Backpacking is awesome. As is bikepacking. But honestly, neither compares to packrafting. There’s just something about floating down a river, whether it’s winding through a mountain gorge, or just the woods, with your gear alongside you, and having to touch land for the night. You’ll no longer be limited to how far you can walk in a day – only to how far you can paddle. Why a packraft, as opposed to a kayak or canoe? Packrafts will be far lighter, deflatable, and packable. Meaning should you need to disembark, it will be far easier to carry and transport without weighing yourself down. But you can be assured a packraft will be as tough and durable as you need to transport you and your equipment hundreds of miles, with rocks, rapids and heavy loads. Read on to see our choices for the best packrafts of 2018.
Choosing A Packraft: What To Look For
What exactly do you need to look for when you’re choosing your packraft?
As mentioned, you want to look for a packraft that is light and packable. You may often be carrying the raft deflated and packed on your back, when you’re not using it. So the lighter, the better. If you’re an ultralight backpacker, look for one weighing 2 or 3 pounds. If weight isn’t a huge issue, you can opt for one weighing 5-10 pounds. If you are planning for some whitewater, you’ll definitely need to opt for something heavier –weighing anywhere from 6-12 pounds. Whitewater packrafts are specially designed for the demands of rough water, so they will be naturally thicker, tougher and more durable.
How much gear do you need to carry, in addition to yourself? Most packrafts will carry over 200 pounds, as that is about the minimum including yourself and your gear. The heavier and larger the raft, the more weight it should be able to hold. The weight capacity will be marked very clearly when you are searching for a packraft.
Material and Durability
Again, this is massively important. Packrafts are usually made of nylon, ranging anywhere from less than 100D (and ultralight, maybe-not-very-durable raft) to over 800D. Obviously, the thicker the stronger, but also the heavier.
Packrafts will usually be inflated in two different ways – with either an inflation bag, or a valve. Since blowing by mouth is exhausting, and carrying a pump takes up valuable space, an inflation bag fits over the valve and lets you just push and squeeze air into the raft. Sounds clunky, but it works, and with practice you can pump up a full-size raft in about two minutes.
There’s a whole host of other features to look for in packraft, such as a spray deck, seats, thigh straps, and storage options. But those are more individual, and the points above should help you nail down the basics.
Without further ado, here are our five favorite picks for the best packrafts of 2018.
Kokopelli has become a mainstay in the packraft game in the last few years. The Hornet Lite is almost as light a raft as you will find, weighing only 4 pounds, but with a load capacity of 275 pounds. It’s single chambered, while the seat is inflatable and removable, both combining to cut down on weight. Two D-rings allow you to secure your gear properly, and the height of the seat is designed to let you sit high up for a deeper paddle stroke. The floor is 210D nylon, and all the seams are 1” welded for the best in durability and waterproofing.
For a lightweight, entry-level packraft that won’t break the bank, the Hornet Lite is your best choice. We really appreciate the inflatable seat, as many other lightweight rafts in this price range do not come with seats. And the weight capacity of 275 pounds is enough to hold just about anything.
Alpacka is a premier name in packrafting, so you really can’t go wrong with one of their rafts. The Scout is their basic model, even lighter than the Hornet Lite, as only 2.8 pounds. When lightweight is all you need, this is the one you should reach for. It doesn’t have the features of the Hornet Lite. Not even the seat. It features 10” tubes made of 210-Denier Nylon, with a 420D nylon floor that allows for durability while cutting down on weight. There’s really not much to look at here, except an extremely light, durable and packable raft at a solid price point. A go-to for canyoneering, fast-packing and ultralight adventures, the Scout doesn’t have a lot of features – not even a seat – but makes up for it by cutting down on weight while maintaining durability.
The Nirvana is Kokopelli’s heavy-duty packraft, built for whitewater rafting and long, strenuous trips. It has a floor of 840 denier double coated nylon, with sidewalls of 210D, and a weighs 9.5 pounds, with a load capacity of 300 pounds – good for large guys and lots of gear. Dual air chambers with Leafield D7 valves make it durable and easy to inflate. There’s an inflatable seat with a kayak-style backband, high off the floor for better paddling. And the seams are welded to keep water out.
The Nirvana now comes with an upgraded spraydeck and skirt system for 2018, keeping water off you as you paddle. A Tizip zipper allows you to store gear inside the pontoons. 6 D-rings are placed around the raft for you to store and secure your gear. There’s ample room for storage and you can be assured that the
It’s certainly not cheap, but if you’re looking for a heavy-duty raft ready for anything you want to throw at it, the new Kokopelli Nirvana for 2018 has your back.
The AIRE BakRaft is a self-bailing packraft, and the lightest of its kind. It has a dual-membrane body made of a Dyneema hull and a urethane AIREcell inside. These combine to make a sturdy, light boat that holds air well and makes any repairs easy. It weighs 7 pounds, and has a weight capacity of 220 lbs. It comes with thigh straps built right in for more control and stability. You can inflate it with both the included inflation bag, and the top off pump. The inflation bag also doubles as the backrest, cutting down on weight and bulk.
As mentioned, it has a self-bailing floor, saving your work and worry when any water gets in. The AIRe BAKRaft Hybrid does a good job of combining the shape of a kayak and a packraft together, making it easier to steer and maneuver than other packrafts, but without sacrificing weight. It’s pricier than some of the other options on this list, however, and has a lot less features. But we really like the dual-membrane body, as it provides a layer of air retention and durability than other brands do not – especially for lighter rafts. If you don’t need much in the way of features and comfort but are still willing to shell out the big bucks for a durable raft, this one will get the job done.
You’re ready for some whitewater rafting, and you’re not messing around. You need the Alpackalypse, which Alpacka calls the original whitewater raft. It’s got a 10-inch diameter 400-denier Vectran rockered hull design, combined with a patent-pending high-volume stern. The idea is a heavy-duty raft that is still light and maneuverable, letting you have fun whether running rapids or cruising smoothly down a river.
The floor is 840d nylon, there’s 4 bow grab loops and 2 stern grab loops, and a cargo fly with zippered internal dry bags. Don’t forget the Inflatable Backband and patent-pending 4-Point Thigh Straps standard. Handmade in Mancos, Colorado like all of Alpacka’s rafts, the Alpackalypse is tough, durable raft ready for anything. It has just as much storage as you could need, and weighs about 10 pounds. Alpacka doesn’t mention a weight capacity, but you can count on it to carry you and a good amount of gear.
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