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Podcast: Alpacka Packraft Safety Design Features

Designer Sheri Tingey talks about the history of safety design in Alpacka packrafts and the latest tweaks she's made to the boats to improve whitewater performance and safety.

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by Carol Crooker | 2009-01-20 00:05:00-07

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Podcast: Alpacka Packraft Safety Design Features - 1
Matt Szundy leads a packraft charge across the Snake River a la George Washington. Designer Sheri Tingey doesn't mention this in the interview, but stability is a definite safety feature of Alpacka rafts.



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Packrafts are small and light enough to be carried in a backpack. They are opening up a whole new world for exploration by backcountry enthusiasts. Rivers that are formidable obstacles to a hiker can be crossed safely in a packraft. In the Grand Canyon, routes have been put together using packrafts to safely cross the Colorado that haven't been explored since famous explorers Colin Fletcher and Harvey Butchart risked their lives on air mattresses. Fantastic traverses involving equal parts paddling and hiking have been created in places like the Bob Marshall Wilderness in Montana and in Alaska and New Zealand. First packraft descents of rivers have been logged in the greater Yellowstone ecosystem.

As packrafters have explored more and more routes with relatively easy water and become more comfortable in their craft, their adventuresome spirits have naturally turned to creating new trips that include harder whitewater. Packrafters now routinely raft Class III whitewater and some are running Class IV and V water. Sheri Tingey, Alpacka Raft owner/designer, has kept pace with paddlers' desires by constantly upgrading boat design so that current Alpacka rafts are quite whitewater capable while still remaining lightweight and packable. In challenging whitewater, safety features become even more vital, and Sheri has never lost sight of safety. She designs the boats to be simple to get out of and back into from the water. Each time she is tempted to add a performance improvement that makes getting out of the packraft after a flip more complex, she goes back to her motto, "Simple is safe."

I talked with Sheri during a break in a whitewater rescue course we were both attending in Jackson, Wyoming. She talks about the design history of the Alpacka packrafts and design tweaks she's made to the latest crop of boats so they are as safe as she can make them in whitewater.


"Podcast: Alpacka Packraft Safety Design Features," by Carol Crooker. (ISSN 1537-0364)., 2009-01-20 00:05:00-07.


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Podcast: Alpacka Packraft Safety Design Features
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Addie Bedford
(addiebedford) - MLife

Locale: Montana
Podcast: Alpacka Packraft Safety Design Features on 01/20/2009 20:39:00 MST Print View

Companion forum thread to:

Podcast: Alpacka Packraft Safety Design Features

Jerry Cagle
(xclimber) - MLife

Locale: Southwest
Re: Podcast: Alpacka Packraft Safety Design Features on 01/22/2009 21:20:24 MST Print View

...hmm... Too bad this, and the last several podcasts, haven't been showing up in the iTunes feed. I would love to be able to load them to my Shuffle...

Brett Tucker
(blister-free) - F

Locale: Puertecito ruins
Re: Podcast: Alpacka Packraft Safety Design Features on 02/03/2009 18:56:24 MST Print View

I've never found Alpacka wet exits to be anything other than "automatic." Maybe in my case it's the 200lb object steering the raft, but the velcro-secured spraydeck never fails to disengage itself before the raft is even beyond 90 degrees. I then fall out, generally alongside the raft, head upright and legs down. As the velcro wears, the odds of a problematic exit would seem to become even less likely, though I'd be interested to hear what experiences others have had, especially those with less dead weight in the boat!

Brett Tucker
(blister-free) - F

Locale: Puertecito ruins
Re: Podcast: Alpacka Packraft Safety Design Features on 02/03/2009 19:16:32 MST Print View

Jerry, try right-clicking on the Download link alongside the BPL media player, 'Save Link As.' Then in iTunes select File > Add File to Library, and copy or Sync the mp3 podcast to your iPod.

Carol Crooker
(cmcrooker) - MLife

Locale: Desert Southwest, USA
Falling out of boat - not on 02/03/2009 20:04:53 MST Print View

I've only had one unintentional wet exit. I had to deliberately reach for and find the grab loop to open the spray deck. I didn't connect with the loop on the first pass. I've attached a whiffle golf ball to the loop to make it easier to find underwater.

What I'll have to try is to practice wet exit without using the grab loop to figure out how best to push off to get out of the deck.

Brett Tucker
(blister-free) - F

Locale: Puertecito ruins
Re: Falling out of boat - not on 02/03/2009 20:31:46 MST Print View

I usually keep the upper part of the spray deck, the torso portion, open, mostly because it's a little tight fitting to seal the velcro all the way up to the elastic & toggle closure, especially when wearing a foam PFD. (Really only a 43 chest / 35 waist here)

I wouldn't be surprised if a full closure would be less inclined to open of its own accord, especially for lighter folks.

The wiffle golf ball idea sounds like a good added safety feature.