Pack rafting - Where to Begin?
So, I've backpacked for years, and obviously I'll never stop, but I'm now torn. I know for certain that I want to start pack rafting. I live in Oregon, and I've rafted for years, but never with more remote ambitions. Now, I'm trying to decide what boat is right!
What pack raft is your favorite, and for what reasons???
The predicament I'm in is that I want to bring my pack raft with me on my mountain excursions for the sake of photography in high alpine lakes. Yes, a little Niche, but I visit them often enough that it's time to finally capitalize on the opportunity. For this reason, a much smaller raft (Alpaca Raft Scout or Classic, Kokopeli Rogue Lite) has a lot of allure. On the flip side, I love white water. I would ideally be getting a boat that can handle up to class III rapids.
Which boat would scratch all my itches? As light as possible while still holding its own on some lower grade rapids. Lay into me here, I really don't know what I'm talking about, and I'm really eager and in need of advice!
I was just thinking yesterday about asking a very similar question, but I'll share what I can here.
You can find information on this topic and lots of others on the packrafting subreddit. I feel like a lot of people there have more experience than me, but here are my thoughts.
Unfortunately, I don't think you can adequately satisfy both itches with the same boat. Context: I have significantly more experience on the ultralight side, which is where most of my response is coming from. I would like to put in a good word for Supai Adventure Gear, which is seldom discussed as an option, but might perfectly fit your alpine lake niche. You can get a boat and paddle that together weigh just under 2.5 pounds, and I have used them for quite a bit of Grand Canyon travel, although never through any rapids. I honestly think their setup would be perfect for flatwater alpine lake needs.
For a GCNP trip in 2020, a friend has rented an Alpacka Scout from backcountry packraft rentals, while I used my Supai raft. The Scout is definitely more burly, but probably not worth the weight penalty for the slight additional durability. However, the recently released ghost is only about .5 pounds heavier than my raft, and looks like an interesting contender, specifically because I'm guessing it will track better, and require less steering than my Supai.
In the other direction, a different friend rented a Klymit Litewater Dinghy ($100 to purchase in 2015, $125 [but harder to find] as recently as 2020, and now a shocking $200) for a trip in December 2020. Looking at the above picture now, 1.5 years later, she could have benefitted from blowing it up more to get a bit more buoyancy, but I would say the money you save is not worth it. Getting a more seaworthy vessel would be better option.
On a third (and most recent) trip, a different friend used a Kokopelli Rogue Lite (and a beefier paddle). It was absolutely more whitewater worthy than the Supai options, but still maybe not worth it when you need to hike out 3,000-5,000 vertical feet. At this point, I think it really becomes an issue of your hike to paddle ratio, with secondary considerations being elevation, budget, and whether the cost savings is worth supporting a foreign-made product that is a copy of the Alpacka that invented the sport.
Personally, I am still eyeing a beefier boat for more whitewater-heavy rafting routes. But most of my trip aspirations will still involve a significant amount of hiking. The option that currently seems the most appealing is the (also recently released) Alpacka Refuge. It's not as forgiving as some of their other rafts, but at 5.5 pounds, it still seems pretty packable.
Finally, an issue for me over the past 3ish years has been finding other people who are willing to try this new sport with me. If you have access to a community, or want to go on your own, this shouldn't be a problem. However, a wildcard option you might want to consider is getting a two person raft, which could help lighten the load and potentially double the fun.
I hope this helps, feel free to reach out if you have follow up questions. I'm looking forward to reading other people's responses.1
I really appreciate all of your insight here! I’m not brand dependent honestly, so learning about other options is eye opening and liberating haha. I somewhat figured my two desires would likely require two boats, but always worth hearing who had pushed a simple boat too far, and who has found an advanced boat they could have pushed further. I’m likely most interested in a boat I can bring up a mountain at the moment, but when that need changes, ill look into other options. My motivation is very often to get a place that’s typically not accessible or frequently experienced. If I can get that with a simple boat, I’m stoked to do so.1
@swbugas happy to help! If a lightweight boat in order to get to remote places is your main goal right now, I think the Supai is a great option, especially if you'll be on more lakes than rivers. The would probably also be great, but is a little heavier and more expensive. I hope you are able to find and enjoy the places you are looking for, and I'd love to see photos if it works out.0
As someone who kayak camps a lot, this looks like an awesome time. I recently kayaked camped Horseshoe bend this past year a loved it. May need another thread on just trip options for these types of adventure ;-)1
Coming back 2+ months later to clarify - the Alpacka GHOST would probably be a good option.
@TenDigitGrid I would also love to see a packrafting thread! I have a bit of experience, but would love to get trip ideas in the area from those with more insight.1
have you considered kayak camping?2
Kayak camping is one of my favorite activities! My wife and I go all the time! If you are looking for some good suggestions here are our favorites:1
We go over and camp/kayak the Rio Grande in Big Bend National Park. Going to BB is an ordeal, but we break up the trip visiting with our camping buddies in San Antonio. One of our pals is recuperating from knee replacement and out of commission for a while. But his grown kids and their cousins and I go! They are awesome!
The Rio Grande is a slow-moving river and usually has easy take outs and put ins.1
I LOVE Lake Powell! We haul our motor boat and camp on the boat! One year, we tried going up one of the rivers in the boat, maybe the Snake, but the current was too strong.
We also water ski those glass-like surfaces and have way too much fun. The price of motor gas has been really pricey, however.
There are 4 families going. All members are very good mechanics. We bring our own food.1
Awesome! I'm always a fan of some good suggestions. Lake Powel has been high on my list to explore for a very long time!1