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  1. #1
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    Comprehensive Packrafting Question Thread (from those that actually packraft)

    Long time, no see, maggots.

    I now live in Austin and there are a number of "user-friendly" rivers (Santa Elena Canyon, Boquillas, Devil's River, etc.) that warrant getting my wife onto the water more. She's done some inflatable kayaking but nothing too crazy. I believe a packraft is going to be the easiest to convince her to get on the water. I've been hard-shell kayaking for years now, but she's very much a novice.

    Can those of you who have actually pack-rafted chime in on must-have's about the boat and gear? I've seeing that the market has produced all kinds of offerings but some of them seem like pool toys. Should I only buy an Alpacka Raft? Can Kokopelli compete? Is a spray deck a must? And if so, does the "cruiser" style spray deck work fine or do I want one with more of a WW kayak skirt-type? Is it worth the extra money to do the interior, in-the-pontoon-style storage option? Are the tandem style options total crap? A recent review I read says that the Aire BakRaft is the way to go because it ferries, tracks, and eddies more like an actual kayak. Am I wasting my time on a packraft when this is an option?

    Thanks in advance.

  2. #2
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    You might check out this book by Molly Absolon. It's very well done and informative.
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  3. #3
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    Austin!! Woot woot. Sub'd to see what you work out re:Austin packrafting.

  4. #4
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    Here's my 2cents:

    I own a circa 2012 alpacka w/whitewater deck. Amazingly durable. I've had many days where i was sure i'd raked it over enough low water rocks to have ripped it right up, but absolutely nothing. Seriously impressed. Friends with Kokopelli's have not had the same experience. I have no experience with Aire. Self-bailers were not an option when I bought my boat, but I would imagine they track better and get tossed around a bit less. That said, it is nice staying dry for mellow floats when you are just passively travelling without much whitewater.

    Spray deck is a must if you are going for any whitewater. pulling over

    The cargo fly seems WAY better than straping my pack to the bow. I'm considering sending mine in to get styled....Otherwise, I really have no motivation to shop for a new boat....
    Drive slow, homie.

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by Z View Post
    Here's my 2cents:

    I own a circa 2012 alpacka w/whitewater deck. Amazingly durable. I've had many days where i was sure i'd raked it over enough low water rocks to have ripped it right up, but absolutely nothing. Seriously impressed. Friends with Kokopelli's have not had the same experience. I have no experience with Aire. Self-bailers were not an option when I bought my boat, but I would imagine they track better and get tossed around a bit less. That said, it is nice staying dry for mellow floats when you are just passively travelling without much whitewater.

    Spray deck is a must if you are going for any whitewater. pulling over

    The cargo fly seems WAY better than straping my pack to the bow. I'm considering sending mine in to get styled....Otherwise, I really have no motivation to shop for a new boat....
    ^^^^This is spot on.

    You're on the right track getting your wife into packrafting as opposed to hardshell. Very user friendly but still provides some degree of learning curve that will keep it interesting.

    I had a first gen Alpacka with the velcro cruiser skirt and without the cargo fly. Now use the newer Llama with the whitewater skirt and fly. If you're doing whitewater, the whitewater skirt is the way to go. If you're not, I don't really see the need to get one and I think you'll enjoy the boat more without one. If your wife isn't use to the feeling of being attachted to the cockpit of the boat, and you don't think she'll like that sensation, I would also recommend the cruiser skirt. As Z noted, you can always get Alpacka to retrofit options at a later point. The cargo fly is great and makes for a more enjoyable ride, especially if you flip. (Related: Alpacka has great customer service and are super helpful. You may want to reach out to them.)

    Havent' tried the Aire, but the alpackalypse also paddles closer to a hardshell. Friends that own them also say that there's a lot of moving parts and they don't love the fiddle factor on BC trips.

  6. #6
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    Good thoughts, gentlemen.

    Quote Originally Posted by thejongiest View Post
    Austin!! Woot woot. Sub'd to see what you work out re:Austin packrafting.
    So far, I'm looking into the Devil's River (doubled as a fly-fishing trip) that would likely require a shuttle of some kind due to access. I'm also intrigued by a couple of the canyon options of Big Bend NP (Boquillas and Santa Elena, in particular. Santa Elena looks to be one where you could do a pretty rough hike up to the put-in then run the river to the take-out where you would park your car.) There are other river options, I'm sure, like the Guadalupe... but these ones seems to be promising in terms of an actual "wilderness" feel.

  7. #7
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    Are you planning the Devil's as an overnighter or a day trip? I did some vague research on that as a trip option a couple of years ago, but I never quite sorted out what (if any) camping options were available due to the amount of adjoining private land.

    I bought a first gen Alpaca a few years ago too, but I've never done anything other than play around with it a few times, so I don't have anything to offer other than my thread hijack.

  8. #8
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    Speaking from 5 years of pack rafting in Alaska, as well as a few seasons guiding pack rafting there...

    Alpacka is the way to go. They are leading the (niche) industry. Quality materials, excellent company, better design.

    The I would only recommend the WW skirt if your planning on class 3 or higher whitewater. The cruiser deck should be fine for anything else.

    Internal tube storage is almost a necessity for anything more than a day trip.

    The first generations of Alpackas were like paddling a rubber duck that always filled up with water. The newer generations are much more efficient at travel, not just floating. They track well (for an inflatable), are durable, and a super useful tool for crossing a lot of land.


    Sent from my iPhone using TGR Forums

  9. #9
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    I like packrafts. One thing that makes them unique in the boating world is how friggin user friendly they are. If you flip in whitewater, you just flop back in your boat. It's not graceful, but you self rescue fast enough to finish the rapid, so there's no penalty for bringing along people who dont have a solid roll. Compare that to the ordeal of a kayaker swimming; it's a guaranteed yard sale. Plus they're stable and predictable, so the learning curve is like <1hr on the water to feel pretty comfortable for anyone with river-reading experience. And the draft is like 2-3" below waterline, so you can scoot down low-flow creeks that no other watercraft can.

    Another thing that makes packrafts unique is that you dont need a truck and trailer like you do for a raft, or even a pickup bed or roof rack like for kayaks. You could hire a Prius on Uber and fit four people plus their four packrafts kits inside. They're so much easier to store and transport than a duckie or inflatable SUP or folding kayak. I'm surprised the manufactures havent targeted the urban rec boating crowd. If I lived in a city apartment near water, Id way rather have a packraft tucked behind the couch than a SUP filling half my closet.

    My go-to metaphor for their whitewater performance is that they're like a Dynafit backcountry ski setup: light, nimble, and engineered for long hauls. Yeah, they work okay in the front country but if youre skiing tech bindings and skis without metal at the ski area you're going to sacrifice performance without really gaining anything. Similarly, packrafts dont edge or punch through whitewater like kayaks, they're more likely to deflect and get tossed around. But like Hoji proves again and again on tech bindings, the ceiling for what's possible is pretty high; likewise as of 2017 a handful of people have paddled the Grand Canyon in packrafts without swimming. In both skiing and packrafts, it does get sketchy at hucking heights. If your thing is stomping 30ft cliffs / waterfalls, Dynafits/ a packraft is not the right tool for that job, even if Hoji and a handful of paddlers are providing counterpoints. But if the objective is something far from the car, those alpine skis / kayaks are going to be an anchor and the Dynafits / packraft is probably not the thing that's holding you back from getting rad.

    Brand-wise, Alpacka is far ahead of the competition. Alpacka's are much more durable than their weight suggests, handmade in Colorado, and they are the far and away market leaders when it comes to R&D and engineering. You can get much less expensive boats (and drysuits and carbon paddles and, well, everything) by buying direct from factories in China via Alibaba and similar, but then there's no warranty and very questionable quality control for items where failure could be catastrophic. Kokopelli kinda splits that difference by imitating Alpacka designs and then outsourcing manufacturing to Asia. There's some POV videos of Kokopelli boats getting shredded on rocks, but it looks like operator error? I don't worry about bouncing off of rocks in my Alpacka packraft and Kokotat drysuit and it's worth it to me for those things not to be a concern. I do worry about the beaver-gnawed punji stakes sticking out of the banks.

    Whitewater decks are great not only for splashy paddling but also when it's cold. A big downside to the self bailing models is that a drysuit is necessary in temps when you could be comfortable in much less if you were in a hardshell kayak or decked packraft. The internal drybag system is fantastic for overnights and multi-day trips. For whitewater, especially bigger stuff, having a boat loaded with some weight in the tubes adds stability and momentum for punching out of holes and over waves. They're also easier to roll with some weight in the storage.

    To get internal drybags into them, they have a big T-Zip and that seems like a potential point of failure. However, I have a pre production one from 2012 that's been down the Grand Canyon, two trips to the the Sea of Cortez where it was loaded with like +80lbs (mostly drinking water), and a bunch of other trips and it's still going strong. I do take some care to keep the zipper somewhat clean and greased, which is a chore on desert trips but the thought of a zipper blowing mid-rapid, or 2mi from land, is horrifying. For the record, I've never even heard of one instance of that happening, but the potential consequences are enough to keep me on guard.

    The downsides? If you only have one packraft, you'll paddle with other types of boaters or by yourself because probably none of your friends own one. They get pushed around by wind. They're so light that it takes momentum to power through big water. They dont track very well, so they're not efficient on flatwater (but faster than playboats, though not by much). I'm a shitty fly fisherman and I think the chances of me hooking the boat on a backcast are pretty good, so I get out and wade to do that. It's really hard to feel cool in a packraft, but paddling them makes me smile a lot and that's a good substitute

    Skiers get rad sayings like "Turn and Burn" and "No Friends on a Powder Day." Packrafters say shit like "Show up and Blow up." Yeah, that sums up... something.


    But when you get past the lack of ego stroking part... Holy fuckin shit. Have you ever walked down a slot canyon? Have you ever floated down a slot canyon? HFS.


    Have you ever floated down a slot canyon in a less than sober state? Because: HFS.












    This may be the first time in WY state history that one packrafting trip encountered another


    Portaging: Despite the mood of this photo, it really isnt so bad compared to any other type of watercraft






































    Are there other personal watercraft that you can SCUBA or snorkel from?










    Last edited by The Gnarwhale; 12-21-2017 at 12:20 AM.

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    the Gnarwhale brings the PR stoke

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    Quote Originally Posted by scottyb View Post
    the Gnarwhale brings the PR stoke
    Sure does. And is he Jim???!!! Very cool.

  12. #12
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    Great writeup and photos Gnarwhale

  13. #13
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    Pulled off a perfect execution of our first packrafting goal: Santa Elena Canyon of the Rio Grande. Here's the better half on her second river trip ever (and first packrafting trip):
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  14. #14
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    nice photo good to see there is water in the river.
    off your knees Louie

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