Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame Review
Cons: Heavy, floor difficult to inflate, hard to drain
Manufacturer: Advanced Elements
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame is a single person inflatable kayak with a 300 lb capacity. It weighs just over 33 lb and is made of PVC-coated polyester with aluminum ribs reinforcing the bow and stern.
We were intrigued by the inner aluminum frame on this inflatable kayak and eager to give it a spin, and it does not disappoint! Compared to all the other inflatable yaks we tested, the AdvancedFrame outshines all the competition. With its long, very pointed bow, and multiple skegs underneath, it cuts almost effortlessly through the water. It rides low and is a fairly wide kayak at 2'9", making it stable and fast in the water, even in choppy or wavy conditions.
Even if you choose to jump out of the boat (as we are pretty confident you'd be in some extenuating circumstances if you manage to flip this well-balanced yak), it's not only easy to get back in, but the narrow opening for the cockpit keeps some of that unwanted water from entering along with you. We also appreciate that the outer fabric layer is waterproof, unlike some of the other fabric-covered kayaks in this review, not only decreasing overall drag but also making the cleanup and dry off process easier.
We have few complaints about how this 10'3" kayak handles on the water, but one thing we wish it had is a scupper hole to drain excess water while paddling. Advanced Elements bills this boat as having a lip for a spray skirt (which they sell), but we weren't confident that these little tubes surrounding the cockpit could be inflated enough to hold something as taut as a spray skirt. Without a spray skirt, large waves or the inevitable pooling of water from the paddle handle will collect in the cockpit, with nowhere to go but around your seat. We also feel that it is difficult to inflate the floor to the point that you can't feel the pulse of the waves beneath your bum. But with those minor complaints aside, we are sold on the impressive wave and wind-handling prowess of this sweet vessel.
Another metric in which the AdvancedFrame excels! This boat has a thick cushion seat that's fully adjustable to whatever paddle position you need. We also love how the narrow shape of the cockpit facilitates a more comfortable leg position for paddling. Though it lacks any foot braces, we found it a simple matter to use our knees and the lengthwise ridges along the floor of the boat to brace ourselves and dig in deep when paddling upriver or against the wind.
The low profile in the water facilitates the feeling of being close to the water that you find in traditional, hardshell kayaks. That, in turn, makes for a more comfortable paddling experience and easier paddling against the wind. A reasonably large cockpit also lets us bring our dogs with, or pack the bow with a small amount of gear and spend the full day out comfortably enjoying everything your favorite lake has to offer.
We have some concerns and complaints about the listed weight capacity of the AdvancedFrame. Though AE claims it can hold 300lbs of human and gear, when our 6'1", 220lb tester hopped in to take the yak for a spin, even without any additional gear he rode rather low in the water and freely took on extra weight as the lake threw waves over the hull with relative ease. Despite this added challenge, he still preferred the comfort of this well-designed craft over the other single kayaks.
Ease of Set Up
Not our favorite feature of the AdvancedFrame kayak, this boat is a little arduous and time-consuming to set up. It comes with very long, detailed, and in our opinion, unnecessarily complicated directions, which include two full pages on "understanding your valves." Unfortunately, this only applies to one of the two types of valves on this boat. The deflation process is a cinch with the twist-locking valves Advanced Elements uses. And as long as you remember to remove the rigid plastic inserts from the bow and stern, we had no problems rolling this kayak up and fitting it back into its oversized duffle.
Getting the AdvancedFrame set up and seaworthy is quite a process. It has no less than SEVEN air chambers to fill, and for five of them, we used the power of our lungs. Four of those little valves are quite small, around the top of the hull for the spray skirt and some extra rigidity, but our least favorite one to inflate was the floor. We never quite felt like we could get it as rigid as we wanted, hence our complaint about feeling the waves quite easily underneath us as we paddled. The directions included with this boat encourage you to use a pump to fill all seven chambers (though one is not included), but even with four standard and kayak-specific pumps on-hand, we didn't have the right adapter. Advanced Elements sells several styles of pumps with many included adapters, which we assume one is the right fit for these five small valves. And while you're at it, the directions request that you inflate each chamber to a specific pressure, measured in PSI, yet no PSI gauge is included with the kayak. You can estimate, in lieu of a gauge, but underinflation can cause drag during paddling and overinflation can damage your kayak and shorten its lifespan. Alternatively, Advanced Elements also sells pumps with built-in pressure gauges or PSI meters that can be added to another pump you may already have if you want to tack those onto your bill.
Additionally, we had a hard time draining every last drop of water out of the kayak before collapsing for storage. No matter what angle we tried, it seemed we could never quite get all the water dumped out of the interior. And after several months of paddling in all sorts of waters and conditions, we noticed a funky smell starting to emanate from the hull, likely caused by water trapped inside the boat and sitting there just festering during storage. So as much as we enjoy paddling around in the AE AdvancedFrame, we aren't the biggest fans of setting it up and taking it back down.
As an inflatable kayak, this boat is already fairly portable in that you don't need roof racks to drive it around or a large empty garage in which to store it. That said, the AdvancedFrame is a beast of a kayak to lug around and not something we want to have to carry a long way to or from the Subaru. Weighing a hefty 33 lbs 4 oz, this kayak is heavier than a few of the tandem models we reviewed. The extra weight of the AdvancedFrame comes from the aluminum frame and durable construction but doesn't include the paddle, pump and life jacket that you'll need to get on the water, let alone anything you might want for your adventure (like, you know, drinkable water?).
Not only is the AdvancedFrame extraordinarily heavy, but it's also shockingly large for a single kayak, rivaling the packed size of the tandems we reviewed. Again, the aluminum frame we love so much on the water is working against us as we try to move this boat around on land. If you instead inflate the AdvancedFrame at your car, the kayak does have two convenient bow and stern handles to carry it less awkwardly down to your launching point. That assumes you're paddling with a friend though, as you can't grab the bow and stern handles simultaneously yourself, shouldn't drag it across the ground for that distance, and carrying it by the cockpit isn't significantly easier than carrying it in the bag! And speaking of the bag, though the duffle design is simple and time-tested, it's not overly comfortable for carrying 33+lbs over long distances. No, as much as we love paddling the AdvancedFrame, we curse carrying it.
The AE AdvancedFrame is comprised of a folding aluminum frame and PVC-coated polyester inflatable kayak all covered by a thick, waterproof fabric layer, making it an exceptionally sturdy yak. It also comes with detailed directions on how you can take it apart completely for cleaning or repair, important maintenance features for any complicated piece of gear you own. The AdvancedFrame also includes a repair kit with detailed directions on how to use it effectively. Though we didn't have to use it on the AdvancedFrame, we did need the repair kit with another AE boat, which then held up well to many months of additional use. We think it's a reasonable inference to make that the repair kit included with the AdvancedFrame would be on par with the one included with the other AE craft.
The fabric exterior layer of the AdvancedFrame not only feels much thicker and sturdier than the fabric of the other similar kayaks that had that layer but also boasts thickly reinforced seams and is waterproof rather than becoming waterlogged during use. Additionally, the bottom of the kayak is plastic-y and withstood all the abuse we dealt it, including being dragged over sand and rocks and paddling over submerged sticks and logs.
Honestly, the biggest gripe we have about the durability of this boat isn't even about the boat - it concerns the construction of the storage bag. The materials feel cheap, thin, and not as strong as we expected considering the intense nature of the yak itself. The boat though? Other than a funky smell (again, probably due to undrained water collecting over time), we had no issues putting it through the wringer for an entire season, and feel confident it will hold its own for years to come.
Certainly not the cheapest of kayaks, the AdvancedFrame also isn't the most expensive. You can spend far more on either an inflatable or a hardshell kayak. For the performance, versatility, comfort, and quality construction, we think the AdvancedFrame is worth what you'll pay and will give you years of enjoyment. If you're not a serious paddler and are just looking to give kayaking a try by snagging an inflatable boat, you might not want to take the plunge straight into a pricey watercraft.
While you may be thinking that purchasing an inflatable kayak will automatically lower the on-water capabilities of your boat, that doesn't have to be true, and the Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame proves that. With superb handling, surprising comfort, and high-caliber construction, this combination kayak merges the best of both worlds - the speed and tracking of a hard shell model from the AdvancedFrame's foldable aluminum interior with the portability of its inflatable exterior. Though it's not the cheapest inflatable boat out there, we think it offers an excellent combination of performance even an advanced kayaker can appreciate with a price tag that reflects the quality and longevity of the product. If a top-notch inflatable kayak is what you're after, this is it.
— Maggie Brandenburg