PackRafts – Small Miracles

| August 17, 2009

I’d heard about PackRafts from a few adventurously inclined people, but didn’t really get the full picture until I was up in Alaska last spring and had a chance to see a real, live version at the AMH store.  In short, PackRafts are very compact, high quality, lightweight personal rafts made out of durable raft fabric (Hypalon?).  When collapsed, they are about the size of a single wall, two person tent, weigh 4.5 pounds, and when inflated, they can carry all sorts of stuff, including skis, bikes, or if you are a real Alaskan, a meat bag.

The "Miracle" on her maiden voyage.

The "Miracle" on her maiden voyage.

Paddling a PackRaft is a lot like paddling a kayak, which is good as I needed something to do with my pathetic boating skills.  The beauty of these little marvels is that you can carry them with you on a skiing, biking or hiking trip, then inflate them and expand on your adventure.  Try that with a hardshell kayak! Because they are so well made, they can take a beating (so I’m told), and if they do suffer a puncture, they are easy to repair.

So light even a two-year old can carry it.  (Note how Mira has already started to steal my toys - damn kids.)

So light even a two-year old can carry it. (Note how Mira has already started to steal my toys - damn kids.)

In keeping with the naval tradition of giving a boat a name with seven letters, three of them being vowels (Eclipse, Torpedo, Titanic…), I have christened my new Packraft “Miracle” as in small miracle and also in reference to my eldest daughter.

Packrafts - fun for adults, but kids love them too.  Mira on the Miracle.

Packrafts - fun for adults, but kids love them too. Mira on the Miracle.

Packrafts are available through the Alpacka Raft company, which was started in Alaska, but is now in Mancos, Colorado.  The shipping box reminded me of a story I heard from John Bouchard, who was an early adaptor of paragliders – when he got his first one, he opened the box, and there it was.  No instructions, no warning, no manual.  Figure it out, have fun and try not to kill yourself in the process.  In all honesty though, Roman Dial has written a superb book on packrafting, which appropriately enough is titled “Packrafting!” and tells you everything you need to know about the sport and the potential of these cool little critters.

Fishing, biking, skiing, hiking, paddling, crossing open leads in ice...  the future is limited only by your imagination.

Fishing, biking, skiing, hiking, paddling, crossing open leads in ice... the future is limited only by your imagination. Oh the places you'll go.

The only downside I’ve discovered so far is that I don’t know of any other Utards with Packrafts, so I don’t have anyone to go with.  If you have one, or know of someone who does, hook me up!
Help support and power your PackRaft with a Aqua-Bound StingRay Carbon Paddle on sale now at Click on the photo below…


Category: 02 Gear

About the Author ()

Andrew McLean lives in Park City, Utah and is a gear designer, writer, photographer, ski mountaineer, climber, Mountain Unicycle rider and father of two very loud little girls.

Comments (12)

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  1. steve s says:

    The funniest story I remember about small rafts was from about 20 years or so ago. A friend bought a little cheapy raft (probably a kids toy) to take up fishing in the Winds. The story was that the water was so cold it cooled the air in the raft (decreasing the air pressure!) to the point the cheapy valve started to deflate. Of course he had paddled a ways out into the lake where the best fish were! He did get back to shore but was pretty submberged.

  2. d3 says:

    I heard about these a few months ago, when my hubbs’ friend Greg, who lives in Bozeman, stopped in en route to a long packraft trip near the Maze. But a) he’s in MT and b) that’s all I know.

    Cute pics! Where do you find water in Utah not chock full of motorized yahoos, errrr, boats with more than paddle assist?

  3. Andrew says:

    You mean “Sportsmen/Sportswomen” ? The location is top secret, but as a hint, there are quite a few dogs there and it is near Summit Park. :)

  4. d3 says:

    that’s what i thought about the h2o!

    for clarification on my op, i think maybe it was the narrows, which is quite a bit more useful information, thank you very little !

  5. Ian says:

    Those rafts are really cool. They open the door to so many DIY float trips. My brother and I have similar rafts, more geared towards fishing and longer trips. CHeck out this float trip we did in montana where we packed in our rafts for 30 miles to reach a wilderness river:

    There’s even some really fun, smaller rivers in utah that you can float in the early summer.

  6. Andrew says:

    That looked like an excellent outing Ian! Nice photos, fish, scenery and landscape.

    What kind of fly were you using to catch Dutch? :)

  7. KatieC says:

    For the record, I recently joined my dogs for a swim in the h20 source to which I believe you’re referring, and my hair hasn’t been the same since. Also, I’m very, very itchy. I might have to borrow Arnie’s Elizabethan collar.

  8. Andrew says:

    Yeah, that water is kind of icky. I was once wading in there with Mira (up to my knees, which was her neck) when I saw a wiggling leaf come over and adhere to her back. I brushed it off, but it was a leech. Yuck.

  9. Faerthen says:

    Having done a couple human-powered shuttle adventures with an inflatable kayak, I lust for one of these little boats!

    Roman Dial does pretty rugged stuff in Utah involving long hikes in Canyonlands with river segments. Invite yourself :)

  10. WEF says:

    Congrats on the purchase! Head over the Jackson & the locals will show you how to properly thrash yourself! If you bring it north we’ll lend you a meat bag.

  11. Sandy Lynne says:

    I’ve had my share of (mis)adventures clinging to a crumpled inflatable. My Alpaca raft is going on its third year, and with reasonable care and use as one should give such an investment, no problems at all. It handles wonderfully for an inflatable and is a joy to carry and use. I especially enjoy riding in the surf with it.

  12. Ross says:

    As for construction: I believe these are a heavy polyurethane coated nylon, not Hypalon. (BTW, Hypalon(tm) (chlorosulfonated polyethylene (CSPE) synthetic rubber (CSM)) has been discontinued, although there might be other fabrics of the same construction still available.)

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