A new wave of travel-friendly inflatable kayaks means it’s never been easier to push the boundaries of your paddling adventures.
Whether you’re on the road in a caravan or confined by city living, the benefits of inflatable kayaks for space-poor paddlers are manifold. They’re lightweight, packable and, with a small footprint, easy to store and transport.
But not all inflatables are created equal. Inflatable technology has come along in leaps and bounds, with 100% drop-stitch kayaks considered best in class due to their ability to approximate the solid feel, durability and performance normally associated with a plastic yak – but significantly lighter. Leading the charge in this department are the guys at Bay Sports.
Despite a successful run distributing the world’s first 100% drop-stitch kayak – the Kxone Slider – Bay Sports saw room for improvement, and have upped the ante by developing their own range: the 2019 Air Glide. We took a closer look at the bigger of the two Air Glides – the 473 – to determine why it’s set to blow its predecessors out of the water.
Who it’s for
Air Glide is positioned just above Kxone Slider as Bay Sports’ top of the range, best value 100% drop-stitch kayak. While it’s pretty much ideal for any beginner-through-experienced paddler, we reckon the 473 has clear advantages for road travellers, particularly if you’re not willing to compromise on performance on the water.
It’s the larger of the two sizes, at 4.73m and 19.9kg, with a 250kg payload and room for two adults and one child. There’s also a 3.85m Air Glide, with room for one, 200kg payload, and weighing in at 13.9kg. We reckon this one could be a goer for adventurous solo artists looking to access hike-in launch points and the like.
What we like
Like a true 100% drop-stitch air kayak, Air Glide performs like a hard shell and out-performs traditional inflatables by a mile. But there’s also a heap of subtle design improvements made by Bay Sports that really raise the bar.
They’ve stabilised the profile by trimming some length and adding some width. The sides have been raised to reduce water splashing in, and the wind and water deflector up front are built in, meaning one less part to fiddle with and/or lose (we’re told this happens a lot in detachable varieties!)
Small but significant is the fact that the Air Glide has two central handles to enable single-handed portage – a feature that has been massively overlooked by other inflatables on the market. After all, ‘lightweight’ isn’t worth the paper it’s written on if you still need a person at each end to carry it, simply because there’s nothing to grab onto.
Construction and Durability
Look inside a traditional air kayak and you’ll likely find hollow sides and a drop stitch floor. Air Glide, however, uses drop stitch material all over. This means there are thousands of internal polyester filaments connecting the walls of the floor and side chambers. These threads are the nuts and bolts of Air Glide’s success. They reinforce the craft’s high-pressure inflation (operational at an impressive 10PSI), and are basically how you get a boat that’s stiff as a board and holds form, but at almost half the weight.
What continues to amaze us though, is the soft shell’s durability. This ain’t no pool toy. In fact, it’s more likely to bounce back from impact unscathed than a plastic or fibreglass kayak, which can suffer dents and cracks that are costly to repair.
We haven’t attempted to pop an Air Glide ourselves, but we reckon we’d have trouble. You’d have to hit something razor sharp – oyster shells or a nail for example – to spring a leak. Even so, the included repair kit means any damage is simple to patch up while you’re on the go.
On the water
In the right conditions, the 473 is quick, stable and true, capable of reaching speeds of 14km/hr. The bottom is flat rather than grooved, but it tracks straight thanks to a) the V-shaped moulded plastic nose and stern, and b) the massive 9-inch skeg that sits nice and deep in the water, also adding to its stability. While no replacement for a SUP, its flat floor and stability mean you can stand in the centre and paddle the Air Glide like one if you wanted to.
So, what are the best conditions for the 473? Take it out on any river, lake or sheltered harbour or bay on a calm day, and it’ll shine. It even likes a bit of light whitewater. Its high sides mean it doesn’t love a crosswind, but this is true of all inflatables, so checking the wind forecast is essential before contemplating a saltwater mission.
In terms of setting up, the 473 has three separate chambers to inflate, taking around six minutes total with the hand pump that comes as standard. (A 12V electric pump that plugs into your cigarette lighter is an optional extra that eliminates the arm work.) Then it’s just a matter of inserting the skeg and adjusting the seat position and angle of the backrest via the D-rings.
The seats, by the way, are all class. They’re Bay Sports’ Hi-Back Comfort Seat, which have shoulder-high backrests and 10cm of padding under the bum that together provide full back support while also relieving pressure on your lower back. If you’re on the water for hours at a time, this is the kind of comfort and support you’re after. Along with storage in the nose and stern, there’s a pocket on the back of each seat with tonnes of space to have all your essentials within easy reach.
The unit packs down as quickly as it goes up, with strategic drainage collecting any water in a designated chamber, from where it’s easily purged via two drainage valves. The storage bag is nicely optimised for travel with wheels and shoulder straps. When folded up in the bag, Air Glide stores easily enough in wardrobes or under the bed. (You can also store it inflated, as long as it’s out of the sun.)
But we reckon the best place for it is the boot of the car, so it’s always there, ready to inflate, no matter where your sense of adventure takes you.
As travel and outdoor obsessives, we can’t help but be tempted by what Air Glide offers up. A kayak with above-average capabilities, that’s also convenient to store and transport is a big deal in the travel/outdoor market where convenience so often comes at a premium.
So, we asked Bay Sports to help us weigh it all up. In terms of price, the Air Glide 473 currently goes for $1595. To get a hard-shell kayak even close to the 30kg weight range, you’re looking at paying up to triple. We’re talking $4-$5k for an (admittedly beautiful) kevlar/carbon fibre tandem kayak.
Meanwhile, a comparable hard-shell plastic kayak in a similar price range as the Air Glide would mean carrying upwards of double the weight, easily 40kg. And then, of course, you’re still dealing with the cumbersomeness of the thing.
Unless you’re bothered about being limited by windy weather, there’s nothing not to like here. With state-of-the-art manufacturing techniques and design features you won’t find in other air kayaks, the Air Glide 473 certainly represents great value. The industry-leading three-year warranty and free shipping just ice the cake!
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