Right now, you might be wondering what a packraft is. Don’t worry. When I first ran across this term 5 years ago, I had no idea what it meant. In fact, I turned to the American Packrafting Association to find out about this outdoor adventure sport.
The first part of the term refers to the fact you can easily tuck it away in your luggage, backpack, and bike. The second part of the name packraft refers to the rafting abilities of the craft.
The American Packrafting Association officially defines the term as using a compact, lightweight, one-person watercraft to do the same thing someone would do in a larger vessel.
Best Lightweight Packrafts
AIRHEAD MONTANA Kayak
- Maximum Weight: 300 pounds
- Craft weight: 27.7 pounds
- Inflated size: 108 inches x 36 x 20 inches
The AIRHEAD MONTANA Kayak comes in both a 1-person and 2-person option, and we recommend whichever one fits your weight-carrying limit best. Unlike the K2, this packraft is constructed for use in moderate whitewater up to class III.
There is hardly any drag associated with this raft due to the 4 fins on the bottom, and storage for your backpack can be found in the form of netting on the bow.
In terms of durability, the AIRHEAD MONTANA uses 3 different air chambers to keep you afloat in the case of a wreck or puncture. The exterior is made from 840-denier nylon and the bottom is reinforced.
- UV and water-resistant coating to prevent wear and tear from the sun and ocean
- Compact for easy stuffing in a bag
- Boston valves for easy inflation covered in nylon for durability
- All needed seats included
- Easy to take in and out of the water
- Paddles not included
- Valves are not attached to the vessel
- Inner and outer air chambers of the floor must be aligned or air leaks out slowly
- 9-foot, 1-man inflatable kayak; designed for lakes and moderate white water
- All 3 air chambers are completely enclosed by rugged 840-denier nylon with
- Lightweight, compact, and portable
- UV and water-resistant coatings. Low drag and superior tracking with 4 bottom fins
Sevylor Quikpak K1
- Maximum Weight: 400 pounds
- Craft weight: 18 pounds
- Inflated size: 103 x 36 x 30 inches
The Sevylor Quikpak K1 is an easy to set up, 1-person kayak. When used as a packraft, it is easy to store inside of your backpack. When used as a kayak, the included bag does its job and makes the K1 a breeze to carry. Fun surprise, the seat is actually the carry bag.
The cargo net on the front allows you to bring all of your provisions with you, and the drink holder on the side keeps your beverage within easy reach.
The material used to construct the Quikpack is 21-gauge PVC, meaning this raft is best used on lakes and gentle rivers. The bottom was manufactured with tarpaulin to increase its strength and allow it to last beyond many other inflatable kayaks not mentioned on the list.
- Footrests are adjustable for those shorter and taller than average
- Only takes 5 minutes to set up
- Airtight System prevents leakage from the double lock valves
- 5 air chambers to keep you afloat in the rare case one gets punctured
- High max capacity
- Hand pump takes awhile
- Middle sinks slightly
- Does not handle quick turns well
- Does not track forward so takes more energy to paddle
- 5-minute setup lets you spend more time on the water
- Easy-to-carry backpack system turns into the seat
- 21-gauge PVC construction is rugged for lake use
- Tarpaulin bottom provides durable protection from punctures
Sea Eagle SE370 Inflatable Sport Kayak Pro Package
- Maximum Weight: 650 pounds
- Craft weight: 26 pounds
- Inflated size: 103 x 38 x 22 inches
- Packed size: 36 x 18 x 10 inches
If you want a versatile raft that can hold 3 adults, look no further than the Sea Eagle SE370. However, there are only two deluxe kayak seats included so one adult in the mix might be uncomfortable and get wet. We suggest the third person be a child or a pet for comfort.
Although the weight limit is high for long treks, it is still preferable to some less quality, less versatile packrafts. Additionally, the whole family can get in on the action if the adults share the poundage.
Included on the Sea Eagle is an inflation gauge so you don’t end up overinflating your raft. It’s also easy to get back in when you fall out. Easier than a hard shell kayak. Not to mention the K80 PVC is thick enough to protect against whitewater rated to class III.
- Decent tracking and speed due to the 2 skegs
- Includes carrying bag, foot pump, 2 seats with back support, repair kit, and 2 aluminum paddles
- Perfect for multi-day water trips with plenty of extra space for gear
- Excellent customer service experience
- Longer set up times
- Moves sideways with the wind due to the too-heavy nature
- No foot peddles resulting in less stability when paddling
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Intex Challenger K1 Kayak
- Maximum Weight: 220 pounds
- Craft weight: 23.9 pounds
- Inflated size: 108 x 30 x 13 inches
The Intex Challenger K1 Kayak is very similar in quality and style to the 2-person Intex Explorer. Best for lakes and slow rivers, the aluminum oar is included and doesn’t need to be replaced to glide through the water.
The seat is inflatable for comfort, and there is an enclosed deck so you feel more comfortable in the water. This is a great addition for beginners.
The vinyl construction is puncture-resistant, and there are 2 different air chambers just in case you run into unruly jagged debris. Even if your Challenger gets wounded, there is an included repair kit.
- National Marine Manufacturers Association Certified
- Cargo net on the bow for storing your backpacking gear
- I-beam floor provides stability and extra protection for the bottom of the craft
- Quick inflation and deflation
- Hull gets hot in the sun
- Challenging to inflate
- Nimble, durable kayak is made of durable welded material with eye catching graphics for added safety on the lake or slow moving river
- Cockpit is designed for comfort and maximized space, and inflatable I beam floors add stability. Removable skeg provides exceptional directional movement
- Cargo net to store extra gear, and grab line on both ends of kayak; inflatable seat with backrest
- Comes with 84 inch aluminum oar, repair patch and Hi output manual hand pump; Rugged vinyl construction
Intex Seahawk 4
- Maximum Weight: 1050 pounds
- Craft weight: 37.5 pounds
- Inflated size: 138 x 57 x 19 inches
If you thought a 3-person packraft was crazy, wait until you learn about the Intex Seahawk 4. It’s a 4-person kayak made of extremely puncture resistant PVC. Even if there is an accident, the 2 leftover air chambers will carry you to shore and the repair kit will get you back out on the water.
Want to go fishing in your large craft? No problem. There are 2 included rod holders and a built-in gear pouch for poles, bait, and ultimately your catch. Also included are 4 oar locks and oar holders so you don’t have to worry about losing them while cruising.
We recommend 3 people and a cooler for a fantastically fun and relaxing day fishing on the pristine water.
- Inner chamber adds stability and safety
- Air chambers inside the main hull
- Motor mount fittings included
- Only inflatable cushions, no seats – this could lead to back pain for some
- Difficult to adjust the flame to simmering temperatures
- Wide spaces between bars on the grill
- Perfect for 4 adults to enjoy a fun summer of boating
- Designed with heavy duty, puncture resistant PVC for comfort and durability
- Contains three air chambers including an inner auxiliary chamber inside the main hull for extra safety
- Inflatable cushions are included for comfort and seating stability; U.S. Coast Guard I.D. - NMMA Certified, TUV approved
Pathfinder Inflatable SUP
- Maximum Weight: 240 pounds
- Craft weight: 25.8 pounds
- Inflated size: 117 x 20 x 5 (thickness) inches
Even if you don’t use a kayak as your packraft, it doesn’t mean there won’t be ample storage for your backpacking gear. There is also a center fin you can attach or detach when necessary.
The material is durable PVC with a multi-layer drop stitch for added strength, and the Pathfinder should be used on lakes and calm waters for the most enjoyable adventure.
- Includes aluminum paddle, pump, carrying bag, and detachable carrying strap
- Extremely durable material
- Easy to carry when inflated and transport when deflated
- Leash needs to be purchased and attached to the D-ring
- Difficult to pack beyond a few miles
- Hard to get to 15 psi with included pump – an electric pump is faster and more thorough
- Measures 10' x 31" x 6"; Portable and easy to store
- Great for wide range of water and use conditions.
- Amazing Durability - PVC material and strong multi-layer drop stitch.
- Large deck pad, bungee for securing on-board cargo, and D-ring to attach a leash.
Intex Explorer K2 Kayak
- Maximum Weight: 400 pounds
- Dimensions: 123 x 36 x 20 inches
- Craft weight: 30.60 pounds
The Explorer K2 Kayak is manufactured by well-known PVC company Intex. It is a 2-person packraft, which is rarer due to the weight of most double kayaks. However, it only comes with one seat, so if you plan on going with a friend you’ll need to purchase another seat.
The Explorer K2 was designed for quieter waters such as lakes, and up to class II rapids. Those looking to ride rapids or waterfalls will want to look at other vessels, but this doesn’t mean the K2 will pop on the first rock it hits.
On the contrary, Intex built in multiple measures to keep your lightweight, inflatable boat afloat. The vinyl exterior is resistant to perforation, and there are 2 air chambers so if one loses air the other won’t be affected and you can row back to shore.
- Certified by the National Marine Manufacturers Association
- Stable maneuvering
- Repair kit included
- U.S. Coast Guard Identification
- Boston valve for each of the air chambers
- Too heavy to carry on backpacking trips
- Skeg can get lost without tying a line to it before use
- Included bag does not hold oars
- Included paddles are short and flex under use
- Comfortable for anyone: Kayak includes an adjustable inflatable seat with backrest; Cockpit designed for comfort and space
- Dimensions: Inflated size 10 feet 3 x 3 feet x 1 feet 8 inch; Maximum weight capacity: 400 pounds
- Directional stability: Removable SKEG for directional stability
- Increased visibility: In case of emergency, bright yellow color helps visibility
Important packcraft features
Packcrafting is a sport that involves
The point of having a packraft is having the ability to carry it with you, whether that’s by bike or by back. Therefore, it stands to reason the weight of your raft should be as light as possible to make it easier on you and your bike.
Even if you decide to use a bike, there may be bodies of water or put-ins that require some hiking. If you are adventurous and suspect this to be the case, it’s worth the extra cash to purchase a lightweight vessel.
The durability of lightweight packrafts is primarily dependant upon the quality of materials. However, the durability you need actually depends upon the type of water you want to take your craft into.
Those looking to fish and paddle lakes and gentle rivers don’t need something as durable as someone wanting to tackle class III rapids and waterfalls.
Keep in mind the better the material, the higher the price. If you are on a budget, keep your needs in mind when making your choice.
The material that you’re packcraft is an important part of the evaluation process when choosing a packcraft. If you go the cheap route, there’s a good chance that you risk punctures or damage, which are the two worst case scenarios when you’re in the open water.
A body coated in PVC tends to be the most reliable, however, it’s also the heaviest option available. Lightweight packcrafts are often made of nylon ranging anywhere from 100-800 denier due to the fact they are significantly lighter than their PVC counterparts.
The handling of both the kayaks and the stand up paddleboard depend on a range of factors. The most important and controllable factor is the type of water you paddling. This determines whether or not you need a fin or a skeg.
If you are going into any type of water beside gentle lakes, your craft should have a fin. These help with tracking and maneuverability. Skegs are best for coastal travel when you’re in open waters and need more assistance in tracking a straight line.
Capacity, in this case, refers to two things: the area of the packraft and the storage space for your gear. How large the inside of the raft is determined how comfortable you will be, as well as the potential for gear storage.
Most of the gear storage is in the form of straps on the front and sides of the vessel. Simply weave the lines through your backpack or other gear, careful to make sure the weight is evenly distributed when you get on the water.
A personal floatation device (PFD) is a necessity when using a packraft. There are at least 5 recognized types of PFDs, but we recommend throwable devices and special use life jackets.
Also recommended for the wilder waters is a kayak helmet. Those in still water can go without. The minimum requirement outlined for watersports is CE EN 1385, but we recommend looking for something certified for multiple sports.
The final safety features included on all packrafts are the number of air chambers. The more chambers, the less of a chance your vessel will sink if it’s punctured. We recommend looking for more air chambers if you, your friend(s), and your gear are heavier. You’ll get less wet!
Tips for your first packcrafting trip
1. Start with the basics
Learn the basics and learn them well. You have to walk before you run and this is no different with packcrafts. Learn how to paddle properly, how to react if something goes wrong, where your hands should be, and the basics on how the craft works.
2. Bring a friend
Anytime that you head out onto the water, it’s a good idea to bring a friend for safety. Having someone with you for your first time on a packcraft gives you an extra set of eyes in case things goes sideways.
3. Start on rivers or lakes
The ocean brings with it a huge set of challenges that are best suited for experienced packcrafters. The best practice for beginners is to start on a lake or calm river that lets you ease into getting the feel for your packcraft. This gives you training wheels in a sense, you won’t have to worry about large waves or currents throwing you out or flipping you over.
4. Go with someone with experience
Learning online is a great tool, however, nothing compares to real world advice from someone who has done it a million times. They’ll give you the best way to do the simple things and teach you techniques that you never thought of. Imagine learning to drive a car with no instructions, it’s not going to end well.
5. Start simple
There’s no need to jump in to level 4 rapids on your first try, it won’t be the most enjoyable experience. Learn how to unpack your craft and get it into calm water and fall out intentionally just so you know what to expect.
6. Set it up at home
This is something that you should do with any piece of outdoor gear, pitching a tent has been known to cause relationship ending arguments on the first try. The same goes with packcrafts, take some time at home and learn how to get it all set up so you’re not figuring it out for the first time under pressure.
7. Take a training course
There’s most likely an REI or another outdoor recreation shop nearby and they’re typically more than happy to show you the ropes of your new packcraft. If there’s not training for your specific packcraft, then a whitewater rapids course is a good place to learn most of the skills necessary.
What is a packraft?
A packraft can be any watercraft that falls under the category of lightweight (5 to 10 pounds), fits one person, and is durable enough to endure everything from crossing lakes to riding rapids. The pack portion comes in as the mode of transportation. It’s tucked away!
Do I need a packraft?
Whether or not you need a packraft depends upon what activities you like to do. Packrafting is the marriage of hiking/backpacking and paddling.
You are a prime candidate for this adventure gear if:
- You want to paddle out on a body of water along a hike
- Your backpacking trip requires paddling to link trails
- You want to float downwater from the end of a trail back to the start, or vise versa
- Your destination is a river, lake, fjord, or whitewater and you need a lightweight vessel to make transportation easier (i.e. someone on a bike)
- You are interested in a lightweight, compact, and strong inflatable boat for one person
Who typically uses packrafts?
Although many hardcore outdoorsy types use packrafts for class III rapids, it isn’t a prerequisite. In fact, many packraft owners just take them out on flat waters. You don’t have to run waterfalls to reap the benefits of using such a resilient vessel.
Are you a curious someone that likes to explore the bodies of water you find on the trail? Are you backpacking in an area where a boat is needed? Do you want to make your hike a one-way by floating down the river? Do you hate carrying heavy paddling gear?
If you answered yes to any of these, a packcraft may be the right fit for you.
How do I inflate them?
In keeping with the lightweight nature of packcrafts, the pumps are also lightweight. In fact, they call them inflation bags and they are a bit different than what most people imagine when they think of an inflatable.
Once filled, squeeze the air down into the vessel and repeat until full. The bag is attached to the packraft by a threaded nozzle and takes a little bit of practice to really get the hang of.
Are they easy to inflate?
We wouldn’t be honest if we didn’t say there was a learning curve to using an inflation bag. That means you should practice at home before you use the craft outdoors. However, it will only take between 5 and 10 minutes after you get the hang of inflation.
What type of water can they be used in?
All packrafts can be used in the following types of water:
- Mild rivers
- Up to class II waters
- Calm ocean surf
Warning: Packrafting can be a dangerous water sport that can result in serious injury and death. We have included a link to the Packrafting Safety Code in order to keep you alive and well during your adventure.
What happens if I get a hole?
It depends upon the brand and type of craft. However, they typically included repair kit can patch small holes in packrafts. If you don’t have a repair kit, try calling the manufacturer. This is the safest way to get the right type of materials for your raft.
When choosing the best lightweight packraft for your outdoor adventure, you can’t beat the kayaks and SUP on our list. There’s something for everyone, but it’s important to pay attention to our buyer’s guide for the personalizing factors. Weight, durability, materials, handling, capacity, safety features, and size are all key to having a comfortable ride.