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Folding Kayaks are one of the most versatile types of kayaks because of their portability and durability. Although many beginning kayakers are not familiar with the folding kayak, they have actually been around longer than the more common hardshell kayaks. Furthermore, most folding kayaks are a type of skin-on-frame kayak, and the skin-on-frame kayak has been around for thousands of years.

For those who have never seen or assembled a folding kayak, their construction and assembly can something of a mystery. However, the assembly of a typical folding kayak can be divided into a few major stages:

(1) taking the kayak parts out of the bag,
(2) assembling the frame, or parts of the frame,
(3) placing the frame inside the hull,
(4) tightening the frame inside the hull, and
(5) adding the rudder, seat, and other parts.

(1) Taking the kayak parts out of the bag.

Folding kayaks usually come with a bag to keep all the parts together, and to facilitate moving the kayak while it’s disassembled. Obviously, the first step to assembling the kayak is to take the parts out. Some kayakers lay out all the parts close to their final locations in the kayak. This helps speed up assembly because the parts are easy to find when it comes time to put them together.

Some folding kayak owners also color-code the parts of the frame, so that they can be easily identified during assembly. One way to do this is to use colored electrical tape. Alternatively, colored cable ties can be tied around parts of the frame. Folding kayak parts are typically well-labeled, but it’s usually easier and faster to identify the parts by color.

(2) Assembling the frame, or parts of the frame.

Folding kayak assembly varies here. Some folding kayaks have frames that are assembled in sections before they are placed inside the hull, which can be imagined as a kayak-shaped bag. For other kayaks, the entire frame is assembled before it is placed inside the hull.

Folding kayak frames are often made of materials such as wood or aluminum tubing. Frame members can have hinges so that they can pack into smaller spaces, and may snap together using button-snaps or other clips. These kayaks are mostly designed so they can be assembled without any tools.

(3) Placing the frame inside the hull.

Placing the frame inside the hull may entail first sliding one half of the frame inside one end of the hull, then the other half of the frame in the other end of the hull. If the kayak is one with a frame that is assembled completely before being placed in the hull, the whole frame may be inserted into the hull from the stern (rear) end of the hull.

Although the hull is usually made of pliable fabric, some kayaks have rigid guides inside the hull to make sure the frame sits in the right place.

(4) Tightening the frame inside the hull.

Once the frame is inside, the frame needs to be tightened so that the hull, which is the skin of the kayak, is tight and not sagging or wrinkly. Some sectional-framed folding kayaks use scissor-type tensioning, where hinged frame members of each section are connected at the ends in a bent formation, then pushed down or out into a straight configuration to lengthen the whole frame and tighten the hull.

Other folding kayaks may use screw tensioning mechanisms, or may have frames that are extended using a lever and kept in the extended position using button snaps.

(5) Adding the rudder, seat, and other parts.

Once the frame is tightened inside the hull, the remaining pieces of the kayak can be added. This typically includes such parts as the seat, footrests, rudder, rudder control lines, and perhaps a cupholder.

For someone assembling a folding kayak for the first time, the assembly can take up to an hour or more. After that, however, a folding kayak can typically be assembled in about 20 minutes. The assembly time can decrease by a huge amount with practice and an efficient system. Contests have been held where folding kayaks have been assembled in as little as 6 minutes!