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I discovered little rubber boats as a wilderness tool in the 1980s (we didn't call it "packrafting" then) as a mountain exit strategy: a way to relieve tired and battered feet that spent too much time in mountain boots on glacier climbs in the Olympics and Cascades.

My first packrafting trip down a glacial river in the Washington Olympics was an absolute disaster involving wood-shredded PVC, logjam drama, hypothermic whitewater swims sans life jackets or helmets, and dime-store boats with freeboard measured in centimeters.

We were young, stupid, ignorant, and arrogant.

But we lived. Barely. And at the time, we thought it was awesome. Looking back, I think I would have preferred a different path in learning how to paddle in the wilds.

There are many different reasons people want to learn how to packraft. Some people have zero interest in wilderness boat travel and simply want to try packrafting as a roadside activity. Some people are whitewater enthusiasts looking for a different type of thrill than that found in a larger raft, kayak, or river canoe. Still others see packrafting as a way to enjoy stillwater boating without the hassle, weight, and expenses of hard boats, boat trailers, car toppers, and tie-down straps.

For many of us here at BPL, however, we do see packrafting as a tool for wilderness travel - either as a means to paddle alpine lakes as a recreation activity (perhaps combined with photography, fishing, beach camp hopping, etc.), to paddle rivers as a mode of wilderness transport, or to cross larger rivers that we might not be comfortable swimming or wading.

Thus, this article focuses on a path to packrafting competence for those specifically interested in actually carrying their raft on their back into remote environments!


  • Introduction
  • Step 1: Rent or borrow a boat.
  • Step 2: Practice on a frontcountry pond.
  • Step 3: Find a calm river.
  • Step 4: Cross your first river current.
  • Step 5: Cross the river.
  • Step 6: Find an obstacle and learn to avoid it.
  • Step 7: Repeat Step 2 at your calm river spot.
  • Step 8: Paddle your first point-to-point float.
  • Step 9: Repeat Steps 2-8 with a pack.
  • Step 10: Start planning your packrafting future.
  • Take a packrafting course in Montana.
  • Safety Considerations
  • What's Next?

# WORDS: 1830

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