Review: Pack Rafts

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.

Alpacka pack raft
Alpacka pack raft

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.

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:

pack rafting in a rapid
Pack raft in whitewater; note the backpack tied on the bow

Alpacka’s boats ( 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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Stephen Regenold

Stephen Regenold is Founder of GearJunkie, which he launched as a nationally-syndicated newspaper column in 2002. As a journalist and writer, Regenold has covered the outdoors industry for two decades, including as a correspondent for the New York Times. A father of five, Regenold and his wife live in Minneapolis.