Kayaking is one of summer’s most relaxing and enjoyable water sports, but owning your own boat is a near impossibility if you live in an apartment or small home. Luckily, the days of trying to stuff a full-size kayak in your house or patio are over, thanks to the foldable Oru Kayak. Available in a range of sizes, Oru’s kayaks can be set up in minutes and fold down small enough to fit in your trunk or closet.
As an apartment-dweller and kayak-lover myself, I got my hands on a few Oru kayaks to try out. After paddling around in three different boats, here’s why Oru is our new favorite kayak brand.
The brand’s smallest kayak, the Oru Lake is a fantastic option for people with minimal space. Packing down to the size of a suitcase, this kayak still offers plenty of stability on the water.
The same size as the Lake, the Lake+ has a more comfortable seat and a footrest so you can paddle for hours.
People who want a bigger boat and have a bit more trunk space will be thrilled with the Beach LT. With more comfort-specific features like a footrest and a carrying sling, this kayak is big and comfortable on the water but packs small for easy storage.
What we liked about them
Small size and weight make for impressive portability
The big allure of Oru’s kayaks is their ability to fold. I cannot stress enough how much of a game changer this is for kayakers who don’t have ample garage space. During testing, I was able to store the Oru Lake inside of a small, outdoor storage closet (along with tons of other gear), fit it inside the trunk of a Toyota Corolla and even stuff it into an already packed campervan on a five-day trip to Moab, Utah.
Yes, inflatable kayaks have been around for a while, but they can still get quite bulky and difficult to store. Not to mention the fact that you have to pump them up and they can pop if you’re too rough with them. In comparison to the inflatable kayaks I’ve used, Orus are lighter and easier to set up and store.
Oru offers six different kayaks of varying sizes, from the small, flat-water-oriented Lake to the performance Coast XT and even the tandem Haven TT. The Lake is the smallest and lightest at 17 pounds, and the Beach LT weighs 25 pounds. But not only are these boats lighter than their traditional counterparts, they also fold into easy-to-carry packages. The two smallest boats, the Lake and the Inlet, fold into the shape of a suitcase, and each has a small yet comfortable handle so you can carry them with one arm. All other models fold up into a taller, more square shape, but have a built-in shoulder strap to make transporting your boat from the car a breeze.
Simple set up, once you learn how
A big allure of the Oru kayaks is how easily they can be set up. The process is drastically different from one model to the next, which is evident when you see that the estimated setup times on Oru’s site range from one minute to 15 depending on the boat. We’ve unfolded three different Oru kayaks: the Lake, Lake+ and the Beach LT. The Lake and Lake+ are extremely easy, and only take about one minute each to set up and take down. The Beach LT is a bit more involved, but it still only took us five minutes, like the site estimates.
To be clear, these blazingly fast setup times are after we learned how to properly unfold each kayak. Don’t expect to get your Oru and immediately set it up perfectly, as some of the folds can be a bit finicky and there’s a certain order you should do everything in to ensure your boat is built correctly. I tried to figure out how to set up the Beach LT without any instructions at first, and it’s safe to say it didn’t go very well. Thankfully, Oru has in-depth videos to help you get used to your boat. Once you do it a few times and figure out the little nuances of how to bend, fold and clip your Oru, your setup time will drop drastically. The videos were especially helpful when folding the kayaks back down, too. I felt like I was wrestling with the Beach LT trying to get it to fold in on itself until I watched the video again, which offered helpful tips to get the boat to succumb to my shoving.
Maneuverable and stable on the water
Since Oru kayaks are so lightweight, you might think they’d be unstable on the water, but you’d be wrong. I was pleasantly surprised at how balanced I felt, especially in the Lake and Lake+, which have a nice wide base. Even with gear and a dog in the boat with me, I was able to rock side to side and quickly pivot around without any fear of tipping. I was testing on a reservoir with super-calm water, so I can’t say the Lake could handle the waves of the ocean, but Oru has other kayaks built to deal with choppier conditions. Since the kayak is so light, I was also surprised by just how fast I could get the little boat to go. With a few brisk paddles, I was flying across the reservoir with little effort. The Beach LT is equally easy to paddle, although weirdly enough, it felt a bit less stable to me than the Lake since it’s longer and not as wide. That extra length does make it feel like it glides faster and straighter than the Lake, though.
What we didn’t like about them
Lack of comfort
Oru kayaks are by no means the most comfortable on the market. The lightweight, hard material doesn’t lend itself to hours upon hours on the water, and while testing the base Lake, sitting really started to get uncomfortable after about an hour and a half. The Lake+ has a thicker seat and the ability to add upgraded accessories like the gel seat cushion to make the experience more bearable. The Lake+ also has a footrest, which makes paddling easier and more comfortable by helping distribute your weight. The Beach LT has a similar seat to the Lake+, with a thicker cushion than the base Lake and an adjustable backrest. While these little improvements are nice, they still don’t match the comfort of some inflatable kayaks I’ve used. Perhaps some of the higher-end models are more comfortable, but I needed to add the gel seat to the ones I tried if I wanted to stay on the water for more than a couple of hours.
Setup and breakdown have a learning curve
I know, I know, I just said that assembling Oru kayaks is easy, but I think it’s important to point out that it takes practice. If you don’t know what you’re doing, folding and unfolding these boats can be difficult. I would highly recommend watching the brand’s videos and practicing with your kayak multiple times before heading to the lake.
Once you get the hang of your kayak, though, unfolding it is quite simple. I can only speak to the Lake and the Beach LT, but it took nearly the exact amount of time that the site says, one minute for the Lake and five minutes for the Beach LT. If you were to get one of the bigger boats, be sure to really practice; even when you know what you’re doing, the site says assembly can take up to 15 minutes.
Extras aren’t included
Oru kayaks are quite expensive, and while they’re in the same range as inflatable kayaks (more on that below), it’s disappointing that necessary extras like a paddle aren’t included. If you wanted to buy the Lake+ but didn’t have any gear, you’d have to drop $699 on the kayak itself, plus $119 for the brand’s collapsible paddle and $139 for its PFD. If you want your Lake+ to move better on the water, you might consider the $35 skeg, and if your butt hurts like mine, you’ll want to throw in another $69 for the gel cushion.
Your price tag can jump quickly, and while a lot of Oru’s accessories aren’t necessary, there are a few like the paddle and the PFD that we wish were included in your original purchase. If you don’t have a paddle and you know you want to get Oru’s instead of one from a different brand, Oru offers a few bundles for each kayak to save you a little bit of money. The base “Essentials Package” for the Lake+ includes a paddle and a carrying pack (no PFD) for $957.
How they compare
Compared to a normal kayak, Oru has tons of advantages, namely weight and portability. But Oru isn’t the only small-sized boat that apartment-dwellers might consider. Inflatable kayaks have been around for years and offer similar portability. Intex has low-cost options like the Intex Challenger Kayak (currently on sale for $98) if you’re looking for a boat to paddle around your local lake. This is much cheaper than Oru’s entry-level option, which rings in at $499; however, cheaper inflatable kayaks like this don’t have very durable materials, so they’re prone to popping if you go over sharp rocks or drag them on the shore.
There are tons of other inflatable kayak options with varying features, durability levels and prices. One of my personal favorites is the Retrospec Coaster ($550), which can squeeze in two people but is most comfortable with one person and maybe a dog or a kid. The Retrospec has a durable bottom and fabric top, so the boat is protected from popping, but you still have a comfortable place to sit. Bote offers even more durable kayaks made out of PVC such as the Bote Zeppelin Aero Inflatable Kayak ($689), but you need an air compressor to inflate it and it’s still quite heavy and bulky. Price-wise, quality inflatable kayaks are in the same ballpark as the smallest Orus. However, if you want a larger Oru that’s the same size as some of these inflatable options, you’ll have to pay a higher premium.
If you want to spend time paddling on the water this summer, but don’t have the space or a roof rack for a traditional kayak, the Oru is one of the best and most portable boats you can buy. Oru has a wide range of lightweight and portable kayaks to fit any sort of need, whether you’re relaxing on the lake or adventuring in rough surf.
Oru kayaks aren’t perfect by any means. Assembling them can take a lot of practice, the ones I tried aren’t built for comfort and necessary extras like a paddle aren’t included. However, I think folding and unfolding the Oru induces fewer headaches than inflating a kayak (plus you don’t have to stash a pump or plug an air compressor into your car), and the foldable Oru is actually lighter and more portable than most inflatable kayaks too.
My personal favorite was the Lake+, since it’s the smallest and lightest boat, but still stable enough for the calm-water paddling I plan on doing. But no matter the type of paddling you want to do, if you’re short on space, an Oru kayak just might be your best ticket to getting on the water.