Packraft’s are becoming more and more popular in the adventure market for those looking to expand their adventures.
For years the blue bits (Rivers, Lakes, Lochs and Seas) on maps have acted as a barrier for us to find our way around, now with pack rafts they can be an integral part of trips into the wilds.
For those not wanting to or not able to carry boats on the roofs of their cars or store boats at home, pack rafts and even folding hybrid kayaks are great alternatives, you can even take some on as hand luggage on planes (remember those days?) or bigger bags with gear on trains.
They open up many different ways to adventure. But before you Google “buy pack raft now” you need to decide on what sort of adventures you want to have.
Because like bikes (Road, Mountain, Gravel, Hybrid, Town, Commuter etc) there isn’t really one pack raft to do all of the different disciplines.
First of all there are 2 different materials which pack rafts are made of!
TPU – Thermoplastic Polyurethane – These are light weight and depending on the model/design can pack down in a very small pack size and some are super lightweight, but with light weight these come at a cost and are not as robust so need to be treated very carefully
PVC – These are tough, robust but don’t pack down small and are heavy too.
There are also 4 different types of pack raft!
Open or Basic – These are simple open boats that if in heavy rain WILL slowly or quickly in white water fill up with water.
Removable spray deck – Like the above but with a removable spray deck, either zipped or velcroed into place, these aren’t fully water proof but do prevent the majority of water getting in, and are great at keeping you warm in winter, and can (sometimes) be opened up to be a basic open boat when the conditions are warm and sunny on calm water.
Self bailer – This is an open boat with a raised inflated floor with around a dozen holes in the floor of the pack raft, so that you will always have an inch or two’s water in the bottom of the boat but the inflated floor keeps all but your heels out of the water, but the pack raft automatically empties when water get’s in over the top.
White Water – These have a fully sealed on spray deck with only a round opening for entry and exit in the seating area, these are not for the beginners who have never had any training on white water.
Then there are the different disciplines!
Open water close to the shore
Slow moving rivers
Fast flowing rivers*
White water rivers*
Larger lakes and lochs*
Then there are different types of pack rafting adventures!
Trips totally on foot.
Multi day camping wilderness trips where water is part of the adventure.
Trips on bikes, short and long distance rides and long river paddles once you’ve paddled to the top of the river.
Trip that are 90% on land and 10% on the water when crossing lakes which saves detours.
To and from the same place on the side of the water.
Using cars or trains to shuttle you up stream to paddle back.
So what do I use at this moment in time?
For White Water I use the Neris PVC LotaFun White Water edition – it’s small, fun to paddle, stable and built for up to grade 4 white water. It packs into a large backpack but its not made for remote adventures, but it’s tough robust and built for paddling from the car/van or using other peoples cars as a shuttle to take you back to the start if you don’t want to walk too far.
For Bike Packrafting trips I use my Alpacka Caribou as this is a lightweight open boat designed to take the weight of a bike and the luggage on the large front end of the pack raft, but it’s very stable, packs small enough to be carried under the handle bars on the bike.
For Remote walking/biking trips light weight, small with a tiny pack size is essential. I’m hoping that my all new Neris TPU LotaFun basic (open topped) pack raft (which is due to me in a couple of weeks time) will be the holy grail for this type of adventure, light weight, tiny pack size but robust enough to take me on adventures
*Any Adventure* must be undertaken with knowledge, another person and after having proper training, the sea’s and tides kill people without the experience and moving rivers have so many entrapment hazards it’s crazy doing things out of your comfort zone without the right knowledge.
There are a couple of pack raft training companies at present here in the UK, Tirio based in North Wales and Back Country Scotland based in Aviemore both offer excellent weekend courses to get you safe on the water.