Inflatable Canoeing Adventures - Buy this eBook!

Most of us can relate to the fun we had canoeing at summer camp when we were young. But that was nothing compared to the experience of whitewater kayaking that came next for me. I have always loved canoeing, though it always seemed difficult to participate. It has only been in the last decade that the development of inflatable canoes has made a big difference. You can more easily access rivers, you can store a canoe in your car, you can even take them on a plane. They are very light, very cheap, with little loss of functionality. Perfect for weekends away or campervan holidays. Social networking was the other big change. You can now use Facebook, etc to join canoeing adventures in your local region or abroad.

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Sunday, August 26, 2007

Try canoeing with an inflatable

Inflatables have long been recognised for their application in watersports, particularly in marine and swimming pools. But as plastic moulding and sealing technologies have improved, its now possible to buy well designed inflatables that closely resemble the fixed hull canoes that most people are accustomed. Lets consider some of the pros and cons of inflatables for canoeing.

The pros of inflatable canoes
The benefits are:
1. Inflatables ride over river gravels better than fixed kayaks because the plastic material glides over smooth rocks much better. This is facilitated by the more even weight distribution, which also gives you better clearance. I find that I can get even better clarance or weight distribution by suspending my butt in the air so the weight is on the front and back. But I find the material readily slides over these rocks.
2. Inflatables are much more comfortable to ride because you can more easily flex your limbs and the hull gives, so your weight is more evenly distributed. Some designs are better than others because they are equipped with a separate air cushion. Another design uses straps to support the seat...I dont like that type.
3. Inflatables are more easily transported. I have taken my inflatable canoe on public transport in Japan (though I suggest taking a collapsible paddle). The benefit is that there is very little portage required if you live near a station and the train follows the river valley. The same portability makes them great for storing them in the rear compartment of a car. Being inside the car means they are moe secure. I dont want people to know what I am doing in the local area for safety reasons, and I want my possessions secure inside the vehicle.
4. Inflatables are lighter to carry. Whether you need to portage your canoe to a remote river, or negotiate a steep forest trail to avoid an impassable section of river (eg a waterfall), you will appreciate avoiding the safety and exhaustion issues that plague fixed hull canoes. If you slip with a fixed hull canoe you will very likely break your back or hit your head. An inflatable is light and soft so your hands are effectively free to break your fall. I often dont even bother deflating my inflatable to negotiate any river portages. I can carry it in one hand or carry it overhead for greater visibility and 'hands free' in slippery situations.
5. Inflatables are more compact. The relative compactness of inflatables makes them well suited for taking overseas as normal luggage. You can even store them in some train station compartments, though these services are disappearing because of the terrorist threat.
6. Inflatables are surprisingly robust. I've taken my inflatable on about 8 rivers with no signs of wear & tear. I had a puncture on the 6th occasion, but I just packed up the canoe, walked up to a bus stop and took it home for repair. The polyethylene material gives alot, wrapping around rocks and sticks. They tend to just absorb the impact so you dont get punctures. Firstly because of the air cushion, and secondly because the plastic stretches. The puncture I had was actually more of a slash than a puncture. That is evident from the cleanliness of the cut, so I suspect there was broken glass in the very shallow river. I actually deserved the damage given the shallowness of the river. A fixed hull canoe could not even have passed this section. Generally there is very little sign of wear and tear apart from this puncture, so I am convinced its a rare occurrence.
7. Water Discharge: All canoes eventually accumulate alot of water in them requiring you to flip them over. Rest assured its alot easier to discharge an inflatable canoe, though they do tend to gather more water too if they are open as opposed to 'enclosed' kayaks.
8. Boarding the canoe: I think boarding a canoe from land or water is alot easier than with an inflatable than a fixed hull canoe because the inflatable absorbs or gives, whereas the fixed canoe will rock causing instability. Similarly boarding from the water is easy from water because the canoe gives and does not rock as much. They require a different mode of entry from river banks. You would tend to enter from a low centre of gravity or from the water. You dont step into them since you would likely ruin the seams.
9. Stowing gear: I find the inflatable very good for stowing gear because you can wedge gear in the front and aft of the canoe, and you can secure it with the straps or just the inflatable seat that comes with the canoe.
10. Repair: You might argue that an inflatable is more likely to get a puncture than a fixed hull canoe, but I would argue that its easier to fix an inflatable on the river than a fixed hull (fibreglass or plastic) canoe. Regardless, either can be fixed by applying waterproof tape.
11. Sleeping compartment: According to the design specs for inflatables they are not designed for sitting in on land. But I wonder if they could in fact be used for sleeping as a substitute for a tent. The obvious advantage is that you could reduce your weight and bulk stowage needs - for a tent and sleeping bag. Modern tents though are pretty light though. There is some appeal to the idea of sleeping in a wet suit, whether on land or the river (depending on the design specs), but I have yet to test this concept.
12. Safety: I believe inflatables are far safer than fixed hull canoes, particularly where children are concerned. Its hard to imagine being trapped in one unless it was punctured by a tree and deflated around you. They are not going to give you a head injury.
13. Mobility:
Inflatables offer by far better mobility - whether you need to traverse steep slopes or rugged gorge country. This is true whether you have it packed in a backpack or you carry it in a bag. Why? In a backpack it leaves your hands free, and if you decide to carry it, its easy to dispense with until you regain your balance. You dont have to worry about a heavy object falling on you or undermining your gravity. Like any other canoe its harder to navigate through bush, so for long portages you might want to deflate. For accessing those wild wilderness rivers lacking road access or a helipad, there is no better solution.
14. International trips: Buying equipment for an overseas trip can present a hassle paying on credit card or establishing a receiving address, particularly in a foreign country where you cant trust vendors. Inflatables offer the option of taking your boat with you. Airlines are now enforcing strict limits on the weight and types of luggage they are prepared to carry. The light weight of inflatables makes them cheaper to transport overseas. They weigh about 20kg. An inflatable canoe can always be carried in a standard box, whereas for a fixed hull canoe you will need a commercial transport company. eg. British Airways recently decided to ban surfboards, kayaks & windsurfers from their flights. You can't even pay extra, forcing travellers to freight their boat/boards via surface mail. If other airlines follow suit, this would be a huge restriction on canoeing. For some this might be reason enough to buy an inflatable since it would be classed as normal luggage since it comes in a box. See related article.
15. Multipurpose: The Sevylor Tahiti Inflatable Canoe is not designed for this, but I suspect you could use this canoe as bed. Seylor advises users not to use inflatables on-land, but I suggest there might be compelling reasons to do so. The inflatable might make a comfortable bed if you are careful. Having said that, tents and foam insulation are likely more comfortable and light to carry. Just an idea. Your weight should be equally distributed by the air, so I can't see a problem as long as you avoid sudden impacts because water does give.

The cons of inflatable canoes
The only things I don't like about inflatables are:
1. Navigability: Inflatables don't steer as well as fixed canoes because they are not rigid. You can buy an attachment to improve the steering which works well. For whitewater, the diminished steerability is only a problem for technically difficult rapids. Inflatables are not as appealing on open water because of wind drag. Inflatable canoes experience greater wind shear, so I would tend to avoid them if you intend to use your boat mostly on lakes or broad rivers. For whitewater, you are unlikely to experience much wind as rivers are generally protected by V-shaped valleys and overhanging trees.
2. Speed:
On open, flat water an inflatable canoe can feel a little sluggish. This sluggishness is somewhat offset by their lighter weight.
3. Weight: A fixed hull canoe offers greater weight carrying capacity. This is not a problem for short trips or if you are very careful with your stowage weights, but it might restrict touring trips. I however think there is the opportunity for using an inflatable as an air mattress, which means you dont have to carry a tent (assuming you are one person per canoe).
4. Vulnerability: One problem with inflatables is that they are more easily damaged, so if they are damaged in an isolated area, you might have a problem fixing them. Its not that they cant be fixed, its more likely that you might be delayed until after dark. My experience however is that you tend to get holes from man-made objects (not from rocks or branches) such as steel or glass shards, which tend to be around people anyway. So be more careful when passing concrete foundations, particularly at old bridges. I have never fixed a canoe on the river because all my canoeing experience with inflatibles has been on rivers with good access, so I've just taken the damaged canoe home for proper repair. On the positive, the only hole I got in the canoe was due to a glass or steel, and you are unlikely to have such materials in remote areas unless its civil works related.

Sevylor Tahiti Inflatable Canoe - Buy Now!