From the get-go I understood the allure of the packraft: incredibly lightweight boats you can realistically carry into the boonies on a hike, hunt or adventure, and then paddle back out down a river system or across a lake. Pack out a moose, cross an unfordable river, hike to a headwaters and paddle down, fly into a remote corner of wild and fish your way back out … all of it computes. It opens up some sweet possibilities. More importantly in Alpacka’s case as one of the category’s key progenitors, despite the featherweight boats, they are proven tough enough to take a beating through brush and shallows and backcountry gnar, even under a whopping load (see moose, above).
What stopped me from jumping on board until recently was the cramped quarters and relatively uncomfortable seating amongst gear, especially when contrasted to the feel of a more traditional canoe. I’m not 25 years old anymore, and the appeal just wasn’t there for sitting in the bottom of a little inflated craft surrounded by heaps of gear. I’m a canoeist at heart, and despite the doors opened by Alpacka technology, I just couldn’t get there.
Then they made the Oryx. Now that’s more like it. Still light (around 10 pounds), still tough and compact and load-bearing (800-pound capacity), but now paddlers can sit up on comfortable inflated seats, use canoe paddles, and a lot of the gear can actually be stowed inside the inflated tubes. So I tried it and here’s my take.
It takes some doing to get inflated, using the inflation bag, but it gets you there. Before that, unzip the waterproof opening at the stern and slide in drybags on either side, trying to balance the load. Besides the advantage of taking more gear without cluttering the boat, the drybags simulate multi-chambered tubes, a nice side benefit. My biggest structural concern was with the waterproof, air-lock zipper system that closes the boat. If that failed, it would be epic. There really is no Plan B for zipper failure. But, once blown up and packed, the Oryx held air, tight as a little red drum, without any leakage over several days of repeated trials.
I paddled both solo (with a kayak paddle) and tandem with canoe paddles. Solo paddling is a bit wobbly in terms of tracking, although the weight of a load helps keep the boat on line. Tandem (which is what it’s designed for), the Oryx tracked surprisingly well. I ran both flatwater and mild (Class II) current with a couple of bouncy wave trains. Over time, I figured out how to load the tubes to adjust trim and keep out a drybag or two with the day’s food and essentials. The inflated seats are surprisingly comfortable on a long day, and much superior to sitting on the floor.
Mind you, it’s not your dad’s canoe, but it never pretended to be. My take, overall, is that this is the Alpacka for all of us who have been waiting for the chance to approximate the feel and comfort of a canoe in a package that goes easily into a backpack and opens up those doors of adventure you could never access with a traditional boat. Finally, I’m in.
Intel: alpackaraft.com; $1,600-$2,200; 10.8 lbs.; 10’9” long x 41” wide; maximum carrying capacity 800 lbs.; packed size (you can split the boat and seats to spread the load) 19” x 8.25”
– Packrafting Adventures:// // //
The article was originally published on Canoe & Kayak
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