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7 Things I Learned on My First Overnight Packrafting Trip

Tips from an Overnight Packraft Trip on Lake Powell

Written by Mina Young Lee
Photographs by Mina Young Lee and Juuso Ringman

Mina Lee is an adventure traveler and photographer. She’s been traveling full-time since 2013, sometimes solo, sometimes with her partner, and usually with her dog, Kyra. When she’s not road-tripping the states in search of her next great multi-day outdoor adventure, you can find her abroad or curled up at home with a book, recharging for her next trip.

The idea of tackling multi-day trips on the water came to me when Oru Kayak, a brand of folding kayaks, first came out. I participated in a photo shoot as a model and got to take home a folding kayak. That summer, I took a few folding kayaks on a multi-day adventure in Lake Powell. Our approach required three trips up and down a steep vertical climb to get to our launch point, thanks to the 20-pound kayaks. A few years later, I discovered Kokopelli packrafts and the rest is history.

A packraft, in simple terms, is a raft you can pack. Kokopelli Packraft’s Rogue Lite weighs only five pounds and three ounces and rolls up to the size of a small sleeping bag. For our next trip to Lake Powell, where we would again have to hike all our gear to a remote area, packrafts were the obvious choice. Here are seven things we learned on our first packrafting trip.

1. Packrafts are a lot tougher than you think.

“Will my dog’s nails pop the raft?”

“What happens if I hit or scrape it against a rock?”

These are some of the questions I had before my first trip and I learned very quickly that packrafts are tougher than I thought. Unless you deliberately filed your pet’s nails into sharp points and forced them in the raft, most don’t have to worry about their pet’s nails popping the raft. The Kevlar® reinforced floor on the Kokopelli Rogue Lite assures the floor can safely come into contact with rocky surfaces, although I’d advise against making this a habit. The 210 denier TPU-coated nylon sidewalls did fine when I collided against some sandstone. And if a puncture does occur, each Kokopelli Packraft comes with a personal patch kit.

2. How packrafts are inflated: 90% inflation bag, 10% breath.

Each packraft comes with an inflation bag you can flick open to collect air and squeeze into the boat through an opening into which the inflation bag screws. Kokopelli also offers a rechargeable feather-lightweight pump, which reduces the fill-up time from minutes to seconds. Fill up the last 10% with the power of your lungs.

3. Packrafts need time to acclimate to water temperature.

Packrafts need to adapt to the water temperature before you get in. If you’re in an area where the temperature of the air is hotter than the water, put the boat in the water and splash water on all sides to let the boat adjust to the temperature, then add more air. This way, you won’t hop in, lose air, and have to re-inflate the boat while you’re in it, although this is certainly possible if your lungs and will are mighty.

4. Packrafts are very responsive to paddle strokes.

Unlike a kayak, which has a deeper, more narrow bottom that cuts through the water, a packraft sits flatter on the surface. For that reason, packrafts are more responsive to left and right strokes. One advantage of the flatter bottom is that in shallower waters, the raft tends to glide over rocks and sand instead of getting stuck.

5. You can tow packrafts.

On my first day packrafting, we paddled over 10 miles on a flatwater lake, where houseboats and jet skis were stirring up all kinds of waves. For someone who doesn’t do arm workouts regularly, this was tiring. Lucky for me, my partner wasn’t as exhausted at this stage, and we were able to attach our rafts together with paracord. Badda bing, badda boom—a towable raft.

6. Finding a campsite is an adventure of its own.

When you’re on the water with a small packraft, the opportunities for camping are endless. In a place like Lake Powell, you can reach places that bigger boats typically can’t access. With a packraft, you can pull up to a rocky beach, carry your boat in, pitch your tent, and claim a rock island all to yourself.

7. Double-bag your electronics.

Double-bag your valuables and electronics! I lost my drone on my first packrafting trip by making the mistake of relying on one waterproof backpack to keep it dry. A hole in the backpack allowed water to leak through, exposing my camera and drone to water. The camera survived thanks to a neoprene sleeve, but the drone wasn’t so lucky. I now use Kokopelli’s Delta Dry Bags to double-bag my cameras for all trips on the water.

Though we started as beginners, we have learned to love our packrafts. They’ve definitely grown to be some of our most used and versatile outdoor gear. Whether we’re on a mission to stay dry while canyoneering, a pre-planned multi-day trip, or an impromptu float down a river, we always have our packrafts stored in our car trunk and ready to go.

Mina is an adventure and travel photographer who can often be found scrambling or paddling through the West’s various canyons and gullies. Find her on Instagram @minayounglee.