On many remote backpacking trips I found it frustrating to come up to lakes or rivers that I cannot cross and mountains that cannot be accessed due to a body of water blocking the way. I kept wishing to have a small boat handy for such occasions. After some searching, I finally found a small, light, inflatable pack raft which allows me to access new areas not otherwise reachable on foot.
My Alpacka raft is a tough, ultra-light pack raft built of urethane-coated nylon fabric. At a weight of under 5 pounds and a folded size of 9" x 9" x 24" I can now always take it along, and have it there when I want to cross a river too deep to ford or explore lakes or float some waterways. My boat is the smallest model (the Alpaca) which fits anyone under 6 ft tall. Larger boats are available for taller paddlers and bigger loads.
The raft is very simple to inflate. It comes with a 2 oz nylon inflation bag, which you can attach to the main valve. Fill the bag with air, grip the top closed and squeeze the air into the raft. In a couple of minutes I can get the raft blown up. The final topping off has to be done by mouth, and then I toss it in the water to let it cool off for 5 minutes before I blow some more air into it to get the tube firm.
This boat also features an inflatable seat and backrest for comfort while paddling. A sleeping pad or air mattress fits well in the bottom of the raft to insulate you more as well as stiffen the floor, useful when going over waves/rocks. An optional spraydeck will cover the boat and keeps out practically all the water from spray or waves. I was very impressed when paddling across a lake on a cold spring day, several hours in the rain, and I was still warm and dry when I finished the trip. The spraydeck, seat and insulating mattress kept me very comfortable.
For a small boat, this is extremely tough and durable. The bottom is made of especially thick fabric, and can generally bounce over rocks with no trouble. The tube fabric is lighter, but can still handle most things, only punctures from sharp sticks or rocks can cause leaks. The recommended "Patch and Go" patch kit works well and repairs small holes in minutes, so you can continue.
I had one small problem so far, the black inflatable seat got too hot in the sun and as the pressure built up and I sat on it, the sealed seam gave out and developed a small leak behind me. It was not a big problem, some sealer and the patch kit repaired the opened seam and the seat stayed inflated fine afterwards. I just have to be more careful next time not to inflate the seat in the sun until I am ready to get in the water.
The packraft is easy to paddle as it responds quickly due to the light weight and small size. It is very good at bumping over rocks and going right over waves without tipping.
Even a novice can start using it quickly as it is so stable. Here is a short video on YouTube, of someone trying this out for the first time. The only issue in waves is that it is back heavy, and can tip over backward unless you lean forward going over steep waves. It does not have fast speed on flat water, but you can still make it across lakes or wide rivers at a 2-3km/hour speed.
Another real bonus for backpackers is that the packraft can carry very large loads while being even more stable if packed well. Your pack is strapped to the bow of the boat above your feet. You can carry very large loads (even 100 lbs) while your body fits perfectly in the raft. Weight is distributed along the boat's entire length and handling is improved. I even tried this boat with 2 people, one kneeling in the front, the other sitting back and paddling. We crossed a lake with no problems, the boat has plenty of load capacity, and can be used to ferry entire hiking groups across water.
Since the boat is so small, lightweight and cute, people think of it as a toy and are amazed to find out what it can really do. Expert paddlers use these in Class 4 rivers (see video on YouTube), they have been taken on long journeys in cold Alaskan waters, people use them for fishing expeditions and coastal explorations. It can be used as a sled to pull in winter skiing across the tundra to the next fjord and it is a waterproof shelter or groundsheet if not taking a tent.
While the pricetag may be a bit expensive, just compare it with other portable boats. Nothing else comes close to the light weight of an Alpacka raft. Of course it costs far more than a pool toy from a department store, but would you take a toy to northern waters and expect to survive? These Alpackas were made to endure rough rivers, waves, rocks, snow, ice and still keep you safe and comfortable.
So the bottom line is, that this Alpaca is a fine boat for serious wilderness travellers where your life depends on reliable equipment. At the same time it is also a lot of fun to use on accessible rivers and lakes or coastal areas, to reach islands, or float in Class 2-3 rapids.
Check out the Alpacka Raft website for further details, pricing and sales on some models.
This raft is well worth to add to your equipment, as it will provide you with years of trouble-free exploring if you maintain it well and clean it regularly before storing it. And if a grizzly bear eats your Alpacka packraft can you fix it? Have a look at a video of packraft repairs.
For more info and some routes on trailpeak.com where a packraft will be useful, please read our article.