Packrafting with Baby

A couple weeks ago we started experimenting with packrafting with our 4 month old baby, Katmai. We did a 3 day packrafting trip near Cape Yakataga on the Lost Coast in Alaska that included 3 packraft crossings of fast flowing braided rivers, and a 6ish mile run down an easy but high braided river (the Duktoth). Where we are now:

We think the most critical thing is to stick with packrafting where we think the chances of getting flipped out of the raft are very low. We’re making a decision for Katmai to enter a situation where there is risk (just as we do if we take Katmai for a drive) so we want to minimize that risk.

We also want to be able to do the packrafting needed for interesting trips. This will naturally lead to the sort of weighing of risk that can put us and Katmai in an unexpectedly dangerous situation. So we want to think through scenarios where things don’t work out as planned.

After trying several arrangements, we settled on strapping Katmai to our chest, planning to swim on our back. Though there are some advantages to leaving Katmai separate wearing his own life vest, it’s just too hard to keep track of the baby, raft, and paddle during launch and land with that setup. The awkwardness of dealing with this added a risk of letting the boat float off down the river… So we used a simple nylon wrap to put him on Erin’s chest, and worked Katmai’s life vest into the strapping system. I think it might work better and easier to just use an adult life-vest. Hopefully tomorrow we’ll be able to try this out in the pool, and try swimming with this setup.

I’m nervous about practicing falling out of the raft with the baby. Katmai has been in the pool regularly and is pretty familiar with water, and seems to get that he should hold his breath under water. But we haven’t really dunked him to test that, and the surprise of rolling out of the raft seems like it might mess up that reflex for him. If anyone has detailed knowledge about development of reflexes to avoid inhaling water, I’d love to hear your thoughts. I’m guessing Katmai is much better off facing toward the adult’s chest than facing out… if the water hits his back first he’s more likely to react in time to avoid inhaling water than if it hits his face first. Also, in my experience I often don’t get my head wet when I’m rolled in a river. Maybe this means we could keep Katmai’s head out of the water even if we did end up out of the raft.

Once in the water, swimming on our back seems pretty practical. But I haven’t swum on my back in a cold river with 15 lbs strapped to my chest before, so maybe it’d be really tough. Thoughts?

Has anyone else explored these issues? Roman, how old was Cody when he first went packrafting?

There’s a blog post up about our trip here:
And some more detail on Katmai’s end on his blog:

Hig I would build a co2 vest that you could pull or self enflate that would keep him way above your face. Sort of like a small tube, even though he would be strapped to you. Not around the neck but up to his shoulders. Imagine him sitting/strapped in a netted tube so that if he did get loose from you, he would have a very good chance of survival, as apposed to trying to locate him on the bottom of the river.
If you notice when you drop something in the water, it is spreads out fast, not in. Therefore once inflated he would pop up like a cork. Even if he takes the dunk as you do, I beleive it is paramount to keep him higher than you. And I thought I was gutsy taking my infant daughter on a backpacker in the high serrias in the 60’s! Good luck!

With the system we have, he’s definitely not getting loose from us… I agree that’s key. The wrap system basically makes him part of our body. And I’d rather have whatever floatation is required inflated before it becomes relevant (also that makes the system lighter… no CO2 inflation system required).

I don’t really follow what you mean by “way above your face.” That sounds like I wouldn’t be able to see? Or he’s sitting on my head? :slight_smile:

We aim for a risk standard that is comparable to safe driving, and many people are comfortable with exposing their baby to that level of risk.

Just meant with you on your back, the rigg must assure he’s as high as possible if not using a seperate PFD. :wink:

Just ask Alpacka to make a very small packraft (around the size of a car tyre tube) for you to tow behind you and put him in that. He can even have a couple of toys in there with him to play with. Maybe make the sides a little higher than usual so he can’t crawl over the edge. When he wants to sleep just put the skirting over it and the rocking motion would put him to sleep quickly.

Packrafting is one the great and challenging trips.This trips are wind trips,water trips,and many more.It is so exciting to hang around the trips.Packrafting is now a days passion for the young guns.Packrafting at some stage reduces fear for the human.

Hey there, Hig!

I’m keen to hear if you have any updates on your system for packrafting with little fellas. We have a one year old and I’m keen to get her in the raft with me. I’ve had a fair few hours paddling mine in different conditions over the past year and feel OK about paddling with her on flat water. I must say that I had thought about leaving her free with her own life vest, with a bit of practice in the pool beforehand. But I understand that strapping her in might be worth it, especially while in the boat!

Anyway, any tips or tales that you can give would be wonderful, mate.