APA Blog

Packrafts: A Game-Changing Tool in Adventure Racing

June 26, 2024

The use of packrafts in adventure racing has evolved dramatically since their introduction by packrafting pioneer Dick Griffiths in the early years of the Alaska Wilderness Classic. Initially conceived as a solution for navigating the rugged Alaskan wilderness, packrafts quickly proved indispensable for crossing rivers and lakes that would otherwise pose insurmountable obstacles. As Roman Dial describes in his book "Packrafting!", Griffiths' pioneering use of packrafts transformed the Classic into a packrafting wilderness race, where competitors honed their skills in both packing and rafting. Today, teams like Bend Racing and adventure racing athlete Chelsey Magness, exemplify how packrafts have become essential tools in adventure racing, enhancing navigation across diverse terrains and pushing the boundaries of what's achievable in extreme endurance competitions.

The American Packrafting Association recently had the opportunity to speak with Chelsey Magness about her experiences in adventure racing and the pivotal role packrafts play in her missions.

How Did Your Journey into Adventure Racing Begin?

My journey in adventure racing began on a 4th date with my now husband Jason Magness. He asked me to do a 6 hour race outside of Tucson, Arizona. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but if he was doing it, I was in. We ended up winning. I was exhausted, cut up, dirty and immediately hooked.

What Are Adventure Races Like for Those Who Haven't Participated Before?

Adventure Races are sometimes described as scavenger hunts for adults. However, instead of clues, you get a map and compass and instead of treats at every point, you get to mark your passport with an orienteering flag that is in the middle of the woods, in a cave or high up on top of a mountain. For hours or days (depending on how long the race is) teams of 4 bike, paddle, run/ trek and climb their way across an unmarked course using their navigation and teamwork skills to get to the finish line.

How Does Packrafting Factor into Adventure Racing?

Over the past ten years packrafting has become very popular in adventure racing thanks to our team! For many years we would go on big missions using packrafts to get us across lakes and down rivers in the middle of nowhere. When we started going to bigger races, like the Patagonian Expedition Race we would take our ultra light packrafts and use them on the big treks to get down rivers and across lakes. Once we began putting on races ourselves, we intentionally made packrafting mandatory because it opened us up to so much more exciting terrain. Now, most teams have packrafts of their own and it has become a big part of the sport!

Can You Share Some Memorable Experiences from Your Adventure Racing Career?

In my 15 years of adventure racing I have had so many amazing experiences. From seeing countless sunsets and sunrises to overcoming emotional and physical obstacles with my teammates to being able to paddle down the most beautiful and wild rivers - adventure racing has made me the person I am today and keeps shaping me into the person I want to become. One of the most unforgettable experiences I have had is seeing the most beautiful and largest rainbow I have seen in Patagonia and it telling me that I was pregnant with our son. Another is getting to go to so many countries and see them in a way that not many people get to see them. I have ridden over a gigantic anaconda snake in Brazil, seen a kiwi bird in New Zealand, climbed to the highest point in Costa Rica, met indigenous people who live off the jungle in Ecuador, and have hiked for 100's of miles on ancient paths in Spain. It's an amazing sport that changes your perspective on both the world and your relationships with others and yourself.

How Has MRS Supported You and Your Team in Your Adventure Racing Endeavors?

MRS has supported us by supplying our team with the most durable, lightest and fastest  double packrafts  on the market. They also listen to our feedback and execute on our requested changes and are super responsive with gear that we need before races. For our last race in Faroe Islands, where there was a huge packraft trek, they sent us their lightest double and single to use. It was exciting to be able to use gear that was not out yet! We really enjoy working with them because of their openness to innovation. Because of their support, our team is able to race around the world knowing that we have some of the best packrafts out there.

Founded in 2007, MRS have become a preferred choice among competitive adventure race teams for their exceptional performance in paddle sections. Elite international teams in particular praise the tandem Barracuda packraft for its speed, excellent tracking and responsiveness. MRS's commitment to adventure racing includes their sponsorship of Bend Racing, showcasing their support for top teams in the sport. Their backing of the American Packrafting Association also demonstrates their commitment to nurturing the growth of packrafting as a sport.

For more information visit MRS's website.

About Chelsey Magness

Chelsey's favorite part of racing is exploring places that very few people get to see and gaining perspectives she might never experience in "normal" life. Whether racing across remote icebergs, developing innovative acro sets, or balancing a thousand feet above ground on a slackline, all while chasing her wild son Max and toddler Revel Wilder, Chelsey loves to take whatever she's into that day to the next level. When not sleep-deprived in the jungle, she can be found sipping a horchata latte, climbing, or enjoying Dan's BBQ.

Photos provided by BendRacing