The Major Manufacturers
Some of the better-known makers of folding boats:
Atlatl. Following a promising introduction in 2004, this new Chinese import disappeared from the market a few years later. Reportedly the boat was plagued by production and quality problems, and a correspondant at the Hamburg Globeboat show tells me that the sample displayed there didn’t attract any distributor interest. Here in the US, the sole distributor (Folding Kayak Adventures) no longer carries the boat.
Bergans (Ally) Bergans of Norway have sold folding canoes for many years under the Ally name. Bergans currently offers five canoe models and one 5.2m kayak. The kayak is a bit unusual in construction. It’s around 18′ long, which makes it among the longest singles made. Unique among folders, it has a cable that can be used to vary the amount of rocker in the hull by varying the tension on the cable.
Sea Kayaker gave this boat excellent marks for performance but noted it was the most difficult boat to assemble they’d encountered, and includes a rubber mallet to assist the process! (The manufacturer replied that once left assembled for a while, the hull and frame take a set and subsequent assemblies become easier.)
Aqua-Xtreme A brand new manufacturer from Israel. No user reports yet, but I hope to have a review boat to try next Spring. The makers tell me that the boat has been launched in Australia, and that they hope to hit the European and US markets this summer.
Their web site has undergone a number of changes, with more details and more photos of their boats, so it’s worth a visit if you haven’t seen it in a while. One interesting addition is the availability of transparent hull material. I’ll try to keep you appraised of future changes. Watch this space. [Another company that seems to have disappeared. I never heard from them again]
Folbot. As of March, 2016, Folbot has suspended all business operations, but there’s still hope someone will step in and buy the assets and start the company up again. I’m leaving this page intact for that reason.
Folbot was originally an English company, founded in 1933 by a German émigré by the name of Jack Kissner. He moved the company to New York in 1935, and then to South Carolina in 1953, where he expanded the line into a wide variety of boats. Jack passed away in 1983, but then a group of investors led by a sharp engineer named Phil Cotton bought the company, modernized and simplified the line, and replaced the old wood frame construction with aluminum and synthetics. [Phil sold the company to a group of investors, who sold the company again a few years later, and that last group of owners shut the company down.]
Folbots are among the least expensive folding kayaks on the market and an excellent value for the budget conscious paddler. They’re stable, great for beginners and yet have been taken on more than a few long trips. They’re not of the same quality and ruggedness of a Long Haul, or a Klepper, or a Feathercraft, but they’re plenty strong for most uses. A very few buyers have reported problems with skin shrinkage under certain conditions, but the company has remedied this every time it’s been reported. And they assemble very quickly- I assembled an Aleut for the first time in under 10 minutes, and I can do a Greenland II in 15-20. Phil is constantly responding to customer suggestions and improving the boats, making them more comfortable, seaworthy and reliable. Recent mods include an excellent new seat and rigid aluminum coamings that stiffen the boat and improve performance, and new all-aluminum ribs that replace the injection molded plastic ribs and greatly increase interior room.
Folbot currently makes nine boats ranging from the 10′, 24 pound Citibot ($999) to the 17′ 62 pound Greenland II, a double that can take a 600 lb load ($2399). In between are narrow performance boats, wide boats suitable for casual paddling and fishing, and rugged boats suitable for expeditioning.
Folbot has an absolute 100% customer-must-be-satisfied policy. If you don’t like your boat after paddling it, they’ll take it back, no questions asked, and issue a full refund minus depreciation for damage (if any). They used to have a sale once a year (late summer or early fall) during which all prices are cut around 15% but announced in March of 2003 that they were switching to a year-round fixed price. Their web site is among the best of all makers of folders, with details on construction and a tour of the Folbot factory, and an online store, where you can order boats, accessories and parts. The Folbot web site has a handy bulletin board, the “Folbot Forum”, where users can exchange tips, pictures, used boats and stories.
Feathercraft. As of November 2016, Feathercraft has closed their business. They do have a some parts they’ll be selling until their supply is exhausted. I’m leaving this article for historical reasons.
Canada’s Feathercraft is probably the most innovative maker of folding kayaks out there, with many unique designs, materials and accessories. Factory support is said to be first-rate. (One correspondent, who lives a few blocks from the factory, tells me Feathercraft repaired a loose hinge pin while he waited.) Their boats use a variety of modern materials- aluminum longerons, polyethylene and polycarbonate ribs, and a variety of synthetic deck materials. The hulls were originally hypalon, but the newest boats use polyurethane, a material that’s difficult to work with but has strength, weight and fabrication advantages.
Feathercraft makes a tremendous range of boats, including a very high-performance, narrow Greenland style boat (probably the fastest boat of any of the folders), and more traditional folding singles and doubles. They currenly have 13 kayaks, ranging from the $2670 Kurrent to the $7240 K2 expedition double. In 2002 they announced a range of four folding sit-on-top kayaks- certainly a first for the industry. The new boats aren’t folders so much as inflatables with a folding frame. More recently they introduced several small inflatables suitable for river running, including the backpackable 2.9 Kg BayLee ($1,195).
The older (pre-1998) Feathercraft kayaks have a reputation for being difficult to assemble- but if done right, even the most complex of the Feathercrafts goes together in a straightforward manner. The newer boats are have a number of improvements that simplify assembly and make them easier to assemble. The first time I assembled a pre-1998 K1 Expedition it took me an hour and 15 minutes, using the factory instructions but not the video. The second time it took me 35 minutes, and since then it’s I’ve gradually gotten it down to under 30 minutes with practice. The 1998-99 version of the Feathercraft K1 single goes together much faster, owing to the new dimensionally stable skin and improved frame design. The year 2000 and beyond boats add a heat-welded urethane deck and hull that chops pounds off the weight and makes it easier to handle, too. (Ralph Diaz has a sheet of assembly tricks he’ll supply in return for an SASE that can speed up assembly of this and other boats; a version of this can also be found in the Assembly Tips page.) Randy Henriksen of New York Kayak told me some years ago that the K-light is one of the easiest boats to assemble on the market- something I’ve heard echoed by other K-light owners. The K-Light’s replacements- the Kahuna and Big Kahuna- are similar; I managed to assemble a Big Kahuna in 30 minutes on my first try, and I could probably do it in 20 minutes with practice. The Feathercraft web site is an excellent one, with pictures and descriptions of all Feathercraft products, and assembly manuals for all their boats.
There’s a Feathercraft blog at http://fckayaks.wordpress.com/
[1997 Feathercraft K1]
First Light. This is a new (2002) boat coming from New Zealand; if you’re a Folding Kayak Newsletter subscriber you’ve already read about it. I’ve been speaking with First Light’s Martin Ross who tells me he expects to launch the boat in the US this April or May. They now have two boats. The first boat is a 4.2 meter boat with a maximum load of 265 pounds and a weight of 17 lbs! Quite an accomplishment. The newer 480 is 4.8 meters (15′ 9″) in length and 22 lbs in weight.. Martin tells me that the First Light boats will be intended for recreational, not expedition use, but in New Zealand, recreational use involves some pretty rough paddling. The line will be gradually expanded with longer and perhaps wider boats as well.
Fujita. Fujita doesn’t appear to currently have a US distributor, but that may change.. Founded in 1947 by the father of the current owner, Fujita produces several thousand canoes and kayaks every year, ranging from short day trippers to long expedition singles and doubles. Construction is significantly different from any of the European boats on the market. Most Fujitas use tubular fiberglass longerons (similar to paddle shafts, but narrower, according to Fujitai North America) and marine plywood ribs, keels and cockpit floors. Hulls are Kevlar reinforced polyester with polyester and PVC decks, and all are RF welded. They also have a few less expensive models with aluminum frames and welded PVC hulls. Prices range from $1895 for a 12′ touring boat to $2895 for the largest touring boat. They appear to be similar to the Feathercraft kayaks in appearance, and come in compact backpacks, like the Feathercrafts. I’ll add more info as I get it. In the meantime see the Fujita 500 review in the January 2002 issue of Sea Kayaker.
[Fujita 480 Touring kayak]
Innova is known mainly as a maker of high-quality whitewater inflatables, but the new Innova Seaker is a high-performance inflatable sea kayak. I’m listing it here, and not in the inflatable section, as Innova’s Tim Rosenhan tells me that it’s designed to go head-to-head with the high-end folders; at a price of $2499 (single) to $2999 (double) Innova is certainly targeting the high end of the market. I hope to have a sample for review in the next month, after which we’ll see how accurate Tim’s claim is! The boats certainly are attractive for their small packed size; weightwise, they’re up there with Long Haul expedition boats.
Grabner. I haven’t included Grabner in the past, as they’ve been known mainly as a maker of inflatable boats. But not too long ago they introduced their hybrid Discovery single an double kayaks which include both rigid and inflatable componants, much like the Feathercraft AIrline series. I’m hoping either one of our readers or I can get our hands on one in the near future for a test paddle.
Klepper. Klepper was for years the name in folding kayaks, and indeed it was a stock Klepper double that Dr. Hannes Lindemann crossed the Atlantic with in 1956. Klepper kayaks have probably been used on more expeditions to remote parts of the world than any other folding boat. Kleppers use wood frames with well-made fittings that allow quick assembly with practice (and after the snap connectors are worn in a bit). I can do a broken-in Aerius I in 15 minutes without hurrying; adding rudder and floatation bags adds another 5 minutes, perhaps. (Occasionally you see misaligned fittings on Kleppers that make assembly more difficult; these can be fixed my re-mounting) One unique feature of the Kleppers (and the Long Haul) is a cotton and hemp canvas deck that is waterproof when wet yet makes the boats very cool below decks, owing to the evaporative cooling and breathability of the fabric.
Klepper’s line has long included a wooden framed double, a single, a mini, and an aluminum framed mini. The wooden single and double are available in basic and expedition models, with reinforced hulls and extra deck hardware, and the double is also available in a civilianized military model called the Quattro that’s probably the most stable and seaworthy kayak ever made. In addition to the various Expedition features, the Quattro has a second set of inflatable sponsons that can be inflated to change the hull profile and increase buoyancy. Klepper expanded the range of colors offered in 2000, and boats can now be purchased in red, burgundy, orange, mint, olive, violet, harlequin (a mix of the other colors) and NATO’s preferred color, black. (My Klepper double is red- a good color for being seen.)
In 2002 they announced two new models and renamed one: The XXL is an enlarged version of the classic Aerius II. The XXL is 585 cm in length (19’2″) and can seat up to 4 paddlers. The A2000 is now the Tramp.
The most interesting boat, the T9/02, isn’t really a new boat, but the reintroduction of an old Klepper model, the T9. And it’s not actually made by Klepper at all, but by LFM (Lychener Faltbootmanufaktur GbR), an organization that grew out of the workshop of the Folding Boat Museum (Historisches Faltbootkabinett.) and that is mainly concerned with the reconstruction and rebuilding of other boats. LFM bought the rights to all the old T models from Klepper, so we may see even more old designs reintroduced. (Thanks to Dirk Bredow of the LFM for the details. ). The T9/02 is a narrower boat than the Aerius I, with an overall length of 450cm (14’9″) and a beam of 66cm (26″) compared to the Aerius I’s 72cm (28″) beam. That’s a custom T9 from LFM on the right. As of this writing I don’t know if any have been imported into the US.
Klepper’s most recent introduction (January 2004) is the Langeiner, or long single. The Lang Einer owes much to the Long Haul Mk-I, which it resembles greatly, much as the Long Haul designs were initially inspired by the Kleppers and other German boats of that era. The Langeiner is a 4.9 meter (16′ 4″) version of the Aerius I, but otherwise identical. Klepper states that the extra foot of length delivers more leg room, better tracking, higher speed and more cargo carryingability.
Klepper offers a wide variety of accessories, including spraydecks, rudders, and a great selection of sails ranging from simple downwind sails to full marconi rigs with jib, mainsail, and leeboards. Quality like this isn’t cheap; while the new Alu is competitively priced at $1900, the wooden-framed singles cost from $3200 to $3800. Are they worth it? Kleppers can easily last 50 years or more, with little maintenance, and their resale value is very good. Their web site has a good description of the boats, construction, company history and stories about the boats, but no accessory information.
A few years ago Klepper signed with an exclusive US distributor, but Klepper West are once again importing boats directly from Klepper in Germany. The new American Klepper distributor has a lot of information on their website but nothing on dealers; I’ve suggested to the owner that a directory of dealers would be a nice thing to have for prospective buyers. However, if you go to the Klepper factory website you’ll find information on all the US Klepper dealers. The US Klepper distributor is also now selling Kleppers directly to consumers, as www.boatsinbags.com. I’m curious as to how this will affect the ability of their dealers to compete with them. (I’d also be interested to hear from anyone who purchased their boat direct from Klepper USA.)
Update: The US distributor is now advertising themselves as a “factory outlet store” as well, which suggests they’re undercutting their own dealers.
Until a few years ago, Mark Ekhart of Long Haul was Klepper’s US service agent; as of this writing, the US distributor of Klepper doesn’t have a service repair organization, but longtime Klepper importer and dealer Klepper West Boats, does stock replacement parts, and Mark Ekhart still does the best repair and restoration work in the US.
As of 2013, just about all Klepper manufacturing has been outsourced to Wayland Folding Kayaks of Poland. Klepper of Rosenheim, Germany, will continue on as a sales organization. Wayland has a good reputation, but their work has been variable at times. The latest reports in the Forum suggest that Wayland’s quality is not of the same quality as the boats that were produced in Rosenheim. Given that Wayland sells the same boats it builds for Klepper under its own name, and markets them at a lower price, many are wondering how long Klepper can last as a viable firm.