It’s a peaceful day at Tuscany’s Lake Bilancino, and on a small, stony beach, a group of hikers is inflating rafts— with nary an air pump to spoil the quiet. Instead, these outdoors enthusiasts are catching air in what look like kitchen-size garbage bags and then squeezing the air into yellow dinghies that they’ve unrolled from waterproof backpacks. Packrafts, as these boats are known, were popularized in Alaska but have recently landed on Italian shores, thanks to the Fiesole-based water sports outfitter T-rafting.
While many travelers see Tuscany by bicycle, T-rafting owners Sebastian Schweizer and Enrico Pini Prato—both of whom have PhDs in freshwater ecology— are taking to the region’s many waterways. In addition to activities such as whitewater rafting and floating under the Ponte Vecchio, last season the company debuted this packrafting excursion, which begins about 20 miles from Florence. After a gentle hike through rolling countryside and forest from the Bosco ai Frati convent to the lake, participants unzip their backpacks to reveal a fold- able paddle and a one-person raft that weighs between 3.5 and 8 pounds. Once inflated, the rafts carry the paddlers to a picnic on the other shore. It takes just a few minutes to deflate and pack them up, at which point the group continues on, hiking past the 12th-century Castello del Trebbio and stopping for a wine tasting at a local farm.
“This is the cool thing about packrafting: A body of water doesn’t stop your hike or biking trip,” Schweizer says. “This equipment gives you incredible freedom, making water and land your gaming ground and opening your horizons.”
With its 250 miles of coastline, seven main islands, and dozens of lakes and riv- ers, Tuscany is particularly ripe for this sport. “We have beautiful rivers such as the Ombrone in Maremma—a wild area of Tuscany—or the nature reserves of the Upper Arno,” says Schweizer, who also loves packrafting around the region’s islands. “Walking in Mediterranean bush and paddling into the crystal-clear water during the same excursion is an unforgettable experience.” 1.5-hour trips from $40; 3-hour trips from $62, t-rafting.com