Nearly three 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.
We have been waiting nearly a year for the second generation to arrive – the AE1041 AirFusion Elite. The new AirFusion Elite features a streamlined set up procedure with fewer poles, while a wider beam of 28″ makes the AirFusion Elite roomier, more stable on the water and allows for an integrated rear storage hatch providing easy access to gear.
Just this week the first AirFusion Elite arrived, a double cardboard box measuring 36x24x11 inches and weighing in at 43 lbs.
The kayak comes with the standard Advanced Elements carrying case – rugged enough to ship as aircraft baggage. Weight is approximately 36 lbs in the bag.
We unpacked the kayak and laid out the parts – three aluminum tubes with a quick-snap shock-cord system (similar to most tent pole setups), a small floor cushion, the seat, two air bags, repair kit and the kayak itself.
The manual is well-written, easy to follow, though initially a little daunting. After the first read-through it seemed simple enough – piece together the poles, position the floor cushion, insert bottom pole through the thwarts connecting both ribs, pump up side chambers partially, pump up thwarts, finish pumping up side chambers, attach seat, pump up coaming tube. Done!
AirFusion Elite Setup/Inflation
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.
Layout the bow and stern thwarts. Each of these is tapered. The front airbag (which also acts as a footbrace) 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.
Next, put the foam floor into position by setting the wider end in the cockpit – this will position the small rectangular cutout over the velcro tabs 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.
The AdvancedFrame series features two aluminum ribs – a vertically-positioned, foot-long Vee/U-shaped flat bar that is inserted in the bow and stern of the kayaks. The AirFusion Elite has the same bow and stern aluminum ribs, except they are tubular, allowing the pole frame to be inserted/attached. In the new AirFusion Elite, these two ribs are already installed.
There are three aluminum numbered poles, and one sleeve; these snap together easily and quickly.
Connect and layout each of the poles.
To install the frame, take pole #1 and insert it through the sleeve on the underside of the front thwart, making sure that the numbered 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) – inside is a mass of velcro, at the bottom is the receiving tube. Slide tube #1 up and insert into the bow bottom tube. Note – it is a little easier to insert if you give it a slight twist while pushing.
Next insert pole #2. Once again, push this through the sleeve on the bottom of the rear thwart, with the number 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 push the velcro out of the way to locate the rear bottom tube. Again, insert pole 2 into the stationary bottom tube opening.
Take the connector sleeve #3, and slip it over pole #2 with the hole facing pole #1 (or put it on pole #1 with the hole facing away from pole #2).
Push down on both pole #1 and #2 until they pop into position, forming one long pole.
Slide connector three over the connection point of the two poles, to lock in place with the receiving push pin.
As an aside, this was quite frustrating until I “got the hang of it.” The trick is making sure the two poles are on absolutely equal planes, otherwise the connecting sleeve 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.
I also had trouble popping poles #1 and #2 together, until I realized I had “tugged” the pole out of the front integrated tube. Once I put it back in place, it popped together fairly easily.
There are two sets of velcro on the floor (one poking through the cutout in the floor). 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.
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. Make sure the rounded side is facing the cockpit. Frame is now done!
Here is where I veer a little from the instructions. According to the manual, the next step is to attach the seat. But the seat gets in the way of inflation, so I next inflated the kayak.
There are seven inflation chambers: Four side chambers (top and bottom each side) and two airbags/thwarts utilizing Boston valves. The seventh is a twistlock valve on the coaming tube.
Inflation of the side chambers – even to 4.5 PSI – is surprisingly easy. They suggest 7 pumps each initially, then inflate the two thwarts to 2PSI, then top the kayak sides off to 4.5 PSI and inflate the coaming tube to 1PSI.
Each of the main tubes utilize Boston valves – these are two-way screw-on valves. The bottom portion is threaded onto the kayak,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 Advanced Elements’ proprietary screw-on adaptor.
Partially inflate the four side chambers, starting with the lower bladders – about 7 pumps each will give it some shape.
Next position and pump up the thwarts. This is probably the most critical step in the process to ensure a balanced setup. Line up the rear thwart with the line printed on the kayak body. It is important to keep the rear thwart at full inflation of 2 PSI; its function is to spread the sides, and the full airbag is used in weight capacity calculations. Make sure the thwarts/airbags are even across the floor, and the side chambers even with the thwarts.
The instructions suggest aligning the front thwart to a line on the floor – this is now covered with the floor cushion, so just line it up at the front edge of the floor initially. The front thwart is where you will modify for legroom, so this position will probably change. Pump the thwart up to 2 PSI, taking care to make sure the thwart is flat on the floor, and not on top of the side chambers.
Finish pumping up the main chambers to 4.5PSI. (Please note: Most pressure gauges work on back-pressure. As the Boston valve has a flap that shuts once pumping stops, the gauges will only read as the stroke is being made, and then will return to zero.)
Position the seat at the “edge” of the floor cushion and attach the seat utilizing two forward clips and two rear clips. Do not put the seat farther back, as it will upset the balance – if you need more legroom, partially deflate and adjust the front thwart.
Inflate the coaming tube to 1 PSI using the Boston valve adaptor OVER the twist lok. This helps keep water from running into the seating well.
Last step, locate the velcro tabs on the underside of the kayak upper hull (behind the seat) and fasten the long thwart “bronchial tube” out of the way. Do the same with the front thwart, utilizing interior velcro tabs above the top left bladder. You’re done!
AirFusion Elite Features and Specifications
The AirFusion Elite kayak material is a semi-smooth PVC tarpaulin outer skin. The inner inflation bladders are PVC covered with a dense sailcloth; the high thread count is more impervious to water and less susceptible to stretching.
Numbered aluminum ribs – made by a company specializing in folding frames – are anodized making them resistant to salt spray.
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.
The front access zippered opening is 9.5 inches long.
A front bungee deck lacing system is roughly 15 to 16 inches wide by 12 inches deep, with 6 d-rings for attaching gear. It is located approximately 33 inches in front of the paddler.
The tapered cockpit opening of 33 x 16 inches (at the widest point) will take a spray skirt; this begins about 66 inches from the bow.
With the thwarts positioned on the printed lines, there is roughly 43 inches of leg room from the seat back to front thwart, about 8 inches behind the seat and 13 inches of interior headroom.
The padded seat base is 13.5 inches deep by 15.5 inches wide and 1.5 inches thick. The back is 10 inches tall by 19 inches wide and 1/2 inch thick.
There are three pockets on the back of the seat – two mesh drawstring and one with a velcroed flap that houses the repair kit. Two larger adjustable front straps attach to d-rings on the side bladders – each of these also has a small d-ring which can be used to tie off the optional AirFusion skeg. Two smaller adjustable straps attach to rear d-rings behind the seat. By ratcheting all four, the seat becomes fairly sturdy.
There are four d-rings on top of the hull, directly behind the paddler. These are positioned 14 to 17.5 inches apart and 9 inches deep.
A new integrated rear cargo hatch is located 12 inches behind the paddler. The opening measures 15 x 9 inches with roll-top closure and velcroing cover with handle. Inside is approximately 24 inches in length, starting at 9-10 inches in diameter and tapering down for stashing interior gear.
There is no tracking fin, but two integrated landing plates are located on the hull underside.
Two endcaps give a streamlined finish to the kayak bow and stern. A small hole in the rear endcap was designed to accept the optional skeg.
We did measurements. The kayak measured 13 feet 3.5 inches from tip to tip and – while the specs say 28 inches wide – we measured this one at 26 inches wide. Payload is 235 lbs paddler and gear.
AE1040 AirFusion versus AE1041 AirFusion Elite: What’s Different
For those familiar with the original AirFusion, there are several design changes made in the AirFusion Elite version.
- Wider 28 inch beam versus the original 23″ beam, making the AirFusion Elite roomier and more stable. (AirKayaks note: I measured 26 versus 24 inches, but it certainly feels roomier inside the Elite)
- The number of poles/sleeve was reduced from 7 plus sleeve to 3 plus sleeve, streamlining the setup process.
- D-rings are now found on the seat clips to allow tie off of an optional skeg cording, or attaching some other type of gear.
- The front bungee deck lacing was decreased from a depth of 16 inches to 11 inches.
- New end caps on the bungee cording give it a more streamlined look
- The floor space is now 15 to 16 inches wide.
- The rear bungee deck lacing and zipper were replaced with d-rings and the integrated storage hatch, allowing room for more cargo and easier access.
- Since the new beam is wider, the silhouette of the hull is a bit softer looking
- The cockpit opening is the same size, but reshaped. The new opening features more of a “teardrop” shape, allowing better control/attachment of the spray skirt.
- The tube size in the Elite is 7 inches in diameter, up from 5.5 inches. In conjunction with the wider beam, this gives a much roomier interior.
- The rear thwart size was cut almost in half, giving more room for interior storage.
AirFusion Elite On the Water
I took out the AirFusion Elite on a calm day. First of all, the front thwart position at the “printed line” was a little far for my 5’4″ size – moving it closer 3 to 4 inches worked better.
The AirFusion Elite is roomy, paddled beautifully and – despite the much narrower beam than my AdvancedFrameDS – felt quite stable. Using a GPS, I clocked myself at a top speed of 5.2 mph, running about 3.5 to 3.7 mph average over a short distance.
Those that read our original AirFusion review may recall I attempted to stand up, and ended up in the water. We are pleased to report that I tried again in the AirFusion Elite, and did manage to stand for a second or two. While I didn’t take a dive, it’s not something I would suggest.
My 6′ 2″ husband then took out the AirFusion Elite. He was impressed with how roomy the interior felt and – despite it being somewhat choppy water – how much more stable the kayak seemed. He also found that moving the thwart just past the edge of the foam floor line (roughly maximum amount of 45 inches from back of seat to brace) was adequate for his legroom.
As with the original AirFusion, the hull is rugged and will pass over barely submerged rocks without a “bump.”
One other thing I noted is that the wider beam decreases some of the “drifting” found in the original AirFusion once paddling is stopped. But, for both versions,the Advanced Elements skeg solves any drifting problems. This is a “must have” for those that plan on being out in rougher waters.
Deflating the AirFusion Elite Kayak
To pack up your kayak, 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. The pressure keeps the poles in a straight line and it is surprisingly easy. 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 #1 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 in the back of your pickup. You can the lay it out to dry and fold up when you get home.
The Bottom Line on the AE1041 AirFusion Elite Kayak
The AirFusion Elite is a great kayak! While I always felt the original AirFusion was a winner, the new features on the AirFusion Elite kick it into the next level – it looks great, feels good, and performs beautifully.
And it’s fast.
Despite the longer 13 foot length, it is surprisingly easy to haul around. And with a combined weight of 36 lbs for the kayak in the carrying case, it’s a great candidate for travel.
Attention to small construction details – built-in sleeves, printed alignment lines/arrows, detailed instructions and the pole shock-cord system make assembly a breeze and ensure that everything is positioned correctly. While my initial setup took nearly an hour – this included photographs, writing notes and rereading the manual (in some areas three times) to make sure I was doing everything correctly – it is actually quite simple to set up. I’m sure I can get down to around 10 minutes.
The new design features – such as a wider beam and larger tube dimensions – make it very comfortable as well as feeling “more stable” for those with a higher center of gravity, while the integrated storage makes the kayak much more useful for those planning longer trips.
This is not the kayak for those that want a “pump and go” – to get the best performance, one needs to take a little time with set up. But the pay-off is worth it. The addition of the optional skeg will help immensely in windy conditions and larger swells.
We’ve said this before and it’s still true – constant innovation and excellent customer service are what keep Advanced Elements in the forefront of the inflatables market. By listening to their customers, Advanced Elements truly brings about the “evolution of inflatable kayaks” - and the AirFusion Elite earns them another notch.
For more details or to purchase, visit the Advanced Elements AE1041 AirFusion Elite product page at AirKayaks.com.