1. Advanced Elements Advanced Frame Convertible Kayak
The kayak is a reasonable compromise between the portability and the performance. Once I fixed the valves, it had become a reliable machine and I would not hesitate to take it on a long trip in a remote location for sea or white water kayaking in moderate conditions.
Among the positives:
- With all the accessories and other kayaking items, it can be easily packed into two check-in size bags.
- The modular design has its tremendous advantages, including easy assembly/disassembly and replacement of worn parts.
- It is a tough kayak with a reasonably thick skin; the inflatable parts are well protected from punctures through the bottom or the sides.
- The kayak is easy to paddle; it holds the course well.
- Thanks to its wide beam, the kayak is quite stable.
- Although the two-seat configuration has no significant storage space inside, it a good option to have for a one-day trip for two people.
Some issues to be aware of:
- As I have mentioned before, the twist-type valves can easily open on their own, at least on my kayak. This is a serious safety issue; however, it can be temporary fixed by wrapping an electrician tape around the valves. If this problem is not limited to my kayak, I hope that the manufacturer will address it shortly.
- The space inside is limited; expect to have large deck bag(s) if the trip is longer than a week, especially if carrying fresh water.
- These deck bags will catch the wind; keeping the kayak on its course on a windy day is going to be a challenge.
- The kayak is relatively slow: my cruising speed in flat water with a fully loaded kayak was about 2.5 knots. Unless planning a leisure group picnic trip, it should not be mixed with much faster hard shell kayaks.
- This kayak is not rollable. The only option in case of capsizing is a wet exit. If capsized, especially with the deck bags, it might be difficult to turn it over. I have not had an opportunity yet to test this myself.
- There are no lashings on the rear of the single deck, just behind the seat. This is the place where kayakers normally attach dry bags and more importantly rescue equipment, to make it easily accessible. I had to keep my rescue items in front of me, under the front deck lashings, where I already had plenty of other things attached. The rear deck lashings can be easily sewed in: this is a simple fix.
- The modular design makes inflating the kayak more challenging, as the sides and the bottom may misalign resulting in an odd shape. It also makes loading the kayak more difficult, as one needs to make sure that the loaded items do not shift kayak parts. However, it is a small price to pay for the advantages of the modular design.
- The kayak takes a long time to dry. After paddling in seawater, I suggest disassembling it completely and washing in fresh water with a hose or by soaking in a bath tab, piece by piece, including the paddles and the Back Bone. It may take a week to dry a fully disassembled kayak.
Suggested improvements, accessories and tips:
- The Back Bone is a must: it gives the kayak proper shape and rigidity.
- A cord threaded through the handles and the lashing loops that goes along the perimeter of the boat. I had placed it first for the safety, so I could grab it and hold to the kayak in case of an accident; it was also a good attachment point for the Wind Paddle sail (see below).
- Two four-piece paddles – they would easily fit into a check-in bag when disassembled. One for the paddling, one as a back up, kept partially assembled, under the front deck lashing for easy access.
- A spray skirt is a must if any waves are expected. West Marine was out of Advanced Elements skirts when I was buying my kayak. I had bought instead the Seals Adventurer Sprayskirt, size 5.2. It fits the kayak reasonably well, with an obvious caveat that, since the kayak itself and the cockpit rim are inflatable and therefore flexible, the skirt will keep away the spray and the light waves, but not much else.
- Replacing the inflatable cockpit rim with a metal or plastic tube that can be disassembled in two pieces. I have not tried it myself yet, but seen this design plenty of times used on foldable kayaks. This replacement would provide much better grip for the spray skirt.
- Before buying a safety vest, make sure to check that it is short enough to be comfortably worn with the skirt while paddling in the kayak. Mine was too long: I had to wear it inside the skirt.
- Before assembling the Back Bone and the paddles, especially if paddling in seawater, cover inside the joints with oil or a lubricant. In case of a prolonged expedition, check the paddles from time to time to make sure that they can be disassembled when needed. I used composite paddles and I had found that over time the plastic parts had swollen inside the metal joints. I had to gently file them off to reduce the diameter back to the original size.
- I clip the loop on the back of the seat to the kayak deck with a carabiner – otherwise the seat may fold when sitting down.
2. Brunton SolarRoll 4.5 Flexible Solar Panel
This is a portable solar panel with the 4.5 Watt output that can be rolled and stored inside a plastic tube, the size of a two-liter pop drink bottle. I had managed to fit all the chargers and the wires inside the roll. All my chargers were fit with car cigarette lighter adapters. Before going on this trip, I had checked them all to make sure that the solar panel provided enough juice for charging various batteries. However, I had a mixed success while on my trip.
The panel had no problems recharging the EN-EL3e batteries for my Nikon cameras in bright light. It had also at least partially charged various NiMH AA batteries with no issues.
However, I had problems with recharging my two mobile phones. They were both showing successful charging. However, at some point my Samsung smartphone would not stay switched off – it kept switching on by itself. I have not seen this behavior if charging this phone by conventional means before or after the trip. I have contacted the manufacturer and was advised that the phone migth need to be serviced. My second mobile phone, a tiny and almost ten year old Ericsson, would show a full charge when recharged with this solar panel, but after being switched on would almost immediately display an almost empty battery.
Very likely, this was due to the solar panel not being powerful enough for recharging mobile phones: a step up model could be a better choice in this regard. One approach that I may try is to take with me a powerful portable rechargeable battery that provides significantly more than the 4.5 Watt output. I would charge it first with the solar panel and then use for recharging mobile phones.
3. WindPaddle Adventure Sail
I have only used it for an hour; however I believe it to be a useful addition if kayaking in places where one would expect light to moderate favorable winds for extended periods of time. It is easy to set up: just unfold and clip to the kayak. It is also easy to release and to fold (at least the double fold – I am still struggling with the triple fold). Using this sail on a kayak with a rudder will simplify everything; however it is also manageable with a paddle.
My Advanced Elements kayak did not have any reliable attachment points for this sail. To spread the load from the sail to the kayak, I had threaded a cord through the bow and stern handles and through the lashing loops, along kayak’s perimeter. Besides providing something to hold to in case of an on-water accident, it was also a good place to attach the sail without putting too much stress on the kayak deck. I had attached two short loops to the perimeter cord, with prusik knots, and clipped the sail to the loops. The prusik knots allowed moving the attachment points up and down the cord, if necessary.
4. Sierra Zip Stove
This is a wood burning stove with airflow forced through by a small fan that is powered by one AA battery. It is an excellent stove that only needs a few handfuls of wood chips to cook a meal. The battery lasts long time. If not overloaded, I believe that this stove is as safe to use as an outdoor gas stove. In forested areas, this is a good and environmentally friendlier substitute for open fires. If firewood is readily available, it is also an alternative to a gas/liquid fuel stove on a prolonged trip: no need to carry fuel canisters. However, based on my experience, this stove is only powerful enough to cook for two.
5. Some Other Tips
If paddling the kayak similar to mine, pack water in 1.0 & 1.5 liter bottles: they can be squeezed into empty places between dry bags, kayak floor and sides, etc. If you need more water, buy collapsible but reliable water containers; check them first, prior to the trip, to make sure they would not tear up when fully loaded.
Dry bags still leak at the roll-ups: I had frequently found them to be wet inside. My approach is to place a plastic garbage bag inside a dry bag, then fill it in, squeeze the extra air, tie up the garbage bag first and then the dry bag. This way, the moisture stays between the dry bag and the plastic bag.
A kayaking compass is a must, as is a good chart. In addition to relying on a GPS, I suggest using the traditional methods, for example taking bearings on prominent landscape features. This will help confirm GPS readings and find a location even if the GPS is not working or is misleading.
Photographing on Water:
When photographing from a kayak, I use a well-known simple yet effective technique to protect my SLR camera from the spray. I place the camera inside a light transparent plastic bag with two openings: one for the lens and another for the viewfinder. I seal the bag around the lens hood (or the lens itself if the hood is too short) with a rubber band. I attach the bag to the viewfinder with a removable metal/rubber eyepiece, already present on my cameras. I close the bag with a knot. This arrangement is also effective in rain, and I can photograph from a tripod by simply untying the knot and placing the camera on the tripod with the bag on. Virtually all controls are accessible through the bag and the indicators are visible. The plastic bag will not save the camera from an accidental dunking, but it will protect reasonably well from the spray and the rain. Salty water leaves a nasty residue on the lens front element. I suggest protecting the front element with a transparent lens filter and frequently wiping it with a microfiber lens cloth. When not in use, I keep the camera inside a dry bag attached to the deck in front of me.
Keeping the Campsites Clean:
Many established campsites see a heavy turnover over summer months. Yet they look almost pristine. The main reason for this is that the organized groups and other responsible kayakers keep them clean and reasonably untouched. They minimize disturbance to the nearby forest. They pack up their garbage. Many sites have outhouses. When they do not, there are simple techniques to keep the area clean, requiring only a trowel and a few extra minutes. They are described in details in various outdoor books and the organized group leaders provide the relevant instructions. The efforts are minimal and the rewards are immense. I was disturbed to find at one heavily used campsite uncovered fresh human “droppings”, in plain view, likely deposited by a group that had just departed. My plea to anyone camping outdoors: if you do not want to see this stuff at your next campsite, please do not leave it behind. If everyone will do the right thing, the campsites are going to stay pristine for years to come.
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