Pumps for inflatable kayaks and packrafts

See also:
Inflation valves and PRVs
My PoV on electric pumps

ikpumps.jpg

Your inflatable packboat needs a pump to get going and to top-up once on the water. These functions may be best performed by two different pumps. It seems the era of the folding bellows footpump (left) is over and even low-pressure IKs now come with some sort of barrel pump.

bravohose

Suited to low-pressure (non-dropstitch) IKs the once-popular Bravo bellows foot pump looks a bit crap, but lasted well, was fairly travel-compact and was easy to use without doing your back in. Occasionally the yellow tube split near either end if packed too tightly, so needed taping up (left) or cutting down and got shorter and shorter over the years. As mentioned, the bellows era seems to have passed.
After many years a crease in the back of the bellows wore through, though that’s also easily fixed with duct tape. It’s a shame the Bravo pump is a tight squeeze into the Gumotex drybag’s outer pocket. If you use a Bravo footpump very frequently it just plain wears out, so if you’re using the car to get to the water get a barrel pump.

A plastic-bodied barrel or stirrup pump is light but bulky so not something you’d want to tour with. They’re usually used for pumping up high volume/low pressure things like rafts, lots of IKs or kite wings. Some pump on both up and down strokes to fill your boat more quickly, but automatically or manually switch to downstroke-only to reduce the effort as you reach higher pressures. They work best on flat, firm ground where you can stand on the stirrup plates and get stuck in. The Bravo 4 RED pump above is still only about £20 and will pump up an IK in 5 minutes.

sw05

I got a Bravo 6 with my Seawave once but found it hard work – who knows why. The cheaper Bravo 4 does claim to be an ‘R.E.D’ (‘reduced effort device’) and I can confirm this isn’t some gimmicky acronym. Like a Bravo foot pump, the other port on the Bravo’s handle can be used to deflate or suck air from an IK so it rolls up good and flat; you can see creases forming in the hull as you suck it down.

I left my Bravo 4 RED at home one time so bought a Sevylor RB2500G barrel pump (below left) for a tenner off ebay. Same size as the Bravo barrels, it did well for the awkward topping-up of my Semperit’s lilo plugs. It came with push-fit, lilo-plug and bayonet adaptors and sucks as well as pumps. But pumping up my Seawave from flat was exhausting towards the end: I actually got out of breath and had to rest! Morale of this fascinating story: get a Bravo 4 RED and the right adaptor for your boat.

Not all barrels have a built-in pressure gauge which is obviously dead handy in getting the right pressure without needing to faff about using a separate manometer (see below). It’s worth an extra tenner to get a built-in gauge, especially with DS boats. Or fit your own manometre: see bottom of the page.

kpump200

The K-Pump Mini (above right) is a handy top-up pump or compact 600-g travel pump. It took 15 minutes to fully inflate up my Seawave; the push-fit nozzle works on any IK with one-way spring valves. You have to press and hold the nozzle against the valve. Using it a lot one time, I got the feeling it might break something or wear out the seal (which needs regreasing once in a while). I also used the K-Pump to top up my Nomad S1 packraft which was too big and long to inflate firmly with just its airbag. Fuller review of the K-Pump Mini here. They are hard to find in the UK, the very long, and slim US-made K-Pump 200 (right) may also be suited to DS applications.

Left, the Bestway Air Hammer is an upside-down barrel pump which comes in three sizes and costs from just £6 on eBay. If you don’t want to paddle with your full-size barrel pump, the smallest Air Hammer could work as a compact top-up pump like the K-Pump below, but a tenth of the price. The one of the left came with a ROBfin and was rated at 4psi.

High-pressure pumps

More and more IKs now feature super-rigid, high-pressure dropstitch hulls – either just floors or the entire hull which runs 2–5 times higher pressures than regular IKs. Your old Bravo footpump will blow its brains out trying to reach the typical 7-10psi.
Barrel pumps with long, slim bodies (as opposed to the shorter, stockier examples above) will put out less volume (DS IKs have less volume anyway) but can more easily attain higher pressures. You don’t need a super high-pressure iSup board pump.
Some of these pumps may be double action. At a certain psi they become single action (downstroke only). I believe the Bravo Alu 4 R.E.D (0.8 bar) works like that. Or they have a switch (left) to do the same and help attain higher pressures. It works.
Whatever pump you get for your DS IK, make sure it is rated to comfortably exceed your DS boat’s pressure rating by say 50%.

Left: Bravo Alu RED <£20 • Middle: Bravo 110 >£40 • Right Itiwit (Decathlon) £20
Left: Kokopelli Nano pump ticks all the boxes: fold-out feet, screw-off handles, switch for one-way pumping as pressures increase, manometer in the handle.
Right: twice the volume Bravo Alu 4 with auto one-way switching (so it says). The bayonet valve nozzle on the Nano keeps the valve open and so is for live (constant) manometer readings. With the push-fit (non-bayonet) adapter on the blue pump suite to Boston valves, a manometer only reads as you pump and push open the valve. Both are better than soggy footpumps.
What I call ‘raft’ valves

Bayonet nozzles for ‘raft’ valves.
Who would have thought there’s something to be said about bayonet nozzles? Well there is. There are two types: plain (below right, Gumotex) and crossbar-peg or detent (left, Bravo). Both need soft spacer washers to fit snugly against your boat’s raft valve, but the small peg inside the green one will press open your valve stem as you connect it. You will notice a similar peg on car tyre inflation hoses and also on a hand manometer (below). A manometer can’t get a pressure reading without this peg partially opening the valve as you push it on. A nozzle with a peg/detent means that
a: you’re not pushing the valve spring open each time you pump (easier pumping) and
b: if your pump has a manometer you will get a constant/live reading as the pressure climbs which is the point of having a built-in manometer. The Bravo one goes from 3 quid; search: ‘Bravo Adjustable HP Valve adapter’.
The only drawback might be that you need to remove a pegged nozzle carefully with Push-Push (Gumotex) valves. Normally a little air escapes as you do this but if the valve does not spring up closed air will rush out. Turn slowly then pull away briskly; you’ll get the knack.

Pressure gauge (manometer)
Until I got a Grabner which has no PRVs but ran a relatively high, 0.3 bar (4.3 psi), I never bothered with a pressure gauge (manometer, below) and just pumped up by feel. Since then I ran a Gumotex Seawave and fitted PRVs to all chambers. That meant I didn’t need a pressure gauge to get the right pressure; I simply kept pumping until each PRV hissed: the boat was then at operating pressure.
With high-pressure DS IKs you probably want a pressure gauge as the boat will perform best at the right pressure which may be higher than you’re used to.

Add a manometer dial to a plain barrel pump

I got myself a new blue Brave 4 Alu R.E.D barrel pump (left) rated to 0.8 bar (typical DS pressure). It was under £20 without a gauge. The next similarly rated barrel with a gauge worked out at nearly fifty quid. That’s inflation for you.

Then I decided a gauge probably was a good idea in case my next IK doesn’t have full PRVs (quite likely; most don’t). I couldn’t find a way to fit my handheld manometer (as pictured above) neatly, but on ebay saw manometer dials at various displays and with rear (behind) rather than bottom inlets for a fiver (right)
I chose one which displayed up to 1 bar / 14.5psi. Whatever boat I get next, DS or otherwise, it won’t be higher than that, and anyway the Alu 4 is only rated to 11.6psi (0.8 bar).
The easiest place to drill the hole is into the hard plastic end of the hose by the handle (below). The brass thread will screw into the plastic hole easily enough, but a dab of glue does no harm. Now, finally I can measure as I pump.
If I’m honest these cheap Flowit gauges are not accurate – they under-read. But once I have measured the error against my Bravo hand manometer, I can mark the correction on the face of the dial. So as said, best to buy a barrel pump with a built in manometer – if it’s a Bravo (widely sold in Europe) it may well be accurate,

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