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Packrafting: A Complete Guide To Getting Started

Packrafting: A Complete Guide To Getting Started



Packrafting combines elements of backpacking and rafting. Packrafts are rugged, lightweight and very compact, typically weighing between 4-7kg. They are designed to be carried so will fit in backpacks or even on bikes. Often you'll see packrafts with skis, bikes or hunting gear on them. They offer an advantage over traditional hard boats because you can pack up your raft when crossing difficult terrain by foot, bike or skis.  Places like Greenland, Norway and Scotland are popular Packrafting locations because of the many fjords and inlets. The coast of Canada is also an incredible place to use a Packraft because of the many lakes. Think of all those awesome alpine lakes you could now cross!


 Photo from Alpacka Rafts



The wide flat base of a packraft creates a stable and buoyant boat. This makes packrafting awesome for beginners. However, Packrafting is not to taken lightly because of the places it can take you with ease. Not only having boat handling skills but rescue skills and the ability to understand what water is appropriate for you skills level is crucial for anyone getting started. Although you are often in a boat on your own, if you fall out of your boat you will need the assistance of others. This is why swift water rescue is a crucial skill.

Packrafting requires a combination of paddling skills, understanding of water dynamics, and strong knowledge of safety techniques. All of these skills can be learn through courses.

It's perfectly acceptable to use a packraft to cruise along flat lakes and down lazy rivers with no rapids. However, packrafts can also be used to tackle more challenging rapids, from class II all the way up to class IV and sometimes above. However, this does require a specific white water packraft that has features like a spraydeck and advanced user skills.

Photo from Alpacka Rafts



Packrafts come in various designs and sizes, each suited for different types of water and activities. Some common types include:

    • Whitewater packrafts: Designed for navigating rapids and rough water.
    • Touring packrafts: Longer and more stable, suitable for calm water and longer trips.
    • Ultralight packrafts: Extremely lightweight and compact, ideal for backpacking and adventure racing.
    • Self-bailing packrafts: Equipped with drain holes to allow water to exit the raft, commonly used in whitewater conditions.
    • Packrafts with decks: Have a spray deck to protect the paddler from water, often used in colder or rougher conditions.


Photo from Alpacka Rafts



Getting started packrafting involves a couple of steps, including acquiring basic skills, obtaining necessary gear, and planning your adventures. Here's a comprehensive guide:

1. Gain Basic Skills: Before hitting the water, it's essential to acquire basic paddling skills and water safety knowledge. Consider taking an introductory courses, like those offered from Ascent Guides. These guys are based in Chilliwhack but run courses in Squamish. These courses typically cover topics such as raft handling, paddle strokes, reading water currents, self-rescue techniques, and proper gear use.

2. Join Communities: Connect with packrafting communities like the Sea to Sky Packrafting group who do weekly paddles. You can learn from experienced enthusiasts, share experiences, and find potential paddling partners. These recreational and social meetups are a great way to met potential mentors and connecting with other beginner packrafters.

3. Research Gear: Invest in high-quality packrafting gear suited to your skill level and intended adventures. Essential gear includes:

  • Packraft: Choose a packraft suitable for your preferred activities and water conditions. One cool part of packrafts is that many contain internal storage within the tubes. This allows you to carry more gear than you think. They also have webbing on the outside so you can leash even more gear. It's very surprising how much can be loaded up into a packraft. Packrafts come with an inflation bag, this can take around 5 minutes with good practice. You can also buy small aftermarket hand pumps which help you get a higher PSI.
  • Paddle: Select a lightweight, durable paddle designed for packrafting. This means it can be broken down into four pieces for easy packing. It also means getting the appropriate length according to your height.
  • Personal Flotation Device (PFD): Wear an approved PFD at all times on the water. Look for a PFD specifically designed for paddling with freedom of movement and ample buoyancy.
  • Helmet: In whitewater environments, wear a properly fitted helmet to protect against head injuries from rocks or collisions. Using a specific water helmet is important as land helmet will have padding that will soak up water. If you are practicing on flat lakes and cruising easy lazy rivers you likely don't need a helmet.
  • Clothing: Depending on trip, if you are just causing down  river or crossing a flat lake, it would be appropriate to just wear you hiking gear because the chances of you falling out are slim. However, once you start floating down rivers with rapids, you might consider a wetsuit or drysuits. Sun protection is not to be forgotten about, because the water reflects back more light than when inland to sunglasses, suncream and potentially UV protected clothing. A good pair of warm gloves and sandals/shoes you don't mind getting wet as you'll likely walking in water at somepoint getting in and out of the packraft.
  • Safety Equipment: Carry essential safety gear such as a throw bag, first aid kit, repair kit for your packraft, navigation tools, and emergency communication devices like a waterproof phone case or personal locator beacon (PLB).

4. Practice: If you are just getting started, choose a flat lake to practice. Here are some skills you can practice right away;

  • Inflating and deflating your boat.
  • Launching your boat from land.
  • Manoeuvring the boat and practicing paddle strokes.
  • Getting back into your boat after falling in.

6. Safety First: Prioritize safety at all times while packrafting. Here are a few guidelines you can follow;

  • Avoid paddling alone whenever possible.
  • Practice skills on a flat lake.
  • Always plan for the worst case scenario.

Be prepared to adapt to changing conditions and know when to call off a trip if conditions become unsafe. With proper training, gear, and preparation, packrafting can be a rewarding and enjoyable outdoor pursuit for adventurers of all skill levels.


 Photo from Alpacka Rafts



Carrying a packraft involves deflating and folding it into a compact size. Most packrafts are designed to be lightweight and packable, this makes them easy to carry in a backpack. Ultralight packrafts, such as those offered by Alpacka Raft, are specifically designed for portability, with lightweight materials and minimalist designs. 

Some packrafts come with integrated inflation systems or optional packraft accessories like spray decks for added protection in rough water conditions. Properly securing the packraft to your backpack or gear ensures safe and comfortable transport to and from the water.


Photo from Alpacka Rafts



The lifespan of a packraft depends on various factors, including the quality of construction, frequency of use, maintenance, and how well it's treated. High-quality packrafts can last for many years with proper care and maintenance.

Alpacka Rafts are known to be some of the longest lasting packrafts on the market due to being handmade in Colorado using the best materials.

Regular inspections for damage, cleaning after use, and storing properly when not in use can help extend the lifespan of a packraft. 



Ready to go packrafting? Check out our collection of packrafts or courses from Ascent guides.

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