Packrafting 101

I love backpacking. I love sleeping in a tent, getting dirty, and carrying everything I need on my back. There is something simple and pleasing about the sport, and that’s not even addressing the ridiculously beautiful scenery.

But you know what I don’t always love? Going so slow! There is so much to see with so little time; often, I wish my legs would just go faster so I could see everything!

Enter = packrafting.

If you’re a long-time reader, you may remember our August, 2013 trip to Gates of the Arctic, Alaska. At the time, packrafting was completely foreign to me and the learning curve was steep. But, ever since the trip, we’ve become enamored with the sport. So much so, in fact, that we’re heading out for another packrafting adventure this upcoming weekend. But still, packrafting is a relative youngster in the world of outdoor sports. Want to know more?

What is a packraft?

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All photos by Will Rochfort

A packraft is a small, inflatable boat that can run the rapids of larger boats like kayaks. The difference is that these boats are completely packable: they fold up and fit inside of your backpack and weigh less than ten pounds. Why does that matter?

Because you carry them!

The beauty of packrafting is the portability. You can raft 20 miles, pack up the raft, and hike five miles cross-country before you have your afternoon snack.  The ability to use both your feet and the waterways as a means of travel is absolutely awesome as it allows us to see more of our wilderness areas in less time. Kinda love it!

How does it work?

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When I first pulled the packraft out of the bag, I was beyond confused. Do you carry a pump? Does your backpack go in the boat with you? What in the world was I doing?!

Eventually, I figured it out {and for the record, I learned how to inflate the raft before we were in the Alaskan backcountry!} Each packraft is equipped with a valve on the side of the boat. In addition, they all come with a bag that has a threaded nozzle. To inflate the raft, you screw the bag into the valve on the boat. Then, you “catch” air in the bag and squeeze it into the boat. It sounds tedious and time consuming, but it’s not that bad once you get the hang of it. Plus, the inflation bag weighs next to nothing; sure beats an air compressor!

Once you’re inflated, you can put your backpack in one of two places: strapped to the front of the boat or inside the interior chamber that some packrafts have. Then, you’re off!

Can I rent packrafts?

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Yes, yes, and more yes. When we went to Alaska, we tracked down Amy of Jackson Hole: Packraft Rents Anywhere. Sadly, she didn’t have any availability for our dates, but she pointed us towards her friend Ed at Northern Alaska Packrafts.  He was fantastic and hooked us up with everything we needed. That’s the thing with packrafting: it’s still a small sport so everyone knows someone!

If you’re looking to buy a packraft, the proverbial pond gets even smaller. Will and I have partnered up with Kokopelli Raft Co, a Denver-based up-and-coming packraft company. We touched base last summer and have been hammering out the details ever since, but it’s safe to say that you’ll see their name pop up this summer. They’re loaning us our packrafts for this weekend’s trip— the Nirvana and the Renegade–so I’m psyched to see how they handle.

{But let’s be honest: like I would know the difference anyway! I’m lucky if I don’t end up in the water!}

Why try packrafting?

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Because we’re awesome.

Packrafting was largely introduced in the 1980s {at the Alaska Mountain Wilderness Classic adventure race} so it’s a new kid on the block. As such, there aren’t a ton of people out there– yet! And I love that idea. I love trying a new sport that’s just emerging into the spotlight. Because trust me: you’re going to read more and more about this sport over the next decade!

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8 Comments

  • Reply Amanda | Chasing My Sunshine at

    I remember reading about your Alaska trip and thinking that this sounds so freeing. I’ve been looking at bikepacking (finally going on a trip this weekend!) for the same reason of moving a little faster. But it’s not like you can fold up your bike and put it in your pack if you want to continue on foot. Ha! I will have to look into some potential packrafting spots along the east coast. So cool that you can rent them from anywhere!

    • Reply heather at

      You know, I’m actually testing a foldable commuter bike right now! It’s by a company called Durban and while the bikes are just for leisurely strolls, you can straight-up fold them in half. Kinda crazy!

      • Reply Amanda | Chasing My Sunshine at

        That’s so cool! I’ve seen commuter bikes from Brompton before, and they totally blow my mind. And also my budget. Haha. It looks like the Durban would be significantly more budget friendly. I look forward to hearing what you think of them!

  • Reply Anne at

    That is the most awesomely ridiculous picture ever!

  • Reply Amy Hatch/ Garage Grown Gear at

    Love the post and thanks for the shout out for Jackson Hole Packraft!!! Appreciated.

    Actually just published yesterday an article on the 5 brands out there making flatwater packrafts: http://read.garagegrowngear.com/best-ultralight-packraft-brands/

    And a roundup of whitewater packrafts will go live next week.

    Happy paddling!

    Amy

  • Reply Lynn (Tahoe Fabulous) at

    My boyfriend really wants to buy a packraft, and I think they sound really cool! But I think we should try it first before dropping $1k+ on one. We’ll have to try renting them and going on a test trip. Thanks for the rental ideas!

  • Reply Bonnie at

    This is so awesome! We love inflatable kayaks and rafting, but we’ve never done the packraft thing – my husband might have, but I’ve actually never heard of them! Thanks for sharing. 😀 Looks like a blast.

  • Reply Elena, The Healthy Veggie at

    Amazing! I didn’t know about this cool little boats! It looks like such a fun adventure 🙂

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