PACKRAFTING 101

Know before you go!

Check out these 10 tips before you hit the water in a packraft.

Connect with other packrafters.

Packrafters are a rare and enthusiastic breed of outdoor enthusiasts. Check out the forums on the American Packraft Association’s website to ask questions, learn more tricks, and find beta on river trips near you.

Don’t buy a packraft before you’ve actually paddled one.

The average packraft falls somewhere in the $800-$1000 range, which is a pretty penny for people just looking to get into the sport. A much cheaper, and smarter, alternative is to rent a packraft from Packraft America. Rates start at $30 per day for a five- or six-day rental.

The OG of West Virginia bikepacking-packrafting, Andy Forron of New River Bikes.

Bring a proper repair kit.

Prepare for the worst. If you’re biking, this includes materials and tools to repair not just your raft but your bike, too. “I always carry Tyvek tape and some AquaSeal,” says Spencer Williamson, Kennicott Wilderness Guides packraft instructor and Brevard Wilderness Leadership and Experiential Education graduate.

Pack light.

This is especially important if you’re planning a bikepacking packrafting trip, as heavy bike frames can easily max out the packraft’s weight limits. Try to keep the weight of food and gear under 50 pounds total so you don’t sink the ship.

Leave the bulky raft pump at home. Packrafters utilize a lightweight bag inflations system.

Invest in dry bags.

It’s okay to be thrifty, but if you’re going to take the cheap road, don’t do it with your storage bags. Nothing sucks more than getting off the bike at the end of a long wet day and discovering your “dry” set of clothes and sleeping bag are now sopping wet.

Have straps. Lots of ‘em.

A basic array of dry bags and cam straps are sufficient to get you through your early adventures.

Take a swiftwater course.

Or, at the very least, join a local paddling club to get some hands-on whitewater paddling experience, says Roman Dial, author of Packrafting! An Introduction and How-To Guide. “Packrafting is still sorta a new sport,” says Dial. “You need to know how to swim, throw a throwbag, and ferry.”

Make a Plan B.

Any good adventure never goes according to plan. So when four inches of rain dump on the river you’re planning to paddle, it’s smart to have an alternate route in mind.

Know the forecast.

Rivers can rise and fall dramatically over a short period of time. Keep your eyes on the forecast before you set off, and if you’re unable to check the weather while you’re in the woods, ask a local if you should so happen to cross paths with one.

Ask a local.

Even though Andy was our bonafide West Virginia local, he stopped to ask for directions. If there’s a short cut or a scenic route or a road closure, the locals will know about it. They might look at you like you’re crazy, but you are, so own it.

Pack It In, Pack It Out

Whether you’re a hiker or biker, these trail-to-river trips are the perfect introduction to packrafting in the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic.