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Packrafting eases access to remote locations for Westminster students

A Westminster College student floats on a packraft down the Colorado River on the Outdoor Program’s Fall break packrafting trip in 2016. Backpacks sit on the front of the packraft, allowing participants to bring more gear since they are not carrying the weight on their backs. (Photo courtesy of Lauren McLeod)

A Westminster College student floats on a packraft down the Colorado River on the Outdoor Program’s Fall break packrafting trip in 2016. Backpacks sit on the front of the packraft, allowing participants to bring more gear since they are not carrying the weight on their backs. (Photo courtesy of Lauren McLeod)

In 2011, Westminster College became the first college or university in the lower 48 states to have a fleet of packrafts — a way to maximize space in the Outdoor Program’s small, 35 foot long, 8 foot high and 15 foot wide office.

“We are sort of stuffed in a few different closets here on campus,” said Tiana White, director of the Outdoor Program.

Packrafts are one-person inflatable boats that resemble small kayaks or duckies, but because they weigh just four to five pounds they take up less space and allow the user to access locations a large raft or hardshell kayak could not. They take up a fraction of the space larger rafts or hardshell kayaks do because they are about the size of a rolled-up sleeping bag and can fit in a person’s backpack when deflated.

Westminster College students paddle down the Colorado River on an Outdoor Program packrafting trip in October 2016. Westminster was the first school in the lower 48 states to have a fleet of packrafts — one-person inflatable boats that resemble small kayaks or duckies and weigh just four to five pounds. (Photo courtesy  Lauren McLeod)

Westminster College students paddle down the Colorado River on an Outdoor Program packrafting trip in October 2016. Westminster was the first school in the lower 48 states to have a fleet of packrafts — one-person inflatable boats that resemble small kayaks or duckies and weigh just four to five pounds. (Photo courtesy  Lauren McLeod)

Lauren McLeod, a senior finance major and assistant student leader for the Outdoor Program, said the downside of packrafting is that it comes with a heavy price tag — upwards of $1,000 per packraft. She said this is one reason to take advantage of packrafting trips with Westminster’s Outdoor Program.

“It’s not something you’re going to be able to experience anytime in your life,” McLeod said. “If it’s something you might potentially be interested in, you should just try a trip and go out and experience it because later on in life it’s going to be a little more challenging.”

McLeod also said packrafting can be an accessible way for students to see new places because they don’t have to worry about carrying as much weight.

“Packrafting allows you to pack in way more stuff than you would normally have [while backpacking] because you’re just going to stick it on the front of your packraft and paddle it around instead of having to carry it on your back,” she said.

The weight and size of packrafts also allow for unique itineraries because the user can carry them to distant locations, White said. Additionally, packrafts only require water that is ankle deep, which means they can float down small and even seasonal streams and creeks.

Brandon Hill, a senior environmental science major, experienced packrafting while on the Wilderness Education May term course, which spent one week packrafting and one week canyoneering.

“I would recommend a packrafting trip to anybody,” Hill said. “I think if you have packrafting experience [and] if you have backcountry experience, then a Westminster packrafting trip will live up to your expectations. I think if you’ve never been in the backcountry [and] never touched a packraft before, then it will just blow your mind and you’ll have a great time.”

Weekend trips with the Outdoor Program typically cost $60 and include food, transportation, equipment and fees. No packrafting trips are scheduled for this fall, but there is potential in the spring based on student leaders.

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