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Superb design, poor construction
I owned an original AirFusion kayak for about 5 years before it died a few months ago. In terms of performance and design this is an excellent kayak. It goes about 1mph faster than its cousin the (mid-sized) advanced frame and tracks pretty well. Easily beats all sit-on-top kayaks in terms of speed. It is also super-light and very easy to carry! However, unlike the advanced frame kayaks I would not call this an expedition kayak mostly bcs of its limited space for provisions and stability (it is not a good idea to put supplies on top).
In terms of setup, the AirFusion it is not 100% straight-forward. You will need to be a bit careful and concentrated not to mix up the pieces of the frame or inflate in the wrong order -in which case you might end up with bent pieces of frame-. After a bit of training you should be able to be in the water in 15' (compare this with 7-8' for the advanced frame). But a brilliant design non the less!
The main problem (at least with the first batch) of these kayaks was durability. Unlike my advanced frame (which has been going strong for 10+ years with no major need for repairs) the airfusion started having problems 1 year after I bought it with an exploding valve (literally it came off as I was paddling - not very well glued together) and ruptures in the front and back air-chambers the following year. Given its small size (it is hard to make this kayak any longer w/o compromising the frame) loosing one of the six chambers can be problematic - loosing two makes it very hard to get back to land. My guess is that these problems have been resolved in the new elite version. The quality and thickness of the air-chambers was very poor in the original version of this kayak.
In any case. It is time to put my AirFusion to rest after a big rupture in a side chamber. It has provided a most enjoyable ride while it lasted. 5 stars for fun and design, 3 stars for lack of durability and limited range (not an expedition model for sure). Overall 4/5 stars
I've had AirFusion for better…
I'm 190lbs so I sit low in the water and some gets in, should get the sprayskirt, when I pick up the Elite this year I'll get the skirt. This doesn't track as straight as my fold ups with a skeg but it's close enough I wouldn't think it needs one. Definitely not room for gear or overnight, but for the day you want to feel fast on the water it's My 1st choice. Great kayak. Friends insist it doesn't feel as stable as what they are used to. Hoping the Elite will be a better loaner in that respect.
Seat is an issue, I use seat from my other rigs, higher back velcro on bottom to keep in place. I had to add velcro to bottom of kayak so it matches my other fold ups. On the upside original seat cushion zips out so could be improved but easier to steal seat from other rig.
Every time I put together it feels different. after years I'd think I have a repeatable process that yields the same result, but no its always a slightly different kayak feel. Lots of glue along the keel but no holes through. lots of long grooves along the keel, the glue is there for piece of mind. Still it's my favorite so far. wish center bar would disassemble easier when cold and tired (sometimes snowing)
I've paddled the AirFusion a…
This is a tough little kayak and its frame is strong. My friends who own their own AirFusions are happy with the set-up and take-down process. I liked the responsive feel of the way it rides on the water. I could turn on a dime. As a slim boat, it was not flat and stable like the Advanced Elements Expedition, but even so the AirFusion did not feel tippy, just responsive to when I leaned. Like any short boat, the paddler must learn to use a shorter stroke than in a long sea kayak. With quick, short strokes this boat can keep up a good speed.
I bought my kayak in February…
I really like the incorporation of the aluminum poles. They add rigidity to the overall structure and gives the kayak a solid look. Bow and the stern are made with a hard plastic allowing it to obtain a sharp cutting edge and can take a beating. The multi-layered design is tough to break through which eases the mind about puncturing and allows for a better experience. The bag that it comes with fits all my kayaking gear which is a big bonus. The first time that I set it up took me an hour. Now it takes me just under 20 minutes to setup and under 15 minutes to put it a way.
I recently took this kayak on a camping trip in Wisconsin and the kayak performed amazing. It cut through the water nicely. I left it inflated for the entire trip (3 days) and it still held its shape. There were times when rocks scraped the underside of the kayak (on accident) and I even got lodged onto a dead tree that was hiding underwater. The kayak came out with scuff marks only and no deep scratch or penetration. I flipped over once while getting into the kayak and the water was easily removed by tilting the kayak upside down (the zipper holes help a lot with this).
The kayak paddled quickly and responded well. It stood up to the waves that pounded it and did not deform at all. It is definitely comparable to a hardshell.
Lets talk about the critiques.
- Paddles: I used the AE 4-piece fiberglass paddle that came with the kayak. After long periods of time, the rough texture of the poles will give you blisters. I suggest wearing a glove or getting a different paddle with a smoother texture.
- skeg: I suggest that you get a skeg if you're going to be traveling long distances. I found myself working trying to keep the kayak to travel straight.
- Inflating: When inflating, it is very important that you align the front and rear thwart correctly. They can disrupt the shape of the kayak resulting in loss in performance.
- Bow/Stern: Once in a while, you should check the bow and the stern to make sure that they are in place correctly. After so many setups/takedowns, I found that the bow started to tilt to one side instead of remaining straight, i.e. if looking from the front, the bow tilts to the left or if looking from the top, curving to the right.
- Seat: The bottom of the seat will tend to shift after several hours of use and will need to be re-positioned unless if you find a way to attach it to the floor mat such as Velcro.
- Foot rest: The foot rest is the front thwart. It can be comparable to you siting on the ground facing a wall and placing your feet against the wall. If you place your feet flat on it while paddling, your legs will get numb due to the weird foot placement. I suggest that you either get a foam block that is shaped to what you're comfortable with or changing the way you rest your feet against it. I find that pushing it with the ball of the feet prevents this numbing.
The original 13' AirFusion…
The differences? The new Elite has a categorically greater primary or initial stability. At the same weight (32 lbs.), the wider Elite has larger high-pressure side chambers, rides a bit higher in the water without greater displacement, and easily shows an equivalent hull speed. It has more "volume" and room and now includes a hatch behind the cockpit. It is easier to assemble because the four side poles have been eliminated: for me, ten minutes, which is an excellent assembly time for a combination folding/inflatable watercraft.
It is, in sum, a lightweight, high-performance, portable kayak at an attractive price. With its dedicated skeg, a spray skirt, and a sail, it is a go-anywhere formula for fun.
The original AirFusion was more of a specialty kayak perhaps best appreciated by more advanced paddlers. The new Elite is an "all-rounder" for everyone, thanks to its stability, comfort, and versatility. The original AirFusion's award objectively underlines its top rating of "10." In my experience of both kayaks, the new Elite surpasses its progenitor and deserves to retain this top rating.
I knew the Airfusion was my…
It took some trial and error to get the setup down pat, but now it's easy. I take about 25 minutes, but I hate to rush. Tips: I inflate the back thwart halfway, then adjust it and the center pole to align with the aft keel, then inflate it fully. I insert the front top pole only partway before I begin to inflate the front thwart, so I have room to stick my hand in the zipper. I inflate the thwart halfway and then adjust it and the center pole through the zipper so it's aligned with the fore keel. Then I push the top pole into position and finish inflating the front thwart. Also, I place the front thwart fairly far forward because I think that shifting my weight forward really helps the bow cut through the water.
I have had a few center pole issues, and this is why I scored it a 9/10. I've found that a bit of Jig-a-loo graphite spray in the cuff before assembly helps it slide better and also cleans out sediment that may have crept in. When taking the center pole apart, it helps to place the kayak in a depression on the ground so that the bow and stern are slightly higher than the middle. This way it's easier to shift the pole around to find the "sweet spot" - which is usually down a bit - so you can slide the cuff without wrenching it. However, I have still had enough trouble with this on occasion (maybe 10% of the time) that I plan to add a strap wrench to my kit on another reviewer's suggestion.
I am a small paddler: female, 105 lb, and only 5 ft. Being able to handle my boat out of the water solo is a big issue for me, and the Airfusion is great in this area. I'll never have to chuck it on top of a car, and even fully loaded I can always carry it down to the water by myself. And - bonus - if you are small like me and also put the front thwart far forward, you can fit a tremendous amount of stuff in the cockpit behind you.
My most recent trip with the Airfusion was a 2-day exploration of the Mullica River in the New Jersey Pine Barrens. The Mullica is a fast-flowing & winding river, with a fair number of beaver dams and un-sawn blowdowns. Even fully loaded with ~30 lbs of gear, the AF edged like a champ, quickly outpacing my boyfriend's Current Designs Kestrel. He got so frustrated with his boat's inability to turn properly, and there I am, zipping along in a smaller half circle around the bend next to him, fighting not to look smug.
One final word about Advanced Elements: they have awesome customer service. My boat had an incorrectly stitched shell (they said they'd never had this happen before), and turned persistently in one direction. The AE people were very helpful - after troubleshooting didn't have any effect, they sent me a new shell which arrived in 5 days and works perfectly, without even asking me to ship them the old one!
I needed a kayak to replace…
The service from Advanced Elements has also been outstanding. I recently bent one of the metal rods. When I contacted customer service, Ritchie fixed me up with a replacement and put it the mail that same day.
I'm very pleased with the kayak and the company.
First time experience with…
INTRO (why buying a none-hardshell)
I was looking for a kayak ever since I had an afternoon go in a proper sea kayak in Comox, BC, Canada. Of course any Canadian would go for a real sea kayak. They have the space and the scenery for it. But there are people in the world, that 1) can't afford a 2000,- $ plus kayak and 2) have no space at home or transport option.
I was trying to avoid buying a very expensive 'boat' and hardly use it because of the hassle with storing and transportation (I like to take my kayak up in the mountains and have a go on a local lake)
So I was looking for a kayak that could be transported anywhere in a car and could also kayak like a kayak. Needles to say there are a lot of inflatables out there and skin on frame option. Soon enough I realized that Advanced Elements is the only company out there with a real alternative, so far: the AirFusion When you Google inflatable kayaks and search by images, the AirFusion stands out immediately. So... AE it is. Hence first time experience AE and so AF.
Now, lets face it: AF is not a hard-shell. The good news: it is not an inflatable dingy either.
Setting up the AF is not difficult. But a perfect result in little time needs practice, for sure! After 6 month and many assemblies and disassemblies I have changed my approach every so much to get to a comfortable setup flow. Read the many tips and tricks online and you will develop your own flow. I, for example, put all the poles in the kayak at the same time so I only need to access the front and rear zippers once! The zippers are really just access holes for the poles and such. The front zippers has hardly any use as pole#6 blocks entrance. The back compartment offers a bit of space. Of course the compartments can be stuffed by removing the thwarts. But this is only interesting when touring for real.
The balance of inflation of the AF with all the chambers is a matter of practice and experience. A hand pump with gauge is just about a must. Later on you'll get used to it and can go by feel (or sound of the crackling tubes). I, however, use the gauge all the time. It is really noticeable when you do it wrong: the kayak looks badly inflated. Most problems occur due to bad thwart alignment (the two big airbags). You really have to make sure both are at the bottom of the kayak at all four corners and in the right position.
In the beginning I was a little frustrated about the perfect shape and alignment I was aiming for. But eventually you need to let go of a hard-shell result. It won't happen! And really, you will love it's 'character' for not being perfect. It's like in real life!!
My AF's bow is always slightly wrinkly. But straight none the less. Setup time can be as short as 15 minutes, but I usually take 20-30 minutes in a relaxed flow. Making sure all is straight and well aligned and properly inflated. A two hour paddle needs less than 3 hour of your time. I think that is wonderful.
The alumin(i)um poles combined with the air chambers give a really sturdy kayak. What a great design! I think someone at AE must have gotten this idea on a camp ground while sitting on his/her air mattress in a tent while it was raining, hoping that the tent wouldn't float away. Just brilliant.
AIRFUSION ON WATER
The AF is agile but stable like any other hard-shell. It's noticeably lower to the water line which is different from a hard-shell. It takes a few times to adjust the seating position but the front thwart is a wonderful foot brace and it's really comfortable and soft, though strong enough to push against it.
The seat however is not the best design.The bottom part needs fixation in order to avoid it moving forward. When the correct paddle posture is attained it will stay, but tour kayaking also means relaxing. When you lean aft, the seat will move forward bit by bit. After 4 hours of kayaking, I decided to tackle the problem and am currently working on a fix (Velcro on inside-bottom kayak and Velcro on bottom seat cushion).
The inflatable coaming is good enough for it's purpose. You need a good firm inflation in order to have it work (the manual repeatedly warns for overinflation, though). I have used the touring sprayskirt from the beginning and it works fine.
I paddle in waters with temperatures around 5-15 degrees C. So I decided on the tour sprayskirt. Two things of criticism: the coaming has a tube at the back, that is really in the way and should have been designed towards the inside of the cockpit. Now it's really hard to blindly attach the sprayskirt over the back coaming with the tube in the way. Oh and the bungee of the sprayskirt is also in that position and OH, the back bungee net is there too...
I have cursed a few times trying to attach the spray skirt and finally cut a hole at the front end of the sprayskirt. Now the bungee is at the front. Much better. But the coaming inflation tube is still annoying.
Characteristics: the AF veers off to either side when paddling stops. Obviously nothing guides the AF forward so it will go any direction. This is particularly annoying when you cruise along and want to stop paddling to get something on or in the kayak. You look back up and .... you just turned 90... it annoyed me in particular when enjoying nature, paddling at a slow pace. The kayak needs constant attention in order to have it go straight.
Solution: AF SKEG! I personally think it's a must have. AE might as well include it in the sales. But hey, now you have the option so that should be better money wise. Anyway if you like kayaking on bigger lakes with wind and want to enjoy nature .... get the skeg!
The AF can handle very high waves! You'll dig into waves sooner than longer hard-shells kayaks, but it's fun and you can even ride waves!! I kayak a lot on bigger rivers with cargo ships and such. Riding on their stern waves is fun! Attacking those waves is easy too. Initially because of the low seating position to the waterline it might be scary. But trust me... airbags float really well! I sometimes forget about all the air in the side tubes. So nothing to fear.
You need to cover both zippers with duct tape or alike because the zippers are not waterproof. The back zippers catches water from the paddle. The front from the waves. Water will enter. In flat water this is not an issue. You need waves of about 10 inches and higher or a very strong wind in order to get any water through the zippers.
I flooded the kayak several times for practice and noticed that even if fully submerged, you can still sit in the kayak and paddle along!! This is amazing! You have your own private water pool, but the two airbags (thwarts) and the four side tubes keep the kayak afloat! Paddling becomes much harder obviously, but it is possible. Not recommended in colder water
Be alert for capsizing. It seems the AF is stable initially, but when challenging rolling motions it will feel stable to a certain degree (literally), then suddenly capsize rapidly. I am pretty sure all AF owners capsized at least once. The rolling stability is not constant like in a hard-shell. This is because of the way the AF is build: tube at center, large canvas portion then two narrow air tubes. All this makes it stable, but rolling further on the air tubes (the side of the kayak), it becomes unstable and you will capsize. The good thing is, you 'fall' out of the kayak easily. The cockpit is big and open. No chance to get stuck, even with the sprayskirt on. The pull-off handle on the sprayskirt is not really needed. To get aboard again you profit again from the AF' initial stability. It's not like a hard-shell in a good way this time.
USAGE of AIRFUSION
Most of us will try and compare the AF with a hard-shell. I did. And for good reasons: you want to paddle and get somewhere in a sleek fast kayak. I think the AF reaches out to hard-shells for about 80%. This is for hard-shells in general... not sea kayak hard-shells and not a percentage in performance.
But there is one factor that is new to me about kayaking and absent with hard-shells and sea kayaks: you can and WILL take it anywhere there is water!! You see a lake somewhere and you wish you had packed the AF in the back of your car. You probably drive back to get it! It's so easy to take this kayak along with you, that is what makes it so much fun. I use it so many times. Even just for a short 2 hours. Setup becomes second nature. I even know the amount of pumps by heart. And you can use it nearly anywhere:
Small lakes, narrow streams through forests, big open waters, large rivers. Open sea! (caution though and a dry-suit must!), traffic rich environments... all possible.
Hey, don't start reading here... go from the top! I am a conclusion reader myself, but read the main article none the less. That's why I am not going to write much in here. I just love the AF. The best option out there for an inflatable (thus transport friendly) kayak with characteristics that get really close to hard-shell and what it can't do it compensates in all it can that a hard-shell can't. It can be used in just about any water environment (whitewater.... uh no!) And let me think out loud for you: I spend less money buying the Air Fusion + the better accessories (carbon paddle, gauge pump, tour sprayskirt, AF Skeg) + top notch paddlers PFD and the best dry-suit out there (ps220) for far less money (half) than just a hard-shell.
I am using my AF on hot weather days, rainy days, windy days and icy days. I survived a thunderstorm in my AF on a big river getting blasted by hail. I never felt more comfortable in my kayak, only hoping that lighting would struck the trees ashore and not me in the middle of the river...
Happy moments in the AirFusion:
hard-shell kayaker paddles over from the other side of the river only to find out just a few yards away that I am not in a hard-shell. "That's not a hard-shell, that's an inflatable". 'Yup... pretty fast huh?' Rain hits the deck and I feel warm and comfi, enjoying the soft foot brace and my warm dry socks. (I took me a while to realize how well insulated the kayak is: lots of still air!) And there are so many foot positions on the thwart, hard-shellers would only dream of... Surfing on a cargo ships stern wave enjoying the agility of the kayak.
I own 2 other AE kayaks (8' &…
PROPPER ASSEMBLY IS CRITICAL.
First 2 times out the boat wanted to turn left all the time and weather cocked really bad in a <10 MPH breeze. The trips were miserable. I finally noticed the bow was turned to the left an inch or so. Long story short, the main air chambers were installed (by the factory!) incorrectly with the right one almost 2" ahead of the left one. This corrected, the 3rd time out it tracked straight but still weather cocked in the slightest breeze. I adjusted the pressure down in the main chambers. This helped so I let more air out until the chambers were, to me, getting pretty soft. Problem solved. It seems too much pressure causes the boat to ride too high in the water giving the feeling you are paddling a teacup.
After owning 3 AE boats, I am still trying to figure out how you measure air pressure in the tubes. AE warns over and over not to over inflate the tubes but I have not found a way to check it. If anyone can help me here I'd really appreciate it. Storage is very minimal for a boat this size. Getting anything through the front zipper is impossible because of the rod that runs directly under it. The rear zipper may allow something small such as a thermos but, you can't get to it without getting out of the boat.
The seat sits on the center bottom rail which looks more uncomfortable than it is. The problem with the seat is that, although the boat is 25" wide, the distance from the left air chamber to the right one is less than 12" measured at the seat bottom. I've tried every way I can think of to make it more comfortable but nothing works. Suggestions, anyone?Nothing ruins a kayak trip faster than a ill fitting seat.
I like the boat for the most part. Speed, stability and turning compare favorably with a hard shell boat this size. But, the difficult assembly (once assembled I will never take it apart!), factory alignment error, lack of storage and bad seat force me to give it only a 7.
Rarely is the word "unique"…
- Construction/Set-Up Time:
The AirFusion is 13' long, has a 25" beam, weighs 32 lbs., and can accommodate a paddler up to 235 lbs. (at 220 lbs., I am, alas, approaching that limit). Its unusual and effective construction involves a few anodized, hollow aluminum poles working in conjunction with small-diameter, high-pressure top and bottom inflation chambers along the sides and with two inflatable thwarts near the bow (footrest) and stern whose main function is to give a final shape to the kayak. The bow and stern of the AirFusion have the signature rigid aluminum forms Advanced Elements uses in its Advanced Frame line. The most important anodized snap-together pole runs from the bottom of the aluminum forms along the entire length of the kayak, serving as an equivalent to the BackBone in the Advanced Frame line. When paddling, one can see the V-shape it makes in the hull. The end result, though, is a completely different kind of hybrid. The hull and decking are sturdy PVC tarpaulin, and they are tough enough to take a lot of action – and drying time is minimal. The instructions are lucid, and the illustrations are clear. It took me 25 minutes to set this kayak up the first time (after I had read through the manual twice) but only 15 minutes the second time. As I approach 10 minutes, I think 15 minutes is probably closer to an average time. Finally, I like its weight and portability. I can see myself, in the coming months, carrying it along wilderness paths to otherwise inaccessible mountain lakes in my home province of B.C. and in the American West.
The AirFusion is an attention-getter, a real head-turner, and, with its instant response to whatever the paddler wants, the equivalent of a sports car on the water. Paradoxically, however, it obeys my "Invisibility Rule: The Best Kayaks Disappear and Are Invisible to the Paddler." That is to say, they do nothing to call attention to themselves by presenting problems with their tracking, turning, stability, and ease of paddling. They do not, in short, distract. The AirFusion melts into the water as it gives an experience of serious fun.
- Tracking/Hull Speed:
The AirFusion is light on its metaphorical feet – fast, nimble, accelerates quickly – and most people should, without much paddling effort, be able to maintain a cruising speed in the 4.5 – 5.5 m.p.h. range. With a large, stiff, powerful paddle that moves a lot of water, rather ridiculous top speeds are possible (6 -7 m.p.h. range). Unlike Advanced Frame kayaks, it has no skeg – only landing skids under the bow and stern. The stern back-plate has a hole running through it to accommodate a rudder, which some paddlers may be glad to have; but I personally sense no need of such a device for the AirFusion, which tracks very well without one. A rudder adds "drag" to any kayak, and, by calling attention to its operation, becomes a needless distraction. On the other hand, it is possible to put a sail on the AirFusion; and, in that case, a rudder could prove indispensable. Besides tracking well, the AirFusion glides well; and any "drift" one encounters at the end of a glide is easily addressed, almost unconsciously, by one's paddling technique. The front 15% of the hull (approx.) rides just above the water, like a rocker. This helps break incoming waves but also leaves the craft a bit more vulnerable to weathercocking in transverse winds (the tendency to turn in the direction of the wind), although I have not found that to be objectionable in this kayak. Again, adjusting one's paddling technique is all that is required.
- Stability/Carrying Capacity:
Kayaks are often unstable when at rest in the water during, say, bird-watching, photography, fishing – and especially when one enters and leaves them. The AirFusion is surprisingly stable in such conditions – one does not need to look at the horizon to keep one's balance – and those small, high-pressure side inflation tubes seem to be the key to this stability. The slight tippiness some paddlers may encounter does not, in other words, compromise this craft's basic stability. For fishing, however, one needs carrying space for one’s gear; and the AirFusion's fore and aft zippers reveal only small spaces behind the inflatable thwarts. The deck bungees are thus the main places for carrying gear, but it should be kept light (shoes, sandwiches, and so on) because heavy items on the deck will raise the center of gravity, establish a "moment of inertia," and create the potential for an undesired outcome. Of course, it makes no sense to ask a watercraft to do things it was not designed to do; but carrying space here is limited mainly to lightweight items – which is also why many of us own more than one kayak.
We Canadians generally have short arms and low pockets and are loath to part with our money unless we can find an exceptional deal. At its price (under $800 USD) and given its performance, the AirFusion may prove irresistible. Over the next few years, I fully expect to see our coastal waters, inlets, lakes, and rivers sporting this new kayak.