Packrafting has been increasing in popularity in recent years, especially in Scotland where there is an abundance of water, including lochs, rivers, canals and the sea. Packrafting allows you to walk or cycle between water, then unpack a raft, inflate it and continue by paddling.
What is packrafting?
A packraft is a one-person inflatable boat that is designed to be small and light enough to pack into a rucksack. The activity of packrafting includes walking or cycling to where you find a river or loch.
You then unpack the packraft, inflate it and carry on with your journey on water. When you reach land again, simply deflate the raft and pack in into your rucksack and carry on with your walk or cycle.
History of packrafting
Packrafting is claimed to originate in Alaska, where portable boats make travel in untracked wilderness areas possible. The rafts have long been used to make water crossing, where other transport is not possible.
Packrafting as an adventure activity subsequently spread to other areas worldwide, such as Nordic countries and elsewhere in Europe. Packrafts have also been used in Mexico, Southeast Asia, Australia, New Zealand and Patagonia.
Typically, the boats are carried to cross and float on rivers, streams and lakes as part of a longer journey on foot. Many packraft owners now enjoy shorter day trips that mix hiking with paddling.
In Scotland, packrafts have become popular for accessing areas on foot or by bike where large waterways usually require you to go around a shore. Using a raft allows the adventurer to cross directly to the next piece of land.
Recently, Munro and Corbett baggers have seen the advantage of packrafts for easier access to the base of a mountain, or to try an alternative route from a trail more travelled.
The joys of packrafting
Andy Toop, of Back Country in Aviemore, leads packrafting outings in Scotland. He also sells and hires packrafts. He said: “Packrafts are by far the coolest thing that I’ve come across. They allow you to redefine how you look at a map. The blue bits are no longer barriers, instead they are squiggles on the map that connect the journey together.”
As well as being a useful mode of transport in a country where there are a lot of waterways, Andy believes a packraft connects people to to the landscape in a deeper sense.
He said: “While paddling a packraft I feel immersed amid the elements that draw me to wild places. I often find myself in the back of beyond, soaking wet and cold, but full of life with the thought that just maybe ‘no one has brought a boat to the particular piece of water I’ve just conquered’. It helps me feel like a pioneer.
“I am keen to share this feeling with others and help them connect with the wilds, as well as demonstrating and encouraging good practice in these fragile landscapes.”
Kit for packrafting
A packraft, pump, paddle and buoyancy aid, as well as a rucksack to carry the kit.
Waterproof jackets and trousers that you wear for walking are ideal for when you are paddling a raft.
If it is going to be cold take neoprene gloves and boots, too. A waterproof pack fro the rest of your kit while in the packraft will ensure everything stays dry.
Where to go packrafting in Scotland
It’s a good idea to join a guided session if you are unsure about how to paddle a raft. If you fancy setting off on an adventure yourself, choose a calm and sheltered waterway to start with.
After that, just look at a map of Scotland and set out on foot or by bike to see if it’s possible to cross the loch or river.
Andy said: “The moist Scottish landscape lends itself perfectly to packrafting.
“How about travelling into Inverpolly in Wester Ross, via the beautiful loch systems and then ascending the mountain of Suilven on foot, before returning by water to the start?
“Or enjoy a gentle paddle to Isle Maree in Loch Maree in the Highlands to pay your respects to the Viking graves on your way to the majestic and isolated Munros of the Fisherfield.”
Safety first: Normal water rules apply, in that it’s more risky to paddle a raft alone. Travelling in pairs is sensible and more fun.
Contact: Back Country, Aviemore, at www.backcountry.scot for equipment and guided trips.
Anfibio Packrafting Store: www.packrafting-store.de/
Also see: My packrafting adventure on Loch Lomond.
The packrafting article appeared in my Sunday Mail outdoors column. See the pdf.