Top 6 Best Packrafts | 2020 Reviews (Alpacka Rafts, NRS)

The world has a lot of treasures to offer, and some of them are hidden gems that you need to explore by riding the waters. It also provides a lot of enjoyable activities that you can enjoy by riding the challenges brought by whitewater regions.

If you are one of those who want to explore these activities or try to see the world’s hidden treasures by paddling a lake or river, you should use the right equipment.

Even though this world has many pretty things to offer, trudging through them requires you to take on some challenges, such as bumping into rocks, trees, or rough waves. Because of this, you need equipment that will allow you to handle these encounters.

This article will guide you on how to get the right equipment for your journey.

Top 6 Best Packrafts Reviewed

  1. Alpacka Raft Scout
  2. Alpacka Raft Caribou
  3. Alpacka Raft Mule
  4. Alpacka Raft Gnarwhal
  5. NRS PackRaft
  6. Kokopelli Packraft Nirvana Self-Bailing

#1. Alpacka Raft Scout

the scout

Specifications

  • Length (feet): 6’4”
  • Width (inches): 33
  • Weight (pounds): 3.25
  • Tube Diameter (inches): 9.2

The Alpacka Raft Scout is best for people who want to use it for canyoneering, because of its fast performance and lightness. The company is proud of this product’s compactness and lightness. This model is the lightest among the Alpacka Raft products for only weighing 3.25 pounds.

It has a hull shape that provides more volume at the stern and the bow.

The Alpacka Raft Scout is versatile enough to handle different kinds of water activities, such as canyoneering, fastpacking, mountain lake fishing, and the like. 

It is available in red and grey. If you want, you can add a Cargo Fly that allows you to use your packraft in backcountry adventures and other activities. 

ProsCons
Extremely lightweightHull design not resistant to wind

#2. Alpacka Raft Caribou

caribou

Specifications

  • Length (feet): 8
  • Width (inches): 38
  • Weight (pounds): 4.8 without Cargo Fly
  • Tube Diameter (inches): 11.7

The Alpacka Raft Caribou is lightweight and fast. It is ideal for those people who want to use the packraft for bike rafting. It is because its tubes are durable and light.

The Alpacka Raft Caribou has an 840-D ballistic nylon floor and uses the Late Rise Bow, one of the newest Alpacka innovations. This Late Rise Bow offers stability and capability to support a heavy load while trudging the white areas, like the packrafts with the rocker-less hull. This technology also keeps your load safe from getting wet.

With this product, you will enjoy the challenges offered by bike rafting and backcountry adventure. The Caribou model uses 210 denier nylon fabric, which is the same as the Scout model and 840-denier floor, which is the typical construction of Alpacka’s packrafts.

The Caribou offers an additional lightweight cargo. If you choose to add a Cargo Fly, the weight will only become 5 pounds. This packraft is available in red and grey colors.

ProsCons
Uses Alpacka’s innovation, the Late Rise BowWe got nothin'
Lightweight

#3. Alpacka Raft Mule

mule

Specifications

  • Length (feet): 8’4
  • Width (inches): 38
  • Weight (pounds): 7
  • Tube Diameter (inches): 11.7

If you are tall or on a heavy side, you will like the Alpacka Raft Mule model.

It is also for those who want to stretch their legs after paddling for hours. It is also for those who want to add more cargos on their boat.

Most packrafts on the market cannot accommodate all the luggage that you need to take with you. This luggage can be crucial, especially when you have to be on your journey for days. 

Thankfully, the Alpacka Raft Mule has a solution for this issue. This Alpacka Raft model can carry tons of loads. It can even accommodate you even when you are a six-foot-tall guy or weigh 250 pounds. It is because this boat can take as much as 350 pounds of weight.

Like the Caribou, the Mule model uses a Late Rise Bow technology and center panel stern that provides additional space, floatation, storage, and stability, which are the highlights of this boat. You also choose to add a cruise deck, a mule with an open, and whitewater deck.

You also have an option to include a Cargo Fly storage.

What makes this Alpacka Raft model more impressive is that you can request for customization. You only have to inform the company.

ProsCons
Can accommodate tall individualsNot excellent tracking
300-pound capacity
Lightweight
Durable

#4. Alpacka Raft Gnarwhal

gnarwhal

Specifications

  • Length (feet): 7’8, 7’9, 8’1, 8’3
  • Width (inches): 38
  • Weight (pounds): 7.7, 7.9, 8.1, 8.4
  • Tube Diameter (inches): 11.7

If you are the type of person who loves to explore the whitewater, you will like the Alpacka Raft Gnarwhal. Whether you are a beginner or advanced paddler, you can appreciate what this model has to offer. If you are a beginner, you do not have to worry about using it because it can hone your skills.

The Alpacka Raft Gnarwhal can handle Class 4-5 whitewater, which the advanced-paddlers can appreciate. It is also stable, maneuverable, and forgiving, which the beginners can safely use to train their skills.

This packraft model is ideal for riding the waters that need power, speed, and stability.

The Gnarwhal uses a high-performance rigging called the rally hull. It also has a center panel stern that provides extra forgiveness and stability. You can also choose to use a Cargo Fly to go along with this product.

This product is an excellent choice if you are looking for a packraft that is forgiving and effortless to paddle.

ProsCons
Can accommodate beginner and advanced paddlersWe got nothin'
Can trudge into challenging water conditions
Forgiving and stable

#5. NRS Packraft

nrs packraft

Specifications

  • Length (feet): 6’10”
  • Width (inches): 36
  • Weight (pounds): 7.4
  • Number of Air Chambers: 4
  • Tube Diameter (inches): 11

The NRS Packraft is stable and lightweight, and it uses polyurethane-coated nylon. That is why you cannot doubt its durability. Aside from its heavy-duty construction, it is also safe and fun to use. You can fit it inside your bag when you go hiking.

This product does not choose what kind of paddle you should use to propel it. You can use the kaya’s double-bladed paddle, or a tree branch will do.

The NRS PackRaft comes with an inflatable seat and removable floor. It has a 70-denier tube and 210-denier floor that can withstand the challenges thrown by your backcountry activities. It is resistant to abrasion, and it has a large opening on the tube chambers. 

What makes this product even better is that it comes with a carrying bag and a repair kit.

ProsCons
Effortless inflationBulkier compared to others
Lightweight
Slow
Durable

#6. Kokopelli Packraft Nirvana Self-Bailing

nirvana self bailing

Specifications

  • Length (feet): 7’6”
  • Width (inches): 3
  • Weight (pounds): 8

The Kokopelli Packraft Nirvana Self-Bailing is durable because of its 840-D DuPont Kevlar nylon. It has the floor with thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) coating, making it one of the best.  

The Nirvana Kokopelli model provides a performance that combined durability and stability. It can handle rough water conditions from class one to three.

Its self-bailing design minimizes the weight and the setup, making it easy for you to rescue yourself from possible accidents. Aside from that, this product is foldable into the size of a sleeping bag.

Despite its compact design, it is versatile enough to handle different kinds of packrafting activities, such as backcountry exploration, bike rafting, hiking, and the like.

ProsCons
Inflation and deflation are easyHeavier compared to others

Our Favorite Packraft

There are tons of products on the market, making it difficult for consumers to select which packraft is the best to use. That is why this article mentions some of the best products that most paddlers love.

What stands among them is the Alpacka Raft Scout. It is something that you want to take with you on a long hike in the mountains because it does not feel like it is in your bag. It only weighs less than four pounds. 

It is compact enough to fit in your bag. With this packraft, you can do different activities, such as canyoneering, mountain fishing, and the like. What makes it even more impressive is that you can add a Cargo Fly that can keep your gears safe from getting wet.

Because of this, the Alpacka Raft Scout is advisable for adventurers who want to pack light. It is also for those who have to hike for hours to reach their destination. This packraft’s versatility will allow them to maximize their outdoor activities, creating more fun memories.


Best Packraft Brands 

If you cannot find a packraft from the mentioned products that suits your preference, you can start searching by knowing the brands that offer the best packrafts.

Alpacka Raft

Alpacka Raft came into the picture in 2000.

Sheri Tingey and her son Thor contributed to the success of Alpacka Raft.

Sheri knew how to sew because her grandmother taught her this skill. While in Jackson, she founded the Design by Sheri, which is a ski clothing shop. However, Sheri sold it later. In the 1980s, she met Roman Dial, an Alaskan adventurer, and a packraft enthusiast.

The venture for Alpacka Raft started when Thor realized that the packrafts that he used were not enough. He tried several varieties, but all were inadequate. Because of this, he asked his mom to built one for him. This request resulted in the creation of the White Boat.

The White Boat had white nylon, urethane clothing, and a tube diameter of 12 inches. Sheri used Aquaseal, roller, and airgun to put them together; thus, the start of Alpacka Raft.

Northwest River Supplies (NRS)

A business professor, Bill Sparks, was the one who founded the NRS in 1972. He used the principles he taught in school to start up a business with 2,000 USD capital. It was his chosen venture because Sparks loved the rivers because there were many beautiful places to see and memories to make and cherish.

Sparks wanted the others to experience what he did by creating this business.

When Sparks was in his 80s, he sold his company to his employees, who shared his passion. Because of this, as of 2014, the employees own the NRS 100 percent. Even though it is employee-owned, it still maintains Sparks’s legacy.

NRS also works with various organizations that help the conservation of oceans, lakes, or other water bodies.


Canoe vs. Kayak vs. Packraft

You can enjoy nature in different ways, including explorations through paddling, such as canoeing, kayaking, and packrafting. You might be wondering about the difference among them if it is your first time to purchase a packraft.

After all, the boats look similar. However, they are different.

This section will help you differentiate, so you will know what the packraft’s appearance.

Kayak

Kayaks are slimmer and have an enclosed cockpit. It has closed compartments at the front and back that you can use to store gears and stuff.

One to two persons can ride the kayaks, which are the K1, for one person, and the K2, for two persons.  The K2 is the more stable option for beginners.

Kayaks uses double-bladed paddles and require alternate stroke on each side. Kayaks are faster than canoes, and the most ideal for challenging water conditions.

Canoes

Canoes look like a boat. It has an open deck that can accommodate up to three people at most, aside from the luggage.

Canoes are typically longer, reaching up to 16 feet that allow you to store a lot of stuff.

Because of its length, this boat can carry as much as 880 pounds. Unlike the kayaks, canoes use paddles with a single blade. It also uses pack barrels for storage.

The canoes are slower, which is a perfect option if you are into sightseeing.

Packraft

The packraft allows you to experience some of the features of canoes and kayaks. However, packrafts are not as effective in cutting waters, but it offers versatility that will enable you to enjoy the best of both worlds. 

Packrafts are lightweight and portable, unlike kayaks and canoes. It allows you to ride whitewater or take in the sceneries. 


Types of Packrafts

Now that you know what a packraft is, it is time to learn its different types. Knowing this information can help save you money. For example, if you are only going to use it for sightseeing, you do not need to spend more on a packraft that is for whitewater.

Cruisers

From its name, you can already tell that this packraft type is for cruising. It allows you to enjoy sceneries. The water condition is in class 3. 

Because of it, cruisers perform more like a dinghy and less like a kayak. It has round edges, which are not for white water.

Cruisers have open boat designs and highly portable. You can fold it into a small size that allows you to pack light.

Whitewater

As the term implies, this type of packraft is for riding the white water. It is durable enough to resist abrasions and sun’s UV rays.

However, it has a more complex design with spraydecks that are as hard as those in kayaks. Its weight can reach up to 15 pounds, which is not ideal for longer trips.


Factors to Consider When Buying a Packraft

Packrafts are versatile, but it does not mean that you can just snag anything you lay your hands on from a store. There are some factors to consider because packrafts come in different sizes and features. It is crucial that what you will choose will match your needs, or your adventure might end up in frustrations, accidents, or even death. 

Here are the factors that you should consider.

Compactness

You should consider how small you can roll it. Packrafts are portable compared to canoes and kayaks. That is why it is no wonder that many paddlers prefer to use packrafts instead of other kinds of boats.

However, although they are more compact than the others, how small you can fold them may still come in different sizes. Not all areas light as a three-pound packraft. Others can even weigh up to 10 pounds.

You should consider how much you are willing to carry on your trip, especially when you have to hike for long trips. Some are foldable up to the size of a water bottle, while others are as a sleeping bag.

Maneuverability

Commonly, when you are looking for a maneuverable boat, you should sacrifice its stability. Sometimes the stable ones are slow, such as the dinghies. Thus, you need to consider your ability to paddle, your preference, and the water condition where you want to go.

Construction Material

If you are going to invest in a packraft, you want to use it in open waters. It is not worth investing if you are just going to use it in your backyard pool. For this reason, you have to prepare for possible challenges, such as the sun, sand, wind, salt, and more.

Because of this, you should choose a product that is resistant to abrasion and temperature changes. The packrafts that have the best design uses TPU for coating, and not just ordinary PU. You can find cheaper varieties with vinyl construction, but it is not where you want to put your money.  

TPU construction is puncture-resistant and flexible. It can last long trips and repeated usage.

Weight

If you are up for a long hike before you trudge into the water, it is unwise to carry a heavy load. Although packrafts are compact, you also have to consider the gears that you have to take with you, which are typically more than the usual raft. 

Light packers, should go for two to three-pound packraft, but you should sacrifice the whitewater adventure. If you are up for whitewater challenges, the packraft you need typically has a minimum of five pounds in weight. If you want to take a complete set of gears with you, add 12 pounds of weight in addition to yours.

Warranty

To attract buyers, manufacturers sell products that come with a warranty. These warranties come in different kinds. It can be a 30-day replacement, repairs, and more.

You can consider the packrafts as an investment because you need to shell out some money to buy one. To get the most out of your investment, you should choose the product that offers a warranty that assures the company’s confidence in its packraft.

Because of this, you should read the manufacturer’s warranty conditions. Learn what the scope of these warranties is.

Once you make your purchase, keep the receipt. It is what you will have to show if you need to use your privilege for a warranty.

Self-Bailing

Those who are new to packrafting might find it surprising that some packrafts use holes to drain the water in and out of the vessel. It is because rafts with closed-floor can get the water splashes to trap inside. As a result, you may find yourself scooping the water out of the packraft instead of using all your time to enjoy your activities. 

For this reason, these holes can be ideal features if you do not consider bailing the water out of your raft, a kind of sport. However, you should know that this feature means that your floor is always wet.

You do not have to worry about your packraft sinking because inflatables do not sink quickly. 

Durability

Paddling in the open waters offers more challenges, even if you say that the water condition is calm. In open waters, there are stones, branches, water creatures, and the like.

Because of this, you do not want to spoil the fun doing repairs in the middle of your enjoyment. The worst scenario is that your cheap, poor-quality packraft might even put your life in danger.

That is why you should buy a packraft with quality fabric tubes and floors. The minimum denier is 70, and the maximum is 840. 

Capacity

Even if you own the most durable packraft in the world, but if you exceed the maximum capacity of your packraft, you will end up sinking underwater. Because of this, you have to consider your weight, and you have to predict how much luggage and gear you would want to take with you on your journey.

Most packrafts can carry a maximum weight of 200 pounds, while the other can hold as much as 300. If you exceed the maximum capacity, you will only sink or tear your packraft.

Additional Features

Aside from the mentioned considerations, you also have to consider the other extras in buying a packraft.

Seats

Most of the packrafts seats are inflatable, while some have a foam pad construction. It can be removable or not.

Comfort is another consideration when choosing the right seat. You do not want to hurt your butt while you are riding the white water.

Having a seat can provide added height that enables you to paddle better. It also gives you more power, so you will not get tired quickly on your paddling. 

Gear Storage

You should consider the gear storage depending on how many days you have to use your packraft or where you want to go. Some adventurers do not need much space for their gears, while the others do.

Check for D-rings and other attachments where you can place your gears.

Alpacka Rafts offer a Cargo Fly that keeps gears safe and dry.

Spray Decks

The spray deck is a part of the boat that hides the lower half of your body. It prevents water from getting into it, but sometimes it is also why water may trap inside, primarily if you use your packraft for whitewater adventures.

Because of this, you should think twice if you need a spray deck or not.

Thigh Straps

The thigh straps are useful for whitewater adventures. It acts like the car’s seatbelt by keeping you secured on the boat. Aside from security, the straps also give you more control in rolling your boat if you can do it. However, you also have to make sure that it also offers an easy release to get free in case of emergencies.


Other Accessories to Consider Buying Along With Your Packraft

Aside from the packraft, you should also consider buying other gears, which can be as crucial. After all, you do not like to use your hands to paddle or your mouth to inflate a packraft. That is why you need to know the accessories that you should buy along with your packraft.

Helmet

The helmet is essential, especially if you ride the whitewater. Unless you find banging your head from one rock to another enjoyable, you need to include it on your purchase.

Paddle

Unless you can use your hands to paddle, it is the second thing that you should not forget when buying a packraft. Like a packraft, it should be easy to pack. Choose the one that has aluminum or carbon fiber construction.

Knife

The knife is also essential in case of an emergency. Because of the challenges brought by whitewater, there can be instances that you need to detach or cut something. If accidents happen, a knife is a handy tool to detach yourself if you cannot escape from your thigh straps.

Throw Bag

The throw bag is another essential for emergencies. It should be throwable by 30 feet away from you.

Floatation Device

Even if you are a good swimmer, the whitewater can take you anywhere where it wants. Because of this, it might cause a fatal accident. You should consider investing in a floatation device. Consider it cheaper compared to the cost of your life.

Drysuit

The drysuit can keep you warm in a cold climate.

Repair Kit

You do not want to spoil all the fun with your deflated packraft. That is why you should consider adding a repair kit. Yet, some products come with a repair kit.


Conclusion

The world offers a lot of exciting things to do. It includes watersports and cruising to watch the beautiful sceneries. This article introduces you to one of the ways you can explore these activities: by packrafting.

To do it, you need a high-quality packraft that will allow you to maximize your experience and not the other way around. This article introduced you to some of the best packrafts that you might want to consider buying. One of them is the Alpacka Scout that is versatile enough to allow you to perform various activities.

If you do not like any of the mentioned products, you have learned how to buy the one that suits your preference and paddling skills.


FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

Q: What Is the Best Packraft?

A: Only you can pick the best packraft for your adventure, and finding one is not a problem. Compared to 100 years ago, modern packrafts use high-quality materials, designs, and technology. It is up to you to determine which suits the best according to your skills, weight, preference. You should also consider the product’s capacity and durability to make the most out of your investment. What is important is that your product should not spoil the fun, and it should not expose you to accidents. Also, it should allow you to enjoy your adventure throughout.  

Q: Who Needs a Packraft?

A: The packrafts are for people who find kayaks extremely intense and canoes slow. Also, if you love the outdoors, no one is stopping you from using a packraft. What makes this boat impressive is that it is versatile enough to handle different activities that include travel and sports. Additionally, it is lightweight enough to carry from one place to another.

Q: What Are the Best Gears to Buy Along With a Packraft?

A: Your safety should be your first consideration. That is why you should not neglect to buy the necessary gears for emergencies. It includes the throw bags, helmet, PFDs, and the like. You will never be able to use your packraft without a paddle and a pump or inflation bag. That is why you will also need them.

Q: Are Packrafts Child-Friendly?

A: Packrafts can be child-friendly if you are going to use it for cruising. However, you should also consider the age of your child. Your child should be already know how to swim and capable of listening to instructions. However, it is not advisable to take a child to explore the whitewater using a packraft. You should also take emergency gear with you. Because of this, compared to kayaks, packrafts are safer.

Q: Can Packrafts Handle the Whitewater?

A: There are different kinds of packraft. One is for cruising, and one is for the whitewater adventure. Because of this, choose a packraft that has a design built for a whitewater adventure. It should be resistant to abrasion and UV rays of the sun.

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