Packrafts have become increasingly popular in recent years. These small, practical inflatable boats are particularly popular with adventure travelers. But many people living in big cities are also slowly acquiring a taste for these practical boats. Packrafts require almost no storage space, can easily be carried in a normal hiking backpack and are ideal for transporting on public transport. They offer many people a way to paddle without a car and a lot of space at home and to escape the hustle and bustle of the big city.
A packraft is a very light, compact and stable inflatable boat, which can therefore also be carried along when hiking or biking. In fact, a packraft is a backpacking boat that can be used during a hiking or biking trip to cover parts of the trip with a small inflatable boat.
Thanks to the good maneuverability and tilt stability, they are often seen on white water and are also quite suitable for this use. Nevertheless, packrafts are mainly used to have a small boat with you on your expedition.
For a small inflatable boat, the purchase cost is very high. Well equipped packrafts with a robust boat skin can cost up to $1000 and more. But the possibilities you have with a packraft are enormous. Nevertheless, you should ask yourself in the beginning if you really use the possibilities of a packraft. From our point of view, a packraft is the right inflatable boat for you if the following aspects are important to you:
If you want to paddle mainly flowing water or even whitewater. Packrafts have a high buoyancy due to their voluminous side tube and have a wide short hull. These characteristics make packrafts very stable and very maneuverable on the water. That is why packrafts are popular in white water as well as on small and swiftly flowing rivers. Here, the slowness of a packraft is hardly noticeable due to the current of the river and obstacles can be avoided very easily. Especially on whitewater rivers, a packraft opens up new possibilities because you can reach riverbanks that are only accessible on foot. In addition, the problem of having to catch up with the car after the tour is eliminated, since you can walk to the next stop at the end of the tour and take public transportation. If, on the other hand, you want to go on long tours on standing water, a packraft will not give you much pleasure in the long run. Most of the 1-person packrafts are too slow.
Even though packrafts are very beginner-friendly compared to traditional whitewater kayaks and therefore forgiving of many technique mistakes, the water still remains unchanged. Paddling on whitewater requires appropriate safety equipment (e.g. life jacket with sufficient buoyancy, helmet, throwbag, signal whistle, …), the correct assessment of the current water conditions when planning the trip (esp. water level and discharge), safe maneuvering of the packraft and early danger recognition on the river. These aspects and others should not be underestimated.
If at least two of the above points apply to you, you should definitely continue reading this article. Because there are numerous tips waiting for you, which we could collect in the last years with packrafts.
If only one or none of the points apply to you, but you still feel like paddling, you should consider the other types of inflatable boats (e.g. inflatable kayak or inflatable canoe). For example, a solid 2-person inflatable kayak costs between $500 and $900. This begs the question of why packrafts are more expensive.
Equipment that is very light yet sturdy is known to cost significantly more. The cost of materials is higher. In addition, most of it is made by hand and in small series compared to other types of boats. The margin on a packraft has to be higher so that suppliers can make a living from manufacturing and selling them. This is because packrafts are still a classic niche product today. For the price of a packraft you already get a solid inflatable kayak with good paddling characteristics, which you can paddle alone and with a friend.
As mentioned at the beginning, the possible uses of a packraft are almost unlimited. If hiking tours with packraft are in the foreground, a small pack size and weight are important. For bikerafting, you should make sure that the packraft has a sufficiently high load capacity, a large bow and sufficient attachment options.
In addition, you should consider which waters you will usually paddle. In principle, packrafts are much better suited for flowing waters than for large lakes and seas. If you only want to do small, leisurely tours on a lake, you will still be happy with a packraft. If you want to do tours of several hours on calm waters, you will paddle much better with a long 2-person packraft. Lakes can be paddled well with a long 2-person packraft. For whitewater you should pay attention to the right equipment, which we will discuss below.
1-person packrafts: This size of packrafts is the most common. Here there is the largest selection of models. They are very compact as well as maneuverable and therefore very popular especially in white water. If you want to do packraft tours alone, this is the right packraft for you. But even if you are paddling with other packrafters, a 1-person packraft has its advantages: you determine your own paddling pace, develop your own paddling technique and can make one or the other detour independently of the others, for example to look at something close to the shore. 1-person packraft are available in numerous lengths, so that even for tall people there are sufficiently large 1-person packrafts.
Manufacturers, such as Alpacka Raft, MRS and Mekong, offer their 1-person packrafts in different sizes. So you can choose the packraft according to your body size. Especially if you use the packraft in whitewater, the right size is important. If a packraft is too big, it offers too little support in white water. Alternatively, an inflatable footrest can help. If you like it cozier and more comfortable, you can also choose a slightly larger packraft for calm water and light whitewater.
2-person packrafts: This size of packrafts could be interesting for you if you want to paddle often with someone else in the same boat and like to travel on calmer waters. On the one hand, the purchase costs and the weight per head are lower with a 2-person packraft. On the other hand, 2-person packrafts are longer, i.e. they have a noticeably better straight-line characteristic and are faster on the water. Plus, you can take turns paddling with your paddling partner. A majority can be paddled with a double paddle or with a single-bladed paddle as a canoe. Families with children also like to prefer 2-person packrafts over 1-person packrafts.
In this section, we will discuss the different features so that you can make a better decision about what you need and what you do not. The good thing is that most of the equipment can even be added later on. However, keep in mind that each additional feature will increase the weight of your packraft.
Skeg: Still little established but very practical is an attachable skeg. Some models from Anfibio (e.g. Anfibio Delta MX or Rebel 2K) and MRS have a skeg holder included to attach a directional skeg. A skeg noticeably improves the directional stability of the packraft and thus increases paddling efficiency. The packraft is less likely to turn, so it is ideal on rivers with sufficient water depth and lakes. Regardless of the model, you can also install a skeg yourself. Taking pictures in a packraft with a skeg is much more comfortable. The boat drifts slower when you stop paddling. Skegs are not suitable for whitewater use, as they reduce maneuverability. Also, depending on the water level, you would unnecessarily touch down with a skeg.
At first glance, you might think that the boat material of a packraft can’t be very durable, as it feels relatively thin. However, the material of a packraft has nothing to do with the cheap PVC inflatable boats you can buy in supermarkets. Packrafts can be used in white water, and for that reason alone must be able to resist high stresses.
In principle, there are two main elements: a bottom hull and an outer tube. The outer tube goes all the way around the boat and is inflated with the help of an inflation bag and by mouth. The floor, on the other hand, is not inflated, but is simply a strong tarpaulin.
Coatings: Urethane, polyurethane (PU) or thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) are usually used as coatings. The thickness of the coating is specified in g/m². The floor is coated from both sides, as it is subjected to stress from both outside and inside the footwell. For the tube, it differs depending on the manufacturer. Some manufacturers coat the tube on both sides so that if the outer coating is damaged, the material will still hold tight thanks to the inner coating. Other manufacturers, on the other hand, coat the tube on one side because this allows the fabric material to yield better and distribute the “tearing stress” over several fibers when stressed. As a result, the fabric material remains more tear-resistant.
There are now many manufacturers in the niche market of packrafts. To make your research easier, we would like to introduce some of the most important manufacturers here.
The biggest cost factor for packrafts does not come from the materials used, but in the manufacturing process itself. Packrafts are handmade, and that makes a big part of the costs. DIY packraft sets offer you the possibility to build your own packraft at low cost. The kits contain the pre-cut materials that need to be ironed together to make a packraft. Prior experience is not required for the DIY Packraft. Depending on experience and kit, it can take over 40 hours to build. Compared to the packrafts from big-name manufacturers, the DIY do not sew the tubes and bottom together.
DIY Packraft is not a manufacturer of packrafts, but makes you the manufacturer of your own packraft. Only the materials, such as valve and boat skin, must be purchased. Thereby the components of the boat skin are already pre-cut. The main tool is a special welding machine, with which you close the seams. Step by step videos then explain how you can then make your own packraft. And when you look at the results, you have to say that the boats look like they were bought from the store. This does not only fills you with a lot of pride at the end, but also saves you quite a bit of money. The material for the cheapest model currently costs about 180€. They ship worldwide and takes between 15 and 25 hours to build the packraft, according to the site.
Long-term experiences can be found on the English-language blog michaeldeckebach.com. After numerous uses of the self-built Packrafts, the blogger is convinced of the construction and the material of the boat. At the same time, however, he points out that the seams are the packraft’s weakest point and that the boat therefore needs to be repaired at regular intervals. For a professional sealing of the seams you would need, according to the opinion of the blogger, a high-performance iron, which packraft manufacturers use but for the construction of one or two boats that would be too expensive.
The British supplier Iron Raft also offers a kit to build a packraft yourself. The kit is available in three different sizes, depending on the size of the paddler. To assemble the packraft, the company recommends an iron that can apply a constant heat of at least 220°C.
The great strength of packrafts is undoubtedly the extraordinary flexibility thanks to the small packing dimensions and low weight. However, since most packrafts are quite wide and short, they don’t have the best straight-line characteristic and don’t reach the speeds as conventional kayaks.
Have you always wanted to buy a kayak or canoe, but you just don’t have the space to store it or the car to transport it? A packraft would eliminate all of that and allow you to enjoy your paddling hobby. But not only packrafts offer you this possibility. If you want to use your boat exclusively for touring on lakes and rivers, without combining it with hiking or biking, then conventional inflatables or folding boats may be a better choice.
When we stopped paddling, the boat drifted slightly. We had a light wind and could feel how the boat was also slightly pushed to the side. So here the Gumotex Rush behaves like other inflatable kayaks because of its air buoyancy.
Inflatable kayaks or canoes are the same in shape as the rigid-hull variants. They are definitely heavier than packrafts, but can still be transported on buses or trains with a backpack. They have the better running characteristics and more comfort, especially on lakes. In addition, there are high-quality models that are far cheaper than packrafts and are therefore more affordable for most beginners.
Those who attach great importance to the fact that the handling of their boat is close to that of a solid kayak should go for a folding kayak or folding canoe. Such boats have a very good stiffness and really good paddling characteristics. In terms of price, most folding boats are more expensive than inflatable boats.