Packraft Discrimination

I was planning to run the Green River through Dinosaur (Gates of Lodore) next month when I was told packrafts are not allowed because they only have one chamber. Sure enough on page 7 of a document titled 2011 Boater Information are the statements:

  • Cataraft boats and inflatable rafts must have at least four separate chambers. Solo two-chambered crafts are prohibited.

  • Conventional rowboats, foldboats, swimming pool type rafts and toys, inner tubes, air mattresses, boogie boards, rescue sleds, and other “play” crafts are prohibited.

  • The minimum party size for canoe and kayak groups to travel without raft support is three boats. Unsupported groups of this size must consist of paddlers having had experience on major whitewater rivers (Class III or greater).

You can read the regulations your self at:

Has anyone run into this elsewhere? The number of chambers has not been an issue when I got a permit for Cataract Canyon or the Middle Fork of the Salmon. Nor was it one of the many reasons that the NPS attempted to stop Roman from running the Grand Canyon.

Is this a new land management strategy to ban packrafts? How do we best challenge this? I’m concerned this will be a trend for the management of other rivers.

Maybe count the seat as two extra chambers? That still leaves you with one missing though…unless you attached an air mattress to the floor too. I didn’t see any specific wording on what constitutes a chamber, besides being “sealed”, so maybe you could get away with this? At a glance it does seem like these regulations kind of have an inherent bias against packrafting, but that’s just my impression. Lame! Good luck.

So, would the newer boats then be considered 4 chamber? Two in the seat, one on the deck, and the boat itself. Maybe you just need to upgrade to a newer raft or put a new deck on an old raft.

The lower yough in PA requires multiple chambers, at least during the permitted time of year. (April 1- Oct 15) At least they did when I lived in that neck of the woods.

The Allagash Waterway in Maine states: the use of inflatable watercraft is prohibited.

They do this for “tradition” not safety (Allagash is class 2 max).


I think I found a potential solution to this issue. I found 5mil mylar bags that are very long and narrow. They are actually made for the military for their rifles. I found that I could attach a nozzle like our elbow valves, actually it is the extra tube length of the elbow valve that we cut off on the boats, and then roll this tube with a nozzle on it up like a cigar and shove it into the boat. It can be inflated easily inside the boat tubes by pulling the nozzle back up through the main valve. You can put two of these tubes into the boat, one on each side. You then inflate the inner tubes first, then blow up the boat as you normally do. This gives you three very ligitimate inflation chambers and a fourth one if you count the seat. I haven’t run this by a park official but it is sure worth a “shot”. The bags are very strong, they can be sat on without any fear of rupture. They are light wt., only 3oz per bag, and cheap, $5 each. They are easy to get in but a pain to get out. Fortunately if you have to damage the bag to get it out you are only out $5. You won’t hurt the main valve or the boat itself trying to get it back out again. Give us a call at the shop if you would like to know more about them. We have a small stock of these bags. Think of these bags as mylar balloons on super steroids.


Each tube does have a separate valve. Inserting the two mylar bags into the main tube through the main valves does give you three separate air chambers. The long skinny nozzle is pulled up through the main tube valve for inflation of each mylar tube. The nozzle is pushed back down into the boat when the tube is full. If you do tear your main tube you still have two inflated mylar tubes safely inside that main tube. So there really are 3 totally separate air chambers: the main chamber of the boat, and the two separately inflated mylar tubes inside this main chamber. It sure isn’t something that most people need. We so rarely have real blowouts with these boats that most most uses the extra inflation chambers are more hassle than what they are worth. However, for those special uses and for passing the requirements on some of the Park Service controlled rivers this is a good option.

Cheers, Sheri

I ran the Gates of Lodore a few years ago. The ranger I talked with on the phone brought up the chamber issue and was VERY reluctant to issue a permit without seeing the packraft. I arrived at the put in with packraft and a rented IK just in case. Luckily the guy on duty when inspection time came had heard of packrafts and was supportive. The original ranger I spoke with on the phone made a point of visiting one of our camps on the river to see the packraft. He did not seem impressed. I asked him about the chamber issue and he said something about boats sinking and not being able to recover them. I don’t think the rule back then was 4 chambers though. I think it was 3.

I always figured my reply, if I got into this situation would be the same as another poster stated. One chamber is the boat, two more are in the seat, and the fourth would be the shorty air mattress. My seat is always fastened so it won’t leave the boat in a flip and so is the mattress strapped in. Those items would float the deflated boat so it wouldn’t sink into the river. Apparently, that is the concern, that the boat goes to the bottom and can’t be retrieved (the paddler has a PFD). I don’t see how a ranger would have a good argument with the seat and air mattress supporting the deflated boat unless it could be argued that the dry bag weight would pull it down. If that’s the case then air would have to be left in the dry bag also.

I don’t see how this solution is any different than floatation bags in a canoe or hard shell kayak and they allow those.

American Whitewater and the American Canoe Association who previously endorsed river regulations requiring multiple chambers are now aware of the packrafting communities concerns. The regulations where intended to weed out “pool toys and inner tubes.” In discussions with both AW and ACA they acknowledged Alpacka Rafts as legitimate water craft for swiftwater and will be aware of our concerns when endorsing and commenting on future river plans. Now for the actual river managers and plans already in place.

I used the “seat as two chambers” argument with the unsupportive ranger at Gates of Lodore. He did not take the idea seriously, saying the seat chambers were too small to float a deflated packraft. However, he did not outright say I could not get a permit when I talked with him on the phone. He at least agreed to look at the boat. And when he visited camp, the big rafters I was with (who had also been skeptical about the PR’s capabilities) made very positive comments to him.

I spoke with the River Manager for Dinosaur National Monument. Dinosaur will not allow self-supported packraft trips on the sections of the Yampa or Green Rivers they manage. The rational they provided is that if a boat failed there is no other boat for the paddler of the damaged boat to ride on. The river manager also stated Dinosaur would not except wag-bags (packed in a dry bag) for human waste, all parties are required to have a large metal groover and they will not budge on this requirement.

I spoke with American Whitewater and we will be crafting a letter requesting they amend their management plan with language that would allow self-supported packraft and kayak trips. Unfortunately, Dinosaur recently just adopted a new river management plan and making amendments maybe challenging. Dinosaur National Monument will allow packrafts when they are part of large parties with raft support.

Forest, Where did this info that ‘packrafts will be allowed with support’ come from? We are doing Ladore next week and the raft permit holder was told by Kelly at Dinousaur that packrafts are not allowed. From what I’ve read here it sounds like my chances are good at the put it but it would be nice to know before hand so I don’t have to bring a 2nd boat with me in case I don’t get the ok by the ranger checking us in.

I received that information from Kelly the river manager. I would call ahead of time to be sure. There attitude towards packrafts apreas to be in flux. I would call ahead of time.

Well just got off the phone with Kelly and discrimination is alive and well at Dinousaur even if you’re in a group with rafts. She told me I must have three air chambers and that seat chambers don’t count (floor chamber would?). She said there was a modification I could do to add tubes inside the boat and after some searching I did find Alpaca is selling a Supplementary Air Tube:

I don’t have time to get these before I leave and even if I did I’m not sure I want to spend $50 on something I’d probably never use again. Makes me real glad that most rivers are outside of NPS and their ridiculous rules!

Seems like the Alpacka Cargo Fly (with two inflatable drybags) creates a situation of 3 satisfactory chambers, and WOULD in fact make the boat safer in a strong current with a ripped main tube. Is there a bias between hard shell kayaks and pack rafts, perhaps because kayaks are assumed to have inflation of some sort?