Small inflatable boats are changing how backcountry explorers navigate the mountain range between British Columbia and Alberta. By Ray Schmidt

Packrafts are purpose-built, brightly coloured inner tubes wrapped in what can only be described as black bondage restraints. They’re the size of a one-person tent, weigh under four kilograms, and can easily be stowed in a backpack or on a bike rack. When you get to the water, all it takes is a few minutes of inflation into a one-way valve and the raft is ready for action. Some models even have spots inside the raft tubes where you can stow gear.

Above: Cline River. Top: Red Deer River. Photos by Adam Greenberg.

They have been around since the early 80s, when Alaskan adventure racers began crushing course records by skipping overland sections and floating rivers to the finish line on cheap inflatables, but they’ve improved over the years. In 2002, Sherri Tingley of Alpacka Raft in Alaska dramatically enhanced their design and durability by using nylon and urethane, ushering in the modern era of packrafting.

Adventurers are still exploring the limits of what a packraft can accomplish, and some have tackled wilderness rivers in the Kootenay Rockies to create link ups. Here is a list of five hike-accessible packrafting trips in the region that might convince you to join the pack.