-- Last Updated: Feb-27-10 12:56 AM EST --
I have eight boats--And four of them are IKs. The solo IKs run from low-end(a Sevylor River X)to high-end(a Thrillseeker). I've also gotten to use a few different Aire/NRS/Advanced Elements boats, that have belonged to paddle partners I've met mostly whilst doing whitewater(the major drawback of inflatables of course is, ya can't find any dealer that'll let you demo one, so you quickly make river acquaintance with anybody that uses them.)
All the tandem IKs you listed in your post are very attractive in feature, and I've considered purchasing each of them myself at one time or another. But both because of price and the fact that I already had my solo IKs, I settled on a sale-priced Sea Eagle 380.
I have not regreted my decision. Yes, yes--I read the "Boat People"'s scathing opinion of these boats in comparison to all the other high-end(and higher priced)offferings out there...But here's how I based my analysis: All the boats are of similar length, beam and weight. All are made of reasonably tough materials, that I also reasoned, should last a minimum of three-five years(Got my SE 380 back in 2006, never had a tube leak and I've taken it down MANY a rock strewn Class III+). The "self-bailing" is four threaded caps in the reinforced hull. At first, I wondered if this was going to be enough on ww/the ocean, because one of my solo IK's has thirty holes in the hull and empties itself out instantly. But guess what? This also presents more drag when flying along in rapids/surf. I found that the Sea Eagle, with only two holes opened in stern, empties out more than quick enough and easily keeps pace with all other IKs out there. I even close all four bailing holes and paddle down rivers standing up. This amazes friends in small hardshell yaks and canoes.
Stand-up trout flyfishing is an absolute dream with the boat.(I used to lug around an 80 lb. canoe for this. But no more!)
The SE 380 is also my "go-to" boat to insure family/kids/guests/newbie safety...I seat my wife in the bow and run Cl. 3 with it...With a kid on my lap, I don't worry about most stuff up to Cl. 2 with it...I let a fat, badly out-of-shape, refuse-to-wear-a PFD Brother paddle it, and know he won't capsize all that easily(It holds 750 lbs.)\
The drawbacks? The paddles Sea Eagle provided are heavy, useless metal oak beams. The seats and trimming the boat properly, can take a little fidgeting till you get to know what's right for you. (I added thigh straps and minicell foam glued to a milkcrate shoved into the bow for a good brace while soloing with a double-blade --But most times, I paddle it kneeling down "canoe style," using a single blade.) I've taken out the seats and snorkeled with the boat. I've pitched a makeshift puptent and slept out overnight in it. I've even rigged it up for sailing with polytarp&PVC pipe.
Now I'm sure the Traveler, Tomcat, Bandit, Outfitter, StraitEdge can all yield similiar results, or even be stronger in a few areas. But more power to ya, if you cand find one of these that'll do all that, and beat Sea Eagle's prices as well.
Initially, I really liked the StraitEdge2. It looked like really quality workmanship--But guess what? It tracked too well!!! (This wasn't desirous for me, as I run alot of rapids, I needed something I could turn on a dime. So I bought the plastic folddown skeg for the SE 380, to use during those fishing-on-the-windy-lake times.)
PS- I wouldn't buy any Aire used, except from the company itself!
How's that for rambling? A few pics: