Left to right: Double Duck, 2015 Yukon Yak, Doomiyak, Scout.
When I last sat down to write a treatise on this subject, 4.5 years ago, there wasn’t really all that much to say. Alpacka Rafts where the only acceptable option for serious use, wilderness or otherwise, and everyone else was dancing around being a serious entrant in that field. In Alpacka land the pointy sterned boats were maturing quickly, as was the whitewater deck. Their first drysuit had been launched, to mostly poor reviews, and the Cargo Fly had just been announced. Kokopelli and the other Alpacka ripoffs were still at least a few years off.
Today things are drastically different. Kokopelli makes a full range of competitive products, and according to reliable sources their newest self-bailers are impressive whitewater craft. I’ve not been impressed with build quality, from what little I’ve seen, but that could be a false impression and/or subject to change as they continue to refine overseas manufacturing. Aire has their Bakraft, bringing IK style down to packraft weight. MRS et al provide an Alpacka-esque package at a lower cost, and Supai has cornered the SUL flatwater market. To top it all off, Alpacka’s 2017 line is almost entirely new, and probably represents as much progress as the past four years of packraft evolution combined.
It is no longer possible to write a simple summary of the packraft market. The models are too many, and their best uses too diverse and specialized for one person to adequately become acquainted with it all.
Whitewater continues to be the most visible area of growth, and it is logical that packrafting will follow most other outdoor sports in having the pursuit of technical difficulty drive innovation. I still hold to my past bitching about packrafts being too heavy and WW-oriented, but I also think it is entirely logical that Alpacka has pivoted the classic series to be their generalist boats. They aren’t offering thigh straps, for instance, and the new and handy weight breakdowns tell us that this series is pretty darn light, it’s just the weight penalty of (for instance) having a truly dry deck that starts to add up. I did acquire the custom Curiyak shown above specifically to be my UL wilderness boat (once I add a deck), but I fully expect to take my Yak more often than not. The benefits I detailed in my review last year are just too substantial and universally useful. On the other hand, the Scout dropped over a pound while still remaining tough enough for the at least occasional rock ding and drag, so there is obviously room for boats to get lighter while remaining appropriately burly. My bet is that most users will be more than content to tote the extra pounds for the benefit the big gun boats provide, and the weight weenie market might never be substantial enough, or at least not for some time. Whitewater performance will continue to improve, more slowly one assumes, and packrafts will continue to establish themselves as the best combination of forgiveness and capable whitewater performance.
It is also worth noting that nearly half the Alpacka line are multiperson boats, which points to the breadth of packraft use, and that the new Forager made the PR-49 obsolete. These legit, 2-3 person boats skew the weight calculus massively and are very appealing for wilderness travel.
Yak floor at left, Doomiyak at right.
Durability will always be a source of tension in boats which have to be so light. The crucial moment is when you first have to do a field repair, and realize that this is hardly ever a difficult thing. Reasonable precaution goes a long way, as does prophylactic reinforcement of wear spots. The recently acquired Doomiyak is an example of just what a good packraft can take and keep on ticking. I suppose when you’re the breeder rent is free and caution is for the birds. Nonetheless, I’d like to see pealing seam tape be a less frequent occurrence with Alpackas, and eventually some sort of construction technique which doesn’t place so many prominent wear points along the floor.
In conclusion, it’s a good time to be a packrafter and packraft buyer.