Submitted: 09-05-2007 by David S.
I purchased the AdvancedFrame at REI a couple of weeks ago, and my only regret is waiting so long to take the plunge! I've been wanting to kayak more ever since my first trip out in a hardshell... the only thing that's been stopping me is storage and transportation. Then I discovered inflatables...
Dollar for dollar, the AdvancedFrame is a high quality, serious watercraft. This is not a toy, and after having seen its construction, I see how silly my fears of bladder punctures were. It has much more in common with a whitewater raft than it does with inflatable pool toys.
Packaging: It comes in a nylon zippered bag with two carry handles and a reinforced floor. No shoulder strap, and no backpack straps. I must admit that I was more impressed by the storage bag that Innova uses, which has backpack straps and doubles as a drybag... but then again the Innova is twice the price. This is a high quality bag, and with the reinforced floor and the heavy-duty zipper, I'm sure it will last for years. Not a lot of spare room in the bag; I can't fit my pump in the bag, but then again my pump is a fairly large floor model.
Overall construction: The vessel breaks down into several parts: there is the "skin," which has the same basic shape as a closed cockpit hardshell. This has inflatable coaming made to work with a spray skirt, but there is a velcro/zipper opening to allow complete access to the entire length of the cockpit (fore and aft) for cleaning/maintenance. There is also a bungee on the bow for storage, and there is a place to do the same thing in the aft, although no included bungee. There is also a small amount of storage behind the seat. I can keep a pair of shoes (size 13US) and a small drybag behind the seat with a little room to spare.
Inside the vessel one will find the main bladders, which are housed in a heavy nylon sleeve (1200 Denier I think), with a zipper to allow access to the bladders. The bladders have two chambers, so in case of a puncture the vessel will not fully deflate. There are also two small bladders on the top inboard side of the main bladders...these lift the front deck of the kayak to provide additional legroom.
The main bladder assembly forms a large oval shape, and on the fore and aft of the oval are ballistic nylon sleeves which hold mostly "U" shaped aluminum bars. These provide the shape for the bow and stern of the vessel, allowing for better hull shape (hydrodynamics and all that). These bars are also what make this vessel a sort of "hybrid" between a folding and an inflatable, since they form a rigid bow and stern frame.
The final components are an inflatable floor and a cushioned seat. The floor looks and feels to me like a miniature camping mattress. It is approximately 1-2 inches thick when inflated. The seat is also only about an inch thick, and clips to the main bladder on each side with large nylon straps.
Operation: This vessel seems to perform very well for its size. It's only 10.5' long, but it tracks reasonably well, and has a decent speed. It is wider than most hardshells, and so it also feels a bit more stable. Of course the wider width makes a longer paddle desirable: I've got a 240mm, and it feels about right. There are neoprene reinforcements sewn onto either side of the cockpit to prevent wear from rubbing when paddling.
Setup time is a breeze. The two main bladders inflate in about 5 minutes, the auxiliary bladders, coaming and floor all inflate in about half that. all in all, you can go from trunk to water in under 10 minutes if working quickly.
Cockpit size is adequate. I am 6'4", 200+ lbs, and I have just enough room, but not much to spare. I have to lift up on the coaming slightly to get my legs into the footwell once seated, but I can do it without having to "worm" my way down in like with some hardshells. This makes it easier (although not exactly easy) to get back in if I want to take a swim. I wouldn't recommend it for anyone larger than myself, especially if you have big feet (I wear size 13US shoes, and my feet just barely fit). It is comfortable for several hours on the water at a time. I don't know about longer times than that, but I get the feeling that I could spend all day in it comfortably.
The cockpit is relatively dry, although there is a small amount of leakage around the bow zipper in moderate chop. I had it out the other day in about 8 inch chop, and the bow was getting pretty wet paddling into the wind. I could feel a drop or two of water every 10 seconds or so coming through the zipper, but this was partially because I had a drybag bungeed to the front deck. It was making the deck sag just a bit, and was causing water to pool. I moved the drybag after a few minutes and the water stopped pooling; after that I didn't notice any water coming in to the cockpit at all. With a spray skirt, I would imagine one could stay very dry in just about all weather conditions, but without it I wouldn't recommend going out in larger chop than 8-10 inches unless you don't mind getting water in the cockpit.
All in all, this is a well constructed, first class vessel. I deliberated long and hard about which kayak to get, and it finally came down to this or an Innova. I went with this one primarily because of price, and because of the closed-cockpit design. I like the way it looks, and would like to use a spray-skirt for colder weather conditions.