A Message from the Alpacka Designer: Mods & New Boat

Hi Everyone,

I think it is time I checked in concerning both new developments at Alpacka and aftermarket modifications. I am excited for those of you that are doing mods, many of them are good. However, there a couple modifications that I feel I need to address. More important, I need to address how they’re presented. I’m getting flooded with calls from customers, both old and new wondering what they should be adding to their boats for C-II and C-III water. This concerns me. Most of the whitewater mods I’m aware of don’t have much relevance until you get into Class IV water, or very big Class III. In more normal whitewater, they add weight to the boat, may endanger the boater, and may compromise general boating. I need to call a spade a spade: the boats have been running Class III (and some IV) since 2002 without mods. If you’re running Class II and III water, you honestly don’t need to mod your boat to get reasonable performance.

I will address each of the specific issues individually.

1. Moving your seat forward: This is more applicable with the older boats. The boats that Roman did this with are all model year 2005 or older. Since that time we’ve enlarged and lengthened the stern of the rafts twice, which improves trim and alleviates the need to move forward in the boat . Personally, I don’t see a need to move your seat forward in any of the newer models. If you do want to move your seat, I’d say Velcro is not the solution of choice. It will wear out quickly in that application. I know this because I tried it several years ago. Also, the possibility of sand getting into the velcro in the bottom of the raft where the seat is pretty substantial. With the current thread-in seats, there are much better ways to temporarily move or install a seat.

2. Moving your spraydeck forward: I don’t recommend this. When we have had decks moved forward even a little bit, when the paddler wants to stretch out their legs a large hole is formed between the paddlers waist and the spraydeck. This also tends to pull the deck waist Velcro open. In my experience, it is better to move forward against your deck to get tight in your boat than to have you spraydeck altered forward and never be able to straighten your legs without problems.

3. Thigh Straps: They’re potentially very dangerous. In a word: “entrapment.” Alpacka will not put them in for people, and does NOT recommend them. You can all do this if you choose, but please be aware that there is a very real possibility of entrapment. Reading Tim’s account of getting out of thigh straps drove this home for me. This should not be taken lightly. Packs under a deck can cause entrapment hazard too. I feel we need to caution people that they need to be aware of the risk that they are putting themselves in. Even worse, putting a pack under your knees and then putting your legs into the thigh straps is adding more of an entrapment possibility.

An Alpacka Raft is like a Volkswagon Beetle. The beetle was a magnificent little car that did what it was designed to do. An Alpacka does a terrific job at what it is supposed to do: be a wilderness water access tool. It was never designed to withstand the stresses of rolling and class 5 whitewater. You can put all the attachments on it you want, and as the designer, I’d say you still have a Beetle with forty attachments. It’s not that much closer to the Porsche than it was. A side effect is that you have a 7+ lb. boat. When you need a Porsche, start with a Porche base. Don’t destroy your Beetle!
For Class IV and higher whitewater, the kind you’d really want to mod an Alpacka for, I’d say you have two reasonable options: the new boat we’re working on (working title “Witchcraft”) and the a hardshell kayak.

I’ve been mentally designing the Witchcraft for over five years. Everything about it is different and designed to do one thing better: run more difficult whitewater. It’s not a good general trip boat, and isn’t designed to carry weight. This is more of a day creek boat, or a boat for those who want hike in with the objective of hitting a particularly prize piece of water.

Getting back to the kayak point: the Witch will never be as good as a hard shell kayak for high-performance, hard whitewater boating. For that, a molded-hull kayak is the best vehicle. An inflatable improves your portability but doesn’t have the capability to do all the things that a hard shell can. There is a boat for every kind of water, we need to respect and acknowledge how each craft fits into the scheme of the total water picture.

That said, this new boat is addressing many of things that modifications address on older boats.

Design: This boat is designed to be trim with just the paddler in it. The stern has been elongated another 4 inches. The bow tubes have been shrunk down as well. Result: the boat runs really well without a pack and holds its line better than the standard boat, but does NOT carry a pack well. This is much more of a day boat.

Fabric: The entire boat is made of floor fabric to better withstand more serious creek bashing. This throws the weight up to around 8 pounds, maybe more, much more bulky than a classic Alpacka.

Spraydeck: The new spraydeck is drier than the standard one. Several factors are in play here, and be aware that this deck doesn’t work on the regular boats: it does some things that work because of the different hull design. The deck is also glued on, like the floor, and built of much heavier fabric.

Thigh support system: The thigh support system comes from above and when the deck cord is pulled the whole system releases, allowing the paddler to slide out of the boat. What I’m attempting to do with it is create a support system that addresses the dangers I see of thigh straps in the boat.

So far everyone has been very pleased with the new boat, but we are still testing it, and obviously arduous testing is very important for something like this. I’m hoping to make it available sometime in May on a limited basis. We will be taking orders and making the boats up custom for this season. These boats are quite time consuming and difficult for us to produce, so be forewarned that the costs will be higher. I have not costed them out fully because we are still getting our processes worked out but be prepared that the boats will probably be around $300 more than a regular decked Alpacka Raft. I think it will be a great addition to the Alpacka line, but not a replacement in any way for your standard Alpacka, and not a beginner’s boat. This boat is another arrow in your quiver, designed for those of are willing to sacrifice general purpose boating qualities to focus on whitewater. And it still won’t do everything that a hardshell can.

Know your limits!
Cheers everyone,


Thanks Sheri, but I’d disagree with the thigh strap entrapment issue. Curious what you base your opinion on, as inflatable kayakers have long used and liked them…check out the forum http://www.mountainbuzz.com/forums/f11/are-thigh-straps-in-iks-dangerous-29312.html for example for a the thread on thigh strap safety. Some good stories and informed opinions over there.

The main threat to thigh straps in Alpackas is the single chamber. If that single chamber goes, and your inside your decked boat – with or without thigh-staps – it’s not pleasant.

By the way Sheri – or anyone else – what are you referring to with respect to “Tim’s account of getting out of thigh straps” – can’t for the life of me figure out what that refers to…

Again, if anybody in the Anchorage or Eagle River area would like to give a go at a thigh-strapped boat after break-up, I’d be willing to get-together so you can see what we are talking about, here, something empirical, rather than theoretical. Last fall I tried to pull out those like Stefan Otterson, who had them put in years ago and raved about them…this spring I’ll supply the boats!

It’s too bad, Sheri, that you have such strong feelings about boat mods – but it’s great that you have finally got out the ItchCraft we’ve been all itching for and from the sound of it incorporates what so many of us have been asking for for so many years.


PS, you should read my blog sometime. It appears from your post that you have not.

A bit of disparity coming up here…

I personally reckon that Sheri is great in that she actually reads our posts from time to time, and obviously thinks a lot about them. I reckon we have a unique group here, as it’s still rather compact and personal.

Whilst you, Roman, push the boundaries somewhat, Sheri actually has to do some compromise as to what is possible from a business and a legal point of view, and I reckon she “listens” extremely well. Whilst I certainly admire your acheivements, and very much enjoy reading your blog, at the end of the day, you don’t have to “wear the can” (maybe an Ozzie expression here - but it means “hold the shitcan”) for the business.

I’ve always been impressed with Sheri’s interest in the forum, and in actually trying to change things to suit, and I think you need to be a little gentler on her. She’s doing a great job, and whilst modifications may move slowly, that’s the way of life

She gets to hold the proverbial if someone sues her, not you. So…she needs to be conservative in all this.

I see that a variation of my “wine baldder” vest is now being marketed commercially as per Andrew Skurka’s (?sp) recent post - “the thing”, as it is called. To jump from designing a floatation device, to actually selling it commercially, is a huge step. I’m glad I fund my interests by practicing medicine!!

And, whilst this post may perhaps seem malaligned to you, your youtube presentations are absolutely amazing, and worthy of a commercial DVD, and I think that if it wasn’t for the likes of you, packraft evolution wouldn’t happen. Keep at it.

Andrew A

I have seen many mods over the years and most of them are wonderful.

I have read your blog, Roman. What concerns me is hearing from people who think some mods are something they aren’t, believe they need to do extensive mods for water they don’t, and are unaware of the potential dangers.

On thigh straps, a lawyer would probably tell me that I should not be saying anything at all, but for me this is an ethical issue. Put thigh straps on if you wish, but know that this boat is not designed to be able to use them safely. I have good reason to believe are dangerous.

The inside of a packraft is not the same as the inside of standard inflatables that use thighstraps. All of the IK’s out there I’m aware of are considerably wider allowing the knees to roll out into the thigh strap and just roll in to release from the same strap. An alpacka is very narrow inside, so the knees cannot roll out to go into the straps. They must straighten rather than roll to release. The space inside a decked alpacka is very limited in comparison to any other craft. Early on when I first decked the boats I have more than one incidence of people getting caught in straps of packs that were put under their decks. Two of the incidences were very scary, the people were lucky to escape alive. From that point forward Alpacka has always maintained that nothing should be placed under the spraydeck except for a water bottle or similar object.

If you put straps inside your deck you are increasing the potential for entrapment. That is your call for sure. It is a free country and you can do whatever you please with your boat. In fact, that is the whole idea of packrafts. But when you tell others what to do with their boats without acknowledging the potential danger of your recommendations, I have to speak up because you are potentially endangering the lives of these people. I care about this. If everyone is informed and makes that choice themselves knowing that there is a danger, great. Then it is their choice. But jumping out there implying that there is no danger in this is playing with other peoples safety.

I am not saying you guys can’t or shouldn’t put thigh straps on your boats, I am saying that it is not recommended with an alpacka raft.

Thanks for your insight Andrew, I appreciate it. As a doctor you must be used to looking as far down the line as you can to see if you have seen everything that you can see. Your patients depend on you for that. I consider Alpacka raft owners my patients and I try to stay with my ear turned to all of your suggestions and my voice ready to raise up when I see something that makes me worried for all of you.

Safe boating to all of you


Awesome answer Sheri. Detailed and specific and clear. And how great to have sensitive, sensible customers like Andrew.

I am very eager to sit in the WitchCraft and see how it paddles.

Keep up the good work. We are all excited to see Alpacka advancing

I know nothing of entrapment or difficult whitewater, but I thought I’d provide a reflection on Sheri’s original point that a hard-shell kayak will always serve better than an Alpacka in hard-core river-running.

When we do presentations (which incidentally we are right now: http://www.groundtruthtrekking.org/Book.php) we have to explain what the deal is with packrafts to unfamiliar audiences as quickly as possible. We’re always changing how we approach this, but right now it goes something like this:

We show two photos, one of Erin paddling a packraft far from shore in the Copper R. Delta, and the other of me walking with the packraft visible in my pack.

We point to Erin and explain that the boat is capable in many conditions including whitewater and rough seas. But there’s always a better option out there… in whitewater you’d do better with a hard shelled kayak. And in rough seas you’d be happier in an aircraft carrier.

Where the packraft shines above all other boats is when it’s in your pack [pointing to me]. This is a boat capable of thick bushwhacks, difficult climbs, and long striding walks in open terrain. No other craft can do this.

(I would upload the slide, but my Motel 8 connection sucks)

Inflatable Kayakers have been using thigh straps longer than Alpacka has been in business.

Here’s a discussion on their safety from Mountain Buzz:


Worth a read if you have any doubts about their safety regarding entrapment and you have not actually tried them yourself.

I’ve been using thigh straps for many years in various IK’s, including CatIK’s, and I wouldn’t be without them. However, I agree with Sheri, that the Alpacka rafts are such that I can see where you couldn’t just straighten your legs and release from the straps. In an IK that is exactly what I do and I’m out instantly. I had thought about adding straps to my Fiord Explorer but decided against it for the reasons I just gave.

Frank Colver

When it comes to theory vs empiricism, it’s really best to go with the facts.

If you put thigh straps in your packraft, and actually use them there, you won’t go back to a strapless boat.

I am curious about the idea of straightening your legs to fall out of your thigh straps. If that is the fear, couldn’t we just buy a packraft that is longer than what has been consider an ideal length? Thigh straps are definitely the industry standard and deviating from industry standard and producing a product which could also create an entrapment scenario leaves liability to question when something goes wrong. I tend to think that if thigh straps were to be used, one would have to think about sizing a packraft to meet their body (longer to allow us to straighten those legs). Having paddled a packraft with thigh straps and now having paddled the Witchcraft, I am leaning towards thigh straps as a safer option that offers less liability to manufacturer. I will continue to test this new craft and refine my opinion through experience in its use, but I will need to compare that to a packraft with thigh straps which is becoming more and more popular as an aftermarket tweeking of your personal boat. I can see a market for those of us who like to run whitewater in small boats who want something lighter than an IK. I had become accustomed to packing a Jacks Plastic boat that was 35 pounds with out any gear. To find something to handle the same conditions under 10 pounds is a score. I thoroughly enjoyed the new shape of the witchcraft and maybe it was just me, but I didn’t find any stability differences. I sincerely hope we can find some common ground on this issue and fine tune the witchcraft.

I think Hig makes a really good point here: packrafts are compromise boats. They might be for pushing the limits in compromise (multi-aspect) expeditions, but they are not the best option for serious rivers; nor are they an ideal thing to have to carry over mountain. Compromises. But wonderful!
(packrafted across Iceland: http://www.alastairhumphreys.com/adventures/transiceland)

One thing to think about when using thigh straps in a single chambered packraft: if your boat is cut and deflates quickly, then you may well find yourself wrapped in your deflated boat, particularly if you have lots of velcro to keep the deck closed and the boat dry.

The Alpacka designers might think about adding a second chamber to their new whitewater boat.

Until then, here’s a year of thigh-strap packrafting in review:

Adding thigh straps is not a big mod, but it has big payback.

Exciting video. I’m already really looking forward to next season.

What’s that brilliant mountain at 0:57? Or at least, what river/area is that?

Others can check, but I’m thinking that’s “Yukla” in the Chugach Mountains above Eagle River. That 8000+ foot peak dominates the put-in for Echo Bend of Eagle River and “Polar Bear Peak” dominates the end of Echo Bend’s main rapids. In the fall this is likely the most scenic stretch of packrafting in the Anchorage area.

It’s Yukla… but it’s not quite 8000’ - the summit is 7535’. Comeon Roman - you know this stuff from your climbing days! :laughing:

I would like to see a redesigned deck that inflates around the waist to help keep water out.