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Packraft vs. Inflatable Kayak: What are Differences?

How you love the thrill of bouncing through the unpredictable rapids. You never know what the next wave will bring.

But you have not decided how to conquer them. You are considering both a packraft and an inflatable kayak. 

You need to know what the differences are. How does each work?

You are curious how the value of a packraft compares with the value of an inflatable kayak.

The rapids are waiting, and so is the adventure. So, let’s do a comparison to determine the answers, and to help you decide which one to purchase.

What is a Packraft?

Kokopelli Packraft Hornet-Lite
Click the image for more info

A packraft is a small inflatable boat. It is easily controlled on the water. 

Packrafts are inflated with air that is forced into it. The air is squeezed from a nylon bag into the packraft.

Because it is easily maneuvered, it is an excellent choice if you are a beginner to boating. Some boaters develop a false sense of security because packrafts are so easy to control in calm water..

So be sure to prepare safely. You should wear a helmet and a wetsuit. 

You should also choose a paddle that is easy to use. You can use a kayak paddle or even a canoe paddle. 

Whichever you choose, you should concentrate on your paddling, stay focused even though it seems so easy in calm water.

It only takes a moment for danger to arise when you are on the water. A jumping fish may startle you and cause you to lose control. Wake from another boat could cause you to rock back and forth. 

Select a paddle that is between 200 and 210 centimeters. Single blade paddles are acceptable.

One of the best parts of packrafting is the convenience. When you are finished with your pack raft excursion, you can separate the pack raft into four separate parts, which can be stored in a backpack.

What Is A Kayak?

Intex Challenger K2 Kayak, 2-Person Inflatable Kayak Set
Click the image for more info

A kayak is a small watercraft that comes in different styles, depending on the purpose it is chosen for.

If you only want to have some relaxing fun, a leisure kayak is for you. Leisure kayaks are lightweight. You can easily control a leisure kayak in smooth, calm waters.

If you want to test the rapids, or go on a long trip, an ocean kayak is a good choice. Ocean kayaks are more sturdy than leisure kayaks, making it easier to contend with harsh weather conditions and strong currents.

A third model is the fishing kayak. Fishing kayaks are typically the most narrow. This allows you to maneuver through narrow passage ways to find fishing hotspots.

Whichever kayak you choose, you will typically use a double-bladed paddle. 

Are Packrafts Worth It?

NRS PackRaft Green
Click the image for more info

The value of a packraft depends on what you are using it for and in what conditions you intend to use it. Packrafts are a great choice if you are paddling in calm water. 

If you are taking your first excursion into mild whitewater, pack rafts give you the necessary control to, as well. They bounce off of rocks as long as the rocks are not sharp.

Perhaps the best advantage of packrafts is their portability. You can roll them up to store them, then toss the small package into the back seat of your car as you head to the site.

Once at the site, you do not need a lot of preparation. Packrafts inflate in just a few minutes.

But packrafts do have disadvantages. Some boaters feel that they are prone to puncture.

Sharp rocks have punctured packrafts. Complete blowouts of the tube have happened. Nothing can spoil a fun day more than a puncture.

First, you need to get to shore. Then you have to hike back to the car. You can either carry the punctured packraft with you to repair, or you can just disband your investment.

The good news is you can lessen the odds of this unpleasant experience. Do not overload the packraft with gear. 

Another tip is not to overinflate your packraft. Just as your car tire can explode with too much air, so can your packraft. So follow the instructions in the manual.

Advantages of A Packraft

advantages of a packraft

A packraft that is properly cared for has definite advantages over an inflatable kayak.  

Because packrafts are lighter than inflatable kayaks, it is easier to combine other activities when you are packrafting. Packrafts can be used for a short and leisurely trip across the river, for a long trip, and for fishing.

To do all of these activities with a kayak, you may need different types of kayaks.

Packrafts are also more easily stored for travel. You can pack up a packraft and place it in a bag when traveling by plane. Storing a kayak on a plane is more expensive and takes more space.

This also applies to storing a packraft at home. If you keep it in the garage or the back yard, you can expect to use less space with a packraft.

As long as you properly care for your packraft, including not overloading it or over inflating it, you can expect smaller tears to fix than you might have with a kayak.

So in these situations, a packraft can be considered better than an inflatable kayak.

Advantages of An Inflatable Kayak

advantages of inflatable kayaks

Inflatable Kayaks also have advantages over packrafts.

If you are paddling on flat water, you will find that inflatable kayaks are faster. Because they weigh more, forward momentum can help an inflatable kayak to accelerate.

So if you are looking to get to your destination faster on flat water, choose an inflatable kayak.

If you are paddling through the surf, kayaks can slice through the waves. Packrafts tend to bounce over them. Paddling requires less effort than it does with an inflatable kayak.

If you are a beginner to paddling craft, you may feel as if you are going to flip over as you climb over waves. With an inflatable kayak, this sensation happens less often.

Because inflatable kayaks are sturdier, some kayakers have found that it is easier to get back into a capsized kayak than into a capsized packraft. Of course, if you are experienced in paddle sports, this situation will be less challenging.

Which Has Greater Value?

KLYMIT LITEWATER DINGHY (LWD) Packraft
Click the image for more info

In terms of value, you are getting a more durable stable watercraft when you choose an inflatable kayak. In recent years, kayak manufacturers have turned to plastic to produce them at a more affordable price.

This has also allowed kayak producers to mass produce kayaks, which has also helped keep them affordable. 

Packrafts are more commonly constructed by hand. The lack of mass production means it is more difficult to mass produce and keep prices under control. The fabric must be cut and then stitched together.

Ideally, you want a packraft that is easy to handle.  You can see this described in the following Youtube video:

How to Roll a Packraft

If the packraft industry is eventually able to use mass production technology exclusively, packrafts may one day rival inflatable kayaks in value.

For now, since inflatable kayaks are more sturdy and are mass produced, the value in terms of what you are getting for your dollars spent is greater with an inflatable kayak.

These are compared in the following chart:

 PackraftInflatable Kayak
PortabilityA packraft is more portable than an inflatable kayak. It can be divided into sections and folded to make it easier to store or to travel with. 
Durability An inflatable kayak is more durable than a pack raft. With a kayak, you can cut through rapids. With a packraft, you may need to hop over rapids.
AffordabilityPackrafts are usually handmade and stitched. So the price may be higher in relation to the value.Inflatable kayaks are more likely to be mass produced. So you may get more value in relation to the cost.

Conclusion

To decide which is better, a packraft or an inflatable kayak, you must consider what is most important to you.

If you want a watercraft that is portable, a packraft is the best choice. Packrafts can be broken into parts. They can be folded together, making it easy to store them in a backpack or for travel.

If you want a watercraft that is sturdier, one that can handle rough water conditions with less chance of puncture, an inflatable kayak is the better choice.

If value is your biggest concern, inflatable kayaks provide the best solution. They are typically mass-produced.

Packrafts are more usually hand crafted. So you can expect to get more for your dollars spent than with a kayak.

Whichever you choose, grab a paddle and head for the water. Fun is fun regardless of the price tag.


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