Packrafting FAQ

Answers to some frequently asked questions about packrafts and packrafting


Packrafts come in many styles; for example, see the variety of boats carried by Alpacka and Kokopelli. The following are some considerations in choosing a boat.

Deck, self-bailing, or open boat?

An open boat is the lightest option and suitable for flatwater trips and some class II rivers.   In whitewater, you encounter waves that are large enough to dump water into the cockpit, quickly filling it.  Soon you are sitting in 9" of cold water that hinders your boat handling and need to stop at shore to empty your boat.  In class II, this may be infrequent enough that it is worth the compromise of a lighter boat.  In more active whitewater, you need to keep water out of your boat.

Self-bailing and a deck both keep water out.   A self bailing boat has holes in the bottom that water will drain out.  However, there is always a small amount water in the boat.  To keep you out of that water, you get a longer inflated seat.  Decks cover the boat so that water does not get in.  Self-bailing boats are easy to get in and out of where as decked boats require putting on a somewhat fussy spray skirt.  Decks are warmer, an advantage if you anticipate paddling in cold environments.

The choice of self-bailing vs. a deck is personal.  Easy of entry or anticipated cold environments may bias you toward choosing one or the other, but both work.

Alpacka has several deck options:  Cruiser, removable whitewater, and whitewater.  The whitewater deck is dryer than the removable, which is drier than the cruiser.  The zipper of the removable whitewater deck is a potential point of failure (though none of us have had it fail) but also makes it easier to drain water out.  Many of us have chosen the removable deck for greatest flexibility.  

Alpacka Vs Kokopelli Vs Others

Most of us own Alpacka rafts and our impression is that they are better made, lighter, and better handling than Kokopelli.  However, people own, paddle, and enjoy Kokopelli boats and they do cost less.  For our loaner/rental boats, we have chosen to purchase Alpacka rafts.

There are a number of other packraft manufacturers.  Some make what look like very capable boats, but we don't have experience with them.  

Thigh Straps?

Thigh straps went from a crazy addition only used by the most hard-core to a standard feature.  Those coming from sea kayaking will appreciate how thigh straps connect you to the packraft.  However, plenty of people descend class III rapids without thigh strips.  It is probably the case that a boat intended for whitewater will come with thigh straps.

Which Alpacka Boat?

Alpacka has a wide range of boats.  Which you choose depends on what trip you plan to do.  

Many of us own the Expedition model with a removable deck for its flexibility.  It has the same maneuverable hull as the Wolverine, but lighter seating.   It can be stripped down for backcountry trips or fully rigged to handle class III rivers.

Those who intend to carry their boat significant distances will want to choose a lighter boat.  

What about renting a boat?

Want to try different boats before you buy? You can find short-term packraft rentals at a few outdoor stores or outfitters in western Washington. Seattle Mountaineers packrafting also has a limited number of boats for medium- and long-term rental.