The Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame Convertible Tandem is a high-performing and versatile vessel, deserving of our Top Pick for a Tandem. This craft stands above the crowd for its ability to be paddled by either two intrepid expeditionists or a solo yak-er just as easily. It brings a surprising level of comfort and durability to the table and handles well on the water considering its immense size. Our testers were very impressed with how effortlessly this yak cuts through the water. However, we aren't in love with how heavy it is or how long it takes to dry out. With that being said, it also has some great features we love like paddle holders and handy pockets behind each seat. If you're willing to pony up the cash, this is the best two-person inflatable kayak we've tested yet.
Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame Convertible Tandem Review
Cons: Heavy, no paddles or pump included, expensive
Manufacturer: Advanced Elements
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The AdvancedFrame Convertible Tandem is a tandem or single kayak (depending on how you set up the seats) with a 550 lb capacity. It's made of PVC tarpaulin with aluminum frame bow and stern and triple layers of rip-stop material. It features paddle holders, pockets, bungees, carrying handles, and tie-down points.
The AE Convertible Tandem handles exceptionally well for a vessel made of fabric and filled with air. Its 15-foot length with multiple 2-4 inch tracking fins and one small skeg help it stay true to course as you enjoy the sights along your route. Its 32-inch width gives it stability over turbid waters without impairing your ability to paddle. We continue to be impressed by the narrow cut of the AdvancedFrame bow which hides an internal aluminum frame to slice through the wind and waves with relative ease. And this level of maneuverability continues right into the turning radius of this craft, which is easier than we expected, even with a lone kayaker at the helm. The AdvancedFrame Convertible features the Advanced Elements PVC tarpaulin bottom, with a plastic feel that glides through the water with minimal drag.
As with most tandem boats, paddling in rhythm with your partner is key to avoiding an all-out paddle war, though this watercraft has plenty of space for maneuvering together. This boat lacks any official foot braces, though the rear paddler may be able to use the middle spacer if your seat is far enough forward. It does feel extra large when paddling solo, but our testers still did it on multiple occasions without any real problems. Our least favorite aspect of this boat is that it lacks a self-bailer or drain of any kind. It does a pretty good job of keeping the water from pooling around your bum though, and only becomes an issue when you go to put it away. Overall, we are impressed with how this boat handles on the water both as a tandem and single boat.
We like how comfortable this cushy tandem is. It has relatively high seatbacks that are great for lounging and enjoying your day on the lake. Compared to many other types of inflatable vessels, this one rides lower, keeping your center of gravity close to the water. This makes it more stable, easier to paddle, and reduces wind resistance. It's also a good width that hits the middle ground of being wide enough to provide stability for even a novice paddler on a wavy day without being so wide it interferes with your stroke. The AE Convertible Tandem also has some helpful features that make your ride that much more pleasant, like mesh pockets on the seatbacks, bungees, and tie downs, and even handy paddle keeper loops for both passengers.
Depending on what life jacket you wear, you may have a challenging time with the height of this craft's seats. We think their taller profiles are more conducive to a full-back PFD than some of the paddler-specific half-back versions out there that aren't quite tall enough to be out of the way. We also found there to be a small learning curve with the seats, as they anchor only to the sides and can slip forward and backward along the bottom of the boat. While this is great for finding the perfect paddle angle for you, it also takes a bit of getting used to before achieving the angle you're comfortable with. Logically, it's a bit on the heavy side for a solo paddler, giving you a more intense workout with your adventure. Those minor complaints aside, we enjoy the comfy ride this model provides.
East of Set Up
Like most inflatable kayaks, this one has a learning process associated with getting it out of the car and paddle ready. Advanced Elements includes an extremely thorough set of directions, and though you may be so excited to paddle that you don't want to sit down and read them all, you'd greatly benefit from doing so. There's a lot of details that you may or may not need to know, but that knowledge will surely come in handy as your relationship with your kayak goes on. Once you're familiar with how this boat sets up, it's relatively easy to get it water ready in under 10 minutes.
With 6 chambers, this boat isn't messing around during set up. But when you consider that only three are for the structural integrity of the boat itself and the others are optional (but helpful), it's on par with most other inflatable vessels. Advanced Elements doesn't send this watercraft with any of the accessories you'll need for a complete experience (like a pump, paddles, and life jackets), but they do have those items available for purchase on their website. Or you can sub in components from other toys you may already own - we used a pump from a SUP with dual chambers to make filling this monster even easier. It's important to note that you'll need TWO adapters to fill all the chambers in this giant craft: one threaded and one to fit over the small hoses. Just like all AE boats, this one has specific pressure requirements for different chambers, but no gauge to tell you how close or far you are from that PSI. After a few practice runs, we felt confident we could achieve that pressure by feeling the boat during inflation, but without a gauge at first, it's easy to over or under fill.
Our least favorite part of this process is putting the boat away. You're directed to let it dry completely before doing so. Unfortunately, with no drainage hole and several layers packed together to make this boat so sturdy, this takes more hours than you're likely going to wait. To truly dry it out, you need to remove the floor of the boat and let it sit for hours in the hot sun. In the real world, it gets packed up with some water and sand still in it to marinate before the next expedition.
We get it. We're often pack up in a hurry too, without properly drying our boats regardless of what the directions say. However, when it comes to the AE Tandem, we've changed our stance on this strategy. After being packed up still damp, this boat sat in our garage in the high desert for 10 months. Upon opening it again, we discovered the floor of the boat was STILL wet - and had acquired an accompanying funky smell. It seems completely undamaged, but now we take the time to dry it with a towel before packing it away.
During the folding process, we found it impossible not to crease the tracking fins along the bottom of the hull. It also becomes increasingly difficult to fit back into the relatively small duffel it comes in. We frequently found ourselves sweating and swearing while sitting on the package, trying to zip it back closed.
Weighing in at 55.2 lb, this is by far the heaviest kayak we tested. It's not surprising considering how large the boat is, and also not outrageous considering its durability. With a two-person (plus gear and a dog), 550 lb capacity, that weight isn't unreasonable. However, jammed into a giant duffel bag with two handles to carry it is no small undertaking for one person! We enjoyed this kayak more when we parked close to the water.
This boat is much more manageable to portage once it's inflated if you have two people. Comfortable handles on the front and back ends make carrying it a simpler task with a friend, even though it tends to sag in the middle. Combined with the convenient paddle-holding straps on either side, we found ourselves more consistently inflating this beast at our cars and carrying it down to the beach water-ready. Carrying this kayak solo, though, is a bit much.
Yet another category where the Advanced Elements shines brightly! The bottom of the hull is PVC tarpaulin, which is a puncture-resistant, slick, plastic-feeling fabric that charges through submerged branches and over hidden rocks with relative ease. Internal aluminum ribs provide even more durability and structure to this impressive watercraft. It also boasts a drop-stitch floor and three layers of ripstop material to keep you floating above the waves. The seams are strong and reinforced, and the durability of this boat is not something we had many worries about. Just in case though, AE includes a repair kit (and copious instructions on how best to use it).
We aren't the biggest fans of how the interior tubes can easily become misaligned with the outer hull over time, but if you know what you're looking at, it's simple to straighten them out before you inflate the boat. We also feel weird about folding the tracking fins to fit it back into its storage bag, though we could see no actual damage from doing so. The duffel itself isn't the most impressive of materials and zipper, but also seems to do the trick without failing - though we wish it were a little larger!
This isn't the cheapest option available. If you're a kayaker who has a passion for the right performing boat and you love the versatility of single or tandem paddle options, we think this boat will quickly become your new favorite water toy. Hardshell, traditional kayaks are pretty huge, and this inflatable offers strong performance without taking up so much storage space. However, if you're looking for a tandem boat to float more than paddle, you might consider some of the lower-priced options, especially if you're shopping for kids.
The Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame Convertible Tandem is an impressive inflatable kayak. With some of the best handling and un-cramped comfort we could ask for, useful features, and top-notch durability, this boat is the best tandem kayak we tested. It'll cost you a pretty penny, but we think that for what it offers, this convertible tandem/solo boat is worth it for the years of adventures it will bring you.
— Maggie Brandenburg