The Alpacka Raft vs AIRE BAKraft Expedition Packraft

owyhee river packraft

According to the cover of one of the latest publications about trends in the outdoor industry, INSIDEOUTDOORS Volume 15 Issue 2 mentions “Packrafting Popularity Starts to Swell”.  I laughed, as packrafting has been around for some time now, heck the Alpacka Raft being reviewed below is in its 18th year of production. And AIRE has been making boats for decades as well.

Perhaps the mainstream is now being turned onto packrafting and for good reasons, a packraft is the perfect tool for adventuress folks looking to explore remote regions around the globe.  Sound like fun, keep reading.

Packraft Reviews

Pacific Creek GTNP River

Alpacka Raft Series

Starting with a weight of 6lb 8oz / 2.95kg for a Medium size boat, the Classic Alpacka Raft is the lightest self-bailing packraft currently on the market. Can you carry 6lb on your back for an extended period of time?  Sure, and this is what makes packrafting so darn efficient.

Packraft size

One of the simplest pleasures of this sport is to park your car next to a river, go for a hike and then float back down the river to where you started. Sounds like something you would enjoy?  It’s a whole lot of fun that you most likely have been missing out on.

Alpacka Raft Packraft Rope Pacific Creek Jackson WY

Keep in mind though, packrafting and running rivers do take some experience, there’s a learning curve with everything new especially outdoors.  It can be very easy to get over your head in a packraft and the same can be said for having fabulous days on the river.

Experienced boaters and kayakers will pick up on packrafting easily. For everyone else, consider taking a Swiftwater Rescue course before you head out as learning to read water is even more important than owning a raft.

Pro tip: make sure you some rope attached to your raft, the front and back is a good place to start.  There will be times you’ll want to secure your boat to the side of the river.  Or perhaps the raft gets away from you.

Who is the Alpacka Raft Designed For?

Packrafting Snake River Jackson WY

With a length of 97″ / 246cm, this boat is perfect for creeking, running small rivers and roadside fun. I attempted to take the Alpacka Raft on a multi-day packrafting trip and found it to be too small to carry enough gear for overnight camping.

Instead, I opted to take this raft with me while hiking into the backcountry wheres Alpacka and AIRE both offer larger boats for overnight trips.

Snake River Alpacka Raft

Each packraft from Alpacka is handmade in Mancos, Colorado and are available in 6 different design builds.  For this test we went with the  Self Bailing model:

The Self Bailer configuration is ideal for warmer climates, quick entry and exit, whitewater performance, and anyone that prefers a self bailing setup. Our self bailing design separates the inflatable self bailing floor into two pieces with a lightweight 3/4 length 7-inch thick seat in the rear that is protected by a sleeve and a heavier duty baffled insert in the front that keeps your feet up and out of the water.  All Self Bailer Alpacka Series models include the two piece self bailing floor and inflatable back rest which can be upgraded to our custom foam backand.

This raft comes with a removable inflatable seat and inflatable floor.

Alpacka Raft Price: $925.00 – $1,925.00

Aire BAKraft

AIRE BAKraft Expedition

A little bit heavier than the Alpacka Raft and with a lot more space is AIRE’s BAKraft Expedition, handmade in Meridian, Idaho.  Weighing 10.5 pounds / 4.76kg,  AIRE’s BAKraft Expedition is still light enough to carry on your back for long distances into the backcountry. With the extra weight comes added length making the boat 10’2″ long, perfect for as the name implies going on expeditions.

This is the raft I chose to take on our Owyhee river trip as it offered up a ton of space and ways to attach cargo to the boat. What I liked about this raft specifically was the ability to inflate the floor independently of the side tube. I stayed nice and dry with the raised inflatable floor.

With the added length the BAKraft seemed to offer more maneuverability and stability when compared to AIRE’s smaller boat the Hybrid or the Alpacka Raft. Perhaps this is due in part to a familiar style of boat and feels that’s typically found in a kayak or canoe. This is exactly how the BAKraft packraft performs on the water.

AIRE Raftsv& Kayak Owhyee River

This sized raft was perfect for a multi-day trip.  I was able to bring along the following with plenty of room to spare.

-6-gallon water jug

-2 Dry Bags (65L)

Who is the AIRE BAKraft Expedition For?

Carrying Packrafts Alpacka AIRE

The Expedition is the boat for packraft camping, or for more whitewater style runs. I found the added length and stability allowed the raft to stay in place in bigger water.  When you paddle the BAKraft it goes where you want it to. https://www.aire.com/

The one thing to watch out for is the set of handles or straps on the bottom of this boat?  Not sure if it was a design flaw or perhaps it was made to carry the raft easier, either way, I wouldn’t want to find something sticking out mid-river and having it get stuck on the bottom of the boat.  I guess the same could also be said for the Alpacka raft as the self-bailing holes at the bottom look like they could easily find something sticking out as well.

Aire BAKraft Expedition Price: $1,999.00

Care for these boats as you would a nice GORE-TEX Jacket. Which brings up another important point, how to care for these boats.

Packraft Durability

With a little bit of extra care, these boats can and will last a long long time. In fact, they come with a Lifetime Warranty. What’s especially rad about the AIRE BAKraft is its ability to bounce off rocks on the water.

AIRE BAKraft Review

A packraft is not a kayak or even an inflatable kayak for that matter.  These rafts can and will rip if you drag them over tree branches, drag them over gravel and such.  They take a little bit of extra care, think of them as an inner-tube you might float down the river with.  Would you drag it through trees or carefully navigate your way to the river.

I like to unpack my raft at the end of the day and rinse it down with a hose.  And then store the boat out of the sun. Caring for your Packraft should be no different than your mountain bike. Plus you never know what sort of critters may have jumped on board during your adventure.

Filling a Packraft Up

The first thing you should do is take the silly “inflation bag” that comes with most packrafts and throw it away or better yet use it to store some gear as trying to fill a boat this way is a good way to get turned off from the sport.  Instead, buy a floor pump ($36.95 Amazon) or hand pump or anything but a bag of air.

Bravo Floor Pump

Packrafts companies have different size valves for filling up their boats which may or may not be the same size as the ones you have used on regular rafts.  So always make sure to have a set of different size adapters and some duck tape before heading out on a packraft trip.

Boats will leak that’s a given, having a pump with you is about as important as your PFD. Don’t leave this part of your kit at home.

Both AIRE and Alpacka Rafts also come with repair kits (which I’m bad about taking with me) however if you pop something it would be great to have a way to repair the rip or tear on the river.  Although I would prefer to never test the durability of a boat more than is needed.

A new way to fill your boats has arrived, without having to pump them up.  The Feather Pump from Kokopelli for 2020 is a game-changer.

Fetaher Pump

Overall Impression

The Alpacka Packraft

At $1,100 the build configuration shown above for an Alpacka Raft is a heck of a deal,  just think about how much your last AT / splitboard setup cost or that fancy mountain bike sitting atop your roof rack.  Most likely it’s well over the cost of this raft.

Whereas the AIRE BAKraft Expedition comes in with a retail price of $1,999.00 or $1,549 for their BAKraft Hybrid making it a little more of an upfront investment. One thing to note is the old-timers around here in Jackson, WY have had their rafts for well over 10 years.  And most likely will easily be able to get another 10 plus years out of the same rafts.

Other Gear:  you’ll need a paddle, ideally a 2 piece paddle like the Carlisle Magic Mystic  ($59.49 Backcountry), or a 1 piece standard paddle for more technical whitewater.  A PFD should always be worn while packrafting, this is not the same as going inner tubing, it’s a sport we recommend you never consume alcohol while doing especially.

Aire Packrafts Owyhee River

Depending on where you plan to float, dry pants and even a dry top are recommended.  For the Alpacka Raft, I tested dry pants are a must as the self-bailing model takes on a lot of water if you want to stay 100% dry look for another boat from Alpacka or AIRE.  As for helmets if you’re running class 3 or above it’s a good habit to have a helmet, for mellower floats a sunhat may do the trick.

Secondly, make sure you bring bug spray along ANYTIME you go packrafting.  Odds are at some point you will find yourself entering or exiting the water in swampy marshy conditions.  This is where mosquitoes, ticks, and other buggers love to hang out.

Last but not least, keep in mind that packrafting is not easy and it’s not for everyone.  But for those of us always looking for adventures it’s a great “new” way to explore.

Packrafting River Trip

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Packraft
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About the Author

Mike Hardaker
Mike Hardaker grew up surfing and snowboarding in Orange County and followed his love of surfing to Hawaii before eventually moving to the mountains to concentrate on snowboarding. He went on to found Mountain Weekly News where he is still CEO and Editor in Chief.

16 Comments on "The Alpacka Raft vs AIRE BAKraft Expedition Packraft"

  1. Cary F Bubenik | August 26, 2019 at 5:00 PM | Reply

    I am trying to decide between a Alpacaraft Cariboo vs Kokopelli Rogue or Rogue Lite for Backpacking trips into Alpine Lakes. Primary use is for portaging ( backpack) across lakes as well as flyfishing. I am curious on how each tracks in glassier water, as well as quality and durability of construction. All are pretty close in prioce.

    Thank you

    • Cary,

      I found the heavier boats had better performance on open water. The Alpacka Ultralight weighs 5.0lb while the Kokopelli Rogue-Lite weighs a little more at 5.0lb 3oz and the Rogue is 7.0lbs 8 oz. The Rogue is a solid bet for a little bit of extra room, attachment points and the Spraydecked packrafts which is rad for loading extra gear or more so protecting you from the elements.

      The Rogue would be my first pick followed by the Caribou and the Rogue Light in close behind.

      Thanks for reaching out,

      Mike

  2. I don’t understand why someone who doesn’t know anything about packrafts or paddling in general is writing a review on this.

    I used the smallest Alpackaraft on my first trip to Alaska almost a decade ago and spent 21 days backpacking through Alaska and packrafted class 3-4 whitewater with it. Not only could the smal alpacka carry 21 days of food and camping/survival gear (my pack was 60+ lbs), but when a person in my party lost his packraft, the remaining two packrafts carried out three adults weighing an average of 160 lbs plus our three packs. I have plenty of friends who use their Alpackarafts and carried their mountain bikes and skis strapped to them in addition to the rest of their camping gear and food.

    I think you’re missing the point of a packraft. It allows you to get out in the wilderness for weeks and to navigate waterways that you can’t get to by car. That’s why they only weigh a few pounds and have a brilliant device to inflate them with that you can carry on your back for weeks.

    The Owyhee is a beautiful wilderness river, but you can drive to the put-in and drive to the take-out. There is no reason to use the lightest boat on the market on a river that you can drive to except to test it out to make sure that you know how to paddle it before you hike days away from the nearest road to get to a remote river that you can’t get to any other way. Are you aware that the Owyhee has water in it and that there is no reason to carry 6 gallons of water?

    Also, if you need to carry two 60L bags of gear, you are really missing the point of a Packraft. Try putting all your gear for a week inside of a hard shell kayak and go self-support kayak the Grand Canyon. Now, pretend like you can’t drive to the put-in or take-out and you need to backpack for several days just to access the river you are exploring so you need to be able to carry said kayak in your backpack with your tent and sleeping bag and dehydrated food for several days. That is what a packraft is designed for. And the Alpackaraft is specifically made to be whitewater-friendly as people kept pushing the limits of what a packraft could do beyond getting across a flat body of water in a he middle of a trek. I’ve paddled class 4 whitewater in mine and have been impressed with how it performs and mine is a much older 2009 model before they made so many improvements to them.

    If you’re going to bring everything you own including your kitchen sink and a separate heavy foot pump?!?, then you really should go buy yourself a raft and you can bring an entire cooler and kitchen tables and blasters and groovers and the hatever else you want.

    I’m glad you’re learning how to paddle and learning about the wilderness, but please don’t post gear reviews on gear that you clearly don’t understand. It’s insulting, not only to users who are looking for informed opinions, but also to the brands designing this gear for us.

    Perhaps you might consider preparing for a through hike of the PCT to understand the concept of minimalist gear and being able to survive on ultralight gear, and then add to such trip a river destination 30 miles from the nearest road, and you may understand what packrafting is about and what they’re capable (and not capable) of doing.

    Go have fun and be safe, but please do not post gear reviews like this.

    • Thanks for the comment, you are correct the “The Owyhee is a beautiful wilderness river” enjoy the upcoming paddling season.

      -Mike

  3. Jeremiah Watt | July 3, 2018 at 3:32 PM | Reply

    Hey Mike,

    Nice to see some coverage of packrafting.

    I’m curious on your experience level? I have zero trouble inflating a packraft with an inflation bag and find the concept of taking a slower, larger and heavier foot pump insulting . And how much are you traveling with? I’ve had multiple trips over 5 nights and easily packed all camping equipment and the extra essentials like a spare paddle inside the boat. A mention of Alpacka’s internal cargo system would be helpful here. Are you familiar? It’s pretty awesome. One can unzip the tubes and store two large dry bags inside the boat. Rad right?! As for your comparison of these boats. The Alpacka is a whitewater and all-round solid performer. The Aire is a great mellower boat that’s more of a cross between a large comfy canoe and a packraft. They’re both excellent boats but serve very different purposes.

    I highly suggest further investigation and water therapy in a few different crafts. My personal favorite is Alpacka’s Gnarwhal with an internal cargo system but that’s just one of a plethora of options. The technology and builds currently available make classic floats like the Middle Fork of the Salmon and the Grand Canyon a very real possibility.

  4. To suggest that the Alpacka Raft can’t handle overnight kit is perhaps a sweeping statement..? I can’t comment on your own overnighter, of course, but speaking more broadly even the smaller Alpacka boats can happily take an expedition-size backpack on the bow, and that’s before you make use of the internal storage space with a cargo fly. I’ve used a Yak (medium size) several times for multi-day trips without feeling the need for extra space. Also, I think you’re unfair to the inflation bag method. It does take some practice, but then so does anything new. I’m as cack-handed as they come but I can inflate a larger boat in a few minutes – they are one of the most elegantly simple pieces of kit I’ve ever used.

  5. Hi there Mike, nice write up! Cool to see some writing about my fairly niche sport . Great to see the safety side emphasised too.
    Just thought id chip in with my five cents, ive done several expeditions using packrafts as well as short rivers and have introduced many folk to the sport. The inflation bag is one of the coolest things, it weighs nothing! And the new attachments on the alpacka bags make them so easy with no popping off. I recon it takes me about 8 bagfulls to inflate and total newbies 10-15 minutes, although they rapidly get faster. No way my trips would work with a massive pump! But if its always by the road why not?
    The other thing is ive spent three weeks bikerafting with a small alpacka, i just stick most stuff in the zip and bung my bike on the front. Even carrying two weeks of food ive not had problems. The Caribou is their model designed especially for backpacking though and is even better as its longer and way lighter i think at like just over 2kg which as a small lady means way more fun. Not sure how many trips i could do carrying over double that.
    A x

  6. Jeremiah Watt | July 3, 2018 at 2:56 PM | Reply

    Hey Mike,

    Nice to see some coverage of packrafting.

    I’m curious on your experience level? I have zero trouble inflating a packraft with an inflation bag and find the concept of taking a slower, larger and heavier foot pump insulting . And how much are you traveling with? I’ve had multiple trips over 5 nights and easily packed all camping equipment and the extra essentials like a spare paddle inside the boat. A mention of Alpacka’s internal cargo system would be helpful here. Are you familiar? It’s pretty awesome. One can unzip the tubes and store two large dry bags inside the boat. Rad right?! As for your comparison of these boats. The Alpacka is a whitewater and all-round solid performer. The Aire is a great mellower boat that’s more of a cross between a large comfy canoe and a packraft. They’re both excellent boats but serve very different purposes.

    If anybody actually reads this comment I highly suggest further investigation and water therapy in a few different crafts. My personal favorite is Alpacka’s Gnarwhal with an internal cargo system but that’s just one of a plethora of options. The technology and builds currently available make classic floats like the Middle Fork of the Salmon and the Grand Canyon a very real possibility.

  7. Jeremie Lamart | July 3, 2018 at 2:36 PM | Reply

    Hi! Always nice to read articles about packrafting. But I’m not sure to agree with what you say about the ability of Alpacka rafts to carry gear for an overnight trip. I’ve done tons of long multiday (even multi week) trips with diffent boats from Alpacka and they’re more than perfect, a couple of years ago they even introduced the cargo fly system that allows you to fill the tubes with gear. They have the reputation to be the go-to boats for any serious backcountry trip. As for the inflation bag, really smart and convenient : weighs nothing and allows you to inflate your boat in no time. Floor pumps are for car camping, not for packrafting.

    • Mike Hardaker | July 3, 2018 at 2:43 PM | Reply

      Jeremie,

      Thanks for the comment, I attempted to take the Alpacka Raft on our 4 day Owyhee River trip, however with two 60L dry bags and a 6 gallon water bottle it was not going to be a very comfortable paddle with all the gear. I like this raft for quick backcountry laps, where as the AIRE boats can hold a bit more gear and offer more leg room. I will measure legroom and update here.

      Where are you packrafting?

      • Jeremie Lamart | July 3, 2018 at 3:20 PM | Reply

        Two 60L of gear is a lot for a 4 day trip, maybe consider using a water filter for example ? I have been packrafting in many different countries but I’m based in Sweden.

  8. Hey man, good to see Packrafts getting some airtime.. I think maybe you missed the point with the inflation bag though, that thing is inspired, simple, nothing to break and super efficient with a bit of practice, I can get mine up in 2 minutes and about 7-10 bag fulls..
    Also the Alpacka series has oodles of room and Buoyancy to haul entry of gear. Hell I’ve had my 45lb fatbike and.exped gear strapped to the bow of mine.
    Cheers

    • Mike Hardaker | July 3, 2018 at 2:36 PM | Reply

      Andy,

      Cheers, thanks for the comments. I sort of feel the airbag thing can work with a LOT of practice. Heck we are still trying to get our wind pouches filled from last summer.. More reviews to follow. Have the BAKraft Hybrid next.

      How long have you had your Alpacka?

      • Hey mike, I agree there’s a tuning in stage, with the inflation bag, but for everyone I’ve introduced to this wonderful adventure vehicle, it’s no more than a couple of boat inflations.
        I bought my first packraft in 2012… And mostly bikeraft.
        Andy

  9. Well done, Mike.. Should sell some folks on pack rafts..

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