Light, compact Takes as long as a clumsy air-bagging Can suck (vacuum) as well as inflate Has conventional slide switch, not ‘touchy’ inductive switch on the newer Max 2 version Will do other stuff, like Exped Synmats and fire embers Newer models can be used as a power pack, have LED lights, are IPX7 rated and can be programmed to sing Waltzing Matilda.
Slow to recharge Packraft still needs topping up by mouth or mini hand pump Will run out eventually, unlike manual methods, and will eventually die for good
What they say My name is Max Pump 2020. I can quickly inflate and deflate your swimming tube. air mattress. and other inflatables. With vacuum bags .I can create more capacity for your suitcase and wardrobe at home. When in outdoor.I can provide oxygen for your burning ovens. enabling you to enjoy your food more easily.
Review An electric pump to save a couple of minutes’ packraft air-bagging? Do me a favour! That’s what I think when applied to bulkier IKs where a two-way barrel pump is fast and easy. But factor in cost, weight, size, USB rechargeability plus supplementary uses and, for a packraft, something from the FlextailGear’s pump range will be worth a punt. Air-bagging is a clever idea to quickly inflate a typical packraft, but on some days it’s not the most intuitive of movements. Once a day is fine, but particularly on a trip where you’re airing up and down a few times a day, the effortlessness of the Max is most welcome. A good case to point was my recent paddle on the Wye where accessing my Rebel 2K’s internal storage pockets to get to the camping gear each night meant re-inflating the boat every morning. The Flexpump would have made this less tiresome. Another example was getting back from a tiring sea paddle and wanting to reinflate the rinsed boat to dry properly. Plug in the Flexy and get on with other after-paddle chores.
Out of the box You get the pump, four nozzles, a short USB-A lead and a small bag. While one nozzle will fit loosely a Boston valve’s threaded airbag port, nothing fits the one-way valve body where you’d stick your hand pump nozzle. You’d think with Boston valves so common on Chinese-made slackrafts, packrafts and cheaper IKs, this Chinese brand would include a Boston valve nozzle. Luckily, I’ve amassed loads of adaptors and nozzles, and one 16mm (5/8″) adaptor fitted the pump’s main nozzle and jammed into the Boston port. Off a computer allow two hours to fully charge the pump out of the box. After just three fills (12 mins?), it took another hour to get the green light. Maybe off the mains is faster.
I estimate the volume of my Rebel 2K is 550 litres, so at the claimed flow rate of 300 litres (currently the highest in Flextailgear’s range of mini pumps), that ought to take about two minutes. In fact it took 2:30s to reach the equivalent of airbag pressure in my unpacked 2K (full volume; above). And this was pushing through the valve, not direct into the body via the airbag port which may have been quicker. When the 2K is fully packed (with up to 140 litres stashed in the side pockets) it will be quicker. And it does this while left jammed into the valve so you make other preparations, or look around and admire the scenery. My fat and comfy full-length Exped Synmat XP 9LW – which also needs air-bagging to avoid humid breath – inflates in just 25s. And as many will know, air-bagging a sleeping mat in a cramped tent when you’re worn out is not one of the joys of camping. The Max 2020’s 3600mAH lithium battery is claimed to run for 40 minutes, so that ought to do at least 10-15 raft fills plus a few mats, when camping. By comparison, I read that their Tiny pump (just 80g) will do three raft fills.
Deflating either of these items is of course as easy as rolling them up, but getting the last bit of air out can be tricky, even though it can save a lot of packed volume. Pump suction definitely works on my Seawave IK because the one-way valve can be pushed open with the bayonet nozzle. On the packraft and mat, you have to suck from the unvalved port, and by the time you’ve plugged that, some air gets drawn back in. I found plain rolling up and squeezing or sucking the last of the air by mouth was easiest.
Last word to Sven from Anfibio: “Can’t live without one anymore. Cannot remember when I last used an inflation bag.” These young people, honestly.
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 bellowsfootpump (left) is over and even low-pressure IKs now come with some sort of barrel pump.
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. But 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. If you use a Bravo footpump frequently it just plain wears out, so if you’re using a 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 whitewater 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.
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.
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’re hard to find in the UK, the very long, and slim US-made K-Pump 200 (right) may also be suited to dropstitch 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, but a tenth of the price. The one on the left came with a ROBfin and was rated at 4psi.
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 a typical 7-10psi. Barrel pumps with long, slimbodies (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.
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 doesn’t spring back 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. A lot of people do this. 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,
Packrafts are usually inflated with a featherlight airbag which comes with the boat. A nozzle on the bag screws into the boat’s valve and you scoop air into the bag (easier with a breeze) and ‘bear hug’ it to push the air into the boat. It’s takes about ten scoops to inflate a boat this way, then unscrew the bag nozzle and quickly screw on the valve cp without losing much air. Next, you top off by mouth: the firmer the boat the better it rides. In the video below (speeded up x 15) from walking up to a beach with my paddle in my pack, to loading up and paddling away took 8 minutes.
Things have moved on: most packrafts now have one-way Boston valves which makes topping up much easier. And for those who don’t have lungs like Luciano Pavarotti, you can use a light and compact mini handpump (below) to top up and get the boat good and firm.
Firm boats paddle better but like IKs, a packraft that’s been firmly inflated by hot ambient air on land will go soft once cooled in the water and will need more topping up. The pump above has a hose which means with a Boston valve-equipped packraft, you can top-up on the water, if needed. A good packraft should hold air for days at a time, but don’t leave it fully inflated and out of the water in the hot sun. The air inside heats up and expands, pressures rise and the seams will get strained.
A mini hand pump is very handy to get a good fill into your packraft. But now there are tiny rechargeable electric pumps which will do the job of the air bag. More here.