What is Packrafting?

I’m always on the prowl for my next adventure and Will and I are talking about heading up to the backcountry of Alaska this summer. However, we are thinking that simple trekking and backpacking may not be enough for us; instead, we’re starting to eyeball packrafting!

If you’ve never heard of packrafting, I wouldn’t worry about it—I had barely known of its existence until last summer! In short, packrafts are inflatable boats that are small and lightweight; all of them weigh less than nine pounds. Each raft holds one person and can be packed up into a tiny little parcel that can fit inside of a backpack. And naturally, it’s important for the packraft to fit inside of a pack so that you can take it with you on adventures!

You see, packrafts are sturdy enough to be used on almost any water crossings so they are perfect for backpacking trips in wild areas such as Alaska. We are potentially looking at getting dropped into the northern part of the state in an area known as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. At over 19 million acres, ANWR is the largest national wildlife refuge in the United States, and as you can imagine, far too large to cover in one week of backpacking! However, if each of us is carrying a packraft, we would be able to see tons more of ANWR.

Packrafting

For example, we could each throw a packraft into our backpack and spend one or two days trekking through the refuge and camping at night. After two days, we would probably be lucky to cover 20 miles of terrain since ANWR has minimal trails. However, we could inflate our packrafts on the third day and spend a few days traversing the refuge via river. The packrafts are large enough to handle one person with some gear, so each of us could float downstream and check out the wildlife from a different angle. Not only would our legs get a break, but we would be able to cover far more distance! If we decided that we wanted to head inland again, we would just deflate our rafts, pack them back into our packs, and head out on our own two feet. Simple enough!

Obviously, our Alaskan adventure is still in the planning stages so none of this is set in stone. However, if we do head up there, we are both seriously eyeballing packrafts. My only concern is that I am not much of a water baby; after all, Colorado isn’t exactly known for it’s huge bodies of water! I’ve done plenty of lake kayaking and canoeing and I’ve been white water rafting a few times, but that’s where my experience ends. If we decide to give this packrafting a shot, I am going to need some serious practice in the boat. Anyone out there with experience?!

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As you may have guessed, I made it back from the hut trip in one piece! We arrived back in Denver late last night, amidst this beautiful snowstorm that dropped some flakes on the city overnight. Per usual, the hut trip was awesome and I had an incredibly fun time—photos and recap to come soon!

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Have you ever gone packrafting? Would you like to try?

Who has done some backpacking in Alaska?

19 Comments

  • Reply Ed at

    Heather this is awesome! You guys will have a blast. K if you are into pack rafting and Alaska you must watch Journey on the Wild Coast and read the book. This could hikes from Seattle to Cold Bay, Alaska and use pack rafts to get across rivers and even a few bays I think. Here is the link to the site: http://www.groundtruthtrekking.org/Journeys/WildCoast.html. This is there blog as well: http://www.groundtruthtrekking.org/blog/.

    I did some backpacking in Alaska and I have learned one important thing: Always be prepared! I am sure you are more prepared then most, but Alaska can be unforgiving and very uncomfortable if you arn’t ready for it. I can not wait to see this adventure unfold!

    • Reply heather at

      I’ll definitely check them out– thanks! I’m really hoping this all works out because it will be an amazing adventure. Will and his friend have done some serious backpacking up in AK, but this will be far more wild than anything we’ve done– I mean, we’d have to get dropped by a BUSH PLANE!

  • Reply Katie at

    OMG I’M COMING WITH YOU! That is all 🙂

    • Reply heather at

      Um, yes please. Seriously!

  • Reply Christy @My Dirt Road Anthem at

    That does sound like a fun adventure. I had never heard of it before. I think you should do it!

    • Reply heather at

      I really hope that we can! Naturally, it all comes down to time and money but I’ve been itching for an Alaskan adventure for quite sometime now. I’ve been to AK before but didn’t get the chance to do a lot of backpacking. Plus, I’m dying to see some wildlife!

  • Reply Heather @ Better With Veggies at

    This sounds amazing – you have the most incredible trips!

    • Reply heather at

      Ha, thanks! Here’s to hoping it pans out 🙂

  • Reply Melissa @ Freeing Imperfections at

    I’d really like to go pack rafting through the Green River through Utah. The river meanders through a lot of beautiful red rock formations. I just love Utah and think that would be a neat way to experience it. A whole bunch of time on a raft does kinda freak me out, but I think I could deal with a short trip. Looks like fun!

  • Reply lynne @ lgsmash at

    #jealous!! we aren’t pack rafting but planning a backpack/canoe trip in september in the boundary waters, MN. i like the sound of carrying an inflatable packraft more than a heavy canoe… but what can ya do. 🙂

    • Reply heather at

      I’ve always wanted to go to the Boundary Waters! I’ve heard they’re beautiful 🙂 And yeah, it does sound better although I bet I’ll be swearing out the additional 9 lbs after a few days!

  • Reply eric at

    Every summer we book an island out in the Adirondak Mountains. We load up all our gear for over a week and take a canoe and the dog out with us.http://roctherun.com/archives/714/ as you know mountain weather can be rough – and one trip out was REALLY rough as a storm blew in and we needed to boat back to the island in the middle of it.. in a very heavy.. very slow canoe. I grew up on the waterways of NYS fishing – camping – boating. Its fun – it’s worth it – I suggest your packrafting trip!!!

    • Reply heather at

      I love canoeing! My parents have a couple at their cabin and it’s so fun to take them out. I’m most concerned that the packrafts are individual and I’ll be navigating some whitewater on my own….but I’ve got time to learn, right?!

  • Reply Natalie @ Free Range Human at

    This sounds like so much fun, and I’d love to see Alaska. It’s definitely on our travel bucket list.

    • Reply heather at

      Agreed! I visited Anchorage and Denali and actually flew up to Barrow as well, but I didn’t get to spend enough time outside. I’m excited for this adventure 🙂

  • Reply Andy at

    I’ve never been packrafting but I think it would be a lot of fun. Alaska sounds like quite an adventure. Enjoy!

    • Reply heather at

      It looks pretty incredible and such a versatile way to see an area, you know? I’m sure it’ll make for some epic adventures…in fact, I need to make sure to wear my GoPro because I’m sure I’ll catch some footage that will be worth watching 🙂

  • Reply Alaska: Gates of the Arctic National Park - Just a Colorado Gal at

    […] packrafting will be part of our trip! Because Gates is so huge, we wanted to find an additional means of […]

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