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, removable spraydeck and cruiser deck (closes around your waist with velcro and can be fully rolled up to one side). With the wide range of options, every packrafter will find the perfect packraft for his individual needs!
5 Steps to choose your packraft!
- Single or 2 person packraft - First, you can narrow down the options by deciding if you need a single or 2 person packraft.
- Packraft Weight - Next you need to decide how important weight is for you. Will you carry packraft and gear for long distances and every gram counts?
- Configuration - How important is protection from cold weather and water? Whitewater decks and removable whitewater decks are the warmest, but are also heavier and bulkier. Next on the temperature range is the cruiser deck, it still offers good thermal and splash protection but is lighter and more packable than whitewater decks. And lastly is the self bailer and open configurations, these are lightest and pack down the smallest but offer no protection from the elements. Some packrafts like the ultra light or tandem series are only available as open boats.
- Features - 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 (either do it yourself or contact our repair and retrofit service) 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 ;-)
- Paddler Size & Weight - last but not least, choosing a packraft based on your own size and weight is very important. 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, Alpacka invented the cargo hull for you! It is specifically designed balance out the boat when loaded with heavy gear on the bow. Check out Alpacka's innovative hull designs!
If in doubt, contact us, we are happy to assist with advice and talk packrafting.
White Water Packraft Alpacka Gnarwhal. Photo Caj Koskinen.
Test a Packraft for yourself.
It is always a good idea to test and compare different packrafts. A good opportunity is at packrafting meet-ups and events. You can find a list of the main packrafting events 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 China, such as Anfibio, MRS, Kokopelli or Audac to name a few. Nortik's low price Russian-made packrafts are also popular for calm water.
Packrafts in their country of origin, the 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. 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. 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. You can also meet us and test a packraft or packrafting gear at our Austrian headquarters or at any of the events we attend!
European Packrafting Meet-up at the Soca river in Slovenia
See you on the river!
Seon & Michaela
Founders of Packraft Europe
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