Packrafting: The Boat In Your Bag

Urban dwellers and backcountry hikers have a problem in common when it comes to exploring waterways by paddle: canoes and kayaks are bulky. They're hard to carry and hard to store. You can always rent, but you have to let go of some serendipity (and cash) in the process.

Enter the packraft.

Just like the name sounds, these inflatable dinghies pack down to as little as 4" x 9" for Klymit's upcoming LiteWater Dinghy, up to 18" x 15" for NRS's model. They can weigh anywhere from 1.5 pounds to over six, making them highly portable.

We previously highlighted Klymit's entry into the market, and for a good reason: at $225, the LiteWater Dinghy lowers the bar for entry for potential packrafters.

We reached out to Brad Meikeljohn, president of the American Packrafting Association, for advice on (safely) adding a flat-water raft to your pack.

Have you had a chance to try out the LiteWater Dinghy?
None of us here at APA have been in the Klymit LWD, but a few folks had heard about the product. Our first impression is that this boat could have interesting flat water applications.

What else is out there in this price range? I found the FlytePacker for $299.
Other companies currently in the packraft market include Alpackaraft, NRS, Supai Adventure Gear, Feathercraft and Flytepacker. [Supai's] Canyon Flatwater 2 is also about $299.

What kind of paddle would you need?
We recommend a 4-piece breakdown paddle such as those made by Aquabound, Sawyer and Werner. You want a paddle that is packable. The 4-piece fits nicely inside your pack.

What about safety?
A Type III Coast Guard-approved portable flotation device is mandatory for all situations. There are many companies and models to choose from. We recommend a kayaking helmet for any whitewater situation. (The LWD and other starter models are not safe for whitewater. –Ed.) We recommend that all boaters understand and respect the risks associated with water sports, including packrafting. Swift water rescue training is recommended for all who are considering paddling on moving water. Travel with a partner or party to increase your margin of safety. If in doubt about a water situation or condition, roll your boat up and walk.

Know your abilities and limits. Just because others have done it does not mean you can or should. Plan your route or trip carefully. Gather information about your route ahead of time. Research water conditions and potential hazards.

Are any other accessories really necessary to get started on flat water or a slow-moving river? A portable bilge pump, maybe?
No bilge pump, just a sponge or cup to bail if needed.

So stick to the big three: raft, paddle, life vest?
For flat water that will do it.

Any final word of advice?
I need to reinforce the safety message. Packrafts are an easy way to access backcountry waterways, but they are also an easy way to get into trouble in a hurry. The sport is exploding in popularity, doubling every two years. We are also seeing a rapid (bad pun) rise in packraft accidents. Water can kill in many ways and demands respect.