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I'm looking into purchasing pack rafts for my partner and I, but have read conflicting information on using pack rafts and many people have suggested purchasing a canoe instead.

I have mainly looked into pack rafts for their ease of transport and storage (we don't have a garage to store gear), but have read that packs rafts are not ideal in windy conditions, harder to handle, and don't provide enough storage for multi-day trips. We are looking for something to take for overnight trips on lakes and Class 1/2 rivers in the Canadian Rockies.

Regarding the Portages on the proposed route, Very few, most water bodies out here aren't chains of lakes that you'd need to traverse on foot.
Does anyone pack raft vs canoe experience and any suggestions?

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2 Answers 2

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Pack rafts were designed originally for the Brooks Range in Alaska as a way to run remote creeks that were otherwise impractical or impossible to get boats to. They weren't originally designed for improved urban storage, but that is certainly a huge auxiliary benefit. Packrafts will have limitations relative to a hard boat, like a canoe/kayak, mainly in the performance and equipment storage departments. It is up to you how much those limitations matter. If you simply don't have the ability to store a canoe then you might just have to live with the limitations.

Performance wise a canoe will do a bit better for lake travel over long distances. It'll track better and have a higher average/top speed. My exposure to packrafting is for whitewater use cases so I can't speak too much about high winds/exposure on lakes/etc. But you can certainly take a higher end packraft down class IV whitewater if you have the skills. They are very capable crafts.

Storage wise you can always pay a bit more to get a Ti-Zip built into the packraft. This increases your storage space a lot, and helps keep your stuff nice and dry. If you pack light weight gear you can definitely pull of mulitdays in packrafts. People do the 200+ mile Grand Canyon section every year in packrafts.

If storage and transport are issues I think you'll have a great time with packrafts. It'll probably be more at home on the river trips than the lake trips you mention. You might just need to plan your trips accordingly by limiting long mileage days, checking weather carefully, picking "protected" water routes, and packing light.

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I think your are enquiring about an XY problem. You are asking about pack rafts vs. canoes, but what you actually want to know is which kind of watercraft fulfils all of the following requirements:

  • packs away efficiently for urban storage and transport
  • efficient for longer trips over lakes
  • enough storage for multi-day trips

I suggest you have a look at foldable canoes. When I was a kid we used to take our foldable canoe to vacations to Scandinavia where we used it often on either single-day trips or multi-day expeditions over interconnected Scandinavian lakes.

We had something that looked similar to this model here (ALLY 811): Folding Canoe ALLY 811

Construction is mostly a skin/membrane over a rigid frame, although there seem to be other models now on the marked that look more like origami folding sheets of stiff plastic (I have never tried those).

  • Weight is certainly higher than for a pack raft (the linked example above is listed at 20kg/44lbs) since they are not designed for being carried long distances.
  • They pack down into one or two big bags that can easily be stored in an apartment without garage.
  • The big benefit: you will end up with something pretty much in the shape of a traditional canoe, with very similar performance and a lot of space for people and gear.

One disadvantage is that the skin is a weak spot: you will have to be careful of rocks / branches / sharp edges underwater, and you shouldn't drag the canoe on land, but carry it instead.

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