Our third review moved into the flagship Columbia line of high pressure inflatables, beginning with the Columbia One HB – a high-pressure touring model for one paddler. The Columbia line also consists of the Columbia 2 HB (for one to two paddlers) and the Columbia Tandem (for 1 to 3 paddlers).
Our current review focuses on the Columbia Tandem HB, a 15 foot long inflatable kayak designed for one or two paddlers – with extra space for gear, child or pet. (Please note: some of the information will be repeated from other writeups.)
Getting Started with the Aquaglide Columbia HB Tandem:
We unpacked the box and laid out the pieces – inflatable kayak, backpack, instructions, repair kit, foot braces, tracking fin, two standard seats and a jumper seat.
Initial measurements showed the kayak body weighs approximately 40 lbs, with a backpack size of roughly 27 x 22 x 18 inches, while the kayak with seats, fin and braces – all in the backpack – weighs 49 lbs. Boxed up, the dimensions are 33 x 30 x 15 inches with a shipping weight of 60 lbs.
(AirKayaks Side note #1: When initially removing the kayak from the carrying case, take a good look at how the kayak is folded This is probably the most overlooked step and it is VERY helpful when trying to get the kayak back into the bag.)
The included instructions are adequate and include diagrams with inflation details.
Set up is straight-forward and simple – unpack, unfold, inflate.
There are two inflation chambers utilizing Boston valves – the two side chambers – while the high-pressure floor features a military valve. There are three more small chambers with twistlock valves, for the seat bases. The floor is pumped up first.
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).
The Columbia Tandem HB floor requires a miltary valve adaptor, which does not come with most standard pumps. Here is where we came to our first issue – no military valve adaptor was included. We were aware of this from our previous writeup on the Columbia One, and pulled one out of our parts box. (AirKayaks note #2: We spoke with AquaGlide. The first couple of shipments did not include the adaptor, but subsequent shipments will. We did obtain a number of fittings that we will be including with the first shipments.)
Lock the adaptor onto the military valve with a slight twist, and push the conical adaptor in to friction fit the two. Since the main chambers are inflated to 2 PSI, it is helpful to use a pump with pressure gauge to ensure the kayak is inflated appropriately.
The floor is held in place with adjustable straps. From our prior experience, we found it best to loosen up the straps, otherwise the floor could be inflated “lopsided.” Pump up the floor to at least 6 PSI – this took us about 40 complete pumps with a double action pump. While the instructions say it can be inflated up to 12 PSI, at 6 PSI it is extremely rigid; most people will not need it to be higher than this. Inspect the floor to see that it is centered evenly in the kayak cover, and then tighten the cinches. Replace the valve cap cover.
Move on to the side chambers, which use two Boston valves. Boston valves are two-part, screw-on valves. The bottom portion is threaded onto the kayak, the top valve is screwed open for inflation and then tightened shut after inflation. Air is easily released by unscrewing the base connector. How does it work? A flap inside the valve opens when air is pumped into the kayak, and falls shut when not pumped so that air will not rush back out.
(AirKayaks Side note #3: The Boston valves have a tether that keeps the valve attached to the kayak, ensuring that the valves don’t get lost after deflating. Make sure that the string does not get in the way when screwing on the valve base, and the valve is not cross-threaded, or you may have some air leakage. Also make sure the ring plate or “base” ring is also screwed on tightly.)
With the base portion screwed onto the kayak body, and the top portion screwed open, locate the Boston valve adaptor on your pump (conical nozzle about 1/2 inch in diameter) and friction fit it into the valve opening.
The instructions suggest pumping up each side about one-third, working back and forth to prevent twisting. We pumped up the side chambers about 25 strokes each side, and then pulled on the sides and front spray deck to straighten everything out, making sure the bladders were centered over the floor. Another 20 pumps each side, again pulling and straightening. A final 15 strokes each side brought us to 2 PSI – the kayak felt nice and firm. (AirKayaks side note #4: If using a pressure gauge, please note that – since the gauges work on back pressure – the gauge will only register as you are pushing in air, and will drop to zero when you stop.)
During this time, we also realized that we again had broken rule #3 – the tether had caught under the valve and we could hear air escaping. By slightly unscrewing the valve, we were able to remove the jammed tether without have to do much repumping.
Next attach the seats – these stay in position utilizing velcro and adjustable side straps. First, inflate the seat base. The Pro-Formance seat uses a twistlock valve. The Boston valve adaptor 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. The first seat inflated perfectly, but the second one blew up into a blob. We zipped open the seat side, and found the bladder had been installed upside-down and folded. After correcting this, the seat base was fine.
For starters, position the the back of the rear seat about 6 inches from the velcro end, and the beginning of the front seat about 12-13 inches from the front velcro end; this can be fine-tuned later. Attach the front seat quick-connect clips (metal) to the first set of d-rings, and the rear seat clips (plastic) to the second set of d-rings. Take the rear seat and clip the front connects to the 4th set of d-rings, and the rear straps to the 5th set; once you get into the kayak, you can tighten up the side straps until you reach the support level that is comfortable for you. If solo paddling, position the seat so you are just rear of center.
Next place the foot braces on the velcro strips so that your legs are slightly bent when pressing against them – you can reposition these when you get into the kayak.
If bringing along a child or small friend, inflate the center jumper seat and position it on the velcro several inches behind the front seat back; the rear paddler may-or-may-not need the foot brace.
The last step is to attach the removable tracking fin, which enhances paddling/tracking in deeper water. Remove the retaining pin from the fin slot by pulling on the string. Make sure the fin is pointing towards the rear of the kayak, then insert the front of the fin, pushing back and down, to lock the back end. Then slide forward until the holes line up, and replace the retaining pin. At this point, pull up on the fin to make sure you have it locked in position. Tie the string around the grommet just forward of the fin, keeping it loose – this ensures that you don’t lose the pin but have enough “string” to attach.
As a last check, make sure the side drain plugs are screwed in tightly, otherwise water will seep in.
That’s it! You’re ready to paddle.
Features and Specifications on the Aquaglide Columbia Tandem HB Inflatable Kayak
The Columbia Tandem HB is constructed with four molded carrying handles (bow, stern and both sides), but – if not in a windy situation – can also be carried by hooking the side of the kayak over your shoulder.
Two splash guards – front and rear – extend partly over the seating well and help prevent water from splashing in. Each has a bungee deck-lacing system for attaching gear. Each deck extends over the seating well with raised visor; the front bungee deck extends 39 inches with lacing 21 inches long by 16 inches wide tapering to 5 inches, while the rear deck extends 29 inches with lacing measuring 14 inches long by 16 inches wide tapering to 6 inches. There is one cloth d-ring bow and stern. (AirKayaks note: We spoke with AquaGlide. They will be offering optional one-seater and two-seater spray decks which should be available later this summer, 2014. The spray decks will totally enclose the cockpit around the seating area (for solo or tandem paddling), and will also accept an optional spray skirt – this will provide maximum protection from waves, wind and rain. The spray decks can be used on all Columbia’s currently available.)
There are two sets of velcro paddle holders, one set for each side.
Padded neoprene “knuckle guards” run 74 x 4 inches on each side chamber.
There are twelve inner plastic d-rings (six each side, used to attach the seats as well as gear) and six cloth d-rings each side of the outer hull along the rub guard. The inner d-rings are spaced from 13 to 17 inches apart.
Two Boston valves with retaining rings are used on the side chambers, a military valve for the floor, and three twistlocks for the seat bases.
The padded, inflatable Pro-Formance seat features adjustable side straps which quickly clip into position (Airkayaks note: the metal clips go towards the front, the plastic clips toward the rear). The straps can be adjusted up to 15 inches. The seat bases are 16 inches wide by 16 inches deep and can be inflated up to 5 inches, dependent on your comfort level. Two mesh pockets and two side d-rings are found on the front of the seat base, as well as a velcro strip for attaching an optional cup holder.
The seat back is equipped with 2 fishing rod holders, one d-ring on each side and a deep mesh storage pocket (measuring 5 x 8 x 9 inches) for gear. The backs are 12 inches tall in a 1-inch thick padded foam with “breathable” mesh, encircling 26-inches wide. A velcro tab locks the twist-lok into position so it doesn’t accidentally “get bumped” while paddling.
A third, padded jumper seat – perfect for kids – measures 10 inches wide, by 16 inches long and 4 to 6 inches deep; this features a twist-lok inflation valve with velcro to position on the floor. A velcro tab locks the twist-lok into position so it doesn’t accidentally “get kicked” while paddling. The jumper seat attaches to the kayak via the velcro floor strip.
The floor is constructed from a 6-12 PSI high-pressure, drop-stitch material, and is designed as “raised seating,” creating two 3″ deep side-well cutouts that collect any water splashing inside; each side-well has a drain plug (not to be confused with self-bailing) which can be opened to let water out.
Two 92-inch velcro strips are centered on the floor, and are used to position the seats and foot braces.
The foot braces are padded – 10 x 3 inches long – with extending strips 8 inches in length.
The backpack is quite roomy. Two-way zippers run along three sides, allowing the pack to be completely opened for easy access and stowage. Top, side and rear carrying handles provide a myriad of handling options, as well as two padded, adjustable backpack shoulder straps. A drawstring mesh pocket, approximately 14 x 18 inches deep, is perfect for storing a hand pump. Two adjustable cinch straps allow one to tighten the pack. Pack measurements are approximately 28 inches wide x 15 inches deep x 26 inches tall.
The kayak body consists of two inflatable 24-gauge PVC bladders (both sides) housed in a zippering fabric cover of commercial grade Duratex hull material blended with a rugged 600 denier polyester, allowing the bladders to be replaced if necessary.
The hull is a rugged, puncture-resistant material with removable tracking fin and landing plates.
The tracking fin is hefty, measuring 5 x 12 inches with locking pin.
We did measurement tests. The Columbia Tandem HB kayak inflated is 15 feet long and approximately 37-38 inches wide (specs say 15 ft x 36 inches wide.) The side bladders are roughly 10 inches in diameter, making the sides 7 to 8 inches above the seating area. Interior dimensions are approximately 135 inches long (before tapering down to “unusability”) by approximately 18 inches at the widest point.
Dependent on where the seats are positioned (we’ll use the layout mentioned above), the inside well behind the rear seat is approximately 13 inches wide with 31 inches from the back of the seat to the end of the interior usable space (which tapers to nothing). There is 53 inches from the rear seat back to front seat back, and roughly 43 inches from the front seat back towards the bow, until it tapers to nothing. All this can be repositioned.
If using the jumper seat, there is room for the rear person’s legs to go around the side.
When paddling solo with the seats attached just rear of center to the 2nd and 4th d-rings, there is roughly 65 inches behind the seat, and 72 inches from seat front to interior bow.
Weight limitations are 600 lbs for person and gear.
Columbia Tandem vs Deschutes Tandem
We often get questions – which one should I choose? While both are set up for 2+ paddlers, ultimately it comes down to a personal preference. Read our in-depth write up on Choosing an AquaGlide Inflatable Kayak: Columbia Tandem vs. Deschutes Tandem.
AquaGlide Columbia Tandem HB on the Water.
We took out the Columbia Tandem HB for a couple of spins. Just like the prototype we had tested last fall, the kayak paddles extremely well, tracks straight, feels solid and is ROOMY. At our heights of 5’4″ and 6’2″, we had room to spare (and thus not clanging our paddles), and could easily see room for a small child, dog or camping gear. The ability to easily move the foot braces is a plus. The velcro strip paddle holders are long enough to hold the paddles, and the seat allows you to sit high enough that knuckle-rub was not an issue.
Next, my husband took out the kayak solo, sitting in the rear seat without repositioning the center. Even off-balance, he felt it handled well. The open cockpit allows him to easily get in and out without feeling cramped, and he found it to paddle very well.
I repositioned the seats for solo paddling – slightly rear of center.
Despite the long length, the kayak handled extremely well, felt good and was quite rigid – I could easily stand up in the kayak without fear of tipping.
While I did not bring my furry paddling buddy, Woody, out with me, I did take him out in the Columbia One HB (shown in the image above). The material is rugged enough that I would have no worries about sharp claws.
The one thing I should note. If you are planning on taking the kayak out solo, be aware that this 15 ft kayak is tough enough to carry alone, and nearly impossible in windy conditions. A word to the wise – take a look at one of the breakdown dollies such as the Advanced Elements kayak cart, which will make your life easier, AND allow you to pack your gear inside.
Last of all, the kayak is very easy to fold up, and actually rolls up to a much smaller package than one would imagine possible. The bag is spacious enough to carry the seats, braces and paddle, and opens wide enough to easily get the kayak back into the pack.
Bottom line on the Columbia Tandem HB
The Columbia Tandem HB is a great, highly-versatile inflatable kayak. The ability to easily switch from solo to tandem, and even to a third person or lots of gear – is a bonus.
The open cockpit design will appeal to those who are uncomfortable being enclosed, paddlers who need easy entry and exit (such as seniors or those with physical limitations), those in need of a quick dip on a hot summer day, and kayakers who do not require decked options due to rough waters, or cold weather.
Numerous “attentions to detail” have been incorporated, such as fishing rod holders, multiple d-rings, drain plugs, paddle holders, deck lacing and infinite seating positions. When cinched, the seat back provides a good amount of support, while the inflatable seat base is a real plus, allowing one to vary inflation pressures.
The high-pressure floor provides extreme rigidity.
The longer waterline provides good glide and the tracking fin increases the handling performance. It’s a good choice for rivers through class II, lakes, coastal and ocean touring.
The Columbia Tandem HB is highly portable – it rolls up surprisingly well and can fit into the trunk of a small car or an RV. By separating components, it could also qualify for check-on luggage for vacation travel.
Street price is $999. For more details or to purchase, visit the AquaGlide Columbia Tandem HB product page at AirKayaks.com. Stay tuned, we’ll have the Columbia Tandem HB video out within a couple of weeks.