Carrying your own portable boat is officially the coolest way to go deep into the wilderness
Packrafting isn’t exactly new. Small, portable rubber rafts have been used in expeditions since the mid-1800s. But there’s been a spike of interest in the durable one-person crafts that can be carried in your backpack. The American Packrafting Association reports that 76 percent of its members picked up the hobby in the past five years, and outfitters from Alaska to Montenegro are tapping into the trend with guided trips that involve hiking to and rafting down some of the world’s most remote waterways. If you’re looking to really get away, sign up for a trip or get equipped with the knowledge and supplies you’ll need to plan your own excursions. Here’s where to start.
Wrangell-St. Elias National Park
Being able to travel by water opens up Alaska’s vast stretches of untouched wilderness. Kennicott Wilderness Guides offers two-day courses in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, an expanse of jagged peaks larger than Switzerland, that’ll teach you skills such as trip planning, river-running strategies, and self-rescue. If you’d rather have a guide lead the way, book a half-day, full-day, or weeklong trip, and you’ll hike to a glacial lake and run mellow Class II rapids while someone else takes care of the logistics (from $130).
On this guided 12-day trip with Boreal River Adventures, you’ll fly by helicopter from Sept-Îles, Quebec, into a remote northern forest before spending three days backpacking, rappelling, and orienteering through trail-free wilderness to Lake Magpie, the source of the famed Magpie River. From there, you’ll paddle your craft more than 100 miles down Class III and Class IV rapids to the Atlantic Ocean, catching brook trout for dinner along the way ($4,486).
Grand Canyon National Park
Thanks to packrafts, you can combine a world-class Grand Canyon backpacking journey with a jaunt down the river. Wildland Trekking has a six-day rim-to-rim trip where you’ll hike into the canyon via the North Bass Trail, paddle across the Colorado River, then ascend the South Bass Trail. The $1,775 price tag includes all your camping and paddling gear and meals, plus transportation to and from Flagstaff, Arizona.
Gabriel Gersch is a 31-year-old adventurer who guided in Alaska’s Brooks Range before launching Outventurous, a wilderness travel company that hosts expeditions across Europe. He bought his first packraft in 2010 and has undertaken trips through some of the world’s wildest mountain ranges from Patagonia to Pakistan. Gersch offers custom-made trips and logistical support for planning your own outing, coordinating details like budgeting, permitting, and food supplies. But the coolest thing about Gersch is that, for a relatively affordable fee, he’ll let you join him on his own adventures. This summer and early fall, he’s leading passages across Greenland (from $3,402).
Tara River Canyon
To truly experience the Montenegro’s Tara River Canyon, one of the longest and deepest gorges in Europe, you’ll have to take to the water. On this weeklong expedition from Packraft Touren, you’ll explore the 74-mile canyon through the mountains of Durmitor National Park, as well as the Morača River and Bosnia’s Neretva River. The $721 trip includes transportation and guides, but not food, lodging, or gear. You’ll have to pitch a tent or stay in the hotels and bungalows along the river. Most camps have food available, or pack your own.
Snake and Hoback Rivers
Want to go off the grid in the Tetons? Teton Backcountry Rentals will rent you pretty much everything you need, including tents, backpacks, crampons, ultralight cookware, and, yes, packrafts. This summer, the company has teamed up with Rendezvous River Sports and the American Packrafting Association to offer guided trips on the area’s Snake and Hoback rivers. It’s also teaching two-day clinics that cover essentials skills like swiftwater rescue, paddling techniques, and river navigation.
Fiordland National Park
Expedition X is New Zealand’s only packrafting guide company, and it specializes in tours of the South Island’s Fiordland National Park. The company’s day trips will see you paddling the Waiau River and hiking the renowned Kepler Track (from $202). Longer trips will take you deeper, covering up to 93 miles of rugged wilderness, crossing alpine lakes and camping on sandy beaches and isolated islands. Or you can sign up for a safety and skills course and head out on your own for as long as your heart desires.