updated in 2021 with new models & reviews
If kayaking has a downside, it is that most kayaks are big and awkward to transport.
You’ll need a sturdy roof rack or, more realistically, a trailer to transport your kayak from your home to the water’s edge. And then there’s the issue of storage if you don’t have a garage.
Folding kayaks are the perfect solution.
I’ve been lucky enough to spend some time with three different folding kayaks out here in sunny Cyprus. I have enjoyed putting them through their paces in the warm sea waters of the Mediterranean Sea.
Best Folding Kayaks
BAY STPaddler Level:
- Great for intermediate paddlers
- weight: 28 pound - size: 12 foot
- Tested in class 3 rivers and 6 foot waves
BEACH LTPaddler Level:
- Great for beginners
- Weight: 26 pound - size: 13 foot
- Ideal for smooth, calm waters
COAST XTPaddler Level:
- Ideal for advanced paddlers
- Weight: 36 pound - size: 16 foot
- Can handle anything from ocean waves, lakes, rivers.
ORU INLETPaddler Level:
- Quality/Price: this is the best folding kayak for beginners
- Lightweight: 20 pounds - size: 10 foot
- Stable, playful, ideal for calm waters
Beach LT: An Amazing Folding Kayak!
The Beach LT is a small light kayak ideal for casual use. As the name suggests, it’s designed for launching from beaches and riverbanks and is most at home on calm water. It has an open-top design, so it looks like a Canadian kayak, but there are covered storage areas forward and aft so you can carry extra gear if required. Its open-top design means the Beach LT is not suitable for rough seas or using in heavy rains as it will soon fill up with water.
Weighing in at just 26 lbs. the Beach LT is light and very easy to carry but, despite its compact size, can accommodate paddlers up to 6’6″ tall. The maximal load is 300 lbs. At 28″ wide and 12′ long, this kayak is very stable but is not especially fast or maneuverable. Remember, though, this is basically a folding Canadian-type kayak, and they’re not built for speed or turns either. However, for cruising down a calm river or staying and playing close to the seashore, the Beach LT is a perfect little watercraft. You could also conceivably use it for short camping trips as there is plenty of space for storing tents, food, etc.
- Light, portable, and easy to store.
- Plenty of space for a tall paddler plus equipment.
- Wide, stable body.
- High level of comfort.
- One of the cheaper folding kayaks out there
- Not very fast or maneuverable
- Open top design cannot be fitted with a spray deck
If you are a casual or beginner paddler looking for a fun kayak to use on calm water, the Oru Beach LT is a great choice. But, if you are more adventurous and want to paddle further or have a need for speed, you should check out the other kayaks in the Oru range.
Bay ST: Lightweight and Tracks Well
The Bay ST is the original Oru kayak and the first one made by this innovative company. Now the middle-of-the-range folding boat, the Bay ST is sleeker than the Beach LT. It’s ideal for paddlers who want to travel further afield or go that little bit faster. It has an enclosed cockpit that can be fitted with spray deck and also has outboard rigging to hold any extra equipment you want to carry firmly in place.
Shaped like a real sea kayak, the Bay ST is really at home on the open water and is a fast, agile boat that tracks and glides exceptionally well. It can cope with moderate surf and proved to be great fun in rougher water. Fitted with the optional spray deck, you can also roll this kayak and re-right it too – vital for paddling in rougher water.
At 28 lbs., the Bay ST is a whole two pounds heavier than the Beach LT, but that’s not really surprising given the extra materials required to form the enclosed cockpit. It’s 12 feet long but just 25″ wide, making it a little less stable than the Beach but much more streamlined. The 12-foot length also makes it maneuverable and agile. This is a kayak that turns very well.
Very tall or heavy paddlers may find the narrower, covered cockpit too tight for comfort. While the Bay ST can carry up to 300 lbs., the height limit is 6’3”.
The main disadvantage of the Bay ST is its lack of storage space. While the front rigging will accommodate some small items, there is very little space inside the hull for things like camping gear. Unless you are a very minimalist traveler, this is not a kayak for overnight or multi-day trips.
- An excellent combination of speed and handling.
- Light, portable, and easy to store.
- Ideal for intermediate paddlers.
- Suitable for use in most water conditions.
- A good all-rounder
- Very little storage space – not really suitable for overnight or multi-day trips.
- Narrow body – may not accommodate larger, heavier paddlers.
If you are a semi-serious paddler who wants to venture out into open waters and also enjoys speed and maneuverability, the Bay ST could be the foldable kayak for you. It’s an excellent boat for single-day trips and works well on rivers, lakes, and the open sea. It’s also up to a bit of rougher water – if you are a competent paddler, that is! However, the lack of storage space means this is not the best kayak for camping trips.
Coast XT: Foldable Kayak For Adventurous Paddlers
I can confidently say that the Coast XT is the best folding kayaks that I have tested.
At 16 feet in length, this is the longest in the fleet, and arguably the most serious watercraft they make. It’s fabricated from the same light, strong materials as the Beach LT and the Bay ST, and uses the same unique, tried-and-tested foldaway design. However, this kayak is modeled on Arctic kayaks. It has all the specifications and features that an adventurous paddler could want or need.
Oru’s Coast XT weighs in at 36 lbs., a full ten pounds heavier than the Beach, and eight pounds heavier than the Bay. However, when you look at the Coast XC, it’s easy to see why this foldable kayak is heavier than its brethren. The enclosed hull and extra four foot of length mean that this boat is made for long-distance recreational paddling; it’s an impressive looking craft. You get a lot of boat for your money.
Built for covering long distances quickly and easily, the Coast XT is much narrower than the Beach and the same width as the Bay – 25 inches. This, combined with the extra four feet length, makes it very streamlined. Being streamlined does mean that the Coast XT is not as stable as the other kayaks on the Oru range, so this kayak is best for confident intermediate and advanced paddlers.
It can accommodate paddlers up to 6’6” and has a weight capacity of 400 lbs. so there is more than enough carrying capacity for even a heavy paddler with camping gear. You can also fit a spray deck to keep the inside of the kayak free from water. If you need extra storage space, there is also forward and aft rigging so you can secure even more equipment to the outside of your kayak. This watercraft is made for multi-day trips and camping.
The Coast XT is close to twice the price of the much smaller beginner Beach LT, but it really is a go-anywhere, do anything-kind of a kayak. If you don’t want your kayak to hold you back, this is the model for you.
- Sleek, streamlined shape
- High-performance design
- High weight capacity – ideal for camping trips
- Can accommodate taller paddlers
- Suitable for intermediate/advanced users
- Can be fitted with a spray deck
- Narrow but long body rolls more easily than the Beach and Bay models
- Quite heavy at 36 lbs.
If you want to paddle without limits, the Coast XT is the folding kayak for you.
It’s designed and built for multi-day adventures, but that doesn’t mean you won’t enjoy this boat if you can only get out on the water for an hour or two.
It slices through the water with ease and is more than capable of dealing with waves and even moderate rapids, and you’ll be surprised how little space it takes once folded!
What To Look For In A Folding Kayak
Foldable, portable kayaks are nothing new.
A lot of civilizations made boats that could be dismantled and transported across dry land and then reassembled on reaching the water. Most used a framework over which skins or waterproof material was then stretched.
For many years this was how most folding kayaks were made too.
However, Oru founder and designer Anton Willis figured there must be a better way to make a light, portable, foldable kayak. 2012, with the help of a successful Kickstarter campaign, Oru started selling their now-famous foldable kayaks.
Folding kayaks are made from a single sheet of corrugated plastic.
The material is similar to the stuff used to make lawn election and realtor signs.
Like a large piece of origami paper art, this single sheet folds cleverly to form a sleek, perfectly water-worthy boat. There are several different Oru foldable kayak designs, but each one packs down into a very manageable size to store and transport.
While not exactly lightweight, they weigh between 26-36 lbs. so they can be transported by just one person and carried to reach more distant bodies of water. Once folded, foldable kayaks are compact enough to store under a bed, and measure about 33 x 12 x 29 inches.
This is compact enough to fit in the trunk of even the smallest car. Manufacturer’s Oru says that once folded, their kayaks will even fit in a Smart car!
They are supplied with a handy shoulder strap for easy carrying, and you can also buy a specially designed backpack, which makes transportation much more manageable. I carried my Oru kayaks several miles to reach inland reservoirs with no problem at all.
Unpacking and setting up an folding kayak takes about 10-20 minutes, although you should find you get faster with practice.
Some users report taking as long as an hour the first time they assembled their Oru kayak, but that’s because they made mistakes early on and had to unfold their boat and then start over. This problem can be avoided by taking your time, watching the instructional videos, and practicing at home before taking your kayak to the water.
At first, you’ll need definitely to follow the step-by-step instructions supplied with each kayak.
However, I found that the kayaks developed a sort of “seam memory” so that they almost fold themselves. You’ll soon memorize the instructions, and that will make the entire assembly process go much more smoothly.
Breaking an Oru kayak down is also easy, and it takes no more than a few minutes to fold it up and put it away. Make sure you allow it to dry before storing to avoid any mildew. This won’t affect the integrity of the kayak but could discolor the translucent plastic.
Out on the water, folding kayaks look and feel much like a regular, rigid kayak. I’ve tried inflatable kayaks too, and none of them genuinely replicate the feel and performance of a rigid boat.
In contrast, folding kayaks are a real alternative to less portable rigid kayaks. Foldables are stiff and sturdy, they are a real joy to use.
And, just in case an origami folding kayak isn’t impressive and attention-catching enough, Oru kayaks glow in the dark if you put a light inside the hull! The plastic is translucent and, while you can buy custom-made lights, any old battery-powered torch or lamp will produce the same effect.
All Oru folding kayaks come with a full 12-month guarantee and exceed the US Coastguard’s recreational vessel safety requirements. In addition, Oru state that each kayak is good for 20,000 folds, so you won’t wear it out, no matter how many times you pack and unpack your kayak.
Are ORU Kayaks Any Good?
My short answer? Yes, you should buy an Oru folding kayak. Now, let me quantify my response!
I love kayaking, but transporting and storing a rigid, full-sized kayak can be a pain in the butt. Roof racks affect the performance of your car and limit your top speed.
You could also end up damaging your boat or causing an accident if it should come free while you are driving.
Trailers are arguably the best way to transport a kayak, but driving with a trailer isn’t easy either. You’ll also need to buy a trailer and fit a tow bar to your vehicle. And then there is the security issue to consider too – you won’t be able to leave your kayak unattended. In short, unless you are a diehard kayaker, transporting a rigid boat can seem like more trouble than it’s worth.
Inflatable kayaks are okay, but they don’t perform anywhere near as well as their rigid counterparts. You’ll have to compromise a lot in terms of speed, glide, and general performance for easier portability.
Oru foldable kayaks have managed to achieve the impossible by combining portability with excellent performance. They also have a range of boats so you can choose the right one for your abilities and needs.
The whole folding and unfolding process takes some getting used to and can be time-consuming at first, but it does get easier with practice. What might take you an hour first time around will take 10-15 minutes after 2-3 tries. In reviews, experienced Oru owners say they can assemble their craft in about the same time it takes to lift a rigid boat off a roof rack and prepare it for the water.
As an added bonus, Oru folding kayaks are also light enough to be carried to out-of-the-way paddling spots like lakes and rivers that aren’t near roads. This will open up new paddling opportunities that might otherwise pass you by. Yes, you need to be strong enough to hike while carrying a 26-36 lbs. backpack plus your other paddling equipment, but that’s a small price to pay for the chance to paddle in exciting new places.
Which Oru Folding Kayak is Best For You?
When buying any kayak, it’s crucial that whatever you choose is fit for the intended purpose. There is no point buying a super-sleek touring kayak if all you want to do is have fun on small, still lakes!
The Beach LT is ideal for paddling on calm, flat water. It’s best suited to day trips but, because of its large storage area, it could also be used for overnight camping. This is a stable, comfortable kayak that is built for fun rather than performance.
The Bay ST is a do-it-all kayak that can be used for cruising, fishing, exploring, and fitness paddling. Lack of storage space means this boat is not the best choice for overnight trips but, if you pack light, you could probably carry enough gear for one night away from home. If you want a great all-rounder, the Bay ST is a good choice.
The Coast XT is the best choice for serious paddlers who can handle a longer, narrower, kayak. This boat is built for long-distance speed and performance and can carry all the gear you need for lengthier overnight expeditions. Less stable than both the Beach and the Bay, this kayak is perfect for kayakers with plenty of experience and skill.
Folding kayaks are perfect for paddlers who can’t transport or store such a regular kayak.
Unlike inflatable kayaks, folding kayaks don’t sacrifice performance for portability. In fact, once assembled, you won’t notice much difference between your folding kayak and a traditional rigid kayak.
Hey, they aren’t the cheapest kayaks available! But in terms of portability, storage, and performance, they are tough to beat.