Packraft styles and differences

After a few years of paddling abuse- by Dita Pahl

So its official, Not all packrafts are created equal.

I have been spending some time looking through all the offerings on line, and who sells what. It has come to my attention that there are quite a few out there who are pushing packrafts that may not be suited to our conditions in australia, or even what you want to use them for.

Essentially there are two main styles

1/ flat water/ calm water/ moving water

2/ whitewater

The differences in the style seem to be mainly that the whitewater style has more upthrust in the nose and some in the tail, and that it is usually a bit narrower than the calm water style. However, I have used the calm water packraft in some pretty steep water and waterfalls and have had no issues whatsoever with it being able to handle waves or drops.

The big thing I have found is that in the whitewater, a decked kayak does not seem to work as well, and the self draining styles are more usable. This is especially true in water that has bigger waves and volume.

For me, it is also helpful to have a good inflatable floor in the boat. A full floor- as this provides ridigity and increases the performance of the craft as well as the comfort. The floor doesn't come with the boats as a package, and is usually and add-on option. You can also get an integrated inflatable floor for extra cost, and then you would only need to use the seat or half floor. In this instance the craft will perform more like the inflatable kayaks or sports rafts. The integrated floor does not have the same rigidity as the insert, but does allow for easier transport and assembly.

Other options include thigh braces, different size seats and so on. After having used and abused y packrafts for the better part of 3 years now, I can honestly say that everyone will want to set up theirs differently. I don't use thigh braces for most of my paddling. I find the backrest and wedging my feet beside the tubes is enough. In bigger water thigh braces do help.

Another thing to consider is the thickness and type of material. After considerable testing and paddling, I have found that the 420D TPU stands up to most things I put it through. The 210D didn't hold up to any abuse, particularly if there are rocks and sharp object involved, Great for flat water use, but not so good on any rivers where you are likely to come in contact with rocks and objects to a regular degree.

The floor should always be thicker - the 840D TPU is great, and even though it adds weight, its worth the peace of mind. If you wanted to go even more durable material than that, you can get the commercial weight PVC. This will take a beating, even in hire fleets.

The weight difference seems to be less than 1 kg between the 210 and 420D models that I have. I think its well worth it to get the extra rigidity and resistance to wear and tear.

Size of craft is another consideration. Most packrafts come in different lengths and widths. The most usable seems to be around 250 cm, but you can go smaller, particularly if you are not a large individual. This reduction in size will make it easier to manouever in whitewater, but also reduce capability of handling anything really big. I am not sure that the reduction in weight with respect to size would make up for the reduced performance.

If you are in the market for a packraft, just remember that you will need to really think about what you want to use it for, and what the best materials and setup for the job are. There are some great versions out there, but you don't always need to pay top dollar to get a great product.


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