Packrafts for Backcountry Exploring

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A New Perspective

What if everything old became new again?

What if all the wonderful places you previously explored could be enjoyed from an entirely different perspective?

That’s the beauty of gearing up in ways that shift your mode of movement; giving you new angles to see the world—and life—from.

Bringing a packraft along on hiking, backpacking, and other trips over the last few years has been a game changer. What was previously visible from shorelines at the end of long days of hiking is now a gateway to emerald, turquoise, sapphire, aquamarine, and every shade of alpine lake in between.

I have taken my packraft many places: Glacier National Park, Idaho’s Sawtooth Wilderness, on the Georgian Bay in Bruce Peninsula National Park in the dead of winter, North Cascades National Park, and even on a remote route-finding backpacking trip in Alberta.

It was on that trip where simply the promise of paddling on a lake that most others will never see was enough for us to shoulder the extra load of the raft as well as my paddle over dozens and dozens of kilometers while bushwhacking, crossing cut blocks, and wading through waist deep water through willows that towered over our heads.

Recently, the raft came in a trip with an adventure-hungry friend and myself to a very special place. Floe Lake in Kootenay National Park can be a 21 km out-and-back, or a stop along the infamous Rockwall Trail. The trail to Floe Lake meanders along Floe Creek after crossing the Vermillion River close to the trailhead.

The path is surrounded by the burn of an old forest fire, flanked by gorgeous fireweed in the summer. But on this day, we made our way through the first early snowfall of the Fall season, back into a sequence of snowed-in switchbacks leading up to the lake. It was cold and windy and we joked how this is typical ‘Type II’ fun, both of us secretly hoping the wind would stop ripping before it was time to suit up and head out onto the water.

Natalie Panek carrying her pack raft to the winter lake

The lake was moody upon arrival, with snow and fog settling in above the massive wall behind it; just the kind of mysteriousness one can expect outdoors when exploring in shoulder seasons.

We inflated our Alpacka and Kokopelli rafts before I changed into my drysuit . Then, it was into our PFD’s and onto assembling our 4-piece paddles for round two of this multisport day of adventure. The final step: loading a slew of camera equipment into our floating transportation.

I broke trail from the warden cabin at the lake down to the shoreline through knee deep drifts, and entered my raft with the most ungraceful of all plunks. Bring on the splashes!

And, I had the absolute best seat in the house to see my pal get on the water for the first time, in a vessel carried to this landscape by her own two feet, exuberant with the most incredible ‘Squeee!’ as she took in our surroundings from the center of Floe Lake.

For the next many moments, it was just a girl and her packraft, exploring familiar places in new ways, with a friend and their packraft.

Natalie Panek winter paddling in the Rockies with Mustang Survival

Natalie Panek is an Aerospace Engineer and avid adventurer. Extraordinary experiences have shaped her career and passions; whether learning to fly, driving a solar-powered car across North America, or building space robotics. She is the 2013 recipient of the University of Calgary Graduate of the Last Decade Award, was named on Forbes 2015 30 under 30, and received the University of Calgary’s Schulich School of Engineering Diversity and Equity Alumni Award in 2018.