Full Dropstitch Inflatable Kayak Buying Guide

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22 thoughts on “Full Dropstitch Inflatable Kayak Buying Guide

  1. Brendan Farrell

    Hello

    Very good resource in relation to drop stitch kayaks. I’m surprised there is no mention of the Zray Drift anyway and where? Does anyone have options on this one. It seems to be similar to most of the other boats – with the exception that it does not have a moulded bow/stern. Based on the reviews I have read, this does not appear to have created issues with tracking.

    Pricewise it is a couple of hundred euro cheaper than the aqua marina tomahawk – and the standard package includes paddles – so appears to offer good value.

    Also the floor is fully removable. Based on what has been said there this may prove to be a good feature when it comes to removing grit/sand from inside the boat.

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  2. Mark

    Slight correction: “Even hybrid IKs with a fixed floor, like the Aquaglide Chelan…”
    I can confirm from experience that the Chelan’s have removable drop-stitch floors, as discussed in the comments of the Chelan 155 preview.

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  3. Chris S Post author

    Hi Simon,
    Not all FDS are necessarily tippy. Some are very wide and claim to be useable as an iSUP board. The new table ought to clarify, but it depends on how vertical the sides are (ie: it’s the ‘waterline width’ that counts).
    Any FDS works fine on flatwater, but then so does a vinyl cheapie. I’ve never tried or seen, but I’m not convinced a slab-sided, flat-floored, box profile FDS would work well on lumpy seas.
    When things get rough, neither does any IK, but a lower-boat with rounded sides ought to be less wind-prone and as slim as possible will be more efficient, which will matter if conditions change.
    Apart from branding mark-ups, the FDS price variation is hard to fathom, but I do wonder if the table has helped reveal that pricier boats are quite a lot lighter (ie: better designed; not slapping layer upon layers of PVC).
    I’ve not looked too hard for Glider reviews, but it’s probably identical to the others in this price category, but with different colours and fittings.
    The 380X is nearly a metre wide (depending on which source you view). It’s worth holding your hands a metre apart to realise just how wide that is (for a kayak). In the UK SE don’t really represent good value. There are other DS-floored IKs I’ve previewed recently which I’s sooner choose.
    Looking forward to getting back on the rivers ;-)

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  4. petethecat91

    Thanks for all the advice on the purchase, and the maintenance of the boat. I will certainly inform you on the quality and handling of the boat, whichever model I choose. And also, if I figure out some more practical way of cleaning/drying the boat, I will certainly share my knowledge here. I am usually skilled at these “life hack” activities, and will study the boat and all its possibilities thoroughly when I get it :)

    I have one final question on the topic in which you have a lot more experience. Is there a usual price oscillation from this moment to the next summer?

    Having in mind that there is a slim chance they will deliver my boat in time to do any serious paddling this fall (though you never know how the weather will be like, I have some nice thick neoprene that I used for sailing), I was wondering would it be better if I wait until the winter before I order, or does the price remain more or less the same throughout the year? For used boats I am sure this is the case (i.e. prices oscillate), however, I don’t know whether manufacturers/retail shops drop their prices during winter?

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    1. Chris S Post author

      We all look forward to reading impressions of your new boat ;-)
      Regarding price: demand far outstripped supply this summer, though I still don’t understand why it’s taking everyone so long to catch up. Maybe the whole supply chain got disrupted. As a result, I don’t see prices going down (Gumotex are going up 15% in 2021, fore sure), nor will there be many big, end-of-season clearance sales as there is nothing to sell.
      So, apart from tracking private / used sales on eBay etc, I would buy when you can.

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  5. petethecat91

    Hello to all fellow water sports enthusiasts (I am not saying fellow kayakers, because I am still not experienced with kayaks, however, I practiced both rowing and sailing in the past, so I am not a complete noob when it comes to boats 😊

    Firstly, I must say that this is the most serious and comprehensive article on this subject I have found so far, and thank you for your knowledge you have shared here.

    I would love if you could advise me on two models of full DS IK I am considering whether to buy at this moment.

    First one is the Aqua Marina Tomahawk Air C, which I can get for around 880 EUR, and the second one is the BIC YakkAir full HP3, which I can get for around 1.200 – 1.300 EUR (both boats are new).

    My question basically is – is the HP3 so much better to justify the around 400 EUR price difference, or if you put it the other way – is the Tomahawk so much lower in quality to justify this difference? I haven’t seen any differences in specs which would indicate this, and the basic construction of both boats seems pretty similar to me, i.e. I don’t see any feature of ether boat as advantageous compared to the other one (except the obvious price issue).

    I am asking this question especially because you mentioned the Tomahawk in your article: „There are others sold on eBay, some offered direct from China where all FDS kayaks are made. Aquamarina Tomahawk is one“….

    Thank you for your help, this is the only way for me to make a decent judgement, having in mind that I will not be able to see ether model live, before I order it.

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    1. Chris S Post author

      Glad the article was useful.
      The 400 euro question may be partly explained by BIC being a long-established French brand with boats made in Vietnam, not China. I get the feeling the sides of the Tomahawk Air C may be higher and, according to the data, the Tomahawk is 24 kilos vs 19 kilos BIC. This may not be accurate but I read this extra 5kg with the Tomahawk adds up to a pretty bulky boat to transport and so may be one that uses cheaper, bulkier materials.
      Not being able to see let alone try an expensive IK is always a problem. If possible, buy from a place that lets you return it for a full refund if you don’t like the look of it.

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      1. petethecat91

        Chris,

        Thank you very much for your quick reply.

        Yes, I can see how BIC`s “tradition” and “brand name” can add up to price difference, however having in mind such a big price difference, I was frankly concerned that maybe Tomahawk is notorious for unreliability or something similar, that was the main reason for my question. This is specially the case because I also read the article you were referring to, about the guy who bought the boat directly from China, and was pretty satisfied with it. When I saw how cheap it was for him (below 500 EUR if I remember correctly), I thought to myself – why would I pay a ton of cash just for some brand name if there is no big difference in quality? I am not into that, and would be perfectly happy with a total no name boat, if the quality is good.

        The interesting thing is that I found the Tomahawk on the DS Kajaks web page, so I guess they are related in some way? Of course, I was searching for DS boats on the page, however, all the DS boats that are interesting to me are out of stock.

        As for the added weight, I am not so concerned about that, having in mind that I am 191cm tall, and weigh around 90kg (6ft3in//198lbs for all you imperial unit fans), and I am not planning on walking long distances with this boat on my back. If I am persuaded that Tomahawk`s quality and durability is comparable to BIC`s, I would really be indifferent to the weight difference.

        And for the end, one question that may be stupid, or may drive you to thinking (not sure if anyone tried this, or if it is doable). I see people complain about the DS floor which is not removable, nor completely sealed to prevent water/grit getting into space between the side panels and the floor. From the pictures I saw, they usually seal the space between side panels and floor partially, i.e. they leave an area at the bow and stern of the boat unsealed. As I don’t see any special purpose for this partially sealed panel connection for the boat integrity, why not try removing it altogether to make the boat easier to clean? (ether by cutting it, or in some more sophisticated way). I mean, there are boats with completely removable floors, which tells me that this point (where sides and the floor touch) is not a particularly “stress bearing” part of the boat, and if any more solid connection (if any is needed at all) is needed at this point, you can solve this by installing several good quality Velcro straps on parts of the side panels, and the flour, which would keep them together. In this way, I think you would get a boat that is much easier to clean and dry (even without completely removable floor).

        I don’t know if my idea makes any sense, I was thinking about the problem because both models (HP3 and Tomahawk) which are available to me have floors which are not removable.

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      2. Chris S Post author

        I too would be happy to take a chance to try an unbranded and no-warranty FDS IK if the price was right. There is one on ebay UK right now trying to pretend it is a Sea Eagle Razorlite.
        Not surprised to hear Aqua Marina and DS Kajak and Kxone and maybe more are all made or owned by one Chinese factory. You can read a Tomahawk review here.
        https://inflatablekayaksandpackrafts.com/2020/09/28/review-aqua-marina-tomahawk-air-k-375-full-drop-stitch-kayak/
        I think if Tomahawk had a bad reputation we would have heard about it pretty soon online.
        I have only seen this name is the last year or so. The question with all these FDS IKs is how will the PVC last compared to a synthetic rubber IK. Maybe with occasional summertime use and good care it does not matter so much.
        I am pretty sure any fixed FDS floor is glued to the outer 1000D PVC shell which usually has the drain. So to separate it would be quite a task. You would pass out from the solvent fumes before the job was finished ;-)
        I think with an FDS, a removable floor (combined with the inflatable keel idea) is well worth it.
        Maybe these ideas will percolate down in years to come.
        But the issue is only really drying and cleaning. Do that well enough (especially before long-term storage) and a fixed floor FDS is not really such a big problem.

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  6. Andrew Cassely

    I recently bought myself an Aqua Marina Tomahawk Air-K 375, after floating around on a cheap IK (Bestway Hydro force) over the summer. The choice was partly driven by availability – the Tomahawk was still on sale where others had sold out, perhaps because it was specifically listed as an intermediate to advanced kayak, while beginners are driving the shortage.

    Overall I am pretty satisfied with the boat, though it’s not perfect. It comes in a fairly hefty package, but it is managable for myself, an average fitness male – smaller people and/or those with less strength may struggle a bit. The bag fits well, and it technically a backpack – I wouldn’t want to go far with it, but it works sufficiently well to get it out of the flat, down the stairs, and into the car.

    Some work is required for set-up – the pump is effective but needs some oomps towards the end when apporaching 10PSI – I may invest in an electric at some point. In fact the hardest bit is fitting the twin skegs – these are very stiff, and it’s difficuly to apply pressure to a very thin area. I may need to take some sandpaper to get these to fit better, though I’ll try some silicone grease first. The Seat and footrest are effective, a little strap threading is needed for the latter nothing terrible. The seat straps keep their length once set up, but the footrest doesn’t. Total setup time is about 20 mins, though that may reduce as I get more familiar with the kayak.

    On the water it is a step change from the basic inflatable, though you’d expect that based on the price!. It’s much faster, tracks amazingly well, and is a lot less tiring to paddle. The addition of an entry-level carbon fiber paddle provides a lot of range before fatigue sets in (though I still need to improve my stamina!). It turns relatively slowly to compensate, but I’ll take the better tracking any day. On the flipside it is a lot less stable (I’m 77kg). I’m constantly working to balance it, though I think more use will see that become less of a worry. Once or twice I’ve almost felt like I’ve gone over, and had a wobble. However I think I’m actually a little better off than it seemed – I deliberately flipped it to ensure I could re-enter and it took more leaning than when I though I was going over to get it to flip. It is probably not suitable for beginners whose balance is questionable though. Re-entry was a little tricky put perfectly doable.

    Packing up is reasonably quick – note that I do it with minimal drying on site, then re-inflate it fully once home to give it a proper wipe-down and time to dry. The drainage issue mentioned in the article is definitely evident – it’s basically impossible to get every last drop of water out, though I’d say no more than a tablespoonful was left which is not terrible. The joins between the floor and the sides also tend to attract sand and grit – the wipe-down gets rid of most, but I suspect at least a little is starting to build up there, though I don’t know how much of an issue this is in the long run as they shoudn’t move past each other.

    Despite the ‘Intermediate to advanced’ labelling, I think a beginner wanting to move on from an Intex or similar could do worse – as long as they have at least a modicum of balance and confidence.I don’t think it would be for everyone though, as there are definitely more stable kayaks out there for those who need it. Overal though I’m pretty pleased with with the Tomahawk, and hope the construction is good enough to provide many years of kayaking to come!

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    1. Chris S Post author

      Thanks for your detailed and thoughtful review, Andrew. If you can send or point to a couple of photos, I can make it a more visible post here from which many more will benefit. The AM Tomahawks have been one of the least expensive and available FDS’s this summer – yours still on amazon at £650.
      I was just reading an owner’s review on a German forum this weekend with very similar conclusions. He bought it off an old couple who couldn’t handle the tippiness. It’s important to note widths, especially on these FDS boats. They can vary by over 20cm or 8 inches (20-25%) and your 375 Tomahawk is very narrow at a claimed 72cm/28″. Much depends on if the sides flare outwards too, meaning the actual floor is narrower still. I know well there is nothing worse than feeling insecure in a kayak!
      He also mentioned transportation bulk (a recurring feature with FDS).
      Any good SUP pump should easily manage 10psi – a decent electric is quite an expense I’m told and means you need to inflate near the car.
      I noticed the skeg was also very stiff on the new Moki II we rented recently. I’m sure it will loosen up, or give it a shot of lube, like you say. You are quite light which I think can exacerbate tippiness as the boat bobs higher. What you describe sounds like poor primary (upright, stationary) but good secondary (leaning over) stability – you can hold it there with a brace paddle stroke: a characteristic of a proper hardshell sea kayak. A typical all-tube IK has such brilliant raft-like primary stability that you never get to discover secondary. That’s why beginners and me love them.
      Try it with a couple of bags of water at each end (rocks worked for very light g/f in a tippy Safari one time). Or, fit thigh straps: much better control. (I bet your average hardshell sea kayak would be unusable if you could not brace knees under the deck.)
      Also, I would be interested to know if it really needs theat frontal skeg to track well. Twin or even triple skeg become a thing on some DS IKs – a bit like razor bladers. I bet it would turn better with just the back skeg. At sea you may want both skegs as the sides look quite high to the wind.
      Drying and drainage; well, extra effort/time needed but a lot better than a fabric shell bladder boat.
      Stick your Bestway on eBay quick – you may get more than you paid for it!

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      1. Andrew Cassely

        Thank you! I’ll take some pics next time out, and give some extra ballast a go!
        I’m only paddling in the Broads, no plans for sea paddling at the moment.

        I was actually thinking the same thing with regards to the double skegs, so last time out I removed the front one. Turning was a little easier, but the tracking was noticably less effective (though still far better than the budget IK). In the end I decided I preferred it in, plus it’s reasonably heavy and right at the bottom of the boat and so provides a bit more stability. It would work fine without through – more a case of personal preference either way I think.

        It is noticably tricky in the wind – because it’s relatively light I lose more performance in a headwind than a friend with a Point 65 sit on top. In crosswinds the high sides catch the air, and stability is noticably lower in a gust…

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      2. Chris S Post author

        Looking forward to some pics.
        With the front skeg, you might try chopping it down a bit to find a happy medium.
        It may be a generic Chinese skeg so you can buy spares on eBay.
        The flat sides of FDS IKs are another thing that puts me off, though some are = higher than others and it’s no worse than a hardshell canoe.
        Width has a bearing, but your so-called hybrids – tube sides; DS floor – may be better in the open or out at sea (which I’m more into these days).

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  7. Chris S Post author

    Kevin A adds:

    Hi – I enjoyed reading this article because it is actually quite difficult to find a detailed discussion about the still-new dropstitch construction method. Around ten years ago, I acquired a couple of Walker Bay Airis dropstitch inflatables which, at the time, were at the forefront of the then brand new idea of dropstitch construction. Both boats have been brilliant but one of them has become porous and is no longer reliable for more than a few hours and so, a couple of months ago, I started to look around the market.

    The first thing I discovered is that covid19 has created a world shortage of all sorts of recreational equipment and that prices have risen accordingly. Right now, a decent dropstitch boat, if you can find one, is stupidly expensive. I eventually found (and bought) a Bic Yakkair HP1 which, so far, I have used only once because I am waiting for delivery of a new paddle which will allow me to switch between kayak paddle mode, canoe paddle mode and SUP mode. I think that dropstitch construction has blurred the distinction between canoes, kayaks, sit-on-tops and boards.

    I think that dropstitch construction is, for most people’s purposes, capable of matching traditionally built hardshell boats in terms of performance but we need to be careful about what we are wishing for. My new Bic Yakkair HP1 looks brilliant when it is inflated and it seems to handle very nicely indeed on the water but, despite being much the same inflated size as my Walker Bay Airis boats, it is much heavier and much bulkier when deflated. Dropstitch construction is now offering boats of around 16 feet in length but, even when packed down, they are huge and very heavy. If the idea is to take one away on holiday with you, then you might be better with a hardshell on the roof rack instead of a 16 foot dropstitch taking up all the luggage space in the back of the car.

    A feature of dropstitch inflatables which I have never seen mentioned elsewhere is that, because the fabric has a tiny amount of ‘give’, they are a lot more comfortable to sit in than their hardshell equivalents

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      1. Marco Beaumont

        Hi. I would just like to buy something I have heard of, or something DS mentioned here. Decathlon are listing BIC but no stock. The ones on EBAY i have never heard of. Any suggestions? Regards

        Mark

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      2. Chris S Post author

        There is a BIC HP on amazon for 900 quid. Otherwise, ask about a guarantee and get something with a 30-day return so if it looks terrible and goes flat overnight you can send it back. That’s unlikely as they’re all probably made in the same factory but with different features and of course labels.

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  8. Stuart Holmes

    Thanks for the excellent report, we have just bought one of the new (2019) versions of KXone Slider Flex 485 and have already had some fun trips around the Scottish coast. We did get quite a bit of water in on a particularly rainy and wavy day and are looking at getting a spray deck to prevent spray and waves getting in. How do they work for attaching along the sides of the boat and are they still susceptible to waves getting in the sides? Do you think they are worth their weight or are we better to just bail out when necessary?

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    1. Chris S Post author

      Hi Stuart, congrats on your new boat. Is the 2019 any different, or just graphics? It looks like there are tabs along the sides. Possibly glue-on velcro? So it won’t be a full seal but better than nothing. A deck ought to keep you drier but I find [usually out alone] that if it’s choppy enough to be coming over the sides more than a little then it may be too windy to be out in an IK.
      Also, there do not seem to be any supports visible to keep the deck convex so water rolls off. You definitely want that so you’re not to be distracted doing it yourself. Maybe knees will do? (see added picture of decks, above)
      As expected, I did not get on with the deck on my Seawave. I like the ease of getting in, wear a drysuit if needed and come back if it’s too gnarly., but not all think like me. Much depends on the cost and effectiveness. A bilge pump will be a handy accessory, either way.

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    1. simonc123

      Hi there, firstly, thanks for providing such a comprehensive guide to the full DS inflatable kayak world. I’ve always throughly enjoyed kayaking, and having recently moved house, now have the opportunity (and the space!) to consider getting one myself. I am interested in the DS technology, however I intend to spend perhaps up to half of my time using the kayak over the course of the year sea-kayaking. Given this, would you suggest, I would be better avoiding the full drop-stitch variety, in favour of either a kayak with a DS floor, or a fully inflatable non-DS one? My understanding is that there’s a trade off here between stability and speed, and my concern with getting a full drop stitch kayak, is that this creates big stability problems when the kayak is taken out to sea.

      I really like the look of the ArrowStream too, it looks like great value for money. Have you also come across any reviews of the Bluewave Glider? I haven’t been able to find much out there about these.

      The alternative drop-stitch floor/’normal’ inflatable sides option I really like the look of is the Sea-Eagle 380X – I appreciate this is a bit more expensive, however thoughts on this as a comparable to the ArrowStream or Glider would be greatly appreciated!

      Thanks again for the valuable service to kayaking, and given I’m West London based, hope to see you out on the Thames over the course of 2021!

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