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Maybe you live in a city or a small apartment and you don’t have the space or transportation to accommodate a traditional kayak?
A folding kayak (also known as origami-style) may be the solution to your problem, wrapping fun and convenience into a compact, easy to store package.
At A Glance: Top Origami Kayaks
- Oru Kayak BayST Folding Kayak
- Oru Kayak Beach LT Folding Kayak
- Elevens Cruise Plus Foldable Kayak
- XT-17 Solo/Double Combo
You may have already looked into inflatable kayaks but foldable ones might be better suited to your lifestyle. For one thing, a foldable craft doesn’t require inflating and you may find it less bulky and even more portable than an inflatable kayak.
But since there isn’t a lot of information on these handy vessels, we thought we’d put together a buying guide to help you out and point you in right direction to find the best folding kayak for you, along with some folding kayak reviews.
Folding Kayaks 101:
What Are Folding Kayaks?
The best folding kayaks are generally built for convenience and are extremely portable. They can allow you to own a whole kayak even if you don’t have the space at home to store a traditional kayak. They can also fit in the back of a car so you don’t need to worry about trailers or other transportation methods.
The fact that they are collapsible, often into the size of a suitcase, means you can even live in a small apartment and still be able to enjoy kayaking in your free time. Sometimes the outer skin of the kayak becomes the carry case.
However, unlike an inflatable kayak, a folding kayak simply requires that you fold the various interlocking sections together to build it rather than inflate it with air. This means the vessel can be more similar to a hard shell kayak than an inflatable kayak and may offer similar high performance qualities, such as speed. However, an inflatable kayak may be better for rough water and rapids than a folding one.
You will also usually find options with either a closed or open deck, depending on your preferences and whether you plan to share the extra space with a dog or small child.
What Are They Made Out Of?
Many non inflatable and foldable kayaks are made out of polypropylene, a type of heavy duty waterproof material (plastic) that is durable and can retain its shape after being bent or folded.
For the purpose of portable folding kayaks, this can make it a good choice to provide the strength needed to support maximum weight in the water and resist small impacts. This material also means it has the flexibility required to enable the vessel to be folded and refolded numerous times. But material quality can vary.
As with many materials, however, frequent exposure to the sun can weaken the plastic. You might find that most foldable kayaks will be treated with a UV protectant to give you added durability. The best folding kayaks will usually have this feature for improved UV resistance.
But it’s recommended that you keep your folded yak somewhere out of direct sunlight when you’re not using it.
How To Build A Folding Kayak, And Pack It Away Again
The convenience of a folding yak relies upon its ability to be built when required and folded down for storage. Each style and brand will likely come with its own particular set of instructions for how to assemble it. The best folding kayaks should be easy to fold and unfold.
With the Oru foldable kayaks, the carrying container forms the hull of the kayak. Once you’ve removed any separate parts or sections, such as the seat, the main section can be folded to form the shape of the hull.
Video: Assembly Of An Oru Beach LT
Step 1: Lay It Out
Once you’ve opened the box or bag and have all your parts, lay out the large section that will form the hull.
Step 2: Install Your Footrest
If your vessel has footrests, these should be installed according to the assembly instructions for your particular yak. You may have to attach it to the bow as well as the center near the cockpit.
Step 3: Close The Bow
Next you’ll want to close your bow by folding the corresponding sections upward. You may have a strap at the bow to tighten first before you fold in the sides over the footrest, which will create a bulkhead. Secure each strap and tighten as required.
Step 4: Close The Stern
Similar to closing the bow, close the stern by tightening the strap at the end of the stern. If you have a rear bulkhead, install this before securing the rest of the stern straps just as you did with the bow in step 3.
Step 5: Install The Cockpit
Now that your hull is enclosed at the front and back, place the floorboard into the cockpit. This may be a separate section and will need to be installed into the hull to provide a floor for your boat. Your seat can then be installed according to your instructions.
Pack It Away
To pack your yak away again, simply reverse the steps you used to build it, removing the seat first followed by the floor, and then undo the straps at both the bow and stern, remembering to remove the bulkhead and footrest sections.
Fold up the bow section, pushing it with your knee so that the top part folds back on itself, accordion style. Do the same thing with the stern.
You can then fold the bow and stern together and they should slide in, one in front of the other, so that they’re essentially side by side. You should be able to feel the original folded box taking shape. You can then use the straps to secure it in position and you’re good to go.
It’s recommended that you keep your folding yak clean and make sure that no sand, mud or salt water can get stuck in the crevices before you pack it away. Rinsing it in fresh water can help with most kayaks
As with most kayaks, it’s not advised to leave your vessel exposed to sunlight for a prolonged period. So storing it inside where it’s dry can be a good idea. Because these vessels are built for convenience you may be able to slide your yak under your bed or keep it in your closet.
If your vessel comes with a bag to carry it in, this can be ideal for storing it, as it can help to protect it from dust or UV rays. It’s generally recommended to keep the collapsible frame covered.
How To Choose A Folding Kayak
What Is Its Purpose?
When you’re buying any type of vessel there are certain things you will probably want to ask yourself beforehand. And when choosing a folding kayak, many of the questions will likely be similar.
For example, how often do you plan to use it and will you be kayaking alone? Durability and perhaps a tandem kayak could be high in your priorities. You may want to consider where you plan to paddle, as this may narrow down your search, to a faster sea kayak, for instance. Remember, tandem kayaks will tend to be longer.
If you simply want to get out on the water for recreational paddling, however, length or speed may not be as high on your list of must-haves. But if you want to bring along any gear for an overnight trip, it can be a good idea to look at the weight capacity of the craft.
If you’re looking for a vessel that can give you high speeds while paddling, a folding kayak may not be ideal for you. While many of them can be efficient on the water, they are probably not going to be as efficient as a hard shell equivalent or an inflatable with an aluminum frame, simply due to the moveable nature of the construction.
The main purpose of a foldable kayak is that it’s a portable kayak that’s easy to store and move from A to B.
If you plan to use your folding yak frequently, consider how many times you might be folding and building your craft. Many of the folding vessels out there are rated to last for a certain number of fold cycles. This could mean your craft may not last as long as you’d hoped, particularly if you are on the water everyday.
While many folding yaks will be durable during their lifespan, because of the nature of their construction, they’re generally not going to last as long as a traditionally constructed vessel. This is because during each fold cycle the creases where the sections fold will tend to weaken and the Velcro straps may begin to wear out.
Video: Oru Origami Kayak
Another thing you should think about is the size of the craft when it’s folded and whether or not it comes with a carry bag or backpack. Think about where you might want to store it and work out roughly how much space you have.
While a folding kayak can fold into a compact size, you don’t want to get one that’s still too large for your home or storage area. Kayak weight may also be something to think about, especially if you plan to carry it over a significant distance to get to the water. One that’s a light weight can be easier to carry.
Depending on the type of craft, you may find you’re able to purchase a backpack to put the kayak in, which can make it a little easier if you have to travel with it.
It can also be a good idea to consider the length of the craft and whether it will suit your height and leg length. The best portable kayaks will be the ones that fit your lifestyle.
Ease Of Use
Let’s face it, if a folding yak wasn’t easy to use then you probably wouldn’t want to be buying one. Before you settle on one, it can be important to look at how easy it might be for you to put it together and pack it away again.
A lot of the time, the less parts there are the better, as this can mean there are less things for you to install. Some of the best portable kayaks are constructed mostly with one piece serving as the hull, rather than multiple pieces. This can also help to create extra rigidity. The detachable parts will likely be the seat and any additional features, such as footrests or cup holders.
It may not be ideal if your kayak takes forever to set up at the water’s edge, so it can be important to find one that’s easy to assemble.
…And The Seating
As with all yaks, if you’re planning to be on the water for a significant amount of time, you’re probably going to want a comfortable seat for comfortable paddling – it’s not like paddle boarding.
While many origami style kayaks may come with a supportive seat included, some will not and others may require an upgrade, especially if you plan to paddle over long distances. Multiple seating options can also be a useful feature for long trips, and a wide cockpit can sometimes be more comfortable and significantly easier for getting in and out.
What Are The Pros And Cons Of Going Foldable?
- The main benefit is that they can be easier to store and transport than traditional kayaks, often fitting into a bag or box the size of a medium suitcase. The best portable kayak can fit in a closet for easy storage and the trunk of a small car, similar to an inflatable kayak.
- They can make paddling more accessible to people living in city apartments or people who don’t have the strength or means to take hard shell kayaks to or from the water.
- Foldable yaks can often be lighter and easier to carry than most inflatable kayaks and you don’t need to carry a foot pump or hand pump. They can also be a more compact folded size than an inflatable folding size.
- With many of the folding kayaks having interlocking sections and straps, you shouldn’t require any additional tools during the assembly – simply unfold and off you go.
- Compared to inflatable kayaks, they can be quicker to fold up when you’re heading home, as you don’t need to wait for them to deflate or worry about puncture resistance.
- You may find you can be on the water quicker than your friends who have to unload their standard kayak from their roof rack and drag it to the water from from the parking lot.
- You can travel anywhere with your own vessel and paddle in some of the best paddling destinations in the world, often without needing to pay for oversized baggage, as a folding yak can often be checked in as a suitcase.
- Folding kayaks can be expensive compared to traditional kayaks.
- They are not designed to last quite as long as more traditional kayaks, or those with an inflatable exterior and air chambers, and will tend to have a lifespan often based on how many times it can be folded and unfolded. Most will have a maximum number of folds.
- Because they don’t have a rigid frame, this could affect their performance on the water, making them slightly slower than hard shell yaks because of the way the water may push up under each folded section meaning the hull is generally not as smooth as a fiberglass boat.
- May require more maintenance than a hard shell boat because of the different sections and movable parts.
4 Best Folding Portable Kayaks Reviewed
1: Oru Kayak Bay ST Folding Kayak
- Length: 12 foot (33 inches folded)
- Width: 25 inches (12 inches folded)
- Weight: 28 pounds
- Weight Capacity: 300 pounds
The Oru Kayak Bay ST is a single sit-inside foldable kayak that has been engineered using inspiration from the Japanese art of origami. It’s a durable craft constructed from 5mm polypropylene and is designed to hold its durability and integrity, with a kayak folding limit of 20,000 folds.
It could also be the smallest foldable kayak in terms of length (just 12 feet in length) and beam width, and features a more rigid outer hull for improved performance.
This original lightweight kayak from Oru is ideal for exploring bays and calm waters, with gear storage space for essentials and ample maximum weight capacity. It can also be used to perform a roll if necessary and you can even attach a spray skirt if you choose (additional purchase). The Bay ST is a compact kayak that can also be easy to maneuver on small bodies of water and great for shorter paddlers. It’s built to offer a combination of stability and speed.
Inside the Oru Bay ST cockpit, there are adjustable footrests and a padded seat with an adjustable backrest designed to maximize comfort for longer paddling trips. There are also thigh braces.
These origami style kayaks can be as light as a similar sized inflatable kayak, with a low weight that can be carried on public transportation or fitted into the trunk of your car. It has an origami folding size of 33 x 12 inches.
- Durable construction
- Lightweight portable kayak
- Great for lakes and bays
- Spray skirt compatible
- May feel tippy for beginners
2: Oru Kayak Beach LT Folding Kayak
- Length: 12 foot (33 inches folded)
- Width: 28 inches (29 inches folded)
- Weight: 26 pounds
- Weight Capacity: 300 pounds
This Oru Kayak Beach LT is a lightweight kayak that can be folded down into a convenient size for traveling and carrying. It can be a more manoeuvrable version than the longer, narrower models, with a more open deck for easy entry.
This kayak type is designed for recreational kayakers and therefore has a more open style cockpit with a wider beam compared to the more enclosed style found on touring kayaks.
Like other Oru Kayak models, the Beach LT is crafted from double layer polypropylene and has the durability to withstand light rock bumps, with good folding strength to be folded and rebuilt up to 20,000 times. Additionally, it features UV protection designed to last up to 10 years.
Because of its recreational design and large cockpit area, this compact kayak could be a stable craft for beginners, as it can offer increased stability over narrower kayaks.
The wide beam can also be comfortable for larger paddlers on calm water. But it can also be ideal for more advanced paddlers looking for a convenient vessel to take to the beach for day trips or for flatwater paddling. The more rigid bow can help to cut through water for better tracking performance. The only downside is that it’s not great on rough waters.
The roomy Beach LT cockpit can be ideal for taller paddlers and there’s also plenty of storage space for all the gear and essentials for an overnight trip, with a 300 pound weight limit. The spacious cockpit also means that there’s enough room for a small child or even your dog to tag along for this wonderful experience so you can enjoy the water at the same time.
- Great for beginner paddlers
- Wide cockpit
- Ideal for flatwater lakes and bays
- Easy to set up
- Not for rough water
3: Elevens Cruise Plus Foldable Kayak
- Length: 12 foot 9 inches (34 inches folded)
- Width: 23.6 inches (30 inches folded)
- Weight: 30 pounds
- Weight Capacity: 200 pounds
This Elevens Cruise Plus is a foldable, portable kayak designed for one person built from fibre-reinforced plastic that is designed to withstand 10,000 folds. It’s a stable craft with a closed deck that can be ideal for a range of water, including salt water touring but is not built for whitewater. It has a narrower beam than some boats, which may make it feel a little tippy at first compared to wider boats.
This durable craft is a lightweight kayak that’s easy to transport and store. It’s designed to be stable as well as efficient on the water. There is some storage space to store gear for day trips or overnight trips and bungee rigging on the front deck for extra gear. However, with a maximum weight of 200 pounds, this kayak type is not designed for significant amounts of gear and there’s less space for a dog.
The Elevens Cruise Plus also comes with a padded seat and a paddle so you can get on the water right away. The handy package has great accessory specs and also includes a life vest and a deck mount for a camera or cellphone, so it can be ideal if you have no kayaking experience.
- Ideal for beginners
- Deck rigging for added storage space
- Paddle included
- Life vest included
- Not for rough water
- Not made for frequent use
4: XT-17 Solo/Double Combo
- Length: 17 foot (33 inches folded)
- Width: 24 inches (21 inches folded)
- Weight: 44 pounds
- Weight Capacity: 400 pounds
The XT-17 from Pakboats is a folding kayak with a closed deck that can be used as either a solo or tandem kayak, as it comes with two decks – one for each type of paddling. This can make it an ideal vessel if you have a paddling partner who likes to accompany you on some of your trips but is still suitable when you’re by yourself. You can basically get two styles of kayak with the one purchase.
Being 17 feet long and just 24 inches wide, this is a longer kayak designed with speed and high performance in mind, similar to touring kayaks, and could be well suited for touring on large slow moving rivers or bays. It has a low profile and a multi-chine hull to minimize wind resistance and aid efficiency for both solo and tandem paddling, with a decent seat to bow measurement for tall paddlers. It also tracks straight on open water.
The craft maintains its rigid structure on the water thanks to the structural I-beams that feature along the sides, providing solid inner ribs for performance and greater rigidity. This can help to support the extra weight of two paddlers in the kayak or if you’re carrying heavier loads and the latest sports gear.
The XT-17 also has plenty of storage space for gear, with bungee cords on the front, center and rear decks; ideal for holding a few dry bags for an overnight trip. However, this is a pretty heavy kayak compared to other folding boats and may be more suitable for experienced kayakers.
- Built for speed
- Great for touring
- Convertible to tandem kayak
- Good storage capacity
- Heavier than others
Owning a folding kayak can be a really convenient way to get out on the water when you don’t have storage space for a traditional kayak. While the best folding kayaks can often be expensive, you may find that you save money on transportation or storage, so it could balance out financially.
Remember to think about the size of the vessel when it’s folded to make sure it’ll fit where you want it to, as explained in our kayak reviews. And make sure you check the dimensions and maximum weight capacity of the craft beforehand so you know it’ll be able to handle you and your kayak accessories, or your dog.
Let us know your thoughts on folding kayaks, and our folding kayak reviews, and if you have one we’d love to hear from you. Maybe you have some friends who think they have no space for a yak in their apartment? Make sure you share this buying guide with them to show them they can get one after all.
Check out our folding canoe guide too!