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Recent History

This post is part of the History series, a follow up on the previous article about 20th century packrafting.

3. The reinvention and breakthrough (2001), diversification


In the 1990s packrafting manufacture was dormant. Nevertheless, Packrafting as an activity had evolved in the decade, mainly up north, where there is a lot of water, but no roads. It is fair to say modern packrafting is based in Alaska, where you can’t walk without crossing a river. So people were applying pool toys, inner tubes and out of production packrafts from Sherpa and Curtis.

The time was there and the one who took it on was Sheri Tingey, a former ski clothing designer – and kayaker. The founding story came from her son however, one of the desperados who regularly destroyed pool toys. He challenged her by asking: Can you make me a proper boat? 

Thor, inventor by request

Sheri was the first since Halkett who took on the concept of packrafting seriously and with dedication. She focused on a functional boat with no sacrifices to weight.

First model in the new packraft era around the year 2000.

The innovation was the vision to actually run along rivers, not just crossing them or  floating lakes. As Sheri states: “I understood what I wanted with the boat.“ [2]


Needless to say the lightweight movement in the outdoors has spurred development. The ultralight backpacking community quickly adopted the concept expanding their range of activities. Without them, the Internet and new material technology it would have not been possible to spawn a whole new sport of packrafting out of a niche. The new millennium brought packrafts into real watersports. 

Fabrics had been designed and it took a year and a half to work with. Urethan coated nylon is a generic term, no label. It can be everything from tent canvas to incredible stuff. State-of-the-art fabrics make the boat so great. Or put directly by Sheri: "I'm just too old to make junk." [6]


Alpacka has written its own history in the latest 10 years. In many development stages the boates advanced from stubby backpacking crafts to classy “packyaks”. However, as the design evolved, seam construction and original material remained with the innovative “body as frame” idea (individual boat sizes). The same thinking explains for the one-chamber decision and non-inflatable floors. However spraydeck advances were major milestones. 

Evolution of sprayskirts (left), Evolution of shape by Chris S. (right)

In retrospect these are logical progressions but why did it take so long? Well, if development would have gone the way of reduction and lightening of boats starting from existing shapes and types of watercrafts - a sub 3 kg boat would have never been made! There was a need to start from scratch and this development ten years to reach current forms.


The niche, technological advancement and low-profile marketing policy gave little competition. Alternatives go into extreme directions. What one consider a packraft is still subject to definition. There has lately been a discussion on price point [3] as such a craft is a long term investment that pays off during many, many years of service. Safety also is a key element. 

Present and future

The year 2015 is considered a general opening of the market [1]. Numerous manufacturers now devote themselves to the concept. Among them are those who specialize and expand the spectrum. The new variety contributes significantly to the spread of the idea. Movement also comes in the price structure. However, the modern pioneer choose to withdraw from comparison.

Packrafts are no longer just for specialists. The concept becomes more affordable and thus also broader. Packrafting got some more recognition in the boating and outdoor community.

We see development to simpler shapes and lighter boats as well huge potential for specific accessories. 
On the other end of the spectrum it includes whitewater boats with decent rolling ability as well as packrafts used by two persons.


[1] Anfibio Packrafting Store, comparison chart on alternate packraft models

[2] Tough Rivers, Tougher Rafts;  King, Rachael; Interview with Sheri Tingey, Bloomberg Businessweek, 2005

[3] Shea, Marc (Flightweigt Designs) and others, Discussion about Cheaper Raft Options on BPL Forums, 2011

[4] The Classic Report, Packrafts, 2009

[5] Alaska Entrepreneur Extraordinaire, Armstrong, James O., Senior Citizen’s Guide, 2006