Posted by: airkayaks | October 4, 2010

Observations on the DropStitch Floor Versus BackBone

Editors Note: We get numerous questions on the use of a Backbone with Advanced Elements kayaks, and an increasing number on the new 7-PSI dropstitch floor. Following is a submitted write up from Lee Johnson in Canada, on his experiences, pros and cons, with the Advanced Elements backbones versus the Hi-pressure floors.

The following is just one person’s opinion.  Yours may be different, and, if so, please post your impressions of this new product, the 7 lb. high-pressure drop-stitch floor (DS), which I will compare with the BackBone (BB) as the existing alternative.  First, you need to know where I am coming from.  Look, all AE kayaks are just fine as they are, without accessories.  The low-pressure floor and the fixed aluminum forms in the bow and stern yield a very satisfying level of performance, especially if your inflatable kayak (IK) is used mainly in flatwater and calm conditions.

Problems with the basic kayak may arise in extreme conditions, though, as large waves and winds at sea, for example, may produce “taco chipping,” or folding of the kayak in the middle – and this may imperil the kayak’s handling and stability (not to speak of the paddler’s safety).   I often am out on the bounding main, and even when paddling on large lakes, I love to take on wind and waves – but also am careful to remain as safe as possible (rough weather is great, btw, for using the new RapidUp sail, which works best in lively conditions, of course).  In those cases, a BB or the new DS floor is, for me, not an accessory but a necessity.  Not only are there essential benefits to one’s safety in these accessories, but the BB and the DS improve the overall performance of the IK, although in somewhat different ways.

General Summary: Should you buy a DS?  YES:  if you prefer its convenience, light weight, and better performance compared to the heavier low-pressure “air mattress” floor that comes with the kayak.  YES: if you have trouble clicking and unclicking the sections of the BB, which can be a bit of a challenge, particularly in freezing temperatures, as one’s fingers refuse to find and push in those BB buttons.  YES: especially if you have a Lagoon 2 or Advanced Frame Convertible (West Marine’s AF 2), you will find the DS floor to increase your top speed by at least 50%.  YES: if you take your current Advanced Frame kayak out on rivers and wish to preserve the ability to change direction quickly, as with the factory’s low-pressure floor but with much improved protection against taco-chipping and swamping in white water.  NO: if you already use a BB set-up, you would, in all likelihood, find the new DS floor to be redundant and, moreover, less efficient in its tracking and the effort required to paddle, since the V-shape the BB imparts to an IK seems to disperse “back-drag” better than the flat, stiff hull created by the DS.  NO: if you find the cost of the DS to be prohibitive; drop-stitch technology is expensive, about twice the cost of an equivalent BB.

Detailed Remarks:  One of my brothers and I tested the new DS in our Expeditions and compared it with the BB set-up we have been using over the past several years.  Also, we were using “high-angle” paddles with rigid, large blades (Cannon “Waves” with carbon/fiber shafts, which provide a near-perfect “swing weight,” which is the ratio of the weight of the blades to the weight of the shaft).  If you use a “low-angle” paddle, which has a smaller and narrower blade, and mainly move along at slower speeds, the following observations may need to be modified accordingly.

We tested the DS and BB set-ups at a fairly brisk cruising speed of 5 m.p.h., as well as top speeds attainable, measured with a GPS receiver.  At top speeds around 6 m.p.h., there is not much difference between the DS and the BB: both work well.  At top speeds and at the cruising speed just mentioned, however, it seems to take palpably more effort to keep things going with the DS floor.  Perhaps there is greater “back-drag,” especially at that pace, attributable to the stiff, flat shape of the hull with the DS.  The V-shape in the hull created by the BB seems to attenuate the drag.  At lower speeds in the 3 to 4 m.p.h. range, though, I doubt most paddlers would be able to notice any difference between the DS and the BB.

Tracking and gliding also manifested differences.  My brother felt that the differences were “radical” because the BB tracked and glided like an excellent hard-shell, whereas the DS quickly drifted, especially in a wind.  I felt the differences were more subtle, although it is true that paddling in wind and waves highlights differences that tend to disappear in calm conditions.  Perhaps my brother’s familiarity with his BB in his EXP is also a factor in his decided preference for that set-up.

Everything is a trade-off, though: the rock-solid tracking of a BB means less maneuverability, making the IK harder to turn (like a medium to long hard-shell); the DS, producing a flat hull, turns quickly and maneuvers in ways useful to a river-runner, who needs to avoid obstacles rapidly and safely.  In a tandem, however, tracking and gliding and even turning are different from paddling solo.  In that case, the distinction between the DS and the BB would be minimized; and the convenience of the simple set-up of the DS would make it a great option for a Lagoon 2 or an Advanced Frame Convertible (AF 2).  Maybe the only difference in that case would be the state of the organic seating mechanism (the butt) after several hours of paddling: the softer “air mattress” floor that comes with the kayak may be kinder and gentler than the DS floor, which is impressively rigid and firm (but this may only reflect the loss of nether padding that tends, in my experience, to accompany age!).

AE seems always searching for new ways of solving problems, and the DS floor is only one of their latest great options for refining and fine-tuning one’s enjoyment of AE kayaks.  The DS floor is another arrow in the quiver of possibilities, one that is sure to win over fans who choose it as an accessory for the basic kayak they have bought.  Such people will undoubtedly be delighted by their choice, especially if they have not already been using the BB.  Even those who have the BB may be interested in the DS floor, particularly if they want more maneuverability, although tracking and gliding, in my opinion, will not be as good as the BB routinely provides; but the maneuverability of a DS floor will have the added strength of a hull that, compared to the factory version, will resist taco-chipping on lively rivers.

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Responses

  1. The only issue I see with the drop stitch is it is not as wide as the original and therefore does not fill out the AE convertible shell like the original. It is very solid and stiff though.

    • Hi Terry:
      We forwarded your comment to Advanced Elements. Here is the reply from Clay Haller, President. “We went through and tested a few versions of the DS floor width for each of the AF’s. Because the DS floor inflates so block-like it is less forgiving. If the DS floor were the same width as the standard floor it would reduce the width of the seat area to 12-13 inches. It is possible that if the DS floor is used in an older model AFC then the fit could be a little different, but it should not be too dramatic. All of our testing was done in 2009-2010 product. We will take another look at this before confirming our next production.”
      Thanks Terry for the comment.
      Holly Harris

  2. Can the DS and BB not be used together? If so, how would that be? Any experiences to share?

    • I tried it! Intellectually, I thought it might be great as the floor is totally rigid, and the backbone would add a slight vee to the hull. In actuality, I did not see any benefit with the two together. In fact – if my recollection is correct – it was even a bit “tippier” as you sat up that much higher. Has anyone else tried it? Any comments?
      Holly

      • Can you intentionally tip the kayak with your hips in this configuration like a hard shell? How much more likely would a roll over be in this configuration?

      • Hi Tim:
        You do not want to use the drop stitch floor with the backbone – that makes it tippy. But the drop stitch floor OR the backbone are pretty stable – you would have to want to flip it.
        Thanks!
        Holly Harris

  3. Having used the DS floor and the BB at the same time, I never felt tippy and the AEC tracked better. It seemed to turn a little harder though. My wife and I were in Lake Michigan in 3 ft waves at our beam and never felt tippy. If you have both try it and see what you think.

    The reason I tried it is my regular floor got a slight bulge in a rib. I already had the BB so I put them together. The DS floor is more comfortable and we stayed dryer since the floor stays flatter when you sit on it.

    In my opinion after 20 trips, in many types of water conditions, the stability is not an issue with the two together. After several times out I began to pump the DS floor up only to 4.5-5 PSI so it wasn’t so hard. However, if you do that the vee bottom is not as pronounced and then the advantage disappears. Now I pump it up to 6 PSI.

    • Thanks for the comments Frank! When I took the Convertible out solo with both, I just didn’t notice any benefit to the two together, and it seemed slightly tippier. But, it is possible paddled as a tandem it might be better – due to added weight evened out along the kayak. Have you tried solo to see? Would be very interested in your comments on that.

      What I absolutely did notice is that the two together are VERY tippy in the shorter, 10.5 foot AdvancedFrame.
      Thanks for the feedback!
      Holly


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