Choosing the best foldable kayak
Thanks to the efforts of early pioneers such as Alfred Heurich, Johannes Klepper, Walter Hohn, and Frank Goodman, the sports of sea kayaking and kayak touring are now very popular recreational activities in many countries around the world.
However, while it is a simple matter for us to grab our luggage and hop on a plane to far off destinations, it is not so simple for us to take our favorite hard-shell kayak with us. Consequently, the traveling kayaker is often at the mercy of the destination outfitter to provide proper kayaks but, as so often happens, what they get instead is an ill fitting and poorly suited plastic kayak of generic design.
TRAK Kayaks Performance Folding Kayak (Yellow)
Our favorite for 2016
A great value option
Folbot Touring Cooper Foldable and Portable Kayak
A great touring kayak
However, there is another alternative when traveling that enables you to take your kayak with you in a backpack or duffle bag. Yep, it’s called a “folding kayak” and there are, at present, ten different well known manufacturers consisting of Klepper, Folbot, Feathercraft, Trak, Triton Advanced, Long Haul, Nautraid, Packboats, Pouch, and Oru.
In addition, although some of these companies use wood frames and some use aluminum frames, they all (except Oru) manufacturer skin-on-frame kayak models that can be completely disassembled for transport. Therefore, by choosing a particular model of folding kayak that possess the necessary levels of initial and secondary stability and the amount of speed and maneuverability needed, the traveling kayaker can now take their favorite craft with them anywhere they choose to paddle. Plus, because they reduce to such a small package, folding kayaks can be easily stored in apartments, dorm rooms, and/or offices and they can be transported in vehicles without roof racks.
Buyers guide – how to choose the best foldable kayak
However, when choosing a folding kayak, you need to be aware that the same factors that affect sea kayak performance also affect folding kayak performance and thus, you must also make the same decisions regarding initial stability versus secondary stability and speed versus maneuverability. Therefore, you need to be aware that kayaks with soft chines have a higher degree of initial stability and lower degree of secondary stability whereas, kayaks with hard chines have a lower degree of initial stability and a higher degree of secondary stability.
In addition, it should be noted that kayaks with wide beams have a higher degree of initial stability and lower degree of secondary stability whereas, kayaks with narrow beams have a lower degree of initial stability and a higher degree of secondary stability. Furthermore, there is the issue of speed versus maneuverability. There again, as a general rule, longer and/or slimmer kayaks are faster and, vice versa, shorter and/or wider kayaks are slower. But, longer kayaks are also more difficult to turn than shorter kayaks whereas, shorter kayaks are easier to turn than longer kayaks. Then, there is the issue of volume. For instance, kayaks with low volumes have smaller cockpits and less load carrying capacity whereas, kayaks with high volumes have larger cockpits and higher load carrying capacities.
Furthermore, you should be aware that modern folding kayak manufacturers use either wood or aluminum frames and they each have advantages and disadvantages. For instance, wood frames are more flexible than aluminum frames and thus, they are more resilient. However, wood is also more subject to deterioration over time than aluminum is and thus, wood frames require more maintenance. On the other hand, aluminum frames are more rigid than wood frames and thus they often produce slightly more efficient hull designs and, while aluminum is subject to corrosion, it is not subject to rot. However, some paddlers argue that wood is the material traditionally used for skin-on-frame kayaks and thus, they feel that wood-framed kayaks are superior. Then, the there is the matter of the material used to construct the skin. Most manufacturers seem to feel that Hypalon is the fabric of choice but, you may also encounter kayaks with nylon skins. Last, you should also consider the average assembly time listed by the manufacturer because some kayaks can take significantly longer than others.
Prominent Examples of Modern Folding Kayaks
Folding kayaks are an excellent way for those with very limited space and/or the traveling paddler to enjoy the sport of kayaking because they often collapse to the size of a backpack. Therefore, below you will find a list of three folding kayaks from well known manufactures with a reputation for producing high quality products.
Trak Kayaks Seeker ST16 Folding Kayak The Trak ST-16 Seeker folding kayak is truly unique among folding kayaks because, not only is it a true, high-performance, kayak, it is also the only kayak in the world that changes shape upon demand. Featuring a hard-chined, West Greenland style, hull design with a folding frame made from Aerospace grade aluminum and tough, urethane, ribs covered with a military grade polyurethane skin, the Trak Seeker is truly a high performance folding kayak.
Plus, unlike any other folding kayak on the market today, the keelson of the Seeker features an integral jack that allows the paddler to stretch or compress the length of the keelson once the boat is assembled to create either less rocker for enhanced tracking or more rocker for increased maneuverability; thus enabling the paddler to adapt the shape of the kayak to changing water conditions. In addition, once you have learned the process, the Seeker can be assembled in as 10 minutes! Thus, it is one of the fastest and easiest folding kayaks on the market to assemble and, because it it collapses down to fit in its own, wheeled, bag that it roughly equal to the size as a golf bag, you can easily transport it just about anywhere.
Mass Weight: 49 lbs.
Assembly time: Ten minutes or less
Capacity: 300 lbs.
Frame material: Aluminum
Folbot Cooper Folding Kayak The Cooper folding kayak by Folbot is a favorite touring model from one of the oldest manufacturers of folding kayaks still in business. In fact, Walter Hohn patented his first folding kayak in 1928 and the company that he founded is still making high quality folding kayaks today. Therefore, Folbots incorporate the nostalgia of a nearly 100 year old company with modern materials and designs to produce some the world’s best, modern, folding kayaks. On the Cooper model, the frame consists of just five parts and most of them are shock-corded assemblies of aluminum tubing and thus, with a little practice, most paddlers should be able to assemble the entire kayak in under twenty minutes.
Once assembled, the paddler will have a well designed, lightweight, hard-chined, skin-on-frame kayak very reminiscent of British-style hard shell sea kayaks. In addition, due to its 16.5 foot length, it is reasonably fast and yet, also fairly maneuverable and, with a beam 24″, it provides plenty of initial stability for novice to intermediate paddlers. Plus, when dissembled, it fits into its own heavy-duty nylon backpack weighing a mere 40 lbs. so that you can easily transport it to any location where there is water for you to paddle on.
Type: Sit-inside/Day touring
Length: 16′ 6″
Mass Weight: 39 lbs.
Assembly time: Unknown
Capacity: 275 lbs.
Fame material: Aluminum
Oru Bay Folding Kayak For those of you who enjoy paddling on protected waters such as creeks, estuaries, swamps, and marshes, the Bay folding kayak by Oru is an excellent choice. Even more unique than the Trak ST-16 Seeker listed above, the Oru Bay folding kayak is literally a “folding” kayak in the truest sense. With a skin that is made from a rigid, double layer, polypropylene material, the Bay folding kayak eliminates the need for a rigid frame and instead uses the ancient art of Origami to enable the rigid skin to unfold to form the shape of the kayak. Plus, with just two removable bulkheads and a floorboard under the seat to provide added rigidity and a single waterproof seam along the center of the deck to seal the hull, the Bay is an extremely lightweight kayak that would be perfect for paddlers with smaller statures.
Furthermore, due to its rigid, folding, shell, the Bay provides paddles with the performance of a hard shell kayak combined with the convenience of a folding kayak. In addition, due to the fact that all that is required to assemble the kayak is to remove it from its box, unfold it, insert the bulkheads and floorboard, and fasten the waterproof deck seams together, the Bay requires no technical expertise to assemble and it can be fully assembled and ready to paddle in five minutes! Last, it also features classic West Greenland design with hard chines to create a kayak with a high degree of secondary stability and excellent response to leaned turns.
Mass Weight: 26 lbs.
Assembly time: Unknown
Capacity: 300 lbs.
Frame material: Aluminum
So, thanks to Alfred Heurich, Johannes Klepper, and Walter Hohn, who started the folding kayak revolution in the early 1900’s, modern paddlers who have a need for safe, but highly portable, touring kayaks can now enjoy the sport right alongside those who own plastic or composite sea kayaks without the need for extensive storage space or the need for a specialized roof rack for their vehicles.
In addition, traveling paddlers are no longer at the mercy of whatever type of kayak the outfitter at their chosen destination has to offer and instead, they can now bring along their very own, high performance, folding kayak. Last, due to the use of modern materials and construction methods, folding, skin-on-frame, kayaks are virtually puncture proof and thus, they are every bit as safe or safer than plastic or composite kayaks.