Packraft Rating System

There is more than one whitewater rating system in use today. Roman Dial developed a system specifically for packrafting. Be aware that the rating of a river is highly subjective based on the experience of the person applying the rating, the type of watercraft, and the water level encountered while floating that particular river, etc.

The following information has been excerpted from the book Packrafting! An Introduction and How-To Guide, by Roman Dial (ISBN 978-0-9748188-3-2, Published by Backpacking Light, 2008).

Packraft Rating (PR) System
Standard whitewater ratings are not always a good indicator of packrafting difficulty. Some very technical rapids that are low volume and shallow - dangerous in a kayak - feel easier and safer in a packraft. Meanwhile, big, high volume but technically easy rapids can be tough in a packraft. Hence the following system, which should be considered open ended.

PR 1 - Flat water, little or no current, no obstacles. No special techniques or gear needed. Lakes and slow rivers.

PR 2 - Gentle current, small waves. Ferrying technique necessary to maneuver and avoid sweepers, strainers, and shallows. Floating is relaxed. Rain gear and garbage bags sufficient to keep dry.

PR 3 - One to two foot tall wave trains, eddy lines, and holes can swamp and/or flip boat. Ferrying and back-paddling necessary to avoid obstacles, miss holes and rocks. Drysuit or wetsuit is insurance against swims and waves. Dry-bag protects gear. Requires novice boating-with-a-backpack skills. Bicycles or passengers manageable in boat.

PR 4 - River powerful, often Class III for canoes, kayaks, and paddle rafts, meaning water reading necessary and scouting recommended. Flip potential high with loaded boats. Swamping avoidable with good technique or spray cover. Throw ropes and swift-water rescue training advised, although self-rescue easy.

PR 5 - Generally Class IV or high volume Class III for canoes, kayaks, and paddle rafts. Scouting of rapids necessary. Spray skirts or decks, drysuits, helmets, and unloaded boats strongly recommended as well as safety personnel. Bracing, forward paddling, and confidence while big waves crash overhead needed. Precise maneuvering necessary through intense and powerful water. Swimming is risky. Throw ropes and swift-water rescue training strongly advised.

This excerpt was also published on
"Packraft Rating (PR) System," by Roman Dial. (ISSN 1537-0364)., 2008-06-24 00:15:00-06.