In 2019 Alpacka Raft released a new boat lineup. This review is intended to help clarify the new boat options, and help users select the best model for their needs
I am an ambassador for Alpacka Raft and am heavily biased in favor of Alpacka boats compared to the other manufacturers. This is due to the quality of build, design, and customer service, as well as my respect for the company culture and ethics.
Best for: Hikers that are not seeking whitewater, or, like me, weren’t seeking whitewater initially, but grew to appreciate technical water.
The original Alpacka boats (Small Alpacka, Medium Yak, Large Llama) have been stripped down and streamlined to sell as entry-level boats. I suspect this is largely to compete with the China-made options now on the market.
These boats are light, durable, and capable. The boat design is appropriate for Class III and IV water, with thigh straps. Alpacka Raft does not offer a 4-point thigh strap build option, but you can install them yourself, or (I think) contact Alpacka for custom installation.
I am very attached to having thigh straps, whitewater deck, and a cargo zipper. If I lived in a warmer climate, or sitting in the boat for an hour instead of a day, I would be interested in the self-bailer build.
The Classic boats are more stable than the Wolverine and less stable than the Gnarwhal (below). The Classic is a great option for new boaters.
Best for: Remote trips with significant hiking and the possibility of Class III rapids.
The Expedition is listed in the Alpacka Series, because purchasers are likely deciding between the Expedition and Classic. The Expedition is simply a stripped-down Wolverine, with a shorter seat (boat floor becomes less rigid) and no thigh straps, resulting in an 0.7 (S) – 0.9 (L) lb weight savings.
Expedition vs. Classic
Weight: The Classic is ~0.5 lb lighter than the Expedition.
Stability: The Classic is more stable than the Expedition.
For me, the Classic vs. Expedition vs. Wolverine decision comes down to thigh straps. I’m addicted to thigh straps, and I want them for everything, even Class II water. I want the option of at least running ‘backcountry’ straps on remote trips, 3/4″ accessory straps between user-installed foot and thigh tie-downs. Assuming you want straps, then it becomes a question of boat weight. My solution is to go with the Wolverine, replace the full-length seat and thigh straps with a short seat and accessory straps for remote trips, but at least have the option for the full whitewater build.
The Alpackalypse had small (9.2″?) diameter tubes that gave it a very edgy feel, most similar to a river kayak. The boat was best-suited for experienced kayakers, who appreciated the familiar edginess and roll-ability. With the introduction of the Wolverine, the Alpackalypse has been discontinued.
Best for: Big-water boaters or less-experienced paddlers seeking a boat that feels safe and stable.
The Gnarwhal is the largest and most stable boat in the Alpacka lineup. The Gnarwhal is ideal for big-water, like the Grand Canyon. The volume is double the Alpackalypse, and the boat can survive pretty much anything you throw at it. The trade-off with large tubes and high-volume is that the Gnarwhal is snow to initiate, and the paddler often feels along for the ride. Fortunately, it is a very forgiving ride.
The Gnarwhal will also appeal to new boaters who have no intention of using it on white water. The boat’s size and stability makes it the most forgiving and safest-feeling craft in the lineup.
Best for: Creek boaters and people that want a one-packraft-does-all solution.
The Wolverine combines the best features of the Alpackalypse and Gnarwhal. The intermediate diameter tubes (10.6″ compared to the Gnarwhal’s 11.7″) result in a ~0.4 lb weight saving over the Gnarwhal, and more stability than the Alpackalypse. The Wolverine is less stable than the Classic.
Compared the the Gnarwhal, the Wolverine feels like a bullet. Initiation is easy, and the boat picks up speed quickly, allowing for a very playful nature, including snapping into eddies and boofing ledge drops. This will appeal to kayakers and packrafters that want to paddle technical water. The boat is less stable than the Gnarwhal, which, for me, will result in a few more swims.