So, until finally deciding to move to AK for some whitewater and after this forum i had never heard of a packraft. after watching vids and reading posts about the packraft i would have to say that it looks like alot of fun.
i guess im just wondering how white-water friendly these are? ive seen the vids of six mile and everything and it looks pretty solid but how do they raft on higher volume rivers? is it hard to punch through holes in these things? easily surfed? and how is "edge" control? wet-exits?
is there anyplace to try one or demo one?
Many of the videos you are likely gonna find with any viewing popularity (like Alaska's 6-Mile Creek runs) will show more or less good to very experienced boaters putting a few packrafts through not necessarily ideal runs or conditions.
They are not "whitewater friendly" at all by shape, handing, or construction when compared with whitewater boats specifically designed for such. Forgiving and fairly stable, but not close to a whitewater kayak, canoe, cat, or raft.
All this is not to say bad boats... there are some high quality Packrafts with excellent crafting. Only to relate quality pack-rafts are still pretty lightly constructed pack-boats with very little margin built-in for errors. More experienced boaters will put any piece of equipment to one test or another... so many of the videos are just that.
Couple things food for thought, and this may or may not answer some of your posting. They are not 'edgy'. They have a wag side to side when paddled with power strokes. They are by no means big hole punchers (you'll wanna finesse this obstacle). They are easily surfed with non-existent secondary stability (that's why they do not punch holes and are not fun in stronger eddy-lines). Back-flipping is an issue (it would not be as much and extent if the seating position was moved more forward). Containment with good protection are not strengths. A wet exit, water back out, and getting yourself back in is a real bumbler in rough, tight, and swift conditions without other boater help (buddy system is nice to have). Powerful paddle strokes tend to result in a translation of far less leverage than (for example) a whitewater hard-shell or smaller raft & cataraft.
Borrow or demo/rent one before you get head-long into a purchase if $1000 bucks seams expensive. If you purchase one - make sure it fits & 'fits' like you will most commonly use it --- critical differences to consider here.
I recommend a call to local long-time expert packrafter/boater/adventurer/author Roman Dial over at Alaska Pacific University Outdoor Recreation program. I'd give Jack at Jack's Plastic Welding a call (Jack originally built some of what is now the Alpaka of Alaska and now Colorado). Reason I suggest this is that Jack makes all kinds of pretty original inflatable designs for folks and a nice honest guy to speak with.
I'd contact Geaux of Alaska Wildwater on forum here representing SOTAR Rafts. SOTAR builds custom all the way... not necessarily into pack-rafts per say --- yet my friend Goo is 35+ years a worldwide river raft racer, guided internationally, worldwide adventure paddler and can surely lend a hand.
If I ran out today grabbing what's available and not a 'custom' --- I'd say Alpaka with skirt is the better option for Alaska. Would not own a non-bailing small boat without skirt!
You may want to check out the new packraft called witchcraft? They are finallizing the prototype now with a release probally mid summer. It is designed more for whitewater. I agree with Brian that they are not the ideal boat. Paddling mine (unrigged fiord explorer) reminds me of paddling an inner tube. But what other boat weighs 4 to 6 lbs? There is a guy in Anchorage who rents them if you would like to check them out.
They are user friendly on lower volume steepish type creeks, love most ledge drops, and are pretty tough. Higher volume rivers, with big waves, holes,and harsh eddylines are game changers.
In other words, Maxwell house on upper Willow, class V small volume, would be a go in a Packraft, the Tana or Newhalen, class IV- V huge volume, would probably be stupid.
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