Did you miss the general packraft intro?
Alpacka’s comprehensive and innovative range lead the field for years, but several equally effective alternatives are now on the market, mostly made in China then domestically re-branded. As you’ll soon see, there’s nothing wrong with that.
Some copy Alpackas, some go out of their way to be different and some are ‘crossrafts‘ suited only to calm rivers or flatwater crossings. These prioritise ultra light weight over durability which can be a gamble in a single chambered boat. Still others are designed to carry heavier loads, be as light as possible or for all-out white water.
Don’t forget that at any waterside holiday resort you can always buy cheap PVC beach toys (left) which 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 below I’ve only seen and evaluated from pictures, but in 2015 we tested four packrafts from MRS, Aire, Nortik and Supai alongside my 2014 Alpacka Yak. To read more about our actual observations and conclusions (as opposed to this page’s web speculation) click this or the banner on the right. Of course things have moved on since then. Click the ‘packrafts’ category menu somewhere on the right.
A word about denier – a unit of measurement used to describe the weight (not the thickness) of a material. It is calculated on the mass in grams of a single 9000m strand using one 9000-m long strand of silk as a reference for one denier). It’s a mistake to think a fabric made from 210D nylon will be three times thicker and three times stronger than 70D. The thread or yarn used ought to weigh three times more so will be stronger and more resistant to tearing, but not as a factor of the D-rating.
Crossrafts is not a word you see used much now but defines a sub-category of packrafts – very light rafts made from nylon or polyester with the non-porous PU coating inside, like your tent or backpack, as opposed to the more durable shiny exterior coating of TPU on a normal packraft.
Crossrafts are best suited to crossing calm bodies of water rather than paddling along them, far less tackling white water, though this doesn’t seem to stop people trying.
The low prices and light fabric enables weights of a kilo or less, creating a much needed link between slackrafts and packrafts. Because of the seemingly thin fabric, you do lose out on durability, as well as the performance and response of stiffer TPU hulls found on packrafts like an Alpha XC (left) which still weighs much less than 2kg and might give more peace of mind when travelling along in remote locales.
As the name suggests, the 670g Supai Flatwater II is an ultra-light crossraft suited to small lochs, canyoneering or following calm rivers. With its narrowed and tapered bow, it resembles the much admired Sevylor Trail Boat – the Lost Prince of Slackrafts – and at the time appeared to be a more sophisticated. The Supai’s dimensions as measured by me added up to 92cm wide, 157cm long and 106cm inside. We tried one – read about it here. A couple of years later we also tried the fatter Matkat version.
The Anfibio Packrafting in Germany started by importing other brands and now also collaborates with and sells MRS from China (we tried the MRS Microraft). They now have their own brand of Anfibio packrafts which are among the lightest in their class. We tried the Alpha XC (above left). The range packrafts now goes right down to a sub-1 kilo crossraft: the Nano SL and Nano RTC.
Another distinction is the use of a Leafield valve you’d normally find on a IK or whitewater raft which inflate to higher pressures with pumps. And yet Kokopelli packrafts still inflate with regular air bags and then top off with a detachable mouth tube so it all seems like overkill or being different for the sake of it.
See this video where they say you can inflate up to 2psi. A K-Pump will easily do that but it’s probably not possible by lung unless you’re 1970s muscleman Franco Columbo who managed to blow up and burst a hot water bottle.
With a range of models from lightweight to white water, as well as tandems, the distinctively angular shape of US-branded Kokopelli packrafts sets them apart. Certainly for paddling efficiency you want as firm a boat as possible, especially once a packraft gets beyond a certain length. But over-inflate it (or leave it in the hot sun) and it may well rupture a seam.
The Kokopelli range includes the Nirvana white water boat which comes as a self-bailer or with a deck. Decked packrafts are two-a-penny now, but self-bailing is a more unusual solution to white water packrafting, more common on big white water rafts where you sit on thwarts high above the wet floor.
In a self-bailing packraft or kayak a thick inflated floor pad is needed (or just big fat seats) to get you above the water that will always be present around the floor. Holes round the edges (small picture right, and like the discontinued Baylee, below) see excess water flow out. What pours in over the sides flows right out the draining holes until the water level reaches equilibrium; the boat cannot get swamped.
Depending on how fast it drains, for whitewater I’d prefer a bailing packraft to a deck and skirt, but that’s partly why I also prefer open IKs.
Found on eBay from under £600, Sputniik looks like an Austrian design or brand that’s made in Russia by TimeTrial. There will be a certain kudos in having enigmatic Cyrillic on your boat but, not unlike the German-designed/Russian made Nortiks (maybe even the same factory?), from 3.7kg for the Sputnik 1, these are relatively heavy boats using tough 420-D hulls with heavy 650g/m2 PVC floors when most others use 210D hulls and 420 TPU floors. Remember: heavy does not always equal robust and durable, as with MTBs it can just mean cheaper.
…was the only UK branded range of Chinese-made packrafts but after a couple of years closed down in 2020. For our spin on their EX280 click this and discover that China need not be a dirty world. It’s as good as anything out there.