Boat Size: Smaller isn't always better

The old Sherpa Packrafts were long – the same length as the Alpacka Llama – but for most of my boating I like the Yak. In fact so sweet was the Yak that I thought even smaller might be even better. So I got my wife an Alpacka Alpacka, their smallest boat, and I promptly jumped in it to see how it performed for me (5’11" and about 175 pounds in PFD, warm clothes, and a drysuit).

But try as I might I could not get that boat to feel good. It was tippy and spinny, unstable and made me paddle worse. I went back to the Yak.

Packraft size is a trade-off between maneuverability and stability, the first based on on boat length and the second on boat footprint (also proportional to boat length). If you are tall, even sitting in your boat creates a long lever arm that places more torque on a boat than a shorter person would. You need to stabilize that long lever arm with a bigger footprint from a bigger boat.

If you are getting into running whitewater above Class III, you may find that getting in a bigger boat (and sitting forward to center it) will make you more stable and reduce the number of swims you’re making. But be careful – maybe you’re cheating by making things easier – and before you know it you might be going for a longer paddle, which believe it or not also makes things easier when making snicker-snack pirouettes and paddle jab stops, maneuvers that kayakers never make, but packrafters need in technical water.

I would offer up an “Amen” to Roman’s post, as I may be the poster child that confirmed his observation.

I am 6’2" and 180 lbs and consider myself an advanced/intermediate boater. About a year ago I switched from my Llama to a Yak, arguing with myself that the tighter fitting boat would be more responsive. In fact it was more responsive, but the response was more flips and swims, which is not usually the answer you’re looking for.

I recently did back-to-back boat trials on lower Ship Creek Canyon, alternating between the Llama and the Yak. While the Yak fits me better, it is much more tippy and unstable, and resulted in more swims than the Llama. The Llama felt like a cruise ship in comparison, flattening out many of the spots that gave the Yak trouble. The Llama is a sloppy fit, though, as my feet don’t reach the front tube of the boat, with the result that I tend to slouch down. It is harder to assume an aggressive, forward-leaning position in the Llama. I have an older Llama, though, and I suspect that the inflatable seat back in the newer boats would reduce the slouch factor.

Brad Meiklejohn


I’m someone who has really enjoyed paddling the “Alpaca” (the smallest model) but then it has not been done on whitewater and when I bought it in 2006 I’d only been paddling for I think, about three months. I’m also smaller than you guys above, at 5’10". I deliberately bought the smaller model for a snugger fit. I think this is horses for courses - or should that be paddlers for rivers? :slight_smile: Paddling on mainly flatwater I have not had to cope with anything like the conditions both of you have encountered.

As this Alpacka Forum has only recently come online (great idea!) I started a thread about the “Alpaca” (summer 2006) over on the Folding Kayaks forum. it went to three pages long, and I think a link here, may be of interest. I found this forum just after my last post on this subject on the Folding Kayaks thread. It’s here:


Check out on this wonderful 30 year old footage that Forrest dug up:

(1) boat size
(2) paddle length
(3) size of the drop in the last frame!

Wonder why the clip ends just before that last drop?