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Saturday, October 31, 2015

An Ode to Inflatable Kayaks and Canoes

I do a lot of rafting, kayaking and canoeing here on Kodiak, and I generally use inflatable boats.  Other options include 'hard shell' (i.e. the traditional sea kayak or canoe), heavy inflatable rafts, or even the super light-weight alpacka type inflatables.  So which is best? Is there small boat that does it all?  I'd answer the question with an emphatic 'NO'.

There are a wide variety of paddling opportunites here on Kodiak.  We have white water paddling, flat-water lakes and rivers, remote fly-out hunting trips, remote fly-out camping trips, there are trips where you combine hiking with paddling, and there is sea kayaking close to town.  There is not a boat that is perfect for everything.  But there are boats that are perfect for particular activities.

If you only do white water kayaking near town then get a hard shell 'creek boat'.  If you only sea kayak near town then get a hard shell sea kayak.  But if you want a boat that packs up easily and fits in a floatplane or packs away easily in a skiff then inflatable boats are a better option.  And if you really want to go lightweight and carry your boat on your back then the alpaca type raft is what you want.

Each particular type of boat has its downsides.  Hard shells are bulky and difficult to transport.  Inflatables are not as fast as hardshells, and do not track as well in the wind.  Alpacka type rafts are an extreme version of the inflatable type - they are super lightweight and packable, but are also very slow and the least 'water-worthy'.  Full on inflatable rafts are very heavy, draw more water, and pretty much only good for floating the bigger rivers or for use on flatwater with an engine mounted on the back.

I personally like mid range inflatables because they are very versatile.  I can pretty much do everything in them except go on long, extended hiking trips (the sole domain of the alpacka).  Furthermore my inflatables are very tough.  I can drag loaded boats down shallow rivers, and grind against barnacle covered rocks without fear of damaging the bottom.  Try that in a fiberglass or thin skinned boat!

Inflatables are also very easy to get in and out of and carry a LOT of gear.  My family much prefers the open cockpit of our inflatables to the closed holes of hard shell kayaks.  I have gone on extended archaeological surveys where we fit 4 people and all the gear into 2 inflatables - and, better yet, we also still fit into one floatplane.  Inflatables are also about 1/2 the cost of a comparable hardshell.

I do own different types of inflatable rafts (my choices are all made by Innova).  I have inflatable sea kayaks, canoes, and even a self-bailing river kayak.  I have found that each of these is a little better than the others at doing something.  The sea kayaks are better on flat water while the canoes do better in rivers.  However, I have also done everything with all of them.  I even did white water in the inflatable sea kayaks, and did an archaeological survey along the coast of North Afognak in the inflatable canoes.

So if you are looking for something versatile for exploring Kodiak - an inflatable is not a bad way to go (click here for an interesting site that compares different inflatable kayaks and canoes).  Patrick

Family sea kayaking on a day trip along the coast of South Afognak

Moving an archaeological field camp across a lake

Extended archaeological survey on a river

Extended archaeological survey by inflatable sea kayak

Whitewater fun near town

More whitewater fun

Float hunt trip - carrying the meat and gear downriver


1 comment:

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