Packs for Packrafting

Lets hear it - what is your favorite packrafting pack and why.

if you were to have your dream no-holds bar packrafting pack - what would it look like?

I’ve been kicking around a packraft specific pack design for a few months. Now that I’m a limping gimp I can put the time into making a prototype. Roman and I got together a few weeks ago and scratched out some more ideas
Here is the tick list so far:
-Modular and adaptable drybag harness style pack
-able to handle loads up to 60lbs
-Removable hip belt w/pockets.
-Removable frame sheet / bivy pad
-2 1/2 lbs normal, 1 1/2 lbs stripped
-very, very non water absorbant
-bushwack protection

what specality packs are out there now:
The WX tex pack - this seemed to be a cool packrafting pack, but its one compartment design with 4 buckles to open the top proves cumbersome. Also the pack lacks any points to strap stuff to the outside.

Next up is the NRS Paragon - This is a cheap solution for kayakers to carry heavy dry bags, or their boat on portages. Its simple, but lacks much shape and I’ve heard from friends that it can be not so comfey… and really lacks any protection for the drybag, just ask JT.

Next up was the Ula pack made for the arctic 1000 trip. This seemed to be a good solution, and Ula made a bunch for sale afterwards. The production pack however left a bit to be desired in my book in that the shoulder straps attach to the weak tabs at the bottom of the WXtex dry bags. I’ve ripped a few of these corners out through normal use (who hasent?), and doubt they would hold up in the long run. Also, not much protection for the dry bag on bushwacks… seems expensive too.

So I started the hip belt for a prototype last night… the design I’m working on is closest to the Ula of the three, with more mesh, different suspension and different features all together. I’ll keep you posted as it takes form. Feedback is welcome!


Now you opened a can of worms, lots of opinions. If you are reading this you get to hear mine.

• I like too put everything in my pack, even my paddle.
• I like using an ultra-light dry bag liner. I tried having an exposed light-weight dry bag but the first time I bumped some wood it got punctured. I have messed around with drybag style backbacks but concluded they are to heavy, to expensive, and/or not very durable.
• Drain holes are not necessary.

So what do I use? The best value for weight, durability, and price is the GoLite Pinnacle Pack ( It would be even better if GoLite made a more secure role down (dry bag style) top closure and a rectangular frame sleeve. I like to fold up my InsulMat sleeping pad/Alpacka floor and insert it as the frame. The paddle blades positioned correctly add rigidity to the pack as well.

For a waterproof lining I use a Sea to Summit Lightweight Dry Bag ( I find the Sea to Summit dry bags lighter and more durable then the POE Wytex Dry Bags.

So that’s my opinion and I’m sticking to it.

yep, thats why I ask.

Good stuff Forrest.

I spent last summer trying out a modified NRS Paragon/Wtex Pnuemo setup. The results were mixed. On my first trip the main strap ripped away from the frame. Not good. Back home I added a couple of rivets to hold it in place, sewed a mesh bag around it and slit the fabric covering the frame so I can slide a paddle blade in to give it more rigidity. The advantages of the Paragon/Pneumo are:

  1. The pack is $50.
  2. You can basically strap anything onto it, like say, a folding bike, packraft and drybag.
  3. When wet it doesn’t seem to gain quite as much weight as a more conventional backpack.

Loading the pack can be tricky and it tends to require a lot of adjustments. I too have found that exposed Pneumos end up with holes in them.

I too have been experimenting on rafting backpacks…

Lately, I’ve been leaning towards a wet mesh pack: it gets around the technical & lifespan challenges of building a drybag-on-my-back, and it gives me someplace to put my wet stuff - which usually ends up about 90% of my total gear. It’d be nice to get something less absorbent than the standard type-XV nylon webbing. The poly web on the Arc’teryx Naos seems pretty non-absorbent, and tougher than most other poly web.

Have you guys had any problems with plastic fittings breaking on your packrafting backpacks? As I understand it, both water saturation & extremes of temperature make nylon a lot more brittle, but I’m wondering if this is actually surfacing as a problem for people.

I’m looking at mesh like Phifertex and other heavy weights for the bottom, then lighter weight mesh for the sides. The trick is the back panel - what to put over closed cell foam so its still comfey. I used some Schoeller on a previous pack which worked well. But I’m looking at getting some different mesh for that too.

I love Forrest’s reply, even if I don’t agree, fully!

However, I’d like a mesh pack, too, because like Forrest, I like the idea of getting everything in, I just don’t want fabric. I want mesh. Light mesh that’s super-tough. Kevlar mesh or Spectra mesh or Spiderman silk mesh.

You see, I want to shove everything in my pack so I can pack as fast as Forrest does. With my current set up (ULA Arctic 1000 prototype), I practically need my math degree just to get everything right.

For day trip packrafting , I think the Outdoor Research summit pack looks ideal , as it will fit a raft and plenty of other stuff, and also doubles as a dry bag, and weighs about 300g. Unfortunately the bottom side pockets are not quite big enough for a paddle blade, so you will need to make a paddle pag which can then be attached to the webbing ladders on the back. See .

As to packs for longer trips, I’m not so sure about what is commercially available, however it is not that hard to make your own pack and liner, if you have some basic sewing skills. My ideal long trip pack was a Mountain Designs Foxlite prototype (we’re talking Australian brands here!), which was about 90l+ capacity, but made out of canvas - big enough to swallow anything, and with a fantastic harness system, but heavy. I have subsequently made a modified copy of the design, with similar harness system, but used a 4oz nylon for the pack, and in doing so have reduced the weight from 3.3kg to 1.4kg. I have modified it specifically to attach paddles, fly rods, landing nets etc, according to the gear that I actually use.

Unfortunately the 4oz nylon is not that waterproof, so Inside this I use a large home made roll top dry bag, made out of PVC coated nylon, sealing the seams with sail cloth repair tape (or Aquaseal, if you wish, but the tape works very well). You could also use silinylon to make a lighter packliner, joining the seams with double sided tape used for gluing siliconised spinnaker cloth together (or alternatively sew the seams and seal them with this tape, using silinylon stips on the other side), however I have found that silinylon makes a waterproof, but annoyingy slippery packliner. I have used this pack for 2yrs for bushwalking and ski-touring , and despite the light weight fabric, it shows no sign of wear - however one does need to be a little more careful in terms of chucking it on the ground etc

The bottom line is to design the ultimate pack for your needs, and then get out there and make it yourself. You can use a domestic sewing machine with an 18g leather needle, which will sew through all sorts of things. The most important issue is the thread that is used - don’t buy stuff at a local haberdashery place - go to a supplier. Although you will have to buy a cone of thread, which is about 3500m plus, it costs little more than 500m of crap thread at the haberdashery place, and there is some great stuff out there that is basically unbreakable. As to fabrics, I thought that the stuff I used was waterproof, but it wasn’t - apparently you can buy some of the “X pack” fabric, which is waterproof, but at the end of the day, does it matter whether the pack is waterproof? - if you’re going to use a liner, which you probably would, given the stitching in a pack, then the pack can be made out of whatever - the liner keeps things dry.

The ultimate pack is whatever you wish to make it - the commercially supplied stuff is generally designed for “the market”, which means that it is either over-designed(ie heavy pack cloth, lots of heavy webbing etc - eg why use 12 oz packcloth instead of 4oz, and why use 25mm webbing instead of 20mm webbing?), and therefore heavier than required , to allow the manufacturers a generous “guarantee” period " for their item, or it is aesthetic", and may therefore be overweight to accomodate fashion. If you are further interested in this whole concept, check out and the associated pages, and think a bit more about what we all carry in the bush.

More Forrest opinions;

• I would be interested in trying a mesh pack that was light weight and big enough to stuff everything inside.

• I am not convinced that mesh is needed for wet gear. I am skeptical that you gear dries any faster stuffed in mesh than standard nylon. In my GoLight pack if I have to pack wet gear I pack it at the bottom and segregate my dry gear in the dry-bag.

• I like being able to disguise myself as a normal backpacker. A mesh pack is a dead give way that you are or have floated something.

• Whether mesh or nylon the pack shell does not and should not be the primary barrier for keeping your gear dry. It should protect your dry bag.

• An outer shell that is durable enough to be a reliable dry bag/H2O barrier will be too heavy (Arctryx and POE). You will still need a dry bag too segregate dry gear.

• Derek Collins uses the OR Summit Pack for day trips. It works OK, but is on the small side.

Roman using his math degree.

I like this…

Nonetheless, like mesh for a couple reasons. Like Roman, I want to be able have a pack I can stow all my junk without having to do knot math. I want something that’s light weight, dries well, and is TOUGH. Cool as those go-lite packs are, i worry about their durability. Something like a Spectra mesh would be the best of all worlds: super-strong, non-absorbent. I’d want to call it The Spiderweb, or something fun like that…

I’m wondering if you couldn’t get some benefits of both worlds with a hybridized pack: mesh in some areas, solid material in others.

I have to be honest - I’ve never used mesh or harness style pack for packrafting - but the motivations are simple

  • less weight when the pack absorbs water
  • no worrying about fitting it into the dry bag when boating since its ok that it gets wet.
    -post boating the wet stuff drains out faster.

So as Shaggy pointed out, the downsides of the heavy mesh is that it is practically the same weight of heavy cordura. I’m only planning on using the heavy mesh around the bottom, then using lighter mesh up top and having the compression straps wrap all the way around so the tension is taken up with them and not the fabric.

Has anyone used the flat smooth curved part of the padle blades as a quasi frame sheet? Been kicking that idea around, maybe Forrest you’ve tried it with the Golite packs.

The spider web comment was pretty funny Roman…

My interest in mesh has to do with draining and drying time and weight when wet. And as Alaskan I am proud to be a packrafter – no need to sneak around pretending to be a simple hiker-piker – although I’d like a stealth pack too – something really dorky like a frame pack that comes apart and turns into – a paddle! So I can go down south and visit certain people and places to do certain things that maybe the Parky Service or others might frown on – like Chris McCandless in the Movie Into the Wild, or something…


I find the Dyneema nylon that GoLite uses to be very durable, quick drying, and un-absorbent.

“…no worrying about fitting it into the dry bag when boating since its ok that it gets wet” -CST. I experimented early on with placing my pack inside dry bags and found it problematic when needing to portage in addition to leaving the light weight dry bag vulnerable to punctures. Even when boating I line the inside of my backpack with the dry bag.

I have tried inverting packs inside out, while floating, so that the harness was not dangling around getting snagged and creating a hazard. The problem with this is the lack of anything to secure the tie-on straps to. I like this method but a “packrafting pack” that employs this needs a couple daisy chains or attachment loops on the inside of the pack.

Yes that Dyneema fabric is awesome, but its pretty much unavailable for Joe sewer to buy anymore - at least now. I love the stuff.
Good dialog here…

It was Roman who convinced me, via one of his tree climbing Ozzie friends, to lash out and buy an Alpacka, and I am grateful for his input. I now have 2. However, seeing this photo, I do start to wonder whether I have done the right thing!!

Sorry, man - you already drank the kool-aid! I would recommend inflating your Alpacka in a quiet, safe place and curling fetal inside of it until the water-angels stop telling to do large drops…

I know everyone has their opinions, and I’m sure some of you will rip on me for this one… but for overpackers like me , this bag is pretty cool. I got the opitional waist harness. And it’s really big. :smiley:

Also- this is a really cool online store-

We hauled drybags like the one above 5 miles back into the Copper River Canyon last year and ferried 82 reds back in a series of grueling mountain bike rides. The packs each had 8-10 fish in them and weighed around 60-70 lbs. After that trip I swore I’d never carry heavy loads in a dry bag again. My back and shoulders were sore for weeks! They do not distribute weight well at all!

I think they are best for trips that are mostly on the water for sure. For trips with lots of hiking involved, I use a Gregory pack with a framesheet. this, however, is strickly a backpack, and must be stuffed with drybags. I guess it depends on the mission which bag is best.