Matt Szundy leads a packraft charge across the Snake River a la George Washington. Designer Sheri Tingey doesn’t mention this in the interview, but stability is a definite safety feature of Alpacka rafts.
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To learn more about packrafting at Backpacking Light, visit backpackinglight.com/packrafting, or take a wilderness course in packrafting at backpackinglight.com/school.
Packrafts are small and light enough to be carried in a backpack. They are opening up a whole new world for exploration by backcountry enthusiasts. Rivers that are formidable obstacles to a hiker can be crossed safely in a packraft. In the Grand Canyon, routes have been put together using packrafts to safely cross the Colorado that haven’t been explored since famous explorers Colin Fletcher and Harvey Butchart risked their lives on air mattresses. Fantastic traverses involving equal parts paddling and hiking have been created in places like the Bob Marshall Wilderness in Montana and in Alaska and New Zealand. First packraft descents of rivers have been logged in the greater Yellowstone ecosystem.
As packrafters have explored more and more routes with relatively easy water and become more comfortable in their craft, their adventuresome spirits have naturally turned to creating new trips that include harder whitewater. Packrafters now routinely raft Class III whitewater and some are running Class IV and V water. Sheri Tingey, Alpacka Raft owner/designer, has kept pace with paddlers’ desires by constantly upgrading boat design so that current Alpacka rafts are quite whitewater capable while still remaining lightweight and packable. In challenging whitewater, safety features become even more vital, and Sheri has never lost sight of safety. She designs the boats to be simple to get out of and back into from the water. Each time she is tempted to add a performance improvement that makes getting out of the packraft after a flip more complex, she goes back to her motto, “Simple is safe.”
I talked with Sheri during a break in a whitewater rescue course we were both attending in Jackson, Wyoming. She talks about the design history of the Alpacka packrafts and design tweaks she’s made to the latest crop of boats so they are as safe as she can make them in whitewater.