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The Alpacka Classic – From the “Stubby” to Streamlined in 2019

Feature photo-Sheri’s fabric rep, Richard Hewitt, testing an early boat on the Aniakchek, 2003.

The Alpacka Series Story – Early History & The Golden Age of Packrafting

Story by Thor Tingey, photos by Bjorn Olson and from the Sheri Tingey historical archives.

Welcome to the best backcountry adventure boats on the planet and our new Alpacka Series lineup! The Classic is our iconic original packraft and the staple of our lineup for 19 years—the packraft to own if you just own one. The Expedition steps up the features and performance for the dedicated packrafter who lives the dream of big adventures, but doesn’t need the extra weight and features of the Whitewater Series. The Mule is the load master and our largest single-person packraft.

We hand make all our award-winning Alpacka Series models in the USA with the finest materials, and we test them in the most extreme and remote locations on the planet. And it all started with the “White Boat.” Read on…

A New Era in Packrafting Begins

Thor testing the very first boat on Aniakchak, 2001.
Thor testing the very first boat on Aniakchak, 2001.

Alpacka Raft founders Sheri Tingey and her son, Thor, built the original Alpacka Raft in the basement of their Chugiak, Alaska home, fall 2000. After completing a 39-day, 600-mile packrafting traverse of the Brooks Range, Thor fell in love with the concept of packrafting and the ability to travel light, fast, and low impact across virtually any terrain. But existing designs, durability and quality of available boats disappointed him. Sheri, a boater and outdoor clothing designer for 35-years, was looking for a new challenge. She found it when Thor asked her to build him a better boat.

They made their first packraft, the White Boat, out of heavy white nylon with a urethane coating on one side, 12-inch diameter tubes, and an upturned bow, all sealed together using a hot air gun, a roller, and a lot of Aquaseal®. They only had enough white fabric for one boat, but they made a few more that winter out of different colors with PVC and urethane coatings.

Sheri Tingey paddling Willow creek using a new design with the first “butt” extension, 2004.
Sheri Tingey paddling Willow creek using a new design with the first “butt” extension, 2004.

The first testing came in the summer of 2001 when Thor took the White Boat to his summer job as a fisheries biologist for Katmai National Park and made multiple descents of the Aniakchak River. Local Anchorage packrafters like Roman Dial started testing the other prototypes, and everyone was thrilled with the performance and durability of the new designs.

We started our first production of the Alpacka Raft series the winter of 2001/2002 with two sizes, the Yukon Yak and the Denali Llama. We started selling them in the Summer 2002.

Sheri testing the very first spray deck Willow Creek, Alaska, 2002.
Sheri testing the very first spray deck Willow Creek, Alaska, 2002.

Spray Skirts

Over the next five years, with Sheri running the company and pushing the design envelope, we continued to improve the designs. In 2003, we added a third size, the smaller Alpaca, and began testing a spray skirt. The first skirts stretched over the entire boat and hand an inflatable rim to keep the boat from filling as quickly in the waves, but they were dangerous in swims. 

In 2004, Sheri developed a method to permanently attach the spray skirt to top of the raft. This saved weight and made the skirt safer. From 2005 to 2007, we continued to make the skirt system drier and warmer by adding various Velcro® closures to cockpit that secured around the paddlers waist.

In 2007, we moved our operations out of Alaska and opened our own manufacturing facility in Mancos, Colo., where we still make every boat today.

Scott Keating in Buttermilk Rapid, Gunny Gorge, Colo. 2012. Photo by Ben Phillips, long-time Alpacka Raft employee, tester, and badass Class V boater.
Scott Keating in Buttermilk Rapid, Gunny Gorge, Colo. 2012. Photo by Ben Phillips, long-time Alpacka Raft employee, tester, and badass Class V boater.

Farewell Alaska,Hello Thigh Straps

In 2008, a group of Alaskans pushing the boundaries of whitewater packrafting started installing thigh straps in their packrafts. Thigh straps provided new levels of control and whitewater performance, but put Alpacka in a challenging position. We didn’t initially offer them as a factory option due to the liability risks of entrapment.

However, the strong community interest in a better performing whitewater packraft led Sheri to begin developing the Alpackalypse. Although the Alpackalypse took six years to complete, the design ideas that came out of its development were critical to the significant improvements of the Alpacka Series during that same time.

Bjørn and Dylan on the Kachemak Bay Adventure trail - a fat-bike and packraft route from Homer to Seldovia. Summer 2009. Photo by Dylan Kench.
Bjørn and Dylan on the Kachemak Bay Adventure trail — a fat-bike and packraft route from Homer to Seldovia. Summer 2009. Photo by Dylan Kench.

In 2011, we modified the hull and introduced the first extended stern packraft–aka the “Big Butt”–which significantly improved the comfort and performance of the boats. We continued to extend the stern slightly over the next two years to where it is today. Almost every full-size packraft on the market today has adopted this design.

Jessi Dullinger paddles her bike in her Yak down the Fox River. Summer 2012. 📸: Bjørn Olson.
Jessi Dullinger paddles her bike in her Yak down the Fox River. Summer 2012. 📸: Bjørn Olson.

In 2012, we made two major improvements to the design. First, we added the first kayak style cockpit in a packraft with our Whitewater Deck, which provided an almost completely dry paddling experience. Like the extended stern, we have continued to make small modifications to our Whitewater Deck over the years to improve durability, weight, and skirt retention in whitewater. 

Second, we added our innovative Cargo Fly internal gear storage system, which allowed paddlers to get their pack off the bow of the packraft which significantly improved performance, handling, and gear capability. Like the extended stern, both innovations were developed through the Alpackalypse project. (Read, “Packraft Innovation: Sheri Tingey & A Brief History of the Cargo Fly.”)

Margaret Ahab crosses a swift stream with her expedition loaded bike. Summer 2012. 📸: Bjørn Olson.
Margaret Ahab crosses a swift stream with her expedition-loaded bike. Summer 2012. 📸: Bjørn Olson.

Other than the improvements in the spray decks and stern extensions, the Alpacka Series remained largely unchanged until 2016 when we introduced our first self-bailing model. Alpacka did not build the first self-bailing packraft, but we did take a different approach from the other brands. We focused on a two-piece seating system that optimized durability, lightweight, and whitewater paddling performance.

In 2017, we added some new features like lightweight D-Rings for attaching a custom foam backband and lightweight carrying handles for easier portaging. The more advanced whitewater features like thigh straps and two-piece seating configurations were moved to the new Gnarwhal and Alpackalypse.

In 2018, we didn’t make any changes to the Alpacka Series. But, we noticed a split in customer preferences. About half of our Alpacka Series customers opted for open or cruiser deck models without backband upgrades or Cargo Fly zippers; the other half opted for all of the bells and whistles, including whitewater decks, backbands, and Cargo Fly zippers.

So, in the summer of 2018, we sat down to evaluate the Alpacka Series and decided to split it into three models to better fit our customer preferences: a streamlined, affordable model based on our original classic hull shape for the paddlers who don’t need or want any unnecessary add ons; a higher performance model with all of the bells and whistles, but not a full whitewater boat; and a true XL model for the largest and tallest packrafters.

And now, welcome to the 2019 lineup…

The gold standard of packrafts, we built The Classic on our time tested 11.7-inch Classic Hull, with streamlined features to take us back to our roots. Simple, elegant, and affordable, it delivers adventure driven fun from your backyard to the backcountry. Photo by Jacob Moon.
The gold standard of packrafts, we built The Classic on our time tested 11.7-inch Classic Hull, with streamlined features to take us back to our roots. Simple, elegant, and affordable, it delivers adventure driven fun from your backyard to the backcountry. Photo by Jacob Moon.

The Original, Iconic Alpacka Classic

As packrafting has evolved, so has our original line-up of the Alpacka, Yak, and Llama. We decided to return to our roots with this year’s Classic. A simple, elegant packraft with options to fit every budget, the Classic keeps it simple. We’ve kept the adventure-tested Classic Hull, a no fuss seating system, minimalist attachments, and bombproof materials and construction. Learn more…

The Expedition: The ultimate backcountry adventure boat. High performance. Light weight. Features our 10.6-inch Rally Hull, classic seat, backband, carrying handles and Cargo Fly zipper. Thigh strap upgrade option for backcountry whitewater. Photo by Thor Tingey.
The Expedition: The ultimate backcountry adventure boat. High performance. Light weight. Features our 10.6-inch Rally Hull, classic seat, backband, carrying handles and Cargo Fly zipper. Thigh strap upgrade option for backcountry whitewater. Photo by Thor Tingey.

Expedition Featuring the New “Rally Hull”

With the Expedition, we’ve elevated the backcountry packraft platform to a new level of performance, comfort, and efficiency for epic backcountry adventures. Though built with the same high-performance Rally Hull found on the Wolverine, we minimized the weight and bulk with a classic seat, foam backband, and lightweight carrying handles. A quiver killer packraft, we built this so you could make miles on big backcountry adventures with occasional moderate whitewater. Add thigh straps for a lightweight backcountry whitewater boat. Learn more…

The Mule: Our new super stable, high capacity 11.7-inch Cargo Hull sized for the biggest and tallest packrafters. Don’t settle for being cramped. Get the Mule, and get after it! Photo by James Roh.
The Mule: Our new super stable, high capacity 11.7-inch Cargo Hull sized for the biggest and tallest packrafters. Don’t settle for being cramped. Get the Mule, and get after it! Photo by James Roh.

The High-Capacity, Single-Person Mule

Packrafters come in all shapes and sizes. So why settle for cramming yourself into a boat that’s too small or too loaded down to comfortably carry you and your gear? If you are big and tall or you need to carry a lot of weight, get the Mule and get after it. A Super stable and spacious backcountry packraft, it comfortably carries a 250+ pound paddler and 100 pounds of gear without feeling bogged down. Learn more…