What makes a packraft so special? Is it its weight? How small one can fold it up as? Or the fact that you simply cannot look at it and not think: “Huh. Rubber ducky!” Whichever of these attributes you may focus on, it’s pretty clear that the packraft is an absolute GAMECHANGER for anyone in the adventure world. Especially if you have long, long distances to cover. I first came across them strapped to the handlebars of some pretty hefty-looking touring bikes. The owners were in the midst of their Canada-crossing adventure, and had come to a river. The next picture showed their bikes strapped down on a boat, and them crossing over the river “bikerafting style”. The entire set-up blew my mind.
“Into The Wild” would have had a significantly less tragic (and presumably less well-known end) if only a packraft had been involved.
I became convinced that packrafts were a thing of the long-distance backpacking community, but since then, I’ve seen it in use on any long-distance adventure happening in places remote from any sort of infrastructure (read: bridges). So when I knew I had to change my expedition style for #ChasingCurrents, I knew this would be the perfect chance to try it out myself.
As I’ve said before, the biggest difference between a packraft and most other boat-types you can get your hands on is: the low weight (most rafts weigh between 1.5-2KG) and its incredibly small packaging (it folds down to the size of a paper towel roll, if done well). Now that is CONVENIENT. The alternatives: foldable and non-foldable kayaks, canoes, or even inflateable boats generally, cannot compete with the packraft when it comes to packing everything up and moving. Canoes and kayaks would require you to get yourself a little handwagon, and most inflateable boats I’ve ever used folded down to the size of two car tyres stacked on top of each other – and weighed the same, too.
They’re not cheap, but a little searching will have you finding rentals on eBay, Craigslist, and local canoe stores (like @hikaenoe in Berlin). The advantage or rental over buying is that you can test out which type you want to buy (some packrafts come with covers for wilder waters, the lighter options don’t). And of course you’re not putting even more strain on the environment by purchasing your own. Repairs are relatively easy as the boats can also pack a punch. Perhaps don’t drag it over rocks, but if you do and it pops: there’s waterproof tape and glue available online suited for the repair (Stormsure is the one I used).
Last but not least comes the moment to strap your gear to the raft. Most rafts have small hooks and loops on the side, perfectly suited to wriggle a rope through to tie down any bike or gear you may need to fit on it. Mine had only 4 loops, which may not sound like much, but it held down two bags, and one bike just fine. Strap length should be around 50-150cm at most.