All About Folding Kayaks: Durability, Stability, And Storage

Folding kayaks are a great alternative for apartment dwellers with limited storage space or for world travelers who want to fly their boats to exotic paddling destinations.

By far the largest percentage of kayaks you will see in the outdoor stores and in use off the coast and on rivers are rigid boats built of plastic, fiberglass or wood. These boats, while lightweight and relatively easy to carry and store, are still quite long and must be transported to the water on the roof racks of a vehicle or on a trailer, because of this unwieldy length. Such kayaks are difficult or impossible to carry on airplanes, trains or buses because of this length, and if you do find a carrier you can expect to pay a premium price for shipping.

There is another option, however, in the form of folding kayaks, which have actually been around since the early 1900s and have long enjoyed popularity in Europe, where many of them are manufactured. Folding kayaks are actually more akin to the original Eskimo kayaks in that they are built with a "skin" stretched over a framework of wood or aluminum. This framework used for folding kayaks is designed to be disassembled, much like the poles structure used to support a tent. The frame work and the removable skin of waterproof fabric then fits into purpose-made carry bags, so that the entire boat can be carried by one person in one or two bags and checked as regular baggage on any form of public transportation.

Although those not familiar with them might dismiss folding kayaks as flimsy or unseaworthy, nothing could be farther from the truth. Folding kayaks reached their highest level of development in usage by military units of many different countries. During World War II, British commandos used them to infiltrate German-occupied harbors, planting explosive charges on enemy warships and then paddling silently away. Today they are used by Special Forces all over the world, including the U.S. Navy SEALS. These kayaks are extremely rugged and can carry hundreds of pounds of gear, making them ideal for covert assaults on enemy beaches. Several intrepid adventurers have even crossed the Atlantic Ocean in folding kayaks, proving the seaworthiness of these boats in an ultimate test.

Modern folding kayaks are usually built of high tech materials and can last as long as more conventional rigid boats. The bottom of the hull is usually made of a material like Hypalon, a rubber-like substance used on the bottoms of inflatable outboard powered boats. The upper decks are of treated synthetic fabric, usually fitted with rugged zippers so they can be opened for storing gear inside the hull at each end. Frames are made of aluminum or high-tech composites, although some are still finely crafted of wood.

Expect to spend a lot more for a folding kayak than you would for a more conventional kayak. Although there are a few cheap imitations, the market for expedition-quality touring kayaks is mostly dominated by four major manufacturers: one in Germany, one in France, one in Canada, and one U.S. firm. Books on folding kayaks are available and kayaking magazines frequently feature reviews or articles about specific models to help you make a choice. All manufacturers offer both two-seater versions and solo models.

Folding kayaks are an excellent choice for the apartment dweller who has no storage space for a long, rigid kayak, and they can be transported disassembled in the trunk or back seat of the smallest car. A folding kayak can broaden your paddling horizons to the limits of your imagination. With such a boat, you can hop on a plane for the weekend and paddle a coast on the other side of the continent, or spend a week's vacation exploring the atolls of Fiji or the coast of Patagonia. Folding kayaks are truly among the most versatile of boats for the world traveler.

© High Speed Ventures 2011