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The Simplest of Seats

Considering how restricted the seating actually is in the average cruising kayak, it’d better be comfortable. Hours of being jammed in an uncomfortable cockpit is no one’s idea of fun – cramped muscles, hard-spot aches, and that pins-and-needles feeling in the legs just purely takes the fun out of a day on the water.

For better or for worse, commercial kayaks come with one sort of seat or another, but those of us who build our own have to come up with some alternative that’s comfortable. If you’re up for it, you can certainly carve yourself a fine mini-cell seat, and there’s lots of nice carved mini-cell and/or gel seats for sale out there, for a price. Then there’s the ever-popular, but ever-so-uncomfortable thin foam camping pad, which has the advantage of being cheap, period.

When I built my first VOLKSKAYAK with designer Gerry Gladwin, he showed me a simple, relatively inexpensive seating solution that’s worked just fine for us ever since. The heart of it is a self-inflating camping pad – in our case, a 3’6″ x 21″ (113 cm x 52 cm) Thermarest Classic series 3/4 Standard. Buy one from REI.

Here’s how we rig ours.

The VK has a big cockpit, so we pad the sides of the cockpit to get a tighter hip fit

The pad is laid out and allowed to inflate. We use the 3/4 model because it folds more neatly in the cockpit.

Looking aft, the seat is anchored just under the rear cockpit coaming.

The inflated pad, with the valve closed, is shoved as far aft as you can get it. We allow a slight bit to curl up the rear bulkhead, as this seems to help keep the pad in place. The hip pads are cut with about an inch of open space at the bottom, so the edges of the pad can be tucked under them to avoid the pad bunching up too much on the sides.

The backrest is installed – as it happens, this old PFD wedges tightly beneath the deck, and pins the pad in place. You can use anything that’ll do two things – support your lower back, and hold the pad from slipping. We’ve also used blue styrofoam, glued-together flat swim pool floats, etc. If you want to do a proper backrest with minicell, that’s fine, but do the prototypes in the cheaper stuff :->))

Now just fold the pad back over itself, so that you have two layers beneath you, one up your back. Position the pad so that the inflation valve is at the top corner, where you can easily reach it. Sit in, and barely crack the valve open. You’ll hear a slight hiss, and feel yourself sinking; when you’ve barely touched the hull, close the valve. In less than a minute, you’ll have gone from bare boat to armchair comfort – well, close to it, anyway.

And there you have it – a nice, simple comfortable seat, soft and warm and supportive. Since it has no hard edges, there’s nothing to create the pressure points on nerves and blood vessels that lead to numbness or tingling. Once you sit in, your butt displaces air forward, forming an air-filled bulge that nicely supports the back of the thighs . If you want a quick, comfortable solution to your seating woes that takes less than a minute to install, this system is worth a try. And if all comes to the worst and you can’t stand it, you’ll still got a very nice sleeping pad to show for your pains.

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