Testing an inflatable kayak
This turned into a more real than expected test after all.
Last fall, attending an outdoor bloggers conference in Arkansas, I came across Advanced Elements, makers of inflatable kayaks and paddleboards.
Forget any notions of pool toys. These appeared to be, and are, serious boats, strong, sturdy and durable, with prices to match.
So I made arrangements test one — the Straitedge Angler Pro model — this spring.
When it arrived in the mail, I showed it to my wife. It’s a 10.5-foot kayak that folds to fit in a large backpack.
Inflatable kayaks are portable.
My immediate thought was of our sons.
One lives in the nation’s fifth largest city because of work. Another is headed to the biggest for school.
Both love to paddle, with one loving to fish, but neither have room in their urban apartments for a hard shell kayak, or a truck for carrying one around.
“This would be perfect for someone like our them,” I said. “They could throw this in a trunk, drive to the water, blow it up and go.”
Then, I proved it. Unintenionally.
On my way to another conference, a driver — distracted for the smallest of moments — crossed the center line of the highway and hit my truck.
No one was injured, thankfully. But my pickup — with its rack for carrying canoes and kayaks — went straight to the shop. I found myself in a rental, a Jeep Wrangler.
It’s much like one I had years ago. Sporty, fun and compact.
So all that talk about the Straitedge Angler Pro being just right for the person with little space and/or a smaller vehicle?
I lived it.
If anything, though, that confirmed what I thought. The Straightedge Angler Pro is very nice boat, one especially perfect for fishermen and women in that situation.
Readying it for the water was surprisingly fast and easy. Out of the pack, you lay it flat, positioning the seat — mesh over a high-backed metal frame — so that the measuring tape for checking fish lengths is between your feet.
There are five chambers to inflate. You start with one side, do the other, then the floor. Finally, you inflate the bladders in front and back, both of which are covered in bungee straps for stashing gear.
It took less than five minutes using the double-action hand pump to do all that.
The result, meanwhile, is a surprisingly firm boat. Of course, the Advanced Elements’ CEO, Charlie Hall, patented the first water bed in 1971, so this kind of thing is right up his alley.
Anyway, the inflated chambers and some caribiners and D-rings hold the seat in place. It was comfortable, though I missed having foot pegs, like on most hardshells.
You don’t have to fish only from a sitting position, though. The floor of the kayak is – when inflated to 6.55 psi – rigid enough that it’s possible to stand.
As for ease of paddling, the Straitedge Angler Pro features aluminum ribs that tuck into sleeves on the bow and stern. They give the kayak a frame of “hard” leading edges, something that’s meant to make it track – i.e. stay on course — better.
Inflatable kayaks can be sturdy.
They were already installed on the test model I used, so I didn’t have to assemble them. But I appreciate whoever did.
This kayak — 38.5 inches wide — is not built for straight-line speed. So don’t expect to go racing.
But with that frame in place, it steered well enough. For testing, I paddled it on lakes of various sizes, from 20 on up to about 720 acres. I tried cruising across open water, poking around in coves and cutting through grass and weeds.
So long as you don’t try to overpower things with every stroke, the kayak ran pretty true. It didn’t take long before it was possible to get into an easy rhythm.
If you want to go a step further in terms of steering, the kayak comes with a “deep fin” that you can attach to the bottom. It helped, though it wasn’t absolutely necessary, either.
There’s one other thing that separates this kayak from other inflatables.
Namely, it can handle lots of accessories.
Go to a kayak bass tournament sometime. The boats used by competitors often look like floating porcupines, what with multiple rods sticking in the air. Then you add in the fish finders, the anchors, the standing rails and more and suddenly you’re not talking minimalist boats anymore.
The Straitedge Angler Pro has a bit of that to its game, too.
The one I tested had 1-inch rail mounts front and back. They allow for the addition of rod holders and other tools.
The one place I didn’t get to test this – and that I would liked to – was on flowing water. The Straitedge is rated capable of handling up to Class II rivers, and it “cornered” well enough that I think it would be fine dodging boulders in some current.
In the waters I was in, I never encountered anything that made me worry about a puncture.
But I wouldn’t necessarily drag it or try to scooch over stones either.
Once you’re done fishing, you fold the Straitedge and return it to its pack. Deflating it is simple. You open the valves and let what air can escape out. Then, you reverse the hose on the hand pump and suck out what remains.
So is the Straitedge Angler Pro worth the investment?
And it is that, an investment. Suggested retail price is $999.99. Most outlets online and in stores price it at about $100 less than that, though.
Either way, it’s not cheap. It’s less expensive than, say, a Jackson Coosa, but definitely more than a general purpose, run of the mill, box store kayak, too.
But that’s OK. It’s got a place on the water.
If you have a small car for transporting your boat, or a small space at home for storing it, or just want to be able to throw a boat on your shoulders and hike it back in to a hidden pond – that sounds like fun just thinking about it – the Straitedge Angler Pro could be just the thing.
The point, after all, is getting out there and having fun. This boat let’s you do that, sometimes in a situation where no other could.