You may have seen or heard about them by now, those little rafts that look like they belong in a swimming pool. Well, they might look that way, but in the last ten years, packrafts, particularly Alpacka brand packrafts, have proved time and time again that they belong in whitewater! Packrafts have been taken down the Franklin in Tasmania, the Little Colorado and run numerous rapids in Canada, Alaska and the lower 48. Alpackas are designed for Class III rapids but have successfully run class IV and V rapids. Even ten-foot waterfall descents have been successfully attempted. They particularly excel in whitewater when the water levels are lower and their hard-bottomed cousins might have more trouble. Their maneuverability will surprise you. If you still don’t believe us, check out this video!
While packrafts are very capable in normal whitewater settings, they have one attribute that makes them a must try for anyone serious about whitewater: pack-ability! Thousands of rapids are inaccessible by kayaks and canoes because you can’t haul them over a mountain, but packrafts are different. The whole set-up including: packraft, spray-skirt, helmet, life jacket and paddle weighs under 10 pounds. The packraft and spray-skirt pack into a bag the size of a 2-man backpacking tent. Whether the rapid is two miles from the road or 20, rapids you’ve always wanted to try but couldn’t in a hard bottomed whitewater vessel, are now accessible in an equally capable vessel!
Admittedly, I am a backpacker turned packrafter, so while I’ve run rapids in them, you might want to turn to some expert information on the subject of running rapids in packrafts. Roman Dial, a founder of modern day packrafting, has run packrafts in a variety of rapids including the Franklin in Tasmania and several class III+ rivers in Alaska. His blog covers many of his adventures. The folks at Alpacka are also well versed on the subject of whitewater and packrafts. Here is a link to their FAQs, many of which deal with packrafts in whitewater.