An Introduction on Getting Deeper and Going Farther!
Written by guest author Luke Moffat
Despite the vast size of Alaska, we all know that the relatively small road system can translate into limited access to the rest of the state without some alternate mode of transportation. Be it boats, airplanes, snowmachines, or ATVs, there are many methods of transport that Alaskans use to access the different areas of the state that are off the roadways. Another means of transportation option I have been using the past few years to access areas of our state further off the road system is a packraft.
Packrafts are basically just what they sound like, rafts that you pack on your back. Only a few companies really make them and they range in weight from 3-17 pounds depending on the size, weight, and payload. Perhaps the most common manufacturer of these rafts is Alpacka Raft, and they offer several different boat models. I have a Denali Llama model myself, and it comes in at just under 7 pounds with an accessory spray deck and inflation bag included.
The spray deck is essentially the same idea as a spray deck on a kayak: a thin covering over the boat deck designed to keep a large portion of the water off of you and out of your boat. I would strongly suggest getting a packraft with a spray deck, as otherwise you might find yourself sitting in an essential bathtub of water inside your boat after a run through some rapids. The inflation bag is an ingenious way Alpacka has engineered their boats to be inflated, and is really just a nylon bag with a threaded fitting to air their boats. First you thread the fitting into the boat, fill the bag with air, squeeze the air into the boat, and repeat until the boat if full of air. Sometimes simplicity is best! At less than 5 oz you hardly know the inflation bag is there until you need to fill your boat and its much faster and less likely to cause a headache (literally) than filling it by mouth as well.
In addition to the 7 pound raft, you’ll need a set of paddles, which generally weigh in between 2 and 2.5 pounds depending on the model. Also it is a good idea, no mater what water you are planning to packrafting in, to take a PFD of some sort along and these are usually around 1.5 pounds. As you can see, packrafting will add a hefty increase to the weight of your pack when you are leaving the truck. So why are they worth the extra 10-12 pounds? Essentially they allow you to travel further away from your access point into the backcountry, knowing that on your return, you’ll be floating back down the stream/creek/river effortlessly with nothing on your back.
For myself, I find the extra 10-12 pounds in my pack going in is more than worth it if I don’t have to carry a 100+ pound pack 20+ miles out of the backcountry after I take an animal. Being able to strap that heavy pack to the bow of your packraft and float a good portion of the way back out instead of carrying it, gives me confidence in going in “a few extra miles”, as I know I won’t end up either having to “two trip it” or haul one monster load all the way out.
That said, I don’t use my packrafts for the sole purpose of hunting. In fact, they are more often used during the summer scouting seasons, when I am doing thru-hikes of some new location, up over a couple mountain passes, floating back to the road looking for new potential areas to hunt. The amount of distance you can cover by both hiking and packrafting really starts to show just how much potential hunting area is opened up to you that you couldn’t feasibly access otherwise, both due to the distance and/or time needed to retrieve the game from the field.
One of the newer models of packrafts to come out is called the “Big Rig” made by FeatherCraft and tailored to the specifications provided by Larry Bartlett, who owns Pristine Ventures of Fairbanks, Alaska. While the weight of this packraft is significantly more, coming in at 17 pounds, it is considerably larger, offers an inflated self bailing floor, and a MUCH higher payload.
Depending on water conditions, a Denali Llama packraft from Alpacka Raft can float a 100-120 pound pack on the bow, though the boats agility in the water is greatly reduced, as 160 pounds for myself plus the weight of the pack makes the comfortable payload right in the neighborhood of around 300 pounds or so. The extra 10 pounds that the Big Rig weighs over a more traditional packraft like the Llama allows it to carry a payload of nearly three times that! Roughly 900 pounds!
Like most quality gear involved with backcountry hunting, packrafts are not cheap; they can cost $500-$2000 depending on the make/model. However, for me, the areas they open up to access and hunt is well worth it. I can now access more areas where others aren’t willing to go, without having to fork out the dough for a bush plane ride (which isn’t cheap).
I do realize that with the road system network in the “Lower 48” being much more integrated, packrafts are likely of less value for those looking to use them as an option for getting further into the backcountry. However, for up here in Alaska where roads are few and access is limited, packrafting can be just the ticket to expanded access or exploration of places otherwise only reachable by more expensive means of transport.