Submitted: 06-01-2009 by kiltedcelt
I live in an apartment and have no space to store a full size hard shell kayak or canoe for that matter. My first purchase was a Sevylor Tahiti K-79HF kayak. The Tahiti was relatively easy to pump up and with paddle, pump, and pfd would stow in a large duffel bag. Handling however, left something to be desired. Even with the optional skeg it didn't track well on flat water and the problem got worse with wind blowing across the water.
So, my next choice was a Sevylor K1 kayak. The K1 was nice but too small for my long legs. Searching around I settled on paying slightly more for a discounted Advanced Elements Advance Frame Expedition which I purchased from AirKayaks.com. I chose the Expedition for its larger size and thus more leg room.
My first impression upon receiving the kayak was how durable the construction appeared. The outer shell of the kayak is covered by a heavy duty nylon fabric and the bottom is coated by a thick pvc material. Shape is given to the bow and stern by internal metal frames. Valves to pump up all chambers are easy to use and the large valves that inflate the main chambers also allow rapid deflation when storing the kayak. The kayak has a few neat features that make it more comfortable.
The seat has a lumber support bladder that you can inflate and deflate by mouth while you're in the boat so that you can tailor just how much support you want on the fly. Also, there is a foot bar that can be adjusted depending on how long your legs are. The foot bar gives you something to brace your feet against making you feel more secure in the cockpit. An optional spray skirt can seal the cockpit by attaching around an inflatable coaming. As I learned the hard way, on Lake Michigan, the spray skirt is pretty much a necessity in any paddling situation where waves are large or choppy if you don't want to paddle with water sloshing around in the cockpit. There is ample storage space behind the seat and even in front of your feet, depending on how tall you are.
I did have a couple gripes with the design of the kayak though. My first is that the stretch cords on the front deck are too far away from the cockpit to allow easy access to anything placed under them, even if you have long arms like I do. You can get closer to the cords by unzipping the zipper that runs from the coaming part way down the center of the spray deck. Still, I would have preferred having the gear straps closer to the cockpit.
My second gripe is that the seat doesn't have enough padding. I would have preferred thicker padding in the bottom part of the seat. The kayak comes with its own large duffel that has enough room to hold the kayak and a pump but not enough room for two-piece paddles and a pfd, however it still meets my criteria of taking up little space in either the apartment or the car.
I think the Expedition weighs slightly more than my Tahiti. If I had to carry it a long distance I'd prefer to put it on a rolling baggage dolly rather than shoulder it - it's simply too heavy and awkward, however it's still far more portable than a rigid hard shell. Set up time goes quickly once you learn how much air to pump into all the chambers. The only thing to really pay attention to is making sure the floor is in straight as you inflate it. I've found you have to periodically turn the boat over while inflating to make sure the floor is in straight since its a separate piece that is unattached to the side tubes. Getting the floor crooked can affect how the boat tracks in the water.
The kayak is surprisingly rigid once it's pumped up. In colder weather, the inflatable floor actually helps insulate you from cold penetrating into the boat from the water. On the water the kayak tracks well, even in high winds. It handles far more like a true hard shell kayak. I don't have the backbone accessory but have read from other reviews that it apparently makes the tracking even better. Given its large size (13' long), it won't turn on a dime, but then it's not a whitewater kayak but is more intended for long distance paddling with lots of gear. The Expedition feels very stable in the water and seems almost impossible to roll. You can roll the kayak (I've seen videos of it), however it's so stable it won't roll without some serious incentive.
Overall I've found my Expedition to be a joy to paddle and it even commands some respect from traditional hard shell kayakers when they see how well it's constructed compared to lesser inflatables. If you're limited on space to store a hard shell kayak and don't want to pay for the extra cost and complexity of a folding kayak you can't do better than to buy an Advanced Elements inflatable. One final plus is the forum community on the Advanced Elements website. If you have any questions about your 'yak or how to accessorize it you'll find expert help on their forum in the form of fellow AE inflatable owners as well as company experts.