In the short time I’ve been packrafting i have been lucky to try a few different types of packraft. The Alpacka Gnarwhal was released in 2018 as the big volume white water specific model. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on one
The Gnarwhal is specced with Alpacka designed thigh cups, inflatable foot rest and solid adjustable back band. Compared with my older Alpacka series (now called Classic series) Llama, the outfitting is more suitable for white water. The inflation valve has been upgraded into a two way valve and gone is the seperate valve for ‘manual’ topping off.
White water bikerafting must be one of the most challenging environments for a lightweight inflatable boat. On the Fluid Trails trip, the Gnarwhals ran 3 rivers all low and rocky, we were loaded with gear for multi day mountain biking. The boats were attached to the handlebar harness on the bike for over 200km of single track and close to another 300km of mixed terrain without so much as a wear mark.
Initially I was sceptical of the Gnarwhal hull design for bikerafting, with the bigger volume of the bow meaning the bike sitting higher off the water and potentially being less stable. In the video above, It was the first time we had used the Gnarwhals bikerafting. After an hour of bigger volume wave trains all my apprehension was gone as the reality is the increased bouyancy is better for carrying the extra load and bulk required.
Another decision the team of 3 had to make before ordering our expedition boats was the deck configuration. Alpacka Raft offers 3 different cockpit set ups. The first is the cruiser deck like we ran on the Waiau Toa Odyssey trip, its great for easy rivers and flat water but on white water it means for pulling over to empty water regularly. The white water deck is the configuration for running the gnar with a more conventional setup with a deck and cockpit. The last option and the option we went with is self bailing.
Coming from a background of Raft guiding, plus my pathway to packrafting involved a good decade of carrying 12-18kg inflatable kayaks into west coast and golden bay creeks, self bailing was always the leading option. This set up meant for easy access in and out of the boat for scouting, setting safety and filming. Finally in the case of capsize, a self bailing boat is possible to re board and continue but decked boats would need to be emptied at shore. But would this be possible with a bike on the front???
Alpacka released a bunch of new models March 2019 and the catalogue of boats now on offer has a model suitable for any genre of packrafting, wait! Did I just say there are different genres of Packrafting? Yeah there is, in fact the genres are only bounded by terminology really. The Alpacka Raft boats are still all made in Mancos Colorado by a family owned and operated business and their small team of quality craftspeople.
I’ve now done seven days in the Gnarwhal and I can’t wait for more, both bikerafting and rid of the bike, which right now has the feeling of skipping through a field of wild flowers. The Gnarwhals outfitting makes the performance and comfort awesome. The increased volume makes punching through holes dry hair affairs and in boily or squirrlley water the boat sits on the surface and tracks nicely. The inflatable seat of the self bailing design is well thought out and thick enough to keep your bum off the rocks. The foot rest is a good accessory but after a few times of pushing against it the attachment can come off.
If this is the only flaw I can think off, surely this means it is a high tech, multi purpose but white water focused boat. In the industry the Gnarwhal is the gold star standard for high performance expedition packrafts and envied by other manufacturers.
By the looks my Gnarwhal will probably outlive the next few generations of Alpacka technology but I’ll still be watching eagerly for the upgrade releases.