BOB MARSHALL WILDERNESS, Mont. (AP) - As Scott Bosse launched his packraft in Youngs Creek, it felt as if gravity disappeared.
“I find it tremendously liberating,” Bosse said of packrafting.
For the previous day and a half, Bosse and a group of five other packrafters had been lugging 50-pound backpacks up and over Youngs Creek Pass to access the Bob Marshall Wilderness and eventually reach Youngs Creek, a tributary of the South Fork Flathead River.
Along with tents, sleeping bags, food and other typical backpacking gear, each person in the group also carried a packraft, a small, packable, inflatable single-person raft.
When they reached a spot on Youngs Creek where the water began to look high enough to float, they all set down their packs, rolled out their rafts, inflated them and began their 45-mile float that would take them down the South Fork to Meadow Creek Gorge.
Packrafting isn’t new, in fact it’s been around for centuries, but it is seeing a boom in popularity.
“I would say it’s exploding,” said Brad Meiklejohn, president of the American Packrafting Association.
The APA has more than 1,000 members. About a year ago, its membership was half that.
Packrafting offers a different way to look at backcountry travel.
“Who thought you could ever have a boat in your pack that weighed less than five pounds,” Meiklejohn said.
For most backpackers, lakes and creeks are barriers, said Bosse, who works as Northern Rockies director for American Rivers in Bozeman. The opposite is true for rafters and kayakers, for whom land is a barrier.
“In the wilderness, you either travel by land or you travel by water,” Bosse said. “With a packraft, you can do both.”
Packrafts also allow adventurers to float wilderness rivers without needing a pack string to carry a full-sized raft, said Jared White, the Wilderness Society’s regional communications manager in Bozeman.
“I just seems like it’s been the best new invention/technology for wilderness travel that I’ve seen in my lifetime,” White said.
While the idea of carrying a small boat to be able to cross rivers and lakes dates back to native cultures around the globe, the more modern resurgence of packrafting got its start in Alaska.