We recently came across a nifty new product designed to take the guesswork out of inflation – the airCap from TRiB Outdoor Tech. The airCap is a solar-powered, high-accuracy pressure gauge which is compatible with Leafield C7 and D7 valves. It measures up to 20 PSI in real-time, making it ideal for a range of inflatable craft including rafts, kayaks, SUPs and RIBs.
The airCap is designed to replace your watercraft’s existing inflation valve cap. Simply unscrew the existing cap, remove the cap tether and replace it with the airCap. Once the craft is inflated, the airCap will give real-time readings, allowing you to see if the pressure gets too high or drops too low.
We contacted TRiB Outdoor Tech to find out more about the product. TRiB (pronounced Tribe) is a new outdoor technology company based out of Moscow, Idaho. According to TRiB’s co-founder, Erik Cegnar, TRiB’s passion is in paddlesports and rafting, with a focus toward innovation in outdoor and other watersports.
As Erik explains, “We are a group of engineers and designers, a small company with big dreams. We are starting this company with the idea of bringing innovative products to market to enable, empower and enhance the outdoor experience. We love the outdoors and think that those experiences can be and often are life changing. We have some amazing products in the works.”
As is often the case, the initial airCap idea came out of a first hand experience – while into Day 2 of a 6-day rafting trip down the Middle Fork of the Salmon River, the “unspeakable” happened. During a break for lunch, Erik and companions were relaxing on the beach when one of the kayaks exploded. As Erik recounts, “As you can imagine, the rest of the experience was limited.”
Most paddlers are aware that inflation chamber pressures fluctuate constantly based on outdoor temperatures – if it is hot, the air inside your chamber will expand, increasing the pressure. Conversely, if it is chilly outside, or the water is cold, the air will contract and cause your inflation chambers to be under-filled. With real-time readings, the airCap can let you know if more air should be added, or some pressure released.
Coincidentally, after speaking with Erik we were sent a prototype kayak from another manufacturer for test purposes. The kayak arrived sporting an airCap, so we took the opportunity to take a good look, which convinced us to buy some.
We subsequently used the airCap on an NRS Pike inflatable kayak, and a Kokopelli Castaway XL Packraft. The image above shows the valve cap on the left and the airCap on the right.
We found the airCap to be pretty simple to install. Basically, remove the existing valve cap by using a pair of needle nose pliers to inch off the tether. Then replace with the airCap tether, making sure it swings around freely. Pump up your inflatable to the recommended pressure, then screw on the airCap. With suitable light, the airCap will start reading within a couple of seconds, with a range of 0.2 to 20 PSI. We did notice that one needs to press down a little harder to screw it in position, and make sure it is fully screwed on so that it doesn’t turn any more, before it will register..How does it work? Most pressure gauges work on reading back pressure. The airCap is designed to “open” the spring plungers on the Leafield valves when screwed in place, allowing continuous readings. It also features an additional o-ring seal, ensuring that no air leaks out of the valve cap.
For those that don’t have a pressure gauge for their pumps, the airCap can also be used as a “check point” as long as the tether does not get in the way. Simply pump up your inflatable and screw on the airCap – without attaching the tether – to see if you are at the appropriate PSI.
Erik explains, “If it is used this way, it would be best to remove the airCap tether since it will tend to get in the way – it can be cut off. If the regular C7 tether is still installed, it takes a little work to get the cap to screw on. So generally speaking the design is not perfectly optimized for this use. But if customers prefer this and it works for them, it’s perfectly fine to use it this way.”
We asked about the projected working life of the airCap. According to Erik, “All products have a life-cycle – the frequency and type of use impact this. The design is inherently long life because all of the electronics are solid state. This is why we worked really hard to not rely on a battery which would have otherwise been the weak link in the design. For infrequent users who take really good care of their equipment, they might see a life of 30 years. For super hard-core rafters who are on the water all the time perhaps the life would be reduced to 5 years. But in general, we think a 10 year life is a good target.”
The TRiB airCap is rugged, waterproof and fully sealed. As it is solar-powered, there are no batteries or parts to replace, and it performs in low-light at dusk, dawn, and by headlamp. It also has a small footprint, with a 2.75 inch diameter and a weight of 1.4 oz; it’s a great option for back-packable vessels such as the Kokopelli packraft.
The initial airCap – which works with Leafield C7 and D7 valves such as those found on NRS inflatable kayaks and SUPS as well as Kokopelli Packrafts – is the first in a projected series of outdoor gadgets and is currently available. Plans are to introduce an HR (Halkey-Roberts) and Summit II version this spring, which will work on many of the other inflatables such as the Red Paddle, Hala and Advanced Elements paddle boards as well as the AquaGlide, Aire and Airis high-pressure kayaks and SUPS.
The newer versions will feature optional alarms that can be triggered when pressures have reached select unsafe levels.
MSRP is $34.95. For more info or to purchase, visit the airCap product page at www.AirKayaks.com. You can also ask to get on the notification list for the upcoming HR and Summit II version.