Suchbegriff eingeben

Where did it come from?

In an attempt to source the origin of Packrafting we have to distinguish between the name and the concept. Naturally, the idea is much older than the term. In fact, it falls together with the very invention of inflatable boats itself:

1.  Lt. Peter Halkett (Royal Navy), the invention and introduction (1844), limbo

It was only 20 years after the innovation of waterproof fabrics by applying solvent rubber to cotton (Charles Macintosh, 1823, [5]) that Halkett introduced his 'Cloth-Boat'. 'Cloth' resembled both, it was the first inflatable watercraft at all, thus fully made of 'cloth'. But it was also indeed a piece of clothing, as it could be worn as a cloak.

The Cloak Boat by Lietnant Peter Halkett, 1844 [2]

What makes this invention relevant for packrafting as we think of today is the fact, that it was specifically designed for combined land - water travel in mixed terrain, especially for the exploration of the Canadian Arctic. To be carried with ease was likewise a design feature as being a functional water craft.[4]

Contemporary Advertisement [9]

Actually, he pursued a master plan. His paddle was a walking stick and his umbrella was a sail. This multifunctional approach goes beyond the application of packrafting as we found the concept today. In this sense, Halkett was way ahead of his time:

Zeitgenössische Beschreibung

His original boat weighted 3,4kg. Respectable, given the restrictions of material to the time. According to contemporary records it was inflated in 3-4 minutes. The ovoid contained four separate airtight compartments in case of puncture. Deflated, it served indeed as a raincoat.[6] 

Halketts inspiration and successions  

Halkett was motivated by the disaster of John Franklins first Arctic expedition in search for the North-West Passage (1822). Stuck on the wrong side of the Coppermine river with no means to cross the icy water, 11 out of 20 man died. A boat, Halkett figured, so light that it could be carried with ease, would have saved the lives. Instead of a boat, Franklin's party only had their boots, which they were infamously force to eat.

Second to this, Halketts father served the Hudson Bay Company and told Peter about conditions in the Arctic. The boats Halkett eventually built were favoured be explorers and traders alike:

Diorama of Dr. Rae, Arctic explorer, Stromness Museum [1]

"I therefore determined to take the Halkett boat and explore the remainder of the peninsula on foot." The Scottish jurist, 1858

"I cannot refrain from noticing the excellency of Halkett's boats, or speak in too high terms of the ingenuity of ... from its excessive roughness, no other boat could, by any possibility, have been got across without being smashed" M'Clure, 1854 [11]

Even Franklin himself took a Halkett Boat on his third expedition. Tragically, Halketts boats also played an important role in search for the remains of Franklins final voyage, which proved fatal. [4]

Remainings of the original today

There are only two original Halkett boats remaining today. One is burried in the achive of the Manitoba Museum in Winnipeg/Canada, waiting for conservation. [3] The other is indeed displayed at the Stormness Museum in Orkney/Scotland. On a talk with Mr. Peter Strokes, curator of the Museum, the Orkney Natural History Society was kind enough too have some pictures of the exibistion displayed here. [1]

All that is remaining of Halketts great idea. Credit: Image courtesy of Stromness Museum [1]

All these facts are not new. There is an even more detailed coverage of Halketts invention in an own Wikipedia article for example [10]. However, reviewing present reports there have been made only very few connections to modern packrafting and vice versa. The reason for the neglect lays in the huge gap in between.

Touching the void

Halketts invention was forgotten. Halkett could neither market his idea nor convince the navy. After the rush of the Britisch in the Arctic the explorers proven idea fell into oblivion with them.

Packrafting 19th Century Style [10]

The development of inflatables went another way. They became larger, bigger, heavier and finally even motorised. Over 100 years hardly anyone thought of hiking with boats. This heritage we owe the majority and perception of inflatable boats beyond 20 kg.

The second, the two man boat, by John Halkett, Peters Father [10]

To be continued with:

Rebellions misuse of survival and rescue rafts in the century gap of Packrafting, as well as coverage of first commercial attempts in the 1970ies. 


[1] Orkney Natural History Society Museum Trust, Stromness Museum, 52 Allfred Street, Stromness, Orkney, KW16 3HD, UK, Tel 01856 850025
a)"Guide to Stromness Museum", Museum Brochure, published 2002
b) Granted research record and provided photographs of exibition, Oktober 2011
c) Talk to Mr. Peter Strokes/Curator, September 2011

[2] National Maritime MuseumPark Row Greenwich  London, SE10 9NF, UK

[3]Manitoba Museum of Man and Nature, 190 Rupert Ave  Winnipeg, MB, R3B 0N2, Canada
a)"The history an Conservation of an Halkett Inflatable Rubber Boat", Heather Place, CACCP, 21st annual conference, P. 24, Halifax, May 2001
b) Email contact  with Roland Sawatzky, Curator and Cindi Steffan, Information Services Manager, September 2011
c) Provided photographs of archived items, Credit: Courtesy of The Manitoba Museum.

[4] "The must have coat for every Arctic explorer.", Pain; Stefanie, New Scientist, Vol. 202, Issue 210 

[5] Macintosh dissolved natural rubber with Naphtha and made the famous raincoats out of rubber coated cloth. He later merged with Hanock, one of the inventors of vulcanisation of rubber (1843), which makes natural rubber more durable. Wheather this was applied to later versions of of the Halkett boat could not be clarified. "The Macintosh - the Paternity of an Invention", by H. Schurer, Transactions of the Newcomen Society, 1951-53 Vol 28.

[6] Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle, Volume X, Issue 577, 20 December 1851, Page 170

[7] The halkett boat and other portable boats, by A. Jones, 1958

[9] The RIB: The Rigid-Hulled Inflatable Lifeboat, David Sutcliffe, 2010

[11] Papers relative to the recent Arctic expeditions in search of Sir John Franklin and the crews of H.M.S. "Erebus" and "Terror".: Presented to both Houses of Parliament by command of Her Majesty, 1854