Inflatable Kayaks, SUPS & Canoes

Product Review: New AirFusion EVO Dropstitch Inflatable Kayak from Advanced Elements

Nearly eight years ago, Advanced Elements debuted the original AirFusion kayak – an inflatable hybrid designed to rival the handling and speed of skin-on-frame kayaks. The AirFusion was unique in that it featured a blended design of aluminum alloy frame poles and pressurized air tubes, resulting in a high performance rigid frame system.

Advanced Elements AirFusion EVO.

This was followed by the AirFusion Elite, which featured a streamlined set up procedure with fewer poles, a wider beam and integrated rear storage hatch.

At last summer’s Outdoor Retailer show, Advanced Elements unveiled their 2018 inflatable kayak product line with announcement of the new AE1042 AirFusion EVO a 6-8 PSI high-pressure model constructed from dropstitch material, with a Barbie-sized 24″ waistline.

Just this week the first AirFusion EVO arrived, a double cardboard box measuring 37 x 25 x 12 inches and weighing in at 47 lbs.

Getting Started with the Advanced Elements AirFusion EVO

The rugged carrying case/backpack houses the kayak body, seat, repair kit, foam floor, screw-on and Boston pin adaptors, instructions (located in the small plastic pocket inside the backpack), two thwarts, nose and stern bags, and anodized aluminum poles. The kayak folded size is approximately 34 x 17 x 8 inches. Everything in the case weighs 37 lbs, while the kayak with seat is 33 lbs. The case has just enough room to include a small pump and breakdown paddle (not included). AirKayaks note: Take a good look at how the kayak is folded BEFORE setting up, this will help during breakdown.

The manual is pretty well-written though initially a little daunting. (AirKayaks note: Some of the initial AirFusion EVO boxes contained instructions for the droptstitch floor. The AirFusion EVO does not use an inflatable floor, so you can just toss those.) After the first read-through it seemed simple enough – piece together the poles, position the floor, pump up side chambers partially, insert bottom pole through the thwarts connecting both ribs, pump up thwarts, finish pumping up side chambers, pump up bow & stern tubes, attach seat, inflate coaming tube. Done!

AirFusion EVO Setup/Inflation

Unfolding the kayak

Unfold the kayak body, locating the kayak bow (front) and stern (rear) – this is easy as the integrated storage hatch is located at the stern.

Installing the floor

Next, put the foam floor into position, setting the wider end inside the center of the cockpit – this will position the small rectangular cutout over the velcro tab in the floor. Make sure you pull the velcro tab through the cutout. Tip: the foam floor only covers the area where your feet rest.

Inflatable thwarths

Layout the bow and stern thwarts. Each of these is tapered. The front airbag (which also acts as a foot brace) is larger than the rear airbag, while the larger side of each airbag faces the cockpit/center. Lay them out in correct orientation next to the kayak.

Bottom pole pieces

Next assemble the interior ribs; there are three aluminum numbered poles (1, 2, 4) and one sleeve (3); the poles snap together easily and quickly via a shock-cord system.

The AdvancedFrame series of kayaks each feature two aluminum ribs (shown above) – a vertically-positioned, foot-long Vee/U-shaped flat bar that is inserted in the bow and stern of the kayaks. The AirFusion EVO  has the same bow and stern aluminum ribs, except they are tubular, allowing the pole frame to be inserted/attached. In the new AirFusion EVO, these two ribs are already installed.

Installing the poles

Install pole #1 through the front thwart, inserting it through the sleeve on the underside of the front thwart, making sure that the pushpin hole side is pointing toward the cockpit. Then, insert the thwart into the bow of the kayak, pole side down. Open up the front top zipper (a little narrow for larger hands) to access the receiving tube, on the bottom. Slide tube #1 up and insert into the bow bottom tube.

Next insert pole #2. Once again, push this through the sleeve on the bottom of the rear thwart, with the pushpin facing the cockpit. Then insert the thwart into the stern of the kayak, also with pole side down. Open up the rear hatch cover, and locate the rear bottom tube. Again, insert pole 2 into the stationary bottom tube opening.

Installing the poles

Take the connector sleeve #3, and slip it over pole #2 with the pushpin hole facing pole #1, sliding the sleeve back onto pole #2.

Installing the poles

This allows you to grab both poles 1 and 2, and press down until they pop into position, forming one long pole.

Botom pole with sleeve insert

Slide connector #3 over the connection point of the two poles, to lock in place with the receiving push pin.

As an aside, this can be frustrating until you “get the hang of it.” The trick is making sure the two poles are on absolutely equal planes, otherwise the connecting sleeve #3 will not slide. As a suggestion, push down on the poles without putting your fingers underneath, or possibly assemble over a dimple in the ground. If you try to grasp the pole, it will pull up slightly making it impossible to slide. In this case, I stuffed the carrying case under the back end, which gave me enough “lift” to straighten out the tubes. If you continue to have problems, make sure that you haven’t “tugged” the poles out of the front or rear integrated tubes.

Velcro sleeve to hold pole in position

There are two sets of velcro on the floor (one poking through the cutout in the floor and one towards the rear). Wrap these around the center floor pole, forcing the bottom pole to be centered. This performs a similar function to the “backbone” used in the AdvancedFrame series.

Installing the poles

Locate the sleeve on the “underside” of the top bow hull. Take pole #4 and push it through the sleeve, and guide it into the top bow tube, making sure the rounded side is facing the cockpit. I did struggle a bit with this, as the sleeve is quite snug and the pole connection kept getting caught on the fabric hem. Frame is now done!

Printed guiide lines.

Next position the thwarts. This is probably the most critical step in the process to ensure a balanced setup. The instructions suggest lining up the thwarts with the lines printed on the kayak body. While this is easy for the back thwart, the front thwart line is now covered by the floor – so just line it up to the edge of the velcro tab initially. The front thwart is where you will modify for legroom, so this position will probably change. (AirKayaks note: To make it easier, you may want to take a marker to note the location of the front line on the inside of the kayak hull).

The AirFusion EVO features 8 inflation chambers – two side chambers, two thwarts, two bow and stern bags, seat base and coaming tube. This consists of three military valves, two Boston valves and three twistloks.

Closing the military valve.

First, partially pump up the left and right main chambers. The military-style plunger valves are simple to use – twist up to inflate (this is the closed position where air goes in and doesn’t come out) and down to deflate (air goes in and comes back out).

Military valve and adaptor

The kayak comes with a military valve adaptor (found in the repair kit in the mesh pocket behind the seat) which will fit some pumps based on the hose fittings. AirKayaks note: Make sure to attach the adaptor to the pump tether, so that it doesn’t get lost.

Pumping up the side chamber

We pumped up the sides about 20 strokes each with a double action hand pump. As a side note, if you aren’t careful, when you remove the military valve adaptor, make sure to twist carefully, otherwise the adaptor can twist OFF the hose rather than the valve, and you will lose all your air – just like I did.  AirKayaks note: there is a lip protruding from the side of the adaptor, where it can be tethered to the others. If you grab onto this when twisting, the adaptor is less likely to pop off.

Boston valve and adaptor with pin.

Now on to the thwarts which utilize Boston valves – these are two-way screw-on valves. The bottom portion is threaded onto the thwart, while the top valve is screwed open for inflation and then tightened shut after inflation. Air is easily released by unscrewing the base connector. 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. These valves can use the “friction” fit Boston valve connector found on most pumps, or the included “pin adaptor” (located in the repair kit) which looks that same but with a long pin protruding from the opening. The pin pushes open the inner flap, so you get real-time readings on the pump gauge.

Boston valve

Pump up the rear air bag first – 1 to 1.5 PSI. Make sure the thwart is even across the floor, and the side chambers even with the thwarts. We did 3 double pumps, checked to make sure everything was still straight, and then topped off with another 2 pumps to 1 PSI.

Pumping up the side chamber

Inflate the front thwart in the same method. We did 3 pumps, centered it, another 2 and more centering, then a final 2 pumps to 1+ PSI.

There are two velcro tabs under the top hull, before each thwart. Use these to secure the valve “bronchial” tube in position so it doesn’t get in the way when paddling.

At this point, you may want to flip the kayak over, to check for alignment. The shape of the bottom tube can be seen, and it should run straight through the center, through the bow and stern runners. If not, go back and reposition the thwarts. We should also mention there are two velcro patches – midcenter – between the outer hull and the dropstitch side tubes. If you are having trouble getting things straight, then slip a piece of paper between the two pieces of velcro, so it doesn’t “grab.” Then center the kayak, finally removing the paper sheets, letting the velcro “fall where it may.”

Pumping up the thwart

Finish topping off the main chambers to 6 to 8 PSI; this took another 10 full strokes each side to reach 7 PSI.


Now the seat! The instructions say to “position the seat back at the back edge of the foam floor, to ensure that the EVO remains balanced.”  We spoke with Advanced Elements, and they say it’s not critical, just a good starting place. If you don’t have enough leg room, the front thwart can be pushed forward and the seat a bit back.

Pumping up the seat base.

The seat base uses the third military valve. It took us about five strokes, but wasn’t centering correctly within the side walls. We let some air out and repumped. It is important to keep this straight as it becomes a “spreader” so the two side walls don’t have a tendency to close in.

Attaching the seat buckles.

Next attach the four seat clips, with the two smaller clips to the rear, and the two larger clips to the front; the front clips are located on the upper side walls.

Bow and stern inflation bags.

Now inflate the bow and stern bags, which use twistlocks. At this point, we have another AirKayaks note. In the initial shipment, the two bags did not come pre-installed; in subsequent shipments they will. As the kayak was now fully inflated, it was impossible to put the bags into position. So, we let out some air and managed to get the back bag into the stern cone via the storage hatch cover. But we could not get the front one in place, and did not relish deflating the entire kayak and starting fresh. A quick call with Advanced Elements and we found the bags were more for cosmetics, smoothing out remaining wrinkles. So we opted to leave out the front bag. In the future, if you remove the bags for cleaning, to reinstall, make sure the bags are running horizontal (the long way) with the tube side up, and in front of the tube ends. You can watch an Advanced Elements video on the bag installation.

Locate the twistlok tube protruding from the stern, inside the hatch cover. Twist open the cap. Then use a standard Boston valve adaptor (conical nozzle about ½ inch in diameter, WITHOUT a pin), fit it OVER the twistlock valve and inflate to 1 PSI. Or the easiest method is just to blow it up by mouth, which takes a few puffs. Then twist the valve shut.

If you are inflating the bow bladder, access that from the front zipper. Inflate using the same method.

Twistlock valve

Almost there! Last step is to inflate the coaming tube, which also uses a twistlock – this helps keep water from running into the seating well, and also allows one to use an optional spray skirt. This only takes one or two puffs by mouth.

The Advanced Elements AirFusion EVO is easy to carry.

You’re done! While it took me about an hour, between reading the manual and taking notes, I imagine one can get it down to less than 15 minutes once the process is understood.

AirFusion EVO Inflatable Kayak Construction

Semi-smooth polyurethane tarpaulin outer skin.

The AirFusion EVO kayak material is a semi-smooth polyurethane tarpaulin outer skin. Polyurethane is more supple so wrinkles smooth out better, creating a more hydrodynamic hull.

Dropstitch side chambers

The two main inner inflation bladders are constructed from PVC dropstitch material. The term “drop stitch” is a method of construction which allows for much higher inflation and pressures than a standard PVC bladder; this is the technology used in most inflatable paddle boards. With drop stitch construction, thousands of tiny threads connect both the top and bottom layers (in this case the left and right), creating a stronger link that can withstand much higher pressures. The drop stitch material also creates a narrower chamber, so the kayak beam is narrower.

Unlike some dropstitch kayaks, the EVO main tubes are separate from the kayak body, and removable, meaning they can easily be replaced it needed without replacing the entire kayak body.

Higher pressures make for a more rigid silhouette, which can enhance paddling performance. Additionally, the chambers can be constructed much thinner than standard PVC kayaks, allowing the kayak to be narrower, and theoretically more streamlined.

AirFusion EVO Features and Specifications

Molded rubber handles

There are two molded rubber handles located at the bow and stern – this would be great if you were paddling with someone else, but it is just as easy to carry the kayak hooked over your shoulder.

Front zipper to access interior

The front access zippered opening is 10 inches long, beginning 21 inches from the nose cone.

Front bungee decklacing

A front bungee deck lacing system with 6 d-rings begins roughly 49 inches from the nose, measuring 12 inches deep and 14 to 16 inches wide. It is located approximately 32 inches in front of the paddler’s seat back. There is approximately 66 inches from nose cone to cockpit, with roughly 30 inches of usable space to attach gear.

Anodized aluminum poles.

Numbered aluminum ribs – made by a company specializing in folding frames – are anodized making them resistant to salt spray. The longest rib length is 33.5 inches, while the rib storage bag measures 37 by 6 inches and weighs 3.1 lbs with poles.

Cockpit with coaming tube

The tapered cockpit opening of 33 x 17 inches (at the widest point) will take an optional spray skirt.

Closed cell foam floor.

The 38 x 16.5 inch floor is made from a 3/8 inch closed cell foam, and covers just the seating area. There is 48 inches between the two printed floor lines.

Padded seat with drop-stitch base.

The padded seat features a high-pressure dropstitch seat base covered with a 3/8 inch diamond-groove pad. The seat base can be inflated 4 inches deep and measures 13 inches deep and 16 inches at the widest point. There are four side straps (2 forward and 2 rear) that can be adjusted to ratchet the seating tension. Two d-rings on the front clips are used to tie-off the cords for the optional tracking fin. (AirKayaks note: For 2021 the seat is now a higher-backed seat for better support.)

Mesh pocket on back of seat.

The seat back wraps 17 to 18 inches and is 9.5 inches tall. There are three gusseted pockets on the back of the seat – two mesh drawstring (perfect for water bottles) and one with a velcro flap that houses the repair kit.


There are four d-rings on top of the hull, directly behind the paddler. These are positioned 15 to 17 inches apart and 9 inches deep.

There are 55 inches from the rear cone to the cockpit, with approximately 10 inches of space which can be used for gear, without covering the storage hatch; there is 28 inches of space if you cover the cockpit.

Using the roll-top integrated storage

An integrated rear cargo hatch is located 18 inches behind the paddler. The opening measures 15 x 8.5 inches with a 10 inch roll-top closure and velcro cover with handle. Inside is approximately 24 inches in length, starting at 9-10 inches in diameter and tapering down, for stashing interior gear. (AirKayaks note: the interior space is not sealed off. Anything that needs to stay dry, should be in dry bags.)

End cap

Two end caps give a streamlined finish to the kayak bow and stern. A small hole in the rear end cap was designed to accept the optional AirFusion tracking fin.

Hull underside.

There is no integrated tracking fin, but two 16-inch integrated landing plates/runners are located on the hull underside. (AirKayaks note: for 2021, an additional “protection strip” of PU Tarpaulin has been added to the bottom center of the kayak hull for increased abrasion protection.) 

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.

AirFusion EVO - Birdseye view

We did measurements. The kayak measured 13 feet 2 inches from end cap to end cap and 24-25 inches wide on the exterior. Interior width at the widest point is 16 inches. With the thwarts removed there is roughly 115 inches interior length, but much is too narrow to use.

With the thwarts positioned on both printed lines and the kayak seat back about 3 inches in front of the rear floor sleeve, we measured 6 inches of space behind the seat, and 38″ seat back to front thwart/brace. By moving the seat all the way back, and the thwart all the way forward, there is approximately 42 inches of interior space without bending one’s knees.

Payload is 235 lbs paddler and gear.

Paddling the AirFusion EVO Inflatable Kayak

Advanced Elements AirFusion EVO on the water.

I took out the EVO in small waves, due to boating activity. The thwart was too close, so I deflated the chamber slightly, moving it back a couple inches.

As I started paddling, the kayak pulled to one side and had a tendency to turn around when stopped. As I had deflated and inflated the kayak a few times, I took it back to shore, flipped the EVO over and could immediately see why – the bottom pole was not centered evenly down the kayak. So, I deflated the thwarts slightly, re-centered them making sure the pole was straight (you can use the nose and tail runners as a line of site.) I then reinflated the thwarts and went back out.

Advanced Elements AirFusion EVO on the water.

The EVO is fast. Once it is properly set up (!) it has a nice glide, rides over swells easily, paddles beautifully and tracks well into the wind and across the wind. When one stops paddling the nose stays true. With a downwind it has a tendency to drift a bit – this decreased when we took it out with the optional removable skeg. This is a “must have” for those planning on being in rougher waters.

I took the EVO out in a bit of wind, and clocked myself at a 2.5 mph average with a burst speed of 4.5 mph – in calm water, it would be faster.

The hull is rugged and will pass over barely submerged rocks without a blip. The smooth skin also sheds water easily when back on shore.

Getting into the kayak was slightly difficult as the narrower beam and slightly curved hull made it a little tippy, especially in waves. Once out on the water it felt more stable.

Taller paddler sitting in the EVO

My husband did not have an opportunity to test it out. But, he did sit inside it. For his 6’2″ frame, we positioned the seat all the way back, and the thwart as far up as it could go, but he still had a little trouble wriggling his way into the cockpit.

I did speak with Jeremy at Advanced Elements, who is also 6″2″. He was able to get in by pushing the seat all the way back, and the thwart all the way up, with knees slightly bent. On flat water with a slight breeze, he took it through several steps – casual paddling, dead sprint with good full strokes. He felt the EVO paddled well, had good glide, was fast and when coming to a stop didn’t drift. He did feel it slightly tippy at first, having just finished paddling the wider (34″ beam) AdvancedFrame, but felt fine fairly rapidly.

Packing Up the AirFusion EVO Kayak

Folding up the kayak

To pack up your EVO, reverse your steps. Here are a few simple tips:

Any lingering air can be pumped out using the “deflation” mode of your pump. There is a lot of pressure on the center floor beam (poles 1 and 2). You can simplify the breakdown by pushing in the center pin and twisting the tube out of the pushpin position while the kayak is still inflated. I did need to pull out the foam floor, in order to get a grasp on the tube, but it then easily turned. Then when deflated, push the sleeve back all the way to separate the poles. To prevent losing the small sleeve #3, put it back on pole one and lock in place.

Short on time? Simply deflate the main air tubes, unsnap the floor tube, fold the kayak in half (with upper hull on the outside) and put back in your vehicle (as long as it’s big enough). You can then lay it out to dry later.

Bottom Line on the AE3042 AirFusion EVO Inflatable Kayak

The EVO is a great kayak for those that have a little bit of experience – it’s fast, is very sleek and has great glide.

Easily fits in the trunk of a small car.

Despite the longer 13 foot beam, it is easy to haul around. And with a combined weight of 37 lbs for the kayak in the upgraded backpack, it’s a good candidate for travel, and easily fits in the back of a small car.

Advanced Elements AirFusion EVO on the water.

The updated design with simplified set up, rigid dropstitch side tubes, replaceable main chambers and a smoother, more hydrodynamic outer skin give the EVO a performance edge.

Printed guidelines.

Attention to small details – such as built in sleeves, printed alignment lines, detailed instructions and the shock cord system – make the set up simpler.

Advanced Elements AirFusion EVO on the water.

The integrated storage hatch is quite useful for storing gear, though with the open interior, anything perishable should be stored in dry bags.

Installing the poles

This is not the kayak for those that want a “pump and go” – to get the best performance, one needs to take a little more time with setup. But the pay-off is worth it.

The addition of the optional skeg will help immensely in wind and larger swells.

If you are concerned about stability with the narrower beam, prefer simpler setup options, plan on carrying lots of gear, or you are a taller/larger paddler, then the Expedition Elite (shown above) may be a better, more comfortable choice.

We’ve said this before and it’s still true – Advanced Elements truly brings about the “EVOlution of inflatable kayaks” with constant innovation and excellent customer service; the AirFusion EVO earns them another notch.

Advanced Elements AirFusion EVO on the water.

Street price is $1099. For more details or to purchase, visit the Advanced Elements AE31042 AirFusion EVO product page at Or watch our video below:


  1. Hi Holly,
    I see that Bic Sport has this Nomad HP1 and would like to know if you have paddled it or can comment on it’s build quality. I’m a bigger guy at 6-2/220 and on the lookout for a 12-13′ touring inflatable. Thank you

    1. Hi Jim:
      We used to carry the BIC line a few years ago – we don’t carry the line any more, as we had several issues with the inability to get replacement parts. I would take a look at the AquaGlide Chelan Two (great solo) or the Advanced Elements Convertible DS (great solo too!).

  2. Great and detailed comments on the EVO. Thank you for all the “tips” on setting it up. EVO looks like a great, fast watercraft. Also valuable is the suggestion that the AFX Expedition deserves consideration, especially by larger paddlers or those going on camping trips.

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