Preview: Decathlon Strenfit X500 Droptitch kayak

We listened to kayakers:
“I’m a good kayaker and I want an inflatable kayak that performs like a hardshell.”
“I want to use public transport to go kayaking.”
“Inflatable kayaks are cool but I want a kayak that moves!” 

nanook

First Gumotex and now Europe-wide, French sports retail giant Decathlon have turned to dropstitch (DS) technology in a bid to improve rigidity and so, the performance of their inflatable kayaks.

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Only Decathlon haven’t just added a DS floor to an existing model, but with the single-seater X500 Strenfit have designed an entire 10psi (0.7 bar) DS hull, complete with a deck sheet and coamed hatch supported by two D/S beams. (Do you need a deck?) Above left, Serge and Nanook take their X-boats for a spin. UK price is reasonable and delivered with a two-year guarantee, although the essential SUP two-way pump (right) is another 25 quid.

inuit
dechull

Itiwit‘ is a Decathlon water-sports brandword, contracted from ‘itinerary’ and ‘Inuit’, the latter being fur-clad denizens of the Arctic who invented sea kayaks all those centuries ago. I suppose it sounds better than ‘Inuary’.
Watch the slick vid below to get your head round the unusual design. It looks like the dark grey V-floor panel is one chamber, plus a lighter grey sidewall panel each side and then the two deck-supporting thwarts or beams. And being French-designed, it conforms with their national watersports regs which allow it to stray a full 300 metres or more from the sea shore.

decmanual
deco

Vital stats are 3.8m long by 64cm wide and 18kg making it similar to an undecked but flat-floored Kxone Slider 375, and between a Gumotex Twist 2 and a decked Framura or Swing II. And it’s not made of PVC, but polyethylene (PE) over a polyester (PES) fabric core (though PVC is mentioned, perhaps mistakenly, in the blurb-chat). I’m not sure that makes a massive difference to longevity or cold-weather ease of folding. Like most other DS IKs, you can be sure it’s made in China.
Because DS hulls have less air volume than regular tubed IKs, they’re slimmer (thinner walled, giving more space in the boat) and are quicker to pump up (3 mins, claimed on the X500). But that lower volume explains a modest payload of just 125kg. No dims are given on the hatch size, but based on the length, I’d guess it’s 80cm long.

itwit-danube-x500

Below, watch Nanook film Serge as he effortlessly assembles, paddles and then disassembles his X500 in what may be real-time. The roll-top rear hatch is a clever idea; not seen that before, though it looks like water may pool there. And the proper wave-slicing V-hull dispenses with the need for a skeg to aid tracking, although the boat may benefit from a rudder or skeg in cross winds. Like most IKs, the X500 sits fairly high in the water, unlike a proper hardshell sea kayak which is barely above it. With the narrow V-hull and poor knee bracing, many report it feels unstable until it’s moving, something that is far from the profile of most IK users, myself included. Lighter paddlers have found dropping the psi a bit make the boat float lower and adds stability. But this also adds up to a fast boat, making it most sea-kayak-like IK since Feathercraft’s short-lived Aironaut. It’s not an exaggeration to say it’s a revolutionary DS IK.

itiwitX500

Below a review by a sea kayaking chap on what looks like the balmy Med. I agree with his suggestion: would be good to see a longer version, but that will probably be a tandem which, with the fixed deck, won’t adapt to solo long-range touring.
The X500 has strapadjustable footrests but he also mentions poor knee bracing – often an IK weak spot, even with decked boats. Nevertheless, he still manages to bang out a pretty smooth eskimo roll, and it would not be impossible to glue or somehow clip on some thigh bracing straps which would greatly improve the connection with and control of the boat.

One the way back from the Regents Canal the other day, I dropped into my local Decathlon to have a closer look at the X-boat. First impressions were it wasn’t half as narrow as I expected – at least at cockpit level. The hatch is nice and big and it sure looks more kayak-like than the rest of the Itiwit range of bloats – that sure isn’t a typical flat DS floor which might explain the tippiness some report. The boat wasn’t at all saggy as you’d expect from an Intex watersofa sat in a showroom for months. But as mentioned, if your boat has a slim V-hull, you really need some knee-bracing to control any rolling. The deck felt quite slack but there must be some way of rolling it short of trying to glue in thigh braces. As always, the good thing is others will see how Decathlon took a big step forward in DS IKs, and try to improve.

There are more users reviews here as well as X500 stories from the Danube, Colorado and Dordogne on the Itiwit website.

13 thoughts on “Preview: Decathlon Strenfit X500 Droptitch kayak

  1. Olivier Dutertre

    (I had to start another comment thread, doesn’t look like I can reply anymore)

    Yes, you’re right. To be honest though I don’t feel like there’s any middle range DS-floor IKs, that aren’t very bloaty or much better than the two I’m looking at. But that’s due to how young the market is, I’m sure that will change in the coming years. But once I get either of them, I’ll happily do a guest review. (Sadly I can’t sell you the K2, as I’m keeping for when guests wants to join us on a little trip. You can find them for around 100€ on Craigslist type websites in europe, don’t know where you’re based).

    I watched some of the few videos I could find and the width doesn’t surprise me too much (visually), even though on paper it should be 27cm wider than my Intex K2.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T-2V8AfbL-I, and the seats look high enough.



    But then, things like this scare me:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JRoGgm03IDM. While 90% of the reviews on decathlon’s pages are very positive, the other 10% report the same issue.. I’ll try to ask Decathlon if any changes have been made, but probably not. 


    I’m just ranting at this point and hopefully not wasting your time. But with all the information we gathered, in my situation, may I ask what you would get?

    And finally, while I’m not too interested in it because of how long this one is, is this exactly the sea razor lite everyone is raving about, at half the price, or did Sea Razor made some improvements to this Chinese model? https://www.alibaba.com/product-detail/470cm-Double-seats-2-person-watercraft_62588421940.html?spm=a2700.galleryofferlist.0.0.7f1e3eadNIIEKb&s=p

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    1. Chris S Post author

      OK, look forward to your guest review and I’ll look out for a K2. Now summer’s over prices will hopefully return to normal.

      I think when sitting around fishing, width doesn’t matter so much; the space and stability are welcome, especially with 500ln tuna!
      IK&P is more in travelling and touring and coast-hopping where the wind and currents can turn on you.

      Decathlon is a huge outlet of Asian-made outdoor stuff and IKs are just a fraction of their output. They are not IK makers like Aqua M, but of course can buy in the expertise and the X500 is a genuinely innovative design. The video of a peeling floor is pretty bad but dead easy to glue. Poor heat welding on maybe low-grade PVC? You hear of the same with some older Sea Eagles after a couple of years. This is why I prefer all-glued ‘hypalon’ IKs not banged out in a Chinese factory down to a price. Seam failure takes a decade or more, if it happens at all.
      I would choose the colourful Steam, try to treat it well and hope for the best.

      The Alibaba link is what I take to be another Chinese outlet flogging IKs direct.
      Looks tempting: I tried to buy a Full DS off AliExpress – money taken, money returned instantly with no explanation. Won’t try that again.
      The link even rips off SE, Aqua and Kxone imagery (I’ve seen my own images also used).
      Made in the same Sea Eagle factory but without the branding, or copied to look the same because Razorlites are so popular? And if copied, made to SE standards?
      And crucially, is what is pictured what you will receive?
      The ridiculous shipping price is a trick and once you add import tax, it’s not such a bargain, seeing as you probably surrender any warranty.

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      1. Olivier Dutertre

        Oh yea I’m not going to be fishing on it, I was just saying on the video it doesn’t look annoyingly wide to paddle with. Probably because how high the sits are. I’m all about the traveling and touring :)

        I think I’ll follow your advice and go for the steam, once I find a good shop that sells it.

        Yea I saw the blurred out logos from sea eagle. But I wouldn’t be surprised if those are exactly the same ones. I don’t think they copied the look, only the photos.

        I also found the new Airvolution, from Advanced Elements. https://www.alibaba.com/product-detail/Drop-Stitch-PVC-Inflatable-Fishing-Canoe_62503735645.html?spm=a2700.wholesale.deiletai6.1.77c030d0Tl0oXk . Not for much cheaper (not that I’m looking to buy it), but I wouldn’t be surprised either if AE just bought this stock, and were 0% responsible for the design, engineering, etc, and only stamped their logos on it. I could be wrong of course.

        Many American and European companies just buy a Chinese made design, with an exclusivity close, but many times the factory doesn’t respect that close, or finds a loophole that allows them to sell the product as stock on alibaba.

        I’m not saying there’s a lot wrong with that. If the product is good, and tested, then why not.

        But yea. I believe my next kayak is the Steam, for tandem, and hopefully the x500 solo some time after. That 2600km Danube video was a great advertisement.

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      2. Chris S Post author

        Have a look at arts, if you haven’t already
        https://www.arts-outdoors.de/aqua-marina-steam-412-2er-kajak-schlauchboot#/639-farbe-mischfarbig

        With Chinese made, I think it’s a bit of both. Some start-ups (or unknown brands) just buy in a design and brand it, maybe with a few changes.
        But I would guess well-known names like AE have a hand in the design.
        Did they invent it or did a manufacturer say look, we can make this for you, what do you think? Who knows.
        If AE spent a lot of time developing it, it must be annoying to see it on Alibaba
        If they buy-in and brand then yes, fair enough.

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  2. Olivier Dutertre

    Hello Chris! Thank you for all your amazing reviews.

    While full drop stitch IK seem to be the best, most of them are out of my budget, or I don’t trust the brand enough.

    So I’m more looking at getting a hybrid, and I was wondering what your thoughts were on the Itiwit x100+ that’s on your photo: https://www.decathlon.co.uk/x100-2-seat-inflatable-kayak-id_8511866.html

    Or the Aqua Marina Steam (updated version of the Betta VT-K2). I can barely find any reviews online, hence my lack of trust in the brand, but it does look good. http://www.aquamarina.com/sups_product_xq.php?cid=10&id=40

    I believe you haven’t tested either of them, but just from your deep knowledge, would you be able to tell me what you think of either, and if you have a better recommendation for around 400£? (Hybrid or full). I hope you don’t mind me asking, and if you don’t have time, no worries :).

    PS: I’m looking at tandems only, and have used a Intex challenger K2 so far.

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    1. Chris S Post author

      Hi Olivier. both those are among the cheapest DS floor IKs you will find.
      You get a pump with the Steam, it runs higher pressures, it is self-bailing with closures I think, and is 80cm wide, not over a metre like the X100. (of course, the real measurements may be different). But the floor is fixed which may mean drying issues and I can’t see the front fin being needed or helping (so it need not be fitted).
      With Decathlon you get more support with spare parts clearly available and maybe better warranty service. And the floor comes out for easy cleaning/drying. But it’s a crazy 102cm wide!
      Both are Chinese PVC IKs but the next step up from your K2.
      Buy from a place that will allow you to return either if you realise the boat is not for you.
      The is a list of DS floor IKs at the bottom of this page: https://inflatablekayaksandpackrafts.com/2020/08/27/tested-kokopelli-moki-ii-inflatable-kayak-review/
      Let us know what you get and if you like it. How was the K2?

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      1. Olivier Dutertre

        Thanks a lot for the answering back so fast! I really appreciate it!

        Yea on paper the steam looks a lot more interesting. My issue with it is mainly the lack of reviews online, even from the older models. The last one did have a removable floor btw, so I believe this one should have it too: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zrsb5Qa6VFY. I understand the importance of that, after having read your incredible review comparing various technologies and the state of DS IK on the market right now, and what it means when it comes to drying etc.

        And you’re right, the width of the x100 scares me a little. Speed isn’t the most important thing to me since I tandem with my partner, but I also don’t want to struggle more to get to my destination… It sounds like you wouldn’t recommend something so wide?
        Also, may I ask what you mean with front fin? Do you mean Skeg? From the looks of it it only has one at the back, right?

        But you’re right, I don’t think anything can beat the 440€ price point of the steam, a a tandem DS floor kayak. Which doesn’t mean I should get it, but yea..

        And to answer your question, the Challenger has been good! I bought it last year when it was only 86€ on Amazon (pre Covid. Now it’s around 260!!!!). I wanted to get the cheapest option since I wasn’t sure yet how much I’d be into IK, but I made the right choice! I did hour long trips with it, (in tandem), and everything worked fine. Especially at that price point. I was even more confident with it in terms of reliability, than selyvor and other category 2 IKs. Intex knows how to work with inflatables. It’s slow, it’s bloaty as hell, but it works, and it was 86€.

        PS: In the review above, you mention that the sits of the x500 are DS. I believe they are just foam, at least that’s what itiwit says. Maybe they updated it?

        Thanks again for getting back to me! Your website and articles are an incredibly rare and impressive source of quality content for IKs.

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      2. Chris S Post author

        This is the risk of buying bottom of the range DS-floor IKs. Some love Aqua Marina, one user told me he did not rate his (don’t know which model) but all depends on what you had before, what it cost and what you expect.
        So if you get one, write a guest review here for all to see.

        You are right, Steam has a removable floor: https://youtu.be/cv9tB483bd0
        Like I say, buy from a shop which will let you return, and if it looks total rubbish, send it back.
        Or try and see it in a shop.
        I go on a lot about width because so many IKs seem excessive unless you want to stand in the boat. It’s not so much about speed as efficiency. You will get tired sooner paddling a wide boat. If it is just splashing about on a lake like the video above then it doesn’t matter, but into the wind the boat will surely be a drag. Plus it is awkward to paddle well in anything so wide if the seats are low and you are not tall.
        I saw 2 fins, back and middle – and the video shows 2 fins.

        Good to hear you got on with your 86-euro K2. And it has lasted a year – great value!
        You want to sell it to me to try?
        Like you say, spending low is the smart way to start with IKs and despite being vinyl the K2 seems very popular. We did a river in France with an Intex raft once and it last 20 metres and in 2 days was in the bin.
        I will update the X500 seat details. Thanks.

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  3. Guido Brasletti

    Thanks for your valuable advice Chris.

    I spent a month practicing and I have almost cracked the nut :)

    So I decided to not apply the skeg for now, to properly learn paddling. I discovered that tracking is not optimal because I push forward my left arm/wrist slightly more than my right one. When I pay attention to this the boat tracks better.

    I felt no difference changing legs position: I tend to paddle with my knees up, almost like K1 athletes do (blame my instructor for that :). If I brace my knees to the boat there is no noticeable difference for me (anyway I paddle on flat water) and the position is uncomfortable because the boat width is surprisingly too wide for me (I’m 183cm by 80kg). Perhaps I’ll try looking for those foam knee blocks you mentioned.
    Anyway I’m making good progress so I can confirm I’m happy with my boat!

    Last but not least, it would be very very interesting to read your impressions from a real test of the x500, given your vast experience with inflatables (and not only) of any sort.
    Why don’t you write to itiwit/decathlon asking for a temporary test boat, mentioning that you are the curator of this blog? They should be available to that.

    Ciao from Italy
    Guido

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    1. Chris S Post author

      Great to hear you are getting on with the X500, Guido.
      Sometimes I think IKs make us lazy paddlers because they are so easy and safe (within their limits). There is no real technique required other than a good, full draw, and no clever hull profile changes when you
      ‘lean out to steer’, as with proper, long hardshell sea kayaks. By and large IKs are just lilos ;-)
      Since I first answered, I have seen an X500 in the shop (added photos) and agree, it is not as narrow as it sounds.
      I still think along with a solid tube footrest and a seat with a good backrest you can push on, bracing – if not knee blocks with a decked IK, then thigh straps with any IK – is critical for tippier IKs or any IK in rougher conditions. And it also makes a more effective stroke if you use the proper torso twist/arm push (not ‘arm pull’) technique. Knee bracing is how sea kayakers do eskimo rolls and WW boats do their stunts. It triangulates you to the boat (bum + feet + knees) which means the boat more connected to your body. Otherwise – bum + feet is like sitting on a log – two points resting but not fixed on the same plane. A third connection point off that plane – knees – locks you to the boat more. More control = more padding energy directly transmitted to propulsion, not body displacement.
      See what they are saying in Fr: http://www.forum-kayak.fr/index.php?topic=12352.0

      I did write to Decathlon marketing requesting a test boat. Not at all surprised by no reply. The problem is IKs are seen as a bit of a joke in the UK – unlike France for sure and Europe in general. And all around the world many more IKs and horrible PVC blobs are sold for splashing about on holidays, not travel adventures or touring. The other thing is the X500 is one of 19,468 products which Decathlon sell. I do know that they have a return policy (common in the US with REI etc, unknown in UK) if you simply don’t like something. So I could just buy one, try it and give it back.

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  4. Guido Brasletti

    Hi, I’ve bought this kayak shortly after it was commercially available (more or less one Year ago) and I can confirm that is quite fast but rather tippy. I had an itiwit 2 before and as most inflatables it was just the opposite of the x500. Anyway I’m happy with it, I mostly do flat rivers and sometimes calm sea.

    By the way I’d like to add a skeg, to aid tracking: any suggestions?
    I mean where can I buy it, what size, what glue should I use, best position to apply it…

    Thanks and ciao from Italy
    Guido

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    1. Chris S Post author

      Hi Guido, good to hear you are enjoying your boat – it is not like any of the other Itiwit blobs ;-)

      The X500 looks like it has unusually well pronounced bow, stern and keel line for an IK, which should mean it should track well, but it may not steer exactly where you want it due to small differences in paddle effort. I think it may just be a matter of getting the knack, because hardshells have similar hull shapes and don’t need a skeg to track well.
      Getting the knack takes technique and practice not needed with skeg IKs or packrafts. I remember the first time I tried a hardshell on a river it drove me nuts!
      Practice by focussing on a landmark far away, and paddle gently towards it, keeping the bow right on line and making small corrections as needed.
      I think constant small corrections are just part of proper kayaking.
      With skeg IKs you can hammer away like a coal miner!

      If you put ’skeg’ on ebay.it you will see a few. (More on ebay.uk).
      Most need a flat surface which the X500 does not have along the keel.
      This one looks like it has a flexible base:

      Stick it on with 2-part PVC glue more or less where the black line ends.
      Or maybe glue on a velcro patch to the boat and glue/sew the other part to the skeg base. Then it won’t need full curved contact and is easily removed.

      I bet the tippiness and maybe steering precision would be improved if you could brace your knees properly under the deck, as this is a very slim IK. It makes a better three-point connection with the boat – less like balancing on a wobbly log (the problem with narrow IKs). I know they sell hard foam knee blocks for sea kayaks. Thigh braces would be another way, but requires gluing in D-rings.

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