Here at Garage Grown Gear we’re all about maximizing adventure and few sports do it better than packrafting. The durable yet portable inflatable boats easily stow in a backpack and allow access to otherwise hard to reach rivers.
As packrafting has grown in popularity so have the options for buying a boat. We’ve rounded up the best packraft options for those looking to run whitewater. (Click here for our article on the best packrafts for flatwater)
Alpacka Alpaca, Yukon Yak and Denali Llama
the first company to create the modern packraft
Weight: 4 pounds, 12 ounces for the Alpaca; 5 pounds for the Yukon Yak; 5 pounds, 3 ounces for the Denali Llama. The addition of a cruiser spary deck adds roughly 1 pound and a whitewater spray deck adds about 1 pound, 10 ounces.
Cost: $895 with no spray deck; $1095 to $1,145 with a spray deck
There are few places more rugged than Alaska and Alpacka Raft Co. designed its first raft for an off-trail trek across the Brooks Range. Sheri Tingey’s adventurous son needed a boat that could carry 50 pounds of gear down remote rivers, handle bushwacking along riverbanks, navigate rocky shallows and run class III whitewater. And with one caveat: the boat needed to be lightweight and pack down small. Tingey, an accomplished outdoorswoman and kayaker herself, met all of her son’s demands with the Alpacka.
More than 10 years later the company is still known for its tough, hand-built crafts. The company keeps the focus on the adventure and sees the boat as a tool to get you there.
Over the years Alpacka's quiver of offerings has grown to a dozen different models, but the Alpaca, Yukon Yak and Denali Llama remain its core offering. These three whitewater-capable packrafts are essentially the exact same boat; their only difference is the size of the paddler for whom they're designed. The Alpaca is smallest model, made for people 5 feet 8 inches in height or shorter. The Yukon Yak is the medium sized packraft, designed for people between 5 feet 8 inches and 6 feet tall. The Denali Llama is the largest, suited for people more than 6 feet in height.
It's worth mentioning that to effectively use an Alpaca, Yukon Yak or Denali Llama in whitewater it needs to be equipped with a spray deck, which is a purchased add-on.
All Alpacka packrafts are made in Colorado.
Note: if you’re interested in renting an Alpacka packraft, check out our sister company, Jackson Hole Packraft & Packraft Rentals Anywhere.
A cross between a packraft and whitewater kayak
Weight: 12 pounds with the included accessories; 7 pounds, 2 ounces for the raft itself
The brand new Alpacakalyspe is Alpacka's true whitewater boat. It has lower volume tubes that trade cargo space and lateral stability for improved speed, acceleration and handling. Features include a foot brace, a heavy-duty seat, knee cups, a back-band, and inflatable hip pads, which collectively allow the boat to be rolled.
Feathercraft BayLee, Bolder and Beast
Self-bailing, dual chamber and made in Canada
Weight: 10 pounds for the BayLee; 12.5 pounds for the Bolder; 18 pounds for the Beast
Cost: $1,372 for the BayLee; $1,539 for the Bolder; $2,124 for the Beast (note: prices based on the conversion rate to US dollars at the time this article was published)
Feathercraft has a long history of making excellent crafts in the water sports industry. It uses durable materials and makes its boats at its shop in Vancouver, Canada. Known for its kayaks, a few years ago it introduced packrafts to its extensive line.
The Feathercraft BayLee and Bolder packrafts are designed with a self-bailing floor, a technical advantage many paddlers prefer. With the self-bailing floor there is no need for a spray deck, making it a great option for those who plan to carry dogs, kids or, in a pinch, two people (think adventure racing).
The Feathercraft packrafts also have two chambers. This adds a layer of safety and meets permitting requirements for a multi-chamber boat.
There are a few factors to consider when choosing which Feathercraft model to purchase. The first is your height. If you’re more than 6 feet tall, you’ll want to opt for the Bolder rather than the BayLee. Another consideration is your gear load. The Bolder has more room than the BayLee for gear, including space behind your seat. Finally, think about where you want your center of gravity in the boat. The Bolder is longer with the seat moved forward, helping to prevent backflips in a hole.
Feathercraft also offers a packraft model called the Beast, with a capacity rating up to 1,000 pounds. A rowing frame and oars are optional add-ons. This is an ideal packraft for big game hunters.
Note: if you’re interested in renting or buying a Feathercraft packraft, check out our sister company, Jackson Hole Packraft & Packraft Rentals Anywhere.
Aire Bakraft Hybrid
the lightest self-bailing pack raft on the market
Weight: 7 pounds, 2 ounces
Bakraft began on a kitchen table in Idaho with painter’s plastic taped together in a raft shape. That original prototype was inflated with a blow dryer.
After several months of failure, the fledgling company teamed up with Greg Ramp, president of AIRE Industries Inc., who helped the company design the perfect packraft.
The company worked to balance weight, cost, durability and performance. The result is the Aire Bakraft Hybrid packraft, which was released just this month.
It has a self-bailing floor and the inflation bag doubles as a dry bag and backrest. There is also added hull rigidity from bow to stern. The design offers the performance of a kayak – slicing well through water – and the lightness of a packraft.
Another interesting feature of the Aire Bakraft Hybrid is its dual membrane design. The outer shell is made of proprietary Dyneema and Sprectra fabric that is tough yet light; the inner membrane is a urethane bladder that provides superior air retention.
This brand new boat is relatively untested. Here at Garage Grown Gear, we look forward to spending time on the river with it ourselves, as well as reading reviews from others as they begin to roll in. That said, it sure does seem poised to be the next great innovation in packrafting.
Note: if you’re interested in renting or buying an Aire Hybrid Backraft, check out our sister company, Jackson Hole Packraft & Packraft Rentals Anywhere.
Kokopelli Renegade and Nirvana
the whitewater packraft with the best bang for your buck
Weight: 6 pounds, 10 ounces for the small Nirvana; 7 pounds, 12 ounces for the large Nirvana (stated weight does NOT include the seat and spray deck); 8 pounds, 3 ounces for the Renegade (the weight DOES include the spray skirt and TIZIP).
Cost: $725 for the Nirvana with no spray deck; $925 for the Nirvana with a spray deck; $825 for the Renegade with a spray deck; $999 for the Renegade with a spray deck and TIZIP.
Kokopelli Raft Co. was founded out of a garage in 2012 in Denver. They now offer two packraft models: the Renegade and the Nirvana.
The Renegade features a full spray skirt and comes with a TIZIP option for storing gear inside the boat, which has the added benefit of improving the center of gravity. The Renegade is the better choice for those seeking a true whitewater experience.
The Nirvana weighs less than the Renegade and has the option of a spray skirt. It is ideal for alpine fishing and river crossings, but can handle up to class III whitewater.
Kokopelli makes the most economical whitewater packraft, making it a great choice for beginners or those who plan to just dabble in the sport.