oats/porridge with raisins for breakfast. Rice, polenta, lentils or quinoa for main course. Especially polenta is great for even the smallest eaters and it is ready super quick.
When paddling, make sure you have the emergency layers accessible, and an emergency blanket or similar to wrap everybody up in the case of an involuntary swim. Bothy bags work great. Firelighting & fishing skills are also welcome.
Daytime naps can be tricky
As you learn very quickly with a baby, there are 3 main reasons why a little kid is unhappy - tiredness, hunger and a dirty nappy. Same applies when paddling with kids. Snacks and nappies are mentioned above. But sleeping is probably the biggest challenge on packrafting trips with young kids.
Finding a position where they can fall asleep but at the same time you can keep paddling will take some time. If you can't make it happen, stop and take a rest on land. With both you and the kids wearing PFDs, it's often really awkward to hold them close to you, which is sometimes a good reason to take a nap on land.
In terms of which packraft is most suitable for family packrafting, keep in mind that sometimes only one adult will be able to paddle while the other one entertains / feeds / comforts or keeps the kids out of trouble. A full 2 person packraft like the Alpacka Oryx that you see in most of the photos in this blog provides loads of space and comfort. But we have also done trips in a single person packraft like the Self Bailing Gnarwhal with one little kid (that's the multi-colour boat in the photos). The Forager also works well with its self bailing floor so the kids are never sitting in water.
Another option we have tried when our eldest was around 5 months old, is to combine hiking and packrafting. I would hike along the river with the baby in a carrier, while Seon was packrafting with all the heavy things and camping gear in the packraft. This way, multi day trips were easy and it's also a good option if one of the parents is not (yet ;-) a keen packrafter or the baby is just too small still. Some rivers with a hiking trail next to it, like the Slovenian Soca for example, are ideal for this. Make sure to suscribe to our newsletter at the bottom of this website, our next post will be about the best packrafting tours in Europe!
To finish up, a last bit of advice: start slow!
Take the packraft with you to the lake or on your beach holiday. Let the kids get comfortable with it, paddle a bit, go back to shore. Let them play around on the beach, but make sure once you get in the water, they wear a flotation device or swim aid.
You can do a daytime packrafting trip next, then a short overnighter and once you have streamlined the logistics go as long and as far as you want! We highly encourage everybody to follow the 'Leave No Trace' principle so that the next packrafter who finds this sweet little spot finds it untouched! E.g. if you light a fire like in the photo below, dig a hole, and on the next morning make sure the fire is complety out and cover it.
The longest family packrafting trip we did was a 2 week backcountry trip in New Zealand with our eldest when she was 16 month old. This trip will forever be in our memories as one of our favorite packrafting trips!
Thanks for reading, have fun on your family packrafting trips, subscribe to our monthly newsletter at the bottom of the website and feel free to contact us if you have questions!
Do you want to share further advice or is there something important not mentioned above? Comment below, we love to hear from other packrafting families!
Co-founder Packraft Europe