Last year, AquaGlide unveiled their updated inflatable kayak lineup for 2020, which included a series of new models – Deschutes, McKenzies and Navarros – with revamps to the Chinook model. For 2021, Aquaglide completed the line by redesigned two remaining models – the Chelans and the Blackfoots.
With inventory rapidly becoming as scarce as the 2020 paddling season, we decided to snag a few of the new models for inflation and review, initially focusing on the AquaGlide Chelans.
Our first review on AquaGlide’s revised products for 2021 focuses on the Chelan 120, an 11′ 4″ long, high-pressure, inflatable kayak designed for solo paddling. (Please note: some of the information will be repeated from other writeups.)
Getting Started with the Aquaglide Chelan 120:
We unpacked the box and laid out the pieces – inflatable kayak, backpack, instructions, repair kit with bag of miscellaneous items, foot brace, tracking fin, seat, valve adaptor and two plastic splash guards. First thing to note – the kayak is nicely packaged with bubble wrap protecting valves, handles, etc. Also to note – the repair kit features generous-sized repair patches, a valve wrench and glue.
Initial measurements showed the kayak body weighs approximately 27 lbs, with a folded size of 27 x 8 x 21 inches. The kayak with seat, fin and brace – all in the backpack – weighs 38 lbs with a backpack size of roughly 39 x 17 x 18 inches. All boxed up, the dimensions are 30 x 22 x 14 inches with a shipping weight of 46 lbs. We were able to get everything – plus a pump and paddle – into the pack.
(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.)
We started off by reading the instructions. While Aquaglide’s manuals were somewhat sketchy in the past, the included instructions were detailed and easy to use (all languages are now in their own section). Additionally, a QR Code tag is now attached to the kayak; a quick scan with your cell phone allows you to access the instructions online.
Set up is straight-forward and simple – unpack, unfold, inflate.
There are three military valves (both sides and the floor) with one more small chamber utilizing a twistlock valve for the seat base. 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 instructions say to pump up the side chambers to 3 PSI, first.
The Chelan 120 military valves require a special adaptor, which does not come with most standard pumps, but this is included in the repair kit. The Aquaglide military adaptor couples to the valve with a Boston valve adaptor; this is a common fitting which is 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.
We closed the valve, attached the pump and began to inflate. It took 27 strokes with a double-action hand pump to reach 3 PSI on one side – please note that the gauge needle did not start registering until 20 pumps.
While we had no issues, we have had some in the past and would like to point this out. AirKayaks Note: 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. If you experience this, recouple the adaptors, pressing on tightly, and make sure you do not pull on the hose to remove the fitting, but twist off the adaptor from the valve. This can also be rectified by gluing the adaptor onto the Boston valve fitting, or roughing up the BV fitting surface so there is “more grab.”
We moved over to the second side chamber and pumped that up to 3 PSI. In the past, there were sometimes “twisting” issues with the bladders, but these inflated perfectly centered.
We then moved on to the floor, which is inflated 4 to 6 PSI. Once we began pumping, we realized that the floor straps (designed to keep the floor attached to the kayak body) were a little too tight. We loosened them slightly and continued. It took us 20 pumps to get to 4 PSI, at which point it was getting tough. With another 3 pumps we were at 6 PSI and stopped. Cinch up the floor straps.
Replace the valve caps on each of the valves. The caps provide an extra level of air seal, as well as keeping dirt out of the wells and preventing the valve from being accidentally “opened.
Next attach the seat – this stays in position utilizing velcro and adjustable side straps. First, inflate the ProFormance seat base, which uses a twistlock valve. Twist open the valve and fit the military valve adaptor over the twistlok. Start pumping until it feels somewhat firm; later on you can adjust until you find the right comfort level. Twist the valve shut and remove the adaptor.
Please note you can also easily inflate it with your mouth, this takes about 10 puffs.
Position the seat just rear of center. For this, we placed the seat-back about 10 inches before the end of the velcro floor strips. There are two sets of d-rings on the side handles – front and rear. Attach the quick-connect clips on the seat to the front d-rings.
While not mentioned in the instructions, a pair of straps on the back of the seat can be used to provide more rigidity. Simply run the straps through one of the cloth loops on the floor (in this case we used the loops that were positioned over the rear drain wells) and thread them back through the ladder locks. These can also be removed and used to cinch up the kayak when folded.
Tighten the straps – these can be readjusted when on the water to get the support that is most comfortable.
Now install the two unmarked, plastic pieces – these are the splash guards which are meant to stiffen the front and rear visors. Open the velcro flaps and insert the plastic into the two side pockets. Close the velcro flaps to secure the pieces.
Next place the foot brace on the velcro strips. You will readjust this when in the kayak so that your legs are slightly bent when pressing against them.
The last step is to attach the removable tracking fin, which enhances paddling/tracking in deeper water. Remove the fin pin/plate from the fin, and drop the plate into the center of the slot, moving it forward (it’s sometimes easiest to use the pin/screw to push it.) Make sure the fin is pointing towards the rear of the kayak, then insert the front of the fin into the groove, pushing back and down, to lock the back end.
Then slide forward until the hole in the fin plate lines up with the hole in the fin, and screw in the retaining pin. At this point, pull up on the fin to make sure you have it locked in position.
As a last check, make sure the side drain plugs are screwed in tightly, otherwise water will seep in.
That’s it! In less than 10 minutes you’re ready to paddle.
Features and Specifications on the Aquaglide Chelan 120 Inflatable Kayak
The kayak body features tubeless side chambers constructed from 1000 denier 850 GSM Duratex reinforced PVC with a smooth, quick-drying finish.
The Chelan 120 has four molded carrying handles with textured grip (bow, stern and both sides), but can very easily be carried by hooking the side of the kayak over your shoulder.
Two spray decks – front and rear – help in preventing water from entering the cockpit. The front deck features a bungee deck-lacing system for attaching gear. The bungee deck lacing begins 15 inches from the nose, and measures 3 to 17 inches wide by 20 inches long. There are 8 sets of cloth d-rings. The deck extends 36 inches over the seating area.
The rear deck extends 32 inches with lacing measuring 19 inches long by 16 inches wide tapering to 4 inches, and 8 cloth loops; this begins 12 inches from the stern.
Two spray visors (front and rear) – each with one gear loop – rise 4.75 inches to help deflect splashing water.
The floor is constructed from a 4-6 PSI high-pressure, drop-stitch material, and is designed as “raised seating,” creating four 3-inch deep side-well cutouts that collect any water splashing inside; each side-well has a drain plug which can be opened to let water out when riding through surf (make sure they are closed in flatwater). The wells are located 52 and 84 inches from the snout.
Two sets of velcro strips are centered on the floor three inches apart, and are used to position the seats and foot braces. The first set is is 9.5 inches long, 2.5 inches apart and 1.5 inches wide – these are for the foot brace. The second set begins 7.5 inches back from the first set, running 25 inches long and ending 48 inches from the stern.
The foot brace is padded – 10 x 3 inches long – with extending strips 10 inches in length, allowing for variable positioning.
There are 8 sets of cloth loops positioned between the floor and side walls; these can be used to attach gear. The loops are positioned 6, 19, 27, 33, 39, 49, 54 and 62 inches back from the visor.
Two buckling straps keep the floor in position.
New on the 2021 Chelans are two sets of 16-inch MOLLE strips each side. These feature a series of 9 loops 1.5 inches apart. The molle strips begin just over the front drain wells, putting them at 49 to 64 inches from the nose. The strips can be used to fasten all types of gear, such as the Aquaglide cup holder or fishing attachments.
The Chelan comes with two mesh pockets 12 x 4 inches with 2 drawstring cords. These can be mounted on the molle plates to store small items.
One Scotty-style universal mount is centered on the floor, just before the seat, about 56 inches from the bow. This can also be used for attaching gear.
There are four upper stainless steel d-rings located on the side handles (two each side) used to attach the seats as well as gear. The d-rings are positioned 64 and 72 inches from the bow.
There are three military valves for the floor and side chambers, and one twistlock for the seat base.
The hull is a rugged, puncture-resistant 500 denier 600G Duratex reinforced PVC with removable tracking fin and landing plate. The Positrak weedless fin uses a universal fin box, so can be easily replaced if lost.
The padded, inflatable Pro-Formance seat features adjustable side straps which quickly clip into position The straps can be adjusted up to 14 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 (1) are found on the front of the seat base.
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 new Crossroads DLX Backpack is constructed from a rugged 600d Polyester/PVC laminate and heavy duty components. Two-way zippers run along three sides, allowing the pack to be completely opened for easy access and stowage. The fully padded shoulder straps are adjustable, with chest straps and waist belt support for comfort. With dimensions of 39 x 17 x 13 inches and a 141 liter capacity, the bag is over-sized, allowing you to carry the kayak, pump and paddle. Extra compression straps on both sides keep the load centered, while the two mesh side pockets and adjustable bungee cords on the back let you store extra gear. A zipper pocket allows the straps to hide away when not in use.
Included with the repair kit is a set of bolts which can be used with the universal mount (nuts are not needed) as well as some brushes should a patch ever be needed.
We did measurement tests. The kayak inflated is 11 feet 5 inches long from end cap to end cap, and approximately 34 inches wide – very close to the specs. The side bladders are roughly 9-10 inches in diameter, making the sides 8 inches above the seating area.
Interior dimensions are approximately 100 inches long (length of floor before tapering down to a point) by approximately 16 inches at the widest point; as the ProFormance seat allows one to sit up higher, the width is a bit of a moot point.
Dependent on where the seat is positioned (we’ll use the layout mentioned above, with the seat back 9 inches from the end of the velcro strips), the inside well behind the seat is approximately 14 inches wide and 22 inches deep (open) with an additional 30 more inches under the deck, before tapering into unusable space. There are roughly 45 inches from the front seat back to the bow spray deck, with another 21 inches under the deck, tapering towards nothing.
The brace can be positioned 25 to 42 inches from the seat back; the seat can be repositioned roughly 12 inches forward and 9 inches back. With the seat all the way to the back, there is roughly 75 inches from seat-back to nose.
Weight limitation is 300 lbs for person and gear.
Aquaglide Chelan 120 inflatable kayak on the water
I took the Chelan 120 out on a calm day, and was pleasantly impressed – this is a nice kayak! For my height of 5′ 4″, the kayak felt solid and remarkably lightweight, also easy to get into. The redesigns to the nose/rise have immensely improved the performance; paddling was smooth with a good glide, tracking was straight, and it was zippy. The high PSI floor was quite rigid, and I was able to stand up without tipping. While there is no knuckle guard, the seat allows you to sit high enough that knuckle-rub was not an issue. The ability to move the seat and foot brace to a multitude of positions is a plus. It’s also quite nimble.
I do need to note that there are no paddleholders; one needs to stuff the paddle under the deck, or under the deck lacing, though the splash guard gets in the way.
My husband did not take it out for a spin, but sat in it for “dimensional” purposes. We moved the seat back, positioning it at the end of the velcro. At 6’2″ and 185 lbs, he had no issues with space, though the seat would provide better support by attaching the back straps to the rear set of cloth loops.
When he took the previous Chelan out for a spin a few years ago, the kayak initially felt tippy due to his higher center of gravity – this is something he got used to it after a few minutes. It was also solved by deflating the seat base, allowing him to sit down lower. The open cockpit allowed him to easily get in and out without feeling cramped.
Last of all, the kayak is very easy to fold up. The Crossroads bag is spacious enough to carry the seats, braces and optional paddle and pump, and opens wide enough to easily get the kayak back into the pack.
I did attempt to use the mesh bags with the molle strips – typically one would just push the strings on the mesh bag through the loops. But the molle strips on the Chelan 120 I used were sewn on too tightly to attach while fully inflated. This could be solved my adding a couple of inexpensive carabiners to the loops.
I also want to point out that – while the carrying case is big enough to fit most gear needed – at 39 inches tall, it is not possible for me to use it as a backpack without hitting the back of my knees. And the only carrying handle is on top, so very difficult to carry as a case. One’s only option is to try and sling the backpack strap over one shoulder, or paddle with a tall friend.
Bottom line on the AquaGlide Chelan 120 inflatable kayak
The Chelan 120 is a great inflatable kayak choice for one paddler with room for an afternoon of gear. 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.
The newly redesigned silhouette provides great tracking and a good glide.
The Duratex smooth skin and multiple drain plugs allow water to run off the skin and out of the crevices, making drying times much shorter. The plugs can also be opened to get through surf or mild whitewater.
Numerous “attentions to detail” have been incorporated, such as a universal Scotty-style mount, molle plates, multiple attachment loops, 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 as well as seat height.
The high-pressure floor provides extreme rigidity.
The tracking fin increases the handling performance. It’s a good choice for slow-moving rivers, lakes and coastal kayaking, or for some surf or light whitewater – probably through Class II.
But best of all – it’s lightweight. The tubeless construction reduces the kayak body to 27 lbs, or all the included gear in the pack at 38 lbs; this is a great option for those needing portability.
It rolls up surprisingly well, easily fitting into the trunk of a small car, an RV or an option for vacation travel.
Street price is $999.99. For more details or to purchase, visit the AquaGlide Chelan 120 product page at AirKayaks.com. You can also watch a video on the Aquaglide Chelan 120 inflatable kayak, below.