TLDR: Ready to dive into the exciting (and, let’s face it, sometimes intimidating) world of packrafting? Here’s what you need to know about what packrafting is, what to know when starting out, and what to bring with you when out on the water.

Packrafting is a sport that blends the best elements of both boating and hiking. Packrafters utilize inflatable boats, or rafts, that they carry around in backpacks.

If you’re an outdoor enthusiast and love to explore uncharted waters and terrain, then packrafting could be the perfect sport for you.

In this beginner's guide, we will delve into the fascinating world of packrafting, from its definition and basics  to essential gear and safety tips, allowing you to embark on your packrafting journey fully informed and prepared.

What is Packrafting?

The word “Packrafting” is a portmanteau (or word blending the sounds and meanings of two other words). In this case, “packrafting” is the result of blending “backpack” and “rafting”. This makes perfect sense, since the goal of packrafting is to paddle around on rivers, lakes, streams, and other bodies of water, paddle to shore, deflate your raft and store it in your backpack, and hike around.

Often, but not always, packrafting involves multi-day expeditions and overnight camping. One of the main benefits of packrafting is that it allows adventurous souls to access remote and untouched wilderness areas that are often inaccessible by traditional watercraft like kayaks and small motorboats.

Why Choose Packrafting?

Packrafting offers several benefits compared to other watersports.

This is largely due to the portable, lightweight nature of packrafts, which allow hikers to quickly and easily transition from land to water in ways they otherwise would be unable to do.

Packrafts offer the unique ability to let water travelers reach uninhabited areas and remote locations off the beaten path, quite literally speaking. What’s more, packrafting lets nature lovers observe wildlife and breathtaking scenery from unique places that may not be travellable by larger boat or even ATV excursion.

The ability to transition seamlessly from rafting to hiking is what makes packrafting especially compelling for many outdoor enthusiasts. Packrafts make “the perfect accomplice for weekend expeditions” making packrafting a good sport for weekend warriors who want to maximize their time spent outdoors.

What Do You Need for Packrafting?

Before you begin your sojourn into the wide world of packrafting, you’ll need to arm yourself with knowledge about packrafting essentials. Because packrafting does involve an element of danger, you always want to keep safety in mind and come prepared for worst-case scenarios.

Here are some essential items you'll need:

A Packraft

While it may be obvious, the most important item you need to go packrafting is a packraft! Don’t try this sport with a kayak or other inflatable raft; packrafts are specially designed and engineered to accommodate the weight of a loaded backpack in the bow, or front, of the boat (and in some cases, even a bike, if bikepacking).

Packrafts come in various sizes and designs, so you’ll want to research things like the weight capacity and features of your packraft before deciding on which one is right for you. For instance, when researching, ask yourself questions such as are you looking for a packraft for one, or for two people? Will you be paddling in relatively calm class I or II waters, or class IV rapids speckled with boulders? These factors will influence which boat you ultimately choose.

Paddles and Oars

You’ll need paddles or oars to get you moving once you’re in the water! And not all paddles are created equal. Today, there are many options to choose from, including paddles made from high-density plastic to paddles made from carbon fiber.

Personal Floatation Devices (PFDs)

Safety is extremely important when packrafting. Don’t try to be a hero. Don’t go packrafting without a PFD. Cultivating a healthy respect for nature and not only its beauty, but also its innate indifference to our survival instincts, is an important part of being ready for packrafting.

Dry Bags, Bow Bags, and Gear Storage

Keeping your belongings dry is essential when packrafting. Investing in high-quality dry bags and bow bags will protect your gear from getting wet, and you won’t regret it.

Maps, Satellite Communicator, & General Area Knowledge

Choosing the right location for your packrafting trip can make all the difference. Knowing the topography and geography of the area you’re going to is equally important. We recommend bringing a satellite communicator along with you on your packrafting adventures for emergency messaging, weather reports, and SOS communications.

Safety Tips for Packrafting Adventures

Understanding the American Packrafting Association’s P.A.C.K.R.A.F.T. safety code, practicing self-rescue techniques, and knowing how to handle emergencies are crucial aspects of a safe packrafting experience.

Understanding different paddling strokes, such as forward, reverse, and sweep strokes, will help you control the direction and speed of your packraft.

You should also always bring an emergency repair kit that’s compatible with the type of material your boat is made of along with you on every pack rafting adventure. (Some kits will not bond to a boat depending on the material it’s made of — don’t make this mistake!)

Learn More

There’s plenty more to explore about packrafting, from the usefulness of spray decks and inflation bags to more in-depth tips for the experienced packrafter.

Want to learn more information on how to get started on your packrafting journey? We recommend checking out our Beginner’s Guide to Packrafting.

Looking for the perfect packraft to kick off your adventures? Check out all of our packrafts now.

September 22, 2023 — Adrianna Simpson