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Crickets and American kestrels filled the San Rafael River with song, interrupted only by beads of water that dripped from my paddle blade into the stream’s near-glass surface. I craned back to soak in the colossal walls of the Little Grand Canyon. Colorful ginger orange and amber strata towered 1,500 feet above me. Wide and terraced, this gorge cuts through the northern portion of the San Rafael Swell, an oval geologic uplift full of dramatic sandstone citadels, buttes, and hogbacks in east-central Utah.
The last weekend of May, my partner and I drove to the put-in for this 19-mile river trip, 400 miles west of Denver, to explore this treasured landscape in the Colorado Plateau by way of packrafts: small, lightweight, inflatable boats that fit one person and cargo. We typically pursue multi-day adventures on stand-up paddleboards and had never used miniature rafts.
The month before our trip, Kokopelli Packraft, a Denver-based manufacturer, launched the XPD, a bucket-style boat that’s constructed to be extremely portable, sturdy, and durable—but simple. So, we borrowed a set from the company to see if the packrafts fulfilled their claim as comfortable, transportable, and easy-to-use for amateurs like us.
As I reclined in my vessel, with my weighted dry bags strapped to the stainless steel D-rings on the bow and stern, I began to understand why the XPD appeals to newcomers in the sport. I had no concern of being flipped over. And, that morning, the packraft was quick to pump up: the five-minute process was less work than filling my stand-up paddleboard.
The packraft is compact and nimble through narrow passages and tight corners. Yet, at 15.5 by 51 inches, the internal capacity is still spacious enough to haul tied-down gear and keep items within reach, like a hydration bladder, camera, or small soft cooler. The bundle includes a blow-up seat, which protects the boatperson’s backside from scraping river bottom or rocks—and can dually serve as a camp pillow. Overall, I enjoyed the option to lean back, rest, and observe the wilderness as I navigated.
With the XPD, Kokopelli wanted to bridge a recreation gap, explains marketing director Alexandra Black-Paulick. The brand sought to develop an adventure-focused packraft that universally suits weekend warriors, millennials, core adventurers, hunters, dogs, and families. Such broad appeal was achieved via a 300-pound load capacity and the size-weight ratio—a child or four-legged friend can partner up with an adult.
Another draw is that the same material used to build commercial whitewater rafts is employed in the floor and sidewalls: a synthetic plastic, called polyvinyl chloride (PVC), which is reinforced with robust 1,000-denier nylon. I most noticed the fabric’s fortitude on swift descents when my boat accelerated into pointy piles of wood or branches along the riverside: It bounced off without a trace of impact.
At 13 pounds, the craft is among Kokopelli’s lightest, and rolled up, the boat is 25-by-8.5 inches, so it easily stows in a rig and is easy to carry. Also, the bow implements a rocker shape, which helps absorb rapids or wakes. Overall, on the San Rafael River, the result was a packraft that felt maneuverable through small drops and speedy currents. With little effort, the boat remained upright despite bumping into banks, stone walls, debris, and boulders.
By the end of our trip, I found the XPD provided remarkable stability and performance on the water. However, the inflation limit of 3 psi (pounds per square inch) was too soft for me. I exceeded that air recommendation for more rigidity, support, and speediness. I still enjoy using a stand-up paddleboard for multi-day outings, because there’s more surface area to hold supplies, an option to stand, and a streamlined underside, which is helpful to prevent drag on low-flow rivers.
However, the packraft’s side tubes offered protection against obstacles, I enjoyed the backrest, and I loved the bombproof textiles. When I venture into the backcountry, I always carry a patch kit. But, if a heavy-duty packraft can help me avoid hangups, that’s huge. Plus, the XPD can be upgraded with a Tizip, a water-tight zipper that allows you to store gear inside the pontoon (Kokopelli also plans to release an updated XPD with a removable spraydeck in the future).
Ultimately, I’d be hard-pressed to find a packraft this stalwart, at such a fair price ($749). And, actually, based on my research, not another one exists. As my partner and I pulled our XPDs off the water, in the closing minutes of our adventure, we looked at each other and agreed: We totally want to get one. Buy from Kokopelli or Amazon