Why: Open a whole new world of backcountry exploration with these revolutionary rafts. At a scant 4 pounds each, the inflatable craft are easily packed in to hard-to-reach headwaters, remote lakes, and other distant put-ins. And these are no toy blow-ups. In New Zealand, after heavy rain kicked the Shotover River into high gear, we paddled through wave trains and flood debris, dragged the boats across rocks-then did it again because it was so much fun. How does it handle? It’s not made for long flatwater paddles, but on rivers the Alpacka is more nimble than a raft and more stable than a hard-shell kayak, and with the optional spray deck ($150, 1 lb. 5 oz.) you can navigate whitewater without swamping (we’ve heard reports of expert paddlers managing Class IV). Space is tight,
but with a pack lashed over the bow you can sit comfortably with feet extended. Stiffen and pad the bottom with your self-inflating mattress.
Who: Anyone who wants to run wilderness waterways, safely ford big rivers, or fish backcountry lakes.
How much: $595
Weight: 4 lbs. 4 oz., with lashing cord (for the midsize Yukon Yak, also available in smaller and larger models). Alpacka also plans a model with a welded-on spray deck ($775).
Contact: (907) 688-8005, www.alpackaraft.com.