A kayak claiming to be lightest and smallest or anything that ends with e-s-t invites skepticism. So it was with Oru Kayak’s new Lake, the smallest and lightest model in the company’s line of folding kayaks. I had no doubt the new boat would be the lightest and smallest, but can I fish from the Lake? Numbers don’t lie; the only way to certify the Lake’s fishing credentials is to put the boat on the water and on some fish. A lot is riding on this review. With new anglers looking to get into kayak fishing despite the challenge of transporting and storing a kayak, the test results will open the sport to even more people.
Oru Lake: The Lightest and Most Compact Kayak We’ve Ever Tested
Oru Lake Specs
Weight: 17 lbs
Capacity: 250 lbs
MSRP: $639 USD Lake+
Key Fishy Features
Measuring nine feet long and 32 inches wide, the Lake only weighs 17 pounds. Folded into its carrying case, it measures 42 by 10 by 18 inches. The Lake is not only the lightest Oru kayak, but I couldn’t find a lighter or smaller fishing kayak on the market.
How do they do it? The Lake’s key feature is Oru’s patented folding design. Inspired by origami, the Japanese art of folding paper, Oru kayaks fold into their own carrying case. The boats are made of corrugated plastic sheets resembling waterproof, puncture- and tear-resistant cardboard.
From a distance, the Oru looks like a regular open cockpit sit-inside kayak. Get closer and you can see flat panels, folds and seams. Unclip a couple clips and loosen a couple straps and the kayak compresses and folds into its own suitcase-sized box.
No doubt I can store and carry the Lake anywhere. But can I take it fishing in my backyard? The Oru Lake is a kayak for anyone. My question: is the Lake a kayak for anglers?
The Lake comes in two models: Lake and Lake+. The hulls are identical but the Lake+ adds some welcome features. Extra trim in the floorboard increases rigidity to reduce paddling energy lost to flex. The reinforcement also makes the floor more durable. An adjustable seat back and upgraded gel seat pad are necessary for long hours on the water. The best upgrade is the Lake+ foot rest. Placing my feet on the thin aluminum bar is more comfortable and offers better support for paddling.
When I fish out of the Oru, I grab one rod, a small tackle tray and a waterproof bag with tools and supplies. The bag and box go in the storage area behind the seat and I stick the rod in the cockpit ahead of me.
To make the Lake fish ready, I would add an elevated rod holder. Instead of drilling into the Lake’s sheeting, use a rod holder with an adhesive base. The base allows me to remove the rod holder between trips so I can still fold the Lake.
Other than the rod holder, I wouldn’t add anything to the Lake. Gobbing up this kayak with accessories and gear is counter to the Lake’s claim as the lightest and smallest kayak. Keeping it simple is the point.
Folding the Oru Lake
Anglers looking for a kayak that is easy to transport and store have two main choices: inflatable and foldable.
Inflatable kayaks offer greater capacity and stability than a similar-size folding kayak. But a high waterline and shallow draft make an inflatable more difficult to paddle in the wind and current.
Folding kayaks use a rigid hull to provide performance close to the speed and tracking of a traditional kayak. The disadvantage compared to an inflatable kayak is constructing the folding kayak. Most folding kayaks combine a rigid frame covered with fabric, like a skin-over-frame kayak.
Another option is a modular kayak. These boats disassemble into multiple components. Some boats pack into themselves like a nesting doll. Other boats simply break into two or three sections. There are even models that fold flat like Ikea furniture.
Oru goes a different direction with their origami kayaks. The advantage is a rigid hull, like the skin over frame concept. But, like an inflatable, the boat is quick and easy to assemble. All things equal, I would rather unfold the Oru than pump up an inflatable.
Another advantage over a hard-shell kayak: folding kayaks are easy to ship. I ordered the Lake on a Tuesday and the boat was on my front porch Friday afternoon.
To construct the Lake for the first time, I watched a three-minute video on YouTube. I unclipped one side-release buckle to open the case. The bow and stern fold out and the boat is flat. To give the hull shape, I popped out a couple of marked seams in the bow and stern. Then, pull the bow and stern flaps together and cinch down with straps. The floor board and seat are secured with more straps.
Once the boat is built, tighten the straps and the Lake is ready for the water. Assembly takes less than a few minutes. Practice makes perfect, the more times I built the boat the easier it was to manipulate the folds and clips.
I wouldn’t say the Oru is idiot-proof. I had to watch the video carefully and follow the instructions printed on the floorboard to complete each step in the correct order. Kind of like making a paper airplane. I’m not a genius, but after a couple trips I was able to construct the boat without tutoring.
On the Water Performance
Before discussing the Lake’s on-the-water performance, let’s talk about the elephant in the room. The Lake performs between a similar size traditional kayak and an inflatable. The short waterline and shallow draft make the Lake slower than a similar hard-shell but the rigid sides and streamlined hull beat an inflatable. Don’t forget, the little boat is nine feet long and only weighs 17 pounds. What do you expect?
The laws of physics say a long, narrow kayak will move straight and fast. A short, wide kayak is more stable and maneuverable. At the shortest end of the kayak spectrum, the Lake is easy to move into tight spaces. The boat will spin on its own axis with little effort. But paddling several miles through wind and waves is not part of the Lake’s program. If that’s your plan, check out one of Oru’s more seaworthy models.
Not to say the Lake is a bear to paddle. Compared to an inflatable or even a rotomolded nine-foot-long kayak, the Lake holds its own. To improve tracking, the Oru’s flared bow and stern allow the boat to pass easily through the water. Once the Lake gets moving, it maintains course better than a similar-sized inflatable kayak.
The Lake is only nine feet long but it is 32 inches wide. The extra width improves stability and capacity. To prove a point, I was able to carefully stand in the kayak. The Lake’s capacity is listed at 250 pounds. Recommended paddler height is under six feet, two inches.
Oru gave the Lake+ a wide cockpit opening, so entering and exiting the boat is easy. The space behind the seat is perfect for a bag of gear and a tackle box.
Paddling an Oru takes some getting used to. No matter how tight I pull the straps, the hull flexes. The corrugated plastic is tough and stiff, but it bends slightly under pressure. The movement is minimal, and superficial, but even experienced kayak anglers may be freaked out at first.
To measure the Lake’s performance, I tested the boat in its intended environment. The Lake is a natural at paddling and fishing in sheltered backwaters and small ponds. Wind and current presented a challenge, but with some effort and skill the Lake’s low sides and symmetrical hull bested the occasional bad paddling conditions.
Within those parameters, the Lake was a blast to fish. The boat is small enough for hike-in fishing, which opens new areas to exploration. The Lake excelled at sneaking into golf course ponds and neighborhood lakes. It can just as easily portage through thick forest and challenging terrain.
At the same time, the Lake is perfect to pack on family outings. Throw a Lake in the hatchback or luggage compartment, or strap the folded case to the roof of the car. Once at the campground, unfold the boat and add another activity to the agenda.
To evaluate the Lake’s performance, I didn’t worry about the limitations of a small, light and foldable kayak. Instead, I imagined all the opportunities open to the Lake that are closed to other kayaks.
No argument: the Lake is the smallest and lightest traveling kayak on the water. And, after testing the Oru Lake from assembly to paddling, fishing and disassembly, you can fish out of the little boat, too.
Oru Kayak Reviews
Folding Fishing Kayak Reviews
The Oru Lake removes barriers so anyone can go fishing. | Feature photo: Patrick Hayes