Inflatable Kayaks, SUPS & Canoes Reviews

Product Review: The 3-PSI Innova Helios 1 Inflatable Kayak

This past week we had the opportunity to take our first look at the Innova Helios 1 inflatable kayak – a one person kayak with integrated decks providing expanded storage options. This is the 6th in a series of writeups on the Innova line – previous reviews included the Sunny, followed by the Twist 1, Swing 2, Swing 1 and – just recently, the Twist 2.

Helios 1 on the beach.

The Innova line is unique for a number of reasons. First, the kayaks are handmade in the Czech Republic; the factory has manufactured inflatable boats for well over 50 years. In Europe, a similar line is marketed under the name Gumotex.

So here is our write-up on the the Innova Helios, which weighs 29 lbs in the pack, is 10’2″ inches in length and has a payload of 220 lbs for one person and gear. (Please note: some of the information will be duplicated from other Innova reviews).

Getting Started with the Innova Helios 1

The box as received is surprisingly small – only 25 x 16 x 11 inches – and weighing in at 31 lbs.

The package includes backpack, kayak body, brace, repair kit, instructions.

Inside is a very nifty and compact backpack with adjustable shoulder straps, front pouch pocket and roll top closure; this contains the kayak body, foot rest, repair kit, instructions, valve adaptor and sponge. At only 29 lbs for the pack and contents, the Helios 1 is small enough to be considered carry-on luggage, and will fit in an airplane overhead bin. Packed dimensions are 21 x 15 x 9 inches as received.

Setup/Inflatation of the Innova Helios 1

We read through the included instruction manuals. Just like all the other Innova  products, the Innova Helios 1 manual is surprisingly detailed – we spent more time reading through the instructions than actually setting up the kayak. As the kayaks are made in Europe, many of the details are based around European specs and regulations and can sound more complicated than it actually is – there is even a section on disposing of your packing materials – recycle!

Unfold the kayak.

First step, unpack and unfold the kayak body. What is immediately noticeable is how FLAT the kayak is when deflated – of course, this makes it quite compact for travel.

Optional tracking fin.

The Helios 1 has a “shoe” for those using an optional tracking fin which must be purchased separately. If using this, install the tracking fin before inflating the kayak. Slip the end with the larger slot in first, making sure that the fin is pointing towards the “back” of the kayak. This enables it to slide in enough to fit in the second side. The first time we tried this, we struggled for a few minutes to get the second slot into position; this gets easier with use. (AirKayaks note: The second time we installed the fin, the kayak was wet and it was much simpler. According to Tim at Innova, utilizing McNett UV Tech also helps initially, but after a few times the mounting gets much easier. After the third or fourth time, we found it slipped in/out easily.)

The instructions suggest attaching and inflating the foot brace first, but this comes already attached from the factory. We chose to inflate the brace later.

Move the valve to the inflate position.

The Innova Helios features three main inflation chambers utilizing military valves – one for the floor and one for each side. The military-style plunger valve is simple to use – with your finger, twist the plunger slightly to the “up” position to inflate (air goes in but doesn’t come back out) and “down” to deflate (air comes out).

Attach the Innova adaptor to the Boston valve adaptor

Locate the military valve adaptor in the repair canister. The Innova Helios does not come with a pump, but the adaptor allows one to use the Boston valve nozzle found on most pumps. (AirKayaks note: Before doing ANYTHING, attach the adaptor to your pump with the string). Lock the Innova adaptor onto the military valve with a slight twist, and push the conical adaptor in to friction fit the two. Since the Innova main chambers are inflated to 3 PSI, it is helpful to use a pump with pressure gauge to ensure the kayak is inflated appropriately. We did have a hard time preventing the Boston nozzle on our pump from popping off the adaptor – possibly some slight sandpaper might rough up the surface for a better friction fit. Worst case, one could glue the adaptor to the Boston valve nozzle.

Pumping up the side chamber

Pump up a side chamber first. If using a pressure gauge, please note that the pressure will only read while you are pumping, since most gauges work on back pressure. At 3 PSI, switch over to the other side chamber. Repeat this on the floor chamber. Screw on the valve caps to protect the plungers from sand and salt, or from accidentally being pressed.

Inflate the foot brace

Pump up the foot brace; this is inflatable and utilizes a twistlock valve. The Boston valves will not friction fit over the twistlok so you will have to do one of three things – have another paddler hold the valve over the twistlock; carefully negotiate holding the adaptor and twistlock together with one hand while pumping with the other; or give up and blow it up with your mouth. It’s a little tough to “stuff” the brace in place. I found by slightly pumping it up it was easier and then finishing with a top-off.  AirKayaks note: Here is a nifty little home-made adaptor that works with these twistlocks.

Pump up the rear seat and deck

Next, pump up the rear deck/back rest to 1 to 1.5 PSI (this is not mentioned in the instruction manual). Since this also utilizes a twistlok, once again you need to balance – holding the adaptor over the valve unless you have someone to hold it in position. Press the seat back down.

Pump up the upper deck

Last step – pump up the bow deck to 1 to 1.5 PSI, again holding the Boston valve adaptor over the twistlok.

Done – surprisingly simple and very quick.

Deflating the Innova Helios 1 Kayak

Deflation is just as easy. Simply turn all the valves to the open position and push out the air. Remove the tracking fin (if installed). The air can be quickly pushed out by either rolling up the kayak towards the valves, or pumping out the final air, using the deflate mode on your pump – once done, turn the valves to the inflate position so air doesn’t creep back in, and replace the wing-nut caps. Then fold the sides in over themselves, with the decks and brace on top. Fold both ends to center, then in half.

Features and Specifications on the Innova Helios 1

The Innova Helios is constructed from a 1200 denier rubber-coated laminate material called Nitrylon – this consists of a synthetic rubber coating over polyester on the inside and outside of the tube.

Rugged Nitrylon material

Nitrylon is the same material used in high-end Zodiac-type yacht tenders, and is stronger, more abrasion and puncture resistant than PVC as well as being greener – there is minimal out-gassing.

Military inflation valves.

There are three 3 PSI inflation chambers utilizing military valves (both sides and floor) and 3 Twistloks (both decks and the foot brace.)

D-rings on the front deck

The front deck keeps water from splashing over the sides. There are 4 d-rings spaced 13.5 to 15 inches wide by 12 inches deep, with the first set located 34 inches from the seat back.

Bungee deck lacing on the rear deck

The rear deck/seat back also has 4 d-rings with bungee deck lacing, measuring 13 to 15 inches wide and 9 inches deep, with the first set located 11 inches from the seat back.

Adjustable inflatable foot rest

The inflatable foot brace measures 18 x 8 inches and can be repositioned from 31 to 43 inches from the seat back.

Side carrying handles

There are two rubber handles located each at the bow and stern sides. Rope decking around the seating well can also be used as a carrying handle or to attach gear.

Integrated inflatable seat back.

A spray railing/coaming lip sits up approximately 1 inch around the cockpit perimeter.

I-beam structure on the hull.

The hull has sculpted i-beam tubes creating the rounded hull shape. The optional tracking fin measures 4.5 inches tall and 7 inches wide.

Lots of upper deck space to attach gear.

We did measurement tests. The Innova Helios 1 inflated is 123 inches (10’3″) and approximately 27 to 28 inches wide. Interior dimensions of the kayak are about 15 to 16 inches wide before the seat, and about 70 inches from the seat back to the interior bow. The deck interior is about 9 inches tall. The deck well measures 32 inches by x inches. Tube sides are approximately 8 inches deep, plus the lip.

Interior storage behind the seat.

Gear can be stored behind the seat, which is 9.5 inches tall. With the seat raised, there is approximately 14 inches wide, tapering down, 8-9 inches tall and about 42 inches deep – this can carry a lot of gear. While not totally waterproof, it will keep much of the water out.

Total payload weight is 220 lbs. person and gear.

Innova Helios 1 On the Water

We tested out the Innova Helios 1 over a few different days.

Helios 1 on the water.

First, I took the Helios 1 out for a short jaunt in some chop – the kayak is very easy to paddle and rides smoothly. While it feels slightly tippy at first (due to the rounded hull) one “finds one’s balance” pretty quickly. I turned into an offshore wind, and the kayak rode over the swells easily. On the way back, riding in on the swells, the Innova had a tendency to drift  slightly.

Returning to shore, I added the optional fin for comparison. The fin helps the kayak “seat itself” better in the water with less drifting. Even with the fin, the Helios is quite nimble – it turns on a dime. While I did not bring out my new furry paddling buddies – Cleo and Woody – I noted that a small dog could fit in the cockpit, or in a basket attached to the upper hull.

Helios 1 on the water.

My 6′ 2″ husband took the Helios 1 out for a spin. By moving the kayak foot brace back towards the bow, he found it to be roomy and to paddle well. He also felt it to be slightly tippy at first, but soon got used to it. His one complaint – the side coaming lips abraded his hands while paddling. At 5’4″, I did not have this issue – in fact my hands never touched the side lips.

Packing up took just a few minutes. The “smooth skin” of the Nitrylon material allows one to just wipe down the kayak to dry it off, and then fold up into the pack. I did notice slight scuffing  – Tim at Innova says the McNett UVTech is very helpful as a coating to keep the kayak lustrous and prevent scuffs.

Innova Helios 1 Bottom Line:

The Innova Helios is a great inflatable kayak for those wanting lightweight portability, simplicity, easy entry and lots of storage space.

Easy to get into.

It paddles and tracks well, turns quickly and rides swells with ease, particularly with the optional tracking fin.

Optional rudder system.

Those paddlers wanting more control can purchase the optional Helios rudder, though one needs to contact Innova to get the longer cords necessary for the single version.

Set up is very simple and takes less than 10 minutes. Take down is equally simple – wipe down and fold/roll up.

Roomy enough for camping gear.

The integrated front and rear decks are great protection from the elements, while also providing lots of interior storage space for day or camping gear, as well as numerous options to bungee items to the upper hull.

Some parts of the kayak design are a little “funky” – such as a foot brace that could pass for a large ravioli noodle – but everything is crafted to provide performance, yet pack up extremely flat and compact.

Helios on the water.

The Innova Helios 1 is a great choice for paddling on lakes, coastal ocean, bays, inlets and slow-moving rivers, whether out for a short jaunt or a week-long excursion. Environmentally-conscious paddlers will find the minimal-PVC and China-free construction appealing, as well as the Innova rubber mulch recycling program.

Easily fits in the trunk of a car.

The included backpack is compact and rugged, perfect for a trek into remote areas or riding mass-transit. It can also be stashed in the trunk of a small car, and is small enough to qualify for carry-on during your next plane flight, making the Innova Helios a great choice for travellers.

Decks provide protection from the elements

MSRP is $899. For more details, visit the Innova Helios 1 product page on

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