Backpackers: Should You Add a Packraft to Your Gear Kit?

4-minute read

Unless you’re pretty immersed in the paddling world, you’ve probably never heard of a packraft. It’s one of the coolest little boats available—and ideal for backpackers!

backpacker hikes along a mountain trail with a paddle and helmet

(photo courtesy of

What’s a Packraft?

The modern packraft is an ultra-packable, ultra-tough inflatable raft made for one person plus their gear (some packrafts are tandems, but for our purposes here we’ll stick with those designed for one).

High-quality packrafts, like those made by packraft pioneer Alpacka Raft, are constructed of durable, waterproof and lightweight fabric that can handle hundreds of miles of wilderness treks. Inflation is accomplished with a nylon bag, so there’s no need to bring a pump along.

There are packrafts designed for mostly flatwater, and packrafts designed for whitewater. Many have storage bulkheads in the bow and stern, perfect for stowing a backpack while you’re on the water.

Why Is a Packraft Perfect for Backpacking?

There are a couple scenarios when adding a packraft to your backpacking gear kit can multiply your adventure experiences. As Alpacka Raft founder, Sarah Tingey, says, “Packrafts inspire adventurers to reimagine backcountry travel.”

1. You want to add dozens more miles—even hundreds—by including rivers and lakes in your wilderness route. What would it be like to be able to turn your 7-day backpack trip into a 20-day+ trip by including the waterways?

2. You backpack into wilderness areas and regularly encounter remote lakes—say high in the mountains—that you yearn to paddle on. But it’s way too far to portage any other type of boat, even an inflatable. A packraft is a fraction of the weight of an inflatable SUP or kayak and easily fits inside your backpack.

man drags his loaded packraft to the water

(photo courtesy of Caj Koskinen)

Alpacka Raft’s lightest personal packrafts for backpacking weigh right around 5 pounds. Add the lightweight nylon inflation bag and a small repair kit, and you’ve certainly added less than 8 pounds to your backpack. At the same time you’ve multiplied your adventure possibilities many times over.

Take a look at Alpacka Raft’s backpacking series of packrafts here.

What about the Paddle?

Single packrafts are paddled with a double-bladed paddle, usually known as a kayak paddle. For backpacking, the best type of kayak paddle to buy for packrafting are ones that can be broken down into 4 pieces. But even a 2-piece paddle is doable for most backpackers.

For packrafting, we recommend a "high-angle" paddle. Its wide, short blade is designed for aggressive paddling (like in whitewater) and packing some weight.

Of course, you’ll want the lightest one you can find. For that we recommend carbon fiber. Our 4-piece carbon kayak paddles ideal for packrafting start at $244.95 (2022 MSRP) and 29.5 ounces. Our best 4-piece carbon weighs just 25 ounces, for $474.95 (2022 MSRP). In-between those is our combo carbon/fiberglass paddle that’s $374.95 (2022 MSRP) and 28 ounces.

Any Other Gear?

You’ll definitely need to add a PFD (personal flotation device or life jacket) to your gear kit as well, if you want to give packrafting a try. You’ll want one designed for kayaking that gives you plenty of freedom in your shoulders, US Coast Guard Type III or Type V (inflatable).

If you’ll paddle waters that are cold enough to induce hypothermia—like rivers and lakes in high elevations—you’ll also need appropriate apparel for cold water paddling. This could be a wet suit in some cases or a dry suit in others. No one ever plans to capsize, but you want to be prepared.

If you plan to paddle whitewater, you’ll need your whitewater helmet.

two adults packrafting on a river, backpacks loaded on the bow of each packraft

(photo courtesy of @chrisbrinleejr)

So entering the packraft world is an investment—but think of the possibilities it could open up to you as a backpacker. Is it right for you? Only you can answer that!

Let our friendly Customer Service Team answer your paddle questions today: 715-755-3405 • [email protected]

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