Jackson Hole Packraft is Under New Ownership

Jackson Hole Packraft is Under New Ownership

Amy Hatch, owner and founder of Jackson Hole Packraft has sold the business to Matt Harrington.

Amy founded Jackson Hole Packraft 5 years ago and she pioneered the idea of shipping packrafts as rentals in the lower 48.  Her new venture, Garage Grown Gear, is starting to take off and she wants to be fully engaged to ensure its ongoing success.

Matt Harrington is excited to carry on what Amy has started and will continue to offer the exceptional customer service that Amy and her team are known for.  Matt is a packrafter and an avid outdoorsman.  He is passionate about helping great adventures happen.  Matt is also the owner of another packraft rental business, Backcountry Packraft Rental, which rents and ships packrafts out of Browning, MT (east side of Glacier National Park).

Because Matt lives in Montana, the majority of the rafts have already been moved to Montana and will remain there.  However, you will still be able to rent a couple of our rafts in Jackson Hole through Teton Backcountry Rentals and as always we can ship you our rafts anywhere in the lower 48.  The move also means customers will now be able to rent from both fleets.  This is great because Jackson Hole Packraft has the widest variety of packraft brands and Backcountry has the widest variety of Alpacka models including the 2-person Alpacka Gnu!

For this year at least, the Jackson Hole Packraft website will stay relatively the same.  This will make it easy for former and current customers to find.  A few used rafts will be sold this fall, as they have been in the past.  The current phone number of Jackson Hole Packraft 307-269-0966 will remain active for this year as well.

Aire’s BakRAft and Kokopelli’s Nirvana, a Rookie’s Review.

I’m pretty good with logistics, planning, and processes, but brand spanking new to packrafting.  Being the guy on the phone and answering emails around here it was pretty important that I get my butt in a boat to learn what this was all about.  Fortunately Amy, the founder and my boss here at JHP suggested we take a day off and go packrafting.

Once the decision was made to go the next questions were…where to go and what boats to take?  After a fair amount of deliberation we decided to float the Henry’s Fork of the Snake below Lower Mesa Falls.  This float would allow us a true “pack in”, a bit of whitewater, and with the optional car shuttle have us back in time to pick up kids from daycare.  Our original plan was to take 4 boats, an Alpacaka, Bakraft, Kokopelli, and Feathercraft but a rental came in literally minutes before we were going to leave and we ended up just taking the two newest boats in our fleet the Bakraft by Aire and the Nirvana by Kokopelli.  A perfect opportunity not only to learn all about packrafting but also write a review of the two boats from a rookie’s perspective.


Might as well start at the beginning.  The first thing you usually do with a packraft is put it in your pack so you can go somewhere cool.  Both the Nirvana and the Bakraft roll up pretty small, the size of a big sleeping bag.  The Bakraft’s material seems to compress and roll a bit easier allowing the Bakraft to be rolled tighter than the Kokoplelli and the Bakraft comes in about 4lbs lighter as well.   I was a gentleman and let Amy carry the Bakraft.  All of gear fit nicely in big day packs with paddles, lifejackets, and helmets strapped to the outside.  I used my old backcountry ski pack while Amy sported her super light and fancy Hyperlite Mountain Gear pack.



After a steep hike down to the river it was time to unpack and inflate!  Inflating a packraft is a combination between a pillow fight and blow job…hahaha…no seriously with the Kokopelli you use an inflation bag, very similar to a pillow case to trap air and push it into the raft and then finish off the raft with your breath.  It was very simple and I had the Kokopelli ready to roll in under 10 minutes.

The Bakraft is a bit of another story.  The process starts out the same, the seat pulls triple duty as the inflation bag, seat/backrest, and storage bag.  So using the seat/inflation bag you inflate one chamber in the floor and another for the rest of the boat.  Then things get tricky, because the Bakraft is self bailing and uses some really high tech materials it needs to be inflated with 2.5 PSI, more than your breath can handle.  Bakraft has overcome this by providing a “hand pump” and various hoses that connect to your mouth or to the inflation bag to get air to the hand pump.   The system works but it took both Amy and I working together to get the boat properly inflated.  (more to come on this)


On the water

Our plan was for me to start out in the Kokopelli Nirvana and Amy in the Bakraft and then switch off during the day as neither of us had paddled both boats, we also wanted to get a ton of pictures, successfully navigate “Surprise Falls” and just have fun.  Even though I had floated this stretch of river dozen’s of times in my other occupation as a fishing guide, Amy led the way since it was my first time in a pakraft.

I immediately discovered two flaws in the Kokopelli design.  First the seat immediately slipped from under my butt to under my thighs dropping me several inches lower in the boat.  Second there is a small hole between the spray skirt mount and where it is sewn to the deck allowing water to leak in, this was made worse because I had lashed my dry bag almost on top of this hole allowing water to puddle there and literally drain in on me.  I was wet and had only been in the water 45 seconds.    With the swift and splashy water there was no time to worry about this just yet, I could fix this when we stop to survey surprise falls.  We stopped just above Surprise Falls to put a bit more air in both boats  (the cold water cools the air in the boats making it necessary to add a bit more), check the safest route, and make final adjustments to our gear.  I fiddled with the seat straps and took a closer look at the “drain” hole under the spray skirt while Amy topped off the Bakraft.

Aire's BakRaft on the Snake River

Surprise Falls was just enough of a drop and rapid to get our adrenaline going but not enough to freak us out and we both had fun paddling through.  My adjustments to the spray skirt and seat were not successful as the seat slipped out from my butt as I dropped over the falls and water rolled off the spray deck onto my crotch.  Oh well at least we picked a nice sunny day!

BAKraft rules! Amy sending it over Surprise Falls on the Henry’s Fork of the Snake.

Posted by Jackson Hole Packraft and Packraft Rentals Anywhere on Monday, June 29, 2015

A bit below Surprise Falls we stopped for some photos, a snack, and to switch boats.  My turn to try the Bakraft. Now this may have been my first time packrafting but I have spent thousands of days in driftboats and rafts as fly fishing guide and was fortunate as a kid to do a lot of canoeing and inflatable kayaking.  So my first impression of the Bakraft?  “Now this is a boat!”  I immediately paddled across the river, grabbed an eddy, and paddled right back to Amy on the other side.  I am not sure I know enough about boats to describe exactly why I felt right at home in the Bakraft but with the inflatable floor the boat simply tracked and maneuvered better.  You sit a bit higher in the water which made it easier for me to see, sit, paddle, etc.  In contrast Amy who is more used to traditional packrafts felt “tippy” sitting up so high in the Bakraft.  The next hour of paddling was pure bliss, playing in eddies, splashing through waves, soaking up the sun, and stretching my legs with no spray deck in the way.  Aire has made a packable boat that is a blast.


Aire's BakRaft

Final thoughts

Aire has taken packrafting to the next level.  In the past it was enough to have “a boat” that you could pack, with the Bakraft you now have a super capable inflatable kayak that is also packable. Bakraft has some work to do to make their inflation process smoother, threaded connections to the inflation bag and hand pump would make things easier as the hoses kept sliding off in the middle of trying to inflate the boat.  But man once this boat hits the water….you’ve got yourself a very fun and capable boat.  Be ready to pay for it as technology isn’t cheap $1299.
The Kokopelli is more of a traditional style packraft and while it too had a few quirks with the seat and strange hole under the spray skirt. It’s still a very capable boat and at $925 saves you a few bucks over the Bakraft.  If you aren’t going be doing any whitewater you can get the Nirvana without the spraydeck for just $725…looking for innovative storage?  Check out Kokpelli’s Renegade with TIZIP, allows you to store gear in the packraft air chambers themselves.

Why Packraft

Nobody says it better than our Fairbanks counterpart, Northern Alaska Packrafts. In its words, here’s why to packraft:

The packraft has evolved into a fine-tuned, lightweight, and unbelievably versatile watercraft over the years. Simply stated, it’s a raft that can challenge nearly any body of water, be used as a shelter during a storm, double as a cargo ship to haul game during a hunt, and yet still be carried on your back.

Packrafts satisfy the human desire to travel light and compact, either in the backcountry or during a quick afternoon trip on a local lake or river. They weigh a mere 4-5 lbs and pack down to the size of a standard backpacking tent. Packrafts are nearly bomb-proof and can take loads of abuse if handled properly. Even some of the most gaping wounds in the tube can be repaired in the field with a roll of Tyvek house tape. In addition, basic control and maneuvering of the raft are relatively intuitive. The responsiveness and overall stability of a packraft allows even an inexperienced boater to feel comfortable and in control after a short

Packrafts can be inflated in less than 5 minutes without the use of a heavy, awkwardly shaped pump. A lightweight bag constructed of sil nylon is used to scoop up air and inflate the boat. An additional mouth valve is then used to top of the boat. The rafts also have an inflatable seat and backrest. So functionality and comfort have not been compromised at the expense of making the boat as light as possible.

So here is just a small list of some packraft uses. Please feel free to share with us if you have more suggestions or personal experiences.

A packraft can…

1. Easily fit into a backpack, small plane, boat, or the trunk of your car.
2. Be used to cross a river that would otherwise be impassable on foot
3. Provide shelter during a heavy down poor or during an all night rain
4. Serve as a heavenly, soft ground pad for an afternoon nap or full night’s sleep
5. Facilitate travel during endurance races
6. Get you to that hot fishing hole on the other side of the creek
7. Haul your bike or skis during a multisport adventure
8. Be paddled around a pristine alpine lake
9. Carry your sheep or caribou as you float out from a seldom visited hunting spot
10. Be filled with water and let to sit in the warm sun – voila, your very own hot tub
11. Be used for many other reasons…

Jackson Hole Packraft has one more use to add to the list …

Use it in the winter to ferry across rivers to ski untouched powder. Lately, some folks have been laying down turns on the far side of the Snake River in the Grand Canyon of the Snake River south of Jackson.

Packing for Packrafting

Packing for Packrafting

By Forrest McCarthy

This post originally appeared at http://forrestmccarthy.blogspot.com and is published here with permission.


***Some of these items described in this article can be purchased directly from Jackson Hole Packraft, including Feathercraft BayLee packrafts, Hyperlite Mountain Gear backpacks, Salamander throw bags, Tyvek tape for repairs and accessory straps.***



I’m regularly asked by friends, colleagues and strangers what I take with me on packrafting adventures. My answer: it depends.

It depends on the season, the weather, the objective and the terrain. As my grandfather taught me, you need the right tool for the right job. Don’t turn a Phillips head with a screwdriver.

It also depends on what equipment is readily available in my garage, at the local outdoor store and river shop, or on the Internet. Free time is extremely valuable, and I’d rather spend it in the mountains or on a river rather than in my garage manufacturing or customizing gear. All the more power to those who do, but it’s not my style.

The other challenge with an equipment list is keeping it updated. No doubt, by the time you read this, new and better products are already available. Having the latest and greatest gear, however, is an endless consumer driven neurosis that may be good for manufacturers and the U.S. economy, but is hard on the environment and your wallet. I expect every piece of equipment I purchase to have a minimum three-year life span. If a piece of equipment is not worn out by the time it’s replaced, I sell it or give it to somebody who will use it.

Storage space is also a consideration. Just because you don’t mind gear taking over your garage doesn’t mean your wife won’t mind. In order to increase domestic happiness, my wife and I made a deal: we can acquire new equipment if we get rid of the old stuff. No hoarding.

Keeping it simple for wilderness whitewater in New Zealand


Intrepid wilderness explorer and renowned packrafter, Roman Dial, once explained to me three tenants for ultra-light wilderness travel: need less, share, and improved technology – in that order.

Need less: The most important question when packing for a wilderness trip is not what to bring, but whatnot to bring. Is it a necessity or a luxury? Have you ever used it before? What would happen without it? No doubt, experience and good planning assist in this process.

Sharing: Many pieces of equipment can be shared. How many knives are needed? Spare paddles? My wife and I will even share a spoon, toothbrush and sleeping bag or quilt (sharing heat while we’re at it). Many items can also have multiple uses. A packraft and life jacket make a great sleeping pad. Multi-purpose tools are stellar pot grips. A water bottle doubles as a mug for hot drinks.

Technology: High-tech products made from titanium, carbon fiber and Dyneema can reduce weight and improve durability. The result is increased safety, success, and comfort. But avoid the trap of taking an item just because it’s high-tech and lightweight. Even if it’s titanium your pack will be lighter without it.


The days of one packraft for all situations are all but gone. As the sport advances so does the diversity of adventures and adventurers. Equipment is becoming increasingly specialized. With this in mind, and for the sake of discussion, I propose the following categories: Ultralight Wilderness Flatwater, Lightweight Wilderness Whitewater, and Midweight Sidecountry Whitewater.

Ultralight Wilderness Flatwater (UWF)

UWF typically involves more walking than paddling. UWF rarely involves more than Class II water and weight is critical.

Modern packrafting originated in the wild and primarily roadless country of Alaska and the Colorado Plateau, where portable lightweight river crafts transformed rivers and lakes from barriers into thoroughfares. Classic UWF trips include: Utah’s Canyonlands Eight, Montana’s South Fork of the Flathead River, and many of the routes for the infamous Alaska Mountain Wilderness Classic.


Supai Adventure Gear Canyon Flatwater 2: Weighing a mere pound and a half, this is the lightest and most packable packraft currently in production. The $299 Supai is a great option when every gram matters. These boats are popular for canyoneering trips in the Grand Canyon that involve short and flat sections of the Colorado River and its tributaries.


Flyweight Designs FlytePacker: Made of coated nylon, the FlytePacker weighs only 2 pounds, 2 ounces and packs down into a 9” x 12” x 2” stuff sack. It’s not designed for whitewater, nor does its shape allow for efficient travel on flatwater. The durability of the thin nylon, which is used for the main tube and floor, is limited. But at just over two pounds and FlytePacker is ideal when weight is critical and the water flat. With a suggested retail price of $299, the FlytePacker is reasonable choice when you need to simply ford a river or lake. The FlytePacker is also popular for fishing remote lakes.


NRS PackRaft: It’s exciting to see a company like NRS, with a long history of making quality whitewater products, enter the packrafting market. Unfortunately, the current NRS PackRaft is too expensive ($575) for what it offers. It’s heavier than other comparable packrafts (4 pounds, 8 ounces) and inadequate for whitewater. NRS can do better. But on the upside, the PackRaft is large enough to handle two passengers.


Alpacka Scout: The Scout would win the UWF category for price ($525), durability and weight (3 pounds, 3 ounces) except the small size makes it useless to anyone but halflings — it does make a great kids boat. Recently, Alpacka introduced a larger and heavier (4 pounds, 2 ounces) version called the CuriYak ($695) after adventure cyclists Mike Curiak. This is an exciting development that incorporates many of the ideas that have been suggested to Alpacka for years. The aqua-dynamic design of the Scout and CuriYak allows relatively efficient paddling on flatwater.

Alpacka Double Duck: As discussed above, the second tenant of going ultra-light is sharing. This can include sharing a packraft. The Alpacka Double Duck ($885) is designed specifically for that purpose. Without seats, the Double Duck weighs in at 5 pounds, 7 ounces (that’s 2 pounds, 12 ounces per person). My wife and I have enjoyed several tandem packrafting trips in Canyonlands National Park.

Lightweight Wilderness Whitewater (LWW)

LWW trips typically involve less hiking and more paddling, including technical whitewater. In this category performance is as important as weight.

Classic LWW trips include: Utah’s Cataract Canyon, Wyoming’s Dubois-Moran or “Du More” route, and the Arctic Circle route through the Central Brooks Range. These are the trips I enjoy the most.

Alpacka with a Cruiser Spray Deck

Alpacka’s Yukon Yak: The Yak has set the standard for this category, revolutionizing the sport of packrafting. The Yak is considered a size medium – for smaller and larger folks the equivalents are the Alpacka (size small) and Denali Lama (size large). While the Yak could fit into all three packrafting categories, it excels at Light-weight Wilderness Whitewater. At 5 pounds, 7 ounces (with a Cruiser Spray Deck) the Yak is amazingly durable and capable of handling serious whitewater. Including a spray deck, the Yak will set you back $1,050.

In 2011 Alpacka changed the hull design of the Yak to be longer and pointier. The result is a boat that tracks better on flatwater and is more stable in big whitewater. On the downside, they’re slightly heavier, less maneuverable when creeking, and have a higher probability of getting wrapped around rocks. While superior for big rivers in Alaska, the longer hull design can be a liability in smaller Rocky Mountain creeks and rivers.

Whitewater Spay Deck

Alpacka Spray Decks: Spray decks revolutionized packrafting, increasing whitewater capabilities. Two styles of spray decks are available for Alpacka Packrafts: the Whitewater Spray Deck and the Cruiser Spray Deck. A Yak with a Whitewater Spray Deck ($1,100) creates a very dry high-performance packraft that’s ideal for Mid-weight Side-country Whitewater (MSW). The whitewater spray deck requires a skirt and a rigid aluminum ring around the cockpit. This adds weight, bulk, and transition time.

The Cruiser Spray Deck is better for longer wilderness trips. While it will not keep you as dry as the Whitewater Spray Deck, it’s lighter and easier to get in and out of. For ultra-light wilderness flat-water (UWF) the Cruiser Spray Deck can be completely removed (zipper and Velcro attach it to the boat). One problem with the Cruiser Spray Deck is that the Velcro it uses to create a seal is inadequate and eventually wears out. Another problem is having the Velcro seam on the side of the boat along the tube. Active boaters running whitewater (the primary reason to have a spray deck) commonly bend forward and backward at the waist creating stress on the Velcro seam. The result is the seam frequently failing when you need it most.

Mike Curiak Packing his Alpacka Zipper Boat

An ingenuous idea developed by Alpacka is the Cargo Fly that incorporates a waterproof zipper in the rear hull. This zipper allows gear to be stored inside the hull of the boat. The result is better weight distribution and boat handling, and drier gear. On the downside transitions and packing become more complicated, the zipper and dry-bags add weight, and there exists the risk of the zipper failing.

Luc’s Pimped Packraft

Modifying Yaks with thigh straps, Feathercraft seats, and additional Velcro has mitigated some of the Alpacka’s limitations. To learn more about these modifications read Luc Mehls article Pimp My Packraft. I have found the bulky NRS Thigh Straps unnecessary and normally use lightweight accessory straps instead.


Feathercraft BayLee 1: Feathercraft is known for excellent craftsmanship and the BayLee does not disappoint. The highly durable polyurethane fabric is bonded using cutting edge welding technology. Unlike other packrafts, there’s little or no air seepage. The hull is constructed using two independent chambers and comes rigged for attaching thigh straps! The BayLee’s optional spray deck is very effective at keeping water out of the boat. At 7.5 pounds (with skirt) the BayLee 1 ($1,350) is a great option for both Lightweight Wilderness Whitewater and Midweight Sidecountry Whitewater.

Midweight Sidecountry Whitewater (MSW)

Technical whitewater is the focus here. These trips are typically done is a day or less and approaches are normally short or none at all. Performance trumps weight.

Commonly referred to as “sport boating,” MSW can be loads of fun and offers a great way to practice your skills and push your limits. Examples of MSW runs include: Utah’s Virgin River, Idaho’s Teton Riverand Alaska’s Six Mile Creek.

Feathercraft BayLee SB: As previously discussed, Feathercraft is known for quality construction and its line of packrafts is no exception. In addition to offering a two-chamber tube and high-tech welding, Feathercraft has introduced the first self-bailing packraft. The self-bailing design comes with both a figurative and literal cost: it is significantly heavier (10 pounds) and is more expensive ($1,530). For side-country boating, the BayLee SB is a delight. You never have to pull over to take a “dump” (and by that I mean dumping water out of the boat) and the absence of a spray deck allows for quick exits, increasing safety when exploring wood-chocked rivers. If you like to paddle with a dog, the open self-bailing BayLee is your best option.

Alpacka Orca: It’s no secret. Alpacka will soon introduce a Mid-weight Side-country Whitewater boat. This past summer Wyatt Roscoe, Tim Johnson, Mike Curiak, American Whitewater Staff, and others tested the new design. With a narrow hull and an aluminum frame, the 11-pound Orca is easy to roll and can punch through big turbulent whitewater. The boat will attract hardcore whitewater kayakers and revolutionize steep creeking. For beginners, however, the Orca is tipsy. And for multi-day adventures, there is limited capacity for carrying gear. The prototypes have sparked an entertaining debate regarding what truly constitutes a packraft. Rumors suggest a retail price of around $2,000.


NRS Bandit: OK, this is not a packraft, but it is the lightest high-quality commercially produced inflatable kayak that’s capable of navigating whitewater — a good benchmark for differentiating packrafts from inflatable kayaks. The self-bailing Bandit weighs 20 pounds, is highly durable, and reasonably priced ($700)

For last 10 years Alpacka Raft led a renaissance in the design and production of packrafts (for a more detailed history read Sven Schellin’s article Packrafting Europe). As a result, the popularity of the sport is growing exponentially. It is encouraging to see other manufacturers enter the market. And no doubt, in the next several years there will be more. Competition is healthy and will drive more choices, innovation, and affordability.

Repair Kits

The most common failures are small holes on the floor of the boat that can be easily fixed with a squirt of McNett Aquaseal. Larger tears may require a patch of extra floor material. Ace Flexible Vinyl Menderworks well for patching vinyl tubes (Alpacka). A squeeze bottle filled with rubbing alcohol is helpful for cleaning surfaces before gluing or patching. Glues require about eight hours to cure. For hasty field repairs use Tyvek Tape.



Similar to packrafts, deciding what paddle to use depends on the type of trip. Paddles are one of the most important investments and are not all created equal. Considerations include: weight, durability, function, length and cost. In reference to length, I’m a mid-sized humanoid and prefer a mid-sized paddle of around 200cm. Shorter folks might want to go shorter and longer folks longer.


Ultralight Wilderness Flatwater

Alpacka/Sawyer Trekking Pole Paddle Blades: At a mere 6 ounces, these carbon fiber blades ($40) are the lightest and least expensive option for Ultra-light Wilderness Flatwater. The paddle blades are designed to fit a variety of trekking poles. With obvious limitations, they’re only appropriate for paddling short distances across calm flat water.


Advanced Elements Packlite 4-Partaddle: At $80 this 4-piece paddle is a great value. And at 32 ounces the Partaddle is worthy for flatwater or as a spare on a wilderness whitewater trip.


Lightweight Wilderness Whitewater

Alpacka-Sawyer Packrafting Paddle: Sawyer is a reputable paddle manufacturer that lowered its standards when producing the overpriced ($295) 5-piece paddle for Alpacka. These paddles have not proven to be durable. Their only redeeming qualities are their adjustable length and weight (29 ounces).

Aqua-Bound Manta Ray Carbon: This is a 4-piece sea kayaking paddle that has proven to be a worthy lightweight (30 ounces) option for wilderness trips. The carbon fiber shaft and plastic blades sell for $210.

Werner Ikelos: Designed for sea kayaking, the Ikelos is made by arguably the best paddle manufacturer in the universe and is ideal for wilderness whitewater. The 25-ounce straight shaft version is available as a 4-piece paddle. This quality paddle ($400) is a good investment for those serious about wilderness packrafting.


Midweight Sidecountry Whitewater

Aqua-Bound Manta Ray Fiberglass: This durable and economic ($135) paddle is available as a 4-piece. At 35 ounces, it’s stiff and whitewater worthy.

Werner Sherpa: This fiberglass whitewater kayaking paddle provides Werner performance at a reasonable price ($250). The 197cm Sherpa weighs 34 ounces and is available as a 4-piece.


Life Jackets

There are many life jackets on the market – more than I have time or space to discuss. Below are a few of my favorites.


Ultralight Wilderness Flatwater

Stearns Chest Pack: According to Stearns the chest pack weighs less than an ounce (I’m skeptical) this inflatable Type V US Coast Guard Approved Life Jacket provides Type III flotation. The chest pack can be inflated with or without a CO2 cartridge, provides up to 22.5 pounds of buoyancy and costs $120.


Lightweight Wilderness Whitewater


Stormy Seas SV100: This Type V US Coast Guard Approved inflatable life jacket ($140) is lightweight (26 ounces without CO2 cartridge) and packs up small. It can be inflated with or without a CO2 cartridge. Fully inflated the SV100 provides 21 pounds of buoyancy.

MTI Livery: Weighing less than a pound, the Livery is the lightest non-inflatable Coast Guard approvedType III life jacket on the market. This highly affordable ($40) life jacket provides 15 pounds of buoyancy and doubles as a nice seat cushion at camp.


Midweight Sidecountry Whitewater

NRS Ninja: Designed for kayakers, there is no shortage of quality life jackets on the market suitable for side-country whitewater packrafting. The Ninja is one of them. It provides 16.5 pounds of floatation, is compact, and sells for $130.


Safety Equipment

When paddling swiftwater, packrafters need to be adequately prepared for hazards and mishaps. This includes both training and equipment. Consider enrolling in a Swiftwater Rescue Course — I wish everyone I paddle with would.

In addition to a Personal Floatation Device (PFD), basic safety equipment includes a throw bag, river knife, and helmet. Similar to PFDs, there exist many choices for packrafters. Below are a few of the best:


Salamander Little Big Mouth Throw Bag: Salamander throw bags ($58) are a quality lightweight option. On larger rivers it’s prudent to carry the 70’ model ($78). Throw bags can double as a clothesline, bear rope, and hand line when negotiating short sections of technical rock.


Bern Macon Helmet: At 17 ounces the Macon ($45) is one of the lighter full-fledged whitewater helmets available. Bern offers a lighter (12.5 ounces) more expensive ($199) Carbon Fiber Macon.


Va2or Kip Carbon Helmet: Made in France, this 8-ounce multi-sport helmet ($290) will protect your cranium while skiing, mountain biking, and packrafting.

Gerber E-Z Out Rescue Knife: This blunt nosed folding river knife weighs 2.6 ounces and sells for $25.

Spyderco Ladybug: The .6-ounce Ladybug folding knife ($60) is an ultra-light option for wilderness trips. The knife can be improved for river running by rounding the point on a grinder.



Backpacks for packrafting can be categorized into three styles: waterproof backpacks, lightweight backpacks lined with a dry bag, and open-style portage packs. All three categories have pros and cons, and deciding what to use is driven primarily by personal preference. Below are the best from each category:

Exped Torrent 50: This 2.65-pound waterproof 50-liter backpack ($160) is made of durable laminated 420 D nylon fabric that’s been high frequency welded. While heavy, there’s beauty in the simplicity and conveyance of a fully waterproof backpack.

Hyperlite Mountain Gear Porter Pack: HMG handcrafts a line of innovative ultra-light cuben fiberbackpacks that – among other great attributes – utilize a roll-top closure lid and highly comfortable harness system. The 56-liter Porter Pack ($280) weighs less than 2 pounds. If requested, HMG will include two daisy chains on the inside so it can be secured to a packraft when inverted (inverting the pack creates a cleaner and safer package without the hip belt and shoulder straps dangling on the outside). While the fabric is waterproof, the pack should still be lined with a lightweight dry bag. The HMG Porter Pack is my personal favorite for packrafting, and I also use it on long ski tours.

ULA Epic: The open-style portage pack ($275) weighs just over 2 pounds and works in conjunction with a 30 to 70 liter dry bag. Roman Dial has been a long-time advocate of this type of backpack, and used the Epic during the Arctic 1000, a self-supported 400-mile traverse of the Brooks Range.


Dry Bags


A growing number of outdoor equipment manufacturers are producing lightweight dry bags. I have found the Outdoor Research ($18) and Sea to Summit ($25) dry bags to be the most durable.

For extra insurance, important items, like a down sleeping bag, can be packed in ultra-light ditty bags.Outdoor Research ($10) and Sea to Summit ($15) make the best.


Accessory Straps

Outdoor Research ($4), REI ($4) and HMG ($10) manufacture lightweight accessory straps that are perfect securing packs to boats. The straps utilize a durable yet simple plastic fastener. This type of strap is lighter and less expensive than the classic steel buckled NRS strap ($8). Lengths of at least 48” are recommended.



Along with a boat and good paddle the proper clothing system is one of the most important equipment purchases you will make. This is not the place to cut corners. Packrafting is meant to be fun and being cold is not fun; it is miserable, even dangerous. Staying warm, dry, and happy is priceless.

NRS HydroSkin S/S Wetsuit ($130): For Ultra-light Wilderness Flatwater or running whitewater in warm weather, I often use a thin neoprene Farmer John style wetsuit. HydroSkin can be worn under other layers to prevent core heat loss.

Alpacka Stowaway Drysuit ($720): Alpacka recently partnered with Kokatat to produce this lightweight (22 ounces) dry suit designed specifically for packrafting. Feedback so far has not been positive for the Stowaway. It has been found to be far from dry. If you are committed to getting one, I would ask around for a used one. Everyone I know who has bought one would gladly sell you theirs.

Kokatat Front Entry Dry Suit ($915): While more expensive and heavier, the 52-ounce Kokatat dry suit may be one of the best investments you make. Being wet and cold takes the fun out of packrafting (not to mention the risk of hypothermia — a life-threatening condition). Booties further increase your comfort level by keeping feet warm and happy. And the relief zipper is a wonderful thing. The Kokatat dry suit is also available in a women’s version.

Kokatat Lightweight Paddling Suit ($760): For the weight conscious hoping not to swim this is a better option than the Alpacka Stowaway. The quality paddling suit weights only 35.3 ounces.

NRS Hydroskin Wetsocks ($29): When paddling without a drysuit with booties I normally wear neoprene socks to ensure my feet stay warm. I have also found them highly comfortable to hike in. The slick surface seems to prevent hotspots and blisters.

NRS Hydroskin Mambas ($40): When cold hands become a problem I prefer paddling mittens over gloves. In addition to having found a paddle mittens warmer than gloves, the Mambas provide better grip.



Shoes made for both the river and trail have improved significantly in recent years, and continue to evolve even as I write. A few important attributes are timeless. They include: comfort, sticky rubber soles thick enough to protect the bottoms of your feet, non-absorbent and quick drying construction, secure lacing systems, and durability. Below are currently my two current favorites:

Salomon Techamphibian 3 Water Shoes: The Techamphibian ($70) provides good traction and foot support in a water-shedding design. It is proficient on trail and in the water.

Keen George Boots: When packafting sandy desert rivers, high-cut Neoprene river boots prevent sand from building up inside. Built to Keen’s high standards, the George Boots ($80) are designed for the river but adept on trail or slickrock.


Sample Gear Lists

Ultralight Wilderness Flatwater: Bob Marshall Wilderness

The Bob Marshall Wilderness extends for 60 miles along the Continental Divide between the Flathead and Sun River drainages. Tom Turiano and I spent five days connecting the two drainages in a grand 120-mile packrafting loop. There were equal parts hiking and paddling. None of the paddling was harder than Class II. I shared my boat with my six-month old border collie.

Boat – Alpacka Double Duck
Paddle – Werner Ikelos
Life Jacket – Stormy Seas SV100
Throwbag – Salamander Little Big Mouth Throw Bag
Knife – Spyderco Ladybug
Backpack – Hyperlite Mountain Gear Porter Pack
Dry Bag – 25-Liter Outdoor Research Lightweight Dry Sacks (2)
Accessory Straps – 48-inch Outdoor Research (2)
Clothing – NRS HydroSkin S/S Wetsuit
Footwear – Salomon Techamphibian 3 Water Shoes


Lightweight Wilderness Whitewater: The River of Return Expedition

Mike Curiak, Jim Harris, Andrew McLean, Tom Turiano, Moe Witschard and I utilized packrafts to challenge the century old idea that paddling is a one-way event in the Frank Church—River of No Return Wilderness. After eight days, which included 35 miles of walking and 120 miles of legendary whitewater, we arrived near the confluence of the Middle and Main Forks of the Salmon – exactly where we started.

Boat – Alpacka’s Yukon Yak (with spray deck and thigh straps)
Paddle – Werner Sherpa (197cm)
Life jacket – NRS Ninja
Helmet – Bern Macon Helmet
Throwbag – Salamander Little Big Mouth Throw Bag
Knife – Spyderco Ladybug
Backpack – Hyperlite Mountain Gear Porter Pack
Dry Bag – 35-Liter Outdoor Research Durable Dry Sacks (2)
Accessory Straps – 48-inch Outdoor Research (2)
Clothing – Kokatat Front Entry Dry Suit
Footwear – Salomon Techamphibian 3 Water Shoes


Midweight Sidecountry Whitewater: Bonsnia-Herzgovini

The origin of the name Bosnia dates back to the Roman Empire and the term bosana, meaning water – the regions most plentiful resource. On route to either the Adriatic Sea or Black Sea, Bosnia’s many rivers have carved dramatic canyons and exciting passageways ripe for exploration by intrepid paddlers. All have road access. Last May, Moe Witschard and I joined river advocate Aleksander Pastir for a 10-day whitewater tour of Bosnia & Herzegovina.

Boat – Alpacka’s Yukon Yak (new hull design, spray deck, and thigh straps)
Paddle – Werner Sherpa (197cm)
Life jacket – NRS Ninja
Helmet – Bern Macon Helmet
Throwbag – Salamander Little Big Mouth Throw Bag
Knife – Spyderco Ladybug
Clothing – Kokatat Front Entry Dry Suit
Footwear –Keen George Boots

Best Packraft Series: The Feathercraft BayLee, Bolder and Beast Packrafts

Best Packraft - Feathercraft BayLee 1 Self-Bailing River Runner Packraft - Jackson Hole Packraft & Packraft Rentals Anywhere

The number of companies making packrafts is growing alongside the sport of packrafting itself. There are now 7 different brands of packrafts available, with an eighth one coming soon. So the obvious question is which is the best packraft? The answer: it depends. It depends on how you’re planning to use the packraft and the amount of money you want to spend.

This series explores the pros and cons of each brand of packraft. This article discusses the Feathercraft BayLee, Bolder and Beast packrafts. Here is a link to our article on Alpacka Raft packrafts. And stay tuned for articles to come that will look at Supai Adventure Gear, NRS, Flyweight Designs, Klymit, Advanced Elements and Kokopelli Raft Company.

We have Feathercraft BayLee 1 Self-Bailing Lightweight for River packrafts available for rent. Give us a call at 307-269-0966 or e-mail us at info at jhpackraft dot com to reserve your boat today.


The Feathercraft BayLee, Bolder and Beast Packrafts

Feathercraft and Alpacka Raft are the only two companies making a white-water capable packraft. However it’s worth noting that Kokopelli Raft Company may have one out by this summer.

Feathercraft stands alone as the only company making a self-bailing packraft. It also is the only company making a packraft designed for extra heavy loads (ie a boat for hunters to easily haul out large game).

Several experienced packrafters swear by the technical edge that a self-bailing boat offers, saying it’s nice to not have to deal with a spray deck.

Another nice feature of Feathercraft packrafts is that they have multiple chambers. This not only adds a layer of safety, but is also helpful when paddling rivers that require multiple chamber boats.

The drawbacks of the Feathercraft packrafts are the expense and weight. Depending on the model, a self-bailing Feathercraft packraft costs between $1,530 and $2,375. And they weigh between 10 pounds and 18 pounds. Some of this weight comes from the number of valves required to fill the multiple-chamber boat: 2 valves for the hull, 2 valves for the seat bottom and back, and 4 valves to inflate the floor.

By comparison, an Alpacka Yukon Yak packraft with a Cruiser Spray Deck weighs between 5 and 6 pounds and costs $1,095.

Feathercraft sells three packraft models with a self-bailing floor. They are the BayLee 1 Self-Bailing Lightweight for River, the Bolder, and the Beast.

Feathercraft also offer an Alpacka-style packraft with a spray deck and a non-bailing floor. This model is called the BayLee 1 Lightweight for River. It weighs 6.5 pounds and costs $1,195.

There are a few factors to consider when choosing which Feathercraft model to purchase. The first is your height. If you’re over 6 feet tall, you’ll want to opt for the Bolder rather than the BayLee. Another consideration is your gear load. The Bolder has more room than the BayLee for gear, including space behind your seat. The Beast is the end-all-be-all for carrying heavy loads with a capacity rating up to 1,000 pounds.  Both the Bolder and Beast also include grab lines.

Finally, think about where you want your center of gravity in the boat. The Bolder and Beast are longer boats with the seat moved forward. Here is Feathercraft’s explanation for this design:

“Packrafters learn to lean as far forward as possible to avoid backflips. But this is an unnecessary struggle. By making the boat just a little bit longer, you move your center of balance forward. The improvement in performance is dramatic. When you enter a hole, all of your energy can be devoted to going forward. Forget about back flips.”

Feathercraft has a long history of making excellent crafts in the water sports industry. It uses durable materials and makes its boats at its shop in Vancouver, Canada.

Bottom line: if paddling performance is more important to you than weight and cost, then seriously consider a Feathercraft packraft.

Here is a link to our article on Alpacka Raft packrafts and stay tuned for more articles in our Best Packraft Series.

We have Feathercraft BayLee 1 Self-Bailing Lightweight for River packrafts available for rent. Give us a call at 907-830-1016 or e-mail us at info at jhpackraft dot com to reserve your boat today.

Have you paddled a Feathercraft packraft? If so, what are your thoughts on it? Is it the best packraft available in terms of technical performance? Is it worth the money? If  you haven’t paddled a Feathercraft packraft, would you like to give one a try? Why or why not?


Best Packraft Series: The Alpacka Raft

Best Packraft - Alpacka Raft - Jackson Hole Packraft & Packraft Rentals Anywhere - Web_edited-1

The number of companies making packrafts is growing alongside the sport of packrafting itself. There are now 7 different brands of packrafts available, with an eighth one coming soon. So the obvious question is which is the best packraft? The answer: it depends. It depends on how you’re planning to use the packraft and the amount of money you want to spend.

This series explores the pros and cons of each brand of packraft. In addition to an analysis of Alpacka Raft packrafts (below), here is a link to our article on Feathercraft packrafts. And stay tuned for articles on Supai Adventure Gear, NRS, Flyweight Designs, KlymitAdvanced Elements and Kokopelli Raft Company.

Alpacka Raft Packraft

Although packrafting has been around in various forms throughout centuries, Alpacka Raft created the first modern-day packraft in 2001 in Alaska. Today, all of its packrafts are designed and made at the company’s headquarters in Southwestern Colorado.

Alpacka packrafts shine in wilderness whitewater because they are both lightweight and durable. Their standard boat weighs about 5 pounds and rolls up to the size of a large sleeping bag or small tent. This makes it quite easy to hike them into the backcountry. Meanwhile, Apacka packrafts have been used on the big rapids in the Grand Canyon and to paddle waterfalls. (Note: we don’t actually recommend doing either, but we’re just saying … it’s been done and Alpackas have held up to the test).

The standard Alpacka packraft comes in three sizes: Alpaca (small), Yukon Yak (medium) and Denali Llama (large). These models start at $783.

Alpacka also offers several niche models of packrafts including ones designed for two people, fishing and adventure racing.

If you plan to be in class II or above whitewater, we highly recommend a spray deck. Since Alpacka packrafts are NOT self-bailing, spray decks prevent frequent stops on shore to dump water out of your boat. (Even with a spray deck you’ll still have to stop occasionally, but much less).

Alpacka makes two types of spray decks: the Cruiser Spray Deck at a cost of $200 and the Whitewater Spray Deck for $250. Both need to be installed by Alpacka. The Cruiser Spray Deck is simple to use. It seals with Velcro and intuitively pulls off in the event your packraft flips. It also completely unzips from the boat for those blue sky, flat water floats. It works well in Class II-III whitewater, or when it’s raining. The Whitewater Spray Deck is more water tight, but also a heavier, more complicated system. We recommend the Whitewater Spray Deck if your focus is on paddling big rapids.

We frequently get asked about the Cargo Fly. The Cargo Fly is a system that allows you to store gear inside the packrafts’ hull. It has its pros and cons. It allows for efficient packing, it creates a low center of gravity helping to stabilize the boat, and it creates a multiple chamber boat (the storage bags get inflated once packed). The downside is a more complicated setup and difficulty accessing your gear while paddling.

Now for the shameless plug: if you’re unsure which size or model is right for you, you can test out an Alpacka packraft by renting from Jackson Hole Packraft & Packraft Rentals Anywhere. We rent Yukon Yaks (size medium) and Denali Llamas (size large) with both Cruiser Spray Decks and Whitewater Spray Decks. We also have a few Feathercraft BayLees (self-bailing) available for rent. We ship rentals throughout the Lower 48 and Canada. Here is the link to our rental prices. Call us at 907-830-1016 to make your reservation.

Here is a link to our article on Feathercraft packrafts, and stay tuned for more articles in our Best Packraft Series.

In your opinion, what are the pros and cons of Alpacka packrafts? 

Top 5 Best Packraft Trips in Utah

Utah has some of the best packraft trips in the Lower 48. And water levels are at their best right when skiing conditions deteriorate and locals trails are still too sloppy to enjoy.

This year, we’re offering a 20% discount on packraft rentals between now and May 19. Call us at 907-830-1016 to reserve your rental or use the contact form to the right.

Need ideas for where to go packrafting in southern Utah? Here’s a starting point …

Top 5 Best Packraft Trips in Utah

Best Packraft Trips in Utah - Photo by Forrest McCarthy - Web

(Photo by Forrest McCarthy)

#1 – The Escalante River

American Whitewater Escalante River description and water flows

Trip report from Talusfield blog with nice descriptions, tips, video and photos

Trip report from Backpacking Light with nice descriptions and photos, including a good discussion of paddling at low water levels

#2 – Muddy Creek (The Chute)

American Whitewater Muddy Creek description and water flows

In-depth trip description and info from Southwest Paddler

Video of packrafting Muddy Creek

#3 – Dirty Devil

American Whitewater Dirty Devil description and water flows

Story from the Denver Post on floating the Dirty Devil in packrafts

Video of Packrafting the Dirty Devil

#4 – Green River (Labyrinth Canyon)

American Whitewater Labyrinth Canyon description and water flows

Blog post from Forrest McCarthy about linking Keg Spring, Labyrinth and Horseshoe canyons (with photos and videos) 

#5 – Canyonlands National Park

American Whitewater Stillwater Canyon description and water flows

Trip report on packrafting in Canyonlands National Park from Backpacker Magazine

Video on packrafting in Canyonlands National Park from Roman Dial


Rumor has it that veteran packrafter Forrest McCarthy is working on a packrafting guide to Utah for his blog. Stay tuned. We’ll post a link here as soon as it goes live.

For more beta on all these trips also check out the Packrafting Forums sponsored by the American Packrafting Association.

Before heading remember to:

–          Check water flows (they can be extremely variable in this region)

–          Check the weather (many of these routes are prone to flash floods)

–          Bring a good map and compass (and have the skills to use them; it can be confusing country)

–          Bring plenty of water and/or know where springs are located

–          Get a permit, when necessary


Who out there has packrafted in Utah? In your opinion what’s the best packraft trips Utah has to offer? 

Alpacka Raft Founder Receives Golden Paddle

Photo: 2013 GOLDEN PADDLE AWARD</p><br />
<p>The Board of Directors of the American Packrafting Association has chosen Sheri Tingey, founder and owner of Alpackaraft, as the recipient of the 2013 Golden Paddle Award!</p><br />
<p>The award is given to individuals who have made significant contributions to the advancement of packrafting. Without Sheri's vision and design excellence the sport of packrafting would not be what it is today. </p><br />
<p>"Honestly, designing these boats has been one of the greatest joys of my life," said Sheri on learning of the prize. "I come to the shop every day still excited to think about what stuff I can come up with that would make the boats a little bit better or new things that would be good for packrafting.  I feel so blessed to be able to do this.  It just makes my heart soar every time I think of all the amazing adventures people with these funky little boats.  What a hoot that you can have such a great time in such a simple little boat."</p><br />
<p>We are all grateful for the joy and adventure that Sheri and Alpackaraft have brought to us and the world.  Look for more exciting innovations in 2014 from the mad genius of packrafting!

Sheri Tingey, founder and owner of Alpacka Raft, became the 2013 recipient of the Golden Paddle Award, given out annually by the American Packrafting Association.

The award is given to individuals who have made significant contributions to the advancement of packrafting. The board of directors of the APA recognized Sheri for her vision and design excellence through Alpacka Raft, calling her the “mad genius of packrafting!”

“Honestly, designing these boats has been one of the greatest joys of my life,” said Sheri on learning of the prize. “I come to the shop every day still excited to think about what stuff I can come up with that would make the boats a little bit better or new things that would be good for packrafting. I feel so blessed to be able to do this. It just makes my heart soar every time I think of all the amazing adventures people with these funky little boats. What a hoot that you can have such a great time in such a simple little boat.”

Packraft Rental Discount

Packraft Rental Discount - Jackson Hole Packraft & Packraft Rentals Anywhere

Reserve your packraft rental before Jan. 31, 2014 and get a 20% discount. We have a fresh fleet of Alpacka rafts ready for 2014. This is our way of saying Happy Holiday and a hearty thanks to our loyal customers for another great year in business. To make a reservation call us at 907-830-1016 or submit your contact info here and we’ll reach out to you.

Cheers to another year of plentiful paddling!

Alpacka Demo Packrafts For Sale

UPDATE:  Our 2013 Alpacka demo packrafts have sold out. Sign up for our newsletter using the form to the right and like us on Facebook, and we’ll let you know when the next sale happens (most likely September or October). In the meantime, click here to reserve your packraft rental. Our weekly rental rate for an Alpacka Yak or Llama with a spraydeck is $200 and we ship rentals anywhere in the U.S.

We have five Alpacka demo packrafts from our rental fleet for sale – both Yaks and Llamas. All are 2011 or newer and include a Cruiser Spray Deck. Please e-mail us at info at jhpackraft dot com for details. We can provide photos of the boats, and are happy to ship to out-of-town buyers.