Paddles n’ Puppies: A Visit to Alpacka Raft HQ
Words and photos by Spencer Harding
I’ve been fawning over Alpacka rafts for years but have yet to obtain one. I have used the shitty Klymit one, which resulted in my raft flipping while holding my camera at the end of a rapid. I learned the hard way that there is only one true name in the packrafting game: Alpacka Raft.
Last year my friend Molly (see our last trip for more cute photos of her and Sprocket) got a job working at Alpacka Raft HQ in Mancos, Colorado. Mancos is a quaint town nestled right between the full-on Rocky Mountains and the eastern edge of the Colorado Plateau. Ever since she got the job I had been waiting for an excuse to stop by and check out the factory. Turns out Mancos is not even close to being on the way from Salt Lake City to Denver (to meet up for this year’s DFL the Divide trip) but was well worth the detour.
Be prepared for puppies when you visit Alpacka; there’s even a sign warning of your inevitable doge-filled fate. When I arrived, I found Molly hosing down some rafts with the ever-melancholic Sprocket by her side. Molly gave me a tour from beginning to the end of their assembly line for all the rafts. Everything is done by hand: the fabric is cut in large thick piles, small parts and webbing are bar-tacked and RF welded (which still seems like magic to me), the rafts are sewn (heard the gentleman in photo #21 can sew a whole raft in under an hour), the rafts are seam taped on huge fancy-looking machines, and finally a floor is glued on after the raft has proven it can hold air for a few days. All of these things come together to make whatever kind of boat you could need. All the boats are made to order thanks to an incredibly high level of organization; every panel is organized in its own bin according to size and model. They could decide to make a minor alteration to a raft and change it the next day (and they do); just another benefit of having their production in the USA.
By deciding to make their home in Mancos they are able to offer over 20 full-time jobs in a rural small town. The staff at Alpacka is filled with people who use their rafts and push the envelope of what is possible with them. I even saw the co-founder/CEO, Thor Tingey, running around, personally altering a boat.
Which brings me to the second reason I wanted to drop by, to check out their new “bikepacking specific” packraft, the Caribou.
From the Alpacka Site:
“Welcome the Caribou with our latest innovation, the Late Rise Bow, that combines the stability and load carrying ability of a rockerless hull with the whitewater and wave performance of a rockered hull. Unlike anything else on the market, the Late Rise Bow still provides a rocker to shed waves and whitewater, but it moves the beginning of the rocker in front of the bow’s mounted load. The result is a broad stable platform for mounting bulky and heavy items like bicycles that carry them high and keeps them out of the water when paddling. And, the load remains balanced and stable on both water and land.
To keep the weight and bulk at an absolute minimum, while preserving our legendary durability, we utilized the same lightweight 210-denier high count nylon fabric as the Scout and the 840-denier floor featured in our other packrafts. The result is an ultralight, full-size bikeraft or ultralight hunting raft that rolls up small for stashing in a pack or on your handlebar roll. It’s also available with a Cargo Fly, for keeping bulky gear on the bow and loose gear inside and dry.”
After all that fancy talk about denier and bows, I know what you’re thinking: can it carry a bike and a cute puppy? Yes, yes it can. Brenda took one of the new Caribou rafts out for a spin with her Cake fatbike on the front and Molly and Tyler’s new puppy Mira paddling along with her. You may notice that the RF welded tie-downs are oriented in specific directions on the bow of the Caribou – they correspond with different parts of your bike to allow easy lashing to the bow. While our test paddle was more aesthetic than practical, you can rest assured that this raft has been put through proper paces by the staff at Alpacka.
I feel that it’s worth mentioning Sheri Tingey, who was unfortunately out of the office the day I visited, co-founded the company 18 years ago and has been the inspiration and figurehead for Alpacka since day one. She is the design genius behind all of the rafts and continues today with that same spirit of innovation.
Thank you to everyone at Alpacka for allowing me to run around your factory taking photos and for letting me play with your new raft. Now I want one more than ever. In addition, thanks to Molly and Tyler for lending your puppy and Brenda for modeling.