PacKraft are an Australian organisation, in the past I purchased their ‘Classic Spraydeck’ model and given that I was going on a wildwater trip and intend to pursue that aspect of packrafting I decided to buy the white water self-bailing model on the previous positive experience. This is the first time I’ve had a white water packraft and I’ve learnt a lot in a short period and present this review for others to learn from.
This product had major flaws in its fixtures, to me it shows that was inadequate in development and field testing. I really hope that the manufacturers of this product improve their product as they can in my mind create a good one. First off is safety with good fixtures and second is a novel difference outside of directly copying competitors: improve what they do with consideration of the sport’s nuances. The competitive price I like, but there is more to it and nothing is saved if the results are catastrophic.
The PacKraft name product range is rebadged from Audac or Frontier packraft products (same company) in China. There are a number of companies around the world who do the same. I supported the Australian company for their local support (and glad I did). By the time you pay for delivery and so forth the difference is marginal. Geoff at PacKraft was also very good with his customer relations: I am very grateful that Geoff fully refunded my purchase when I came back.
I was happy with ‘Classic Spraydeck’ model and bought the whitewater model based on my experience with this model. The main issue I found was the spray deck; it is an impediment in most use cases. The attachment of it is rather flimsy and cumbersome and will tear the zipper if you fall out. The seat position is wrong when unweighted on the front. The Standard or Feather would be better options: admit it you will get wet, so wear the appropriate attire. The raft is very capable even in white water, I had no issues in doing the intermediate packrafting course on the Mersey river in Tasmania (once I discarded the spray deck) and it carried my bicycle OK. Pictured is me on first trial not bothering to do any disassembly. For bike rafting you need to make sure your raft is long enough to avoid paddle strike or get a folding bike.
I bought the Whitewater Self-Bailer as I needed to go in higher grade waters, with less than a month to spare I had little time to test it at home and there wasn’t much white water around anyway. The issues I had on my holiday tarnished what was a great holiday and could have put me in danger. The failures started to occur on a very remote high volume river – the Tatshensheni river which is in the Yukon flowing from Canada to Alaska. Fortunately I was prudent enough to carry repair gear and have professional support with me.
Leaking main inflation valve.
Failure of attachment points for holding dry bags.
Failure / design of mouth inflation on internal cushions.
Failure of foot cushion.
Leaking of cargo deck, Leaking of dry bags
1. Leaking main inflation valve.
The type of valve used is a boston valve. I have them on my kiteboarding kites. There is a significant difference in quality, when I look at my kite one it has a rubber gasket on the cap, whereas the packraft relied on initial sealing. The kite doesn’t lose air with cap off, whereas the packraft does. The packraft leaked air after a two weeks of use, there was a spare and that leaked too. The leaking was so bad on my last day in Idaho on the ‘canyon run’ that I had to get out every 10 minutes to reinflate: not a good place to be in, and my vessel was a times like a rag doll on big water rapids.
2. Failure of attachment points for holding dry bags.
The problem was that the web loop attachments were the same as those used on the other areas of the raft. They were inverted and passed through a slot in the raft tubes. Having a raised section they could not get a truly mated surface and hence the bond was weak. Luckily they didn’t simply pop off with the cold environment, but the softening boat was a real issue in the very fast flowing water. Solution: no slot, glue the anchors inside the pontoon.
Picture: anchor is lifting and leaking air.
Picture: anchor finally failed as raised surface cannot be bonded properly. Second one failed a day later.
Picture: In field repair preparations, the ladies on my trip had an emery board.
3. Failure / design of mouth inflation on internal cushions.
The mouth inflation tubes use a twist-lock valve. The trouble with them is that the come loose with temperature variation and can pop off. The design of the main seat pad was such that the valve was sitting between the cushion and the raft pontoon. With the up and down motion as experienced in white water it would come loose. I had a second cushion to increase my height for better paddling, this also loosened with most likely temperature transients. A better solution I have seen was again on the Kokopelli using Leafield valves, I would also recommend a Leafield pressure relief valve especially in Australia with our hot weather.
Pictured is the increased height achieved by using two cushions.
It was most inconvenient again on the Tatshenshini river as there were not many places to get out due to the very high volume of water. Luckily I had the second cushion, but sitting in icy cold water and at a lower paddling position when it happened was no joy. When I finally diagnosed the issue I used Tenacious tape to seal it up and a string to hold the valve away. The shortness of the tube made it difficult for me to access with my mouth when forcing my head inside, and with wet cold fingers it was difficult to close off quickly. A long tube as provided with the foot cushion could have alleviated the access problem (see yellow/green extension in picture below).
4. Failure of foot cushion.
In the above picture the metal clip is distant from the floor attachment loop. When I received the packraft this failed and tore a hole in the cushion. As a makeshift arrangement I tied the anchor to the side instead. The circular shape of the cushion will cause a high turning moment when you fall out, a better anchorage system is needed. The makeshift solution was a flop (due mainly to lack of time to think of a better one) – I almost lost it in Idaho.
Picture: foot cushion failure due to excessive point loading.
A few competitors use a full floor seat cushion, this is changes the seat profile a bit, but provides less failure points and a stiffer vessel. You also get dryer feet (this was no issue for me as I had insulated booties).
5. Leaking of cargo deck, Leaking of dry bags
The cargo deck is described as ‘splash proof’. It is completely unsuited for a white water packraft. Water is always coming over the deck or you will roll over. Whether I rolled or not the cargo deck drank water. The seams were simply sewn rather than heat sealed.
The dry bags were far from dry. I thought I was doing things wrong, so when I got home I did a bath test. Less than 30 seconds of immersion, air drained and separately with air my sheets got wet.
The problem is that there is no soft seal edge to roll against which is what is seen in the likes of NRS bags or even a smooth soft flat edge on the roll strip.
Price is very competitive.
The colour range.
Packraft pontoon and floor materials are good.
The shape and balance worked well giving the craft good directional steering.
(when it doesn’t deflate) Performance-wise I found it was as good as most craft used on the meet-ups I had in Canada (Mt Robson, BC) and the USA (Payette River, Idaho).
Thigh braces work well and are easy to adjust and exit quickly.
If I had the time and not suffered these issues where I suffered them I would remedy all of them with the solutions proposed in the evaluation commentary. Against an Alpacka Gnarwal there is a considerable saving and it could be worthwhile, but I wondered further on the other aspects eg what is the long term integrity of the seams ? There other vessels such as a Kokopelli Nirvana Self-Bailing or Robfin , and more becoming available that are not as pricey but will stand the quality test (though that is conjecture as I’d need to validate with other owners).
When I did further research this craft is not much different to the older Alpacka packrafts and suffers some to same issues they had. You have to do a bit of searching to find issues, naturally advertising companies aren’t going to like Google showing forums that put their product in disrepute ( – seems to be the case on many different products I’ve had issues with !). Here are a couple: ‘Testing Alpacka Raft’s new Self Bailer (2016)’ and ‘Packraft component failures’ , I’ll leave it to you to research others.