The AdvancedFrame® Expedition is a thirteen foot hybrid of a folding frame kayak and an inflatable kayak. As with all AdvancedFrame® models, the Expedition incorporates our proven aluminum rib-frame technology in the bow and stern providing increased paddling performance. Its increased length adds to the tracking performance and hull speed. There is plenty of on-board storage room for extended trips. It sets up in just a few minutes and is compact enough to take along on a weekend or week-long adventure.
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Read reviews for the AdvancedFrame Expedition by Advanced Elements as submitted by your fellow paddlers. All of the reviews are created and written by paddlers like you, so be sure to submit your own review and be part of the community!
This kayak comes closest to performing as a hardshell touring kayak than most other inflatable kayaks unless you pay well over a $1,000 for a NRS or Airforce kayak. I bought this used and loved it until the seam split open. I had read about others who had the same issue prior to purchasing this kayak and suspected they had over inflated the kayak. I purchased a pump from AE that included a pressure guage. I inflated the main tubes to 2 PSI. The 3rd time I had used it the seam blew out on me. I patched one hole and the seam would tear in a different spot. Rather than pay $90 to replace the tube I purchased a 2002 Perception Carolina. I do plan on purchasing a replacement tube in the future so that I can sell it.
We have owned two of these inflatables since 2007 and have used them many times in several diverse locations and conditions. They set up rather quickly, 15 minutes by myself even with the manual pump, so faster with help and an electric pump. 10 minutes to break down. When inflated and set up properly they track well and the hulls are nearly bulletproof. They are inflatables, so they are slow, but definitely faster than any other inflatables we've tried; moderately strong paddler can average 2 1/2 - 3 mph at a relaxed pace. We have taken these kayaks down river rapids, in open ocean, narrow marshes and creeks and strong tidal currents, from Maine to the Everglades to Grand Cayman. They pack into a suitcase-sized carrier that we have traveled with all over the country and the Caribbean and weigh 42 pounds. They have carried us through thick Everglades mangroves for over 22 miles at a time and over Caribbean coral reefs in 15-20 mph winds. Just a few weeks ago we took them down a river with eight sets of rapids over a 7+ mile stretch and bounced them off a number of rocks. Not a scratch, on the kayaks or us. Again, they are inflatables, so speed is always an issue. They are best for shorter trips, or paddles where maneuverability and stability are important. Also, they come with seats with adjustable, inflatable seat backs, but they aren't the most comfortable over time. A real plus is that they are enclosed and have an inflatable combing to attach a spray skirt, so they are very dry. Ours don't have a hatch, but the newer ones do. Even so, there is plenty of room behind the seat for a large dry bag. At 13 feet long and 32 inches wide they are stable but streamlined enough to get you where you want to go in safety.
Easy for a petite woman to inflate and put in and tracking is above average for an inflatable. However, it is missing a footrest to brace against when paddling. It's fairly comfortable when the seat is adjusted correctly. The kayak doesn't have much storage area, so it can only be used for shorter trips. That's my main reason for giving it 4 stars. I've only used it on lakes, but I feel like it would be durable on a slow current river.
This is a great inflatable. It sits lower in the water and paddles much more like a hardshell than any other inflatable I've paddled. It tracks well, even without the backbone, and is quite efficient.
There are a lot of positives that I think are well-covered by other reviews. I haven't had it in significant following seas, so can't speak to its handling in more challenging conditions.
I occasionally find it challenging to keep the hull straight while inflating. Unlike a typical inflatable, one has to worry the relationship between tube and cover. Sometimes I just can't get it as symmetrical as I'd like and it looks a little like a wrinkly bent manatee, but it doesn't seem to have much consequence on the paddling.My main trouble is the lack of space. I'm about 6' tall with size 12 feet, and I can't wear boots. Even my bare feet push a visible lump in the bow fabric. Other than that, there is plenty of room for my body, but really not much for cargo. It is challenging to carry enough for an overnight -- rather like bicycle camping instead of boating. For that reason, I think the name 'Expedition' is not justified (for me, this means multi-week excursions). On the other hand, I follow John Dowd in disliking decks cluttered with lashed gear -- but it would be necessary with this small boat to carry much.
Of course, the benefit of having little room is that the boat doesn't have much windage and feels quite sleek and nimble. If it had some kind of thigh braces I think I could roll it without issue -- so I think the lack of these is the limiting factor in terms of performance.
I bought the Advanced Elements Advanced Frame Expedition kayak (Let’s just call it the Expedition…) a couple months ago from AirKayaks.com First of all, let me tell you that this is my first boat ever, so my ability to compare it to other kayaks is not remarkable.
Readers beware: This is a looong disquisition.
I tried Kayaking in many occasions before, but it wasn’t until I moved from a big city to a suburban area in Pennsylvania that I started gaining interest in kayaking. To be fair, it all started because I like fishing, and all the guys on the boats were always getting the big fish while I was looking from the lake shore with my tiny panfish… I started researching all the options, and then discovered that there is more to kayaking than the occasional morning on the lake: Kayak trips, river expeditions, kayak camping and of course, fishing.
At first I was astonished of the variety of kayak types and prices. So I started narrowing down my list of requirements:
- I wanted something portable. I’m now living in a house, but it is possible that I have to move back to a city in a near future, and a 15 ft long kayak is not something easy to deal with in a 10th floor apartment... Going with an inflatable was the most critical decision of the process, and really narrowed down the possibilities.
- Fishing was the first thing that got me thinking about buying a kayak, but I ended more interested in kayak camping and going on short trips. After some heavy thinking I concluded that it would be easier to fish from a “short-trip-type” kayak than going on a trip with a fishing kayak.
- The size was also a critical thing to consider. At some point I considered getting a double seater to go with my wife, but from experience I guessed (correctly) that I will end paddling alone in an enormous boat, so I decided to get a single seat kayak and buy another one for my wife if she showed any interest in it (she didn’t).
- Coolness factor: Yes, I’m a very visual kind of person. Quality is a must, but the appearance is also very important to me. I didn’t want to spend a thousand dollars on an inflatable that looked like a swimming pool toy bought at Walmart. And certainly the Expedition excels at this: It looks cool. And according to what other kayakers have told me it’s easier to think that it’s a hard shell kayak from a distance.
I caught a very good sale at AirKayaks.com and I was able to get the 2015 Limited Edition Expedition for almost $200 less than its retail price. (They were probably clearing stock for the 2016 models) The 2015 LTD Edition it is basically the 2016 Expedition without the rip-stop feature on the blue fabric, which according to Advanced Elements it’s mostly a cosmetic feature. I got a pack with the pump, paddle and spray skirt for a very nice price.
The kayak arrived 2 weeks later packed in the smallest cardboard box ever. At first I thought that they had sent me just the pump and the paddle… It came perfectly folded in its bag, in a way that you will never-ever be able to replicate. I’m not kidding, even when trying hard at home and doing my best, the bag ends up almost twice as thick… The first thing I noticed was how heavy it is. This especially evident when lifting it in the bag with the thin handle. It’s definitely not something that you want to carry around by hand… After having used it a couple times it takes me less than 10 minutes to have it ready. The process goes like this:
- I try to park as close as possible to the launch (Even though I’m now using a home-made 2-wheel cart the Expedition is quite heavy and flexible which makes it difficult to move alone)
- I get the bag out of the car trunk, get the kayak out and unfold it.
- The Expedition has 9 air chambers (Yes, nine!) and have to be inflated in a relatively specific order:
1- The 2 main chambers (One is inside the other) go first. These are the only ones using a heavy duty valve. They have to be carefully inflated at 2 psi (slightly less if the kayak is going to be sitting in direct sun, to allow for air expansion)
2- The floor goes next. It looks like a pool toy-like mattress, with its tube-shaped chambers running from one end to the other, but the first time you take it off the kayak it’s surprisingly heavy. I no longer worry about breaking it, it’s very robust despite its appearance. This one goes at 1 psi, and since this year it includes a pressure relief valve that lets air out if over inflated. (Apparently the floor is especially sensitive to being left inflated under the sun)
3- The rest of the chambers are the 4 deck lifts (2 on each end, bow and stern) and the spray coamings on the cockpit (one chamber on each side, port and starboard). These six are very small tubes: the lifts only take two pumpings to fill, and the coamings only 1.
- The 2016 version also includes an aluminium arch that is installed under the front deck, right next to the cockpit opening to give a better shape to the kayak front and allow for water to escape easier. It just slides into two fabric pockets.
- Then I clip the foot rest (One side needs to be un-clipped when folding) and install the seat.
And you’re done! The kayak is ready to hit the water in less than 10 minutes. I have seen people struggle to untie and get their kayaks down the roof rack in in the same time that it took me to inflate mine…
Of course it then takes me another 5 or 10 minutes to prepare myself and to load the kayak. Aside from the PFD (Duh!) I usually carry a bilge pump, a water bottle, and a small dry bag on the front deck. In the dry bag I pack my camera, wallet and a small med kit as well as an emergency blanket and a couple storm-proof matches. The med-kit has already proven useful a couple times (burns, insect bites, small wounds and headaches), and while I hope to never need the emergency blanket and the matches they weight almost nothing and are very tiny so I like to have them with me.
Under the front deck I also carry my tiny anchor (I mostly use it when fishing on windy days) and a big dry sack packed with clothes and food (Sometimes a small jet-boil mini stove) if I’m planning on spending the day on the water. The space under the rear deck is obviously more difficult to reach when on the water, so I store there my home-made foldable 2 wheel kayak cart and the inflation pump (just in case I had a puncture and had to use the patch kit that comes with the kayak). If I plan on spending some time on the water, or if I go fishing with some prospects of bringing fish home I also fit a small cooler on the rear hatch.
From the fishing point of view, this is not a practical kayak, that’s for sure. It does not have rod holders, trolling motors, elevated seat, stand-up rails, space for 20 tackle boxes, etc. So if you are one of those guys (or girls!) who MUST have 5 different reel and rod combinations and 8573 different lures with you at all time this is not the vessel you are looking for. On the other hand if you appreciate a more minimalist approach to the art of fishing, as I do, this may be a perfectly suited boat. I either use my fly-fishing rod and a tiny fly box or a foldable spinning rod with a small tackle box the size of my hand. I have even carried both setups at the same time with no problem: Simply use the paddle holders on each side to strap your non-foldable rods and keep the rest of the gear on the front deck.
So, introductions being made, how it performs?
It does very well on the water, even in rough conditions (Although I haven’t tried it in the sea). I’m really happy with it, although it has some issues that prevent it from being prefect. Let me enumerate the pros and cons that I think define this kayak:
- It’s really rugged and resistant. I know that some people hear the word inflatable and the first thing they think of it’s a flimsy and delicate pool toy that will break, puncture or deform under the smallest stress… Well this is not the case! You really have to see it in person and feel it to comprehend how resistant it is. If I had to choose between crashing into a rock with the Expedition or with a regular hard-shell kayak, I would choose the Expedition for sure. It would probably just bounce off the rock.
- It’s easily repairable: A small puncture or tear (That again, will not be easy to inflict) can be easily patched with the included kit and be in the water again in less than 10 minutes. Good luck fixing a hole in a hard-shell…
- The redundancy of their double main chambers and inflatable floor will keep it afloat even if damaged or punctured. And even if seriously damaged, all the chambers can be replaced easily at a fraction of the whole boat’s cost.
- When folded it occupies close to nothing. You could store it under a bed, in a closet, your car trunk, etc. You can’t go wrong with it if living in an apartment.
- You can carry it in your car all day long and nobody will know that you have a boat in there. I wouldn’t be too keen to leave a hard-shell in a roof-rack in an urban area…
- It is comfortable! Your derriere will appreciate the flexibility of the inflatable floor after spending some hours sitting on it.
- It’s (relatively) flexible. While this may be an inconvenience in some situations, it certainly helps when dealing with rough water. Instead of fighting the waves, it simply molds to them (Be water, my friend!)
- You don’t need a roof-rack. This may sound obvious, but with some roof racks costing almost the same as some kayaks, this is a big plus. And I could fit four Expeditions in my car trunk.
- Accessories! Even if the kayak performs well straight from the factory, you can still add some goodies to make it even better:
- A drop-stitch floor can replace the original floor to make it completely stiff (It’s the same construction that the inflatable SUP use)
- If you want to add some keel to it and improve the tracking and stiffness you can add a “backbone” under the floor that will give it a bit of a v-shaped bottom.
- Advanced Elements just released a kit to install a steerable rudder with control pedals. Yay! Although its price it’s quite steep…
- You can fly with it! Not that it has wings or anything, but being about the same size as a big luggage it’s easy to check it in on a plane.
- It keeps the pressure for a long time. I have left it inflated for WEEKS and it held the pressure perfectly. You could go on a week-long trip and not have to worry about inflating it again.
- It looks damn good. Yes, this is subjective, but I love it!
- It is slow. Yes, it’s slower than a hard-shell of the same characteristics if you are wondering. I honestly didn’t noticed this until I had to paddle along some friends that rented a couple kayaks. They were paddling at a steady, calm speed and I struggled to keep the same pace… Of course, my paddling skills are despicable, but not that much!
- It doesn’t track very well. This has nothing to do with it being inflatable, but with the absolute lack of a keel. Yes, it has some sharp bow and stern edges, and a rear fin, but the bottom is completely flat. This can be improved with the backbone accessory. On the other hand of course it turns in a pinch.
- You have to dry it before storing it. The fabric that it’s made of can absorb some moisture, and the splash water that gets into the kayak ends up creating moisture behind the main chambers and under the floor, so it’s not wise to store it damp in its bag for a long time. What I do is: When I arrive home I leave it half inflated in the basement for a couple days under an air vent, and that will take care of the problem the lazy way. Of course, if you are not in a hurry, and if the weather allows, 15 minutes sitting under the sun will take care of any moisture.
- Inflating and deflating it will at some point misalign the interior chambers with the outer cover, so some repositioning is necessary from time to time. It just takes 20 minutes. You take it apart and reattach the main chambers while aligning them.
If you want a compact foldable kayak that will perform very good this is your kayak. It’s portable, allows you to travel with it and it’s fun to paddle. On the other hand, if you have the space and means to deal with a hard-shell 15ft boat, and you don’t plan to fly with it, go for it! You will gain some performance.
I've found the AdvancedFrame to be among the most stable of kayak's that I've used. When purchasing the unit I opted for the drop-stitch floor add-on as a part of a packaged upgrade deal and the unit arrived with both the standard floor and the upgrade. I've never used the standard floor and so my experience is based upon drop-stich floor use. With the drop-stich floor I've found the Expedition's tracking to be very good.
I went with the Expedition over the AE1012 primarily due to my being a bigger guy and I find the unit to be quite comfortable. The build quality of the Expedition is more similar to what you would expect in a whitewater rafting unit than what you may typically think of when you hear "inflatable" – the unit is capable of standing up to abuse. Quite often when I get up closer to others out on a paddle I'll get a double take and I'm asked if the Expedition is an inflatable and compliments soon follow. In many cases I've been very close to folks and they still have asked if it was inflatable and they are a bit surprised when I confirm that it is.
The unit is a bit short on storage due to the chambers taking up quite a bit of the interior space not allocated for your person. If I were going to use it for more than a long day I'd pick up a deck bag. Assembly goes pretty quickly and like anything else the more frequently you do it the better you get at it and the quicker it goes. When it comes to storing it do yourself a favor and allow it to dry out prior to socking it away. More often than not for me this means taking it out of its duffle upon returning home, laying it put open out in the sun or in my basement prior to folding it up for longer term storage.
All things considered (function, flexibility, durability and price) I'm quite happy with the unit. I recommend that anyone who finds themselves looking for a "portable" kayak to put the AdvancedFrame at their top of the list for consideration.
Sitting in these boats is so relaxing as you are literally sitting on air! They track well, move gracefully through the water and unlike most rigid hulls, they are very stable. Like I said earlier, I've had mine (Advanced Frame Expedition and Advanced Frame) for about 3 years now with no discernible wear or damage and I see them lasting a good long time with care.
I HIGHLY recommend these boats! I often get comments from other boaters who had never seen either an inflatable Kayak or one from Advanced Elements and they all are very impressed.
When fully inflated, this yak cruises decently for an inflatable, although you would need the backbone to get the best gliding and speed capability out of it. (Using the backbone does take a little extra set-up time and also adds some bulk and weight when transporting the folded/deflated boat. Make sure you have the backbone well centered. A lower-weight, easier-to-use, more compact option for enhancing glide may be to use the high-pressure drop-stitch floor instead of the backbone, although this adds more cost.) With the standard configuration, GPS showed close to 3 mph w/ fairly easy paddling, 3.4 to 3.9 w/ steady to firm paddling, and up to 4.4 or so at a sprint (add about 0.2 to 0.5 if you are using the backbone, and subtract about 0.2 to 0.5 if you are under-inflated). Note however, that without the backbone, its speed capability is equivalent to only about a 10-foot hardshell. It seems that since having it fully inflated is important for best performance, but the instructions warn you to NOT over-inflate, then Advanced Elements should include an accurate, low-pressure-range gauge with the necessary adapters with each boat they sell to ensure proper inflation.
The boat does have a rather slick appearance. Seems very durable. One potential drawback is that it does take a while for it to fully dry out after use - so if you don't have the option after a given paddling to leave it inflated for drying out, you would need to later then lay it back out or even inflate it to allow it to finish drying out. Another drawback could be that there is no drain valve.
Overall, a good quality portable boat w/ decent performance.
The boat with the backbone tracks very well compared to other hardshells and turns better than one in comparison to the same size. The only complaints are that the top deck does leak a little so you will have water in your boat at the end of the day but not much. Also if you ever flip it then it is extremely hard to get all the water out due to the inflatable floor. But other than that I have taken this boat out on rough water and smooth water, rivers, lakes, and very shallow channels which due to its construction have not torn any holes in it. Do take caution with the deck risers; I have already replaced one due to over-inflation.
So, my next choice was a Sevylor K1 kayak. The K1 was nice but too small for my long legs. Searching around I settled on paying slightly more for a discounted Advanced Elements Advance Frame Expedition which I purchased from AirKayaks.com. I chose the Expedition for its larger size and thus more leg room.
My first impression upon receiving the kayak was how durable the construction appeared. The outer shell of the kayak is covered by a heavy duty nylon fabric and the bottom is coated by a thick pvc material. Shape is given to the bow and stern by internal metal frames. Valves to pump up all chambers are easy to use and the large valves that inflate the main chambers also allow rapid deflation when storing the kayak. The kayak has a few neat features that make it more comfortable.
The seat has a lumber support bladder that you can inflate and deflate by mouth while you're in the boat so that you can tailor just how much support you want on the fly. Also, there is a foot bar that can be adjusted depending on how long your legs are. The foot bar gives you something to brace your feet against making you feel more secure in the cockpit. An optional spray skirt can seal the cockpit by attaching around an inflatable coaming. As I learned the hard way, on Lake Michigan, the spray skirt is pretty much a necessity in any paddling situation where waves are large or choppy if you don't want to paddle with water sloshing around in the cockpit. There is ample storage space behind the seat and even in front of your feet, depending on how tall you are.
I did have a couple gripes with the design of the kayak though. My first is that the stretch cords on the front deck are too far away from the cockpit to allow easy access to anything placed under them, even if you have long arms like I do. You can get closer to the cords by unzipping the zipper that runs from the coaming part way down the center of the spray deck. Still, I would have preferred having the gear straps closer to the cockpit.
My second gripe is that the seat doesn't have enough padding. I would have preferred thicker padding in the bottom part of the seat. The kayak comes with its own large duffel that has enough room to hold the kayak and a pump but not enough room for two-piece paddles and a pfd, however it still meets my criteria of taking up little space in either the apartment or the car.
I think the Expedition weighs slightly more than my Tahiti. If I had to carry it a long distance I'd prefer to put it on a rolling baggage dolly rather than shoulder it - it's simply too heavy and awkward, however it's still far more portable than a rigid hard shell. Set up time goes quickly once you learn how much air to pump into all the chambers. The only thing to really pay attention to is making sure the floor is in straight as you inflate it. I've found you have to periodically turn the boat over while inflating to make sure the floor is in straight since its a separate piece that is unattached to the side tubes. Getting the floor crooked can affect how the boat tracks in the water.
The kayak is surprisingly rigid once it's pumped up. In colder weather, the inflatable floor actually helps insulate you from cold penetrating into the boat from the water. On the water the kayak tracks well, even in high winds. It handles far more like a true hard shell kayak. I don't have the backbone accessory but have read from other reviews that it apparently makes the tracking even better. Given its large size (13' long), it won't turn on a dime, but then it's not a whitewater kayak but is more intended for long distance paddling with lots of gear. The Expedition feels very stable in the water and seems almost impossible to roll. You can roll the kayak (I've seen videos of it), however it's so stable it won't roll without some serious incentive.
Overall I've found my Expedition to be a joy to paddle and it even commands some respect from traditional hard shell kayakers when they see how well it's constructed compared to lesser inflatables. If you're limited on space to store a hard shell kayak and don't want to pay for the extra cost and complexity of a folding kayak you can't do better than to buy an Advanced Elements inflatable. One final plus is the forum community on the Advanced Elements website. If you have any questions about your 'yak or how to accessorize it you'll find expert help on their forum in the form of fellow AE inflatable owners as well as company experts.
When I first took it out of the box, I was immediately impressed with the strength of the materials. This was the toughest inflatable I had seen, so I was immediately reassured that this was a good quality yak.
It comes with a dual action hand pump, which is great, but I also bought a battery operated Coleman pump which does about 75% of the inflation. You do have to be careful not to over-inflate the floor, so the hand pump is good to finish off. With the floor, just inflate until the tubes fill and push your finger onto the floor - it should be firm, but you should be able to depress your finger until you touch the bottom surface. Once you sit inside, your body weight adds to the firmness. The Coleman is great for deflation too - just plug it into the valve, turn it on and let it do all the work!
The first inflation was easy enough and took about 15 minutes, just using the hand-pump. The second inflation was faster - 6 minutes!! I can take this out, inflate it and be ready to go in the same time it takes my friend to unstrap his yak from his car, get all his things together and carry it down to the launch!
I use mine for fishing too! At first I was a little nervous about hooks and an inflatable, but as long as you are organized, it really is no problem. I made up some rod holders and a fish-finder mount out of uPVC tubing. If you have a look on the Advanced Elements website and go to their forum, you will see my adventures!
I don't have the backbone installed in my kayak. As long as you take a few seconds to ensure the floor is centralized, it tracks straight and slices through the waves without any problem.
Since I bought mine, there's a few more people interested in Singapore and have already placed their orders! It's gonna be fun to have a few of us out fishing at the same time.
Is there a down-side? The only down-side is that you do have to make sure the yak is dry before you store it for a while. I'm out every weekend, so I just wipe it down when I am ready to pack it away - it is 30 deg.C + here though, so it doesn't take long to dry!
I set myself a realistic budget. Value for money, bang for buck, this yak is superb. My only worry is that it might be heavy rain at the weekend and I can't get out on the yak!! I love it!
When properly inflated the inner tubes expand to fill up the kayak, pressing against the floor and the hull. There is nothing that flaps around. When lifted up at one end, it is stiff and does not sag. I even use the optional backbone and the floor is so solid that it cannot be felt when paddling.
I've taken this kayak on 10 mile trips a number of times - through calm water, winds, heavy duckweed, very shallow water levels and tule reeds. It is comfortable, versatile, paddles wonderfully, is rugged and extremely stable. I've never had it spin in circles, though I have been in some kayaks from other manufacturers that do. I personally feel the AdvancedFrame series are some of the best values in inflatables on the market.
Additionally, I have worked closely with Advanced Elements for several years. Their customer service is about the best you can find - they stand behind their products, respond quickly and go "above and beyond" to answer questions/solve problems. Possibly if the person had spent some time with customer support when experiencing their problems, some of the issues might have been cleared up.
I would not hesitate to recommend the AdvancedFrame series of kayaks to anyone.
Our experience is exactly the opposite of the reviewer who gave this craft the lowest possible rating. Mind you, it took a few times to know how to set up the 13' EXP right; and our previous experience with the smaller 10'5" Advanced Frame undoubtedly was a help. We are great advocates of the BackBone accessory, which, with the aluminum forms, gives a rigid internal architecture to this kayak that will give it a hull speed and an ability to take on large waves that will equal a hard shell of similar beam and length.
Initial set-up is important, as it is, say, for folding kayaks, such as the Feathercrafts (their Kahuna performs in a generically similar way, incidentally). There are a few "tricks" one learns in aligning the BackBone and the floor until a perfect set-up takes no more than ten minutes, tops. Placing the BackBone over the bow's landing skid and the stern's skeg is not difficult, once one uses both hands, inside and outside the hull. Inflating the floor a bit to give it shape before installing it over the BackBone also ensures a symmetrical line-up. Of course - and of prime importance - the main chambers and floor must (I repeat "must") be inflated to a good and firm level - or the kayak simply will not work well at all (I can almost hear Mae West saying, "A hard kayak is good to find"). Sitting back as far as one can in the cockpit is also important. Note that the storage space in the stern would be compromised were the cockpit placed farther back: hence, the need to sit back and engage that skeg to good purpose.
All these little refinements add up to a great gain for a great kayak, but Advanced Elements kayaks, like all IKs and folding kayaks, require somewhat commensurate mental advancement to get the best out of their designs. There is a learning curve, which is steeper, the longer the IK. Thus, the 8'4" Lagoon (Dragonfly XC, Skedaddle) is almost fool-proof. Just pump it up, and it is ready to hit the water. The 10'5" requires more attention, especially if a BackBone is installed - but well worth the little bit of extra effort, given the improvement in performance.
The hull speed of the Expedition is greater than the AF 1, and, again, especially with a BackBone, this craft will glide in a straight line, will paddle at a tangent against steady whitecaps and winds without much weathercocking, and will show a remarkable seaworthiness in all waters. Many of my family and friends have paddled my Expedition; all are astonished by its performance, especially those who have owned hard shells. So, why is my son's and my experience of this kayak so categorically different from some and so similar to others? We are too busy using these wonderful IKs to worry about the answer.
Since March of this year I've been learning to kayak in a wide and very stable Sea Eagle 330. It's been a great boat. Very forgiving. Durable. And fun. Ideal for learning. A great take-along on camping trips near ponds and lakes throughout South Carolina. But after a couple of months of paddling, those trips began to stretch from two, to five, to eight or nine miles. And to several hours each. As nice as the Sea Eagle has been, it simply isn't the sort of boat designed for those longer trips.
So, I scoured the Internet for additional information, and found a number of options. They included several very attractive offerings in the $950-$1,600 price range. Well, that's just too much money for a soon-to-retire country school teacher to justify. In addition, some of the most attractive folding models appeared to take longer to assemble and disassemble than I could afford. And also appeared to require more attention and care than I might be competent to provide. Several of them were very attractive boats. But all were beyond my economic and technological reach.
The Advanced Elements AF Expedition seemed to be the ideal compromise. Judging from the on-line information available. It was a combination foldable/inflatable. With a simple, reliable design. It was considerably longer and sleeker than the Sea Eagle 330. With a spray deck that could even accommodate a spray skirt for late fall and winter paddling. It was an inflatable that seemed to represent a logical step up. So I ordered one from Campmor and a healthy discount. It arrived week before last.
The Expedition arrived via UPS in one large cardboard box. Our friendly UPS driver brought it to the back door, and then offered to bring it inside for us. Point being, this is not a puny boat! It's considerably heavier than the tandem Sea Eagle 330. Though certainly lighter than many, if not most, hard-shell kayaks. I brought the box into the living room and immediately unpacked everything. Assembly was simple. Just follow the printed instructions. To learn more about the construction of the kayak, this first time I took everything apart before the first inflation. Though I left the two inflation chambers in their canvas tubes since they didn't appear to be crooked. I looked over every inch of the boat, with special attention to seams and zippers. The quality of materials and construction is impressive. I didn't expect this much at such a modest purchase price. It really is well constructed. And I liked the simplicity of the design. Keep in mind, my experience with kayaks is very limited. And textile engineering isn't my field. This is just the initial impression of a particularly fussy consumer. But this particularly fussy consumer was impressed!
The initial installation took me 45 minutes, including disassembly and inflation of all chambers. I immediately deflated and did it again. The second time it took 14 minutes to unfold, align the floor properly in the pre-assembled kayak, and to inflate all tubes. Given the Expedition's greater complexity, I was surprised by how little time it takes to assemble it, compared to the Sea Eagle. I then deflated the boat, folded it up as prescribed in the instructions and returned it to its sturdy canvas carrying case.
A word about carrying cases. The Sea Eagle 330 came with a very sturdy canvas carrying bag. But it was impossible for me to carry comfortably. The canvas bag for Advanced Elements Expedition proved even nicer than the Sea Eagle's. Sturdy canvas; sturdy zippers; solidly attached carrying handles; and plenty of room for the boat and paddling accessories. It was some improvement over the Sea Eagle duffel bag-type design. But not by much. It too, at least for me, was cumbersome to carry for any distance.
So, I abandoned the Advanced Elements Expedition carrying case and put the Expedition in a folding case sold as an accessory by Sea Eagle. It is a simple design. An oblong piece of sturdy canvas with squares cut out of each corner, and straps and d-rings positioned to make it possible to lay the folded kayak and accessories in the center of the canvas, fold the longer ends of the canvas over the kayak and accessories, tighten the two straps provided, and then fold the remaining sides up over the whole thing, cinching it all down with three straps. The long carrying straps make it possible to throw the packed boat and accessories up over a shoulder and carry it along quite comfortably. Well, comfortably for a while, at least. According to our house scales, the boat and accessories all packaged weighs in at 63 pounds. Much heavier than the Sea Eagle. But made manageable by one person by the Sea Eagle special carrying case. Perhaps Advanced Elements will offer their own fold-over-and-strap-up case in the future.
The next day I took the Expedition to a small lake at a nearby state park for its first paddle. I was concerned about getting in and out of the Expedition given the cockpit size. The open-deck Sea Eagle had been no problem. This was a different matter. Well, the closed deck and cockpit did make entry and exit more difficult. I didn't attempt a totally dry entry from the shore. Rather, I waded the boat out into water deep enough to float it and entered the cockpit one leg at a time. The first attempt was challenging. I managed it without tipping over. [As I had with the Sea Eagle's first attempt.] But the second and third attempts were much easier. As everyone on the newsgroup said they would be.
The Advanced Elements seat with the inflatable lumbar support proved far more comfortable than I expected. The straps that connect the back to the side chambers must be adjusted to their proper length. And the footrest must be positioned properly for maximum comfort. But once adjusted it's a comfortable ride.
One surprise was the benefits derived from a closer fit in the cockpit. I'd read about this but didn't understand it. The closer fit between hips and boat make it easier to control the kayak, and, I believe, make it a more stable ride. So, I would encourage other older kayaker wannabes to try paddling an Expedition before deciding they need the more comfortable-looking Lazy Boy recliner-type large inflatable seats in an open-deck kayak like the Sea Eagles.
That brings up another point of importance to novice kayakers and kayaker wannabes. Stability. Just how easy is it to keep these boats upright in the water. Even though we wear proper paddling clothing and effective PFDs, most of us prefer to stay relatively dry when we paddle. Prefer to stay inside the boat rather than execute a paddle float-assisted wet entry in the middle of a lake. I certainly do, anyway.
I found the wide-beamed Sea Eagle 330 very stable, even encouraging. It took some serious effort to turn it over, in fact. And it handled moderate swells and waves very comfortably. Now, I'm not qualified to make a professional assessment of the relative stability of the Expedition and Sea Eagle. But the Expedition seems to me after a dozen or so paddles to be at least as stable as the Sea Eagle. I've yet to purposely turn the Expedition over. But that seems to require some effort. It's not a "tippy" boat in other words. Not at all. And the tighter fit of the boat at the seat makes it more responsive to corrective movements. Also, I've yet to paddle it in anything but moderate swells, with a 15-20 knot gusting wind. I'll try to report on both experiences once accomplished.
I was delighted with the performance of the Expedition when I finally got to paddle it across the small lake in our nearby state park. It's more responsive to the paddle. Easier to get up to speed. Glides nicely. Tracks nicely. And, according to my trusty GPS, cruises comfortably at between 30 to 35 percent faster than the Sea Eagle 330 with a similar level of paddling effort. Again, keep in mind I'm only beginning to learn about kayaks and to learn to paddle properly. So my assessment should be taken with a grain of salt. This Expedition certainly is faster, though. Moving along comfortably at around 3.5 knots when propelled by even an amateur paddler. It also takes more time and effort to turn than the Sea Eagle 330. Which in some environments might be a disadvantage. But not for my sort of paddling.
In sum, based on the preliminary experience described above, I would encourage Kayaker Wannabes to test paddle an AdvancedFrame Expedition kayak. Especially those who, like me, are well over the age at which most folks discover kayaking. And who may have limited physical mobility and/or economy-size body weight. It's feasible. It's safe. And it's a lot of fun!
On the water, it's a blast. Very comfortable, almost like a water bed.... uh yeah. Tracks nicely feels secure, but make sure it's inflated properly.
Only downside is that drying the boat out after use can be a bit of a hassle. Some of the various inflation chambers need to be removed to ensure it's completely dry.
If you're short on space, this is a great solution.
Comparing the ease of transporting the inflatables versus the hardshells was a no brainer, and I quickly discovered I wanted to investigate further into inflatables. I did a good bit of research on the net and settled on the Expedition. I sold both hardshells shortly after and have not looked back.
I am totally enamored with the Expedetion. It is amazing the amount of gear you can fit in and on it. I don't think I've come close to it's impressive 450 lb. capacity!
I just got mine in December of '07, but have had it in the water on probably 40 or so outings. Everything from a few hours on the lake to 18-20 mile overnighters on the River, and intend to put many more enjoyable miles on it before I'm done.
If you're on the fence...don't hesitate any longer. Buy an Expedition. You won't regret it!
It's a snug fit for me at 5'10" 220 lbs and I did not adjust the foot brace correctly before leaving so I could not re adjust on the water. To access the foot brace you have to unzip the top cover of the craft, something the manufacturer says you should not do. So I went ahead and continued paddling with straight legs.
The seat is as comfortable as any I have sat in. It was a windy day (10-15 mph), my son was in a 11' Pungo & I could not keep up with him. Coming back with the wind it was more even, so this yak is affected by the wind more than the hard shells.
The Expedition seems to track well but does take more effort to paddle. I will take it out one more time before I decide to purchase the back bone, my first impression is the boat is a little too flimsy in the water, it's weird to feel the boat undulate with the waves, yet it's extremely stable.
Taking it down was easy as long as you use the pump to suck all the air out first. It fits back into the bag, with room for the pump and some extras I have.
I bought this boat to access the numerous lakes and bays within a couple of hours of Houston & I did not want to put a rack on the "good " car. It looks like it will fit the bill...
I think the secret to good performance with the Expedition is to make sure it's properly and fully inflated. The manual warns against over inflation, but I think it would be hard to over inflate the main tube using the hand pump. The floor is another matter. The floor is a separate piece and looks a lot like a thin air mattress. Putting too much pressure in it can cause the welded seams that make up the individual tubes to separate. I saw this happen with an AE Double I had a chance to paddle awhile back. Bottom line is, just take it easy with the floor, you'll be fine. The best test for proper inflation is to simply pick up one end of the boat. If it doesn't bend in the middle, you're good to go.
The only nit-pic that comes to mind is that I wish the deck bungees were located a bit closer to the cockpit. It's a bit of a stretch to lean forward to grab a water bottle.
The perfect paddle for this boat is the Lendal 4-piece. Most 4 piece paddles are junk. But the Lendal is a beauty. It's expensive, but when locked together, it's absolutely ridged. Broken down, it will easily fit in the storage bag
Fast forward two days and it is finally time to put in (weather finally let up). A quick blow up (set up time was approx 15 min – to blow up and pack) and I was ready to go. Finally out on the water and the AE expedition handled... well... different. I was a little disappointed until I realized that I had the backbone out of alignment a little which kept turning me (albeit slight) to port. I quickly return and righted the situation (literally) and away I went for a 6 mile trip around the reservoir. With the water being very frigid I was glad I was in the inflatable – that layer of air had a very nice way of keeping me warm in the cold water. About half way through the paddling session I noticed that the backbone was...for a lack of a better word...'intrusive' as it is right under you in the most ‘inappropriate’ spot. Looking down I realized that the floor had deflated on me and the only thing between me and the backbone was the thin seat and the padding around the aluminum shaft (read…not comfortable). After a portage to blow the floor up again (thank goodness I remembered to bring the pump with me) it was back on the water again to finish the day. Upon reflection, I think I didn't tightened the screw-style valve all the way closed on the floor – thus the deflation; however I will have to investigate further next time out.
Overall the kayak is well built, paddles and tracks well (for an inflatable – not nearly as nice as a hard shell) and is a great way to get some paddling in without having space for the storage of a rigid boat. You can’t go wrong for the money – just toss it in the car and go.