When we started vanning this summer, we knew we wanted to have some fun gear on hand to keep us active. An inflatable kayak was the purchase we made first, and we don’t regret it one bit!
I had no idea that an inflatable, tandem, large-dog-friendly kayak even existed, so when our research revealed a very well-reviewed option under $1k, we took a vanlife detour to acquire one.
Why we chose this kayak
This inflatable kayak became a must-have from the moment we discovered its existence.
We’d been seeking activities that are dog-friendly, and kayaking was the perfect solution. Bikes were also a contender, but my research on dog bike trailers wasn’t turning up any promising options, I’m not even sure how Tiger would react to being in one, and we’re yet to install a bike rack on the van. Plus, I absolutely love water sports, and with summer in full swing, the inflatable tandem kayak (with room for Tiger) was an easy choice.
This kayak in particular ticked some important boxes:
- It’s packable.
- It’s durable.
- It’s well-reviewed.
- There’s space for us and the (big) dog, all in one vessel.
We did research and consider some other kayak options, including the Oru Kayak Haven tandem folding kayak, but the reviews of all other kayak models we viewed were fewer; many even threw up some red flags.
If we were going to spend a significant chunk of money on a recreational activity investment, we wanted to make the best choice.
It’s important to note here that we really only considered buying from REI because of their one-year return policy for co-op members. That’s an essential insurance policy for us when we’re considering a big outdoor gear expenditure like this. There may be some better kayak options out there, but this was the best choice available at REI.
Comparing the prices and reviews of all of REI’s tandem kayak options, it quickly became obvious that our best bet was the Advanced Elements Advance Frame convertible tandem inflatable kayak.
Once we received the kayak (we had to order it as it was out of stock in store), we took it out on Silver Lake in June Lake, California the next day — and the day after that, and the day after that, inflating and deflating it each and every day.
We got a pretty good idea of all of this kayak’s pros and cons for leisurely family use, after owning our kayak for a few months.
Inflation and Transport
The carrying bag makes it manageable for one person to carry it over their shoulder (deflated), though it is heavy and bulky at 52 pounds and 35 x 21 x 12 inches. Inflated, it really takes two to carry, as there’s a handle on the front and one on the back. When using the kayak alone (it converts to a one-person kayak), it’d be best to inflate it at the shore if possible.
The inflation instructions are easy to follow, and hand inflation is totally manageable with a high volume dual action hand pump.
When carrying the inflated kayak, it sags a bit in the middle — worse if you try to carrying anything in it — but we manage just fine now that we’ve got a little practice. We put our PFDs on at the car and carry water and snacks in our daypack; the only things we carry inside the boat when transporting it on land is our paddle and some towels. For our use we’ve been carrying it from a campsite about fifty feet from shore.
Once we’re at the water, there’s a good amount of space for everything. If you’re not paddling with a 65-pound dog, you’ll have even more room.
We both have pretty short legs, so (even with the dog) there’s room for our daypack either in front of or behind the seat of the front paddler, and there’s also room for some small items behind the seat of the back paddler (e.g. Tiger’s leash and land harness, a water bottle, and a towel). There’s also bungee lacing and D-ring tie-downs on the front and back for easy storage and access to small items (flip flops, Tiger’s collapsible water bowl, etc.)
Comfort and Handling
We’ve been kayaking on several occasions around the world before with a variety of hard-bodied rentals.
Using the Advanced Elements tandem was our first experience in an inflatable kayak. We’ve been spending about two hours per day on the water, and so far it feels vastly more comfortable than any rigid kayak we’ve ever paddled in. The seatback angles are adjustable via the durable straps that attach them to the boat; these make it easy to get a comfortable custom fitted seat.
I also think Tiger feels more secure and comfortable in this than he would be in a hard-shell kayak. It’s almost completely inconsequential when he suddenly sits up or shifts his weight entirely from one side of the kayak to the other.
The kayak sits low in the water, making paddling easy and the likelihood of tipping lower. This kayak is recommended for flat water, so it’s unlikely you’d tip under those conditions, unless you’re jumping overboard for a swim.
Tiger did give our kayak a little test one day when he was watching some ducks near our boat. We stayed very stable despite his persistent attempts to throw himself overboard.
As we’ve been testing our new setup with Tiger — and to save a little money upfront — we decided to start out with only one paddle. We’ve only taken our boat out in relatively calm waters, but the boat handles well — comparable to our past kayak experiences.
The boat has a tracking fin, a reinforced stern and a rigid bow with aluminum frame reinforcement. The kayak’s REI listing claims that it “rivals the tracking of a hard-shell day-touring kayak,” and I agree.
The boat is made of a durable, triple-layer polyester material with a double PVC coating for puncture resistance and welded seams.
I was surprised at how durable this kayak feels.
The inflatable floor of the boat, which is not exposed to the underside exterior of the boat, seems to be the most likely thing to puncture. It’s still thick and feels durable, just less so than the boat’s exterior-facing parts. It’s important to note that the floor’s air chamber is separate from the rest of the boat (there are actually 6 separate air chambers in this kayak), so if one happened to be compromised, it’s not like you’d start sinking. I mostly felt this was important to mention in case you also plan to bring along a big dog, which brings me to my next points.
Two Adults and a Dog
The Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame Convertible Tandem Inflatable Kayak has a weight capacity of 550 pounds and a two-person tandem design with plenty of space between the legs of the rear paddler for a sizable dog.
For reference, I’m 5’3, and here’s what our back seat looks like with Tiger riding along.
Bringing a large dog in an inflatable kayak requires some extra equipment, both to keep Tiger safe and to protect our boat. Tiger wears boots, so his nails won’t pop our vessel, and a Ruffwear Float Coat in case of emergency.
I mostly have Tiger wear the boots since we travel with them in the van anyway. They’re probably unnecessary a majority of the time, but when he’s fighting to jump out of the boat after he’s spotted some wildlife, I’m definitely happy he’s got them on.
Notes on Inflation and Deflation
Per the manufacturer’s recommendations, we’d purchased a 12-volt electric pump to inflate the majority of the kayak, plus a hand pump with a pressure meter to top it off to the correct pressure. We quickly decided the 12-volt pump was a complete waste of time and money — it was taking forever — and switched to hand pumping only. (Good thing REI has an easy return policy.)
I know it sounds really tedious, but it was much faster and easier using just the dual action hand pump we bought from West Marine. It inflates on both the downstroke and upstroke, and it only took a few minutes of pumping. If you’re active enough to go kayaking in the first place, this should be absolutely no problem. (Note: If you’re shopping exclusively at REI, they offer a similar double action hand pump from the same manufacturer as the kayak.)
Backbone Internal Kayak Frame – Improves tracking and rigidity, preventing the kayak from flexing in rougher waters.
Dura-Floor – Adds a rugged foam layer of protection to the kayak’s inflatable floor
Double Deck Conversion Kit – The Advanced Elements Deck Conversion kit zips in to transform the kayak into a closed deck, 2-person touring kayak with spray skirt coamings.
Single Deck Conversion Kit – The Advanced Elements Deck Conversion Kit transforms the kayak into a closed deck solo touring kayak.
Werner Skagit 4-Piece Kayak Paddle – Going along with our packable theme, we opted for a collapsible paddle, too. This one tucks away easily behind the sink in our van.
What’s Great About the Advanced Elements Inflatable Convertible Tandem Kayak
- inflatable (more compact/packable)
- convertible with accessories available for use by one person or 2 people, options to increase floor durability and rigidity, and deck conversion options for use with a spray skirt in cooler conditions
- affordable compared to other tandem kayak options
Room for Improvement
- inadequate electric pump (accessory purchased separately) — This is what’s recommended by the manufacturer, but I recommend skipping it entirely and just using a dual action hand pump, which we found to be considerably faster. If you do use the electric pump, you still need a hand pump to top it off to the recommended PSI. (An underinflated boat can be dangerous and makes your boat more susceptible to damage.)
- awkward to carry — The kayak sags when carrying it, so inflating it near where you’re launching it is essential. This may be improved by using the Backbone (listed in accessories above).
- not super affordable — Quality comes at a cost. If you won’t be using it often, it’s probably not worth the purchase.
About the Author
- In March 2014, Diana called it quits on her traditional American working life and set out to explore the world with her partner in crime (and love of her life) Ian Norman. They now live a sustainable life of full time travel, working for themselves and seeking adventure at the same time. Here on North to South, Diana documents their journey in achieving and maintaining this "road less traveled" way of life.
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