Should You Buy a Folding Oru Kayak?
You want a high quality boat that you can transport in the trunk of your car.
What should you get?
For most people that enjoy kayaking, the main drawbacks to owning a kayak are storage and transportation. If you live in a small space, it’s likely not feasible to store a traditional 12-foot kayak in your home. If you don’t own a vehicle, transportation is next to impossible. Sure, you can rent a kayak, but over time that can make a significant dent in your wallet and you have to operate around a rental company’s schedule. And, often the best paddling destinations are a little off the beaten path.
Folding kayaks and packrafts are gaining a lot of talk lately because they’re easy to store and transport. You can also travel with them and hike to places that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to paddle on. For those that are just looking for an easy lake float, a packraft will do. But, if you want something with more utility that will provide more enjoyment on different types of water, we think a folding Oru kayak is the way to go. They cost essentially the same price as rotomolded kayaks that serve the same purpose and they fold down to about a 25 lb backpack that can be tucked away in the back of a closet or under the bed until they’re ready to be used. They fit in the trunk of a car and can be brought on a plane, train or bus.
What is a FOLDING Oru Kayak?
The origami-style folding Oru kayaks are made from a single sheet of hard, corrugated plastic (polypropylene, to be exact). They come folded up in a backpack and are pretty easily assembled into 12-16 ft long, sea faring vessels. Oru is a Kickstarter success story, launching in 2013 and reaching its goal almost immediately.
The 25-35 lb, made in California, Oru kayaks pack down to medium suitcase size that can be carried on the back (their exact packed down dimensions are 33 in x 12 in x 29 in).
Since the original launch, they’ve added and redesigned models to their lineup, which currently sits at three different options available: the Bay ST, the Beach LT and the Coast XT. Oru is also launching a tandem model -- the Haven-- set to be available in May 2019.
Traveling with an Oru is pretty easy. If flying, these boats can be checked on a plane, and in most cases will count as carry-on baggage. But, in order to travel with your kayak, you’ll need to purchase the Oru Pack, which is a heavy-duty nylon backpack that fits the kayak and other accessories. Even if you’re not planning on flying, the Oru Pack makes any kind of traveling or hiking with the kayak easier and more convenient.
The Bay ST is the original do-it-all kayak designed for casual cruising, fishing, long day paddles, and overnight trips. It’s the kayak you’d take down a quick moving river, for an easy day on the lake, or on a multi-day adventure.It’s the best one for most situations. The Beach LT model is for light, easy kayaking. It’s suited for day trips down a lazy river or paddling along flat, calm water.
The Coast XT is the model for more serious adventurers. While an experienced kayaker can likely handle the Bay ST in more challenging conditions, the Coast XT is made for them. It’s a longer, heavier model that can pack more gear and is made for serious expeditions. It’s not the one beginner paddlers should choose. For those new to kayaking that still want the experience of longer, overnight expeditions, the Bay ST should hold all the gear required while offering easier manageability. Previously, upgraded models were available of the Bay ST and Beach LT versions, but those have been taken off the market in place of optional extras that you can add on to each of the models currently available.
Details of the models of Oru Kayak that are available:
|Best for||Day trips and casual, flat water paddling||Longer days, backcountry paddling, and fishing||Rugged expeditions with choppier waters and overnights||Riding double with the option to switch to a single seater|
|Weight||26 lbs||28 lbs||36 lbs||40 lbs|
|Length||12 ft||12 ft||16 ft||16 ft|
|Width||28 in||25 in||25 in||33 in|
|Kayak box||33 in x 12 in x 29 in||33 in x 12 in x 29 in||33 in x 12 in x 29 in||33 in x 15 in x 30 in|
|Storage capacity||140 liters||90 liters||180 liters||Info not available|
|Max paddler height||6’6”||6’3”||6’6”||Info not available|
|Max load||300 lbs||300 lbs||400 lbs||450 lbs|
Oru Kayak Accessories
Oru sells a number of upgrade accessories. Though, adding on extra accessories will bring the total cost of your kayak to more than the list price. If buying Oru-branded extras aren’t in your budget (or you just don’t want to) there are Facebook pages and YouTube videos dedicated to Oru hacks that will help you modify your kayak on your own. Beware: depending on the modification, this may void the one-year Oru warranty.
Here are the accessories we think are worth purchasing:
The Oru Paddle (or the Oru Carbon Paddle) isn’t necessary to paddle the boat, any paddle will do. But, the matching white paddle breaks down into four parts and tucks away nicely when the kayak is in box form, which is a major bonus for traveling. Both the length of the paddle and the feather angle of the blades are adjustable.
The adjustable Nylon Spray Skirt fits tightly around the cockpit and keeps your lower body dry while paddling moderate waters. A must have if you don’t want to get wet. The Beach LT and Haven models are not skirt compatible.
The Seat Wedge is a thin piece of foam that fits perfectly under the existing seat and is worth the money for the added comfort it provides.
The Oru Pack is a heavy-duty nylon backpack that makes transportation and carrying a cinch (in fact, it’s needed for airline travel). It also has room to hold extra accessories, like paddles. It’s got padded shoulder straps, a hip belt, compression straps, and a top and side handle.
The Oru Float Bags are a set of bags that allow the kayak to stay afloat and remain maneuverable if you capsize or take on water. Worth the peace of mind if you’re concerned about having a mishap out on the water.
Who should consider an Oru Kayak?
We researched other folding kayak brands, including Pakboats, TRAK, KERO, Long Haul, HYPAR and the now defunct Feathercraft and Folbot, but our research showed that Oru Kayak is the brand that reigns in this category. If you’re considering a folding kayak in particular, we think the Oru is the top of the line in this class.
Each model is designed for a specific purpose, and they can handle everything from light beginner paddling to experienced paddling in challenging conditions. If you want to paddle, but don’t have the space to store a traditional kayak or transport it, you are right to consider purchasing an Oru. If you’re someone who wants to hike to a lake and can handle carrying 30-ish lbs on your back, they can take you places a traditional kayak can’t. If you’re strictly looking for a casual lake float, a 7 lb packraft will do the trick. But, if you want to be more connected with the water and you want more versatility out of your boat, an Oru has a lot more to offer.
If you rent kayaks often, owning one can take the place of that. If you travel frequently or live life on the road they can be checked on an airplane easily or stored in an RV without taking up too much space. They easily fit in the trunk of most cars. And finally, if you’re a design-focused buyer, they’re cool; they look like life-size folded origami on the water and are sure to start conversations with fellow paddlers.
We’ve considered online reviews from Amazon, REI, Gear Junkie, Outside Online, Misadventures Mag, and Paddling.com. I also spoke via email with outdoor journalist Hannah Weinberger, who recently test-paddled the Beach LT and Bay ST kayaks for an hour and a half on Lake Union in Seattle, Washington.
Gear Junkie founder, Stephen Regenold, took the Bay ST model on the water for some thorough testing. Gear Junkie also tested it more extensively on a 45 mile, two night adventure down the fast flowing John Day River in Oregon.
Misadventures Mag reviewed the Coast XT model of Oru Kayak, paddling it on a 100 mile journey along the Mississippi River for five days and nights. Paddling.com has consumer reviews from people who bought and used the Bay ST and the Bay+ models (the Bay+ model is no longer available).
But, with all the praise, there are a few complaints that are worth noting. After taking all of this into account, we’ve put together a list of pros and cons that will help you decide if an Oru is right for you.
Pros to owning an Oru kayak
It’s a real boat. Depending on the model, Oru kayaks are capable of most journeys, ranging from a light lake paddle, to faster flowing rivers. They’re designed to handle Class 1 (easy, with very little whitewater and easy maneuvering) and Class 2 (moderate, with some straightforward rapids that require maneuvering) rivers. This means that they’re good for beginner paddlers and experienced paddlers alike. Some people report that they were able to manage Class 3 rapids in their Oru without issue, but they aren’t recommended to be used in those conditions.
They’re portable. The biggest advantage to owning an Oru is that you can take it just about anywhere. The backpack weight (at around 25-30 lbs depending on model) shouldn’t be a problem for most people who are accustomed to carrying a pack while hiking. The folded down kayak may be a little cumbersome and awkward for some, but much less so than trying to haul a traditional kayak around.They fit in the trunk of a car. And, you can fly with them, which is a huge bonus if you’re traveling to a place with opportunities to paddle.
They can be stored easily. An Oru can easily be tucked away in a closet, under a bed or wherever you have a few extra feet of space. A folding kayak is a good alternative for city or apartment dwellers who like to get outside.
You can pack quite a bit of gear with you. Orus hold anywhere from 90-180 liters of storage depending on the model. Outside Online reported that they carried 220 lbs in the Bay ST model (a 150 lb person and 70 lbs of gear) without issue. They also note that “because the boat splits in half down the middle, loading it up with gear for an overnight adventure is much easier than packing bags into the small cargo holds of a traditional kayak.” Gear Junkie offers a little advice on packing gear, saying that “Oru doesn’t have a specific-size bag for these boats just yet, but I’d plan to use a few small dry bags per boat to carry gear instead of one big one. It just fits easier.”
They’re pretty easy to assemble. We’ve read that they can be folded together in anywhere from five to thirty minutes. The first couple of times assembly may be tricky, but the more you practice, the quicker assembly becomes. Disassembly seems quicker, with most people eventually getting their time down to five or ten minutes. There is a learning curve, though. Regenold, of Gear Junkie, said that during his first assembly, when almost finished, “[he] was forced to disassemble the entire kayak and start over at step No.1 because of a missed move early on.”
They’re stable and they track well (enough). Regenold said of the Bay ST model that, “The kayak is responsive and fast, its lightweight and sharp keel letting me paddle up to full speed in seconds. It’s stable and tracks straight but is nimble enough to lean and brace.” Weinberger told me, “They're noticeably stable, enough that I was able to stand up in them, and I found them really easy to maneuver, even in conditions with some wind,” adding that she “found the skirt-ready Bay ST to be a lot more responsive and resistant to tipping than the Beach LT, but the Beach was fun and stable and had great legroom. Both seemed to track sufficiently well, despite neither having a rudder.”
They’re quick on the water. You can really motor in an Oru. Because they’re lightweight and sleek, you can paddle as fast as a traditional kayak. Gear Junkie said of the Bay ST that, “the kayak is responsive and fast, its lightweight and sharp keel letting me paddle up to full speed in seconds.”
They’re durable. Weinberger told me that they’re rated for 20,000 folds, which I confirmed on Oru’s website. Outside Online reported that it held up well after a year of significant use, with only a few small things to fail, but nothing that meant it wouldn’t float. On the 45 mile adventure Gear Review took the Oru kayaks on, they said, “In short, the Bay ST held up well to the task of hauling people and gear down the river.” That’s not to say that durability issues haven’t been reported. Some reviewers, Outside Online included, have noted early holes forming in the neoprene covering that fits over the end of the kayak. Others have complained of hardware not holding up after not a lot of use. Outside Online also noted that “tabs and buckles wear out with regular use.” Overall, we’ve found that most people have said that their well used kayaks have held up as expected.
They glow. Because of its translucent exterior, the Oru illuminates at night with the help of some added lights. Not exactly a reason to purchase, but a cool added feature if you’re out on the water at night. Oru sells their own set, but Outside Online says that any set will do.
They’re made in the US.
Cons to owning an Oru kayak
They’re expensive. The design seems more difficult to manufacture than most traditional kayak’s moldable bodies. They’re made in the US, which presumably costs more, and they serve a very specific purpose. If you want a well-made kayak that you can store in your closet, it’s going to cost you. However, in comparison to other top of the line rotomolded kayaks that serve similar purposes, the cost is about the same.
You can roll them, unintentionally. On the Gear Junkie trip, three separate rollovers happened, dumping paddlers in small rapids. There are a handful of consumer reviews that read like horror stories: kayaker gets in, gets out on the water, gets dumped, and has a hell of a time getting themself and the filling-with-water kayak back to shore. For beginner kayakers who aren’t sure how to balance on the water, there may be a learning curve to staying upright in an Oru. That said, from our research, Oru kayaks seem to have great primary stability, meaning that they are stable on flat water. The rollover issue may stem from their secondary stability--their ability to remain stable when tipped on their side. Every boat has a breaking point when it comes to secondary stability--the point at which it will flip over when turned on edge. It might be that Oru’s secondary stability takes some practice to master.
They may be too tight a squeeze for some people. There were a number of reviewers on Paddling.com and Amazon who said that at around 200 lbs and 6 ft, they found the Oru kayaks to be too small for comfort. One reviewer said that he found it difficult to get into the kayak and worried that “if capsized, I doubt I could re-enter the Bay ST.” If you’re worried they may be too cramped for you, you might want to find a place you can enter one before you buy. The Beach LT model has a wider cockpit, which will make entering and exiting easier, but it’s meant for flat water and easy paddling.
The seats aren’t that comfortable. Misdaventures Mag says the Bay ST model has “a thin seat that wears on the bum,” however Oru sells a seat wedge for an additional $25 that will add some comfort. Or, take Outside Online’s advice and “wear a life jacket for a little extra padding.”
Should you buy an Oru Kayak?
For the person that wants to get on the water, but can’t transport or store a traditional kayak, an Oru is worth considering. Misadventures Mag’s verdict is that it’s worth the money, saying, “For those traveling to far-off waters for paddle trips, or for my kindred spirits living in urban basement apartments, but dreaming of rivers and lakes, I’d absolutely recommend looking into an Oru Kayak.” Gear Junkie thinks it’s worth it for those without the space to store a large boat, saying that, “The Bay ST costs $1,600, a significant investment. But given its remarkable space-saving design and good performance, it’s worth a lot for those with limited room and a desire to paddle.” After their two day journey they concluded that “the Oru Bay ST was a worthy vessel on this trip. For those with limited storage space or small vehicles that want a kayak that can go from the beach to the river, it’s a solid choice that can extend into overnight travel.”
Outside Online echoed these sentiments, saying that if “you don’t have much storage space, then yes, this is the boat for you. Because can throw it on your back and take it into remote areas, the Oru expands your paddling world dramatically.”
I posed this question to Weinberger, who didn’t feel she’d spent enough time in one to give a definitive answer, but had this to say, “If you're just doing recreational floats for a few hours, I'd say either model (with the Bay ST being better for windier days and performance, and the Beach LT being better if you want to bring a six-pack and a dog and get into and out of the boat easily) would be a great investment so long as portability is one of your top buying concerns."
So, what’s our verdict? For city dwellers without storage space or a way to transport a large kayak, they are well-worth considering. If you frequently rent kayaks, over time it might pay itself off (Editor’s note: we researched kayak rental prices and found rates that ranged were ~$50-100 per day. If you’re going to a lake that caters to tourists, prices can be as low as $25 per hour. If pricing is part of your decision, think about where you’re likely to kayak, how long you want to boat, and whether rental resources are available there. If you’re going abroad, depending on where you go, it may be difficult to find kayak rental.)
If you’re a traveler and want to take a kayak with you to destinations where renting a kayak isn’t an option, they travel well and won’t cost you any additional money to check on a flight.
For adventurers that live out of an RV, an Oru will tuck nicely away, making it great for life on the road. Before you purchase, it might be worth it to see if you can’t test one close to where you live.
If you’re on the fence about whether an Oru is right for you, weigh the pros and cons listed above and see if it fits in with your lifestyle. Given the cost, the Oru isn’t good for everybody. If you’re the type of person who will paddle around a lake in the summer a couple times a year, an inflatable kayak will do the trick at a fraction of the price. We don’t have any reviews on those just yet, but we’re working on it. Oru also sells certified refurbished kayaks on their website from time to time, which is an opportunity to get into one of they covetable vessels at a reduced cost.
Origami Boat: Oru Folding Kayak Review, Gear Junkie
Review: Oru Kayak’s Coast Model, Misadventures Mag
365 Days in the Oru, the World's Most Interesting Portable Kayak, Outside Online
Hannah Weinberger interview, Email exchange, July 12, 2018.