Alpacka Classic Packraft Review

Alpacka Classic Packraft Review

The Alpacka Classic is the latest iteration of Alpacka’s original packraft and is still one of the best all-around boats. It weighs between 5.5 and 5.8 lbs in an open configuration which is respectably light for a boat of its size that’s capable of carrying up to 350lbs. There are fancier boats in the Alpacka lineup, and I would probably opt for one of those if I wanted superior whitewater performance or cold water protection. But for most trips in warm weather, especially those involving hiking, I’d pick the Classic. The fabrics are very durable and if you’re just getting into packrafting I would highly recommend purchasing the Classic in an open configuration.

Specs at a Glance

  • Shape: Classic Hull
  • Weight: 5.5 lbs (2.51 kg) to 7.9 lbs (3.58 kg) Depends on configuration.
  • Tube Diameter: 11.7-inch
  • Fit: Relaxed
  • Valve: Temper assist valve for inflation and deflation
  • Attachments: 4 bow grab loops, 2 stern grab loops, and 2 strap plates
  • Seating: Classic Seat Bottom and Inflatable Seat Back
  • Build Configurations: Open, Whitewater Deck, or Removable WW Deck
  • Cargo Fly: Optional. (Internal dry bags sold separately)
  • Materials: Proprietary 210-denier high count nylon hull and 840-denier ballistic nylon floor (Made in the USA).
  • Includes: Inflation Bag, Stuff Sack, and Basic Repair Kit
  • Color options: Forget-Me-Not, Fireweed, and Cedar Green, but they seem to change often. Custom colors also offered for an extra fee.
  • Manufacturing: Made to Order in Mancos, Colorado
Paddling Class I all day is comfortable in the relaxed-fit Classic
Paddling Class I all day is comfortable in the relaxed-fit Classic.

Sizes

The Alpacka Classic comes in three sizes: Small (Alpaca), Medium (Yak), and Large (Llama). According to their sizing guide, you want to choose a boat based on your sit length rather than your height. Paddlers should be able to fully extend their legs and without quite touching the bow. They recommend sizing down for folks who are in between sizes unless you want more space for gear or a dog in front of you. My boat fits me perfectly, meaning I can lounge with my legs fully extended or I can inflate the seat back and press my feet into the front of the cockpit for better control in whitewater. I would highly recommend following their sizing guidelines, as they worked well for me.

Inflation

The latest version of the Alpacka Classic has a temper assist valve for inflation and deflation. Older versions had a one-way valve for the inflation bag and a separate mouth valve for topping it off. This new design is simpler and more streamlined.

To use it: Thread the included silnylon inflation bag into the valve and inflate until it’s difficult to push more air into the boat. Using the inflation bag actually takes some practice, so don’t be bummed if you don’t get it right away. There are many ways to do it, but the main thing to keep in mind is to get as much air in the bag as possible, close off the top, and then hold it closed with one hand while using the other arm to hug the inflated bag into your body. Many folks make the mistake of pushing the inflation bag into the boat which inhibits airflow. Once the boat is mostly inflated, unscrew the bag and top it off with your mouth. The Alpacka classic—and other packrafts—are designed to be a low-PSI craft, so don’t be alarmed by the fact that you’re inflating it with your weak little lungs.

The Alpacka Classic tracking well on flat water in Oregon
The Alpacka Classic tracking well on flat water in Oregon.

Fabrics/Durability

The tubes of the Alpacka Classic are made from 210-denier nylon. The outside is laminated with a pigmented polyurethane film. I believe they used to coat both the inside and outside but found that only coating one side resulted in a fabric with much higher tear strength. I have yet to get a hole in the Classic I’ve had since 2018. In other words, I think this fabric is quite durable.

The floor is made with 840-denier ballistic nylon coated on both sides with a heavy-duty PU laminate. It is extremely durable. The first time I saw an Alpacka Classic was in 2013 when my friend scraped it across rocks for nearly 60 miles on the Dirty Devil River in southern Utah. I was in a 50-pound, two-person inflatable kayak, sure I was going to be the only one to make it to the end of the trip. Every time we scraped across rocks I expected his packraft to pop, or at least start filling up with water, but that never happened. When we reached the cars, my friend turned over his boat so we could inspect the floor. We both thought there would be huge gashes but all we could see were superficial scratches. I was astonished, so I bought one promptly upon returning home.

An open configuration Classic in a custom color.
An open configuration Classic in a custom color.

Build Configurations

The Alpacka Classic is offered in several build configurations. You can leave the boat open, which is lightest and performs well in most Class I-III situations. Most folks taking a Classic on hiking-focussed packrafting trips will probably want a boat with an open configuration. This is the configuration I believe makes the most sense for a boat in this category because giving up features like a deck or internal storage keeps the boat relatively light (5.5 – 5.8 lbs).

The Classic also is offered with the option of either a standard Whitewater Deck or a Removable Whitewater Deck. I have experience with neither, so can’t speak to them directly, but I can say that because the Removable Whitewater Deck has a zipper, I will personally be staying away from it. The standard Whitewater Deck is their most popular option and is said to keep the paddler warm and dry. It has a kayak-style cockpit, a one-piece pex coaming, and a spray skirt. If I buy another boat for use in cool weather, it will certainly have the standard Whitewater Deck.

Any of these configurations can be paired with a Cargo Fly. The Cargo Fly has an airtight zipper that allows you to stuff gear into the tubes of the boat. With gear inside the boat, your center of gravity will be lower, thus improving the overall feel and handling of the boat. Internal dry bags are sold separately.

With the standard Whitewater Deck and the Cargo Fly, a medium Classic will weigh about 7.4 lbs. When I compare that to the Alpacka Expedition, which weighs 8.1 lbs with the same features but also has an adjustable foam backband, thigh strap and foot brace attachments, and a more voluminous stern, the Classic starts to make less sense.

Weight

In the open configuration, the Alpacka Classic weighs between 5.5 and 5.8 lbs. This is light, but there are lighter boats in the Alpacka lineup such as the Scout (3.25-3.44 lbs) and the Caribou (4.8-5.0 lbs). These boats utilize an ultralight version of the 210-denier hull fabric, meaning it has less coating.

As an all-around, extremely durable boat, the weight of the Alpacka Classic is just fine. For hiking-oriented trips, it starts to get a little heavy, so I usually take my Scout. For in-between trips with a ton of hiking and Class-III water, I take the Classic but wish that it was even lighter. The Caribou is too long to fit this niche because many folks can’t press their feet against the end, so I’d like to see either a reduced-weight Classic or a new boat that fills that hiking-oriented, Class-III niche.

The seat and backrest are simple but comfortable.
The seat and backrest are simple but comfortable.

Seat/Backrest

The Alpacka Classic’s seat used to attach to the body of the boat with a complex weave of cordage. They have replaced this system with a simple clip-in seat which appears to be lighter and is definitely simpler to use. The seat on the classic is four-baffled, pretty thick, and very comfortable. When fully inflated, it keeps your rear out of the cold water that will inevitably pool in the bottom of the boat when waves crash over the tubes.

The backrest on the Classic is hit and miss. Some people love it and some people hate it. It effectively pushes into your lower back, giving you a more upright posture, and allowing your feet to touch the end of the cockpit, which is likely good for increasing the power of your paddle strokes. But sometimes, depending on the trip, I just want to lounge, so I deflate it and lean back and let myself spin slowly in the current. I suppose having the option of both lounging and upright postures is a benefit, but I think they could make it more comfortable. It’s just a pill-shaped baffle of air. The adjustable foam backband featured on several of Alpacka’s whitewater boats and on their Expedition looks far more comfortable but it’s clearly more complex to construct, and thus heavier and more expensive. But because simplicity is partly what makes the Classic appealing, I don’t feel a lot of conviction about improving this part of the boat.

Most folks will use the four grab loops on the bow for attaching a pack to the boat
Most folks will use the four grab loops on the bow for attaching a pack to the boat.

Attachment Points

The Alpacka Classic has 4 bow grab loops, 2 stern grab loops, and 2 strap plates. I have rarely used the stern grab loops and never used the strap plates, but I use the bow grab loops on every trip. When using the Alpacka Classic in Class I-III water, I would recommend buying the Packtach Tie-Down System. It’s only $20 and allows you to attach and remove your pack easily when pulling over for snack breaks. The durability of the grab loops is excellent; I have never had one rip or peel off.

Tackling Class II riffles in southern Utah in the Classic
Tackling Class II riffles in southern Utah in the Classic.

On the Water

The Alpacka Classic has what they call their Classic Hull Design. Original versions of this boat had a similar design without the long stern. At some point, they started making the stern longer to improve tracking and balance, and then around 2014 or so they made it even longer, and have kept that length up to today. The Classic Hull also has a slightly rockered bow. Older versions of this boat sat fairly flat on the water and were slow to turn in whitewater. The current hull, with this rockered bow and long stern, allows the paddler to turn on a dime while also tracking well in flat water. I have navigated plenty of Class III water in my Classic and am pleased with the performance.

Packing

The packed size of the Alpacka Classic in an open configuration is about 12” x 8” if you fold it pretty tight. I find this packed size to be pretty impressive considering the performance packed into that tiny bundle. I would recommend following the Roman Dial method of packraft folding to get the smallest package.

Recommendation

The Alpacka Classic is an exceptional boat for most Class I-III trips, especially when left in an open configuration (no deck or cargo fly) so that the weight stays low (between 5.5 and 5.8 lbs depending on size.) It tracks well in flat water and turns quickly when you need to dodge a hole. Both the hull and floor fabrics are very durable; in seven years of using these boats, I have yet to get a hole in either. For all these reasons, I don’t see any good reason why Alpacka can’t lighten up the Classic even further, making a 4.5 lb open boat for ultralight backpackers. I have a hard time believing that the market doesn’t exist.

Because Alpacka offers similar boats designed specifically for whitewater or big expeditions, adding a deck and cargo fly to the Classic doesn’t seem to make as much sense to me as purchasing a boat like the Expedition. The Expedition, with a Cargo Fly and Whitewater deck, weighs about 7 oz more than the comparable Classic but also has the adjustable backband and more voluminous stern.

Those weight and build-configuration considerations aside, you still can’t go wrong with the Classic. It’s the latest iteration of the very first packraft and will get the job done in everything but the coldest water, longest trips, and gnarliest whitewater.

Disclosure: The author owns this product.

About the author

Ben Kilbourne has been backpacking at least once a month every month for the last twelve years. His explorations have taken him all over the west, but especially the canyon country of the Colorado Plateau. The geography of the west has become familiar to him. He has developed a rudimentary understanding of its geology, and an awareness of the subtle changes in flora and fauna due to soil, elevation, aspect, and precipitation and how these elemental things interact with both ancient and modern humans. His experiences on the land, whether triumphant or thwarted by events either in or out of his control, have provided the foundation for the work he does. Find Ben’s paintings, songs, and essays here http://benkilbourne.com/.

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