For years, packrafting—a mix of backpacking and rafting—was just a way for experienced outdoor adventurers to cross water obstacles. Then the Tingey family got involved.
“Mom, I need your help.” Thor Tingey, a recent Colorado College grad, had just finished his second packrafting trip, crossing 600 miles of Alaska’s Brooks Range with a friend. He loved everything about the backpacking-and-rafting adventure—except his raft. “We made it through the trip,” he recalls, “but we had multiple boat failures. I thought, man, packrafting would be really neat if we just had a boat that worked. So I asked my mom, an outdoor clothing designer, if she could make me a better one.”
That year, Thor and his mom, Sheri, created the first Alpacka Raft prototype. In 2009, they moved the business from Alaska to Mancos. Today, the Tingey company (run by Sheri, Thor and Thor’s wife, Sarah) is credited with making the first great packraft and has been a key force in the growth of the sport.
How they got it right
Sheri: “I sat Thor down and said, ‘OK, give me your wish list.’ They didn’t want the boat to sink, they wanted to get air in and out easily and they didn’t want it to fall apart. I designed the packraft to perform as closely as possible to a river kayak.”
The final product
Thor: “Our packrafts are a really stable and efficient way to do any water sport. They weigh 2 ½ to 13 pounds (the weight of their two-person model), with our most common boats weighing between 6 ½ and 8 pounds.”
Sarah: “When it comes to inflating and deflating, one of us who works here and uses a packraft regularly can fill one in less than a minute.”
What to do with them
- Thor: “Anything! Over the 18 years we’ve been making packrafts, they’ve become more of their own water sport. In January, for example, Sarah and I went on a trip in the Grand Canyon on only packrafts. It’s big water that’s fairly challenging to paddle and wouldn’t have been possible on the gear available before some of our recent innovations.”
Why the Tingeys do it
- Thor: “A year and half ago, we got a long message from a guy who said we saved his life. He works as a corrections officer in a prison and didn’t get outside much. Somebody recommended he try packrafting, so he bought a boat from us and starting going out during his lunch hour. He started meeting people and, now, he’s part of a whole paddling club and community. That’s the greatest compliment we could ever get.”
Packrafts and other river essentials, including paddles, repair materials and replacement parts