Packrafting Gear Review

I was looking for a packraft that would be suitable for flat water and travel on rivers with rapids no more serious than grade 1. I travel alone, so for safety reasons any difficult whitewater is out of the question. For these conditions I could go for a lighter weight raft of thinner material, smaller tube diameter and without a spray deck. The classic Alpacka rafts were too heavy for my needs.

The Anfibio Packrafting Store has a range of suitable models, starting from the Anfibio Alpha XC. Most packrafters strap their rucksack to the bow of the packraft, but I’m not keen on this idea, because it makes launching and landing more fiddly and time-consuming. For travel along canals and navigations (canalised rivers), it’s often necessary to carry the boat around locks and weirs. Somewhat unconventionally, I opted to place my rucksack upright in the bow, and rest my feet on it. Therefore, I decided to go for the slightly longer model, the Anfibio Delta MX, to allow sufficient foot space.

The Anfibio Packrafting Store has a good selection of multi-part paddles, I went for the lightest of these, the Anfibio Ultimate Paddle. This also happens to be the most expensive model, as is so often the case with outdoor gear. Lastly for a buoyancy aid I bought the Anfibio Buoy Boy. This is is inflatable, without bulky foam, and is therefore lightweight.

The combined weight of the boat, paddle and buoyancy aid is 3.1 kg. Additional weight comes from a repair kit, wet shoes, towel, a spare change of warm clothes and dry bags. The total additional weight compared to a normal backpacking trip is probably around 4kg.

Inflation bag130g
Bouyancy Aid340g

The Anfibio Delta is easy to inflate, it takes around ten full loads from the inflation sack to force air into it, finally pressurising by blowing into the valve. Contact with cooler water will naturally cause the volume of air to contract, so after the raft has been in the water for a few minutes, its necessary to top up the air with a few extra breaths. Occasionally while paddling I’ve entered a deeper colder area of water, causing the pressure to reduce slightly, but I’ve been able to continue paddling without issue. Once out of the water, care must be taken to release some air from the raft, to avoid straining the seams, particularly on a hot sunny day.

It’s considered best practice to enter a packraft ‘bum first’, but this is only really possible from a standing position in shallow water. From a jetty or riverbank I enter feet first. The boat will tend to slide across the surface of the water, so it’s important to keep your centre of gravity low and within the boat, to avoid an unintended soaking! The boat is fairly robust, but I do try to avoid scraping the side against anything abrasive while embarking and disembarking.

Paddling is more difficult than a kayak because the air tubes make the boat significantly wider. I can comfortably paddle around 2 miles per hour, and cover around 12 miles per day. This is slower than walking, but not frustratingly so, and I enjoy being at water level, travelling at a relaxed pace, with the new perspective that this gives on the world.

It’s important to use the body and arms while paddling to avoid putting strain on the wrists. I developed mild tendonitis after a particularly long day trip, which prompted me to purchase some Yak Grips and improve my paddling technique. It took a while to get in physical shape for paddling, in particular building up muscles in my arms and back. I’ve experienced some mild backache on longer trips, which I think is to do with the boat not being entirely rigid.

The Anfibio Delta has a symmetrical bow and stern, in contrast with models from many other brands such as Alpacka, that have enlarged sterns to counteract the bodyweight of the paddler. Anfibio has chosen the symmetrical design for simplicity; to enable the boat to travel in either direction and to keep the weight down. The impact is that when sitting in the stern, the bow lifts up, and if the waterline is significantly shortened, the boat will move more slowly through the water. This effect can be counteracted by putting ballast in the bow (such as a rucksack full of camping gear). An alternative configuration is to shift the seat forwards, filling the space behind with some luggage or an inflated dry bag. This would give less space for the feet, unless the luggage at the front is strapped to the bow.

After paddling for a while, water from paddle drips accumulates in the floor of the boat. This tends to pool under the seat, so I use a sponge for bailing, plus I empty the boat out whenever I stop. I put a waterproof cover over my rucksack to prevent it from soaking up water. I need to try fitting some rubber drip rings to the paddle to see if this improves things. I definitely don’t want a spray skirt since it would make getting in and out more difficult.

After a year of paddling I’ve not experienced any problems with the robustness of the boat. I’ve scraped the hull on stony riverbeds and against concrete landing stages many times without issue. One potential issue is abrasive grit and sand accumulating inside the boat in the crevices between the floor and the tube. After a weekend trip I dry the raft, then use a hoover nozzle to carefully vacuum out the dirt. On a multi-day trip I wash out the inside and remove as much grit as possible by hand.

Overall I’m very happy with the packraft, and it has had a life-changing impact on my outdoor activities. In the first year I’ve covered around 300 miles on canals, navigations, rivers and lakes. It has enhanced my weekends by providing a new source of mini-adventures, and has enabled me to do two longer trips, one down the River Wye, and one across the English Lake District. I haven’t exhausted the possible weekend trips, and now with more experience I have the confidence to tackle more remote trips in Wales and Scotland.