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Tributary Tomcat Solo IK Review

Some years back, I organized a whitewater kayaking trip with friends. At the time, all of my boats were hardshells, and I just kind of thought that was the way to fly. Some one I respect as a solid white water enthusiast joined up, and brought inflatable kayaks. I didn't fully understand why he was in an inflatable kayak at first, but he described the situation as follows:

"I was getting on the river, ready to paddle. I had my helmet, my throw rope, my pin kit, everything! I was in my rescue jacket and geared up to the shoulders in gear and armor and ready to go! Then, a guy floats by me on a $10 inner tube with a beer. I thought to myself, I'm doing something wrong here..."

At first, that didn't resonate with me. Meh whatever, INTENSITY! Then reality hit me more and more. Why make it so much harder on myself and friends? Why not have some slow days, or some easy win introductions to the sport? I then decided I'd try something different: why not get an inflatable raft? I got a small R2 raft (see the review elsewhere) and took it out for a weekend. It was fun, but didn't provide the manueverability I had come to enjoy about hardshells. The following weekend we organized a big group trip and rented a bunch of inflatable kayaks to handle just how many people we had. I hopped on some and played, and was hooked. It had the majority of the manuevarability and fun of a hardshell kayak (in class II/III- rapids), without the major consequences. It was forgiving, and even when you did get bucked off getting back on was easy instead of an ordeal!

I ran out and purchased three Tributary Tomcat Solo inflatable kayaks. I was able to get an excellent deal from a small outfitting company who had to order 5+ boats in order to get a deal, so they bought the boats they wanted and sold the rest for well under MSRP. I got three for what would normally be the price of two, which was also perfect. Plenty to share with friends!

At the time of writing this and since purchasing them, I've taken them out on many white water ventures. We've run mellow class II+ floats, multiple class II/III+ runs, and one III/IV run. I feel confident I can write a decent review of these boats. I will also write how they compare to other models will be written as I try other models out.

General Consensus:

WORTH BUYING! They're fun to take out, let you run bigger water than you'd normally run with far less stress. The ease with which you can take near total beginners out in these is also excellent.

The fun ends when you start to get on the big side of class III though. They just take on too much water in the big stuff, and while I've ridden out of every situation I tubbed the boat full of water, it just wasn't fun anymore. Yes, they're self bailing (IE: Take on water but drain) however when you get into bigger crazier water you'll take on water faster than it can bail.

In short: Great fun up to the shorter sections of class III white water. After that returns diminish and you may do better looking into a boat with more rocker, better draining, or just ponying up to learn how to rock a hardshell!

Video of us on the Deschuttes:

Things that are good for the boat:

  • Very beginner friendly!
  • Very reasonably priced!
  • The valves on the air bladders are top notch! 
  • Fairly comfortable seating compared to some other IK's we've tried.
  • Very compact and easy to pack! I can fit three in my Subaru no problem with space to spare.
  • So far they seem solid and durable. We've definitely dragged them through a bunch and run some scratchy rivers.
  • Solid storage capabilities.
  • Ultra easy to share with friends. They vastly reduced consequences of them and more forgiving nature are better for those who like to share!
  • Flipping them back over from the water isn't too hard. With a bunch of gear in them it does get harder.. Flipping an inflatable over from another boat is easy enough though.
  • Re-entering a flipped boat from the water isn't all that hard either, but definitely not the most graceful or guaranteed task. Some of the people in our group without notable upper body strength really struggled, others may as well.

Things that are NOT good for the boat:

  • Taking these on the Upper Clackamas and running through the class III section up to Bob's hole, the boat proved underwhelming.
    • In the longer Class III wave train sections, this boat took on a TON of water. Performance suffered immensely when full of water, surprise surprise! Yes it's self bailing, but it just can't keep up!
    • Being only halfway through a section of big WW and already full of water sucks, especially when there are moves to be made at the bottom and your boat now weighs an extra 100lbs
    • Self bailing is inadequate for bigger white water.

Things worth noting for those coming from hardshells:

  • They don't flip as easy, but can still flip! I've flipped in them once, my girlfriend multiple times while chasing the most difficult parts of everything she saw. They therefore still require some thought! They're not just rafts.
  • Per the above, these boats tend to flip really easy where two currents meet (cross currents). Something about their structure just lets the river grab the bottom of them and flip you really good! It's more so than hardshells it would seem...
  • You're going to need the thigh straps. Without them you have little to no connection with the boat.
  • You can catch eddies and peel out... sort of... and definitely not with nearly the intensity of a hardshell. I've still found I can pull much of the needed river manuevers I need to run the best lines in various rapids!
  • I haven't been able to surf anything on them yet, where I could surf a bunch of stuff on my hardshell. This is a bummer! I found this perfect wave train with an eddy taking you right up to the first big wave... and this just couldn't do it!

Other General things worth noting:

  • Want extra hold on your gear? Grab this 12"x15" motorcycle cargo net for $2.99 from harborfreight. We attach our dry bags with carabiners and follow up holding them in place with these. Works excellent!
  • Be sure to stay dilligent about the valves and NOT getting water in the bladders. Getting water back out afterwards is a seriously annoying chore, and is best done with a wet/dry shop vac, which nobody makes the valve attachments for that I know of.
  • Due to their wide girth, shorter white water paddles may be a problem. ALl of our paddles are around 200cm or so and work pretty good. Most rental companies seem to send them out with longer paddles.
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