Alpacka Raft Lineup

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’m only reviewing the models I’ve spent significant time in.

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.

Alpacka Series

Classic

Best for: Hikers that are not seeking whitewater, or, like me, weren’t seeking whitewater initially, but grew to appreciate technical water.

Sarah Histand, Pelorus River, New Zealand

The original Alpacka boats (Small Alpacka, Medium Yak, Large Llama) have been stripped down and streamlined to sell as the most affordable option. I suspect this is largely to compete with the China-made packrafts 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. Thigh strap options are:

  • Alpacka factory retrofit: Backband and straps on used boats for $350. Note that Alpacka does not offer factory-installed straps on new Classics! This is part of their effort to streamline and offer a more affordable (but capable) boat.
  • Install them yourself ($165 + glue for the Alpacka 4-pt, or about the same for AIRE/NRS 2-pt).

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.

Expedition

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 optional thigh straps. Without thigh straps, the Expedition is 0.7 (S) – 0.9 (L) lb lighter than the Wolverine.

Expedition vs. Classic

  • Weight: The Classic is ~0.5 lb lighter than the Expedition.
  • Stability: The Classic is more stable than the Expedition.
  • Thigh straps: Easy factory upgrade on Expedition vs. DIY/retrofit on Classic.

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 (you do!) then it becomes a question of minor weight differences.

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. This is ~equivalent to ordering the Expedition, with thigh-straps, and purchasing the long Wolverine seat as an accessory.

Whitewater Series

Alpackalypse (Discontinued)

Casey Orion, Lava, Grand Canyon

The Alpackalypse had small (9.9″) 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.

Gnarwhal

Sarah Tingey, Grand Canyon

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.

Wolverine

Shasta Hood, Buller River, New Zealand

Best for: Creek boaters, playful 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. I was shocked by how well the boat surfs. The Wolverine 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, or “roll practice.”

11 Comments

  1. “The boat is less stable than the Gnarwhal, which, for me, will result in a few more swims.”

    I think that should finish with “which makes rolling back up easier”. 🙂

  2. What are your thoughts on the whitewater deck vs removable whitewater deck. I prefer the idea of the removable but wonder if the zip provides as good a seal and if it is potentially just another thing to go wrong in the back country where simplicity is best.

    1. I don’t have any personal experience with the removable ww deck. I like the idea of the removable deck, but don’t ever really wish I could remove mine (I like the warmth of the ww deck). The fine-tooth zipper makes me nervous, but I haven’t heard anyone talk about issues with it.

  3. Thanks for the handy comparison guide! What do you think: Does the size of the paddler have an effect on choosing between Gnarwhal and Wolverine? I like the idea of resposive playfull boat but I’m also 186cm and 95kg (Err, 6+ft and 210lb?) and I wonder if Wolverine can handle me with heavier gear (longer remote trips)? And having too white water packrafts might be one too many… 😀

    1. It does make sense to me that a bigger boater would want to go with the Gnarwhal, and I also suspect that the Gnarwhal feels more nimble to a bigger boater compared to a smaller boater. In other words… you might be getting a more playful experience in the Gnar because you’ve got the mass to boss it around. I paddled with a woman this weekend, she was in a small Gnar, and made it look like a playboat, tons of surfing, nice edging, etc.

      Alpacka lists the max capacity as 350 and 450 lb for Wolv, Gnar, respectively.

      For reference, I’m ~90 kg and the Wolverine doesn’t feel small by any means. However, the lower buoyancy compared to the Gnar is very evident.

  4. One thing I noticed about the Gnarwhal is that the larger stern drops a bit, and as a result, I find it drags more in REALLY shallow water than the old lineup. Totally worth it, as it paddles so much nicer, but for trips where Id expect lots of shallow creek type paddling, Id probably take my old Llama.

  5. I am 185 pounds 6’1 and I am deciding between the Gnarwhal and the Wolverine. My roll pretty much sucks right now so I’m not sure I’ll be rolling either. I want to run some whitewater up to class III. Which would you recommend and what size? (I’m mostly legs).

    1. We are pretty similar in weight/height. Both boats are great. I’d recommend the Gnar if you expect to be on bigger water (high volume), otherwise the Wolverine for the weight savings and more playful hull. I fit Large in both. It is a tight Large, which I like for ww paddling. The Wolv is easier to roll (and easier to tip over). FWIW, I’m really enjoying the Wolv this season, sold my Gnar. But I don’t really do any big water paddling.

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