HOW TO CHOOSE A PACKRAFT IN 5 EASY STEPS
There are many different types of packrafts: Ultralight packrafts, Whitewater packrafts, 2 Person packrafts, Flatwater Touring packrafts. With so many models to choose, plus deck and configuration options and sizes it can be a challenge to find the right packraft for you. Follow these 5 simple steps to help find the best packraft for YOU & your packrafting needs. Remember while packrafts are very versatile it is best to make your decisions based on 80% of your the intended use.
1. Single or 2 person packraft
First, you can narrow down the options by deciding if you need a single person packraft or a 2 person packraft or a 1 person plus (small child, dog, extra gear).
2. Packraft Weight
Next you need to decide how important weight is for you. Will you carry your packraft and gear for long distances and every gram counts? Or do you need a more durable packraft or added features?
How important is protection from cold weather and water? Packrafts are available in different decked or non decked configurations: open boat, self bailer (holes in the floor let water flow out again), whitewater spray deck, removable spraydeck.
- A whitewater deck is the warmest and driest, but are also heavier and bulkier.
- A removable whitewater deck is not as dry as a whitewater deck as a little water will come in through the zippers where the deck attaches to the boat. The removable whitewater deck is also the heaviest and bulkiest but also once of the most versatile configurations as the deck can be completely removed as needed.
- The self bailer (which means that holes in the floor let water flow out again), and open configurations, are the lightest and pack down smallest but offer no protection from the elements. The self bailer option is a personal choice. There are many benefits to paddling with a self bailer, such as quick re entry if you fall out and easy access, the only real downside is they are not as warm as a decked boat.
Where will you paddle? If you plan on paddling any whitewater, having a boat with thigh straps will enhance your packrafting experience and performance. Thigh straps keep your knees firmly connected to boat, offering a more connected feel and making it easier to edge your packraft. Of course you can also retrofit them afterwards, but if you plan on paddling whitewater we recommend to get a boat outfitted with thigh straps (or at least the attachment points). Even if you currently only play with the idea of paddling whitewater - once you try it, you will love it and more often than not, people are surprised of how addictive whitewater paddling can be ;-)
5. Paddler Size & Load
Last but not least, your own size and weight is very important. Plus the weight of the gear you intend to carry on your packrafting trips. Packrafts come in different sizes (from Small to XL) and are also sized differently (performance fit on whitewater packrafts vs. comfort fit on allround packrafts). Choose your packraft in relation to your sit length, not your standing height. Read the packraft size & fit guide for more information on instructions on how to measure your sit length!
If you plan to carry a bike or heavier loads on the bow, there are packrafts specifically designed for bikerafting with more volume on the bow (check out Alpacka's innovative cargo hull design) to balance out the boat when loaded with heavy gear on the bow.
If you plan to carry a lot of gear, a cargo fly or internal storage system is a good idea, so you can put your gear inside the air tubes of the packraft before inflating it. This way your gear is dry, out of the way and it can also have positive effects on the paddling performance since the centre of gravity is lower.
Once you have answered these questions, you will know what packraft you need and now you can check which model fits your criteria!
Do your research, get opinions of others, test a packraft if possible. When choosing a packraft brand, some more things you might want to consider is for example:
- Where the packrafts are made (China, USA, Russia, ...),
- What comes included in the price (e.g. repair kit, but also shipping or VAT).
- Is there a point of contact in your country or at least in the EU and customer service in your language available?
- How many years of warranty?
- Is there a warranty & repair center in your country or in the EU.
- Where does it ship from - very important to know that if you order from outside the EU (countries like USA, Switzerland, Norway, etc), you will pay net price, and then get charged additionally import taxes and VAT of your country, so this can ad 20-30% to the price! Therefore really make sure that VAT is included in the price. If you order from countries within the EU, there is no extra cost.
We hope this article has helped your decision making! We love packrafting and talking about packrafting, so if you need further information or help, feel free to get in touch!
Keep reading to find more tips on packrafting equipment and gear.
What equipment do I need to go packrafting?
The very minium you will need is a packraft, a paddle and a PFD / Swimvest. For whitewater paddling you will also need a helmet and appropriate clothing which usually inlcudes a wetsuit or a drysuit. Please read this article for gear you should wear when paddling whitewater: Protective Equipment for paddling in whitewater.
What packrafting paddle is best?
Most packraft paddles are light-weight and you can break them down into 2 or 4 pieces. Light, durable and inexpensive - you never can have all 3 of them. Pick your top 2 priorities and that will give you the best paddle for you ;-) See our selection of paddles that we have tried, trust and recommend here.
It is always a good idea to test and compare different packrafts. A great opportunity to do this is at packrafting meet-ups and events. You can find a list of the main European packrafting events here. You can also check our partners & rental section with Packrafting Course providers and rentals across Europe.
European Packrafting Meet-up at the Soca river in Slovenia, taking place every year around May 1st (2021 due to COVID-19 postponed to June 1st)
If in doubt, contact us, we are passionate packrafters and happy to assist with advice and further information.
Thanks for reading and happy researching!
Seon & Michaela Crockford-Laserer