Packrafting 101

Learn the Basics

This page covers some of the things you should know to make your packrafting adventure a spectacular. To start, what exactly is a packraft? A packraft is a light inflatable boat that can be carried on your back and yet is durable enough for backcountry rivers and creeks.

Helpful Resources

Roman Dial, a pioneer of modern packrafting wrote a book called Packrafting (ironically enough) and you can get it on amazon.  It is quite helpful when it comes to technique for those of us who do not come from a boating background.  It also keys in on the adjustments kayakers might have to make to become a skilled packrafter.


Alpacka rafts has created several instructional videos on the basics of packrafting.  I found these two videos particularly helpful.


This video shows you everything you need to do before getting in your raft (inflation, attaching your spray skirt, etc.).

Where to Go

The more popular the sport of packrafting becomes the more reluctant some folks are to give up their favorite spots.  The good news is, there are lots of amazing spots!  Planning your packraft adventure can be as simple as breaking out a topo map and connecting the blue lines.  For your first one though, you might want a pre-planned route. Here are some links from an online packrafting forum for some amazing packraft adventures.

What to pack for your adventure

Beyond what you would normally take on backpacking trip, you should bring the following:

  • Full raingear (jacket, pants, gloves)
  • Lots of p-cord for strapping your pack to your raft and as a throw rope
  • Shoes you can get wet for long periods of time (or sandals that will stay on your feet on Summer trips).
  • Drybags or trash compactor bags (more on this in a minute)
  • A very large drywall sponge for bailing water in hard to reach spaces
  • Coast Guard approved level III life jacket
  • Whitewater helmet
  • Wet-suit for non-summer trips, particularly if you’ll be doing many rapids

Staying Dry and Packing

If you are doing an overnight trip, you should definitely tie your pack on top of the tubes rather than below in the bow, this will drastically reduce the “soaking effect” that can happen when your pack sits in the bottom of your raft and sops up all the water that stays in your boat.  Yes, it will get hit with waves if it is on top, but they will splash over your pack more than soak in.  It is generally best to position the pack on its straps, perpendicular to the raft.  You can fasten it down with p-cord through the loops on the sides of your raft.

As far as the inside of your pack goes, you have two options: dry bags or trash compactor bags.  For trash bags, you line the inside of your pack, with a large black trash bag and then throw all your stuff in.  Then roll the top a couple times and tie a knot.  This works pretty well as long as your pack is never submersed and there aren’t sharp objects sticking out in your pack.  The second method would be to get a big dry bag with a “burp hole” that sucks all the air out.  Put all your stuff in the dry bag, take the air out, roll and seal the top and put the dry bag in your pack.  Presto!  More expensive but now you can flip your raft and your stuff won’t get wet!

I would highly recommend you buy or rent a dry bag (we rent them) for both your food and anything else that will be ruined if it gets wet.  Fire starters, gps, maps, cameras and books do not function well after they get doused.  If you have a little dry bag you can attach it to one of the front straps on your raft and you can put your camera and maps in there.  That way you can have them close at hand for calm waters but still safe for rapids.  If you don’t have a big enough dry bag for your whole pack, a medium sized one (8-13L) should be able to hold your stove and any food items that cannot get wet.  Nothing is worse than watery cliff bars.

Helpful Videos We Put Together

Rolling Up Your Packraft

Attaching your spray skirt

Breaking down your paddles when they get stuck