Best Inflatable Kayaks

Inflatable kayaks are a great way to get out on the water. They offer many advantages over their hard-shell counterparts and could be the only choice for paddlers that require easy portability from the kayak.

There are loads of inflatable kayaks on the market, all with various features, designs, materials, etc.

With so many choices, picking one is hard!

No worries, I’ve gathered everything you need to know about inflatable kayaks on this page to help you choose the best inflatable kayak for your specific needs.

Let’s start with a list of the cream of the crop of inflatable kayaks. I will divide it into 2 sections: single-person and tandem kayaks.

Best One-Person Inflatable Kayaks

Here are the best single paddler inflatable kayaks you can get in 2021.

Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame

Great day touring kayak

Advanced Elements Advancedframe Inflatable Kayak

Best features

Reinforced 600 D PVC fabric
Stable & tracks well thanks to hybrid body design
Coaming rim for attaching a sprayskirt
Reasonably large cockpit

Specifications

Brand: Advanced Elements

Weight capacity: 300 lbs (136 kg)

Size: 32″ x 10’5″ (folded size: 30” x 17” x 10”)

Weight: 36 lbs (16 kg)

This is one of my favorite day tourer kayaks, period.

It has a hybrid build, meaning that it has solid elements to support its inflatable frame. The result is that the kayak tracks well, and the body is very stable, even though this single paddler model has an I-beam floor (you can purchase the tandem version with a drop-stitched floor).

The materials used for this kayak reflect its price-point. A PVC vinyl inside is covered by a waterproof fabric, making the yak that much more resistant to punctures.

As for the size of the kayak, it is comfortable for kayakers up to 6′ in height. Any taller, I would get the 2-person version instead. There is plenty of storage space inside and on the deck as well though.

The hybrid build makes this kayak slightly heavier than other inflatables of its size, but the tradeoff of better andling and tracking is worth it.

Advanced Elements Advancedframe Features

If you are into cold-weather paddling, you’ll be able to use a sprayskirt with this kayak. This is made possible by an inflatable coaming rim running around the cockpit entrance.

The AdvancedFrame is also rated for Class I-II rapids, so the sprayskirt could come in handy there as well.

If you are familiar with Advanced Elements, you’ll know that they make quality kayaks with useful features. You will not be disappointed by this kayak if you are looking for a single person sit-inside day touring inflatable kayak.

Overall
4
  • Features
  • Durability
  • Stability
  • Speed

Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame opinion

Both the single and tandem versions of the AE AdvancedFrame kayaks are well-made. They are made with quality materials and they perform really well on the water. They are slightly heavier than other inflatable kayaks due to their hybrid build, but still portable enough to take out on day trips from your vehicle or house if you’re like me and live near a lake or river. It also inflates relatively quickly – about 7-8 minutes total, which is pretty good for an inflatable kayak of this complexity. This is a great kayak for a lot of different activities.

Sevylor Quikpak K5

Ultra-portable backpack/kayak system for beginner paddlers

Sevylor Quikpak K5 Inflatable Kayak

Best features

Durable reinforced deck and hull fabric
Backpack storage system makes it portable
Several value-added features built into the kayak
Reasonable price

Specifications

Brand: Sevylor/Coleman

Weight capacity: 250 lbs (113 kg)

Size: 10′ x 2’10”

Weight: 25.5 lbs (11.5 kg)

The Sevylor/Coleman Quikpak K5 is a 1-person sit-inside inflatable kayak. It is unique because it breaks down into a backpack with nicely padded shoulder straps, so you can take it on longer walks/hikes.

At 25 lbs, it is too large to go on long hikes, but you can definitely reach remote locations with the Quikpak K5 on your back.

The kayak is very sturdy, so you don’t need to worry about punctures. The PVC air chambers are covered by 900 D polyester fabric, and the hull is protected with an extra layer of 1000 D tarpaulin.

Sevylor Quikpak K5 Features

This is a recreational kayak meant for beginners. It has features that would raise it to a day-touring category, but the seat is not comfortable enough to spend an entire day in. Its tracking is not great, which is another reason day-long paddling trips would not be ideal in it.

However, it is perfect for paddling and relaxing in your local lake or in slow-moving rivers. Some people even use it on light rapids.

The Quikpak K5 is good value, especially since the package includes everything you need to get on the water as quickly as possible: an air pump, a paddle, and a repair kit. The paddle is not that good though, you will probably want to replace it down the line.

Overall
4
  • Features
  • Durability
  • Stability
  • Speed

Sevylor/Coleman Quikpak K5 opinion

The Quikpak K5 is a recreational kayak that is unique among inflatable kayaks in this price range. It effectively transforms from a backpack to a 1-person sit-inside kayak in 5 minutes. The backpack design enhances its portability, so you can take it with you on short excursions. The material is durable, setup is easy, and the package includes a pump and a paddle. There are a few negatives though, read my detailed review to find out what they are.

Sea Eagle Explorer 300x

Probably the most versatile inflatable kayak, ever

Sea Eagle 300x Inflatable Kayak

Best features

Very strong and sturdy, yet light
Rated for Class IV rapids
3 sizes
3-year warranty

Specifications

Brand: Sea Eagle

Weight capacity: 395 lbs (179 kg)

Size: 118″ x 39″ (folded size: 24” x 16” x 6”)

Weight: 31 lbs (14 kg)

If I had to describe Sea Eagle’s Explorer kayaks with one word, it would be: versatility.

Other than winter kayaking, there is not much you couldn’t do with an Explorer. It is rated for Class IV rapids and has 16 closable scupper holes to let excess water flow out.

The material of this kayak is amazingly tough. You can hammer at it, throw bricks at it, even run a Jeep over it, and the kayak will still be good as new.

It has a triple chamber hull design, with each tube inflating to 3.2 psi. That is a lot, and it is what makes the kayak so rigid. Of course, the kayak has drop-stitched floors as well.

Flat-water tracking is helped with a large removable skeg. You can swap the skeg with a shallow-water skeg as well, which is better in shallow water or rivers where you could hit underwater objects.

If you’re looking for a kayak that can do almost anything, you found it.

The Explorer comes in 3 sizes. This single-person model is good for white-water, but the tandem version is a better all-around choice in my opinion. You can read more about it lower on this page, or on the detailed review of the Explorer line.

Overall
4.5
  • Features
  • Durability
  • Stability
  • Speed

Sea Eagle Explorer opinion

Staying true to Sea Eagle standards, the 300x, 380x, and 420x Explorer kayaks a solidly built and well-designed line of kayak 1, 2, or 3 person kayaks. The Explorer line is NMMA certified, rated for Class IV whitewater, and suitable for use in ocean waves as well. Despite the robust build, the hull material is light and lends the kayak the portability that inflatable kayakers seek.

Aquaglide Chinook 90

Middle of the pack

Aquaglide Chinook 90 Inflatable Kayak

Best features

Comfortable and well accessorized
Super light
Good tracking

Specifications

Brand: Aquaglide

Weight capacity: 250 lbs (113 kg)

Size: 9′ x 35″ x 12.5 ” (274 x 89 x 32 cm)

Weight: 19 lbs. (8.7 kg)

The Chinook 90 from Aquaglide is a mid-fielder in everything from price to performance. It has a lot of things going for it to raise it above the level of beginner kayaks, but it is not at the level of the more expensive, high-end kayaks.

The Chinook has a lot of features that come in very handy, such as the D-ring attachments, comfortable seat, paddle holder, etc. It also has firm side air bladders that make it very stable. I am not a fan of the polyester shell though, as it increases drying times.

Chinook 90 Features

My biggest complaint about this kayak, though, is that it does not come with a paddle and a pump. You are looking to spend an extra $100-150 on these if you don’t have them already.

I can recommend the Chinook to beginner paddlers who are looking to get a better than average inflatable kayak for flatwater paddling, or even mild rivers. It doesn’t have scupper holes, so it’s not fit for whitewater kayaking, even though the material could handle it in my opinion.

The Chinook comes in 2 larger sizes as well for tandem kayaking (or more space for gear), you might want to check them out as well.

Overall
3.9
  • Features
  • Durability
  • Stability
  • Speed

Aquaglide Chinook opinion

The Chinook 120 inflatable kayak is a good choice for paddlers looking to spend quality time on the water. It’s a great recreational or Class I-II whitewater rafting kayak. This kayak seats two adults and a pet or lightweight gear. It’s a durable construction and supported by a 1-year limited warranty.

Advanced Elements Expedition

Best inflatable touring kayak

Advanced Elements Expedition Elite Ae1009 Xe

Best features

Paddles almost like a hardshell kayak
Rigid body (drop-stitched air floor, aluminum inserts, inflatable beams)
Spray skirt compatible

Specifications

Brand: Advanced Elements

Weight capacity: 450 lbs (204 kg)

Size: 13′ x 32″ ( folded 31″ x 16″ x 10″)

Weight: 42 lbs (19 kg)

Out of all of the inflatable touring kayaks I have tried, perhaps the Advanced Elements Expedition is the only one that ticks every checkbox I could list for a capable touring kayak.

Touring kayaks are long to help with tracking, speed, and storage, all of which are very important on long trips.

The Expedition is a remarkably well made kayak, which uses quality materials. I think the reason it is so inexpensive is that Advanced Elements doesn’t use super thick PVC vinyl air chambers. But it doesn’t matter, because they are covered by a waterproof fabric to make the kayak as tough as can be.

The Expedition is an AdvancedFrame model, which means it has a hybrid body build. There are aluminum inserts to make the body rigid, which helps it cut water like a hard-shell kayak.

You can see how well it tracks and how easy it is to paddle in this video.

The drop-stitched floor makes the kayak stable and comfortable for prolonged use. You can easily stand up in the kayak.

Being a touring kayak, it also has foot-rests inside the cockpit. You can even get the optional Advanced Elements rudder kit, which adds a foot controlled rudder system to the kayak.

You can attach a sprayskirt to the cockpit coaming, so the Expedition is suitable for extreme winter kayaking as well.

There is loads of storage space for your gear on multi-day trips as well.

If you are looking for the best inflatable touring kayak, look no further.

Overall
4.1
  • Features
  • Durability
  • Stability
  • Speed

Advanced Elements Expedition Elite opinion

This is a well-made hybrid kayak combining the best of foldable kayaks with inflatables. It tracks better and is faster than most other inflatable kayaks. The kayak is great for beginners to advanced paddlers looking for a good inflatable touring kayak.

The fact that this kayak only has a 1-year warranty is odd, but the manufacturer’s USA-based support center is very responsive.

Sea Eagle Razorlite 393rl

Full dropstitch kayak – performs like a hardshell

Se Razorlite 393rl Kayak

Best features

Performs like a hardshell kayak
Full dropstitch body
Easy paddling, tracks straight

Specifications

Brand: Sea Eagle

Weight capacity: 500 lbs (227 kg)

Size: 71 x 391 cm

Weight: 35 lbs (16 kg)

The Sea Eagle Razorlite was the world’s first fully dropstitched kayak. Every air chamber inflates to 10 psi, making the kayak incredibly rigid.

The bow and stern are covered with sharp molded plastic, which cuts through the waves. The hull has a double concave design to let water pass below the kayak.

This all results in an inflatable kayak that tracks like a hardshell, and also goes just as fast.

Se Razorlite 393rl Features

The Razorlite is more expensive than traditional kayaks, but performs much better. It has loads of storage room for your gear or dog as well.

As with all Sea Eagle boats, the quality of this yak is excellent. For peace of mind, it is covered with a 3-year warranty in case of manufacturing defects.

The Razorlite is not for beginner paddlers though, as the narrow body makes its primary stability feel somewhat tippy. It does not flop over though, as the secondary stability is strong.

Intermediate and advanced paddlers will really enjoy this one!

If you’re searching for an inflatable kayak that is portable, yet performs and handles like a hardshell, you will love the Razorlite.

It also comes in a 2-person tandem version, which you’ll find lower in this article.

Overall
4.6
  • Features
  • Durability
  • Stability
  • Speed

Sea Eagle Razorlite kayak opinion

The Razorlite is a full dropstitch inflatable kayak. It is much firmer, narrower, and sleeker than a traditional inflatable kayak, but still has loads of room for gear. It handles pretty much like a hardshell kayak, you can reach speeds of 6MPH with it. This is a quality, high-performance inflatable kayak for intermediate & advanced paddlers, which is reflected by its price.

The Razorlite comes in 2 lengths, the 393rl for solo paddlers, and the 473rl for 2 people.

Best Tandem (2-Person) Inflatable Kayaks

In this section, you’ll find 2021‘s best 2-person tandem kayaks.

Sea Eagle 330 & 370

High-quality beginner kayak

Sea Eagle 330 Inflatable Kayak

Best features

Comes with everything you need to get on the water
Easy to set up and dry
Lots of accessories
Good tracking

Specifications

Brand: Sea Eagle

Weight capacity: 227 kg (SE 330), 295 kg (SE 370)

Size: 11’2″ X 3’ (340 cm x 86 cm) (SE 330), 12’6″ x 3′ (380 cm x 86 cm) (SE 370)

Weight: 26.5 lbs (12 kg) (SE 330), 33 lbs (15 kg) (SE 370)

The Sea Eagle 330 and the longer 370 hold an interesting place in my lineup of the best kayaks you can get in 2021.

It is more than an entry-level kayak, but not quite out of the recreational kayak zone. It is more expensive than a recreational kayak though (at around $300), and it is much better quality.

It actually has a 3-year warranty, just like all other Sea Eagle boats.

In fact, the body is so tough that it is rated for Class III whitewater!

This kayak comes in 2 versions, The SE 330 and 370. They are identical except for the length, the 370 is supposed to be for 3 people.

You sit really high in this kayak. It has an I-beam floor and a rather large body, which is good and bad. The large, lightweight body means that it can be set off course by the wind.

If you are looking for a very high-quality, safe entry level kayak, either the SE 330 or 370 is a great choice.

Overall
3.9
  • Features
  • Durability
  • Stability
  • Speed

Sea Eagle 330 and 370 kayak opinion

 

If you’re considering buying an affordable, yet well-built kayak, the SE370 (or the smaller SE330) might grab your fancy. The kayak is heavy-duty, light-weight, and spacious enough for 2 adults. It is also rated for class III rapids. It is convenient, easy to use and easy to set up.

Recreational kayakers looking to explore the water will be more than pleased with the SE330 or SE370.

Intex Excursion Pro

A nice balance between cost and features

Intex Excursion Pro Inflatable Kayak

Best features

Comes with everything you need to get on the water
Easy to set up and dry
Lots of accessories
Good tracking

Specifications

Brand: Intex

Weight capacity: 400 lbs (180 kg)

Size: 12’7″ X 3’1″ X 1’6″ (384 cm x 84 cm x 46 cm)

Weight: 39 lbs (17.7 kg)

The Excursion Pro is the best kayak from Intex, a company that is not really known for high quality products. Regardless, this is a good product with loads of features, good tracking, and lots of accessories.

There are a few things that are bothersome with this kayak, such as the fake Halkey-Roberts valves that can only be pumped with Intex’s own pump, the design of the splash guard, and the placement of the fishing rod holders.

If you are looking for a kayak to paddle on the lake with your family, do a bit of exploration, maybe some fishing, this is a solid choice.

Intex Excursion Pro Features

As long as you can find it for below $280, to be exact.

Inflatable boat kayak prices have risen a lot, and you don’t want to overspend on something that only has a 90-day warranty.

If you can’t find it at a good price, the Sea Eagle 330 is a better choice.

Overall
3.9
  • Features
  • Durability
  • Stability
  • Speed

Intex Excursion Pro kayak opinion

The Excursion Pro is arguably Intex’s best product. It has a lot of things going for it: it comes with a barrage of accessories, the material is semi-tough, it tracks reasonably well, and is stable. However, it has several cons, and comes with a short 90-day warranty. If you can find it for under $280, it is worth considering. 

Aquaglide Chinook 120

Solid tandem kayak in the middle of the field

Aquaglide Chinook 120 Inflatable Kayak

If you skimmed over the first section of this article with the solo kayaks, you might have seen the Chinook 90.

The Chinook 120 is the tandem version of the same kayak. While Aquaglide offers a Chinook 100 size as well, I would recommend the 120 for tandem paddling.

Chinook 120 Features

Just like the smaller version, the 120 is a kayak for beginners who want to have a quality kayak.

The Chinook line has several features that raise it above entry model kayaks, which you can read about it the detialed review.

Overall
3.9
  • Features
  • Durability
  • Stability
  • Speed

Aquaglide Chinook opinion

The Chinook 120 inflatable kayak is a good choice for paddlers looking to spend quality time on the water. It’s a great recreational or Class I-II whitewater rafting kayak. This kayak seats two adults and a pet or lightweight gear. It’s a durable construction and supported by a 1-year limited warranty.

Advanced Elements Convertible Tandem AdvancedFrame

Excellent 2-person day tourer

Advanced Elements Advancedframe Tandem Inflatable Kayak

This kayak might be familiar already, as it has a single paddler version (which I have already described above).

The 2-person variant is called “Convertible”, because it can be converted to a 1-person or a 2-person kayak by moving the seats and swapping the cockpit cover.

A very impressive feature of the 2 person model is that the cockpit cover has inflatable coamings for both paddlers, meaning both paddlers can use a sprayskirt.

Overall
4
  • Features
  • Durability
  • Stability
  • Speed

Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame opinion

Both the single and tandem versions of the AE AdvancedFrame kayaks are well-made. They are made with quality materials and they perform really well on the water. They are slightly heavier than other inflatable kayaks due to their hybrid build, but still portable enough to take out on day trips from your vehicle or house if you’re like me and live near a lake or river. It also inflates relatively quickly – about 7-8 minutes total, which is pretty good for an inflatable kayak of this complexity. This is a great kayak for a lot of different activities.

Sea Eagle Explorer 380x or 420x

Versatility for 2 people

Sea Eagle 380x Inflatable Kayak

The Sea Eagle Explorer lineup of kayaks is another one that also has a single-person model listed above, the 300x. Every aspect of the boat is the same as the smaller brother, except for the length.

The 380x is the tandem version of the kayak, being 380 cm vs the 300 cm of the 300x.

They also a 420x model, which is 427 cm long. This is the 3 person version.

Note how the increase in length from the single to the 2-person version is 80cm, but from tandem to 3-person it is just 47 cm.

3 people could theoretically paddle in the 420x, but there would be no little room for gear.

Overall
4.5
  • Features
  • Durability
  • Stability
  • Speed

Sea Eagle Explorer opinion

Staying true to Sea Eagle standards, the 300x, 380x, and 420x Explorer kayaks a solidly built and well-designed line of kayak 1, 2, or 3 person kayaks. The Explorer line is NMMA certified, rated for Class IV whitewater, and suitable for use in ocean waves as well. Despite the robust build, the hull material is light and lends the kayak the portability that inflatable kayakers seek.

Sea Eagle Razorlite 473rl

The best tandem dropstitch kayak

Se Razorlite 473rl Kayak

The Razorlite family of Sea Eagle kayaks has a smaller, single person version which I have talked about earlier in the article.

The 473rl is the 2-person model. It is everything the shorter version is, just a little bit longer to fit 2 kayakers or more gear. Whichever your priority may be.

Se Razorlite 473rl Features
Overall
4.6
  • Features
  • Durability
  • Stability
  • Speed

Sea Eagle Razorlite kayak opinion

The Razorlite is a full dropstitch inflatable kayak. It is much firmer, narrower, and sleeker than a traditional inflatable kayak, but still has loads of room for gear. It handles pretty much like a hardshell kayak, you can reach speeds of 6MPH with it. This is a quality, high-performance inflatable kayak for intermediate & advanced paddlers, which is reflected by its price.

The Razorlite comes in 2 lengths, the 393rl for solo paddlers, and the 473rl for 2 people.

Types of Inflatable Kayaks

Before we get into the categories of kayaks based on design and usage, you should know that there are 2 main types of kayaks: 

Sit-on-top kayaks (SOT)

Sit On Top Kayak Example

SIKs have a closed cockpit, where your position is on the water level or even slightly below it.

Sit-inside kayaks (SIK)

Sit Inside Kayak Example

With SOTs, you sit on the deck, so your position is above the water level. 

In general, SOTs are a better option for beginners, and SIKs are suitable for intermediate and advanced paddlers.

There is a lot to be said about the advantages and disadvantages of each, which is why I recommend you read my article on sit-inside vs. sit-on-top kayaks.

Kayak Categories

Kayaks are manufactured differently and incorporate different features based on how they are used. There are many types of inflatable kayaks, some of them purpose-built for use under extreme circumstances.

While no single kayak can perform well in all conditions, you should get one that will do well for most of what you intend to use it for. Based on this, we can differentiate the following inflatable kayak categories.

Recreational kayaks

The most basic type of kayak is the recreational kayak. They come in sit-on-top and sit-inside versions and are an affordable way to get on the water.

They are suitable for recreational activities, like paddling on lakes and even slow rivers.

Day touring kayaks

Day touring kayaks carry a higher price tag than recreational kayaks but are of higher quality in general. They come in sit-inside and sit-on-top variations as well.

Day tourers are sleeker and are easier to control than recreational kayaks. They also offer some cargo space for your gear.

Touring kayaks

Touring kayaks are much longer than day tourers, which increases their speed and optimizes their tracking capabilities. 

You can go on extended journeys in touring kayaks, as they are more comfortable and offer more storage space.

If you are not 100% intent on going on long kayaking trips, though, you will be better off with a day tourer.

Whitewater kayaks

The body of whitewater kayaks is shaped in a way that helps you navigate through raging rapids, and their material is super durable to resist tears and punctures.

They do not have skegs, as it would be an obstruction.

Fishing kayaks

Fishing kayaks offer extra features that anglers need, like fishing rod holders, mounting pads, and mounting brackets.

How to Choose an Inflatable Kayak

When deciding on which inflatable kayak you should buy, the most important thing to consider is how and where you plan on using the kayak. Everything else falls into place based on this.

Before I got into details about the characteristics of inflatable kayaks and what features you should look for, watch this insightful video on how to choose an inflatable kayak.

Characteristics of Inflatable Kayaks

Inflatable kayaks have a few inherent characteristics you should know about.

How and where can you use an inflatable kayak?

You can use inflatable kayaks pretty much anywhere you would use any other small boat.

When choosing a kayak, a lot depends on the type of water you will be kayaking in. 

  • Kayaking in flat water (lakes, ideal weather) = recreational kayak
  • Kayaking in slow-moving rivers = Day touring or Touring kayaks
  • Fishing = Fishing kayaks
  • Multi-day trips = Touring kayaks
  • Kayaking in the sea = Touring kayaks or sea kayaks
  • Whitewater rapids = Whitewater kayaks

As I mentioned, you need to think about how you will use a kayak before you buy one. Many people who fall in love with kayaking have more than one kayak, since each type is suitable for a different purpose.

Durability and safety

The durability of the kayak matters a lot when choosing an inflatable vessel. You may think inflatable boats are inferior in this regard to hard shell kayaks, but that is not true.

Consider that:

  • Inflatable boats are in use by Navy SEALs and the Coast Guard
  • Many whitewater enthusiasts prefer inflatables rated for whitewater rafting over hardshell kayaks.

Professional kayaks are suitable in adverse conditions because they are made from multiple layers of materials like rubber or PVC. For example, in case of a heavy impact against a cliff, a hardshell kayak might develop a crack. However, the air chambers of inflatable kayaks deflect the impact, meaning there is no damage to the kayak.

Not only that, they consist of redundant air chambers, so if any single chamber suffers a puncture, the other chambers still keep you afloat.

All these features ensure that they can handle the most adverse conditions with ease. You can definitely puncture them if you really try, but the better inflatable kayaks can take a real beating before showing any signs of use.

Of course, the quality of inflatable kayaks will vary in line with their price points.

But with that said, you should know that inflatable kayaks are more affordable than hardshell ones. Even the higher-end models won’t reach high-end hardshell kayaks’ price points. 

Material

An inflatable kayak’s durability depends a lot on what it is made out of, how it is made, and how thick the fabric is. 

The kayak can come in contact with sharp edges, underwater rocks, sticks, etc. on the water, and even during transport. Many people even take their dog paddling, which is fine, as long as the material can stand up to dog claws.

In addition to being durable, the material needs to be lightweight so that you can easily transport the kayak in a deflated state.

There are 3 main categories of kayak materials:

  • Single-layer vinyl – inexpensive recreational kayaks.
  • Fabric-covered vinyl – a step up, but the fabric covering the vinyl layer dries slowly.
  • Thick, heavy-duty rubber or PVC – expensive, but durable.

In addition, advances in manufacturing technology is changing the way inflatable kayaks are designed.

The use of drop-stitch tech not just in kayak floors, but also for the body of the kayak is revolutionizing inflatable kayaks. Drop-stitched kayaks come very close to the rigidity, control, and handling of hard-shell kayaks, while retaining the convenient features that we love in inflatable watercraft.

Traditional air bladders and I-beam floor

Inflatable Kayak I Beam

Drop-stitch kayak

Inflatable Kayak Drop Stitched

Portability

One of the main reasons people opt for inflatable kayaks is that they are lightweight, and once you deflate them, they occupy very little space. This makes them easy to transport and store.

Once you fold them up and put them into their carrying case, they are no larger than a sleeping bag. Some kayaks fold up so small that you can even keep them in your backpack. 

If you don’t have much storage space at home or plan on storing it in an RV, inflatable kayaks are a great option since they do not occupy much space. 

Stability on the water

If you compare the design of the inflatable kayaks and the hard shell ones, you will notice that inflatable ones are a bit wider. The wider body structure means they are buoyant on the edges as well as in the middle. This buoyancy makes them very stable; you really have to work at it to tip one over.

Their added stability also means it’s easier to reenter an inflatable kayak from the water.

Handling

Handling, speed, and tracking (going straight) are where inflatable kayaks fall behind their hardshell counterparts.

This is due to their inherent design:

  • higher sides
  • more rocker
  • hull design
  • low weight

The handling of the more expensive inflatable kayaks is about as good as that of hardshell models. Still, cheaper inflatables are definitely more difficult to control and keep going straight.

The solution to this problem is to go with an inflatable kayak with a detachable or fixed skeg. It will increase the control which you have over your kayak.

Features to look for when choosing an inflatable kayak

If you’re on the hunt for the best inflatable kayak suitable for your needs, it’s a good idea to get one that has as many features as possible.

Here are the most useful features of quality inflatable yaks.

Cockpit size

The size of the cockpit matters a lot when choosing an inflatable kayak. For a short person, it might not matter that much. However, if you’re tall and the cockpit size is small, you will be cramped and uncomfortable. 

While adjustable seats can help, not even they will help if the cockpit is too small.

In that case, the solution is to go with a tandem kayak (2-person) if you’re paddling solo or a 3-person model if you’re paddling with someone else. They are bigger and will have enough space for you and your gear.

It is well worth it to opt for a large kayak to get that extra space. It can save you a lot of discomfort in the longer run. Moreover, such kayaks are perfect for overnight camping trips as well. 

Storage space

The amount of storage space it offers is essential if you plan on carrying gear along. 

You can store gear in many ways on a kayak if it has the following features:

  • Cargo nets on the deck,
  • Storage compartments in the cockpit,
  • Hatches,
  • Hooks and loops you can tie things to.

You have to decide which storage methods you prefer and choose a suitable kayak to fit all your gear on a kayaking trip. 

Ergonomic carrying handles

All kayaks need carrying handles to move them around, but not all handles are created equal. You have to not only look at the handle design but also the padding of the handle. 

The positioning of the handles also matters a lot. The kayak should have ergonomic handles on both ends and should be easy to carry.

Seat design

Ideally, it is best to choose an inflatable kayak with adjustable seats, which allow you to position the backrest in a comfortable position. You can also set the elevation of the seats in some cases.

Additionally, the seat should provide proper back support. In that case, you will not suffer from back pain after a long kayaking trip. 

Seat padding is not an issue on inflatable kayaks, but you should still ensure the seat is properly formed and padded for many hours of pain-free paddling.

The seat design, its adjustments, and padding will determine the comfort which it provides.

Effective splash guards

If you’re looking at sit-on-top kayaks, it is good to choose one with front and rear splash guards. These can ensure that the gear in the storage compartment and the storage space remains dry. 

It will also reduce the amount of water that gets into the kayak.

Sturdy carry bag

Whether you like it or not, your kayak will probably be deflated and stored most of the time. That is why you should choose a kayak, which comes with a proper carry bag, as it is the most secure way to store the kayak. It will also ensure that the kayak gets stored in a small amount of space.

The carry bag should be of excellent quality, so it does not tear. It will have handles, of course, but having backpack-style straps is a big plus when you need to carry it on longer distances.

Comfortable footrests

Footrests keep your feet and legs supported, which is vital for proper paddling form. They also help keep your legs in a comfortable position. 

Some inflatable kayaks don’t have footrests, meaning you need to place your feet in between the hull and side tubes. It works but is not ideal.

The best inflatable yaks have adjustable footrests so that you are comfortable throughout the trip.

Skeg

A skeg is nothing but a plastic fin that is attached to the bottom of the kayak. While it might seem like a small feature, it can help you immensely out on the water.

I have an entire article about inflatable boat skegs here.

In short, skegs help in controlling the kayak and increase paddling efficiency. You can tackle crosscurrents as well as crosswinds more effectively with a skeg. 

You absolutely need to have at least one skeg on an inflatable kayak.

Drain plugs

The best sit-on-top inflatable kayaks have drain plugs (scupper holes) that you can open and close as you need. They allow you to drain the excess water which enters your kayak. 

Scupper holes are significant for whitewater kayaking, where water splashes onto the deck. They also make it easier to correct a flipped kayak.

Setting up and packing away

Inflation usually is not an issue with inflatable kayaks. They have a set number of air chambers, and you have to inflate them in order. It takes no longer than 10 minutes.

Here is a detailed article on how to inflate kayaks.

Deflation is a bit trickier, but interestingly, nobody asks about it. You should pay attention to 2 things:

  • The air valve should allow a lot of air out quickly. Look for boats with “check valves” like the Boston valve or the Halkey-Roberts valve. They make inflation easy as they do not let the air out, but at the same time, a simple twist will open them up to quickly deflate the boat.
  • Kayaks that have fabric covering the vinyl are harder to dry. You never want to put a damp kayak into storage, as it will mold. If you don’t have time to dry your boat right after use, you need to open it up and let it dry completely at home.

Inflatable Kayaking FAQs

Here are answers to many common questions you might have about the world of inflatable yaks. If you have any other questions, please leave a comment below.

Are you new to the world of inflatable boats? Then my Getting Started Guide is for you. You’ll find tips, tricks, and how-to articles to start off right.

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