Short beginner seeks first kayak (IK)

-- Last Updated: Sep-06-12 7:06 PM EST --

Hi all! I just joined and I'm looking for advice on buying my first kayak. Due to space concerns (I live in a tiny apartment and like to pack light) I'm pretty set on an inflatable.

My concern is that many inflatables that I'm looking at tend to run very wide, like 30" to 36". I am a short lady with short arms, and worry that it may be impractical to buy a wide sit-inside where I'll have to reach higher and further to paddle. I'm 5'0" tall and my armspan (fingertip to fingertip) is 62".

Are there any tiny paddlers out there who can offer experience? Are my concerns valid? And if so, how much of a problem are we talking about here?

More details if they're helpful:
I'm 5'0", 160 pounds, female. I've rented hard shells for a couple of hours at a time just a few times, but here in Austin I'm near lots of places to enjoy the water. I only anticipate paddling on lakes and unexciting rivers, with possible kayak-camping down the line once I'm comfortable.

After reading lots of reviews I'm considering an Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame (solo version, as seen here: ) or if I can go somewhat cheaper, the Sevylor QuikPak K5 ( )

I appreciate any perspectives and advice you guys can offer. Thanks!

Edit: one thing I hadn't considered is that my apartment balcony won't accommodate a very long boat, so I'd like to find something shorter than 11'.

Feathercraft and Innova
Make nice boats Folbot and pakboat make some light folding kayaks as well

this may help…

A couple
The Advanced Elements Air Fusion is much narrower than the one you mentioned, although it costs more. It will be closer to a hard shell in performance, better glide and tracking, etc.

The Pakboat Puffin Saco is a nice folding kayak with removable deck, which has received some good buzz here on p-net from female paddlers.

second the Puffin
It’s a little above the price of the Advanced Elements, but the 12’ long and 29" wide Pakboat Puffin mentioned above has a few advantages. One is that it is a skin-on-frame folding/inflatable hybrid so it has more the performance you are used to in a hardshell. This means it will not be a susceptible to wind and currents as the full inflatables.

Also, the AE inflatables have little in the way of cargo area, which the Puffin has a lot of, and with its peel-back deck it is very easy to pack it and to access whatever you need once you are at your destination. Also, having the removable deck is a nice option in hot weather, as you can take it off and paddle it open like a pack canoe.

The full inflatables are kind of a pain to get dry – water tends to get trapped in the folds and they can get funky if stored wet. The shell of the Pakboats dries quickly and can be more easily wiped down. The Puffin weighs under 25 lbs and sets up simply and easily. There are a number of YouTube videos of folks assembling and paddling them. They really handle nicely even in rough conditions. The inflatable seat is extremely comfortable, allowing adjustment separately for the back and the seat/thigh supports.

As I said, the biggest obstacle may be price. A new Puffin Saco with deck costs around $1,000 though they turn up sometimes on Ebay. I bought mine used (actually an older model of the Puffin but the same boat, basically) for $550 and there is an actual Saco on Ebay now for $800 (a bit high – you might want to watch the posting to see if he drops the price since nobody has offered yet.)

The new Feathercraft Kurrent, a 21 pound skin on frame folder, would be ideal and would feel just like a slim, narrow hard body kayak, but at $2200 it is probably not in the running.

L.L. Bean stocks the Innova Twist, at 16 lbs with a built in skeg and costing $400, it might be an option to consider also. Innovas have an excellent reputation, though at 8’ 6" and 31" wide it will not be particularly fast and will feel more raft-like.

Don’t forget…
…Folbot skin on frame kayaks. Check out their web site and give them a call. I’ve read good things about their boats.

Thanks! +More questions…
Wow! Thanks so much for all of the advice, especially willowleaf’s thoughtful reply.

Feathercraft and Folbot are getting out of my price range, which admittedly I did not define. I wasn’t looking to spend more than around $500, but as I look at my options I think I might bump that up to about $900, though going that high would hurt a bit.

Willowleaf, you mentioned cargo space, which I hadn’t really thought about too much. However, since I am looking at a piece of equipment that should last me until I do get comfortable enough to do some longer trips with it, that is a concern. I actually really like what I can find about the Puffin Saco. I’m somewhat concerned about the length, both because I’m pretty sure I’ve only rented ~10 footers and because it wouldn’t fit on my balcony to dry! Say I could find a Puffin Sport (the discontinued 10.5’ model) somewhere, does anyone see any reason not to go for that?

Looking for cargo space, I also looked into an Innova Helios single, which looks to have adequate cargo space in a more convenient package than the Puffin. (Faster setup and with fewer parts to pack.) The capacity is rated at 220 pounds as opposed to the Puffin Sport’s 250, which is a small con. Can anyone speak to the performance of the inflatable Helios as compared to the hybrid Puffin?

Thanks again!

I have a helios 380
which is the double and its more suitable as a double than a single but it paddles ok as a single. I got mine used with a rudder for $300 and its 15 yrs old. The single helios would be a great deal if you find a used one. The boat is not fast but it handles rough water well, 10 minutes from bag to water and fits as a carry on if I check the other gear easy to selCan’t speak to a puffin, rescue, repaired with a bike tire patch. Watch ebay, craigslist and pnet classifieds

Helios 1
I have a Helios 1 and it’s no problem packing it for a week long trip, as long as you’re not carrying all your water. Slow boat but loads of fun.

The Advanced Elements AirFusion is about the narrowest inflatable I have seen. 24" wide or so.

There is a review of it in the Spring 2011 issue of California Kayaker Magazine (readable for free at

While you are there, you may want to read the article in Summer 2012 on Kayaking and Small Living Places to see the various options, and pros and cons of each.

Austin kayaking
Given your weight but that you want to do camping (expeditioning somewhat)…I’d go middle of the road…14’, medium/moderate profile, 24" wide, two hatches, …my favorite in this category is a Daggar…I bought one used that’s 13’8" and have paddled it to death in all kinds of seas. And I am 5’9" 200 lbs (old guy lol).

I am also a rudder-person/paddler…have paddled both with and without, and I much prefer “with”.

Have you considered folding kayaks too?

But it doesn’t look like the AirFusion has much cargo room at all.

One thing I didn’t think about when I wrote my original post is that my apartment balcony is only so large. I could fit an 11’ boat out there, but that’s my limit. Being a short lady, I think I’d actually prefer a shorter boat anyway. The rentals I’ve been in have all been around the 10’ range, and I think I’d prefer more maneuverability over speed.

Yes, at this point I’m leaning towards preferring a folding kayak over an inflatable actually. I’m still searching for the right choice.

You are correct. It is fine as a day tripping boat, but wouldn’t be the best choice for the camping. There is some space behind the inflated “thwarts”, but you could only access by deflating the thwarts (so can’t access on the water).

good deal on small folder
I had mentioned the Pakboats – there is a guy just posted a Pakboat Puffin 12 (predecessor of the Saco and the model I own) for sale on Ebay for $400 “buy now” plus $60 shipping. I doubt you would find a cheaper deal on such a light and good quality folder. It is bid now at $92 but has not met minimum. Looks to be in excellent shape (though the owner must be dislexic as he has it listed as a “Backpack Puffin” though it is clearly a Pakboat.) The “buy now” price is quite reasonable and the cheapest I have seen a used one listed for. If I did not already own one I would jump on this.

Two pakboats for sale
The guy added a second Pakboat Puffin, this one (seems to have a little more wear) for $325 plus shipping ($60). Even better deal.