Packrafting is about freedom – the freedom to transition from land to water, and back again, during a self-supported, human-powered trip. Carrying a robust little raft in your backpack opens up routes and possibilities that you never would have considered before. You can travel quickly through terrain that would be onerous on land, cross big rivers where there’s no bridge, and mix it all up to your heart’s content.
While packrafting is growing in popularity, you’re unlikely to run into other packrafters by accident. Enter the American Packrafting Association – a free-to-join, grassroots 2,000-member organization – and our annual gathering, the Packraft Roundup. This year, 100 packrafters came together in Carbondale, CO for a long weekend of socializing, paddling, demos and talks. With picture perfect weather and accessible runs, this was a great opportunity to pick up new tips and techniques, catch up with old friends and make new ones. The latest packrafts and gear were on display, along with a healthy selection of meals from Heather’s Choice with which to refuel after a day of paddling. Convenient backcountry meals enable the type of fast, light travel for which packrafts are so well-suited.
This year’s Roundup took advantage of the excellent bus system around Carbondale, dispensing with car shuttles entirely on several runs along the Lower Roaring Fork river. Residents must have been surprised to see groups wearing drysuits jumping on the bus with backpacks that had four-piece paddles strapped to the outside! (But where were the boats? Inside the packs, of course.) Local bike manufacturer Why Cycles also made rental bikes available for bikepacking trips, in which the riders carried their boats to the put-in, and then strapped their bikes to their boats for the paddling section.
The evening program included a thought-provoking keynote by Carbondale resident Jim Harris, whose career as an outdoor professional was almost cut short when he was paralyzed in a kite-skiing accident in Patagonia. Against all the odds, Jim regained the ability to walk, and is an excellent paddler – he led packrafting trips on each day of the Roundup. Listening to Jim talk about reinventing himself in the face of such great challenges was truly inspiring.
At the end of the weekend, the packrafting tribe disbanded for another year with some new skills and adventures under their belts, and, most importantly of all, a renewed sense of being a community united around safety, conservation and fun. Five years in, the Packraft Roundup still feels a little rough around the edges, and that’s part of the charm. Like any packrafting trip, being able to just roll with it is what makes packrafting so liberating.