Packrafting seems deceptively easy at first. The boats have a low centre of gravity and are relatively tough, so it’s easy to bounce off obstacles. On entry level water, it’s loads of fun with seemingly little consequence. This can lead to a false sense of security as you progress to more challenging water.
You are best starting on a lake or loch, before tackling a river (even a gentle one). Because packrafts are generally single chamber vessels, and because they have big tubes which catch the wind, it’s advisable to stay close to shore. If possible, find a place to practice where the prevailing wind is blowing on-shore. This may be colder than the opposing shore, so wrap up warm.
The minimum kit for safe travel on moving water is your boat and paddle, a paddling specific helmet and a PFD (personal floatation device, aka buoyancy vest). A drysuit is highly recommended for boating outside high summer conditions and/or above a beginners grade 1.
Rivers are graded between 1 to 6, with 1 being mellow and 6 being extreme. In the UK especially, many rivers rise and fall rapidly before and after rain, which changes the dynamics completely. Online river gauges and guides are essential planning tools, but it’s important to note that most packraft fatalities occur in the lower grades – that tells us that there is still a training and understanding gap.
I now regard professional white water training as essential for travelling on any moving water above grade 1. Please, get schooled in a kind environment before the river schools you in a wicked one.
Tirio is a good option in Wales. They’re based in Snowdonia National Park. In Scotland, Backcountry were the first to bring packrafts into the country and are based in the Cairngorms National Park. Both these schools offer friendly, packraft specific training and have decades of experience and expertise that will help keep you alive.
Be sure to check out Outdoors Magic’s guide to the best packrafts.
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