Earlier this year, AquaGlide unveiled their updated inflatable kayak lineup for 2021, which included a new category of packable kayaks – the Backwoods Series. The Backwoods consists of three models weighing from 7 to 12 lbs, making them prime choices for remote travel.
Our first review on AquaGlide’s new Backwoods Series for 2021 focuses on the Expedition 85, an 8′ 6″ long, ultralite inflatable kayak designed for backpacking and solo paddling. (Please note: some of the information will be repeated from other writeups.)
Getting Started with the Aquaglide Backwoods Expedition 85 Packable Inflatable Kayak
We unpacked the box and laid out the pieces – inflatable kayak/packraft body, carrying case (which doubles as an inflation bag), instructions, repair kit (no glue), tracking fin, seat, foot pump and two mesh bags.
Initial measurements showed the kayak body weighs approximately 12 lbs, with a folded size of 22 x 13 x 11 inches. The kayak with seat, fin and pump – all in the backpack – weighs roughly 15 lbs. All boxed up, the dimensions are 23 x 15 x 14 inches with a shipping weight of 20 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.)
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).
Set up is straight-forward and simple – unpack, unfold, inflate.
There are two Boston valves (side and the floor) with two more small chambers utilizing a twistlock valve for the seat. Boston valves are two-part, screw-on valves. The bottom portion is threaded onto the kayak, the top valve is screwed open for inflation and then tightened shut after inflation. Air is easily released by unscrewing the base connector. How does it work? 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.
(AirKayaks Side note #2: The Boston valves have a tether that keeps the valve attached to the kayak, ensuring that the valves don’t get lost after deflating. Make sure that the tether does not get in the way when screwing on the valve base,and the valve is not cross-threaded, or you may have some air leakage.)
The Expedition 85 comes with two methods of inflation – a small, lightweight foot pump and an inflator bag (which also doubles as the carrying case). How does the inflator bag work? The premise is to shake the inflator bag to capture air, fold up and squeeze air into the kayak.
We started with the inflator bag. An “extra” Boston valve is on the bottom of the inflator bag/carrying case – remove this and stash it somewhere in case you ever need a replacement. Then screw that portion of the bag onto the main chamber with Boston valve. The instructions say to pump up the side chamber to 1 PSI, first.
With the inflator bag now attached to the main chamber, we faced into the wind, shaking to get air in. Then pull and roll the top together to capture air by creating a vacuum, and roll down and squeeze, forcing air into the body.
Our first problem – there was no wind. And with the inflator bag attached to the Expedition, it was too heavy to toss into the air. While the instructions suggest it takes about 5 bags to fill the Expedition body, after 5 attempts the raft was only an inch tall.
So we went to plan B – the foot pump. The Expedition comes with a very low profile, ultra-lightweight foot pump which is different from any we have used before – and there are no instructions. Each side of the hose features a Boston Valve adaptor – one side friction fits into the Expedition body while the other side friction fits into a Boston Valve on the pump. We tried stomping on it, but nothing happened. At which point we realized that we needed to open the flap on the end of the pump, to let air get in.
It took us about 330 foot pumps to get the main chamber to where we thought it was 1 PSI – about 4 or 5 minutes.
The floor is inflated to 0.8 PSI. It took another 50 pumps to inflate the floor until it felt firm with some give when pushing on it. Possibly larger people can push through more air in less time.
We decided to try a double action hand pump. While these are bulkier and heavier, they are MUCH faster – maybe two minutes to inflate the Expedition. And you can use a gauge.
At this point we want to mention that the black/dark olive material on the upper side can get VERY hot in the sun, so be careful not to burn your hand, nor over inflate it.
Next, attach the seat. The seat features two Twistlocks (back and base). While you can hold the Boston valve adaptor over the Twistlocks, it is really easier to just inflate it with your mouth – this took about 4 puffs each.
Place the seat just rear of center – we positioned it a couple inches from the end of the velcro strips. There are two side straps – weave these through the two loops on the upper side chambers.
Last step, attach the fin. With the fin facing towards the stern, push into the back slot, then push forward and down to line up the holes. Push the pin through to lock into position, and pull up to make sure it is really attached.
You’re done! Dependent on which inflation method you choose, it could be a few minutes to a lot longer.
Features and Specifications on the Aquaglide Backwoods Expedition Inflatable Kayak
The kayak body is constructed from a rugged TPU (Thermoplastic Polyurethane) nylon. The TPU is laminated to both sides of the inner nylon fabric providing extra puncture protection. TPU is considered to be an extremely durable material with excellent abrasion resistance to hidden underwater obstacles, over land portages, and even fish hooks.
The airtight seams are welded and taped.
The Expedition has three molded carrying handles with textured grip (bow and both sides), but can very easily be carried by hooking the side of the raft over your shoulder. The side handles are located 45 inches from the nose.
The front pontoon features a bungee deck-lacing system for attaching gear. The bungee deck lacing begins 9 inches from the nose, and measures 6 to 15 inches wide by 12 inches long. There are 3 sets of cloth d-rings.
Two sets of MOLLE strips begin 36 inches from the bow on each side pontoon. These are 9.5 inches long with 6 loops 1.5 inches apart; each strip is one inch apart. The strips can be used to fasten all types of gear, such as the Aquaglide cup holder or fishing attachments.
The Expedition includes two mesh pouches which are 8 x 4 inches and can be mounted on the molle strips to store small items. These are attached by sliding the push pins through the loops.
A 20 inch ruler is printed on the side.
The floor has an i-beam construction which utilizes one Boston valve. Two velcro strips are centered on the floor 6.5 inches apart, and are used to position the seat. These are 38 inches long by 1.5 inches wide.
There are two Boston valves for the floor and main chamber.
and two twistlocks for the seat base and back.
The removable fin weighs 3 oz.
The inflatable seat features adjustable side straps which are woven into two side cinches – these are located 59 inches from the bow. The seat base is 17 inches wide by 18 inches deep and can be inflated up to 2 inches, dependent on your comfort level. The seat back can also be inflated up to two inches, and measures 14 inches tall by 27 inches wide – this curves around. The seat straps can be moved about 6 inches forward and back. Weight is just under 2 lbs.
The inflator bag/carrying case measures 27 inches long by 20 inches wide, flattened and unrolled, with a 13 inch diameter. It also pinch hits as a roll top deck bag that can be strapped to the bungee deck lacing. Weight is 6 oz.
The ultralite foot pump weighs in at 12 oz. and measures 17 x 3 x 4.5 inches for the body with a 48 inch long hose. It features two boston valves for friction fit attachment (one on each end). A plug can be opened or closed to allow air to fill the chamber.
We did measurement tests. The kayak inflated is 8 feet 7 inches long from end cap to end cap, and approximately 37 to 38 inches wide – very close to the specs. The side bladders are roughly 11 inches in diameter, making the sides 10 inches above the seating area. Interior dimensions are approximately 60 inches long by approximately 15 inches at the widest point.
Dependent on where the seat is positioned (we’ll use the layout mentioned above, with the seat back a couple inches from the end of the velcro strips), the well behind the seat is approximately 13 inches wide x 12 inches (triangular). There are roughly 45 inches from the front seat back to the interior bow.
Weight limitation is 300 lbs for person and gear.
Aquaglide Backwoods Expedition 85 on the Water
I took the Backwoods Expedition 85 out on a somewhat windy day. The Expedition is extremely lightweight, and easy to get into – it was also roomy. At my height of 5’4″, there was at least an additional foot of space in front of my feet. As to be expected, there was some wag to the nose. The 230cm paddle also was too short, or I needed to sit up higher as I had trouble clearing the pontoons.
I took it out again on another choppy day, this time using 240cm paddles – what a difference! I had no problems clearing the sides. As I was still experiencing some wag, I went back to shore and put some rocks in a backpack, and placed it in the front. The added weight in the bow dropped the nose slightly, providing a much better tracking experience.
At this point, I want to show a picture of Kyle in the slightly smaller Backwoods Angler 75. At 6’3″ in height, he did not have space issues, so I would assume the Expedition 85 would be even better.
While the idea of the inflation bag as a carrying case is quite clever, it could possibly be problematic over time. Carrying cases often get abraded, and then will be less useful as an inflator. But, the inflator bag is not the ideal inflator; I certainly prefer the ultralite foot pump, even better, a double action hand pump. While I did attempt to use the Kokopelli rechargeable Feather pump, it was not very successful as the pump does not have enough torque to fully open the Boston Valve flap. The double action hand pump was clearly the winner.
As a side note, I did manage to get hung up on a submerged rock, but was able to rock myself off without any issues. As the packrafts are inflated to a lower PSI, they often have more of a tendency to bounce rather than puncture.
Packing Up the Backwoods Expedition 85
The Expedition is very easy to pack up. First remove the fin and the seat (while you can leave the seat in, it will make a larger package). Unscrew the Boston valves so the air rushes out, and then fold in the sides (you may need to push down on the body to push out all air). Starting from the nose of the kayak, start rolling up.
This should easily slip back into the carrying case along with the seat and pump.
Bottom line on the AquaGlide Backwoods Expedition 85 Inflatable Packable
The Backwoods Expedition 85 is a good inflatable choice for a paddler needing a lightweight option that can carry a reasonable payload.
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 TPU smooth skin allows 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 molle strips, multiple attachment loops, deck lacing and variable 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 while remaining above any pooled water.
The tracking fin increases the handling performance. It’s a good choice for slow-moving rivers and lakes.
But best of all – it’s lightweight with a small footprint. The TPU material and tubeless construction reduces the kayak body to 12 lbs, or all the included gear in the pack at 15 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.
The Backwoods Series also features two other models – the 6.5 foot Purist 65 and the 7.5 foot Angler 75.
The Purist 65 is a lightweight, stripped down version. At 7.5 lbs. in the pack, the Purist is good for minimalists wanting to get out on the water. Street price is $429.99
The Angler 75 is designed for backpacking sports-people. At 12 lbs in the pack, the Angler is a foot shorter and three pounds lighter than the Expedition 85, but still offers plenty of whizbangs and places for attaching gear. Street price is $549.99.
Street price for the Expedition 85 is $799.99. For more details or to purchase, visit the AquaGlide Backwoods Expedition product page at AirKayaks.com. You can also watch a video on the Aquaglide Blackwoods Expedition 85, below.