Few things are better than camping by the water with a canoe, kayak or SUP.
Early on in our RV experience we had a Winnebago Chieftain, three children and limited storage space. We also had an assortment of bicycles, surfboards, windsurfers and kayaks we wanted to take to the beach. We outfitted an old 1961 Apache camping trailer with racks and made it our towable toy hauler, which worked fine except for one problem — we also had a 4WD convertible Suzuki Samurai we wanted to take along, and you can only tow so much. Unless we wanted to travel with kayaks in the kitchen and boards on the beds, we were stuck precariously tying our toys to the back ladder or driving separate vehicles.
But that was then, and this is now. A new generation of portable stand-up paddleboards (SUPs), kayaks and canoes is making it easier than ever to camp and enjoy your favorite paddle sports, too. We added a SUP to our motorhome basement two years ago and are planning to add a kayak this spring. With all of the options out there, the question isn’t whether to buy a portable paddler, but which one, and how many?
The Inflatable SUP
In terms of sheer exercise, nothing beats a SUP. In addition to an aerobic workout, paddling a SUP works your core, improves balance and tones muscles. Constructed of multilayered cloth (drop-stitched with an outer shell of military grade PVC), inflatable SUPs are light, durable and fit inside a backpack when deflated, making them easy to transport and store. They are available in a variety of shapes and sizes, but for most recreational users an all-around or touring board will be the most versatile choice. An all-around board has a rounded shape and a wide body, providing the greatest stability for beginners. The touring board is thinner, with a V-shaped bow to provide better tracking and glide during long-distance paddling. Both are sold in sizes ranging from 10½ to 12 feet.
When shopping for a SUP, volume matters. The greater a board’s volume, the greater its stability and the more weight it can carry. Discount SUPs often have too little volume for the average adult. Look for a SUP with a volume greater than 200 liters and expect to pay anywhere from $599 to $1,299 for a package including an air pump, skeg (fin), paddle and backpack.
As popular as they are, SUPs aren’t for everyone, nor are they usable everywhere. You will fall in the water, so you need to suit up for the water temperature and have the physical ability to get back up on your board. You also shouldn’t use a SUP in areas where you wouldn’t swim, like crowded channels, fast-moving currents, or any body of water where wildlife or bacteria levels create hazardous conditions. If that sounds like a description of your typical camping destinations, you need a boat, not a board.
The Portable Kayak
For motorhomers who prefer to stay dry, enjoy paddling with a partner, or expect to go out in challenging conditions, a portable kayak is the perfect choice. These lightweight, narrow boats with tapered ends come in two basic types: origami and inflatable. Which one you choose will depend on your budget and the kind of paddling you like to do.
Origami kayaks, as their name suggests, can be folded for storage. They are constructed of a single sheet of molded high-density polyethylene or double-layered custom-extruded polypropylene. The material is puncture- and abrasion-resistant, with expected lifetimes of up to 20,000 folds. Origami kayaks are light — up to 30% lighter than comparable inflatables — and with a little practice, can be set up in just a few minutes.
But they have downsides, too. Folded kayak packs can be awkward to transport on a bike. Their load capacity is lower than inflatables of the same length, and they are less stable and more difficult to re-enter after a capsize. If you do a lot of camping near rapids or open water, you may not always be able to use your origami kayak, since most are recommended for flat water only.
Inflatables are the most common portable kayaks on the market. Constructed of rugged PVC-coated polyester, hypalon, or nitrylon, they are known for their stability in rough conditions, and many are rated for use in Class IV rapids. But inflatables are heavier than origami kayaks, they take longer to dry and it can be a workout to inflate them with a manual pump. They are also less responsive than origami kayaks in flat conditions.
Portable kayak prices range from $350 to $1,500 for single-seaters and $899 to $2,000 for tandems, with foldables averaging 20%–30% more than inflatables. Be sure to look at what is included in your purchase (and what isn’t). Paddles, carry bags and even seats may have to be purchased separately. Also look for add-on options like transoms, rod holders and seats if you plan to fish, and removable decks or spray skirts for paddling in cold, windy conditions.
Always check the maximum load before you buy. This can vary greatly between foldables and inflatables, from 300 to 395 pounds for a single seater to 500 to 750 pounds for a tandem. If your idea of a day on the lake includes your Labrador retriever or a loaded picnic basket, you’ll want an inflatable to handle the heavier load. Also, compare the folded/deflated dimensions as storage size also varies. A folded 9-foot, 8-inch Tucktec measures in at 48-by-15-by-8 inches, a folded 10-foot Oru Inlet at 42-by-19-by-10 inches and a deflated 9-foot, 10-inch Sea Eagle 300x at 24-by-16-by-6 inches. The size and shape of your motorhome’s storage space could be a factor in the portable kayak you choose.
The Portable Canoe
If you have more than one water-loving pet, or if getting out on the water is a family affair, you’re going to need a bigger boat. While some kayak manufacturers offer inflatables with a removable third seat, their maximum loads can be as little as 490 pounds — not enough for three average adults and gear. Fortunately, there are a few portable canoe options out there with nearly double that capacity, so you can take your friends, pets and equipment along.
True three-person inflatable canoes are available from Aire and Sea Eagle and range in length from 15 to 16 feet. They contain three distinct air chambers, removable inflatable or bench seats, and weigh anywhere from 60 to 75 pounds. Some include features such as a carry bag, removable skeg for better tracking, or a transom for mounting a motor. Their maximum loads range from 800 to 915 pounds. Because of their size, a 12-volt air pump is recommended for inflation.
For anyone interested in an origami canoe, there are no true foldables with three-person capacity, though there are foldable/inflatable hybrids. These are constructed of PVC-coated synthetic fabric over a folding aluminum frame, with inflatable tubes along the sides to act as fenders for increased strength and durability and can carry loads up to 910 pounds. Portable family-sized canoes range in price from $1,800 to $3,000.
The Bottom Line
Enjoying the great outdoors is an important part of the RV lifestyle, but a motorhome can only take you so far. Whether you choose a SUP, a kayak, or a canoe, your portable paddler will make it possible to explore both by land and sea (or lake). Isn’t it time you added a new dimension to your camping experience?
MotorHome’s Top 5 Portable Picks
(Based on portability, price, versatility and owner reviews)
Sea Eagle LongBoard 11
All-around board designed for stability with plenty of flotation, an EVA foam deck pad, and innovations like a 4-inch nose rocker and 2-inch tail rocker for improved performance. Versatile enough for everything from yoga to surfing to extended touring. www.seaeagle.com
Hull Weight: 29 lbs | Length: 11′ | Maximum Load: 1 person or 200 lbs | Deflated Size: 32″ x 14″ x 8″ | Price: $699 pkg. (package price includes manual SUP pump, backpack, paddle, skeg and repair kit)
Inflatable Single-Seat Kayak
Sea Eagle 300x
Designed for all conditions, with 16 self-bailing drain valves that can be left open for wet whitewater and ocean kayaking. Features a removable slide skeg for improved tracking on open water. www.seaeagle.com
Hull Weight: 30 lbs | Length: 9′ 10″ | Maximum Load: 1 person or 395 lbs | Deflated Size: 24″ x 16″ x 6″ | Price $699 pkg. (package price includes paddle, seat, skeg, foot pump, carry bag and repair kit)
Oru Haven (Single/Tandem Convertible)
A lightweight, folding tandem that easily converts to a single-seat high-performance kayak with the switch of a few buckles. www.orukayak.com
Hull Weight: 40 lbs | Length: 16′ | Maximum Load: 2 people or 200 lbs | Deflated Size: 34″ x 16″ x 29″ | Price: $1,999
Sea Eagle Travel Canoe 16
Equipped with innovative hard bow and stern molds to slice through the water and a full-length double chine system for improved stability. Features full-length flat planing surface area for additional speed and a removable rear skeg to enhance tracking. www.seaeagle.com
Hull Weight: 60 lbs | Length: 16′ | Maximum Load: 3 people or 915 lbs | Deflated Size: 40″ x 24″ x 16″ | Price: $2,199 pkg. (package price includes three wood/web seats, three paddles, carry bag, hand pump, 12-volt pump with battery kit and repair kit)
A foldable with inflatable tubes for added stability. Listed as a tandem, but with enough capacity for parents and children, and additional seats can be installed.
Hull Weight: 56 lbs | Length: 17′ | Maximum Load: 2 people or 910 lbs | Deflated Size: 35″ x 18″ x 14″ | Price: $2,380