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Reading through are other packrafting questions it looks like it would be a neat activity, especially since there are quite a few beautiful alpine lakes that would be neat to float across and they would be far enough in that packrafts are probably the only option.

We already have a question asking about using a re-inflatable PFD for packrafting, but what should one look for in the actual raft?

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As with most of the gear the decision what (and if) to buy will depend on your use-case and what trade-offs are you willing to make.

Use-case:

  1. What environment are you going to use the packraft in? Is it calm water or rapids?

  2. How are you going to carry the raft (are you biking, hiking or sth. else?).

  3. How much time do you want to spend rafting vs. hiking/biking?

  4. What dangers for the equipment do you expect to come accross? (launching from abrasive shore, regularly hitting stones/boulders, branches, or maybe nothing)

  5. How much do you want to carry on the raft? (weight, volume, awkwardness (bike?))

  6. What level of comfort do you want? Or what additional features do you want to have? (inflatable seat, spray-deck, number of tie-outs, storage options, straps)

  7. What inflation type do you prefer? (by mouth, inflation bag or some pump)

Now tradeoffs:

  1. More resistance, buyoancy and extra comfort will generally increase weight and/or price (usually both).

  2. The easier the environment (flat water, no dangers), the less features and resistance you will need. For harsher waters you will of course need skills and experience (and more safety equipment), but I can't help you with that.

  3. The shorter the time you spend rafting the less features/comfort you will need.

  4. If you are biking, you can carry heavier rafts, but you will also need more sturdy and bigger rafts to carry the bike.

  5. If you are going to inflate/deflate your raft often, then using an inflation bag will make it easier and quicker then using mouth.

If you want to be able to cross some lakes or slow moving class rivers that happen to block your trail, then very light, not very durable* and otherwise featureless models like supai flatwater canyon (0.67kg or 24 oz) or kylmit (1kg or 2 lbs 3 oz) should be fine.

If you want to navigate higher difficulty class rivers, you will need to go for the more sturdy and heavy models. Expect to carry about 3+ kg raft and all the other necessary gear. You will also need to decide if you want a self-bailing model or use a spray-deck.

Depending on the scenario you may also need a paddle, some safety equipment, a drybag for your backpack, a neoprene suit etc.

* they are still much more abrasion and puncture resistant than inflatable PVC toys, since they are made of fairly strong fabrics. If you want to research your options with the PVC inflatables, see slackrafting

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