Want to packraft, how to start?

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Home Forums Off Piste Packrafting Want to packraft, how to start?

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  • #3656572
    BPL Member


    Hi all,

    I am a half-decent backpacker and while I live on the east coast I have this dream of hiking into and pack rafting in the Bob Marshall Wilderness. I do not own a packraft and don’t know anyone who does. I live in Philly, PA. How do you recommend I start? I figure this trip is at least two years away.

    1. What raft do you recommend?

    2. What other gear do I need? PFD and paddles come to mind.

    3. What steps would you recommend I take?

    I even mapped out a possible trip here based on this video-





    Luke Schmidt
    BPL Member


    Locale: Alaska

    It’s a great hobby just expensive. A trip in the Bob would be awesome. If you aren’t careful you’ll find yourself planning trips to Alaska soon.

    If you can’t afford a dry suit or don’t want one you should limit yourself to decked rafts and avoid self bailers. For the Bob you can get away without a dry suit just be careful and bring extra clothes. If you go farther north you really should get a dry suit. Besides a paddle and PFD you’ll want some dry bags. A roll of tyvek tape can be good for field repairs (ask me how I know haha). A helmet isn’t a bad idea in some situations.  I’ll be honest I don’t always have one though.

    I recommend getting some whitewater time with a friend or a class.  Things can go sideways fast on a river. Knowing how to read water will keep you safe and you’ll also be more confident in knowing what you can run safely. If you can get to the American Packraft Association roundup that would be a great place to learn and network.

    BPL Member



    Thank you for your advice!


    Kevin Babione
    BPL Member


    Locale: Pennsylvania

    For a practice run you might consider backpacking the West Rim Trail (near Wellsboro PA) from south to north and then packrafting back to your car.

    Here’s a YouTube Video of a guy who did just that.  The ability to packraft turns this 30-mile one-way trail into a loop so you could take just one car and not have to worry about shuttling.  The Rattlesnake Rocks trailhead looks like about a 4-hour drive from Philly.

    BPL Member


    Thank you for the idea. I’ll need a packraft, PFD, and paddle first, but this seems like a great trip to learn.

    Brad Rogers
    BPL Member


    Locale: Southeast Tennessee

    I’d also say to get some front country pack rafting time in to get more confident in the way the boat handles.  This allows you to easy bail points if things don’t go right.  Despite the ugly stairs from kayakers , I do some of the local rivers around me.


    James Taylor
    BPL Member


    Locale: Indy

    Welcome Jason! We definitely need more packrafters on this side of the country.

    1. Call Alpacka and spend some time on the phone with them, they’re really the best resource and love to talk to people like yourself to help them out. Probably no one else who responds on this forum will have tried as many boat models as anyone answering the phone at Alpacka.

    2. PFD: the lightest and cheapest closed cell foam model is the MTI Journey. It weighs about 14 oz and makes a great pillow and torso insulation too. You can buy other models with pockets and a knife holder, but I just use my Journey.

    Paddle: Get a 4 piece!!! People don’t consider how difficult it is to bushwhack with two-foot long sticks coming out of the top of your pack. There’s going to be a certain amount of bushwhacking on almost all packrafting trips. The most popular model among packrafters is the Manta Ray from Aquabound. It’s a mid-range paddle. It comes in 3 price/weight categories, but that’s really the only difference between the three models. Get the lightest of the three that you can afford. Don’t buy the super cheap paddles out there, the shape of the paddle blade matters a lot, and the cheap ones won’t work as well in most situations. I own the Manta Ray Carbon and the only issue I have with it is that they don’t sell it in a shorter length than 210cm (I’m 5’10”). I would prefer about 200 cm, but then I’m spending over $300 to get a Werner (like the Shuna) or nicer Aquabound (like the Whiskey). One day.

    Thermal protection: wetsuits are cheap, drysuits are not. Unless you boat in the winter, you probably don’t need either where you live. Save the weight and money until you take a trip where you need it. You shouldn’t need either one in the Bob in summer. Raingear and a spraydeck is the poor man’s drysuit.

    Helmet: If it’s Class II or above, you should probably wear a whitewater helmet. Due to monetary constraints, I use a climbing helmet, and a lot of people use biking helmets, but whitewater helmets are better for protecting your head in water. To save weight, I don’t use a helmet in class I or II, but I would definitely want one in Class II if I was just starting out.

    Dry bags: I take one for food, one for clothes, one for misc stuff. I also double-dry-bag my quilt. I use a combination of DCF dry bags from MLD, REI ultralight dry bags, and a Big River from Sea to Summit. The Big River is the only one that doesn’t leak. The others are so light that they develop tiny holes over time and need to be repaired with Tyvek tape. The amount of water that gets through them is small, though, so I put up with them because they’re light. If your pack is on the bow, assume it will end up submerged for a few minutes if you flip and pack accordingly.

    Repair Kit: Give some thought to how you’ll repair a hole in the boat if you get one. I take UV Aquaseal, regular aquaseal, Tyvek tape, and alcohol pads. I’ve never needed to use them.

    Essentials Kit: if you get separated from your boat (it’s happened twice to me), what is the bare minimum you’ll need to self-rescue? Keep it on your person (in a PFD pocket or fanny pack). If a bully could get it off of you by holding you upside down and shaking you, then a bad swim could strip it away. Assume anything in the external pockets of your pack will be lost, as well.

    Here’s my gear list:
    Find the *Expedition Packrafting tab at the bottom. Some of that stuff (like ice axe and snowshoes) are overkill. But they look cool on the spreadsheet.

    3. The Bob will hopefully be like at least your 10th packrafting trip. Practice beforehand as much as you can. Roadside day packrafting trips and multiday packrafting trips will build your confidence.

    Pay attention to Rapid Classes (Class II, III, etc.). Class I is doable by a smart 5 year old. Class II takes some practice and skill, but an adventurous person with Class I experience who is calm under pressure can boat it and build skills over several Class II trips. Class III is beyond the skill level of anyone who doesn’t know what the classes mean. It requires reading the river, well-timed moves, and wet self-rescue abilities to do safely. Class IV and V can kill pretty quickly, so check American Whitewater for beta on rivers in your area. It’s easy to get in over your head if you don’t check beforehand. You can usually portage rapids that look too advanced, except for in canyons. As a newb, it’s just better to avoid steep canyons unless you can scout them from above. Don’t discount roadside, non-wilderness runs, as they’re a great way to practice.

    Go to the APA Packrafting Roundup, if you have a chance, and take a packraft-specific swiftwater rescue course there. I learned maybe 50% of what I know in that one week. Thor saved my boat and I boated with most of the people who’s Youtube channels you’ve been probably been watching.

    Consider buying this:
    You’ve probably come across Dave’s website (above), but if you haven’t, definitely read his stuff (look through posts from a few years ago when he lived near the Bob), and check out the Bob Marshall Wilderness Open threads on BPL if you’re looking to get inspired.

    Have you seen this site?

    +1 on Pine Creek Gorge. It looks really scenic. It’s a trip I’ve been wanting to do for a while.

    Dan Gregerson
    BPL Member


    Locale: Bob Marshall Wilderness

    Hey Jason,
    I’m the guy who made the video you linked in your OP (thanks for watching!).

    Tons of great advice here already; I would just add a few details from that trip: 1) I did use the MTI Journey pfd as referenced above, 2) although I use a ‘farmer john’ wetsuit for trips in May/June, on this Bob White loop trip, I was just wearing expedition weight polypro and rain gear and was very comfortable, 3) I bought my Alpaca raft used here on BPL Gear Swap!

    I also recommend lots of practice on Class I and II water and I even spent time on a lake practicing wet exits and reentry; although I have yet to actually dump in the wilderness (more due to luck than skill)! One skill I wish I would have practiced more is landing on the bank of a stream. It’s a little tricky to get the timing right and it really matters when you need to avoid sweepers (trees across the stream) that appear out of nowhere.

    Good luck and happy trails!

    BPL Member




    Your ideas are helpful, Thank you. The Bob is likely 2-3 years away in my early estimate. I’ll dig into the resources you gave me and keep my eye out for a decent used boat.

    Thank you,



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