See also: Dropstitch IK buying guide
As you can see I’ve had a few Gumotex IKs. For my sort of paddling, rubber boats like the Seawave tick my boxes, but Other IKs are available and I’ve had a few of those too. Some brands probably sell more in a year than Gumotex did since the first drip of raw latex fell from a rubber tree.
In France, or anywhere else in the world other than the UK, they love their kayak gonflables (‘KG’). In the US, ‘duckies’ are seen as a fun way of getting people onto the water – even white water – without distracting worries about capsizing or entrapment. Eskimo rolls and Level 5 BCU accreditation with honours can all come later, or maybe never. Gumotex are seen as niche, high end boats, but other IKs have caught on in the UK, mostly in the low-end, recreational market.
There are many more brands not listed here including Aquaglide, AquaMarina, all sorts of full drop-stitchers, BIC, popular cheapies Intex (who also make Slackrafts), Z-Pro and scores more. Just about all these are Chinese-made shell & bladder cheapies in PVC.
Like a discount REI or Cotswold, this French-run, international own-brand outdoor gear outlet (46 stores in the UK alone) currently sells seven of its own IKs under its Itiwit brand. In the UK at least, they’ve been incredibly popular, possibly because during the IK drought of 2020, Itiwits continued to be available just when everyone wanted an IK.
Costing between £200 and 300, the three plain Itiwit IKs (below; they have no name or number) come with polyester shells and PVC bladders and 1, 2 or 3 seats. Similar to Sevys and Intex, these are what most recreational or first-time paddlers settle for.
They run just 1.5psi (0.1bar), have no less than three skegs and have weights and widths from 11kg/95cm up to 17kg/108cm for the three seater. Over a metre or 42.5 inches must be the widest IK around; short of a Category 5 tsunami, there’s no way anyone’s going to tip out of this thing.
The pricier Itiwit X100 2-seater (below left; 3.65m x 103cm x 16kg) has a stiffer, 5psi drop-stitch floor and tougher PVC (not polyester) side sleeves which run 3psi (0.2bar) and even include PRVs. It’s still very wide, but will be much more responsive than the plain, low-psi Itiwits. The published data mentions ‘side bladders’ but it’s probable they mean side tubes with no bladders inside. That means only the floor sleeve needs extra drying and cleaning. The fact that the sides have PRVs supports the probability of superior tubeless side tubes.
One good thing with Itiwit is the huge Decathlon operation behind it which means you can easily find and but spares like bladders, skegs and so on. Try that with many Sevylors, Intex and the like. The detailed video below shows the whole palaver on properly cleaning and drying a low-psi Itiwit. More here.
Itiwit also make a couple of high-end IKs, not least the decked and Full Drop-Stitch (FDS) Strenfit X500 (also available as a 2-seater) which is probably the most advanced FDS out there right now. Itiwit even make a drop-stitch canoe, another first.
Grabner moved into inflatables boats in the mid-80s by buying the boating arm of long-established Austrian rubber product brand Semperit and later Metzeler (both names survive today as tyre brands). Grabner now make all sorts of inflatable water craft: dinghies, canoes, catamaran sail rigs and IKs. Every summer they host open days in central European locations where you can try their boats.
And you’d want to too, because Grabners are expensive and as a result, barely sell outside German-speaking countries, while Czech-made Gumotex IKs (also a rubber products manufacture, like Semperit were) have established much broader distribution. Like Gumotex, Grabners are made from a tough and durable Hypalon-like synthetic rubber called EPDM (more here) which will last many, many years.
On their website Grabner brag about the relatively high 0.3 bar (4.3 psi) air pressures their IKs run – and without relying on seam-saving pressure release valves (PRVs). That’s 50% more than a traditional Gumotex and translates to added stiffness over length including necessarily durable materials and construction which, as with Gumotex, includes vulcanising.
Grabner prices are unapologetically high and in 2021 went up another 10%. On top of that you often have to pay extra for many fittings that come as standard with a Gumotex: a tracking fin (right) and even proper ‘comfort’ seats are extra.
Accessories also include outriggers, sails, stability fins and even outboards, so they’ve really gone into it. Overall, you’d hope you get what you pay for: the most expensive IKs around in the classic ‘bladders nein danke’ European tradition.
Holiday 2 or 3
Acquiring Semperit included their classic Forelle IK (more here), the original do-it-all touring IK from the 1960s, as used by Audrey Sutherland. Grabner Holidays are based on this classic twin sidetubed IK. Now costing from €2050, the Holiday 2 (and you thought ‘Sunny‘ was a crap name!) was the original touring boat in Grabner’s IK range.
Like an Incept K40, twin side beams on the Holiday models add a little ‘non-sagging’ longitudinal rigidity and 15cm less width compared to the otherwise similar single-sidetube Tramper.
That’s not so good in a side wind, but what IK is? It certainly limits overswill, swell contouring and general in-splashing (these are all technical IK terms not to be bandied about). And the ends are pointy which is always a good thing for a boat. The floor is dead flat and so the chines are hard – not so good on the edge? You don’t do edging in an IK so much.
The H2 stats are: 16kg/35lbs and 3.95m x 75cm (13 feet by 30″) with a 190kg payload. The H2 now comes with a basic seat plus adjustable footrest bars. A proper seat is extra, as are most things with Grabner IKs.
The boat in these pictures is Gael A’s late 90s H2. A quick spin at sea found it tracked very well when sat in the back without the rudder. The H2 was a bit wider and so more stable but slower than my Incept K40, and being twin-sidetube, had a more interior space (43cm, 17″) than my single-sidetube Seawave (33cm); it’s like a canoe in there, with a long line of attachment points. There’s more here on my day out with the H2.
Click this for an account of Gael A’s Scottish coastal run in 2010 to see what an H2 can manage as a solo sea tourer. In case you’re wondering, the as-rigid and similar Incept K40 is faster than an H2. Gael owned both.
I’ve been aware of AE kayaks for years, but reading the specs and viewing the pics I’m put off by what have long been over-complicated designs, after-thought engineering and naff go-faster graphics.
Until the full drop-stitch (FDS) AirVolution (below right) came out in 2020, AE didn’t have a model that greatly improved on the various IKs I’ve owned which work fine without any metal frames, zips, envelopes, DS floors or slow-drying bladders.
Even the hybrid AirFusion EVO which preceded the FDS AirVolutiion, seemed to be a messy mishmash of D-S side tubes, a stick under the floor and inflatable thwarts to help spread the sides and give the deck a profile. It does result in a good looking and fast decked IK, but there’s a lot of faffing in the assembly to get there. More here.
One good thing with AE is that they run their own forum where you can delve into presumably unbiased customers’ impressions of their boats going back years.
Some AEs use an aluminium subframe to form a sharper bow and stern as well as a keel v-hull, though it’s just a bendy ‘U’ stick that takes form with inflation. The hulls only run 2psi so fitting the optional £80 backbone rod (left) between the two ends seems essential to create rigidity unless you are very light. Another tip is to fit the also optional dropstitch floor. (Loads more on dropstitch here). By now you’re buying and accumulating quite a lot of extra bits and pieces to make the boat work as it should out of the box.
The Expedition model (4m x 82cm, 19 kg) has a nice pointy bow it’s got to be said, but remember it’s just a bladder boat made of PVC. More reviews on Amazon US or Paddling.net. Douglas Wilcox knows what he’s about with sea kayaking and paddled an Advanced Elements Convertible (double/single; 4.6m long; 32cm). The Advanced Elements Convertible Elite (above and below) is one of the most popular AE models.
People may ask, why no Sea Eagle Explorer 380 or 420; after all the reviews are good on Paddling Net (a great resource). Basically, overlooking SE’s tacky all-vinyl cheapies (left), I’m put off by the Explorers which are as wide as a garage door, even if they are tubeless – one of a few big welded PVC IK brand to do this, with all the drying benefits. I suspect the Explorers are more for fishing from than touring with, although a motorhoming couple we met on the Chaussezac were greatly enjoying day trips in theirs.
The newer full D-S Sea Eagles are another thing; Sea Eagle were the first big manufacturer to adopt this now much-copied route. More here.
Sevylors are probably the best-selling IKs in the world. Why? Because they’re cheap, Chinese-made all-vinyl or bladder IKs catering for the holiday market rather than serious paddlers and there are way more of the former than the latter.
The range of a dozen cookie-cutter IKs (left) for a couple of hundred quid will do nicely for two weeks camped by a river with the kids. While it lasts you’ll have a whole lot of fun, but you will in a tractor inner tube too.
Sevy’s higher-end boats like the SVX River-X series above seem to have got ditched. Owned now by US camping gear giant, Coleman, they’re concentrating on the ‘pile ’em high, sell em cheap’ mass market. You’ll see use ones on eBay for under a hundred quid. Cheaper Sevys are to IKs what Slackrafts are to packrafts. A typical comment I get:
Our Sevylor failed after a few times of it being used...
Ours didn’t last long either...
Splash out less than 200 quid on a Sevy Ranger (left) Riviera (below; 11kg, 165 kg capacity, 3.25m x 80cm wide). This one below is at the Pont d’Arc on the Ardeche, one of the most popular rec’ white water rivers in France. Either they have a leak, or more probably, all cheap Sevys look like that. But who cares – they having fun!
A day in an NRS MaverIK on the Salmon River in Idaho back in 2004 was the happy day I discovered IKs. I’d done the run in a raft the day before, decided to stay over and did it again in an IK next day. I had a fantastic time, attacking my first-ever rapids like only a keen beginner can, while amazingly, staying aboard. I rode it forwards, backwards, jumped out and crawled back in. I recall it didn’t track too well between the rapids but no one cared; it was a hot day and we were up for it. When it was all over I nearly bought it on the spot.
At 3.8m x 91cm (12′ 5″ x 36″), for a while I wondered later if a MaverIK II was the at the time long sought after ‘self-bailing Sunny‘? The upturned ends (18″ of rocker we’re told) contribute to agility and helping it ride over the frothing pile; less good at tracking. Add the flat ‘raft’ hull profile, excessive width and 20kg (46lb) weight at it was slow, plus the $1800 only-in-the-US price tag waters the old eyes.
Since then, I’ve realised MaverIK are almost exclusively bought as day-rentals by US outfitters. The user-friendly stability plus tough hypalon fabric, simple build and 6–10 year guarantees attest to that. A MaverIK is a proven, but expensive IK dinosaur not really suited to private.
For a while NRS made the similar looking Bandit, also tubeless but in polyurethane (PU) – like packrafts. But even Chinese manufacture was presumably too costly, so they eventually moved to PVC like just about everyone else to make models under the new Star brand, but all now with 8psi D-S floor inserts and 2.5psi tubeless sides. This means only the floor will need removing from its sleeve to dry properly.
Some models are self-bailing; the Patagons are ‘displacement hulls’. The $1000 13.5 foot (4.1m) Star Paragon XL (above left) could be worth a look. It’s 36″ wide and weighs 48lbs (91cm/ 21.7kg). The Paragon Tandem is 15 feet x 36″ but weighs 58.5lbs! (4.57m x 91cm; 26.5kg).
Like NRS, Aire are a respected American rafting manufacturer who put their know-how into self-bailing IKs. I’m told there are ‘tens of thousands in Idaho’ where Aire and NRS are based, but outside the US they’re unknown. I’ve never actually see an Aire IK. Like others in the IK and raft game, Aire have since diversified into packrafts and SUP boards and aren’t afraid to own the PVC word. A key difference between NRS and Aire IKs is that (unusually for the US) Hypalon and PVC NRS are ‘tubeless’ (like Gumotex) but Aire’s use air bladders to support a shell or envelope. That makes them easier to to make but leads to extended drying times. Water always finds way into the shell. More here.
Many years ago I was eyeing up the Aire Super Lynx as my next IK, mostly because theboatpeople.com rated it. A heavy-payload PVC self-bailer, it looked the part but weighs 46lbs (21kg). What few reviews I read rated it, but complained quite rightly about drying times. I know all about that now. Plus it is over a yard wide, like a lot of US-branded IKs, I suspect because it’s an optional self-bailer so needs a thick floor which creates instability (high centre of gravity) unless width also increases. I’d probably have got a Super Lynx, tried it and sold it until a chum alerted me to the similarly bladdered but over a foot less wide Feathercraft Java IK which had slipped under my inflatable radar and which I bought and also soon sold.
What do I know about Aire’s Sawtooth other than again, the Boat People rate it and its specs up close to Gumotex Solar 410C. In 2020 they updated the Sawtooth, making it over half a metre longer: weight: 19kg (42lbs); length: 4.65m (15′ 3″); width: 81cm (32″). (Previous model 13′ 3″ long, 32″ wide, 36lbs and a huge 400-lb payload (4.04m; 81cm; 16.3kg, 180kg). The Sawtooth is Aire’s lighter-duty, Chinese-made ‘Tributary‘ brand with a year’s warranty.
Feathercraft Java ~ Full story here
While in Colorado collecting my FC Java one time I did the 7-mile ‘Durango Town Run’ down the Animas River in a Hyside Padillac – a boat I’d heard of but never considered owning one. A week of storms had the river running red with mud at 2000cfs, three times more than normal for August I was told. Great for rafts but a bit marginal for beginners in IKs they warned. I walked the bits in town and saw locals going down in inner tubes and even floating along without pfds, so figured it couldn’t be that bad.
The Padillac is another basic bomb-proof outfitter’s WW mule like the NRS MaverIK above. It has a thwart to lean against, feet jam in between the floor and huge side tubes, and it’s very short at just 9′ 8″ (2.5 m) which makes it nice and spin-y for rock dodging or looking back upriver. A bit like a packraft in fact. And at a record breaking 40 inches wide (like the Gumotex K2,) it’s as stable as a screwed-down sofa; you could probably set up a step ladder and paint the ceiling while floating in a Padillac. The high flows that day didn’t make tracking an issue, but on a lake I imagine it would be as agonising as a creek boat. Big drain holes speed up self-bailing which turned out to be just as well.
The guide (in a raft full of people) warned me to attack the rapids (something I knew well from my run in a MaverIK, above), but even that didn’t help me through the only Class III on the run: the three-wave ‘Smelter’ which had slipped through my recce. Result? A lowside from the Hyside and a stomach full of Animas siltwater; the fate of most IK renters hitting the Animas that week, though looking at the pictures it’s clear I wandered too far to the left.
What About Folding Kayaks?
I’ve done a couple of trips with a mate in his ancient Klepper and Feathercraft K-Light (left). For me, part of the IK appeal is simply stepping in and out. It was something I was reminded of on the Thames one time, getting back into my Sunny after a lock, off a quay 2-3 feet high while hanging off some ladder rungs. With a cockpit it’s a tricky procedure, especially for a large person.
Without hatches, set-up and packing time in a folder is longer and requires some dexterity and concentration (newer models may be easier). Furthermore, the easy whitewatering I’ve done in France can be a bit harsh on a folding alloy frame. An IK is immune to rock bashing, rough treatment and cinching down directly onto the roof of a car. I had a quick spin in Steve’s Kahuna and recall being about as impressed as he was with my Gumboat. Like all paddlers, we are each to our own
Don’t even start me on drying issues, the extra time and complexity it takes to set up a folder out of the bag which may put you off quick paddles, even if that time is soon gained on the water. No doubt about it, I couldn’t keep up with Steve’s folders in my Sunny. With the wind in my face, one day on the Thames he was effortlessly gliding away while I was attacking the water like someone digging up a road with a pickaxe.
Looking a whole lot less like a lilo, a Feathercraft Big Kahuna (above and below) sidesteps the ‘numpty’ image that burdens IKs so heavily. When I was talking myself into buying a Feathercraft Java one time, I also admired their Big K; a great looking boat with an extra big hatch (right). And to think, it all folds up into a bag…
But then I snapped out of it: spray skirts, falling out while getting in and falling in while getting out, plus complex assemblies long enough to draw a crowd. Since then I’ve paddled the Big K: read this or this and watch this.