Editors Note: We get numerous questions on the use of a Backbone with Advanced Elements kayaks, and an increasing number on the new 7-PSI dropstitch floor. Following is a submitted write up from Lee Johnson in Canada, on his experiences, pros and cons, with the Advanced Elements backbones versus the Hi-pressure floors.
The following is just one person’s opinion. Yours may be different, and, if so, please post your impressions of this new product, the 7 lb. high-pressure drop-stitch floor (DS), which I will compare with the BackBone (BB) as the existing alternative. First, you need to know where I am coming from. Look, all AE kayaks are just fine as they are, without accessories. The low-pressure floor and the fixed aluminum forms in the bow and stern yield a very satisfying level of performance, especially if your inflatable kayak (IK) is used mainly in flatwater and calm conditions.
Problems with the basic kayak may arise in extreme conditions, though, as large waves and winds at sea, for example, may produce “taco chipping,” or folding of the kayak in the middle – and this may imperil the kayak’s handling and stability (not to speak of the paddler’s safety). I often am out on the bounding main, and even when paddling on large lakes, I love to take on wind and waves – but also am careful to remain as safe as possible (rough weather is great, btw, for using the new RapidUp sail, which works best in lively conditions, of course). In those cases, a BB or the new DS floor is, for me, not an accessory but a necessity. Not only are there essential benefits to one’s safety in these accessories, but the BB and the DS improve the overall performance of the IK, although in somewhat different ways.
General Summary: Should you buy a DS? YES: if you prefer its convenience, light weight, and better performance compared to the heavier low-pressure “air mattress” floor that comes with the kayak. YES: if you have trouble clicking and unclicking the sections of the BB, which can be a bit of a challenge, particularly in freezing temperatures, as one’s fingers refuse to find and push in those BB buttons. YES: especially if you have a Lagoon 2 or Advanced Frame Convertible (West Marine’s AF 2), you will find the DS floor to increase your top speed by at least 50%. YES: if you take your current Advanced Frame kayak out on rivers and wish to preserve the ability to change direction quickly, as with the factory’s low-pressure floor but with much improved protection against taco-chipping and swamping in white water. NO: if you already use a BB set-up, you would, in all likelihood, find the new DS floor to be redundant and, moreover, less efficient in its tracking and the effort required to paddle, since the V-shape the BB imparts to an IK seems to disperse “back-drag” better than the flat, stiff hull created by the DS. NO: if you find the cost of the DS to be prohibitive; drop-stitch technology is expensive, about twice the cost of an equivalent BB.
Detailed Remarks: One of my brothers and I tested the new DS in our Expeditions and compared it with the BB set-up we have been using over the past several years. Also, we were using “high-angle” paddles with rigid, large blades (Cannon “Waves” with carbon/fiber shafts, which provide a near-perfect “swing weight,” which is the ratio of the weight of the blades to the weight of the shaft). If you use a “low-angle” paddle, which has a smaller and narrower blade, and mainly move along at slower speeds, the following observations may need to be modified accordingly.
We tested the DS and BB set-ups at a fairly brisk cruising speed of 5 m.p.h., as well as top speeds attainable, measured with a GPS receiver. At top speeds around 6 m.p.h., there is not much difference between the DS and the BB: both work well. At top speeds and at the cruising speed just mentioned, however, it seems to take palpably more effort to keep things going with the DS floor. Perhaps there is greater “back-drag,” especially at that pace, attributable to the stiff, flat shape of the hull with the DS. The V-shape in the hull created by the BB seems to attenuate the drag. At lower speeds in the 3 to 4 m.p.h. range, though, I doubt most paddlers would be able to notice any difference between the DS and the BB.
Tracking and gliding also manifested differences. My brother felt that the differences were “radical” because the BB tracked and glided like an excellent hard-shell, whereas the DS quickly drifted, especially in a wind. I felt the differences were more subtle, although it is true that paddling in wind and waves highlights differences that tend to disappear in calm conditions. Perhaps my brother’s familiarity with his BB in his EXP is also a factor in his decided preference for that set-up.
Everything is a trade-off, though: the rock-solid tracking of a BB means less maneuverability, making the IK harder to turn (like a medium to long hard-shell); the DS, producing a flat hull, turns quickly and maneuvers in ways useful to a river-runner, who needs to avoid obstacles rapidly and safely. In a tandem, however, tracking and gliding and even turning are different from paddling solo. In that case, the distinction between the DS and the BB would be minimized; and the convenience of the simple set-up of the DS would make it a great option for a Lagoon 2 or an Advanced Frame Convertible (AF 2). Maybe the only difference in that case would be the state of the organic seating mechanism (the butt) after several hours of paddling: the softer “air mattress” floor that comes with the kayak may be kinder and gentler than the DS floor, which is impressively rigid and firm (but this may only reflect the loss of nether padding that tends, in my experience, to accompany age!).
AE seems always searching for new ways of solving problems, and the DS floor is only one of their latest great options for refining and fine-tuning one’s enjoyment of AE kayaks. The DS floor is another arrow in the quiver of possibilities, one that is sure to win over fans who choose it as an accessory for the basic kayak they have bought. Such people will undoubtedly be delighted by their choice, especially if they have not already been using the BB. Even those who have the BB may be interested in the DS floor, particularly if they want more maneuverability, although tracking and gliding, in my opinion, will not be as good as the BB routinely provides; but the maneuverability of a DS floor will have the added strength of a hull that, compared to the factory version, will resist taco-chipping on lively rivers.