Review: Pack Rafts

By STEPHEN REGENOLD

They may look like inflatable pool toys. But the pack raft, a personal watercraft with roots in aviator survival boats from World War II, is a serious tool for some backcountry explorers.

Lightweight and durable, the blow-up boats can weigh as little as three pounds. They roll up and stow small in a backpack. You can trek into the wild and then inflate a pack raft to cross lakes, descend rivers, or paddle the ocean where no other boat could go.

Alpacka Raft Photo.jpg

Alpacka pack raft

Made by a handful of manufacturers over the years, pack rafts have seen a resurgence with outdoors fanatics as of late. Last summer, on the Arkansas River of Colorado, I joined a pack-rafting group for a two-day trip. We backpacked through trail-less wilderness for about 15 miles before a night’s rest.

In the morning, on the shore of the rushing river, we inflated the boats and hopped in. I piloted a Yukon Yak model from Alpacka Raft LLC, a Mancos, Colo., company that sells top-of-the-line pack rafts.

(I wrote about the Colorado adventure for the New York Times in a story called “River Craft Lite: Floats Great, Less Filling.” You can also see a video produced on the trip here: http://gearjunkie.com/videos)

pack raft on river.jpg

Pack raft in whitewater; note the backpack tied on the bow

Alpacka’s boats (www.alpackaraft.com) are quality products, durable and stable in whitewater. I tied my backpack on the front of my Yukon Yak and pushed into the Arkansas’ flow. Over the day, I was able to navigate complex whitewater and drop through rapids with ratings up to class IV.

For transport, the Yukon Yak’s rubbery bulk packs and rolls to a size not much larger than a football. It weighs 4 pounds 11 ounces and is overall a truly amazing and capable little watercraft. Caveat: It also has a truly amazing price tag. The Yukon Yak retails for $790.

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Posted by whiskers - 06/22/2010 01:38 PM

The Alpackas are very highly regarded by the backpacking community, despite the high price tag. But the quality of the raft is on par with the price, so that’s good. As far as I know, there is nothing out there that can pack as small and light as the Alpackas. Folbot’s Citibot is the smallest one I know, fits in its own backpack but weighs 24 pounds.
I own a Sevylor Colorado – a two-person inflatable canoe – and it’s pretty good for what it is, not amazing, but OK quality.

Posted by willy - 06/23/2010 11:08 AM

Is that you in the picture? The spray skirt’s nice but is that a down jacket you’re wearing in lieu of a pfd?

Posted by Billz107 - 06/23/2010 11:21 AM

No relationship with this company or use of the product, but I find their offering pretty interesting.

http://flyweightdesigns.com/products.aspx

Posted by Stephen Regenold - 06/23/2010 12:40 PM

That’s not me in the photo. Shot provided by Alpacka.

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