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Choosing a Packraft
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Trevor Martin
(trevormar) - MLife

Locale: Rockies/ Desert Southwest
Choosing a Packraft on 11/30/2012 16:26:45 MST Print View

Hi all, I am an experienced UL backpacker looking to get into packrafting, but I am having some trouble deciding what kind of setup to invest in. I just want to make an informed decision because these things are really expensive and I was hoping to get some feedback from some experienced packrafters. I am mostly interested in the Alpacka rafts since they seem to have rave reviews, but I am open to other options as well. Just to kind of give an outline of what I would like to do with a packraft:

-Extend lightweight backpacking trips to include some float sections on up to class 2 or maybe class 3 water. I have some experience with kayaking whitewater, but I am not planning to do anything too huge with a packraft. I am mostly interested in using a packraft as a tool to expand the kinds of backpacking trips that I can do. I would like to have the option to feel safe in some whitewater if I run into it though.

-Maybe a couple of more extended trips. I have had my eye on doing an escalante float from up by hwy 12 to lake powell for a while now.

-It would be nice to be able to use a packraft to do some alpine lake trout fly fishing, but I am not sure how cumbersome this would be in comparison to a tube. Does anyone have experience with this?

-It would be nice to have the option to include some multisport use somewhere down the road like using some bc skis or strapping a bike to the packraft.

As for options, I am not really sure for example which spray deck I should choose or if I should choose one at all. I am 6' tall so probably the yukon yak or the curiyak would fit me best, but I am not sure which one to choose. I also am not sure what to think about this "cargo fly" that alpacka released recently. Seems like it would be a great way to streamline the boat and make it handle more like a kayak but it seems heavy and complicated.

Also, what life vests / kinds of waterproof clothing have people had success with? I feel like the alpackas have a high seat back that would interfere with most life vests. It will be great to see what Ryan has to say about the alpacka dry suit, but I am not sure if I can justify the expense.

Thanks for the help,

Dan Durston
(dandydan) - F

Choosing a raft on 11/30/2012 18:12:59 MST Print View

It's a tough decision. As with many things, ideal would be having a quiver of them. Opting for one of the regular boats (ie. Yukon Yak) is a safe decision. You won't really end up regretting it if you more a spend more for a more capable (and heavier) boat because it keeps your future options open, whereas if you get a CuriYak and try to use it on rougher water or in the shoulder seasons (with no spray deck) you may regret your choice.

Initially I was excited to see the CuriYak, but now I'm not that enamoured with it for a few reasons:
1) It doesn't save that much weight over a Yukon Yak.
The spec'd difference is 13oz, but by the time you add 4 tie downs (for a pack) and a seat (pretty much mandatory) and tie downs to attach the seat, I'd guess you're saving under 8oz. I'd guess a lot of that 8oz came from the lighter weight floor, which isn't a great spot to save weight IMO because these floors see a lot of dragging. I'd rather see the weight saved via lighter fabric on the inner sides of the tubes.

2) It doesn't save that much money.
The Scout is a screaming deal at $525 vs. $850 for the regular boats, but for some reason the CuriYak which is almost the same boat comes in at $700. So if you add on a seat ($50) and four tie downs ($20) you've only saved $80 and you still need to buy glue, install the tie downs and install a means of attaching the seat.

So really when the dust settles you're likely saving about $50 and 8oz with the CuriYak, but the downside is that you get a less capable white water boat that Alpacka won't put a spray deck on in the future, so your options are limited.

With that said, getting Alpacka's 22oz drysuit instead of a spray deck could be a great way to utilize the CuriYak (or any raft) in the shoulder seasons. If you're thinking of going the drysuit route and you never plan on needing a spray deck, then CuriYak may still make sense for the class II-III rafter.

Regarding sizing, I'm 6'0", 165 lbs with a 32" leg inseam and I've got a Yukon Yak. At first I thought it was a bit small, but now I like the fairly snug fit for the control it gives in white water. I do normally run it with the seat/backrest a bit soft for a couple more inches. If you're much longer legged though, I'd look at a size up.

I posted my comments on the cargo zip in that other thread, but in short I think it's best suited for rafting centric trips and it looks like added weight, complexity, and risk (failure point) for a hiking centric trip. Since you can always retrofit this, I wouldn't be looking at it now if money is tight and you're not sure how you are going end up using the boat most.

Regarding the drysuit, if alpacka added some pockets the arms, upper back and chest for water bottles/bladders, that would be really neat. Most people seem to be using some sort of foam PFD. You can MYOG one pretty easily with less float than a normal life preserver if you're planning on mellower water and you're okay with the risk. If you're really weight/non-whitewater focused then a air bladder holding vest (ie. MLD The Thing et al) is the way to go.

Edited by dandydan on 11/30/2012 19:12:48 MST.

Trevor Martin
(trevormar) - MLife

Locale: Rockies/ Desert Southwest
Re: Choosing a raft on 11/30/2012 18:44:28 MST Print View

Hi Dan,

Thanks for your response. Your analysis of the CuriYak vs the yukon is interesting since I didn't really think about it that in depth. It seems like the benefits of the curiyak are marginal. Mostly I saw the weight specs and was like "hey I can save ~2 lbs with this versus the yukon + a spray deck" and then wondered what kind of water you can get away with running in the curiyak and no spray deck.

Thanks for your input about the sizing. I must have longer legs and a shorter torso since I am somewhere in the 34" inseam range. The alpacka site says 34" is right at the limit for the yukon so I hope this would be ok.

I think I will probably opt for the extra piece of mind that comes from a foam PFD and then just take a shorty foam sleeping pad and supplement it with the PFD. I guess the idea of having a potentially deflating life vest seems sketchy to me especially if you encounter overhanging branches in a river etc. Should I look for a vest with a higher back to accommodate the seat of the alpackas?

I agree that the cargo zipper design is interesting but maybe of debatable value. It would also be interesting to see if this would help with stabilizing the boat for fly fishing casting though. It seems like these things ride pretty high and have a bit of that "bobbing cork effect" going on.

Thanks again!

Trevor Martin
(trevormar) - MLife

Locale: Rockies/ Desert Southwest
Spray Deck on 11/30/2012 18:57:49 MST Print View

Also, does anyone have experience with the older version of the spray deck versus the newer whitewater one? It seems like the ability to roll the older version up out of the way would be nice, but in reality how cumbersome is it to run the whitewater one without a spray skirt in comparison?

Dan Durston
(dandydan) - F

Spraydecks on 11/30/2012 19:38:41 MST Print View

From what I've read, when it's hot and you want an open boat, the partially open white water deck is still fine. Things don't get too hot in there supposedly, so I wouldn't be too worried about that. Where it might be an issue is if you want to cram a dog in the boat, and it might interfere if you want to recline for a bit with your legs up on the tubes....I'm not too sure. Hopefully someone else can chime in.

I think deck choice is mostly a question of cost, whitewater functionality and weight. With the whitewater deck you're looking at an extra $50 and 6.5oz (14.5oz vs 8oz) over the cruiser deck. In my opinion, the Cruiser deck wins when weight is important and the water isn't going beyond class III. You save money and weight, plus on fair weather trips you can ditch nearly all the weight. With the white water deck you've got a good portion of the weight permanently on there, and if you actually want to use it then you're going to be hiking with the pole set too, which is another thing to pack and it puts you near 6 lbs, which is actually about 9-10lbs with a paddle, PFD and gloves. That's quite a bit of weight and each decision adds up.

I'm sure the white water deck is way better though on rough seas, it's pretty easy to take on water with the cruiser deck because it's tough to get a good seal around your body. Not an issue for class II, and a good paddler can stay dry in class III, but beyond that you're going to get somewhat wet, which isn't good in the shoulder seasons.

I'd probably decide on the drysuit first, because if you get that then you could potentially get away with no spray deck and it would be the lightest setup of all if you can leave your rain gear at home. A drysuit + cruiser deck would be a pretty solid setup, so if you get the drysuit you wouldn't really need to go with the white water deck too unless you really evolve into a serious white water paddler.

With your inseam, you may find it best to omit the backrest in a Yak (Skurka style). I find the backrest doesn't do that much and omitting it will add some legroom + save ounces.

As a bit of an aside, I like all the innovation coming from Alpacka but I wish some of the ideas centered around reducing weight as opposed to making the rafts perform (and weigh) more like a kayak. Each innovation is really neat, but combined the boats are getting heavy. The new drysuit is a step in the right direction, as it could replace a spray deck and rain gear while enhancing shoulder season functionality. What I'd like to see is a 20-24oz paddle for class II river use, and a lighter packraft that uses lighter material on the inside of the tubes, maybe fewer seams, no stern attachments, lighter valves etc. With normal equipment (boat, spraydeck, paddle and gloves) you wind up at 8 lbs right now, which is a significant amount of's more than all my other 3 season gear combined. A 4 lbs boat + 22oz paddle + 22oz drysuit and gloves would only be a ~6 lbs weight penalty if you leave your normal rain gear (~12oz) at home.

Edited by dandydan on 11/30/2012 19:55:56 MST.

David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
re: packraft choice on 11/30/2012 23:14:00 MST Print View

You want an Alpacka, right now nothing else makes sense for real wilderness use.

The easiest and best answer is to get a main line boat. If you think you'll spend a significant amount of time paddling with a bike on board, lean towards sizing up. If not follow Alpacka's recommendations.

If you'll be doing extended trips outside warm climates and times of year, or running much class III, get a deck. The cruiser deck is more fiddly and leaks through the velcro and zipper seams. The WW deck gives you sections of tent poles and PVC to haul around. Both are very far from perfect, but the extra warmth is huge. I do like the ability to roll up or remove the deck. For hot weather, using the boat for tandem river crossings, and for really technical low volume creeks where you'll be in and out of the boat a lot it is very handy.

12" tubes are much, much drier than 10" tubes.

For clothing, get some paddling pants (neoprene waistband), use your normal rain coat, and bring an extra insulating vest. A drysuit is great for the margin of safety it adds, but for traditional packrafting the extra compromises will IMO never be worth it (even with the new UL suits).

PFDs are a tough nut to crack. The best course of action is probably to get a cheapish (~40 dollars) generic PFD. The dead cheap ones have very stiff foam which doesn't wear well. Rip open the back seam and relocate some of the foam in the lower half to the upper half. Not especially heavy, but bulky. It'll be strapped outside the pack almost all the time. I've messed around with MYOG foam and inflatable vests and none of them have been satisfactory, but this is still an area that needs development.

I'd strongly consider buying on the used market. The improvements of the last 3 years have been substantial, but for what you're talking about (and IMO what a lot of lower 48 packrafters will end up doing) the gains aren't as big as the weight penalty merits.

Edited by DaveC on 11/30/2012 23:17:15 MST.

Ike Jutkowitz
(Ike) - M

Locale: Central Michigan
re: PFD on 12/01/2012 05:18:39 MST Print View

Can't add much to the excellent advice above.
Best PFD I found was the generic MTI journey. It is cheap ($45 isn), the most lightweight I could find (13 oz in size small-med. I sized down for weight savings), and relatively flat with allows it ride comfortably in the raft and to sub in as supplemental (or sole) insulation for sleeping.

Trevor Martin
(trevormar) - MLife

Locale: Rockies/ Desert Southwest
Re: re: packraft choice on 12/01/2012 14:15:38 MST Print View

Thanks for all of your input. I really appreciate it. I think I am leaning towards the yukon with a cruiser spray deck. The ability to remove the spray deck seems great and I can't really seem to justify the extra 6oz of the whitewater deck if I am just starting out. Also, removing the deck may make fishing easier on nice days. It would be nice to have the option to use this in the shoulder seasons and it sounds like the cruiser deck may be ok for this but not the best. In the future I will just have to purchase a whole fleet of packrafts :)

I may have to think about the PDF situation a bit more. I have an astral v-8 which has a high back which I think may work for the alpacka and it weighs about 19oz which I guess isn't too bad but it could definitely be better.

As for the clothing, the alpacka drysuit seems like a good idea to me but I think I will wait to see the review and until I have tried out some trips with a basic splash gear setup. Dave do you have any recommendations for paddling pants / tops etc? Also, what do you mean by the "extra compromises" of a UL drysuit?

Thanks again!

Edited by trevormar on 12/01/2012 14:24:03 MST.

David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
re: packraft accesories on 12/01/2012 17:50:45 MST Print View

The V-8 should work well.

"Dave do you have any recommendations for paddling pants / tops etc? Also, what do you mean by the "extra compromises" of a UL drysuit?"

I have the Kokatat Boater's pants, which work well. A bit heavy by UL standards, but they fit great and are waterproof when sitting in a puddle.

On one end of the spectrum is a true drysuit: integrated booties, wrist and neck gaskets, solid fabric. Will keep you dry in a gnarly swim, heavy, bulky, the booties will get shredded with lots of walking, and the gaskets will make it uncomfortable while hiking. Rain gear is on the other end; the problems not only being minimal immersion protection, but poor protection against splashing (water runs down the pants, splashes and wicks up the arms).

Anything in between will be a compromise. In my book the Alpacka suit goes too far towards the traditional drysuit spectrum and makes too few concessions for use as rain gear while hiking. No hood is the most egregious example. Unprotected latex at the wrist will be problematic off the river. The lack of a gasket at the neck makes it more comfortable, but in a serious swim you'll take a fair bit of water in via the neck. In cold weather feet will freeze without booties. And at the weight they're claiming with PU laminate, I'm not optimistic about durability.

I would have been more impressed with a good two piece system. Pants and anorak designed to mate together (tunnel seal at the waist) and be a semi-dry suit, with a hood, and neo cuffs at the wrists and neck. Ideally, there'd be some sort of tunnel seal that would mate with matching neo socks and create a foot system that would be waterproof to the waist for dry feet while launching.

Trevor Martin
(trevormar) - MLife

Locale: Rockies/ Desert Southwest
Multi Use Sleeping Pad on 12/02/2012 13:14:58 MST Print View

Thanks for your insights Dave. The issues with the alpacka drysuit make sense. I'll have to shop around for some dry tops/bottoms that are reasonably lightweight and think about the alpacka suit some more.

I have another unrelated question, so hopefully someone can chime in. I bought a BPL torsolight inflating shorty sleeping pad back in the time when BPL used to sell stuff and I remember that at the time someone mentioned that you can use a pad like this on the floor of your packraft to add some warmth and comfort. Has anyone tried this? Is it helpful? I am just curious if the torsolight + yukon sizing would work.

Thanks again!