Updated Summer 2020
See also: Dropstich IK buying guide
As you can tell I’m pretty keen on Gumotex IKs for all the reasons repeated here ad nauseam. For my sort of paddling, rubber boats like the Seawave ticked 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 ever did since a drip of raw latex first feel 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 any capsizing or entrapment worries. Eskimo rolls and Level 5 BCU accreditation with honours can all come later, or maybe never.
But IKs are catching on in the UK, though very much in the low-end, recreational market, not so much for the mildly more adventurous application IK&P is into. Other IK brands not listed on this page but that are worth looking (or searching this website) for: Aqua Glide (but not Aqua Marine), Decathlon, BIC and Nortik.
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 as tyres). Grabner now make in 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 (an rubber products manufacture, like Semperit were) have gained a broader following. 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 can run – and without relying on seam-saving pressure release valves (PRVs) too. That’s 50% more than a traditional Gumotex and translates to added stiffness over length and necessarily durable materials and construction which, as with Gumotex, includes vulcanising.
Grabner prices are unapologetically high, and on top of that you have to pay extra for many fittings that come as standard with a Gumo. The tracking fin (right) and even proper seats are extra, but at least you get a backrest bar as standard.
Accessories also include outriggers, sails, stability fins and even outboards, so they’ve really gone into it. Click the tech graphic above. And check out youtube for clip of a Holiday going pretty fast with a Pacific Action sail. 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. Costing around €1600, 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 ‘non-sagging’ longitudinal rigidity. Not so good in a side wind, but 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 quite pointy which is always a good thing for a boat. I suspect the floor is dead flat and so the chines are hard – not so good on the edge? You don’t really do edging in an IK.
The H2 stats are: 16kg/35lbs and 3.95m x 75cm (13 feet by 30″) with a 190kg payload. The H2 comes with seat and footrest bars only. 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 is a bit wider and so more stable but slower than my Incept K40, and has a lot more interior pace than the single-sidetube Seawave; it’s like a canoe in there, with a long line of attachment points. The transverse alloy bars are a good way of getting a solid back and footrest. 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 now owns both.
I’ve been aware of AE kayaks for years, but reading the specs and viewing the pics I’m put of over-complicated designs, afterthought engineering and naff go-faster graphics, let alone the envelope/bladder design and PVC. Overall AE’s seem a bit too ‘American designed / Chinese made’.
Some AEs use an aluminium ‘frame’ or spar to form a sharp kayak-like shape in the bow and stern, though it’s just a bent ‘U’ stick that takes form with inflation. The hulls only run 2psi so fitting the optional £80 backbone rod between the two ends seems essential to create any sort of rigidity. 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.
AEs use two bladder air chambers inside a tube which then sits in an envelope, all which adds to weight and mildew potential. Until this came out in 2020, they don’t have a model that greatly improves on the various IKs I’ve owned which work fine without any metal frames, zips, envelopes, DS floors or slow-drying bladders.
The StraightEdge II (left) is 4m x 90cm and 21kg – ie: 5 inches wider and 4 kilos heavier than a Seawave. It does self-bail. A lot to be said for that I used to think but not any more. It’s handy for surfing or white water of course but achieve self-bailing properly (ie: not sitting in the water) you need a thick floor which sits you higher up and so ends up requiring a wider boat if it’s not to be too tippy.
Or better still the Expedition model (4m x 82cm, 19 kg). 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 – the only popular welded PVC IK brand to do this and 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 full DS Sea Eagles are another thing and SE 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 stove 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 Sevy’s 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 got a leak, or more probably, all cheap Sevys look like that. But who cares – they having fun!
NRS MaverIK and Outlaw
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 then long sought after ‘self-bailing Sunny‘? The symmetrical upturned ends (18″ of rocker we’re told) contribute to agility and helping it ride over the frothing pile. But not really: the flat ‘raft’ hull profile, excessive width and 20kg (46lb) weight make it slow, and the $1800 only-in-the-US price tag waters the old eyes.
Since then, I’ve never come across an owner far less a review of a MaverIK because I realise they’re 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. You even get chunky Leafield raft valves on the thwarts (backrests).
On the Salmon I don’t recall sitting in water (apart from when it came in over my head) so I suspect the self-bailing floor was indeed thick enough for my weight. And in a MaverIK you sit right on the floor, not on a seat. Not so good for paddling posture when the butt wants to be a bit higher than the heel.
To be honest the MaverIK is a proven, basic design, an expensive IK dinosaur not really suited to private ownership unless you start modifying it with a skeg, D-rings, proper seats and footrests, all escalating the cost to over $2000.
Like NRS, Aire are a respected American rafting manufacturer. 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 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) NRS are ‘tubeless’ (like Gumotex) but Aire’s use air bladders to support a shell or envelope. Cheap to make but extended drying times. 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 slimmer 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. The numbers are 13′ 3″ long, 32″ wide, 36lbs and a huge 400-lb payload (4.04m; 81cm; 16.3kg, 180kg) – and all for $750. The Sawtooth is said to be faster than an old Sunny and runs one or two seats. It bails but is bladdered – not so good for quick drying. Plus it’s Aire’s lighter-duty, Chinese-made ‘Tributary’ brand with only a year’s warranty.
In 2020 they updated the Sawtooth.
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 might 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 K’light 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 inherent ‘numpty’ image factor that burdens IKs so heavily. When I was talking myself into buying a Feathercraft Java a couple of years back, 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 BK: read this or this and watch this.