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 earlier this year, and we started inflating and testing, beginning with the Chelan HB Tandem XL and Chelan HB One. This was followed by the Columbia XP Tandem XL, Chinook One and Panther.
Our sixth 2015 review focuses on the Chelan HB Two, a 13.5 foot long inflatable kayak designed for one or two paddlers. At this time, we will point out that the AquaGlide kayak models are named after rivers in Washington State, and the river is pronounced “shuh-LAN.”
(Please note: some of the information will be repeated from other writeups.)
Getting Started with the Aquaglide Chelan HB Two:
We unpacked the box and laid out the pieces – inflatable kayak, backpack, instructions, repair kit, foot braces, tracking fin, two seats, valve adaptor and two pieces of plastic.
Initial measurements showed the kayak body weighs approximately 27 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 38.5 lbs. Boxed up, the dimensions are 26 x 25 x 12 inches with a shipping weight of 46 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 two 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 Two 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 – we had a REALLY tough time getting the valve adaptor to latch onto the military valve, as we were not able to push hard enough, and the o-ring material was not very forgiving, making the adaptor twist out of the Boston valve adaptor. We finally were able to make it work by pushing open on the spring valve a few times, creating an air gap in the chamber, rather than a vacuum. This gave us enough room to latch it in place. Additionally, sitting in the hot sun allowed the o-ring to soften up a bit. It’s very probable that this will not be an issue down the road. (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.”)
It took us about 38 to 40 complete pumps with a double action pump to reach 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.
We pumped up the side chambers about 44 strokes each side to reach 3 PSI – the kayak felt nice and firm. We double checked the sides and floor to make sure everything was centered; if the kayak looks lopsided, release some of the air and alternate sides, pulling up until everything is centered.
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 front of the first seat about 10 inches back from the end of the velcro strips; 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 2nd set of d-rings. Tighten the straps. Position the back of the rear seat about 10 inches from the end of the velcro strips. Clip the front connects to the 3rd 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 using the 1st and 3rd clips (smaller paddlers) or 2nd and fourth d-rings (taller paddlers).
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.
At this point we were faced with those unmarked “two plastic sheets” which are not mentioned in the instructions. From prior writeups, we knew these were 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 Two Inflatable Kayak
The Chelan HB Two 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 36 inches with lacing 22 inches long by 14 inches wide tapering to 3 inches, while the rear deck extends 30 inches with lacing measuring 13 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 ten upper plastic d-rings (five each side) used to attach the seats as well as gear, and five 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 11 to 23 inches apart and begin 67 inches from the bow.
There are three military valves for the floor and side chambers, and two 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.
The floor is constructed from a 6 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 bow.
Two 80-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 Two kayak inflated is 13 feet 9 inches long from end cap to end cap, and approximately 34 inches wide (specs say 13.5 feet by 36 inches wide.) The side bladders are roughly 10 inches in diameter, making the sides 8 inches above the seating area. Interior dimensions are approximately 12.5 feet long (length of floor before tapering down to “unusability”) by approximately 16 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 11 inches wide and 10 inches deep (open) with an additional 20 more inches under the deck, tapering into unusable space. There is 46 inches from the rear seat back to front seat back, and roughly 59 inches from the front seat back to the “inner point” under the spray deck. By deflating the seat base slightly, the rear seat can be moved back enough to gain 3 more inches of leg room. The straps prevent the front seat from moving up forward, but can move back 12+ inches. All this can be repositioned.
When paddling solo, position the seat back roughly by the back of the side handle, using the 1st and third d-rings; there is roughly 51 open inches behind the seat (including 12 inches under cover of the deck shield) and 72 open inches from seat front to inner point, including 18 inches under the deck. There is not a lot of leeway on seating position due to the seat strap lengths. Larger paddlers may want to use the 2nd and 4th seat clips, positioning the seat back further – this is shown in the photo above.
Weight limitations are 400 lbs for persons and gear.
Chelan HB Two vs the Original Columbia Tandem HB
So what is different about the new Chelan Two model versus the original Columbia Two HB?
The new Chelan Two 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 HB, providing a roomier feel in the snout, which now sport the beefed-up nose cones – this also makes the Chelan slightly longer. The Chelan is about 2 inches narrower than the Columbia HB Two.
Chelan HB Two inflatable kayak on the water.
We took out the Chelan HB Two for a couple of spins as a tandem. The Chelan Two kayak paddles extremely well, tracks straight, is pretty zippy and feels solid. At our heights of 5’4″ and 6’2″, I felt perfectly comfortable in the front seat. While he felt the kayak paddled extremely well, he had to bend his knees more than he liked, forcing him to use a “high angle” paddling stance to clear his knees. I subsequently found by deflating the rear seat base, I could “squish” the seat back further, picking up another 3 inches of rear paddling space.
Next, my husband took out the kayak solo, with the seat attached just slightly rear of center with the 2nd and 4th d-rings. 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. The kayak paddled extremely well, and he felt it was a great kayak for larger/taller solo paddlers with room for gear.
I then took the Chelan Two out solo, using the same seating position. 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. I felt that I was sitting back too far for my size; while the 1st and 3rd d-ring positions would have been better, AquaGlide might consider moving the first d-ring further back to give a bit more flexibility in the seat placements.
At this point I realized one of the drain plugs had not been completely closed and water had collected in the well. But that’s it, it did collect and we did not get wet. The use of a micro-fiber towel would be a good choice to wick out pooled water.
The kayak is very easy to carry by two using the front and rear handles, but the side handles are slightly off-center. Not to worry, it is quite easy to hook the kayak over your shoulder.
While we did not bring our paddling buddy Woody, we did take him out in the Chelan Tandem, shown above. The hull is rugged enough that dog claws are not an issue.
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 AquaGlide Chelan HB Two Inflatable Kayak
The Chelan Two HB is a great, versatile inflatable kayak. The ability to easily switch from solo to tandem is a bonus. It has just enough room for two smaller to “normal” sized adults to feel comfortable, and becomes very spacious as a solo with plenty of room for a child, dog or camping gear – in fact it’s an excellent solo kayak.
The open cockpit design of the Chelan Two 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.
For paddlers planning on foraging out in cold, rainy or windy weather, AquaGlide now offers single and double deck options which can utilize aftermarket spray skirts.
The new “tubeless” construction brings the kayak body to 27 lbs, making it pretty lightweight despite it’s 400 lbs carrying capacity and 13 ft. 5″ 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 – it feels solid while paddling.
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 Two is highly portable – it rolls up surprisingly well and can fit into the trunk of a small car or an RV.
Street price is $999. For more details or to purchase, visit the AquaGlide Chelan HB Two product page at AirKayaks.com. Stay tuned, we’ll have the Chelan HB Two video out within a couple of weeks.