A kayak for someone without a car?


I’m a student in Chicago and I live about half a mile from Lake Michigan. Although I don’t have much kayak experience, I’m interested in buying a one so I can go out on Lake Michigan a few times a week this summer.

There’s one potential problem, though. I have no car. What kayak (other than a light one) would you recommend for this type of situation?

The cheapest and lightest kayaks I see are inflatable – is this the way to go? How difficult are they to inflate on the beach? I’m reluctant to spend significant $$ for something that I’m only going to be able to enjoy three months of the year.

Thanks for your help!

Half mile???

– Last Updated: May-20-07 5:24 PM EST –

That isn't very far. Build a good kayak cart with 20 inch bike tires and you ought to be able to haul any boat a half mile. Let me add this: talk to local paddlers before buying a boat. I think an inflatable would suck on a big windy lake.

Better idea
How can you justify the expense of buying a kayak for 3 months a year when you can rent for pretty small change? Do that and when you have actually had your backside in a seat for awhile as opposed to just thinking about kayaking - then you can revisit this question. And trust me on this - whatever you would buy today - is almost certainly not what you would buy after you’ve got the experience.

Inflatable not optimal but …
It’s a start. Audrey Sutherland wrote a book about paddling all around the Hawaiin Islands, she uses inflatables and takes them on buses, planes etc. You can get a decent inflatable from REI to get started for not a whole lot of money. The biggest problem with inflatables is wind, so stay off the water on late summer afternoons when thunderstorms come up, best time of day to paddle is early morning. Try looking on the www.sit-on-topkayaking.com site for more info about inflatables. You could use a cart as someone has suggested if you have the storage room for a hard shell kayak. I have a 9’6" kevlar/glass surfkayak that is so light I can carry it quite a distance, not fun, but have easily carried it a half mile before. It’s carrying the boat at the end of the day back up the bluff that is the issue. Chicago is flat … go for it.

Join a club
See if the College has an Outing Club. There’s got to be other clubs/organizations in the area that have some fleet boats.

Get experience and then get a kayak.

Go paddle, have fun!

See you on the water,



Hyde Park, NY

Feathercraft, Pakboat, Folbot, Atatl

The lightest, least expensive kayak would be a skin-on-frame that you built yourself. Folders have their place, but you could probably walk the half-mile with a kayak on a cart in the time it would take to assemble some of them.

The Puffins might be a good option:




A folder allows you
to use trains, taxis, buses and planes to get to some other places besides th one you can walk to.

Become a commando kayaker like dubside, kidding!

First rent, then build bike trailer
Like others, I would recommend renting a few to get the feel for it first.

“Kayak Chicago” and “Chicago Kayak Club” are two places where you could get on the water fairly inexpensively.

Once you know you really love paddling, you’ll figure out that in Chicago you can paddle 7 months out of the year, easily. Buy a used bike kiddie-trailer and modify it to haul your yak.

You should also join CASKA (Chicago Area Sea Kayaker Association). You will almost alway find someone willing to give you a ride to club paddles.

Who is Dubside? Just curious. John

good inflatables…
are NOT going to be less expensive than the equivilent plastic boat. “You get what you pay for” holds true here. IKs, however, would be great for car-free use. Most will set up in 10-15 minutes with a quality foot pump. For recreational use, they are great. That the whole boat floats and they are typically pretty easy to re-enter are added safety factors, especially for beginners (like me).

At least with quality inflatables, I think the effects of wind are overstated. I got caught on a trip last summer in 15-20 knot winds, 3-5 foot waves on Lake Michigan (up north). We paddled about 3 miles in those conditions (I’ll admit much of that was with following or quartering wind and seas). My Innova Sunny did fine, better, I think, than the plastic boat of my partner. When we got back to the put-in, 2 folks with 16’ glass boats told us they didn’t go out because those conditions weren’t their idea of fun - honestly, that was the most fun I had all summer.

All that having been said, I would be very cautious of any kind of crossing with an IK, but coastal paddling in the summer will be fine. In Chicago, there are always lots of folks along the lake in the summer to help if you get in trouble. There are also frequent landing sites if the weather picks up unexpectedly.

As said above, the best thing to do is test paddle several boats before dropping the cash. Unfortunately, this is not easy to do with IKs (or folders). If you can’t get to one of the large symposia, you basically have to find owners who will let you try their boat.

If you do throw some money at a boat site-unseen, there are some good resources for information: paddling.net (I have learned a lot from the boat reviews (as well as everything else), even if the ratings are bs; www.theboatpeople.com for excellent IK info, and foldingkayaks.org for folding + ik info.

Finally, here are some IKs you might look at: any of the touring Innova boats, Pakboats (hybrid folder/ik), and the higher-end Advanced Elements and Seyvylors.

the Lincoln Park Boat Club. They have an great number of different boats you can use anytime as a member. Also great place to meet other paddlers.


President Bush’s cousin
who is really into Greenland kayaking and rolling.

In Soviet russia…

– Last Updated: May-22-07 12:57 AM EST –

Actually I'm serious. Back 15 years ago when me and my family lived in Ukraine that is very poor compared to north america and relatively few people had cars, folding kayaks were the norm. Folded in the packs they go on trains,buses and on your back to hike miles to the river if need be.
Unlike Soviet Russia,your choices are endless from cheap inflatables, to expensive inflatables, to folders. Even long and skinny inflatable-with-a-frame hybrid like the Feathercraft Jet Stream.
Or be practical and rent. just get on the water.

Dubside had no car either
Dubside is one of the best kayakers I’ve ever met and he’s never had a car. He has a website at http://www.dubside.net/commando-kayaking.cfm He refers to using a collapsable kayak as “Commando Kayaking”.

He uses folding kayaks and his current kayak is a Feathercraft Wisper. He’s optimized his a bit to improve rolling characteristics. It does take some time to assemble and disassemble the kayak before and after each outing, but it would provide you with a high quality kayak. Unfortunately they are not cheap and cheaper used ones can be hard to find.

A caution about inflatables - as already mentioned the ones I’ve seen are not so good in wind - and paddling from the “windy city” which would usually have an offshore wind blowing away from shore, you might think twice or thrice about the practicality and safety of an inflatable.