I had a gear storage problem. Although I’m primarily a cyclist and hiker, I do enjoy dipping a paddle in the water from time to time and wanted a kayak of my own. I couldn’t install a rack to transport a proper kayak on the roof of my van because I have solar panels up there. So what were my kayak alternatives ?
On impulse, I bought an Intex Explorer K2 inflatable kayak. The boat retails for $120, although I managed to snag mine on sale for just over half the cost. I’ve owned it for a year and it’s fulfilled my needs admirably. But then I learned about the origami-like kayak, the Oru Beach LT (https://www.orukayak.com/products/beach-lt) that folds and expands like a paper crane. Sounded awesome.
But it also costs 10 times as much as its inflatable counterpart. I had to know: Is the Oru really 10 times better than my trusty, inexpensive inflatable? Is the difference worth the heftier price tag? I secured one for a test.
This wasn’t exactly an apples-to-apples comparison. The K2 is a tandem boat that can be paddled by one person – my typical modus operandi – while the Oru is a standard one-seater. Oru does offer a two-seater option called the Haven, but it costs about $800 more than the solo boat I tested. I paddled both boats in the environments they were designed for, calm lakes and slow-moving water.
Storage and Portability
The boats (in their carrying cases) are similar in weight – 31.22 pounds for the Explorer K2 versus the Oru’s 29.22 pounds, per my luggage scale – and both were incredibly easy to get in and out of the back of my van. The dimensions of the packed Oru (29” x 23” x 7”) make it a little more difficult to find a permanent storage spot in my van than the K2 (15” x 18” x 25”), but it’s not a deal breaker.
Going from the parking lot to the put-in with the Oru is a breeze, thanks to its backpack-like shoulder straps. The Explorer K2 stows in a thin duffel-style bag that seemingly gets heavier in your hand the longer you hike, but thankfully you can use a couple of carabineers and a shoulder strap to relieve some of the burden.
Ease of Setting Up and Packing Away
Both of these boats are exceptionally easy to set up. I can have the K2 fully inflated and ready to go in just over 12 minutes. Each inflatable chamber is numbered; as long as you can count to six and work a hand pump, you’re golden. Deflating it is even easier as long as you don’t over-tighten the valves; I once needed to drive around with a half-inflated kayak in the back of my van before I could snag a pair of channel-lock pliers to loosen one.
It took me about 20 minutes the first time I attempted to unfold the Oru, but after a little practice, I had it down to less than half that. Oru claims that origami masters can do it in five minutes. (Be sure to watch the instructional YouTube videos before you get to the water’s edge.) There are a few markings on the boat to help you refold it, but it’s still not exactly an intuitive process. However with a little practice, it becomes almost second nature.
Winner: Explorer K2
Each time I did this test, I paddled the same route with both boats, navigating around sunken trees, through tight gaps between rocks, and more. This was where the Oru shined. I was impressed by how much it handled like a standard molded kayak. The sleek profile allowed it glide effortlessly through the water. It also maneuvered like a champ. The Oru’s solid footrest allowed me to feel more connected to the boat, giving me a greater sense of control.
The Explorer K2 tracked decently thanks to its detachable skeg, but it didn’t feel as nimble in the water. It took more effort not only to avoid obstacles, but also just paddling in open water. Using the tandem K2 as a one-person boat shifts the weight distribution, causing it to sag in the middle a bit. (Although to be fair, that could have also been caused by the extra slice or two of pizza I had the night before.)
Because both boats are for recreational paddlers, comfort is one of the main priorities. I could get in and out of both kayaks with ease, as well as shift my body position in the cockpit while on the water.
The Oru has a two-piece seat – the bottom is simply a piece of foam that slides under a bungee cord, while the seat back clicks into the floorboard and is supported by a metal rod and some support straps. I loved the sturdy feeling of the seat, although some owners prefer a bit more padding. The K2’s inflatable seats aren’t as comfortable, and my back usually started aching after an hour or two on the water.
I didn’t abuse either kayak, but I didn’t treat them with kid gloves either. Luckily, both are surprisingly tough.
I was initially more wary of the Oru’s toughness, but my concerns were misplaced. The 5-mm double-layered polypropylene hull withstood obstacle hits and shallow-water scrapes with nary a scratch. Oru claims the Beach LT will last 20,000 fold cycles, and while I’m not sure I believe it, I’m willing to give it a try.
With six inflatable chambers and valves, the Explorer K2 has more pieces to potentially fail. Though its thick vinyl is difficult to puncture; the bottom layer did tear from a submerged tree branch, but didn’t puncture the inflated tube. (Small gashes up to two inches can be patched with the small repair kit included with the boat.)
While the inflatable kayak can take a beating, its storage bag is the metaphorical 99-pound weakling; it tears easier than tissue paper, and the zipper pull broke off after only a handful of uses. If I can find a large enough duffel bag, I’ll likely replace it. By contrast, the Oru bag is solidly constructed with first-rate materials.
If you’re looking for a cheap boat to toss in calm water once or twice a year, the K2 will serve you well. It might not be as efficient or comfortable as the Oru, but who cares? You’re not looking to spend the equivalent of your first used car for a seldom-used piece of gear. It also packs into a more compact space, allowing you to stow and forget it either in your garage or RV. I’ll be tossing this kayak in the van if my wife volunteers to go on a trip with me, allowing us both to be on the water at the same time.
But if you plan on spending a significant amount of time on the water and simply don’t have the space to store or transport a traditional kayak, the Oru Beach LT is the clear winner. Although it costs significantly more, the Oru will likely last longer, handles more like a standard hardshell kayak, and is significantly more comfortable.
More portable options
Editor Justin Housman has the Advanced Elements Straightedge inflatable kayak and loves it. It has metal ribs at the bow and stern to keep the board tracking straight, and a wide beam to allow you to stand in it and cast if you’re fishing. Much more rugged than the Intex, it doesn’t come with a pump or paddle so those are on you. $600
Advanced Elements also makes traditionally shaped inflatables that get terrific reviews, like the AdvancedFrame model. $500.