For non-Gumotex inflatable kayaks reviews and impressions, click this
For MHO on the new Gumotex Swings – it’s here
One might suggest that the Czech Gumotex factory (right) make the best value IKs in Europe. All you have to do is pick the right one because they also make a few turkeys in a functional and also aesthetic sense, as well as some bafflingly expensive models, such as the raft-wide Ks and the hefty Seaker sea kayaks (although both may have reached the end of the line). In 2011 they also stopped selling of the Sunny Mk3 in Europe (it continues as an Innova for the US for the moment). The new Solar 410C is near identical, but 25cm longer.
The sporty Safari, the partly discontinued Sunny, the new 410C and maybe the Twists and the Swings are all great value at European prices. Some might add the semi-decked Helios 1 and 2 to that list as well, though I have an aversion to that model. But like much of this blog, this is all a personal interpretation backed by some experience. I haven’t owned or tried all these boats, but in many cases know people who do or have.
new for 2013 this replacemnt for the heavy Seaker (see below) only seems currently only to be available in France. More here.
Gumotex Solar 410C
The legendary Sunny is now hard to find new in Europe and maybe some other markets too, but fear not, here is the Solar 410C with reversible Sunny-like seats. This for all intents and purposes is the new Sunny, because the old discontinued 405 Solar/Solar 2 (see below) was a good and usefully long river touring boat ruined with terrible seat designs: either the original space-wasting thwarts (at least they were replaceable) or worse still, Helios-style fixed seats in the half-coat (Lite Pack) Solar 2 – the pits!
Luckily, now in Europe (and also from TBP in the US) we have the new Solar 410 ‘C’ for ‘convertible’ with two seats which can be removed and one re-installed the other way round to make a big, single seat kayak with lots of room for stuff – nice. You also get adjustable footrest pads, a bit of a half-arsed cargo net in the back, but I do believe I can see a PRV near the valve on the floor in the graphic below. Gumotex never seem to mention this feature.
A black plastic skeg might be extra (and worth getting) but I’d hope the boat comes with a skeg-mounting patch at both ends because like a Sunny, when you set it up as a single you paddle sitting the other way from two-up and so want the skeg at the other end. If not you have to glue one on – not so hard to do.
The claimed stats for the new Solar 410C are 4.1m long (Sunny 3.85m); 80cm wide (Sunny 77cm), weight 17kg (Sunny 16kg) and payload no less than 270 kilos (Sunny 180kg). That payload looks to be quite a jump for just a little extra volume. Even though it’s not for sale there yet, you can’t help wondering if Gumo are attempting to pander to the US market where massive payloads are seen as a desirable feature of huge-tubed, metre-wide IKs which are certainly stable for fishing, but are as fast as a dead carp in a wetsuit. If you can imagine three of me sat in the new Solar, that equals 270 kilos – the slightest wave will swamp the boat, surely. The Sunny was the fastest boat in its class, and although a tad wider, the 20-25cm longer 410 ought to be the same.
The price which I’ve seen listed in Germany is €600 or £470 now the Euro has dropped a bit [mid 2012] – a £70 jump on the typical £400 for a Sunny. That’s why North America continues to get the old Sunny which already costs $1000 there as it is.
Mk1: (old model – my old boat)
Mk2: 2007-9 (LitePack)
Mk3: 2009- (still sold in North America)
I owned a pre-2007 Mk 1 Sunny for 5 years and which by all accounts happened to be Gumotex /Innova’s most popular IK. It’s one well-made boat that’s one of the best IKs for two-up or solo river touring.
Recognising the popularity of the original Sunny model, in 2007 Gumotex made many improvements to what I call the Mk2 Sunny (teal, above right). The flatter seats could be lent back on properly; there were nifty handles at each end plus an adjustable footrest. All these were changes I made to my original Mk1 model so I considered the Mk2 a big improvement.
They also made it a couple of kilos lighter (14kg) by using a so-called LitePack material. The inner surfaces (grey, above) are not coated with shiny, hard-wearing, low friction Nitrilon but were bare fabric which saved weight and cost, but took longer to dry and will be be less durable and easy to clean. You’ll also notice along the top of the sides where the coloured and grey parts meet there’s a lifted edge or flap at the join which is a bit cheap too. On my Mk1 model that was glued down but still had a sharp edge; passing strokes may ‘paper cut’ your fingers unless you cover the edge with duct tape. It is significant that the entire Gumotex range of IKs did not go LitePack and overall, the Mk2 Sunny looked like a cost cutting exercise, but read on…
BTW you mention the new style [Mk 2] Solar and say you think it’s probably an improvement. Well, design-wise it may be, but be aware that many of the new generation Gumotexes use their new ‘lite-pack’ material (the grey, non-shiny stuff) for much of their build. Frankly, it’s nowhere near as good as the old nitrilon material (still used for the Safari and the larger/more serious boats). They’re obviously looking to cut costs, but it’s a real shame – the lite pack material is less strong, less rigid, less resilient etc etc. I’d never buy one…
Dom P (old Safari owner)
More lite-pack feedback
The LitePack fabric was a Gumotex initiative. The first versions of it were fine at the factory tests, but the rubber interior coating was found to be affected by ozone. We had some warranty returns for air seepage on this early LitePack. Since 2009 the LitePack has been quite good at air retention. Still, there are pros and cons to the LitePack. On the plus side, it knocks about 12% off the weight of the boats when used on the interior and decks, it folds more compactly than the fully-coated versions, and some people prefer the feel of the LitePack polyester cloth on their bare skin over the feel of rubber. On the negative side, LitePack cloth wets out and takes longer to dry than Nitrylon rubber [though much less time than bladder boats], LitePack gets dirty easier, and LitePack is somewhat less stiff than Nitrylon in an inflated kayak. The drying time and stain resistance can be somewhat improved by treating the LitePack with ScotchGard, which beads up water on the cloth and resists soiling.
Tim R (US Innova importer)
2008 review excerpt (Gumo’ Helios 1):
…But Innova loses points for jacking up the prices just as they “go cheap” on the models by removing the coating that used to cover all of their boats and leave some of the most sensitive parts of the boat open to discoloration and, quite likely, accelerated wear and tear. I’d gladly lug around two or three, or even five more pounds, to have a boat as bomb-proof as the Safari…
See this series of youtube videos too. Looks terrible so better to avoid Litepack from this era…
Mk3 – Full-coat Sunny (2009-2010)
It seems Gumotex heard these ‘one-sided’ complaints and in mid-2009 returned to ‘full Nitrilon‘ coating for the two Helios and Sunny, just like the pre-2007s. This is what I call a ‘Mk3‘ Sunny (all the benefits of the 2007 Mk2 improvements plus the durability, easy cleaning and quick drying of full-coat Mk1 at a slight weight penalty (now ~ 16kg again). While they last in the UK it seems the price is around £390 – not bad at all and when compared to the €600 Solar 410C which replaces it in Europe.
The optional skeg or fin on 2009-on Gumos is a less over-sized, quick-fit nylon item (right; a similar size to the ones I got made for my Mk1 years ago) but it slots into the patch with no fiddly screws and can be fitted or removed with the boat slightly deflated. This is a big improvement as there’ll be times in the shallows on when dragging over grass when you may want to remove it temporarily.
My advice if looking for a Sunny in Europe, get the Mk3 fully-coated model while you can (try here – 9/2012) because they don’t sell it this side anymore and when it’s gone from the shops there’ll only be the similar Solar 410C which in the UK at least costs only 10% more.
Gumotex Safari (pre-2003)
For me, light and tough though it was, an early model Safari was a mistake. I pretty much knew that when I bought it used in 2004 but it was so cheap it was worth the punt. At my weight I pretty much maxed-out the boat’s 100-kilo payload, and at 6.1” looked like I was sat in a small bath. I also found it impossible to track straight (but had no experience then; see this). It was nice and fast (see this video) but too tippy to inspire confidence in a beginner and for me too cramped to pack a useful load for a few day’s touring. The boat is a tad of 3 metres long (same as a Solar 1), 72cm wide and weights 12kg.
Anyone with a bit of experience could have realised this before they bought it, but for the price I just wanted to check out a proper IK close up before moving on. In the end I soon got a Sunny and have never looked back with Gumotex IKs; the Safari was passed on to my girlfriend who’s a foot shorter and half my weight and sold altogether.
A great feature on the Safari are the thigh straps (visible in the pics above). They really connect- or triangulate you to the boat, in a similar way your knees press up under the deck of a hardshellplayboat. The straps help you to paddle hard by controlling the yawing, as well as twist, turn and brace (to correct tipping), so enhancing the Safari’s stability in WW and surf – great for the back and stomach muscles too! Knowing now that later Safari models are more stable, I’d be quite keen to try one again as a play/day boat.
The Safari is also a self-bailer which is highly desirable when the going gets even a little rough, but only if you’re not too heavy to end up sitting in pooled water, as I am.
G-friend used the Safari in Croatia and found she needed about 10kg of rock in either end made the boat much more stable and, as it happened, faster. Without them the boat sat high and she was not so stable. Therefore the optimum weight for a pre-2003 Safari would be around 70kg. Now you know.
We sold the Safari and got a Solar 1 (old model – see below). The Safari is still available and in full-coat Nitrilon too, like other ‘hard rec’ Gumotexes. For a small WW fiend a Safari would be a great little boat.
Important note. I’m told post-2003 Safaris (right) have a different hull design and are less tippy. The newer one had twin side tubes but still a rounded hull profile. BoatPeople dont mince their words when they talk about it still being tippy in certain conditions and the current Safari is not the same hull shape as an old Solar as I speculated once. As for weight limit, doubt that is different. North American Innova importer Tim R. told me “I would rate the Solar’s [below] stability as a 9 out of 10, the old Safari [as pictured] would be a 6 and the new Safari an 8. The very first Safari prototype was a 3!” A BC Safari blog here. And another one here. And you gotta watch this sea surfing vid from Poland – just make sure you mute the awful music.
Gumotex Twist 1
Twists are the new direction from Gumotex – lighter, smaller, less tough boats that will suit most people most of the time. The Gumotex Twist 1 (LitePack, 2.6m long, 79cm/31″ wide, 6kg, max. load 100kg) is a replacement for the popular Solar (below) and it’s only about £220 in the UK. There’s a good review here. and the author, Dave D, has kindly sent in some photos and updated impressions to that review below.
Notice that the black seats on his yellow boat are not the bulky OE items (see red boat above) which have been cut out, so making the boat even lighter. I saw a Twist at a show the other day and realised they use the textured LitePack material for the whole boat, inside and out. This must be what makes it so light, while being like rubberised canvas it also makes it easier to stain, longer to dry and a little less slippery on the water.
There ought to be a review of a Twist II here but I’ve not come across anyone using one yet. Vital stats are 3.6m/11ft10in; 80cm/31.5″ and 9k/20lbs, so nearly as long as a Sunny, as wide but nearly half the weight. With the seats cut out to take more space as DD did, it would be even lighter.
[Dave D]: Here’s a few more thoughts now that I’ve had a chance to use it a bit longer:
1. The inflatable seat proved to be junk. It kept developing major leaks – always at the point where it is folded through a 90 degree bend. Clearly this is a stress-point which the kayak’s fabric construction can’t handle. After my first one popped, I sent it back to Gumotex who replaced it – although this didn’t go smoothly: the first time they just sent the boat back to me without having done anything to it! Eventually, they sent me a replacement boat, but when the seat on this one popped I decided to rip the inflatable seat out and replace it with a more conventional back rest as you can see in the photos. This is far better, and also makes the boat narrower – I now don’t skin my knuckles against the side of the boat with each paddle stroke!
2. The inflatable footrest is useless [as it is on many Gum boats - see this]. If you want to paddle, you need to brace your foot against something, and this isn’t it! I decided to remove the cushion and replace it with two foot-loops on an adjustable strap. I was a little dubious about having my feet strapped into the boat in case of capsize, however I’ve found I can get my feet in and out without any trouble.
3. Before making the above two modifications, the boat had a major flooding problem. The stern sat too low in the water, so if you got a wave from behind or if you put your bodyweight too far back in the boat (e.g. because your inflatable back rest had gone down!) then water would swamp the boat from behind. Having replaced the seat and footrests with adjustable ones, I can now set it up so my bodyweight is well forward. This has so far eliminated the flooding problem, but I imagine you’d still have a problem with steep waves hitting you from behind. That said – when it floods you just jump out, turn it over and jump back in again.
4. I still love the boat. Whenever I’m travelling with work, I keep it in the boot of my car with a drysuit and a 4-piece collapsible paddle. If I’m on the motorway at rush-hour, I pull off to the nearest river and do one hour’s hard paddling up and one hour back for a bit of exercise and to de-stress. I often paddle on canals with locks, and it’s great to see the envious looks of canoeists when you do the easiest portage they’ve ever seen! The boat is actually quite quick. A couple of nights back I even started playing in a fast (but shallow and safe) weir by moonlight.
I also use it to take a short-cut across the harbour in my home town. It feels very stable, even when there’s a swell. I’ve put nav-lights on it and I have no problems zipping around and keeping out of the way of boat traffic. Dave D
Gumotex Seaker 1 & 2
This was Gumo’s take on Grabner’s Holiday boats and since developed by Incept (I’m pretty sure it is in that order); a twin sidebeam kayak but with inflatable decking so making it an inflatable SinK (sit-in kayak) you don’t get many of those (though Gumotex now do the Swings). Numbers are 4.8m x 75cm and 200 kilo payload.
Once I thought a Seaker could fill the gaps in which the Sunny did not shine, but at 34kg it’s heavy at - more than double a Sunny, Incept K40 or a Grabner H2. Like a proper sea kayak it has hatches and a rudder and can no doubt be rolled, but to me half the appeal of IKs, even for the sea, is the Sit on Top aspect. If you want to sit in and want to be portable, get a nice low Feathercraft for nearly the same price and which looks less like a floating, wind-prone torpedo. They also do a 2-seater Seaker called a Seaker II. ‘Seaker’ actually a pretty clever name by Gumotex standards – Sea Keryak – but I get the feeling these are exotic, rarely bought boats and has been heavily discounted in North America and is no longer listed by Gumotex.cz themselves. It’s the end of the line for the heavy Seakers which is a shame because the only thing wrong with them was the weight.
Still, I have never actually seen one so what the heck do I know about Seakers? Paddlesheep. a blogger in BC is a full-on Innovator with a Sunny, Safari, a Seaker and now a Folboat Cooper (folder). Check him out as well as this review from a few years ago with a few comments/reviews following.
Gumotex K1 and K2
The double K2 is was a Gumotex boat I was also curious about once, but never read about about it anywhere, though it seems the Germans and French admire them and in spring 2011 the Ks were are being heavily discounted to $8-900 by Innova, the Gumotex distributors in North America. The K2 could be considered fat-tubed, self-bailing Sunny pontoon, the same length at 3.9m but which costs just over €1000 – in other words, double. At one metre wide it’s really a twin-seating, thigh-braced, self-bailing whitewater kayaraft, not a tourer.
It would be fun to throw a K2 down some gnarly rapids or surf, knowing that it floated like a cork, sat as flat as a wet pizza and drained as fast. But if it’s like the Padillac I tried a couple of times in Colorado (left), or the Aire Outfitter II, that is probably all it’s good for and it needs two paddlers to get up any speed.
In summer 2010 I actually came across a couple of K2s up in France, having just come through some high-flow narrow rapids which I was too nervous to try alone in my new parkraft at the time, so clearly they are being used by some for the right purpose.
The solo K1 pictured left in http://www.boatpark.cz’s boat park is the single-seater version out of which it would be hard to fall short of being shaken out like a salt cellar. Even used they were asking £500 while a used Twist 1 was going for £130.
All the Gumotex IKs below were discontinued in Europe around 2010.
You can now add the Sunny to that list.
Gumotex Solar 300/Solar 1
I’ve owned a Solar 1 since 2006, mainly for the v-light and short g-friend. Weight is 11kg (25lbs) and length is just over 3 metres (10 feet). It’s not self-bailing like the similar Safari, but is a lot more stable. All in all a great little boat, even for my size of person, and especially with the long overdue recent improvements (see below). Coming out of the longer Sunny, it feels much more nippy without being tippy. G-friend took the Solar down the Tarn in 2007 or so, and I used it again in 2010 alongside my new packraft and occasionally since then. As you can see, my mate Yves pictured left also took quickly to the Solar, first time out in an IK. Our trip down the Tarn Gorge proved it was no worse in white water than the Sunny, but of course it lacks the packing space for longer trips. With no WW experience at all, g-friend soon got the hang of it after a couple of early swims and even developed the feel for skeg-free paddling. It can be done, although I found one time on a Thames training run (see below) I wish I’d remembered the skeg as I just wanted to move fast and not bother about correcting finesse. As said elsewhere, with a skeg you can power on regardless.
At 11 kilos a full-coat Solar is still pretty heavy when it comes to lugging it around on public transport for a day paddle, but once on the water it’s a great boat and is a lot faster than my packraft. In summer 2010 on the currentless Thames near Oxford and with a strong headwind, I managed 9 miles in 3 hours, including rests and a couple of locks – though after 5 hours of paddling like this I was worn out!
Looking closely at the Solar while drying it out, I was struck how it’s built like a tough commercial raft and will last for many, many years, like all full-coat Gumoboats. Now in 2012 it still looks in great shape and I finally got round to greatly improving the seat and footrest, just as Dave did to his Twist, above. Details here. The next thing I ought to do is fit D-rings for thigh straps to make it more Sadari-like, and fit the new style slip-on black plastic skeg (see above).
Gumotex Solar 405/ Solar 2
The old-style Solar 405 (pictured below) was similar to a Sunny; usefully longer for payload or tandem paddling, but with space-wasting thwarts for seats. I give my reasons why a Sunny was a better solo touring choice and here is some video of a 4-metre long 405 in action. Note how easy it is to get into from the water (@ 2 mins), but also how easily it swamps (around 3m 10s) in a WW2-ish riffle (both are similar characteristics to a Sunny).
The post 2007 ‘Solar 2s’ (right) were even less versatile: horrible fixed seats like the Twist and Helios may give great support, but along with fixed footrests it all means it can’t be set up optimally for solo paddling without chopping it all out like Dave D did with his Twist 1, above.
As on all post-2007 Solars, the only the outer surfaces were coated and then the Solar 2 was dropped in favour of the broadly similar but better Sunny, the semi-decked 3.8-metre Helios II (also with fixed seats and decking) or even the shorter Twist II.
In 2011 Gumotex released the Solar 410C with Sunny-like seats and a full coat. See above. This for all intents and purposes is the new Sunny or Solar 405.
At only 10kg (we thought that was light, back then) I thought this would be ideal for lightweight g-friend and even for me in a pre-packrafting sort of way. However our conclusion was it was merely a heavy boat-shaped paddling pool made out of unusually tough material. With my weight I of course had about 3mm of freeboard but it was a hopeless tracker (not that we were experts back then) and all in all felt a bit of a half-baked design. Gumotex do sure make some turkeys, but they don’t make this one anymore. Then again, in 2009 feedbacker Chris reported: “We opted for 2 Juniors and these are fine for what we need and really light for the motorhome as we are restricted on weight.” But he did report one was splitting apart at each end, possibly from overheating? The current Twist 1 is better and lighter for a small, compact IK and if that’s important, a packraft is even better.