Updated Summer 2020
As you can tell, although I don’t currently own one, I’m pretty keen on Czech-made Gumotex IKs for all the good reasons repeated here ad nauseam. For my sort of paddling boats like the Seawave tick my boxes, but Other IKs are available and I’ve had a few of those too. Some probably sell more in a year than Gumotex ever did since a drop of latex first dropped from a rubber tree.
In France, or anywhere else in the world other than the UK, they love their gonflables. Just like in the US, ‘duckies’ are seen as a fun way of getting people onto the water – even white water – without any entrapment worries. Eskimo rolls and Level 5 BCU accreditation with honours can all come later, or maybe never.
But IKs are actually 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.
Made in Austria, long-established Grabner specialises 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 to because Grabners are expensive and so barely sold outside German-speaking countries while Czech-made Gumotex IKs have gained a worldwide following. Like Gumboats, Grabners are made from a tough and durable Hypalon-like synthetic rubber called EPDM (more here) which means they 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 translates to added stiffness over length and necessarily good quality materials and construction which includes vulcanising after glueing.
Because of all this Grabner prices are unapologetically high, and on top of that you have to pay extra for many accessories 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: among the most expensive and best made IKs around in the classic ‘bladders nein danke’ European tradition.
Holiday 2 or 3
Grabner may well have been the European benchmark before the much less expensive Czech Gumotex came on the scene. In the 1980s or so Grabner bought the rights for the Semperit Forelle (left; many more images here) the original do-it-all touring IK from the 1960s, as used by Audrey Sutherland (in the longer SF III version) and on which the Holidays are directly based. Costing around €1600, the Holiday 2 (and you thought ‘Sunny’ was a crap name!) is the classic 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? but 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-tube 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, something puts me off: the over-complicated designs, naff go-faster markings as well as the envelope/bladder design and PVC materials. Overall AE’s seem a bit too ‘American designed and Chinese made’ for what I like in an IK.
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 £190 drop-stitch floor in place the low-pressure one that comes with the boat. (More on drop stitch 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, mildew potential. They don’t seem to have a model that greatly improves on the various IKs I’ve owned which work fine without any metal frames, zips, envelopes, D/S floors or slow-drying bladders.
The StraightEdge II (left) is 4m x 90cm and 21kg – ie: 4 inches wider and 4 kilos heavier than a Solar, although it does self-bail. A lot to be said for that – or is there? Handy for surfing or white water in that it saves you tipping out. To achieve self-bailing properly (ie: not sitting in 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 (above; 4m x 82cm at 19 kilos – very close to many of the boats listed here) and with a former sea kayaker’s review here. Nice pointy bow it’s got to be said, but remember it’s a bladder boat made of PVC. More reviews on Amazon US or Paddling.net, but here’s one guy who knows what he’s about and has actually paddled an Advanced Elements Convertable too (double/single; 4.6m long; 32cm claimed) and wrote a review. Pack some sandwiches because after you’ve finished reading the review you can expect to get lost in Douglas Wilcox’s Scottish seakayaking blog and photos for some time. Don’t take my words for it regarding AEs, I’ve barely seen one but would like a closer look at the Expedition one time.
People may ask, why no Sea Eagle Explorer 380 or 420; after all the reviews are good on Paddling Net (a great resource). Basically, the fake ‘review websites’ they seem to run (last time I looked) put me off SE, and anyway a 380 is as wide as a garage door. I suspect they’re 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 D/S Sea Eagles are another thing and to their credit, SE were the first big manufacturer to take this now much-copied route. More here.
Sevylors are probably the best-selling IKs in the world. Why? because they’re cheap, Chinese-made 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 that will do nicely for two weeks camped by a river with the kids. While it lasts you’ll have a whole lot of fun. Sevy’s higher-end boats are no more: owned by Us camping stove giant, Coleman, they’re concentrating fully on the pile ’em high, sell em cheap mass market. You’ll see use ones on eBay for under a hundred quid. 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 Riviera (below; 11kg, 165 kg capacity, 3.25m x 80cm wide). This old 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 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 did the run in a raft the day before, stayed over and did it again in an IK next day. I had a fantastic time, attacking my first-ever rapids while amazingly, staying aboard. I rode it forwards, backwards, jumped out and hopped 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 poor 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 95-kg weight. And in a MaverIK you sit right on the floor, not on a seat. Not so good for paddling posture when the butt should be a bit higher than the heel.
To be honest the MaverIK is a proven but 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.
Aire Super Lynx
Many years ago I was eyeing up the Aire Super Lynx as my next IK, mostly because theboatpeople.com liked it. A heavy-payload PVC self-bailer, it looked the part but weighs 46lbs (21kg). What few reviews I read rated it, but complained about drying times. I know all about that now – plus it is over a yard wide, like a lot of US-branded IKs, partly I suspect because it’s an optional self-bailer so needs a thick floor which adds 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 (see below).
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 (could be good) 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 basic – a 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 spinny for rock dodging or looking back upriver. A bit like a packraft in fact. And at no less than 40 inches wide (like the Gumotex K2,) it’s also 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 first ever IK run in a MaverIK, above), but even that didn’t help me through the only Class III on the run: the three-wave ‘Smelter’ hiding out of town and which had slipped through my recce. Result? A lowside from the Hyside and a stomach full of Animas siltwater; the fate of most renters hitting the Smelter that week, though looking at the pictures it’s clear I wandered too far to the left.
What’s wrong with 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.