Packrafting & Whitewater with Kids

Do yourself a favor and make a new year’s resolution to try something fun and exciting this coming year.  And no, it doesn’t matter whether it is with or without your kids. Sometimes to get to a level where you are comfortable bringing your kids, you need to get comfortable on your own.   To help you with that process, we’re going to offer a suggestion and allow you a chance to give it a try too!

We love taking our kids out on the water.  It doesn’t matter if it is motor boating, kayaking, canoeing, or multi-day raft trips.  We always have a good time.  Last summer we had a blast when we tried out packrafting with a rental from Jackson Hole Packraft & Packraft Rentals Anywhere.  Really, you’ve gotta try packrafting!

Our original plan was to do just what packrafts are intended for, back country access to otherwise hard to float rivers and lakes. A pack raft is an inflatable, lightweight raft made to be packable and portable.  The whole setup of raft, bellows and paddle are about five pounds!  So we had planned a back country excursion into the mountains to a few lakes to try it out.  As can happen with adventures, our plans had to take an unexpected change and we end up going camping closer to home, but we really wanted to get a good feel for what packrafts can do.  We headed to a whitewater section of the South Platte River.  Honestly, it was a good choice and ended up being a whole lot more fun than would have been hiking into a lake.

For this specific trip, we had some friends join us and so we had 5 kids, 4 adults and three boats…two packrafts and an inflatable kayak.   The setup was great.  We had a simple base camp with a class I-II kids run up above and a fun class III for the adults below.  The kids loved going down and piled into both the kayak and rafts with us.  Time after time they laughed, splashed and wanted more.  Packraft setups have been perfected over the years and within just two minutes Jessica was hooked. Needless to say, this was one of our favorite trips of the summer!

Here are a few of the awesome aspects of a packraft.

Light weight – as mentioned above, the whole point of a packraft is to be light and packable, and at 5 pounds, they are.

Durability – This is likely the main question or concern that both we and you may have. They can also stand up pretty well. We were worried that they were going to pop easily, but after about seven runs and some great whitewater, they didn’t have any problems with a few scrapes and scruffs.  For examples of bigger adventures and more extreme examples of packrafting and what they can really do, check out this.

Ease of Use – One of the funnest aspects of the packraft is how simple it is.  

  • Inflatable – To blow it up, you simply have a big bellow (like a garbage sack) that screws onto the raft, fill the bag with air, then push the air into the raft.  To top it off, little valves can be opened to finish the job.
  • Maneuverable – Hugely fun!  Packrafts are light and nimble.  They are like having your own whitewater kayak, but not needing to learn how to roll!  Another way to describe it is like floating down a river on an innertube, but with control and the ability to stay much drier with the spray skirt.  Our friends who came didn’t have much experience running whitewater and we didn’t have any trouble bringing them through some big waves.

With pack rafting, as with any water sport, there are a few things to be aware of.  The rafts are meant to be light and packable, not built to be beat up against rocks and trees.  So compared to a typical inflatable raft or kayak, there is more of a chance to get a hole.  Despite this, they are surprisingly tough and can take some good bumps and bruises without much damage.  Also, if you end up backpacking and taking all of your gear with you down a river, you should be prepared for the worst…if you flip, or the raft deflated, you might have to swim with all of your gear. Needless to say, with kids, we suggest keeping it simple and kid friendly, just use your discretion.

Anytime you are dealing with water and kids, especially whitewater, safety is key to having a good time.  A life jacket (PFD) is essential and we’re been impressed with MTI’s kids Bob PFD. The thing we like the most about this is that it has a ton of adult features for whitewater in a kid friendly package.

It is fully adjustable to enable it to fit one or multiple kids through the years. It even has fleece lined pockets to help warm up cold hands from the water. Although it doesn’t have a strap to grab your kid like younger kids jacket, the porthole and shoulder straps allow sufficient area to grab your kid if they end up getting in over their head.  Check back in the spring for a full review!

Want to see what packrafting is really about?  Check out our video.

Jackson Hole Packraft & Packraft Rentals Anywhere ships all over the country and is a great way to try it out before you fully commit.

One lucky reader will win a 3 day, 2 boat packraft rental from  Jackson Hole Packraft & Packraft Rentals Anywhere ($180 value, valid for one year).  You can choose to either pick up the boats in Jackson, WY or pay to have them shipped to you ($40).  Also, to top it off and keep you safe, MTI will be giving the winner their own BOB youth life jacket.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Do yourself a favor and plan one awesome, memorable adventure for the upcoming year.  One of our top memories of 2012 was our day on the river packrafting as a family. You could have that in 2013.  Schedule it and make your dreams happen.

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