Packrafting tips for your first adventure

Adventurer Alastair Humphreys and photographer Chris Herwig unsupported crossing of Iceland. They carried all of their food, camping gear, and equipment for both glacier crossing and packrafting in 40kg packs. For more information, writing and videos from this expedition please visit www.alastairhumphreys.com

My favourite purchase of the last few years has definitely been my packraft.
I love it for many reasons which I will outline below. But I also love it because almost everyone I tell about it asks, “what’s a packraft?”

I always like being ahead of the herd rather than hot on its heels and it’s fun to be teaching myself something new and having to figure things out for myself.

A packraft is basically a rubber dinghy for grown-ups. It’s a small, inflatable boat that packs down small enough so that you can carry it in a backpack until you reach your river. Then you blow up the boat, hop in, and take your adventure downstream.

There are a range of packrafts available, according to your needs.

I used an Alpacka raft for my crossing of Iceland. But before taking on that trip (40kg pack containing 30 days of food, hundreds of miles of hiking, Grade 4 rapids) I began with something more gentle. I recommend you do the same.

It is best not to think of a packraft just as an inflatable canoe: they are not as good as canoes or kayaks on the water. Packrafts are all about compromise. They allow you to combine hiking or biking plus paddling on the same adventure. They are quick to inflate and deflate and relatively light to lug around.

The great thing about packrafts is their versatility – they are ideal for weekend trips in the local countryside, for crossing wide rivers on big hikes, or for journeys involving a lot of paddling through rugged, remote terrain. Your imagination is the limit!

Adventurer Alastair Humphreys and photographer Chris Herwig unsupported crossing of Iceland. They carried all of their food, camping gear, and equipment for both glacier crossing and packrafting in 40kg packs. For more information, writing and videos from this expedition please visit www.alastairhumphreys.com

Here then are my tips for your first packrafting adventure:

  • Take clothes that you can walk and paddle in. You will get wet!
  • Rubber booties are a great additional extra to take with you.
  • Normal water rules apply: it’s a risky thing to do alone. Travel in a pair. Scout ahead. Work out a system of paddle and whistle signals to communicate with.
  • The best trips involve a good mix of hiking and rivers. If you can incorporate two different rivers into your trip.
  • Rig a line around the raft to act as a safety grabline. But make sure to learn about the dangers of trailing lines and underwater snag hazards…
  • You can carry loads of gear on a packraft. It’s the walking phase you need to bear in mind when packing – even though they are lightweight options packrafts still add considerable weight to your load (boat, collapsible paddle, buoyancy aid etc)
  • Have plenty of karabiners to keep things clipped on.
  • Do a test trip first – one that involves some hiking, some paddling and one night under canvas. You’ll quickly learn gear requirements that way.
  • Start gentle. Rafts are very forgiving to amateur paddlers, but be careful. My first ever paddle was down water with icebergs floating along. Not smart!
  • Read Roman Dial’s Packrafting book if you want to learn how to do things properly.

For more information, please visit www.alastairhumphreys.com

Photos taken by Alastair Humphreys and Chris Herwig, view more photos.

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