Updated December 2013. 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 are still the leaders in the field but cheaper knock-offs are finally beginning to appear. There are a couple of other manufacturers in North America offering alternatives suited to calm rivers, short crossings and flatwater use, or for heavier loads and white water.
In the UK there are many walking routes in the Scotland Highlands that are suited to a very light ‘crossraft’, as in my experience paddling is often less effort and faster than staggering cross-country over sodden Scottish moorland at an average of 1mph. With some wind, small waves and a camping payload, a more river-worthy raft like an Alpacka can be worth the added weight, but not always. Very much depends on the route you choose and the weather you get on the day. 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. Most of the boats described here I’ve only seen and evaluated from pictures.
Feathercraft Baylee River Runner Canadian folding kayak makers, Feathercraft produce a couple of basic BayLee packrafts. 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.
They call the one-person BayLee a River Runner (right) which comes in two sizes and two material weights. There are two larger rowable BayLee ‘Sail Boat Tenders’ which have an optional skeg (effective for rowing, less so for kayak-style paddling). But these models weigh up to 9kg so can’t really be considered packrafts.
In size the smaller River Runner is the closest thing to an Alpacka Yak: 2 metres long, just under 1m wide, 136kg payload and just under 3kg in weight without the skirt. A basic Yak is said to be 2.2kg though mine is actually 3.1 ready to go). Inner length is said to be just 39″ from the seatback (Yak is 44″), but the urethane-coated fabric used is similar to Alpackas. The larger BayLee 2 River Runner (left) is the smaller row boat model but can be used as a packraft. It’s 2.2m long and has another 90-kilos of payload with room for two or a moose carcass.
All BayLees are made with two air chambers, left and right, and each chamber is RF welded and then the two halves are glued and taped together so there are only visible seams at each end as in the photo above, giving a much smoother look and less chance of bad seams turning leaky. They feature chunky, one-way Halkey Roberts rafting valves similar to that pictured left and which might be considered overkill. Like Alpacka, they also have the mouth top-up valve and use a very light inflation bag.
Feathercraft also have a self-bailing option for the River Runner (pics left and right) which drains fast, just like big, white water rafts. Although this adds weight, more expense and I imagine may slow the raft down on flatwater, self-bailing is an alternative to a spray deck for pure white water packrafting. The big question is, would a heavy person like me end up sitting in water – the flaw I’ve found with some self-bailing IKs with insufficient buoyancy. With that thick seat, probably not. Spray decks get in the way if you want to get out fast and already have thigh straps to deal with. Since the BayLee SB came out the original and flimsy Alpacka spraydecks have become more kayak-like, featuring a skirt combing (rim), so better suited to that task. Certainly on my Alpacka I’m reluctant to use what they now call a Cruiser splash deck, but I don’t do radical white water. Feathercraft also went on to adopt Alpacka’s more pointy-ended hull profiles, though not so noticeably.
Supai Flatwater Canyon II As the name suggests, the 670g Supai Flatwater II is more of an ultra-light trail boat suited to crossing small lochs or following calm rivers. With its narrowed and thinning bow, it resembles the much admired Sevylor Trail Boat and at the time appeared to be a more sophisticated and notably lighter take on the now discontinued Flytepacker (below). Whatever other websites say, the Supai’s dimensions as measured by me added up to 92cm wide, 157cm long and 106cm inside. By comparison, my ‘fastback’ Yak is 1cm narrower, 66cm longer and 11cm longer inside, but it’s well over four times as heavy and as bulky, all which adds up to an extra 15-20% payload when carrying camping gear. Enough speculation already! We tried one. Read all about it here.
NRS Packraft Returning to online speculation. NRS’ tough MaverIK introduced me to inflatable kayaking in Idaho all those years ago and a few years ago they added a packraft to their line up. At 80″/203cm long/ 36″/91cm wide and 13″ x 56″/33cm x 142cm inside, the NRS Packraft is similar to an Alpacka Fjord Explorer, ie: a pretty roomy 2-person boat weighing 7.4lbs/3.35kg with the removable floor – 5.6lbs or 2.54kg without the floor. But check out the NRS website reviews – not such glowing reports with regards to durability. It seems rather a half-backed effort which is a shame as NRS’ gear is usually pretty good. Nevertheless, this guy in the UK bought on in 2015 with plans to paddle.
The NRS has a heavy-duty floor, plus an inflatable pad which IMO is redundant as you can add your own sleeping mat. There’s a seat pad too to get your bum higher than you feet, very useful for a comfortable and efficient paddling posture. Like the FC BayLee the NRS has two chambers. I’ve read that in some rivers and parks in the US, the authorities make a certain minimum requirement of chambers for inflatable craft. An Alpacka technically has 4 chambers: hull, seat (2) and the anti-pooling ‘codpiece’ on the old-style Cruiser spray skirt. Using an airmat floor makes five. I must admit that a mile out in the middle of a Scottish loch, if for some hard-to-fathom reason my Alpacka lost all air, I’d be happy to hold on to something that floated. It’s one reason I like my UDB (left) which can be an airtight chamber of no less than 96 litres in volume that can be easily fully inflated via the elbow valve.
Flyweight Designs CrossFlyte Until 2013 Flyweight Designs made the basic coated nylon Flytepacker (right) for about $300. Stats were 35oz/1kg, 46″/117cm wide, 67″/170cm long. At nearly four feet wide, it wouldn’t outperform a Supai, let alone an Alpacka, but you won’t fall out of it either.
FWD’s next boat looks to be the more conventionally ‘2:1′ proportioned CrossFlyte (left and right); offered as either a floorless float tube or a proper floored packraft. FWD have now adopted the inner tube + outer skin (in various thicknesses) approach used in many North American IKs, and again that redundant inflatable floor (could be a multi chamber requirement). Weight is said to start at around 3.5 lbs/1590g and it’s 73″/185cm long, 41″/104cm wide, 42″/107cm long inside and 13″/33cm wide. So, with inner tube nearly a kilo heavier than a Supai Flatwater while being 15 inches longer and five inches wider – closer to the NRS packraft’s profile.
Advanced Elements Packlite Packraft meets kayak with a splash of slackraft graphics: behold the Advanced Elements Packlite. Fabric seems to be a similar ripstop PU-coated polyester as used on the Supai but with an ugly peripheral seam. What they call ‘military valves’ (i.e.: IK valves) are used on the two-chamber hull so the thing ought to pump up pretty firm. The I-beam floor is inflated with a regular twist lock jobbie. The deck net becomes a carry bag and there are a few D-rings, often missing on the simpler boats listed above, plus the AE signature moulded rubber handle. You won’t get far without that.
Said to cost $299 (this price may rise; €350 in Europe) it has to be said this looks like a great combination of interior space, shape and weight, able to take a claimed 250lbs/113kg of 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). Width is good too – same as my Yak while being about six inches longer than the Alpacka. 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-stich floor from AE’s other IKs on the Packlite.
Klymit LiteWater Dinghy All of a sudden moderately priced ‘crossrafts’ are everywhere this year. How about the Klymit LiteWater Dinghy for $225. (See also an ultralight version made by, or for Ruta Locura, left.) The distinctive fat-stern – nearly four feet wide – as well as the arrow shape claims to be a ‘game changer’ intended to counteract the back end sag caused by seated paddler’s mass which in turn tends to exacerbate yawing (what they may mean by ‘water tracking’). Alpacka solved that problem with their ‘fastback’ sterns back in 2011 and with rather more elegance. I have to say that the many ‘problems‘ listed by Klymit (who make outdoor gear and apparel, not boats) to explain their design decisions seem rather spurious, inconsequential or have already been addressed by others.
Price is great, but having seen a couple of vids I’ve yet to be convinced. Main problem I see is the boat uses Exped sleeping pad-type plugs with one-way valve flaps (left) for the (two?) hull chambers. These are inflated using an Alpacka-style air bag which is fine, but in my opinion it’s missing a twist lock elbow valve (as found on the Supai and Alpackas) to top off and get the boat good and firm. Either that or use a proper pump against the one-way Exped valves. This, as much as hull shape, has a huge effect on paddling efficiency. Payload claims to be a generous 350lbs/159kg but look at the videos and other images online to see how soggy and low it looks, just like a slackraft.