Rolling On The River

Packrafts For The Rest Of Us

Whitewater rafting is a blast, but isn’t exactly an accessible activity. A new type of watercraft is here to change all that.

The Kokopelli Rogue-Lite X Packraft placed on the rocky shore next to a river

There’s no denying that whitewater rafting is fun as hell. Crashing through waves, dropping into holes, reading the water, and splashing through the wilderness is something everyone should experience at some point. There’s just one problem: Rafting is an activity that makes skiing look accessible. The equipment is wildly expensive and impossibly unwieldy. Looking for a weekend whitewater getaway on a kayak? You need the boats, sure — about 40 pounds, 8 feet long, and $1,000 each — but also the paddles, helmets, PFDs, storage (you have an empty shed, right?), and the $300-plus roof rack.

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Don’t toss out your paddle just yet — there’s a new boat in town. Well, newish. Essentially ultra-portable, ultra-tough inflatable kayaks, packrafts are sturdy, agile, and small, able to be rolled up and carried in a space that isn’t much bigger than a tent. Since Alpackaraft started bringing its hardcore, light boats to the public around 2002, the packraft has been a godsend to serious adventurers. In the Pacific Northwest, for example, land dotted with heavy flowing glacial run-off was no longer a spot only for treacherous backpacking expeditions with sketchy fjording. Why cross a dangerous flow of water when you can just hike to its source, blow up a boat, and ride its rapids to the end?

And for the rest of us, why go to the trouble of carrying a big-ass boat when you can throw a packraft in the trunk? This is a lot more feasible now that packrafts have exploded in recent years. Companies like Kokopelli, Bakraft, and Aquaglide now offer up packrafts with backstock, lower entry price points, and simpler vessels without some of the bells and whistles like sprayskirts that you’d need for anything beyond weekend adventures.

Take Kokopelli’s Rogue-Lite X, a 10.4-pound, $1,099 raft that rolls into a respectably small 12 inches by 8 inches. This is a raft you could throw in your car and sneak off with a buddy to run for a few hours while the rest of the family swims at the lake, takes a nap, or gives you a break. When you have younger children, to be able to sneak in a bit of whitewater is a gift — something that scratches that itch until they’re old enough to handle real adventures with dear old dad.

We took the Rogue-Lite X on just such a float in the Poconos. As the rest of the family slept in on a warm July morning, we walked to the bottom of downtown Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania, where the Lehigh River cuts through the land. We unfurled the raft using its clever inflation bag and had a taut, ready-to-run raft in about 10 minutes. A friend blew up their ducky — a large inflatable kayak that’s essentially six times the weight and three times the size of the Rogue-Lite X — with a rumbling air compressor, and we were off. (To note: Even in the relatively benign Class I and II waters here, going alone is never a good call — bring a friend.)

The Rogue-Lite X runs like an extra buoyant inflatable kayak. One feathery touch can spin you right around, and this agility takes a little getting used to. But no worries — packrafts are as forgiving as a substantially larger raft, meaning you can bounce off boulders, gallop through holes, and take advantage of all that buoyancy in the shallows. In other words, the Rogue-Lite X is a joy ride through rapids.

In quiet stretches, the fun diminishes a bit. This isn’t a craft that is good to get from point A to B on flatwater — it’s inefficient, and as this is a self-bailing vessel (meaning, basically, there are holes in the bottom for the water to escape), you’ll likely be sitting in some water on these stretches. Instead, loosen up the seat, lean back, and let the river take you for a bit.

A number of fun and fast-flowing miles later, we pulled into a parking lot. Just past noon, the family came to pick us up — just in time for an early lunch.

So what other adventures await? You could carefully strap the boat to a bike and vice versa — opening up a world of riverside bike lanes. You could pull an overnighter — hiking a trail that starts and ends at a river — floating back down to your car. Or you could use this as a pricey and fun inner tube with the kids. No matter the time, you won’t regret taking up a little space in the trunk for this ticket to adventure.

Tyghe Trimble/Fatherly


Price: $1,099 base

Weight Capacity: 300 pounds

Outer (Length): 85 inches

Weight (Boat + All Accessories): 11.5 pounds

Outer (Width): 37 inches

Packed Size (Rolled): 12 inches by 8 inches

Inner (Length): 51 inches

Inner (Width): 16 inches