WHAT IS PACKRAFTING?
A Beginner's Guide to Packrafting
What is a packraft?
A packraft is a portable lightweight inflatable boat. Packrafts pack down small and can easily fit in your backpack, on your bike, or in your car. A packraft opens up endless possibilities for adventure, and it is quite common for packrafters to combine several sports like hiking, biking, skiing, climbing and paddling. Your adventures with a packraft are only limited by your imagination.
How much do packrafts weigh?
Depending on the model, size and configuration packrafts can weigh between 1.5 to 6 KGS.
How do you inflate a packraft?
A lightweight nylon bag is first filled with air and then squeezed thus forcing the air into the packraft.
Inflating the packraft with the inflation bag.
How do I choose a packraft?
Firstly you need to decide what type of packrafting / paddling you would like to do.
- Do you want to paddle alone or with a friend, do you need a single or a 2 person packraft?
- Would you like to also take a child (or dog)?
- Do you just want to paddle on flat water, lakes and slow moving rivers?
- Or are you interested in paddling whitewater?
- How important is weight?
There are many different models and designs to choose from: From ultra light packrafts to fully equipped whitewater packrafts with a spraydeck and thigh straps to 2 person packrafts. Do you need or want a packraft with a cargo fly (a zip that allows to store your gear inside the tubes of the packraft). Alpacka packrafts also come in different sizes (from Small to XL) so you can be sure to get a good fit, be sure to read packraft size & fit before you buy a packraft!
Some packrafts models are available in different configurations: open boat, self bailer (holes in the floor let water flow out again), spray deck or removable spraydeck. With the wide range of options, every packrafter will find the perfect packraft for his individual needs!
Check out those 5 easy steps to choose your packraft!
If in doubt, contact us, we are happy to assist with advice and talk packrafting.
White Water Packraft Alpacka Gnarwhal. Photo Caj Koskinen, paddler Katja Koskinen (Packraft Europe Customer Service Team Finland).
Test a Packraft for yourself.
It is always a good idea to test a packraft before buying it! You can read all the online reviews but nothing is the same as touching, feeling and paddling a packraft in person. You can find more info on testing a packraft here.
What is the best packraft?The first packrafts aka inflatable boats were developed more than 100 years ago. The modern packraft has almost nothing to do with these original inflatable boats. Sheri and Thor Thingey (Founders of Alpacka) started the development of the modern packraft 20 years ago in their basement in Alaska. Alpacka Raft was born with the idea of making light and robust packrafts from the best materials, with innovative designs and built to the highest quality.
This has not changed to this day and Alpacka Raft with their dedication to design, innovation and quality remain the industry leaders as they continue to refine and define the sport. Thanks to growing popularity and demand, there are now many other packraft brands, mostly produced in Asia, such as Anfibio, MRS, Kokopelli or Audac to name a few. Nortik's low price Russian-made packrafts are also popular for calm water. The packrafts from Alpacka are still handmade in USA.
Packrafting the Grand Canyon, USA. Photo Caj Koskinen.
Packrafting, who is it for?Packrafting is great for all outdoor people especially those who not only want to travel on land, but also on water. Or those who wish to combine several outdoor sports and practice them together - hiking + biking + paddling! And of course if you want to get to places that are only accesible by boat.
Packrafts need very little space to store or transport so they are also ideal for people who like paddling kayaks and canoes but don't want to deal with the logistics of transporting a big, heavy boat. You can carry a packraft in your backpack, strap it to your bike or motorbike, throw it in the back of even the smallest car and easily take it with you on public transport or on a plane.
We love to explore our local rivers and lakes by packraft, catch a bus to get there, paddle, take another bus or train back home. Or go on a hike along a river and float back to our starting point. We also like to take our packrafts on occasional bigger trips and have done multiday and multiweek trips by foot and packraft. If travelling is your thing, check our guide with the best packrafting destinations month-by-month!
Some packraft models can also carry a lot of cargo, therefore making it easy to do longer multi day trips, where you have to carry all camping gear and many days of food. The Alpacka Forager for example can be loaded with over 400kg! If you have a cargo fly on your packraft, you just put all your gear inside the packraft which also has the added benefit (up to a certain weight) of enhancing the paddling performance!
Packrafting on Salza river, Wildalpen, and Gosausee lake in Austria.
Packrafting gear - what do you wear packrafting?
The very minium you will need is a packraft, a paddle and a PFD (personal flotation device). For use on whitewater you will also need a helmet and appropriate attire which usually is a wetsuit or a drysuit. Please read this article for gear you should wear when paddling whitewater: Protective Equipment for paddling in whitewater.
What packraft paddle is best?
Most packraft paddles are lightweight and can break down into 4 pieces, making it easier to fit in your pack and transport. Apart from a 4 piece paddle you also want to consider the overall length, the blade shape and material and the shaft material. For most whitewater and river packrafters a paddle between 200-210cm is the ideal, if you are doing more touring you can increase the length by 5-10cm. Have a look at our selection of paddles which have been specifically chosen designed and tested for packrafting. Also feel free to contact us if you would like some assistance choosing your ideal paddle.
A rolled-up packraft and 4 piece paddle next to a baby. Who's smaller?
Can I paddle a packraft canoe style?
Although most packrafts are paddled kayak style which means using a double bladed paddle and paddling alternate sides, there are also packrafts designed to be paddled with a single blade, canoe style paddle, like the Alpacka Oryx packraft canoe.
Are there 2 person packrafts?
Yes, there certainly are and 2 person packrafts are a great way to get out on the water with a friend or partner! Here you can see Alpacka's 2 person packrafts.
Can I take my dog packrafting?
We often get asked if you can packraft with dogs? Dogowners are usually concerned about damage to the packraft by their pets paws, so it is important to choose a high quality packraft. We have visited the factory of Alpacka and lots of their staff packraft and also have dogs. After seeing their dogs continuously jumping, in, out, and all over their packrafts without leaving even the smallest trace on the packraft, we can comfortably assure you that the packrafts of Alpacka Raft are suitable for packrafting with dogs :-) If you are on Instagram, you can also look up #dogsofpackrafting!
Packrafting with dogs!
Is packrafting suitable for kids?
Packrafting is a great family activity and there are packrafts which easily fit two adults and a couple of kids. Often, outdoor activites with small kids require carrying them and the gear they need, making it quite strenuous for the parents. In a packraft, it is effortless, just store the gear in the packrafts, get your family onboard and start paddling! Read more about it in our family packrafting guide!
2 Person Packraft Alpacka Oryx.
How easy is it to learn packrafting?
Packrafts are much more stable than kayaks, and packrafting is very easy to learn. However, this also is also big risk and many packrafters over estimate their abilities and paddle with a false sense of security. This can be especially dangerous when paddling on moving water and whitewater.
Developing your packrafting skills. We reccomend people learn both paddling skills and rescue skills to become proficient and safe paddlers. You can think of this like standing on two legs. It is best to build a good foundation in both areas with training and practice to become a better overall packrafter, be safer, and have more fun.
We highly recommend doing a 1 or 2 day whitewater rescue course where you learn & train to identify the risks and hazards involved in moving water and the techniques needed to help avoid these risks, to self rescue, and to help others in a rescue scenario. You can also do a full packrafting course to learn how to be a better paddler with a competent guide or school and they also usually include some basic rescue training.
Are packrafts whitewater capable and durable?
Oh yesss :-) Many hard core kayakers first first smile about packrafts but are blown away by their performance when they see them in action. Packraft designs have come a very long way, and Alpacka Raft is looking back on over 20 years of continuous research & development resulting in the highest performance and quality packrafts available in the world today.
What is bikerafting?
Carry the packraft on your bike or the bike on your packraft!
All fired up about packrafting?
We hope you have leart something about packrafting and can't wait to get on the water! At Packraft Europe we love packrafting and can look back on years of experience. We have specifically selected, tried and tested every brand in our store and only offer the products we stand 100% behind. Contact us any time for specialized service and advice or questions about packrafting in general! We are happy to help.
The annual European Packrafting Meet-up at the Soca river in Slovenia
See you on the river!
Seon & Michaela Crockford-Laserer
Founders of Packraft Europe
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