What the Heck?
Packrafts are inflatable rafts that are light enough to pack on a bike or in a backpack. Though they are all light, many have whitewater capability. In general, the lightest flatwater models weigh 1-3kg and the whitewater styles can be as heavy as 5kg.
I heard about DIYpackraft.com through internet searching. He is a one-man part time operation making raft kits that customers must assemble for themselves. By assemble, I mean cut, align, heat weld, and seal. The kits consist of a pile of fabric scored with the pattern, and some valves. There is an optional TZip waterproof zipper to allow you to open the tube and store bags in it.
I Bought Some.
Manufactured packrafts are great, I’ve tried a few. But I wanted packrafts soon, and that meant I needed to improve drastically on the $4000 cost of a pair of manufactured packrafts. DIYpackraft fit the budget.
I bought the required tools while waiting for the rafts to arrive. They arrived on time, with the password for the instructions, and the kits enclosed in a no-frills wrapping. I was glad to see that I hadn’t wasted money on frivolous packaging.
I Build Some Rafts:
The kits are very basic, the fabric is scored, but needs to be cut out. I was a little disappointed in the depth of the scoring, it was inconsistent and sometimes even hard to see. The uneven scoring was my biggest complaint about the whole experience.
In any case, in about 27 hours I had yellow raft built. Sealing the leaks was definitely not as difficult as some of the customers on the forum complained of, but neither was it easy. In hindsight, I would have practised some large seams like the floor seams before doing the actual raft welding.
Once the first raft was assembled, it was time to hit the water. I strapped the raft to my bike and fit a test paddle in between running some errands. Though there were some leaks, I could refill on the fly, and I was happy with the performance.
After some quick patching, I was ready to bring a passenger, and by that I mean a kid.
I arranged a field trip with one of my Hobo Daycare™ girls on a day when she was the only client.
The Red Raft:
Once I had the second raft made, I brought Fiona with me. Her paddling experience is limited, and highlighted how well the rafts handle. With a slight load on the front to keep it down and help the raft track, she could manage the raft in the riffles of the river.
Post Testing Use:
I’ve had my rafts out for several weekend outings now, I’ve written about them previously on this blog. While both rafts had some persistent leaking, I’ve only had to re-inflate about once per hour or less. I spent a couple of hours last week doing some further sealing and they seem to be much improved. None of the leaks have been random, they have been consistently in the hardest to seal places, or in places where I made an error in assembly.
Conclusion (for now):
I really like these rafts. After re-working the yellow one due to some deficiencies with my iron, it has been great.
I feel confident taking my rafts up to class 2 rapids (with a bike strapped to the bow!), though by some standards I’ve paddled class 3 with them. I built spray decks for both of them, and they really help keep the waves out.
Make no mistake, these are not an easy weekend project. They require attention to detail and meticulous assembly. They will not forgive poor assembly. I am confident that if I get a third, it will be incrementally better than the first ones.
For those willing to commit the time to assembling them properly, these are a budget-friendly entry into the world of packrafting. For others, these will be a frustrating experience. If you enjoy working with your hands, crafts, or sewing, than these are the bargain start to a packrafting hobby.
Stay tuned for a longer term review some time next year!
Yes, you want the zipper!
I bought these with my own money. I have no relationship with DIYpackraft.com other than as a customer. I did not warn him that I was doing this review, nor did he ask me to do it. I did not get a discount for being an obscure winter bikepacking blogger.