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What Is Packrafting? Your Guide to Incredible Packraft Adventures

In our opinion, the best campsites and hikes always have water features! If you love combining your outdoor adventures with water, as we do, you might want to learn about our new obsession: packrafting. This sport no longer restricts how far you can go on foot. With this unique raft, you can cross lakes or traverse rivers as part of your hike.

Today, we’ll take a closer look at the world of packrafting to see if it’s the perfect way to enhance your hiking excursions. Let’s get started!

How to Pack for Packrafting | Beginners Guide to Gear

What Is Packrafting?

As the name suggests, packrafting combines backpacking and rafting. It is a durable, inflatable boat that’s compact enough to transport to the river. It’s also large enough to carry your gear, while still being lightweight for easy carrying.

Someone might do this if they’ve hiked a long trail and want to float down the river to reach the trailhead. This way, they can enjoy hiking and paddling, taking two courses rather than turning back and returning the same way they came.

What Is a Packraft?

Packrafts are straightforward to inflate. They’re lightweight enough that someone can carry one on a hike but durable enough to handle Class III rapids. They can hold your hiking gear; some even provide storage compartments in the tubes. However, these inflatable rafts are for only one person. So if you’re hiking with a friend, you’ll both need one.

Packrafts come with an inflation bag that attaches to the valve. You squeeze air into the raft to inflate it. Generally, this takes 5-10 minutes. It also comes with a repair kit. You’ll always want to bring the repair kit in case you find a hole you need to patch.

View of packraft
Enjoy hiking and white-water rafting at the same time.

How Much Do Packrafts Weigh?

Along with gear like a paddle, inflation bag, repair kit, and personal flotation device, the entire packraft will weigh 10-15 pounds. If you’re biking, the raft should easily fit onto a mountain or road bike. If you’re hiking, it should fit into a backpack or can attach to the top or bottom of your bag.

The lightweight design allows outdoor enthusiasts to explore all types of terrain in one trip. Hike or bike a trail through the forest and then float down a river back to your vehicle.

Are Packrafts More Stable Than Kayaks?

Packrafts are much more stable than kayaks. However, if you want to go whitewater rafting with Class III or higher rapids, you’re better off in a kayak. They’re designed for this type of activity, while a packraft is for calmer waters.

Inflatable kayaks also tend to be heavier than these rafts, making them more challenging to transport over long distances. Packrafting is better for adventurers who want to combine paddling with biking or hiking.

Pro Tip: Hit the water with our guide on How to Start Kayak Camping.

Aerial view while packrafting
Packrafts provide extra stability while on the water.

Is Packrafting Hard?

Packrafting is a relatively easy skill to learn because of the size and buoyancy of the packraft. However, you’ll want to do a few practice runs in flatwater before tackling Class II or III rapids. Just because it is easy doesn’t mean you should overestimate your abilities.

Where Can You Go Packrafting?

You can go packrafting anywhere that permits kayaking, canoeing, or paddleboarding. If officials allow you to be in the water, then you can usually packraft. Please pay attention to notices that say “swimming only.” You can take one of these rafts on the ocean to explore coves and caves, venture to wilderness areas and float down a river, or enjoy a lake’s scenic beauty.

Campsite by river
Don’t let a little water stop you from getting to an epic campsite.

What Gear Is Needed for Packrafting?

Typical gear for packrafting is the packraft, paddle, helmet, pump, repair kit, personal flotation device, and quick-dry moisture-resistant clothing. You can get by without the helmet if you’re only paddling along a calm lake. But if you’re packrafting along moving river waters, you’ll want to include this safety gear. If you’ve been hiking, you’ll likely also have a whistle, knife, and other typical gear for backpacking.

What to Wear While Packrafting

Since you’ll probably be hiking or biking beforehand, wear what’s comfortable for those activities. Wear moisture-wicking clothing that won’t stick to you when wet. Well-ventilated clothing is much more comfortable than cotton. You can also bring rain gear or a rain jacket to keep dry while packrafting.

Packing a good pair of gloves is also ideal. Try pogies or neoprene gloves that help you grip the paddle but aren’t too snug. No matter what, protect your skin from the sun.

Girl packrafting
There are many stunning sites across the US to go packrafting.

Tips for Choosing the Best Packraft for You

As bikes will vary in size and features, packrafts will, too. Think about where you plan on adventuring. If you’re going to be floating in calm waters with little turbulence, an open deck packraft will be suitable. You won’t experience splashing waves inside the raft, so spray decks aren’t necessary.

On the other hand, if you want to tackle rapids or fast-moving rivers, you’ll want a spray deck. There are removable spray decks and non-removable spray decks. However, manufacturers typically don’t design packrafts for anything higher than Class III rapids.

Weight is also a crucial factor when choosing the best raft. Don’t think only about your weight. Consider the weight of your gear. If you’re bringing a bicycle, include the bike’s weight. You never want to exceed the maximum load capacity.

You’ll carry this device as you hike or bike. So keep in mind the overall weight of the packraft. More heavy-duty options could be a burden for a 10-mile hike. You’ll want a lightweight raft that still serves your purpose for adventure.

Pro Tip: Want an epic water adventure?! Check out our guide on Boat Camping 101: How to Enjoy the Best Campsite on the Lake.

Winter Backpacking and Packrafting Trip through Lake Powell and Escalante, Utah

Get Ready for an Incredible Packraft Adventure

Whether you hit the trailhead on your feet or bike, consider packrafting for your next adventure. In Wyoming, hike near the Green River. In Utah, hike near the Escalante River. This activity is one of the best ways to experience the remote area of Isle Royale National Park in Michigan. The Delaware River Gap in Pennsylvania and New Jersey is another ideal place for hiking, biking, and packrafting. There are countless options, so start planning your packrafting excursion today!

Would you go packrafting? Tell us your thoughts in the comments!

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About Cait Morton

Co-Founder, Logistics Queen, Business & Content Manager, and Animal Lover

An Upper Peninsula of Michigan native (aka a Yooper), Caitlin is the organization, big-picture, and content strategy queen of our operation. She keeps everything orderly and on track.

With a background in Business Management, she supports and helps channel Tom’s technical prowess into the helpful content our readers and viewers expect. That’s not to say you won’t find her turning wrenches and talking shop – RV life is a team effort. She keeps the business and the blog moving forward with a variety of topics and resources for our audience.

Believe it or not, she is rather camera shy, though she co-hosts the Mortons’ personal videos and The RVers TV show.

Caitlin’s passion lies in outdoor recreation and with animals. Some of her favorite things to do are hiking, biking, and getting out on the water via kayak, SUP, or boat.

She also loves the RV life due to the fact that you can bring your pets along. Sharing information about safely recreating outdoors with your whole family – pets included! – is very important to her. Because of this, Caitlin spearheaded the launch of HypePets in 2023.

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