For years the packraft quietly helped adventurers access places they couldn’t get to before: crossing rivers along a multi-day hike; exploring the headwaters of wilderness rivers; traveling through beautiful, tragic countries. Slowly, though, the packraft’s possibilities are becoming more widely known. Now they’re multiplying like bunnies and mutating like finches. Natural selection is at work.
Advanced Elements Packlite
Debuting for the 2014 season, this 4-pound mini-raft is the lightest and least expensive of the bunch at $299. Built of PVC-free polyester ripstop with a tough polyurethane laminate, Advanced Elements says it's "good for calm water, slow moving rivers and sloughs." Naturally, our testers took it outside that performance envelope. After all, the worst that could happen is a hike out. ($299; airkayaks.com)
The ubiquitous river supply company offers packrafters a solid middle-of-the-road option with this 7.4-pound wilderness-ready inflatable. Constructed of tough 70-denier material (210-denier on the floor) with 11-inch tubes and plenty of kick (14" bow, 12.5" stern) this boat will handle moderate whitewater. We'd love to see it with a factory sprayskirt option and a self-bailer. ($575; nrsweb.com)
The Bolder offers packrafters what many have been clamoring for: an honest-to-god raft that fits in a pack. We liked the elevated inflatable seat, and the self-bailer (the only one in the fleet). The 7-foot-3 length and welded seams of urethane-coated nylon mean a solid, better-tracking craft that won't back-flip under load. It's a good river performer, though at 12.5 lbs., you'll feel it in your pack. ($1565,feathercraft.com)
The original packraft crafters double down with an innovative two-person pack-canoe design weighing less than nine pounds. The secret of this speedy new Gnu is a zip-in chamber which functions as a canoe saddle (spray deck and knee pads recommended for whitewater) and zips open for dry storage ($1,250-$1850 in regular and lighter Vectran fabric, alpackaraft.com)