Updated summer 2016. Did you miss the general packraft intro?
Most agree that for sporty rivers, inshore use and touring, Alpacka’s comprehensive and innovative range of durable packafts have lead the field, but cheaper or more specialised alternatives are beginning to appear suited to calm rivers, short crossings and flatwater use, or for heavier loads and all-out white water.
And don’t forget that at any holiday resort you can buy cheap PVC ‘slackraft’ pool toys (right) that are OK while they last. Slackrafts get their own page on IK&P and are a great way of investigating the packrafting experience before you splash out on the real thing or decide on a crossraft (more below).
Most of the boats described below I’ve only seen and evaluated from pictures, but recently I tested four other packrafts from MRS, Aire, Nortik and a newer Supai crossraft – all alongside my 2014 Yak. To read more about our actual observations and conclusions (as opposed to web speculation) click this or the banner on the left.
Note: In early 2016 Feathercraft reduced their range of boats to folding kayaks only.
The naming is a bit confusing but Canadian portable kayak makers Feathercraft produce a couple of packrafts under the BayLee River Runner label. Several years ago Alpackas were actually made under contract at the FC factory in BC, so something like this was bound to happen as packrafting caught on.
Their one-person BayLee 1 River Runner is packraft that comes as a standard open boat (above right; 2.95kg; $1050); with a spray skirt (left; 3.4kg) or with a self-bailing floor (4.54kg – $1400 – see below).
As far as I can work out they’re all based on a 2m x 94cm hull with big 30cm tubes. There are larger self-bailing BayLee/River Runners called the Bolder and Beast, but these models weigh up to 9kg so can’t really be considered packrafts. All of them come with optional skegs which are probably more useful for rowing the larger omnidirectional versions.
All BayLees are made with two air chambers, left and right, and each chamber is RF welded and then glued and taped together so there are only visible seams at each end giving a much smoother look and less chance of bad seams turning leaky. They also feature chunky, one-way Halkey Roberts rafting valves on each chamber, as well as twist lock top-off valves. Rafting valves may seem like overkill but do mean that with a pump rather than an airbag you can get a good, firm pressure in there (and which does make the twist-locks redundant). Indeed the self bailing BayLee (below) does come with a pump.
The self-bailing BayLee (left and right) drains fast, just like big, white water rafts. Although this adds about a kilo over the skirt version (based on the specs above; FC claim less), it has a higher seat making the boat marginally less stable. Note the rudimentary leg brace on the left, too – presumably it unclips easily. For pure white water packrafting this self-bailing system is probably better than the Feathercraft’s basic spray deck. Alpacka’s Alpackalypse which came out a couple of years later has a more sophisticated, creek boat-like solution to the interminable packraft deck problem.
What have been dubbed crossrafts are sub-category of packrafts – very light rafts or ‘trail boats’ made from single-sided and single coated nylon or polyester. They are best suited to crossing calm bodies of water rather than paddling along them, far less tackling white water, though this doesn’t seem to stop people trying these things. The low prices and light fabric enables weights of under a kilo, making the link between slackrafts and packrafts. But because of the thinner fabric you do lose out on the durability, performance and response from the stiffer hulls found on packrafts which can weigh as little as 2kg and give you more peace of mind when travelling along in a remote locale.
A word about denier – a unit of measurement used to describe the weight of a material. It is calculated on the mass in grams of a single 9000m strand (as a reference one 9000-m long strand of silk equals one denier). It’s a mistake to think a fabric made from 210D nylon will be three times thicker and three times stronger than 70D. The thread or yarn used will weigh three times more so will be stronger and more resistant to tearing, but not as a factor id the D-rating.
Supai Flatwater Canyon II
As the name suggests, the 670g Supai Flatwater II is an ultra-light trail boat suited to crossing small lochs, canyoneering or following calm rivers. With its narrowed and thinning bow, it resembles the much admired Sevylor Trail Boat – the Prince of Slackrafts – and at the time appeared to be a more sophisticated and notably lighter take on the FlytePacker (below). Whatever other websites say, the Supai’s dimensions as measured by me added up to 92cm wide, 157cm long and 106cm inside. We tried one – read all about it here. A couple of years later we also tried the fatter Matkat version too.
For 2015, Alpacka make no bones about the fact that the new Ghost crossraft is not as durable as their regular boats. It’s small too – about six feet long or the size of their Scout, and 10-inch tubes means not as buoyant. But you’d hope the 20D TPU fabric might be tougher than PU-coated nylon. Their 2000-gram Curiyak (see below) in the same fabric might make an interesting crossraft for the larger person with gear
NRS’ tough MaverIK introduced me to inflatable kayaking in Idaho all those years ago and a while back they added a packraft to their line up. At 203cm long and 91cm wide (33cm x 142cm inside), the NRS Packraft is a roomy boat weighing 3.35kg with the removable floor, or 5.6lbs or 2.54kg without so it’s too heavy to be a true crossraft.
Like a Supai it’s made from PU-coated nylon: 70D in the tubes and a floor in 210D. There’s a seat pad too to get your bum higher than you feet, useful for a comfortable and efficient paddling posture. Like the FC BayLee, the NRS has two chambers with simple Boston one-way valves as found on £20 slackrafts and cheaper IKs, plus top-off twist-lock valves as found on all sorts of inflatables. You can use a pump (not supplied); an inflation bag is an extra $30.
But check out the NRS website reviews – not such glowing reports with regards to durability. It does seem a rather a half-backed effort which is a shame as NRS IKs and rafts are famously tough. Hopefully one day they’ll produce something that’s more in line with NRS’ reputation. This guy took his down a rapid-strewn river in Oregon. You may want to skim down to the last few paragraphs. And this guy in the UK bought one in 2015 for more recreational paddling to which the NRS Packraft may be better suited.
Supply comes and goes but Flyweight Designs have come back with a modified version of their ultra-basic 200-D coated nylon FlytePacker (right) for about $315.
Stats are 1270g, 107cm wide and 178cm long, with a claimed payload of 140kg. This newer version is less wide and a bit longer than the original FlytePacker and so compares with the Supai Matkat.
FWD’s other boat looks to be the more conventionally proportioned CrossFlyte (right). FWD use the inner tube plus outer skin approach, both from 70D coated nylon. An inflatable floor may fit in there too. Weight is 1590g and it’s 185cm long, 101-104cm wide. There are four attachment points on the bow as well as tape rowlocks on the sides.
Looks like both boats use one-way Boston valves like the NRS Packraft, a simple way and cheap way of getting more than lung pressure in there if you have some sort of pump, as opposed to an air bag and a twist lock valve. Even then, I have a feeling these inexpensive, single-coated rafts make for very light but saggy, unresponsive boats – in other words a crossraft to get you to the iotehr side.
Ruta Locura make a licensed 75D version of the LWD that Klymit used to make. It weighs under 800 grams (left) and so puts it between the Supais, but it’s currently listed as ‘clearance’ with all that that implies. Me, I’d skip a cup of coffee and take on the extra 200 grams of the Klymit for hopefully greater durability – or just save up and get something like a Curiyak (below left), a ‘thin-tubed’ Alpacka which weighs all of two kilos.
David O from Oregon is persevering with his Klymit though, and after trying to make his own packraft from bin bags (above right) has set about adapting his Klymit LWD for heavy duty ops. More here or in the vid below which does contain scenes which some viewers may find unnerving.
Advanced Elements Packlite
Packraft meets kayak with a splash of slackraft graphics: behold the Advanced Elements Packlite ‘splackraft’. Fabric is a similar ripstop PU-coated polyester as used on the Supai (denier unknown). What they call ‘military valves’ (i.e.: IK valves as opposed to Boston valves) are used on the two-chamber hull so the thing ought to pump up firm.
The I-beam floor is inflated with a regular twist lock valves to avoid over-pressurisation. The deck net becomes a carry bag and there are a few D-rings, often missing on the simpler boats listed, plus the AE signature moulded rubber handle. You won’t get far without that.
Price is $299/£250 and it has to be said this looks like a great combination of interior space, shape and weight, and admits a realistic 250lbs/113kg payload, but you can’t help equating those naff ‘world map’ graphics with a crap pool toy. That pointy end ought to reduce speed-robbing yawing (often incorrectly described as ‘tracking’ which refers to going straight). Proportions are good too – almost the same as my Alpacka Yak. Tubes look a bit slim and low, but the air floor might help with buoyancy. Trouble is, it needs a bulky pump too, though a K-Pump Mini would work. The video below features an eminently svelte paddler; you wonder if it would sprint so briskly with a bloater like me in it. It would be nice to see the drop-stitch floor from AE’s other IKs on the Packlite.