Packraft with spray deck removed to show inflatable floor. 

Top view of garbage bag packraft.

Garbage bag inflation bladder for main tube.

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David's Homemade Garbage Bag Packraft

Updated 9/20/2014

Earlier this year I began planning an adventure for the summer of 2015 that will require a packraft.  Given my previous experience in boatbuilding and marine canvas fabrication, it was almost a foregone conclusion that I'd try designing and building one.  Following is a description of the recently completed craft.  Here's a link to my Youtube video of the packraft.

The packraft is a fairly conventional size and shape, 38" wide x 92" long.  The main tube is 12" in diameter and each of the 3 floor tubes are 5" in diameter.  The boat is self bailing.  The total weight of the packraft is 4 lb. 13 oz., including deck, spray skirt, back cushion and inflation bag.

My aim was to develop a capable but low-cost packraft that could be home-built using an ordinary sewing machine.  I mostly succeeded, with the exception noted below.  The design involves fabricating inflation tubes made of nylon fabric.  Inside each tube is an air bladder made of heat-welded plastic garbage bags.  I initially used an iron and wax paper to weld the bags, then found a Food Saver brand food sealer at a second hand store for $10.  It's much quicker to use than the iron.  The skin of the main tube, floor tubes and bottom of the raft are made from 1.9 oz. uncoated ripstop nylon fabric. 
I decided to use uncoated nylon because the nylon skin of the boat would be difficult to dry out if coated nylon was used.  This has worked out well and the raft is easy to dry out after use.  The deck and spray skirt assembly attaches to the main tube with velcro and is made of 1.9 oz. coated ripstop nylon.  This has also worked out quite well. 

I'm quite happy with the size, shape and functioning of the finished raft, as well as the spray deck and spray skirt.  What hasn't worked well so far is preventing the garbage bag bladders from developing leaks.  I've experimented with 2 mil and 3 mil bags and while the latter is better, it's still too unreliable.  The packraft has worked fine for flat water, but going through surf caused enough stress that the garbage bag bladders developed some leaks.  I'll continue to work on the inflation bladder issue and will report here when and if I make progress on it.

Finished garbage bag packraft with pack strapped to deck.