Inflatable Kayaks, SUPS & Canoes Reviews

Product Review: New Advanced Elements Expedition Elite Hi-Pressure Inflatable Kayak

At last summer’s Outdoor Retailer show, Advanced Elements unveiled the next generation in the Expedition series – the Expedition Elite. As long-time fans of the original yellow model – and the subsequent blue Limited Edition – we were impressed with the Elite’s feature enhancements.

Advanced Elements Expedition Elite high pressure kayak

Earlier this spring the Elite hit the West Coast, and we managed to grab one before our first shipment sold out – not to worry, we have more. Here are details on the Expedition Elite AE1009XE, a 13 foot inflatable weighing in at roughly 42 lbs.

Getting Started with the Expedition Elite Inflatable Kayak

The box as received measures 34 x 21 x 11 inches with a weight of 57 lbs.

What's in the box.

Inside is a new, backpack-style carrying case measuring 36 x 16 x 11 inches which contains the kayak body, high-backed lumbar seat, aluminum deck riser, rear thwart, repair kit, foot brace and instructions (these are located in a pocket inside the carrying case) . The repair kit, screw-on adaptor and floor adaptor are located in the mesh pocket behind the seat. The kayak with seat weighs 44.5 lbs, or 48 lbs in the pack.

The kayak folded size is approximately 31 x 16 x 10 inches, leaving just enough room to store a pump and breakdown paddle (not included) if folded properly.

Unfold the kayak.

First step, unfold the kayak. As with all the AdvancedFrame models, the Expedition Elite features an “inner rib” in the bow and stern, which is basically a u-shaped aluminum rib, about one foot long and one-half inch wide.

This comes “pre-assembled” meaning it arrives already inserted into two sleeves inside the kayak cover. Unless you remove the inner bladder, they remain in position. When the kayak is pumped up, the inner bladder with rib presses against the kayak cover – that, in conjunction with two bow and stern plastic sheets, give the kayak a sharp silhouette which aids in slicing through the water.

The Expedition Elite kayak features 11 inflation chambers – three military valves (main chambers and floor) and 8 smaller twist-loks (4 deck lifts, 2 coaming tubes, thwart and seat).

Adaptors for Boston valve, screw-on military, and high pressure floor.

Each Expedition Elite comes with a screw-on adaptor (center image, found in the repair kit in the mesh pocket behind the seat) which locks onto many pumps with pin/slot hose fittings. Additionally, a standard Boston valve adaptor (left image) will friction fit directly into the valve opening. A separate adaptor is also included for the high pressure floor (right image).

Twit valve plunger to inflate position

First step, turn the military valve to the inflate position. The military-style plunger valves are simple to use – twist one way to inflate (UP position) and the other to deflate (DOWN position).

Attach the hose to the valve

Attach the screw-on adaptor to your pump and then couple it to the first main chamber, located on the rear hull. While there is not a pressure gauge included with the kayak, the adaptor features a “lip” that pushes open the spring plunger, allowing a pump gauge to read the back-pressure; if using the Boston valve adaptor, most gauges will only register as you are inflating (needle will go up and down).

Pumping up the first chamber.

Pump up the first chamber until it begins to fill out. Unlike many other brands, the AdvancedFrame series of kayaks features an inner and outer chamber, with a floating “interior wall.” By pumping up the first chamber partly, you “center” the inner wall – this took about 40 full strokes with a double action hand pump.

Check the side tubes to make sure they are even within the cover, and check the floor to see if it is still centered. Then pump up the second chamber, located inside the kayak behind the seat, until firm to touch (2 PSI), once again centering everything as needed – this took another 30 to 35 pumps. Screw on the black wing nut caps so the plungers aren’t accidentally twisted open later.

Pumping up the second chamber

Next, pump up the floor from 4 to 6 PSI, using the high-pressure floor adaptor, which friction fits onto the Boston valve adaptor located on most pumps (slightly conical nozzle about 1/2 inch in diameter); it may be easier to open the back hatch to access the floor valve. It took about 35 strokes to hit nearly 6 PSI. Replace the valve cap. At this point, make sure to tether your extra adaptors to your pump, so they aren’t lost. In a pinch, you can duct tape the Boston valve adaptor to the floor valve, creating enough vacuum to pump it up.

At this time we want to point out that there are two velcro strips inside the kayak cover which hold the main tubes in place. Occasionally, the tubes shift initially, making the kayak appear lopsided. If this happens, deflate the kayak, then take two sheets of paper and insert between the velcro and tube. Pump up the kayak slowly, repositioning the tubes until even. Once everything is centered, remove the sheets of paper and let the velcro “fall where it may.”

Locating the decklift pockets

Next install the aluminum deck riser. Open up the front zipper slightly (pull back the velcro zipper lips to do this), and you will find two webbed pockets on each side tube – you may need to disconnect the “quick clips” on the bungee.

Here we veer slightly from the instructions. Now is the best time to attach the foot brace, as the deck is open and it is easier to access. This consists of a series of six loops and buckles which can be varied to accommodate your paddling style and height. The photo above shows the same foot brace, but in an earlier model. At first you may want to guess at the appropriate position and after your first test paddle, you can adjust accordingly. Clip both sides around the loops.

Installing the decklift

Now the deck bar. Locate the two sleeves (positioned roughly under the cover near the top of the neoprene knuckleguards and by the cover seam). Pull the cover nearly closed, and find the sleeves again “by feel.” Insert each side of the bar into the sleeves, curved side facing up. Then pull the zipper fully shut carefully (never exert forceful pressure), close the zipper lips and reclip, also reclipping any bungee clips opened.

Pumping up the deck lifts.

Now, move onto the two coaming areas that run around the cockpit and the four deck lifts inside the kayak “shoulders.” The coaming tubes and deck lifts “sculpt” the body so that water has a tendency to run off – and not into – the kayak. The coaming tubes also allow one to attach an optional spray skirt.

Using the twistlock valve.

Each of these should be inflated to 1 PSI – basically one or two full strokes each chamber are enough. Using the same Boston valve adaptor, fit it OVER the twistlok valve on the coaming tube. Pump this up until fairly firm (1 PSI) but there should be slight give when depressed. You can also use your mouth to blow these smaller chambers up, if easier.

Inflating the thwart

We now come to the thwart – while it is not mentioned in the instruction manual, the directions are printed on the hang tag attached to the rear kayak handle.

Installing the thwart

Pump up the twistlok valve until firm and then stuff the thwart between the two side chambers, under the kayak cover behind the seat position.

Inflating the seat

Inflate the final twist lock valve on the seat, for lumbar support. The valve tube is extra long, allowing one to inflate or deflate while paddling.

Attaching the seat

Then attach the seat by clipping the two straps into the appropriate side clips.

Installing the plastic sleeves

Next, insert the two plastic sheets into the bow and stern sleeves.

Sling over one's shoulder to carry.

That’s it – less than 10 minutes and you’re done!

About Drop Stitch Floor Technology

The term “drop stitch” is a method of construction which allows for much higher inflation and pressures than a standard PVC floor.

PVC floor chamber vs. drop stitch floor

In a standard PVC floor (as shown above), long “I-Beams” run the length of the floor, connecting the floor ceiling to bottom. This allows the floor to maintain a fairly uniform thickness, but if one of the I-Beams pops (due to over-inflation) the floor will become more like a blob.

Rigidity of drop stitch floor versus standard Convertible PVC floor

With drop stitch construction (shown above on the Convertible drop stitch floor), thousands of tiny threads connect both the top and bottom layers, creating a stronger link that can withstand much higher pressures. Higher pressures make for a more rigid floor, which can enhance paddling performance. This is the technology used in inflatable SUP paddle boards. The image below is from an Airis Inflatable Sport Kayak showing the interior drop stitching.

Airis Inflatable Sport window showing the drop stitch threads

Features and Specifications of the AE1009XE Expedition Elite

The AE1009XE Expedition Elite consists of three layers. Inflatable PVC bladders are housed in a zippering fabric cover, allowing the bladders to be replaced if necessary. The covered bladders sit inside the kayak outer shell.

Rugged nylon ripstop material

The kayak upper is comprised of 600 denier polyester/PVC laminate.

The hull is a rugged, puncture-resistant PVC tarpaulin with electronically welded seams, reinforced nose, integrated 2.5 x 7.5 inch tracking fin and 16-inch landing plate.

Molded rubber handle

There are two molded rubber carrying handles (bow and stern), but it is fairly simple to carry by hooking the side of the kayak over your shoulder.

Two plastic sheets in the bow and stern – in conjunction with the interior aluminum ribs – provide added structure and rigidity.

Bungee decklacing

Bungee deck lacing in the bow (measuring 16 inches deep and tapering from 18 to 9 inches wide) includes 4 d-rings (two each side and now with larger openings for easier handling) and quick release clips, allowing one to add on various dry packs and gear – or to attach a nifty Rapidup downwind sail! The d-rings are located 16 by 12 to 20 inches deep. Both the d-rings and deck lacing system begins 42 inches from the bow.

The foot brace consists of a foam-covered bar with side straps and clips. There are a series of 6 loops on each side of the kayak main chamber – by passing each brace side strap through the loop and clipping shut, the bar allows you to “brace” your feet, aiding in paddling power. With the seat moved all the way back, the brace can be set from 26 to 41 inches (in increments of 3 inches) from the seat back. The straps can also be loosened another 3 inches – so, lots of flexibility for paddler sizes!

Rear coaming

The 33 x 15 inch cockpit area features two inflatable coaming tubes to keep water from running in.

Locating the deck lift pockets

A front center zipper can open up an additional 40 inches for easier entry or for those interested in a more open feeling. Velcro “zipper lips” and clip ensure the front zipper remains closed, so water doesn’t drip in. The coaming area has a perimeter of roughly 92 inches.

Velcro knuckleguard and paddle holder

Neoprene padded knuckle guards (measuring 27 x 6.5 inches) cover both sides, preventing knuckle abrasion when paddling.

Velcro paddleholder

There are two sets of velcro paddleholders, one set on each side, allowing one to fasten the paddle along a side, or across the bow. The paddle holders are located 57 and 97 inches from the snout.

The high-backed padded lumbar seat features adjustable side straps which quickly clip into position while rear stiffening rods create a comfortable option for those needing a bit extra back support than the standard seat offers. The seat back has an inflatable bladder with an extra long 36 inch TwistLok hose, allowing you to change the support level from 1-5 inches while kayaking! In addition, a side zipper allows you to open and move the bladder up or down until you “hit the right spot.”

A gusseted, mesh pocket is located on the seat back; this houses the repair kit, screw-on adaptor and floor adaptor. The seat can be adjusted about 10 inches in location. Seat back dimensions are 17 inches tall, with a seat base 18 inches wide and 14 inches deep.

Interior thwart

An inflatable thwart measuring 16 x 9 x 7 inches aids in spreading the side chambers apart, as well as providing some “deck lift” to aid in water run off. This can be removed if more storage space is needed.

Integrated storage hatch

Approximately 5 inches behing the seating well is an integrated storage hatch with velcro hatch cover and handle; the opening measures 9 x 15 inches.

Integrated storage hatch

Gear can be stored inside, then simply roll the “neck” down 2 or 3 times, clip shut and velcro-seal the cover. (AirKayaks note: The well behind the seat is not sealed, thus if water gets into the kayak, your gear can still get wet. Put valuables into dry sacks or ziplocks if concerned.)

Rear d-rings

Four more d-rings can be found on the rear deck, spaced 11-15 inches by 10 inches deep, and beginning 21 inches from the seat back.

Backpack carrying case.

The traditional Advanced Elements carrying case has been updated, now coming with two adjustable shoulder straps, allowing one to use it as a backpack. There are also two top carrying handles. Bag size is a generous 36 x 16 x 11 inches and looks like it will house a pump and paddle. This comes standard with the Expedition Elite and the new Angler Pro.

The Expedition Elite comes with a rear rudder cap, allowing one to install the optional AdvancedTrak Rudder System.

Expedition Elite

We took measurements. The kayak inflated is approximately 156 inches long (13 feet) and 32 inches wide. The side bladders are roughly 8 inches in diameter, making a well about 7.5 inches deep with the deck lifts; this increases to 9″ with the deck bar. Interior dimensions are approximately 96 inches long by 17 inches wide.

When the seat is positioned roughly 6 inches from the back of the coaming area, there is approximately 64 inches from the seat back to the inner tip. With the thwart installed, storage area behind the seat is about 6 inches, creating a rear storage well of 21 inches deep by 14 inches wide (tapering down) and 7 inches high. By removing the thwart, one gains another 9 inches of depth.

On the kayak upper, there is approximately 66 inches from the bow to the cockpit opening, and 54 inches from the back of the seating well to the stern. In this position, there is 33 inches for the paddler to reach the deck lacing, approximately 15 inches to the storage hatch, and 29 inches to reach the rear d-rings.

The seat can be moved up about 7 inches and back 5 inches.

Weight limitations are 450 lbs for one person and gear.

Advanced Elements Expedition Elite on the Water

Having previously owned the standard Expedition (and now the happy owner of an AE1044 AdvancedFrameDS XL), I was quite familiar with the kayak’s capabilities as well as the high pressure floor – the Expedition Elite handles beautifully and is rugged and stable.

Expedition Elite on the water.

For my height (5’4”) the kayak is very comfortable and fairly easy to carry solo (as long as the wind is down!)

Rigid enough to stand up.

While the high pressure floor can be slightly hard to sit on after a while, it does provide added stability, rigidity and paddling performance – I was even able to stand-up, albeit shortly. (AirKayaks tip: adding a kneeling pad or foam seat under the seat will soften the ride.)

Easy to access rear compartment

The positioning of the integrated storage hatch – located just behind the seat – makes it much easier to access gear, as one no longer has to take down the seat to reach the rear storage area, while the added thwart does help prevent water from pooling behind the seat.

Expedition Elite on the water.

At 6’ 2”, my husband finds the Expedition to be infinitely more comfortable than the 10.5 foot AE1012 AdvancedFrame.  As a rule of thumb, taller and long-legged paddlers over 6 feet will probably be happiest in longer kayaks such as the AE1044DS AdvancedFrame DS XL or Expedition Elite. The deck riser – in conjunction with the foot brace- gives some extra foot room for larger paddlers and makes the kayak feel more spacious. That said, my husband did mention that his feet would sometimes hit the kayak cover, so suggested thin water shoes.

Over the years, I’ve taken out many of the AdvancedFrame series in all types of weather, from calm water to swells. They have battled the elements, been dragged on rocky beaches, scraped through shallow water and hauled around in a pickup truck. I’ve been out in short jaunts and 10-12 mile treks. In fact our friend Lee Johnson has put over 5000 miles of paddling on his vintage Expedition.

Bottom Line on the Advanced Elements AE1009XE Expedition Elite:

The Expedition Elite AE1009XE is a great all-around kayak.

Introduced in 2007 as the “big sibling” to the popular AE1012 AdvancedFrame (image of standard Expedition, above), over the past 9 years Advanced Elements has tweaked the design, resulting in a high-quality inflatable kayak that is comfortable, paddles well, looks good and is quite stable. It is able to handle lakes, Class I to II rapids, inlets, bays and coastal ocean. Numerous optional accessories – such as spray skirts, rapidup sail, rudder system – can enhance the paddling experience and performance.

The introduction of the Limited Edition Expedition in 2016 featured another jump in added features with the new deck riser, integrated storage hatch, paddleholders, slightly widened silhouette and high pressure floor.

Expedition Elite on the water.

The new Expedition Elite completes the evolution with the inclusion of the dropstitch floor, which truly enhances the performance, stability and rigidity without the complexities of the backbone. It’s a winner.

Expedition Elite on the water.

The Expedition Elite is a great multi-purpose kayak for people of many ages and experience levels. Novices and first-time users will be on the water in no time, while experienced paddlers will find the portability and paddling performance enticing. The longer length provides more real estate for taller paddlers, while extensive storage capacity makes it a great choice for multi-day trips.

Fits in the trunk of a car.

Headed off on vacation? The updated backpack/carrying case is rugged enough to check as baggage, and is also easier to haul down to the launch site, or for other travel. The compact size can easily fit in a car trunk or RV.

Street price: $779. For more information, or to purchase, see the Expedition Elite Product Page on or watch our YouTube video, below:


  1. Thanks for posting a great review. Quick question: Would you say an inflatable like this is suitable for a weeklong kayak camping trip (I’m looking at The Green River in Utah)? Or would a hard shell be more appropriate/safer? Thanks.

    1. Hi there:
      The Expedition Elite is a great kayak, very stable and quite safe. It is rated through Class II rapids – I am not sure the status of Green River. If it has a number of Class III areas, you should look at something more suited.

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