Ocean Packrafting?

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    W I S N E R !


    Don't know how many people are taking their packrafts into the ocean…All I know of are Erin and Hig's adventures around the coast of Alaska.

    Here's the scenario:

    There are many areas where a kayak would allow me greater access to spearfishing offshore kelp paddies as well as hopping from one paddy to another without doing major swims. The problem for me with ocean kayaks, however, is their size and bulk. Too much work getting them on and off vehicles, too much work getting them to the water to get launched, especially if the vehicle is far from shore. Part of me feels you might as well have a small inflatable/RIB with an engine for all the trouble.

    I'm wondering if a packraft could be a suitable one man UL dive/spearfishing platform. I would likely be looking at the largest of the Alpaca line so as to handle hauling gear and fish. In theory I like the idea of a small package that can be hiked to shore and launched, as well as get packed in the car easily. Just wondering how well one could handle the paddling.

    I know what paddling an ocean kayak can entail. I've never paddled a packraft though. Is a one mile offshore paddle with myself and 25lbs. of gear asking too much of a craft that doesn't have the glide of a longer kayak?

    Wind? Chop? I obviously wouldn't plan on launching in epic weather, but I'm curious what one could handle in the ocean. It would primarily be used for working up and down a mile or two of coastline, anchoring and spearing, and then moving on.

    How much distance are people actually able to log on these things? Everything I see is typically about running rivers, not longer open water paddling.

    Perhaps it's likely the wrong craft for the job, just wondering if it could work. Any thoughts from packrafters appreciated here.

    David Thomas
    BPL Member


    Locale: North Woods. Far North.

    I'd figure a pack raft can be paddled a little over 1 mph, while a 16+ foot hardshell kayak is easy to paddle at 3 mph for hours (4 mph on my longer kayaks). So a mile offshore would be much of an hour of paddling and it would seem more tedious paddling to me because the pack raft doesn't track. Hig and Erin put in during flood tides past our house and ebb tides down the other side of Cook Inlet summer before last. So they using that 2- to 6-mph current to get places.

    Some kayaks are heavy, but in singles, weights for comparable boats would be about:

    Poly: 63 pounds
    Fiberglass: 54
    Kevlar: 45
    Wood (+FG): 38 pounds and the wood boat is tougher than the FG or Kevlar. I don't baby mine at all – I run them up on rocky beaches, drag them around and they hold up fine. Many options are shown at

    I don't like hefting a 63-pound boat of my roof rack, but 38 pounds isn't bad. When I had long hauls to the beach in WA, I got a two-wheeled boat caddy from REI and that took 80% of the weight and made it easy to put fishing pole, PFD, lunch, etc, in the boat and wheel it all down the beach.

    Most divers use those very wide poly boats because they are easy to exit, enter and they have cubby holes for tanks, rods, and six cans of beer. That's hard to beat – a more all-weather and faster closed-top kayak has no good place to put a SCUBA tank and is hard to enter at sea. My wooden triple kayak, at 30" wide, is easy enough to re-enter in the water.

    W I S N E R !


    Thanks Dave.

    I'm freediving, so my kit is minimal…no tanks and heavy gear. Worst I've got is 15 pounds of lead on my belt.

    If your 1MPH estimate is correct, it doesn't sound too good. I can swim that fast. Tedious paddling indeed. And that's without wind. I hear they don't track very well and I'm concerned that even a "light" but steady 5-10kt wind would wreak havoc on my plans.

    Problem with an ocean kayak, there are some great places I know of to dive that require some cliff scrambling to make the beach. Not happening with a 12+ footer. The weight of the ocean kayak isn't bad, it's just the general bulk of it and all the accompanying gear that bother me. In my mind it starts tipping the scale towards buying a small RIB with a 25hp and just putting in at a launch or beach launching if I have a friend.

    Nick Gatel
    BPL Member


    Locale: Southern California

    "In my mind it starts tipping the scale towards buying a small RIB with a 25hp and just putting in at a launch or beach launching if I have a friend."

    I have a 10'6" inflatable with a 4 section wood floor. Weight is right around 100 lbs. I have a 9.8 HP Nissan 4 stroke outboard that weighs 85 lbs without the fuel tank. Convenient to pack, but not easy to roll over soft sand with transom wheels or a doll, even with two people — but my wife and I are much older than you ;-).

    If I took it out a lot in the ocean I would really get tired of the hassle and be looking for a boat ramp and a towing it with a real trailer.

    Just some thoughts to keep in mind.

    Would some sort of a long board be feasible with some modifications?

    Philip Tschersich
    BPL Member


    Locale: Kodiak Alaska

    I am a pretty strong and experienced paddler, so keep that in mind and translate this to your situation as you see fit, but…

    I think packrafts work great in the ocean. On calm seas, with no wind or tide or waves working in my favor or against me, I can cruise at 3.2 mph in my Alpacka Yukon Yak with a 20-ish pound pack on the bow. I can do about 4.5 mph in my Valley Nordkapp sea kayak, so the packraft's speed totally surprised me. I mean losing only a little over 1 mph vs the sea kayak is amazing. That said, it does not take much wind or sea to change your speed dramatically in the packraft. I can pull myself into a 20-30 mph wind in my sea kayak but even 15 mph headwind basically stops the packraft dead in its tracks. Similarly, running beam sea you need a pretty aggressive ferry angle to keep traveling in the desired direction in the packraft so a lot of energy gets wasted. Tail winds are great, obviously.

    I have paddled 15 miles in a day in my packraft, and it was no big deal. I average about 33 miles a day when I am doing expedition sea kayaking, so covering half that in what amounts to a bathtub toy I consider pretty good progress. Again, that is given calm waters and weather. The sea kayak kicks the packraft's ass as soon as things get lumpy.

    Once concern I would have is handling a lot of sharp objects around the packraft. They are very durable in terms of bumping into rocks and such, but spear fishing or handling knives, etc sounds like a potential hazard in an inflatable craft. Use your discretion.

    Here are two videos I made of packrafting in the ocean here in Kodiak, Alaska. I did about half hiking, half paddling, but you can get a feel for how fast the boat moves.

    Packrafting Chiniak Bay

    Packrafting Shuyak Island

    W I S N E R !


    @ Philip
    Those are beautiful videos!
    You're moving that packraft just fine. From what I see here, I think it could work for what I want to do….really just moving up and down a 1-2 stretch of coastline from structure to structure. The same conditions you wouldn't want to paddle are probably the same conditions you wouldn't want to be diving in, so that would largely regulate itself. I suppose the only concern would be having the weather shift quickly while you're out; but I'm not talking about being that far from shore.
    Concerning sharp stuff, my spears have tip protectors and the knife doesn't really leave its sheath until I'm killing or cleaning fish- both of which are done while in the water.

    Are they difficult to climb back into once you're swimming?

    I really need to find someone in SoCal and give one a paddle myself.


    I've been drooling over small inflatables for some time. I like keeping things simple and light and don't have any large towing vehicles (nor do I want one), so inflatables have been appealing. I know a few divers that use a setup like what you own to skip up and down the coast, they're popular with spear fishermen. I'd likely go for something with a rigid hull and small trailer to get a little more speed.

    I've heard about a guy that spearfishes miles offshore using a prone racing paddle board. Longboards aren't unheard of at closer ranges. The biggest concern I have with small craft like this is visibility and getting run over by a larger boat. I had a very close call last year with a boat tearing through the kelp I was just hunting. He either didn't see or had no regard for my float and dive flag.

    Billy Ray


    Locale: the mountains

    It will be very affected by wind… beware the wind coming up and blowing out out to sea… bad day.


    Nick Gatel
    BPL Member


    Locale: Southern California


    I've been toying with the idea of getting a packrat for quite a while. Perhaps we can practice together in the LA River. Should have some good rapids if we get enough rain this year :)

    Tyler N


    Locale: Vuur-Gin-Yaa!

    Craig – This is doable. And an awesome idea, I might add! Especially if you're just skirting along the shore you can adjust if weather/wind gets unmanageable. Crossing larger bodies is more of a concern to calculate & assess in a packraft but you should be fine esp. so close to land.
    One recommendation I would make is to consider how to anchor the packraft; they spin easily & this might get cumbersome esp. when fishing. I've used 2 kayak anchors/deadman rock bags – a little heavy but it holds the position & helps if you're working a reel. But, if using as a diving platform 1 anchor would probably suffice. This summer I used my packraft as a snorkeling platform in the Gulf of Mexico & it was amazing; esp. since the Gulf was as still as a lake!
    EDIT: oh yeah at night/dusk get one of those kayak lights & tie to bow for visibility.
    EDIT: if reasonably nimble you should have no trouble hoisting yourself back into raft. Definitely thread grab lines around to ease handling. Also, the weight in raft (esp. when fishing, possibly w/cooler?) will help stability during boarding

    W I S N E R !


    I figured I could use a small kayak anchor or, in most areas I'm spearing, just clip off to the kelp.

    I've always wanted a packraft for High Sierra lakes but with little moving water in Southern CA I'm hoping it could be used in the ocean some as well.

    Richard Nisley
    BPL Member


    Locale: San Francisco Bay Area


    Both packrafts and kayaks are displacement hulls and their maximum EFFICIENT paddling speed (kts) is determined by the same exponential regression formula:



    The packrafts designed for white water have significant rocker built in and this reduces their hull speed. The Unrigger Explorer model, that you are considering, has a relatively flat bottom and consequently its length of the hull at the waterline is pretty close to the specification length of 95 inches or 7.9' yielding a hull speed of 3.77 kts or 4.3 mph.

    jan nikolajsen


    Some thoughts about using packrafts on coastal adventures, in place of seakayaks. The comments are based on Pacific Northwest conditions, which are all I know about, but I know them well.

    A seakayak takes skill and experience to be safe in cold water. If one masters it, the rewards are huge but the road to expert level is long and not for everybody. Many of those serious aspects that makes me treat kayaking like a loaded gun with a hair-trigger are minimized or non existent with a packraft. Capsizing: pretty much won't happen. Buddy assists: a packraft paddles acceptably with two. Surf landings/launches: still techy and white knuckle, but much less so. Wet entry: easy. Rocky, steep-to pocket beaches: bring them on!

    Add to this the option for packing up and hiking, and suddenly trip planning takes on a whole other appeal.

    The downside is about half the speed (even slower upwind), less arrow straight tracking and a decidedly dorky appearance among diehard kayakers.

    This summer we tested our boats in remote areas on the outer coast of Vancouver Island, places where mostly seasoned seakayakers go, and felt very safe and capable. We met the kayaking guide book's daily mileages without straining while easily carrying provisions for extended periods. It was generally thought that the boats handled rougher water in a more confidence inspiring manner than a kayak would with our skill levels. We surfed bigger following seas without fear of broaching, worried less in steep chop and tumultuous tidal currents and maneuvered effectively among rock gardens and confused refracted waves along rocky shores.

    Our group of 3 (my wife, son and I) have Yukon Yaks and Llamas.

    Following sea in a typical catabatic afternoon wind event. Nootka Sound.

    Dave P


    Try looking at folding kayaks. There's quite a few sea-faring expeditions done in them. The whole reason they were invented in the first place is because the Germans were intrigued by the Golden Era of Expeditions in the 1920s and 1930s, but very few actually had the space to keep a boat in their small town-houses and apartments. There were remarkable expeditions carried out in-between 1930s and 1940s. Funny thing is that some of them weren't even aware WW2 occurred while they were away.

    At that time though the main criteria is that the boat should be transportable by trains. That's why older brands like Klepper are still made of wood and heavy: "if it's not broken, don't fix it". Luckily, there are more recent companies which experimented with aluminium tubings.

    If Klepper folding kayaks were invented today, I doubt the Germans would be opting for the conservative frame and fabric.

    Of course, fiberglass are cheaper, and in some cases, lighter; but the folding ones are at least backpackable. Not really the pinnacle of "lightweight backpacking" though, and there are times when carts are required to do portage since the weight of the kayak and the gears is unbearable. I've considered purchasing one from Folboat or Feathercraft a decade ago while living on Vancouver Island but ended up moving before I saved up enough money to buy one. At that point, there was no point in buying a sea-faring craft for inland rivers, ponds and lakes when canoes and rafts are cheaper and lighter.

    Unfortunately, folding kayaks are dwindling in popularity because of weight restrictions on luggage when people take to the skies. With all the airline restrictions in 2014, I wouldn't buy one either– might as well just rent a kayak nowadays.

    Just another option on the table.

    Dean L


    Locale: Great Lakes

    I have a Folboat, wide and stable, tracks great, but heavy, real heavy. Stores in two bags, one about 18"x26"x36", the other 18"x18"x60". Takes 2 people a good hour to put together, never tried it alone. Last used in the 70's, lives in my garage now. Maybe today's folders are improved.

    Dean F.
    BPL Member


    Locale: Back in the Front Range

    I have a Long Haul Mk.2 (a clone of a Klepper Aerius 2 that's made in Colorado). It takes me about 20 minutes to assemble it by myself. And yes, it is very heavy- I wouldn't want to carry if further than from my car to the ramp. It's a work of art, though. I have considered mounting the assembled frame on my wall. And any third-world carpenter can repair it, which is handy.

    Folbot is a great option, actually. The newer ones aren't the pain that my namesake describes. And Folbot has an outstanding reputation for customer service. They are on the cheap end of folding kayaks, though that might still mean $2k. Probably not as expedition-worthy as a Klepper or Feathercraft, but still very sturdy boats. People have certainly done some impressive expeditions in them. The Yukon Aleut, or Kodiak are what you're looking for, though I think they have expanded into sporting models now, too.

    Speaking of Feathercraft- those are probably the top of the line folders nowadays. You can easily drop $5k, but they are excellent boats. Most of them fit in a single backpack, unlike the Kleppers. Their Khatsalano is very impressive, but not really what you want. You want something like a Klondike.

    Mark Ries


    Locale: IOWAHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!! this most likely would not work for the op but kinda neat

    Dale Wambaugh
    BPL Member


    Locale: Pacific Northwest

    I feel your pain!

    +1 on use in calm conditions. If it is windy and/or strong tides you might find yourself heading for the wrong continent. Sea kayaks are built to track in those conditions. A mile out could be quite a workout if the wind isn't going your way. +1 on low hull speed. Add some chop or a rip…. never mind!

    The thing that came to mind is the durability of packraft when climbing in with your SCUBA gear. All that metal doesn't sound like a good combination. Think how tough most marine inflatable fabric is. The spear, well…… sssssssssssss

    Erin and Hig did crossings that would scare me in a nicely appointed expedition kayak, let alone a floating doughnut! They were smart and brave— and lucky.

    Alas, boats are like any other gear— or potato chips: I bet you can't eat just one……

    Dave P


    "I have a Long Haul Mk.2 (a clone of a Klepper Aerius 2 that's made in Colorado). It takes me about 20 minutes to assemble it by myself. And yes, it is very heavy- I wouldn't want to carry if further than from my car to the ramp. It's a work of art, though. I have considered mounting the assembled frame on my wall. And any third-world carpenter can repair it, which is handy."

    Yeah, 21 kg to 25 kg seems to be the upper-end for portaging with folding canoes and folding kayaks solo without a cart.

    Last time I inquired about kayaks, some said expeditions can be done in Big Kahuna (16 – 18 kg) if ultralight principles are applied. Others say to go with the Klondike (35 kg) or K2 (40 kg). But to be fair, I am not really sure if it's the latter are only suggested because some of those folks treat their sea kayaks like car-camping.

    Really sucks that everyone has different suggestions because they are very expensive.

    Roger Moore
    BPL Member


    Locale: Southern Cali

    Hi Craig,

    The real concern in LA County is that inflatables off the beach are illegal.

    I'm not sure up to what size but I have been chased oft beach several times by the life guards. So much so that my favorite time to use my pack raft is Winter. And generally before the lifeguards start.

    I'd hate to paddle out to the kelp and have some Coast Guard boat pick me up and confiscate a $1000 of raft.

    I have an Alpaca and live in Marina.

    Message me and we can set you up on a test run.

    I spearfished the Pipe this morning,btw. Sure was a long swim…


    New experience, Denali Llama on lake michigan but think in terms of open bodies of water and or long distance paddling 'on-track'. Help me think through attaching a runner 3" deep along the packraft bottom length. Tappered up-front to follow the 4" rise to the edge where bottom meets inflation tube. Same runner from center to rear slightly pronounced to 4" depth but not following the upturn in back but extending straight back from the packraft bottom under the waterline as rudder. I've been over numerous attachment designs, all portable and/or foldable and light weight. A sleeve makes most sense to me but I'm not ready to damage my new Alpacka to test it. See any inherent failures? Doug

    Derrick White
    BPL Member


    Locale: Labrador

    I am new to all of this and have been focussing these past few months on acquiring white water skills and "pimping" my raft to be comfortable and effective while minimizing the weight of the total package. I do pretty much all of my outings in Labrador and floating down a river often brings you out on the Atlantic coast or into a huge inland salt water lake (Lake Melville), which has considerable windage and tidal currents. I picked up a WindPaddle sail but have not tried it yet for the purpose of transiting extend distances on the lake and across coastal bays. Has anyone tried a sail on a packraft on the ocean? Derrick

    Derrick White
    BPL Member


    Locale: Labrador

    As an update to the above, now almost a year later, I have gained some experience with Alpacka rafts on open water.  As context, I have a  8 years of ocean experience in the North Atlantic coxswaining a Rescue RHIB, so being in open ocean with only tubes of air to keep me afloat is a familiar and comfortable place for me to be.

    After 2 trips on exposed flat water, about 35km long each, and both as the last legs of 3 day river whitewater trips, I can offer the following guidance:

    1. When there is no wind, it is not difficult at all to paddle a packraft.  I average about 4KM \ 2.5MPH.
    2. Wind will make or break you on open water.  With a sail it can be a lot of fun.  I have tweaked the WindPaddle so I can make great speeds (that sounds Trumpian) with a wind astern, or up to 60 degrees on either quarter.   Once the wind is more on your beam than 60 degrees from the stern, it becomes very difficult to keep the air in the sail and your lateral movement begins to significantly out pace your way forward.
    3. Wind creates waves of course and with a good stern wind, it is a hell of a lot of fun.  Its not unlike kite sailing.  It really hauls you across the water and you begin surfing the front sides of lop\swells as you plunge down.  I tend to paddle with the sail up both as a means to keep on course and also to help me along.  A packraft draws most water where your backside sits and the following sea constantly pushes your stern forward causing the boat to broach broadside into the waves.  Keeping the bow ahead takes constant attention and after 4 hours straight you are exhausted.  But as I said it is a lot of fun.  Its not for the weak of heart or inexperienced, and paddling hard is essential to keeping the bow downwind.  Last trip, coming out of Grand Lake in Labrador, I averaged 10KMH \ 6.2MPH with a 35KMH \ 21 MPH tail wind.  The Lake is 80KM \ 50M long, so the wind blowing lengthwise fetches quite a steep lop\swell.  .
    4. The previous trip was not so much fun.  We began with the wind perfectly oriented to push us along to our destination 35KM \ 21M away.  About halfway in the wind died and realizing we would be unable to make it (the tide was against us) we had to paddle like savages for 2 hours to get to shore.  Which raises the real risk of open water packrafting Рthe wind turning the wrong way!  Wind can change direction 180 degrees in minutes and if it were to do so in a direction away from shore and you are any distance from shore in a packraft, you will be in trouble.  On a coast, the risk is of course you will be blown out to sea.  As long as you in a bay or an inland lake, you should be able to use the wind to get back to shore, unless the bay is wide, and you are in the middle, and near its mouth, and the wind turns seaward.  I would only recommend crossing bays when you are inside the bay far enough to tack to shore if the wind were to turn seaward.
    5. I do not recommend going on large open water bodies without a sail. Of course on lakes the wind will blow you to one side or the other eventually, and packrafts are very stable.  But on the coast, I see a real risk.





    Philip Tschersich
    BPL Member


    Locale: Kodiak Alaska

    Here are two ocean packrafting videos from Alaska this summer. In both scenarios, the packraft made the trip possible.

    Shuyak Hike and Packraft 2016

    Crossing Kodiak Island: Alitak to Kodiak

    Hunter H
    BPL Member


    Sick videos.

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