This Origami-Inspired Kayak Is Our New Favorite Travel Companion

Oru Kayak is changing the recreational kayak game

Oru Kayak Inlet model
Nathan Allen / TripSavvy.

When Anton Willis moved to a small San Francisco apartment, he had an issue. His fiberglass kayak wouldn’t fit. Around the same time, Willis had been reading about advances in the art of Origami. So he began tinkering, folding paper into tiny kayaks. Willis spent years folding and re-folding and eventually settled on a prototype of an origami-inspired vessel to put on Kickstarter. Hundreds of people backed it, and Oru Kayak was born.

Fast-forward a decade from that initial Kickstarter campaign, and Bay Area-based Oru Kayak is now on its sixth Kickstarter campaign. It has created two factories and constructed around 50,000 kayaks. 

Over the past few months, I’ve been testing a loaner kayak from Oru. I believe the best outdoor gear solves a common problem and simultaneously increases access to our natural world. So I’ve been eyeing Oru for a while and was excited to give it a go.

Oru Kayak Inlet Model

When I unboxed the Inlet model, which is currently—but not for much longer—Oru’s lightest and most compact kayak, my initial reaction was that it’s not an actual kayak. And then, when I saw it was, my response was that it couldn’t be a real kayak for adults. And then, when I realized it was, I figured it would sink as soon as I got into it.

Not so. (But just in case, I first tested it in a backyard pool.)

The kayak, paddle, and PFD can all be packed into a backpack that weighs about 20 pounds. Oru claims the kayak can be unfolded and assembled in three to five minutes, and we found that to be true. It took about five minutes the first couple of times, but we’re now around three minutes or less.

Oru Kayak Inlet Model

Once assembled, the Inlet is 9-feet, 8-inches in length, with a max width of about 2.5 feet (31 inches). Oru says it can fit a kayaker up to 6-feet, 2-inches in height, and 275 pounds in weight. We were able to paddle with a 6-foot-tall adult and two-year-old that combined for more than 200 pounds comfortably in the cockpit.

When we first put the kayak in a backyard pool (remember that trepidation about sinking), we quickly realized we were cautious but ignorant of our product. Like other Oru kayaks, the Inlet is constructed with a super durable double-layered thermoplastic polymer. (Read: It’d take a lot to damage this kayak.)

So we immediately took it to our local marina and ocean access in Ventura, California. Our initial impression: This kayak rips. It’s faster than expected, it’s got excellent maneuverability, and despite its look, it is reasonably rigid and stable. We took it on choppy, windy days. We took it out on open surf. It never felt unstable or like it couldn’t handle the relatively mild break. (Oru rates this kayak as a beginner boat for calm water.)

Oru Kayak Inlet Model

A few thoughtful touches on the Inlet make it perform better. First, the polyethylene sleeves that go over the front and back edges of the kayak create a more durable and damage-resistant boat. We also appreciated an adjustable footrest and backrest to make it a comfortable ride for kayakers of various heights. And the tension strap and buckle-closure system helped amp rigidity.

Obviously, this boat was designed for the urban dweller that wants to get on the water but doesn't have the space to store a nearly 10-foot kayak. But we also quickly realized the travel potential. So we checked it on a plane and took it to Hawai'i. We flew Delta from Los Angeles to Honolulu, and, honestly, the experience couldn't have been smoother. Because of its size and weight, it was considered a standard luggage item. We did have to pick it up in Honolulu and Los Angeles in the oversized luggage area. Thanks to the rugged plastic, there was no damage to the kayak or its backpack.

Now, about the accessibility. We can't imagine a better kayak that is as easy to tote around. We didn't get to carry it up to any alpine lakes because of the season, but imagine it'd be easy. The price of the kayak is still high. You'll pay more than a grand to get a backpack and paddle along with the Inlet. Thankfully, Oru will soon introduce the Lake model, its sixth kayak in the line. The Lake, which is currently on Kickstarter and has more than $1 million in backing, will weigh two pounds less than the Inlet and, perhaps more importantly, be half the cost. We're down for it.

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  1. Oru Kayak. "Inlet Portable Folding Recreational Kayak." Accessed April 7, 2022.