Last summer, AquaGlide unveiled their new inflatable kayak lineup for 2015, which included a series of new models and revamps. Based on the number of inquiries, we were anxious to try out the new Chelan HB high-pressure series.
The new models arrived last week, and we started inflating and testing.
Our first review focuses on the Chelan HB Tandem XL, 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 write-ups.)
Getting Started with the Aquaglide Chelan HB Tandem XL:
We unpacked the box and laid out the pieces – inflatable kayak, backpack, instructions, repair kit, foot braces, tracking fin, two seats, a jumper seat, valve adaptor and two pieces of plastic.
Initial measurements showed the kayak body weighs approximately 32 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 44 lbs. Boxed up, the dimensions are 26 x 25 x 14 inches with a shipping weight of 52 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 appeared adequate and include diagrams with inflation details.
Set up is straight-forward and simple – unpack, unfold, inflate.
There are three military valves (both sides and the floor) with three more small chambers utilizing twistlock valves for the seat bases – the floor is pumped up first, to 6 PSI.
The floor is held in place with two adjustable straps. From our prior experience, we found it best to loosen up the straps, otherwise the floor could be inflated “lopsided.”
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 Chelan HB Tandem XL military valves require a special adaptor, which does not come with most standard pumps. In Aquaglide’s first year, the military adaptors were not included with the high-pressure kayaks, which caused problems. All the 2015 high pressure models now include the adaptor, which is found in the repair kit.
The Aquaglide military adaptor couples to the valve with a Boston valve adaptor; this is a common fitting, slightly conical and about 1/2 inch thick. Friction fit the adaptor onto the Boston valve fitting, then attach the fitting to the military valve with a slight twist. It is helpful to use a pump with pressure gauge to ensure the kayak is inflated appropriately.
Here is where we came to our first issue. The military valve adaptor has a bar across the inside, which pushes open the spring valve, allowing pressure gauges to take a reading. While this is great when working correctly, if you haven’t securely coupled the military adaptor to the Boston valve fitting, the hose can blow off, allowing all the air to escape – which is exactly what happened. We recoupled the adaptors, pressing on tightly and were able to continue. (AirKayaks note: one option is to glue the adaptor onto the Boston valve fitting, or rough up the BV fitting surface so there is “more grab.”)
We then came to the second issue – at about 2 PSI, we heard air leaking. Upon inspection, it was coming from the o-ring on the adaptor. We continued pumping and were able to fill the kayak without a problem. Later, we pulled out another adaptor and – while they looked identical – the second one did not leak. (AirKayaks note: if this becomes a problem, both issues may be solved by cutting out the bar in the adaptor. Please note if then using a pressure gauge, you will then only get pressure readings when a pump stroke is made.)
It took us about 50 complete pumps with a double action pump to reach the recommended floor pressure of 6 PSI. 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 also use military valves.
The instructions suggest pumping up each side about one-third, working back and forth to prevent twisting. We pumped up the side chambers about 20 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. While up till now, the gauge was not registering, it started to move. A final 12 strokes each side brought us to 3 PSI – the kayak felt nice and firm.
Next attach the seats – these stay in position utilizing velcro and adjustable side straps. First, inflate the seat bases. The Pro-Formance seats use 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. AirKayaks note: Here is a nifty little home-made adaptor that works with these twistlocks.
For starters, loosen up the straps on the seat. Then position the back of the front seat at the second set of d-rings; this can be fine-tuned later. Attach the upper seat quick-connect clips (metal) to the first set of d-rings, and the rear seat clips (plastic) to the third set of d-rings. Tighten the straps.
Position the back of the rear seat just in front of the rear drain wells, located at the 5th 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 6th 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 using the 2nd and fourth d-rings.
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. More space can be obtained by moving the rear seat back to the 5th and 6th d-rings.
At this point we were faced with those unmarked “two plastic sheets” – and no mention in the instructions. Looking the kayak over, it became apparent they were meant to stiffen the front and rear splash guards. Indeed, the underside of each had two slots and two strips of velcro. While there are no ID’s on the sheets, we found out the hard way that there IS a right and wrong way. Both sheets are identical, but one side has more of an arc. Place the “arced” side toward the sky, and fit into the slots – you will need to bend the sheet to get it in the second slot. Then fasten with the velcro strips. If you put it in “upside-down” the sheet will not lie flat with the guard.
The last step is to attach the removable tracking fin, which enhances paddling/tracking in deeper water. 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 insert the retaining pin. At this point, pull up on the fin to make sure you have it locked in position. (Please note: The 2017 Chelan features a new US Fin Box which is different from the fin above. The instruction manual does not include the updated fin instructions. See our instructions on Installing a Fin on a Red Paddle SUP which uses the same process.)
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 Chelan HB Tandem XL Inflatable Kayak
The Chelan HB Tandem XL 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 40 inches with lacing 22 inches long by 14 inches wide tapering to 4 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, which can be used to attach the optional single and double spray decks, or for attaching gear.
There are twelve upper 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 – also for the optional decks or attaching more gear. The upper d-rings are spaced from 14 to 19 inches apart and begin 68 inches from the bow.
There are three military valves for the floor and side chambers, 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 six 3.5 inch 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. Another drain plug is located in the stern.
Two 100-inch velcro strips are centered on the floor three inches apart, 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 features tubeless side chambers constructed from 1000 denier 850 GSM Duratex reinforced PVC with a smooth finish.
The hull is a rugged, puncture-resistant 500 denier 600G Duratex reinforced PVC with removable tracking fin and landing plate.
The tracking fin is hefty, measuring 5.5 x 12 inches with locking pin.
The bow and stern feature a rugged “molded” snout.
We did measurement tests. The Chelan HB Tandem XL kayak inflated is 15 feet 5 inches long from end cap to end cap, and approximately 37 inches wide (specs say 15 ft x 36 inches wide.) The side bladders are roughly 10 inches in diameter, making the sides 8-9 inches above the seating area. Interior dimensions are approximately 144 inches long (length of floor before tapering down) by approximately 17 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 and 17 inches deep (open) with an additional 10 more inches under the deck, before tapering into unusable space. There is 51 inches from the rear seat back to front seat back, and roughly 42 inches from the front seat back to the spray deck, with another 22 inches under the deck, tapering towards 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. If not using the jumper seat, this would be a great spot for gear, such as AquaGlide’s new cooler with fishing rod holders.
When paddling solo with the seats attached just rear of center to the 2nd and 4th d-rings, there is roughly 51 open inches behind the seat to the deck shield (more space underneath) and 63 open inches from seat front to front deck shield (more space underneath).
Weight limitations are 600 lbs for person and gear.
Chelan HB Tandem XL vs the Original Columbia Tandem HB
So what is different about the new Chelan Tandem model versus the original Columbia Tandem?
The new Chelan Tandem features a “tubeless” construction, making the kayak lighter by roughly 20%. All three chambers now feature military valves rather than a mixture with Boston valves – and the valve adaptor comes standard with the kayak. There are no neoprene knuckleguards or paddleholders, but the Duratex smooth skin is less abrasive to touch. Coupled with 6 drain wells and 7 drain plugs, water now collects in the wells, while the sleek skin and plugs make drying time much quicker.
The Chelan kayak silhouette is a bit less pronounced than the original Columbia Tandem HB, providing a roomier feel in the snout, and less potential twisting problems during setup. The Chelan material is also a bit more durable.
Chelan HB Tandem XL inflatable kayak on the water.
We took out the Chelan HB Tandem XL for a couple of spins. Just like the prior Columbia HB Tandem model, the Chelan Tandem 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.
On our next trip we brought along our paddling buddy Woody – this is a spacious kayak. Despite his repeated interest in all floating objects, the material is rugged enough that there were no worries about sharp claws.
Next, my husband took out the kayak solo, with the seat attached just slightly rear of center. The open cockpit allows him to easily get in and out without feeling cramped, and the high pressure floor provides enough stability to enter from the water. He found it to paddle very well, with the seats high enough that knuckle-rub was not an issue.
I then took the Chelan out solo. 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, so stability is not an issue here. Turning is surprisingly smooth for a kayak this long, even paddled solo.
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. If you use the pump to deflate the kayak compactly, the bag is spacious enough to carry the kayak, seats and braces and opens wide enough to easily get the kayak back into the pack.
Bottom line on the Chelan HB Tandem XL
The Chelan HB Tandem XL 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 velcro strips on the floor allow infinite seating and brace positions, which can be customized specifically for the paddler(s).
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 or kayakers who don’t require decks.
But, for those who do, optional single and double decks will provide enclosed seating for rough waters and cold weather.
The new “tubeless” construction brings the kayak body to 40 lbs, making it pretty lightweight despite it’s 600 lbs carrying capacity and roomy 15 foot 5 inch length.
The Duratex smooth skin and 7 drain plugs allow water to run off the skin and out of the crevices, making drying times much shorter.
Numerous “attentions to detail” have been incorporated, such as fishing rod holders, multiple d-rings, drain plugs, 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 Chelan HB Tandem XL 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 $1099. For more details or to purchase, visit the AquaGlide Chelan HB Tandem XL product page at AirKayaks.com. You can also watch our YouTube video on the Chelan HB Tandem XL, below.