How it got named

This post is part of the History series, a follow up on the previous article about the invention of packrafting.

2. Guys at American Safety Equipment: the naming and commercial attempt (1972), sidelines

As said in the previous article, after Halkett followed the ‘century gap of packrafting’. There were no means of real portable boats anymore. Inflatables quickly became large vessels. By 1855 there were already numerous big types of inflatable rubber boats in use. [13] Only with the raise of aviation, seafaring and warfare in early 20th century small inflatables remained available in the form of life rafts for rescue and survival purposes. However, the idea of hiking with boats as Halkett intended was lost.

Rebellions misuse

 Packrafting Desperados [14]
Well, not quite, there have always been those fellows, who (mis)used military survival and aviation rescue rafts for exploration and leisure purposed in the way of packrafting. These were the only small and portable ones available to the time. People apparently used them for river crossings, alpine lake floats and real water runs on their trips in the backcountry. And this happened all over the world, especially after World War II. All regions have their legendary uses. The American Dick Griffith explored the Copper Canyon area in Mexico in 1952 with an Air Force surplus boat and the Aussies have their ‘river duckies’ on the Franklin river as Roman Dial gives an excellent overview in his book [9]. But also Europe has its ‘founding stories’. Lesser known for example is the first decent of the Goropu canyon in Sardinia in 1969 with the help of small and portable inflatable boats. [7]

Calling the thing

Magazins Packraft 'introduction' in 1973 [3]
Next ‘development’ stage was reached in the 1970ies. American Safety Equipment purchased a life raft company (Patten) and tried to commercialize the idea of amphibious travel. Although there was no significant technical development, they did the idea of hiking with boats a favour: they named it. The Term PACKRAFT was officially settled (even copyright registered [2]) as an attempt to distinguish the “ordinary” (read big) inflatable from a backpacking boat.  There were new material (neoprene, later urethane coated nylon) in use, but other than that construction remained with the ‘miniature raft’. American Safety Packrafts were widely advertised and became a standard of the activity in the 70ies, which stayed a niche though. (Attachment: [16]). However, the concept of boating and walking was re-established first since Halkett.
Pack Raft Advertisement  in Backpacker 1975 [1a]

Magazin report/advertisement in 1984 [4]
A direct spring off these boats is the legendary Sherpa Packraft in the 80ies, which made the ventures of packrafting pioneers in Alaska like Roman Dial far into the 90ies possible. Since 1982 they are regular part of the Wilderness Classic race (again initiated by Dick Griffith, considered the ‘inventor’ by use). [9] Packrafts stayed limited by the materials technology available at the time and the activity continued to be a niche, which the mentioned producers gave up on. 

Meandering and variation

As a sideline in the packraft evolution deemed Curtis Designs rafts. Interestingly, they never used the term packraft [12] Brian from Curtis Designs says:

Curtis Designs Raft in 1990 [15]
“Our design inspiration came from the surplus rafts we had been using. They had the large tube on one end that tapered to a smaller tube on the other. My dad did the design and wrote the code to print the patterns. We stole the idea for an inflation bag from the bag Stephenson/ Warmlite was using for their down air mattress. From Jim we were able to learn about heat sealing urethane coated nylon and got a source for fabric. The prototypes my dad, uncle, and I, built were beautiful so we decided we had a product we could sell. We sold our first rafts in 1980.
But our rafts were never intended to be used on rivers. We wanted a raft mostly for fishing high lakes so light weight was our primary concern, not puncture resistance. But that isn't to say we never used our rafts in the sense we think of packrafting today. Most notable was probably a trip in the Gates of the Arctic NP in 1984 where we rafted down the very mellow Kaluluktok Creek to Walker Lake.“ [10]

The Curtis Boat remains a gold standard of aesthetic construction [11] Curtis rafts haven't been made for a number of years, although demand has remained high thanks to their near legendary reputation among high-lake and backpacking fishermen.

Packraft from Germany ? [8]
Harkening back to the European way of packrafting (documented with the exploration in Sardina 1969 for example), there can only be claimed those products in the sense of Quasi-Packrafts: small, portable boats not named that way, but for sure used that style:

Silvio Kunze reports on a conversation with Reinhard Hafermalz from Berolina Wassersport about ultralight inflatables some 50 years ago. [8] Likewise said Holger Trepte from his ventures in communist Europe in the 80ies (f. ex. in Bulgaria) [6] and even Marc discovered the ‘Packraft of the East’ which he continues to use today. [5]

East or West, both systems could not prevent the decade of packraft depression: the lack of adequate boats in the 90ies (were old ones got pampered), which was followed by the true reinvention of packrafts in the beginning of 2000:

3. The reinvention and breakthrough (2001), diversification


[1] American Safety Equipment, Recreation Products Groupe, Advertisement for Pack Raft
a) in Backpacker 9, Active Interest Media, Inc., 1975, S. 77
b) in Popular Mechanics, Juli 1972, P.111

Actual copyright registration for Pack Raft  [2]
[2] Packraft infl.Boat, Catalog of Copyrights 1973: Copyright Office, The Library of Congress, Washington 1975, S. 55

[3] New Nautical Asseeties, M. Paulson, Unknown compact inflatable raft/bath tub description, Field & Stream, Febr. 1973, P. 144

[4] The Sherpa Pack Raft, Field & Stream, Jan. 1984, Seite 68

[5] Packraft des Ostens, Kreinacker M., Picasaweb

[6] Bulgarienfahrt 1980, Trepte, H., Telephone interview, 2011

[7] Sardinien 1969, Goropu canyon first decent, "Reisezeit" in 3sat, 2011

[8] Kunze, Silvio, Conversation with Reinhard Hafermalz, Berolina Wassersport, Berlin 2011

[9] Packrafting!, Dial, Roman, 2008, P. 31, 32

[10] Brian Curtis/Curtis Designs and others, Packraft History Discussion, 2008

[11] Alpacka Raft, About, Packrafting Lore: A Small History of Small Boats

[13] History of inflatable boats on Wikipedia

[14] One-Man Pneumatic Life Raft Survival Kits of World War II, Robert S. McCarter, Douglas Taggart
Schiffer Pub. Ltd., 2006

[15] The Classic Report

[16] Attachment:

M. Paulson, New Nautical Asseccties, 1973  [3]