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The Best Packrafts of 2024

Packrafting is hot right now, and rightfully so. For 15 years, we've been testing nearly every packraft on the market. Whether crushing whitewater or enjoying a lazy float, this guide will get you on the water ASAP.

(Photo/Erika Courtney)
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A packraft, simply put, is an inflatable boat that you can roll up and put in your backpack to carry for significant distances. Historically, these packable boats were used for more extreme bike/raft adventures, but in recent years have gained a broader fan base.

Whether heading out on a mega-adventure race or simply looking for an apartment-friendly boat, a packraft will suit you well. They handle all types of water, pack up small, and are fun.

While testing, we considered the following characteristics: ease of use, weight/packed size, durability, paddleability, and cost/value. We also favored boats that are readily available in North America.

If you need more help choosing a packraft, be sure to check out our extensive buyer’s guide at the end of this article. We’ve also assembled a comparison chart to weigh your options, as well as a FAQ section to get right to the point.

Editor’s Note: We updated our Packraft guide on March 20, 2024 to add two excellent boats from MRS: the do-it-all Microraft, and probably our favorite self-bailer on the market today: the Viking.

The Best Packrafts of 2024

Best Overall Packraft

Alpacka Expedition


  • Weight 8 lbs., 3 oz. (with removable whitewater deck)
  • Load capacity 350 lbs.
  • Packed size 17 in. x 7.5 in.
  • Water rating Class I – IV
  • Material Proprietary 210D high-count TPU nylon hull and 840D ballistic TPU nylon floor
  • Tube diameter 10.6"
  • Interior/exterior length 43-49" / 91-97"
Product Badge The Best Packrafts of 2024


  • Built to handle any water type
  • Access to internal storage through the TiZip entry
  • Spray deck standard
  • Three sizes available for perfect fit


  • Heavier than some
  • Not available as a self-bailer
Best Budget Packraft

Kokopelli XPD


  • Weight 13 lbs.
  • Load capacity 300 lbs.
  • Packed size 24 in. x 10 in.
  • Water rating Flat water, bays, inlets, Class I – II
  • Material 1000D reinforced PVC
  • Tube diameter 12"
  • Interior/exterior length 51" / 85"
The Best Packrafts of 2024


  • Great for rivers and lakes
  • Very durable and stable
  • Relatively low cost


  • Heavier weight limits packability
  • Need a heavier pump to inflate
Best Whitewater Packraft

Alpacka Gnarwhal


  • Weight 9 lbs., 3 oz. (size medium, whitewater deck)
  • Load capacity 450 lbs.
  • Packed size 20 in. x 9.5 in. (size medium, whitewater deck)
  • Water rating Class I – IV
  • Material Proprietary 210D nylon hull and 840D ballistic nylon floor. 420D nylon hull is available as a heavy-duty option
  • Tube diameter 11.7"
  • Interior/exterior length 43-49" / 94-100"
The Best Packrafts of 2024


  • Stable and forgiving
  • Huge cargo capacity
  • All-inclusive whitewater build


  • Heavier
  • Tends to give beginners a false sense of their abilities
Best Backpacking Packraft

Uncharted Supply Co Rapid Raft


  • Weight 3 lbs., 13 oz.
  • Load capacity 400 lbs.
  • Packed size 15 in. x 5 in.
  • Water rating Ideal for quick water crossings, flat water
  • Material Nylon oxford TPU laminate
  • Tube diameter:
  • Interior/exterior length 72" /
The Best Packrafts of 2024


  • Super-fast inflation time
  • Packs down the size of a loaf of bread
  • Can store kit inside the tubes


  • Roll closure can slowly leak air
  • No seat means a cold butt
Best Long Traverse Packraft

Alpacka Refuge


  • Weight 6.7 lbs.
  • Load capacity 250 lbs.
  • Packed size 15" x 7"
  • Water rating Class I-III
  • Material Proprietary lightweight 210D nylon hull and 840D nylon floor
  • Tube diameter 10"
  • Interior/exterior length 46.5-49.5" / 87-89.5"
The Best Packrafts of 2024


  • Impressive whitewater ability in a small package
  • Full-featured with a TiZip, thigh straps, and whitewater deck
  • Tough 840D floor material resists bumps and bruises
  • Shorter length turns on a dime


  • A little small for a full expedition boat
  • Thigh strap tag ends can become snagged when entering
  • Lower load capacity
Best Ultralight Packraft

Alpacka Ghost


  • Weight 2 lbs., 4 oz.
  • Load capacity 225 lbs.
  • Packed size 11 in. x 5 in.
  • Water rating Flat water, mountain lakes, simple river crossings
  • Material Proprietary ultralight 70D nylon hull and 200D nylon floor
  • Tube diameter 10"
  • Interior/exterior length 44" / 84"
The Best Packrafts of 2024


  • Incredible lightweight and packable size
  • Maintains a proven raft design
  • No cheap valves here, comes standard with Alpacka’s temper assist valve


  • Long-term durability won’t be all there
  • Load capacity is fairly low
Most Durable Packraft

Kokopelli Recon Self-Bailing


  • Weight 18 lbs.
  • Load capacity 300 lbs.
  • Packed size 22 in. x 14 in.
  • Water rating Class I – IV
  • Material 1000-denier reinforced PVC
  • Tube diameter 12"
  • Interior/exterior length 57" / 90"
The Best Packrafts of 2024


  • Great maneuverability
  • Super durable


  • Heavier than many other rafts
  • Doesn’t come with thigh straps, but can be added later
Best Double Packraft

Alpacka Forager


  • Weight 13 lbs., 7 oz.
  • Load capacity 1,000 lbs.
  • Packed size 20 in. x 10 in.
  • Water rating Class I – IV
  • Material Proprietary 420D nylon hull and 840D ballistic nylon floor
  • Tube diameter 13.4"
  • Interior/exterior length 70" / 124"
The Best Packrafts of 2024


  • Massive load capacity
  • Lots of space
  • Can handle epic whitewater


  • Heavier than most
  • Sluggish on flat water
Best of the Rest

MRS Viking Self Bailer


  • Weight 9 lbs., 11 oz.
  • Load capacity 300 lbs.
  • Packed size 24 in. x 6 in.
  • Water rating Class II-III
  • Material 420D TPU nylon hull, and 840D TPU nylon floor
  • Tube diameter 11.4"
  • Interior/exterior length 54" / 106"
The Best Packrafts of 2024


  • Directional baffles in floor makes for quick drainage
  • Two-part seat with foot well is excellent to brace against
  • Burly 840D floor material


  • Only one size available
  • Inflatable back band isn't the nicest for extended paddling

Kokopelli Twain Lite


  • Weight 8 lbs., 11.2 oz.
  • Load capacity 300 lbs.
  • Packed size 16" x 8"
  • Water rating Flat water, lakes, Class I
  • Material 210D TPU nylon hull, and 840D TPU nylon floor
  • Tube diameter:
  • Interior/exterior length 61.5" / 110.5"
The Best Packrafts of 2024


  • Excellent tracking bow and stern profiles
  • Tougher 840D floor doesn't mind carrying bikes or pups
  • Removable fin improves tracking in flat water
  • Improved stability from longer profile


  • Heavier than similar Alpacka Mule, and less weight capacity

Kokopelli Rogue R-Deck


  • Weight 9 lbs., 1 oz.
  • Load capacity 300 lbs.
  • Packed size 16 in. x 8 in.
  • Water rating Flat water, bays, inlets, Class I – II
  • Material 210D TPU hull, and 210D TPU + DuPont Kevlar Aramid-nylon blend floor
  • Tube diameter 12"
  • Interior/exterior length 57" / 90"
The Best Packrafts of 2024


  • Removable spraydeck means maximum flexibility
  • Tough floor material


  • Packed size is larger than advertised
  • Heavier than other boats of the same use-profile

MRS Microraft


  • Weight 7 lbs., 4.8 oz.
  • Load capacity 250 lbs.
  • Packed size 24 in. x 16 in.
  • Water rating Flat water, Class I-II
  • Material 210D TPU nylon tubes, 840D TPU nylon floor
  • Tube diameter 10.4-11"
  • Interior/exterior length 49-53" / 93-102"
The Best Packrafts of 2024


  • All-around design can be used for flatwater or running rivers
  • C-type sprayskirt standard
  • Bow and stern design keep the boat planted in rougher water


  • Inflatable back band isn't the most comfortable
  • Sprayskirt interface felt like it needed to be treated with care

Klymit Lite Water Dinghy


  • Weight 2 lbs., 12 oz.
  • Load capacity 300 lbs.
  • Packed size 9.5 in. x 5.75 in.
  • Water rating Flat water, mountain lakes
  • Material 210D polyester
  • Tube diamater 9.5"
  • Interior/exterior length:
The Best Packrafts of 2024


  • Perfect for alpine lake fishing
  • Impressive packed size and weight
  • Integrated seat


  • Tubes aren’t very rigid when inflated, and entry can be a bit awkward

Alpacka Scout


  • Weight 3 lbs., 12.8 oz.
  • Load capacity 250 lbs.
  • Packed size 12 in. x 6.25 in.
  • Water rating Flat water, alpine lakes, quick river crossings
  • Material Proprietary lightweight 210D nylon hull and 420D nylon floor
  • Tube diameter 10"
  • Interior/exterior length 46" / 86"
The Best Packrafts of 2024


  • Great maneuverability
  • Quick inflation
  • Lightweight
  • TiZip available


  • Few lash points
  • Small size
  • Slower paddling than some designs

Kokopelli Hornet-Lite


  • Weight 5 lbs., 3 oz.
  • Load capacity 300 lbs.
  • Packed size 12 in. x 7 in.
  • Water rating Flat water, lakes
  • Material 70D TPU hull, 210D TPU floor
  • Tube diameter 11"
  • Interior/exterior length 51" / 85"
The Best Packrafts of 2024


  • Lightweight
  • Budget price


  • Lower durability
  • No backband

Packrafts Comparison Chart

PackraftWeightLoad CapacityPacked SizeWater RatingMaterial
Alpacka Expedition8 lbs., 3 oz.350 lbs.17 in. x 7.5 in.Class I – IVProprietary 210D high-count nylon hull and 840D ballistic nylon floor
Kokopelli XPD13 lbs.300 lbs.24 in. x 10 in.Flat water, bays, inlets, Class I – II1000D reinforced PVC
Alpacka Gnarwhal9 lbs., 3 oz.450 lbs.20 in. x 9.5 in. Class I – IVProprietary 210D nylon hull and 840D ballistic nylon floor
Uncharted Supply
Co Rapid Raft
3 lbs., 13 oz.400 lbs.15 in. x 5 in.Ideal for quick water crossings, flat waterNylon oxford TPU laminate
Alpacka Refuge
6.7 lbs.250 lbs.15 in. x 8 in.Class I – IIIProprietary lightweight 210D nylon hull and 840D nylon floor
Alpacka Ghost2 lbs., 4 oz.225 lbs.11 in. x 5 in.Flat water, mountain lakes, simple river crossingsProprietary ultralight 70D nylon hull and 200D nylon floor
Kokopelli Recon

18 lbs.
300 lbs.22 in. x 14 in.Class I – IV1000-denier reinforced PVC
Alpacka Forager13 lbs., 7 oz.1,000 lbs.20 in. x 10 in.Class I – IVProprietary 420D nylon hull and 840D ballistic nylon floor
MRS Viking Self Bailer
9 lbs., 11 oz.300 lbs.24 in. x 6 in.Class I-III420D TPU nylon hull, and 840D TPU nylon floor
Kokopelli Twain Lite8 lbs., 11.2 oz.300 lbs.16 in. x 8 in.Flat water, lakes, Class I210D TPU and nylon hull, and 840D TPU and nylon floor
Kokopelli Rogue R-Deck9 lbs., 1 oz.300 lbs.16 in. x 8 in.Flat water, bays, inlets, Class I – II210D TPU hull, and 210D TPU + DuPont Kevlar Aramid-nylon blend floor
MRS Microraft7 lbs., 4.8 oz.250 lbs.24 in. x 16 in.Flat water, Class I-II210D TPU nylon tubes, 840D TPU nylon floor
Klymit Lite Water Dinghy2 lbs., 12 oz.300 lbs.9.5 in. x 5.75 in.Flat water, mountain lakes210D polyester
Alpacka Scout3 lbs., 12.8 oz.250 lbs.12 in. x 6.25 in.Flat water, alpine lakes, quick river crossingsProprietary lightweight 210D nylon hull and 420D nylon floor
Kokopelli Hornet-Lite5 lbs., 3 oz.300 lbs.12 in. x 7 in.Flat water, lakes70D TPU hull, 210D TPU floor
Packrafts can be used to access difficult zones, such as this remote alpine lake in the North Cascades; (photo/Scott Wilson)

How We Tested Packrafts

GearJunkie is lucky to play host to a number of packrafters — from the packraft-curious to paddling fiends. Two such experts are Chelsey and Jason Magness, who completed an early descent of the now-classic Little Nahanni River to access the Cirque of the Unclimbables in 2005.

The ensuing expedition also became the first ascent of Lotus Flower Tower without using air to access the Cirque, and the possibilities of using packrafts to access deep locales opened up. Since that first introduction, packrafting has changed our relationship with the outdoors more profoundly than many other pieces of gear.

Over the past 20 years, the packraft (just like the early days of mountain biking) has gone from a single utilitarian design to countless specialized ones. They run the gamut from sub-2-pound ultralights, to Class V-capable whitewater boats, to two-person builds that can carry more than 1,000 pounds.

In order to test a boat’s meddle, we paddled them in all kinds of conditions and water types — from rucking them into high alpine lakes to running swollen Class II-III Cascadian rivers. We paid special mind to ease of packing, paddling ability, storage options, and durability.

With packrafting still growing as a sport, we’ll continue to inflate the best-of-the-best and add them here if we think they’ve made the cut. If you’re looking to paddle something with a bit more structure, check out our best kayak or paddleboard reviews.

Alpacka WW Refuge From Above
The Alpacka Refuge in its natural habitat; (photo/Erika Courtney)

Buyer’s Guide: How to Choose a Packraft

What Is Packrafting?

Simply put, a packraft is an inflatable boat that you can roll up and put in your backpack. These boats usually weigh about 5-10 pounds, only take up a portion of the space in your pack, and are usually inflated with a minimalist “inflation bag” instead of a pump.

Most notably, packrafts are durable enough to survive some level of rugged and remote usage where equipment failure is less of an option. They are much more durable than the similarly shaped vinyl boats or pool toys that are widely and cheaply available at big-box stores.

Like other watercraft, packrafts are also designed to be either generalists or specialists in their respective uses — from big whitewater boats to plunk-around and paddle crafts — and a number of different levers can be pulled in fine-tuning a boat, from tube size to material thickness to bow and stern shape. Choosing which packraft is right for you will require some consideration of exactly how you want to use it.

Uncharted Supply Co Rapid Raft on Upper Eagle Lake
Packing in a raft to float an alpine lake can add a new dimension to your backpacking trips; (photo/Erika Courtney)

Packraft User Profiles

The Casual Paddler: For the packrafter looking for a little of everything, finding an even-keeled boat is all about balancing ability and packability. Typical tube material denier lands around 210-420, with floors often being a thicker 840D. Most material will be TPU, which packs down smaller than the PVC used on cheaper boats. Finally, look for a boat that offers the adaptability you’ll want for different types of paddling. Whitewater decks can be ordered as removable, which is a huge plus for easy lazy-river drifting.

The Kokopelli Rogue R-Deck is an inflatable Swiss Army knife, amenable to everything from flat water cruising to dipping your toes into Class I and II white water when you’re ready to crank the dial a bit. And if the Rogue is a multitool, then the Alpacka Expedition is a hammer — capable of throwing down in turbulent water and being saddled up with a load of kit.

A boat like the Alpacka Classic, Kokopelli Rogue, or MRS Microraft — seen here — can be used for a little of everything; (photo/Nick Belcaster)

The Whitewater Hound: Time to get rowdy. Paddling a packraft through heavy water can be an absolute hoot, but you’ll need a rig that can stand up to the abuse. For those looking to get pitted, consider the spray-decked and self-bailing options available. The former will provide a drier and warmer ride when paired with a whitewater skirt, while the latter is much easier to jump in and out of. You’ll also want to ensure your ride has a solid set of thigh straps installed, which gives you much more leverage over your boat in unsteady water. Finally, aim for a more rockered bow with larger (11″+) tubes that help your packraft punch through holes.

When the time comes to ride some whitewater, we almost always reach for the high-volume Alpacka Gnarwhal — a raft that seems to levitate over deep holes and sucking backwaters. For adventures that are further afield, the Alpacka Expedition tightens the belt a bit to save a pound without sacrificing much ability. And if warm water or frequent portages are on the menu, a self-bailer like the MRS Viking makes things easy.

Whitewater boats come with full rough-water rigs, including thigh-straps and more adjustable seats; (photo/Erika Courtney)

The Backcountry Hunter and Fisher: When a fully dressed moose can weigh north of 500 pounds, you’re going to need the big rig of the packrafting world to ruck it out. Packrafts have been used successfully in deep backcountry hunts for years, and anyone aiming to bring one along should look for a boat that has max loaded capacity above whatever you’re looking to pack out (plus yourself). A 400-pound limit will typically carry smaller game like deer and sheep, while a 500 to 750-pound limit will carry larger game like caribou and elk. The Alpacka Forager is the ultimate in big-game packrafting, while the Alpacka Mule and Caribou offer a mid-size and ultralight option to fill out your quiver.

Anglers, on the other hand, don’t need as much space to pack out their quarry, and should instead aim for a raft that’s both burly and lightweight and provides extra space for storing tackle and rods. For stalking fish around low-land lakes and rivers, the 1,000D PVC of the Kokopelli XPD shrugs off errant hooksets, and the Kokopelli Twain Lite offers up an extended bow for extra storage. For high-alpine endeavors, opt for a lightweight boat such as the ~4-pound Uncharted Supply Co Rapid Raft or even more packable Alpacka Scout.

Alpacka Whitewater Refuge on Chilliwack River
The Alpacka Refuge is among the best long traverse packrafts available today; (photo/Erika Courtney)

The Long-Distance Traverser: We get it — you’re an old hand at this packrafting thing, and you probably already know the drill: Go light, go capable, go far. In the past, you had to choose which side of the weight issue your boat was going to lean toward. Utilizing lightweight materials such as 210D TPU will aid in keeping your overall packed size and weight down. A smaller boat will also accomplish the same goal.

New-generation boats like the Alpacka Refuge are changing the game when it comes to paddling bigger and more remote whitewater — bringing the full complement of whitewater rigging to a 7-pound-out-the-door boat that has no problem paddling Class III water. If you’re up against simple water crossings, the Alpacka Scout or the even lighter (and fragile) Alpacka Ghost are excellent options.

Materials and Construction

Testing Kokopelli XPD Packraft on the Snake River1
While most packrafts are made from TPU-coated nylon, some, like the Kokopelli XPD, are made from a burly — but heavy — PVC; (photo/Zach Burton)

The early boats that inspired the packraft were made from PVC and vinyl. And you can still get boats for under 50 bucks that are lightweight and float and look kinda like a packraft. But they also puncture easily, leading to unplanned deflations.

Most modern packrafts are made of a nylon fabric that has been coated with thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU). This coating makes all the difference in the construction of a packraft, and is tough, air- and water-tight, UV-resistant, and remains flexible when tensioned. Materials coated with TPU also are heat-bondable, which means that they can be sealed together with heat or radio-frequency (RF) welding. This creates an exceptionally strong bond, and is the basis for most packraft construction today.

Hull Materials

Hull fabrics can be a range of different types, but it all comes down to one factor in comparing one against the other: the denier. This is the thread weight of the fabric, meaning the higher the denier, the thicker and tougher the fabric. Typical hull denier is a 210D material, with ultralight craft like the Alpacka Ghost using 70D, and backcountry brutes like the Forager using 420D.

While nylon is the prevailing hull material in packrafts today, it isn’t the rule, and some other specialty fabrics offer higher tear resistance and rigidity, such as the 400D Vectran fabric that Alpacka Raft offers, or the DuPont Kevlar Aramid Kokopelli uses in their ‘X-Series’ of boats. All of these materials will be coated with TPU on either one of both sides, with single-coated fabrics having a higher tear strength.

How the hull is constructed is as important as the material it is constructed from, and some more budget-minded packrafts will construct their hulls with only glued seams, which create a chemical bond between the fabrics, but often need to be seam-taped for durability, adding bulk. This is why more commonly, packrafts are constructed by heat welding the hulls together.

Alpacka Raft takes a durability-minded approach and sews their packrafts together after the component panels have been RF welded, and then double tapes the seams. This creates a burly construction that we’ve yet to see fail in the wild.

Floor Materials

Bumping along a river at low flow can be rough-going for a packraft, and because of this, floor materials will always be of a more durable denier fabric than that used to make the hull tubes. 840D is the most common floor material weight, though light boats like the Alpacka Scout utilize 420D floors, and even lighter still boats will use 210D, like that in the Kokopelli Hornet-Lite.

Here, too, specialty fabrics like Kokopelli’s DuPont Kevlar Aramid-nylon can be used to increase durability, but not without a weight and packability ding. Floors are more commonly glued to the hulls of packrafts, and then seam-taped to finish the transition and strengthen the bond.

Inflation Setup

Rapid Raft Inflation
The one-way valve of the Rapid Raft makes topping off a breeze. We only wish the valve was located a bit closer to the bow for easier on-water filling; (photo/Erika Courtney)

Most modern packrafts eschew the use of a pump and instead use an ultralight inflation bag that looks like a sil-nylon trash can liner. The bag screws onto the boat on one end. Then, you scoop air to fill the bag, twist the top, and push all that air volume into the boat.

Many boats also have a one-way inflation valve for topping off the boat. We would not recommend any boat for serious use that does not have this one-way feature. While early packrafts utilized cheaper Boston valves, many new packrafts incorporate modern whitewater rafting valves, such as the Leafield D7.

Besides pump sacks, there are other mechanical methods for inflation that can greatly speed up your deployment time. The Pack-A-Pump ($65) from Alpacka Raft is a plunger-style inflator that works specifically with Alpacka’s proprietary valves, or you could go electric with the Feather Pump ($50) from Kokopelli.


Kokopelli Packraft Adjusting Seat
The positioning of your seat and backband is key in providing a proper paddling position. Take the time to dial it in before you hit the water; (photo/Erika Courtney)

Seat configuration varies widely. But for any paddle longer than 30 minutes, it is really important to have a decent seat that positions your hips higher than your feet. A backrest or backband is also essential to help create a sustainable and healthy paddling position.

There is a balance between being too low in a boat, where the paddling position suffers, and too high, where gravity begins to take over and pull at you. Experiment by trying different seats and modifying the stack height with pieces of foam, or even adding another seat entirely.

Inflatable seats can be inflated to different firmness levels according to the height and comfort you’re looking to get out of them, as well as adjusted fore and aft to obtain the ideal athletic stance of knees slightly bent and braced against the bow of the packraft. Backbands too can be inflatable, however, we only recommend these for more generalist boats, as true whitewater paddling requires power transfer through this interface, and an EVA foam backband will perform much better overall.

Thigh Straps

Interior Alpacka WW Refuge Packraft
The 4-point thigh straps that are equipped on Alpacka whitewater boats provide a good bit more power transfer over more simple setups; (photo/Nick Belcaster)

Thigh straps are a must for any serious whitewater Class IV and above. They allow the development of boat control skills that are needed for technical maneuvering. They also make it possible for expert users to reliably execute the “packraft roll.”

Basic thigh straps connect at two points within the packraft — at the ankles and beside the hips — and provide a moderate amount of stability. Advanced, or high-performance, thigh straps add two additional attachment points at the knees to increase the force distribution.

Many rafts are set up to run thigh straps, while others might be retrofitted to accept them. Note that adding additional straps can increase the entrapment hazard, and learning how to properly escape from your boat is necessary. Straps like the Alpacka DIY Thigh Strap Kit or Kokopelli 3-Point Thigh Strap Set are great options.

Gear Storage

TiZip Internal Storage Alpacka WW Refuge
(Photo/Erika Courtney)

One of our tester’s first expeditions saw strapping 40-pound packs to the bow of the boats, and another 20-pound dry bag full of climbing gear at their feet. Visibility was limited, and the cramped foot position was less than desirable. When the boat flipped, it was difficult to right. And nearly everything got some level of wet, regardless of how many dry bags it was packed in.

The availability of internal storage via the TiZip was a major step forward in packrafting when Alpacka introduced it in 2012. It keeps gear dry, actually improves boat handling, and makes longer expeditions much more reasonable.

The TiZips are well-proven at this point. Although they demand a little more care and add a bit more packing complexity, they are well worth it for most users and have been adopted as a standard option for nearly every major brand.

Self-Bailing, Bucket-Style, and Decked Designs

Packraft Whitewater Deck With Coming
A closed-deck boat proved vital for paddling the Skagit River in late October. The author used a spray skirt to ensure that waves over the deck didn’t swamp his boat; (photo/Erika Courtney)

Self-bailing packrafts borrow from the whitewater rafting world, and feature a bottom with holes in it that allow water to pass through the boat. There will also typically be an inflatable seat that might span the length of the cockpit, in order to keep the paddler drier. Some boats, like the MRS Viking Self-Bailer, will incorporate a 3/4 length seat in addition to a foot brace — creating a foot well to brace against and for water to drain efficiently.

Paddling a self-bailing packraft will often feel a little more sluggish than a ‘bucket-style’ boat, but this can also create a boat that feels more planted on the water. If you’ll be paddling somewhere where the water is especially warm, or you anticipate having to do many portages on your runs, a self-bailer can make good sense. Some boats even add directional baffles to the holes in the floor, making for a smoother paddle.

A closed deck design is preferable for colder-water paddling, when keeping as much water out of the boat as possible is ideal. These designs also provide a bit more structure to a boat, and add durability when strapping equipment like bikes down to the deck. Spraydecks vary in design, and while some can be removable (via zippers or Velcro), others are permanently affixed to the boat.

Kokopelli Spray Skirt
The red pull loop on the Kokopelli Alpine Spray Skirt provides a reference point should you need to ditch after capsizing; (photo/Erika Courtney)

These spraydecks work in conjunction with a whitewater skirt, which provides the interface between the paddler and the boat. Skirts are primarily designed for whitewater to keep water out, with a piece of PEX piping being used to create a lip (coaming) around the cockpit, which the skirt secures around. It is basically a packraft version of what you see in every river-running hardshell kayak. In the event of a capsize, you can release the skirt with a pull loop at the front of the boat.

Some more generalist packrafts have a cruiser-style deck that attaches only with Velcro and can be completely removed if desired to create an open boat. These decks are simple, but only keep about 70% of the water out. In whitewater, a cruiser-decked boat will eventually fill and need to be emptied in order to maintain control and paddle-ability.

Somewhere in the middle, bucket-style boats have solid floors, but no decks atop the packraft. These are excellent workhorse boats for casual paddling on flatwater, but can become swamped if taken into rowdy water. Because they lack the extra functionality, these bucket-style boats are often also cheaper than the other two design options, and make perfect beginner packrafts.

Whitewater vs. Flatwater

Recon Packraft from Kokopelli
Tester Mallory Paige negotiates rapids aboard the Kokopelli Recon; (photo/Matt Granger)

Buy the packraft that is going to fit your most common usage scenario. If you plan on almost exclusively paddling lakes, bays, and calmer rivers, then any open boat model is best. They are simple, lighter, and cheaper. And they’ll handle just fine if you get ambitious with some Class II once in a while.

Looking for more time on rivers and less on lakes? A basic self-bailer or decked boat (Alpacka Classic Series, or the Kokopelli Rogue) handles some Class II-III water while still being light and small enough to take on just about any trip.

If you are planning on spending most of your time playing among eddies, holes, and waves, get a boat that is made for it. The Alpacka Expedition or Kokopelli Nirvana will serve you well.

For a pure whitewater beast, we recommend the Gnarwhal or Wolverine, which come ready to party with all your Class IV hardshell friends — but are packable to take places they’d never carry their kayaks. The Kokopelli Recon can fit this niche too for a budget option, but what you save in dollars you pay for in weight.


Kokopelli Rogue R-Deck on Sauk
A jack of all trades, the Kokopelli Rogue R-Deck makes it happen in most any conditions; (photo/Nick Belcaster)

We’re not going to lie and say that packrafts handle great. They take some getting used to and, initially, they waggle a lot for most novice paddlers. But with some practice, the boats can paddle quite straight at decent speeds.

In general, the smaller ultralight boats will be the slowest. Self-bailers will be a little more sluggish both in speed and responsiveness than boats without holes in the floor. But a full boat — if you get swamped in waves — is much worse.

Boats that have a one-way valve for inflation allow for more pressure in the tubes. And this means better handling. The ability to get a tight boat is perhaps more important than any hull design feature.

Finally, boat handling is better if you fit well and are comfortable in the boat. Make sure you are getting a boat sized for you. Too small a boat, and you’ll sit lower in the water and be more cramped for longer paddles. In whitewater, a too-small boat capsizes more easily. Too big and it will be hard to effectively maneuver the boat, and you’ll spend a lot of extra energy to do so.

Some packrafts, like the Alpacka Expedition or the Gnarwhal, are available in a number of different sizes, while the majority of rafts on the market are of the one-size-fits-most variety. These boats will often instead utilize an adjustable backband and seat set-up to allow for some adjustability.

Still needing to take up some space at the end of your raft? Using a commercial brace like the Whitewater Foot Brace from Alpacka Raft can be an excellent way to take up some slack, though we’ve also seen paddlers using everything from yoga blocks to beach balls.

Klymit Light Water Dingy on Upper Eagle Lake
The arrow shape of the Klymit LWD provides some tracking ability, but this is still a boat that’ll need some course correcting while paddling; (photo/Nick Belcaster)

Rolled Size and Weight

The weight weenies among us like to count ounces, but in reality, choosing a packraft based on weight is a bad idea. Pick a boat that meets your paddling skills and use scenarios, and you’ll adapt to the size and weight.

Still, for more remote and lengthy use cases, pack size and weight are worth taking into consideration. With good technique, the roll size can be reduced significantly. And nearly all the single rafts we’ve used can be compressed enough to fit into a 40L pack (or lashed to bike handlebars) with plenty of room to spare.

If you are really concerned about weight, take the extra 10 minutes to dry it out. The weight difference between rolling a wet boat and a dry one can be up to several pounds!

Load Capacity

Kokopelli Twain Lite Packraft Beneath Kulshan
The 1.5-person capacity of the Kokopelli Twain Lite means there’s extra space in the bow for your kit; (photo/Nick Belcaster)

Pay attention to load capacity. If you get close to (or over) it, you will significantly affect performance. Most boats’ “maximum load” is the total weight limit of the paddler plus gear that will allow the boat to have good, consistent handling characteristics in ideal conditions.

Exceeding this does not mean the boat will sink. We’ve paddled the Alpacka Scout (250-pound limit) with two adults plus gear (300+ pounds) in nonideal conditions so many times, we’ve lost count.

But, then again, we’ve also used a carbon fiber paddle to dig a snow cave on the upper slopes of Mt. Rainier and it was pretty hard on the paddle. In short, the load capacity is a recommendation, and most boats are capable of at least floating more.


Kokopelli Packraft Repair Kit
The included patches make a quick repair feasible, but on longer expeditions, you’ll likely want a fuller repair kit; (photo/Erika Courtney)

In general, packrafts are burly, but lighter boats are generally less durable. So, use a bit more caution with a packraft. If your boat is equipped with a TiZip, that is one of the easiest places to introduce leaks. So, make sure you learn how to care for it and keep it grit-free.

Less expensive boats (as noted in the “materials” sections) may be crafted from a PU fabric that is easier to tear, abrade, and delaminate than some of the more premium boats. We recommend sticking with the more established brands that have good customer service and pride themselves on craftsmanship.

Packraft Pro Tips

  1. Temper your boat: It should be nice and firm and will require at least one top-off after you get into the water. A more rigid boat paddles much better than a soft boat. And it is less likely to get leaks due to abrasion from rocks or contact with sharp sticks. Use care not to leave your boat in the sun once fully pressurized. This can cause damage and leaks due to overpressurization. Most manufacturers recommend a max inflation of 1.5-2.5 psi.
  2. Learn to field repair your boat: Most boats come with a small repair kit that can solve most leaks or minor damage within a few minutes. Small leaks are common with aggressive usage and are not a concern if you understand how to fix them. In addition to the repair kit, we carry a small bit of Tyvek tape (wound around a paddle shaft), which will take care of nearly every problem long enough to finish your trip and make a more permanent repair. For boats with a TiZip, one pro analogizes it to lip care: “I never use lip balm, and I come back from every trip with sore and chapped lips that take a week to heal. My wife is super diligent and never has that issue.” The cargo fly is the same. The zipper doesn’t heal when you don’t keep it lubricated. Light, frequent lubrication is the key!
  3. Slow down on the paddle strokes: Watch an expert paddle — they make it look effortless. Fewer strokes with deeper paddle penetration and smooth power is better than frantically slashing at the surface. Take the time to practice your strokes in more ideal settings so that they become automatic and easy. It will make a world of difference to your enjoyment as your missions increase in duration.


How do I choose a packraft?

Choosing a packraft boils down to where you land on the raft weight vs. ability scales. Because all packrafts should have some level of inherent packability, consider the types of places you’d like to go first when seeking out a packraft.

In general, there are three types of packrafts: Lightweight and packable, whitewater boats, and tandem packrafts. If alpine lakes and the occasional river crossing is your thing, check out a boat like the Uncharted Supply Co Rapid Raft, Alpacka Ghost, or Alpacka Scout.

If you’d like to up the ante and push into more turbulent waters, a capable whitewater boat like the Alpacka Expedition or Kokopelli Recon will get you there. And if you’re looking to haul an extra person along, a boat like the Kokopelli Twain or Alpacka Forager fits the bill.

What are packrafts made of?

Most commercial packrafts will be made from TPU-coated nylon, which is a thermoplastic polyurethane-covered fabric that is tough, airtight, heat-sealable, and UV-resistant. Because this material can adhere to itself through heat, this allows manufacturers to create strong bonds without gluing or sewing.

There are some boats on the market, like the Kokopelli XPD, that use PVC, or polyvinyl chloride, as their main material. These fabrics are tough and can resist a hard day on the river, though they will pay for the durability in bulk and weight.

How long should a packraft paddle be?

Watercraft paddles can be separated into two categories: those for use in low-angle, or high-angle paddling. Typical sea kayak paddles are built for low-angle paddling, where fatigue reduction is prioritized. These are often 200-220 cm long.

Whitewater paddles, on the other hand, are built for strong strokes, and often sport wide blades to better move water. These paddles are shorter, often in the 195-205 cm range. Most packrafters would be well suited with a whitewater paddle, though your packraft use will dictate your paddle choice.

How do you sit in a packraft?

You should sit with an athletic stance in a packraft, with your legs touching the end of the boat and your knees bent. Snug your backband up so that it supports you in place. Your seat should elevate you enough that you are in the proper paddling position.

A proper paddling position will allow you to better control your packraft, moving the boat around you and putting it on edge in the water.

What is a self-bailing packraft?

Self-bailing packrafts incorporate holes in the floor of the raft that allows for water to pass through the boat once it enters the cockpit. These boats won’t have a whitewater deck, and will use a seat to keep paddlers up and out of the water as much as possible.

A self-bailer will be better for warmer water paddling, however, you’ll likely still want a drysuit, since the chance of getting wet is high.

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