Reviewed: Alpacka Rafts

Editor's Note: Finally, summer has landed. If you're home to the PNW, the sunny, warm days have brought with them a sigh of relief. With fewer rainy days, less cloud cover, and daylight that stretches long after nestling in for a night's sleep - we see more faces sprinkled with smiles, emanating laughter through the air.

As we transition between seasons, the team at Backcountry Essentials is thrilled to expand our summer adventure sport expertise. We've had years of coverage in the camping, backpacking, and hiking communities. Now, we look toward the ocean and rivers for our next hit of inspiration. 

Staff gear review by Jake Warzon

Photos by ©Thor Tingey provided by Alpacka Rafts

A few weeks ago, the team from Backcountry Essentials took an excursion with a few Alpacka pack rafts on the Baker River. We bundled the rafts into our packs and set off early in the morning toward the mountains in our backyard: the North Cascades. To start our adventure, we drove to the far end of Baker Lake.

It was a quiet, damp, spring morning – quintessential PNW. Despite the rain, spirits were high. The forest was awash in vibrant shades of green, and the river was burbling along merrily. Many small streams trickled down and made the beautiful cascades that the mountains are named for, and the conversations were full of laughter.

Our trek began with a 3-mile hike through massive old growth trees and dense ferns soaking it all in. We came upon a creek that could only be traversed by walking on a tangle of cedar logs that zig-zagged across the stream-bed. Next to us, the river came together in a collection of braided channels of beautiful, glacial, turquoise hues.

As we trekked, we scouted along the bank, stopping when we saw an obstacle to discuss our best lines through. Eventually we crossed the boundary of the North Cascades National Park, marked by a solitary post engraved simply with the words “National Park.” The lack of fanfare fit the ambience very well while still driving home just how special this place is. The sheer wilderness surrounding us felt truly magical.

Once we reached the point of transition where we would shift gears from land to water, we exchanged our rain gear for river wear (embracing two different kinds of wet today - first from the sky, and then immersing ourselves below) - and set about readying the boats.

To start the process, we placed our packs inside the tubes of the boat, and then inflated them. From there, we adjusted everything to fit each paddler's unique dimensions - all of which we enjoyed with plenty of banter. Then, off we went!

Everyone was using a variation of Alpacka’s whitewater line - most notably the Gnarwhal and Wolverine. The packrafts are sporty little boats, more than capable of paddling through the Class II rapids that we met along that particular stretch of Baker River. Our river adventure was a dynamic one, requiring us to navigate the intricate maze of channels while dodging the logs strewn throughout.

But our enjoyment didn't stop at the river. Above us, the clouds lifted as we paddled, revealing the slopes around us and the waterfalls that trickled down them. By the time we reached the take out, the skies had cleared and the sun was shining.

As we carried the boats back to the truck, I couldn’t help but feel grateful. I was equally filled with thanks for the packrafts as a vessel to commune with nature; and an exciting paddle session. This duality of adventure sports is always refreshing: finding that balance between the active doing and the simplicity of being

If you are looking for a fresh way to explore, a packraft may just be for you.

Product Details: 

At Backcounty Essentials, we have packrafts for every level. 

Choose your own adventure between The Scout, The Gnarwhal, or The Caribou.

Unsure what size is best for you? Check out Alpacka's size guide: combining your sit length and the boat size to fit your expedition plans.