Folding Kayaks

Kayaks are cool tools all by themselves… small, simple boats that give you access to virtually any waterway, big or small. Simple enough for a novice to enjoy, but with skill and experience, kayaks can also used for thousand-mile expeditions far from support.

Folding kayaks are a special breed among kayaks in general. They typically consist of a wood or aluminum frame inserted into a fabric skin, and assembled boats are reminiscent of the bone-and-hide baidarkas used by Inuit hunters. The obvious advantage to a folding kayak over the far more common plastic or fiberglass boats available is storage. When not in use, a folding kayak can be stored in an apartment or car trunk. But the boats are also serious performers–they are truly in their element when the seas get rough–and they tend to last much longer than rigid boats. Cracks in plastic and fiberglass can retire a rigid boat in 6 to 10 years. Folding kayaks can last for decades, not only due to the materials, but also due to the fact the individual pieces can be replaced.

Klepper of Germany has been in the business the longest, since 1909, and their boats have been around the world, including across the Atlantic, twice. They are also used by Special Forces. They are also expensive, but not quite as expensive as Feathercraft of Canada, a relative newcomer. Feathercraft makes boats using a high-tech approach in materials and design. Their boats pack down smaller, but they also cost more. Folbot is an American-made folding kayak that enjoys good reputation, in part due to their absolute commitment to standing behind their products, pretty much for life. Their boats are highly regarded, and they are significantly cheaper than the competition. They are Ford to Klepper’s BMW.

I just took delivery of a newcomer in the folding kayak world, a Longhaul Mark II made by Mark Eckhardt of Colorado. Eckhardt started his business repairing Kleppers and making accessories. He was an official Klepper dealer and service center for time, but has now struck out on his own making his own boats, that are in many respects are identical to Kleppers–a Longhaul frame will actually fit a Klepper skin and vice versa. But Eckhardt has addressed a number of what he sees as design flaws of the Klepper in his new boat.

Folbot Cooper

For an inexpensive folding kayak suitable for a novice, I recommend a new boat just announced by Folbot called the Cooper. Small and light, the Cooper fits into one bag, and has nice profile. And it comes in at a price that is 2/3 the price (or better) of other reputable folding singles, at $1400. As I mentioned, Folbot has been around for decades. A brand new model from them is a boat that has a lot experience behind its design and manufacture. Additionally, Folbot has an unbeatable guarantee… they guarantee that it will be free of manufacturing defects for life, and they’ll give you 100% of your money back within 60 days if you don’t like the boat and return in “like new” condition. That’s a tough deal to beat.

-- Alex Gray  

For reading I recommend:
The Complete Folding Kayaker
by Ralph Diaz
2003, 256 pages, Second Edition
$25 (used)

Available from Amazon

Manufacturers:
Klepper America
Feathercraft
Folbot
Long Haul

A fine enthusiasts website for tracking the latest in folding kayaks is foldingkayaks.org

Sample Excerpts:

From Complete Folding Kayaker:

Folbot Aleut I
The Aleut is the least expensive foldable kayak on the market today. Like the double in the Folbot family, the Aleut is designed for the mass market, for people who aren’t performance-minded but simply want to enjoy paddling without much fuss. For that market, the Aleut I delivers the essentials of any folding kayak–foldable convenience and stability.

The Aleut’s frame consists of aluminum long pieces and polycarbonate ribs. Its hull is Hypalon, and its deck is coated polyester.

Assembly and Portability
Assembly is a snap; the Aleut has only three ribs and only about fourteen parts. Some parts are already held together in subassemblies. You can get the Aleut either in one or two bags, but take the convenient two-bag option because the single bag is awkward to carry.

Stability and Seaworthiness
The Aleut’s stability cannot be overstated. No kayak can be termed untippable, but the Aleut goes a long way in that direction. It handles well in open water, and its nose refuses to dive in all but the highest waves and wake.

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Bailers and Pumps

Bailers and pumps are necessary safety items for any kayaker. They’re doubly important in a foldable because, in the event of a capsize, the relatively large interior space could fill with a huge amount of water.

A bailer is a handy way to extract water quickly, but you won’t find a single one on the market. Make your own from a pail, plastic bleach bottle, or almost any large, unbreakable beverage container made for refrigerator storage.

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