First, if you can, visit a dealer who’ll let you try out a boat, or perhaps a kayak club where others will let you try their boats. You’ll save a lot of time and trouble, and you’ll be able to have your questions answered right away. Unfortunately that’s not an option for most of us, so it’s important to carefully research your choice before you buy. Any of the dealers listed above will help the mail-order buyer select the right boat for them.
Your first decision is what size boat you want. Minis, like the Klepper pictured here, are great for portability. Many come in a small backpack that can be comfortable carried by an average sized person. A number of kayakers have found that minis are the perfect answer for lightweight adventure travel. Lighter paddlers can carry enough camping gear for a week or two in a mini. Others have found minis great for European travel, paddling them though canals, lakes and rivers. At a typical weight of 40 lbs. (or less) for a mini kayak and a typical length of 12′ overall, a traveler can easily carry a mini and a backpack on extended trips. Minis do have weight and size limits; the Folbot Aleut has a rated maximum load of 250 lbs ( although someone at Folbot once told me that 210 lbs. is a more practical limit). I use my Aleut strictly for short trips, carrying nothing more than lunch and fishing gear, but Bill Longyard and others have done major trips in theirs. Many people find the Feathercraft K-Light to be all the kayak they need for extended camping. At 6’2″, most minis are also far too small for me to use comfortably; the Aleut is an exception owing to the easily adjustable seat and the large open cockpit. My Aleut ends up getting used a lot because I can toss it in the back of my wagon whenever there’s even a slight chance of getting paddling time in. Smaller paddlers (smaller than 6’2″) often find that the various minis from Folbot, Pakboats, Nautiraid, Klepper and Feathercraft are perfect for them. There are always exceptions; I received a note from pilot John Bell, who’s 6’2″ and 230 lbs and travels with a Feathercraft K-Light.
If a mini is too small for you, you might consider a single kayak, like this Klepper Aerius I. There’s an increasingly wide range of full-sized singles in the 14 to 17 foot range available from all of the folding kayak makers. Most of the full-sized singles can carry a load (paddler + cargo) in excess of 500 pounds; that’s enough for quite a long unsupported trip. Even so, you’ll want to check fit if you’re over 6′ tall or heavier than average. I was surprised at first at how snug I was in a Klepper Aerius I; there’s less leg room than in a smaller (but wider) Folbot Aleut. Skinnier tall people will have fewer problems with the Aerius I, though they may want to add moveable foot braces; a number of the 1999 issues of the Folding Kayak newsletter discussed ideas for making footrests. (I had an Aeirus I and sold it and bought a double, thinking the single was too small for a 6’2″ 200+ lb paddler; after working on my skills, I came to prefer the single, so I bought an Aerius I to complement it.)
If a single is still too small, or if you think you’ll regularly be paddling with a friend or mate, consider a double, like the Nautiraid Grand Raid seen here. A lot of 280lb+ paddlers find a double folding boat is perfect for them. Here, the choice of cockpit type becomes significant; those boats with open cockpits can more easily be converted to solo use, a big plus if you only own one boat. Still, a double can be a lot of extra boat to carry around, and after two years of ownership, I found I never paddled my Greenland II with anyone else in it! The Long Haul, Klepper, Nautiraid, Folbot and Pouch doubles and the Feathercraft open cockpit double are all easily converted to solo use. The Nautiraids and Feathercraft require no extra parts; the Klepper Aerius II can be ordered with simple modifications to allow easier solo seat mounting ($45 is a 1998 quote), and the Folbot requires only an inexpensive kit consisting of three replacement ribs. All three have solo spraydecks available at prices comparable to the standard double spraydecks.
I found that Nautiraid Raid II is actually a little short for me to squeeze into the rear seat (the larger Grand Raid would be a good fit) but I’ve been told by a number of paddlers that it makes an excellent single, particularly for a large or tall person. If you’re traveling with a lot of gear, any double can be paddled solo with no modifications at all; you simply distribute your travel gear to balance the boat and paddle from the front or rear position. That’s how Lindemann sailed and paddled his Klepper accross the Atlantic.
Another consideration is the intended use of the boat- and the user. Folders differ greatly in their geometry. They range from very beamy boats, like the Folbot Aleut and Yukon, and the discontinued Sigmas, that are extremely stable but give up some speed to faster boats, to the Feathercraft K-1, Folbot Cooper, or even the Feathercraft Khatsalano, a very narrow Greenland-style boat that requires practiced kayak technique, including the mastery of the various rolls, braces and sculling strokes. If you’re into speed and technique, you may find the Khatsalano is the boat for you; if you’d a like a boat for fishing, sailing or as a dive platform, you’ll probably want one of the wider boats. In between are boats like the Feathercraft singles that have good secondary stability but are narrow enough to offer high performance. Paddler size comes into play here as well; a boat that’s stable for an average sized paddler is going to be a lot more tender for a very tall paddler who is carrying weight higher up. I learned this through experimentation in a rather unexpected and surprising way while practicing the stability moves found in Ralph Diaz’s book. Raising or lowering a seat an inch or two can significantly affect stability, too.
Consider also the material used in the boat’s construction. The older Pouch boats, the Nautiraid Touring Raid and some other less expensive boats have hulls made of reinforced PVC, a material that’s cheaper than the hypalon and polyurethane used in more expensive boats. While the PVC used is a quality material, 3M (who make both resins) say it’s not as abrasion resistant or long wearing as Hypalon- although Marion Gunkel tells me that he and others have taken Pouchs on some extended journeys, including trips in the Baltic and Mediterranean and some cross-Channel trips, and Ralph Hoehn will tell you that PVC is every bit as abrasion resistant at Hypalon. For most uses, a PVC hull will probably give you many years of good service. But if you plan to take your boat on camping trips, carrying a lot of gear and dragging the boat over abrasive rocks and beaches, you might want to pay for a more rugged hull material. And if you plan on extended trips over difficult and unknown terrain, coral reefs, sharp rocks and other rough surfaces, you may want a heavy-duty hull with extra reinforcement strips.
Frame material is anothr consideration. These days you can get boatswith frame parts made of wood, aluminum, various plastics and composites. There are good boats made of all these materials, but there are still differences in construction. The Long Hauls, Kleppers and ther higher-end Feathercrafts are made to withstand a degree of abuse that less expensive boats will not stand up to. The Long Haul and Klepper in particular are made with a degree of redundancy that results in a boat that can withstand tremendous abuse and still be seaworthy. Pouch boats are very similar. Nautiraids are built more lightly but still have a lot of redundancy.
Feathercraft’s higher-end boats, like the K-1 and K-2, are made of tremendously strong and resiliant materials; the only reason I’d rate them a bit below the wooden frame boats is that they have less redundancy; there are two critical parts on a Feathercraft that, if broken, would make it difficult or impossible to assemble the boat.
In lighter boats, the Feathercraft Kahuna, the Pakboats, and the Folbots are all very well built boats but are designed for somehwhat less abuse. They’re all fine for most kayak travel. There are many other boats I haven’t tried that have varying degrees of ruggedness, but one rule holds true: You get what you pay for And that brings up to…
The boats from the major manufacturers described above range in price from around $950 to $6500, and higher price does generally buy better design, more rugged construction and better quality. But all the boats mentioned above are made to a high standard of quality; none of them are junk. Even the cheapest of them, the Folbot Aleut, is a well engineered, fine performing boat. Don’t make the mistake of judging boats on price alone.
This page has the following sub pages.
- Build Your Own Folder
- The Folbot Citibot
- The Folbot Cooper
- The Feathercraft Gemini
- The Feathercraft Kahuna
- The Feathercraft Java and Pacific Action Sail
- The Feathercraft Wisper
- The Foldlite XK1220
- The Puch RZ96
- The Pakboats Puffin II and the Pouch ‘Single 2000’ E68
- The Seavivor Greenland Solo
- The TRAK Folding Kayak
- The Wayland Harpoon I
- The Long Haul Ute
- The Long Haul Mark I