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Old 04-09-2014   #11
montrose, Colorado
Paddling Since: 1999
Join Date: Jul 2009
Posts: 325
Generally speaking, I would say that bladders and zippers suck. I own an old style puma amongst other boats and it is a fun boat, but I would only buy a bladder boat if it is a really good deal.

That being said, There have been several times when while making major repairs on a real (non-bladder) boat that I would have loved the internal access that a zipper would give me.

I would would look at the following scenarios:

1. For a small puncture type hole, I can probably patch a regular boat quicker than I can unzip, fix a bladder, reposition a bladder, and rezip.

2. For a larger hole, that would require an inside patch on a regular boat, it is probably easier to unzip, patch the bladder, sew the skin, and rezip than to do an inside/outside patch on a regular boat.

3. for those massive, oh my god, type rips and tears, it will be a challenge regardless of which kind of boat you have. I think it is situation dependent as for whether a zipper and bladder would be easier than a traditional boat. Of course, a good sewing kit and an extra bladder would be really nice in a lot of massive repair type situations.

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Old 04-10-2014   #12
Jenks, Oklahoma
Join Date: Oct 2004
Posts: 1,407
Every body has an opinion and here is mine.

For the record, I had two Aires for many years. Boated them a ton in muddy rivers and clearer Idaho rivers and never had a problem with a zipper or puncture. I admit that the Aires took a little more maintenance time as I unzipped mine at end of season to completely dry out the bladders and inspect things. I thought they were great boats and I liked the system. Also for the record, I sold my big Aire Cat to a friend and he tore the right front tube in GC in absolutely filthy mud water. Had zero problems unzipping and fixing the tear. I never did but the option of having a spare Aire bladder along makes for real back up just in case. Based on a lot of Aires in my group, they all are happy and several are over ten years old and well used. I don't think Aire's set up sucks at all. Don't know about other brands with bladders.

On the other hand, lots of single wall boats in my group with many years of service and they rarely have problems but when they do are repaired - just takes a bit more time for the glue to cure. I think modern single wall boats are great boats as well. I don't think the single wall boats suck either. Several single wall boats in the group that have been beat up for decades and still hold air and work great. In fact I just purchased a single wall boat and expect it to last as long as I want to row it.

I think performance and repair-ability depends on the tear and the skill set of the person doing the repair a heck of a lot more than the zipper or lack of, bladder or single wall.

Bottom line, both constructions work and work well. Opinions tho sometimes work well and sometimes not so well.

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Old 04-10-2014   #13
Old Guy in a PFD
Tucson, Arizona
Paddling Since: 1967
Join Date: Feb 2013
Posts: 1,022
Here's the thing. You carry a repair kit for a reason, and it should have everything you can reasonably expect to need to repair your equipment.

Of greater importance is the skill to actually use what you so thoughtfully put in your kit. If you aren't comfortable patching a hole in your boat you need to get comfortable, cause, you know, it's gonna be a required skill at some point. The cost of material, glue, etc. used to gain your skill is minimal compared to the mess you can find yourself in on a river bank, in the rain, in the dark, trying to figure out how to deal with that flat boat 10 miles from a suitable camp.
Patching a boat is not sorcery; if you have ever patched a bicycle tube you already have the general concept. Get some extra material, some glue, and practice. That way, when you rip your boat on a rock or tree limb you won't experience a panic attack. Instead you'll be cussing your luck, not your situation.
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Old 04-14-2014   #14
Wolf Hole, Arizona
Paddling Since: 1980
Join Date: Feb 2011
Posts: 45
Silt and sediment occur in many variations. I had an old Aire Cougar that was used mainly in Alaska on glacial rivers. The glacial silt was extremely abrasive and eventually wore numerous pin holes into the bladders. This silt also took a toll on the zippers. I think much of the damage occurred before I got the boat, and could maybe have been delayed or avoided by more frequent flushing by the original owner. I had some very frustrating sessions with stuck zippers and slow-leak bladders on the river. Not a good situation in a fly-in wilderness with one boat. Ended up getting new zippers sewn in and replacing the bladders. I used the boat several more years, but I took it apart and flushed it after every multi-day trip. On those beautiful, clear Idaho rivers where Aire boats are born they probably last about forever. That red silt in the Grand and San Juan probably isn't as abrasive, but I think it would still be a good idea to disassemble and rinse it out of the zippers and bladders. Aire makes excellent products, but the multiple components do require some extra effort to properly maintain them. I have just gotten too old and lazy for added work and am now just using my hypalon boats.
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Old 04-14-2014   #15
jpwinc's Avatar
durango, Colorado
Paddling Since: 1964
Join Date: Sep 2008
Posts: 160
So it all comes down to care of the boat, and It does not matter what kind of boat it is if it is mishandled it will not last.

Here is something I put together after an experience with a rental situation where I did not think the people renting the boats were paying attention to the problem. Now they have their customers read this, and we do not see these issues nearly as much.

more on care and maintenance of inflatable boats

This applies to all inflatable boats. You may have seen this before. I post it when ever I can. I do not like to see boats damaged needlessly.

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