I am by no means a packrafting expert, but Greyson and I have been out and about on them enough to figure out some helpful gear for beginners.
Obviously, the most important things are a packraft and a paddle. We both have the Kokopelli Nirvana Self-bailing packraft and the Werner Skagit 4-Piece Paddle. (Note: Werner appears to have discontinued this paddle, but the Kokopelli Alpine Lake Paddle seems pretty similar for $125.) You can check out my first impression review of my packraft and paddle here.
Since then, I’ve collected a few things that make packrafting more safe and enjoyable. First up, a personal flotation device (PFD) is critical, especially if you’re planning on doing anything more challenging than Class I. I bought the NRS Ninja which is unisex, not women’s specific. For me (broad shoulders, not a ton of boobs) personally it fits fine and is comfortable, even for long-ish paddling stretches. If you need a women’s specific fit, I’ve heard good things about the NRS Siren.
The BEST thing we’ve bought for our packrafts so far was the rechargeable, battery powered Kokopelli Feather Pump. While it’s not too hard to inflate the packrafts using the inflator bag the raft comes with, it is SO MUCH easier with the pump. It seriously takes less than 2 minutes using the pump, and it can be used to deflate as well. Sadly, the Kokopelli Feather Pump is currently out of stock, potentially until next year. It looks like there are some knock offs out there like the Go! Pump or the GIGA Pump that appear to have the correct adaptor, but I don’t have any personal experience with those ones.
Another product that has been super useful for setting up and breaking down the packrafts is the CGEAR sand mat in the 8’ x 8’ size. We’ve had the small version for years and used it mountain biking and camping to keep our feet clean while changing. The larger version is big enough to roll out the rafts and keep them a little cleaner, before and after paddling.
We haven’t taken the rafts on any overnight trips yet, but we have hiked in to access the water, and it’s pretty annoying to carry the rafts, paddles and miscellaneous gear in your arms. To help solve this and for future backpacking, we bought the Six Moon Designs Flex Pack. The Flex Pack is a lightweight, but strong fabric “frame” that a large dry bag fits inside. It’s also got various pockets and attachment points to hold and strap on gear. You can customize the Six Moon Designs Flex pack by choosing specific shoulder harness and hip belt sizes to get that perfect fit. Grey and I weren’t 100% sure on sizing, and he reached out to Six Moon Designs, and they were super helpful with making sure we got the correct sizes. So far, we’re loving the packs. They’re comfortable, versatile, and pretty easy to set up and pack. The one downside is that there’s not a great way to store an accessible hydration source. You can order the pack with a Six Moon Designs dry bag, which is 50 liters, comes with 4 lashing points, a roll top, welded seams, and a side air release valve. If you already have a dry bag you love, you can order just the pack.
For packrafting clothes, I typically wear a sunshirt and board shorts over a swimsuit. The sunshirt is definitely a must have – they’re lightweight, cool, and block the sun without needing to reapply sunscreen. I have and love the Patagonia Women’s Tropic Comfort Hoody. It’s even got a small zipper pocket that’s perfect for ID and a credit card! On the bottom, I like the Patagonia Women’s Wavefarer Boardshorts – they also have a zipper pocket.
Depending on how much walking I’m doing, I’ll wear either classic Chacos or the heavier duty Salomon TECH Amphib water shoe. Finally, we have a mesh duffel bag to store all of the bits and pieces of gear and packrafting accessories. The mesh is really nice, because it helps the gear dry out a bit more after packing. Ours is from Kokopelli, but it seems like they’re not making it anymore. There are lots of other great ones out there, like this one by Seattle Sports. If you’re having trouble finding one, try searching for “dive bags”.
I hope this gear list is helpful for those of you just getting into packrafting, like we are!
Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. If you make a purchase, I receive a small percentage of the sale as compensation – at no additional cost to you. I promise to only recommend products that I use and enjoy!