Guide to Inflatable Kayaks for Winter Kayaking

Inflatable Kayaks For Winter Kayaking Guide

More and more paddlers are choosing not to put their kayaks into winter storage, rather experience the stunning scenery and tranquility winter has to offer from the water.

Before you head out, run through our guide to inflatable kayaks for winter kayaking to make sure you use a safe and suitable kayak.

Can you use an inflatable kayak for winter kayaking?

Yes you can, keeping in mind that inflatable kayaks are somewhat different from hardshell kayaks. People even use inflatable kayaks for extended self-support kayaking trips in Alaska, as you can see in this Men’s Journal article.

Here is a full-out comparison on the differences between inflatable and hardshell kayaks, but for winter paddling, the most important ones are:

Better stability

Inflatable kayaks are more stable than hardshell kayaks. Accidentally tipping one over is not really possible, you really need to go at it to do so, as you can see in this video.

You can see that to tip an inflatable kayak over, you need to sit on a side tube, grab the other tube and pull on it with force. Accidentally doing this is very unlikely.

Of course this is a wide Sea Eagle Explorer kayak, the narrower Advanced Elements Expedition is somewhat easier.

No Eskimo roll with inflatable kayaks

It is impossible to do Eskimo rolls with inflatable kayaks. This act of righting a capsized kayak is non-existent with inflatables.

With that said, an inflatable is much less likely to capsize as a hardshell kayak.

Spray skirt is nice in the cold

Kayak Spray Skirt

Spray skirts (a.k.a. spray decks) are used on sit-in kayaks to prevent water from entering the boat. A flexible waterproof cover is worn on the kayaker’s torso, with the other end being attached to the kayak around the cockpit coaming.

Spray skirts are a good way to keep yourself dry and warm, but will not prevent hypothermia.

While most hardshell kayaks can be fitted with a spray skirt, the contrary is true for inflatable kayaks.

Only a few inflatable kayaks are designed for use with spray skirts, these have an inflatable cockpit coaming to attach the spray skirt to.

This is not a deal-breaker, but it is something you would consider if you plan on going on long winter kayaking trips. Spending many hours in an inflatable kayak is much more comfortable with a spray skirt, since:

  • It keeps you warmer.
  • It keeps the snow/rain/spray out.

Inflating a kayak in the wintertime

Before you go out on the water during winter, you will need to check the weather reports to know the expected wind speeds, air temperature, and the water temperature.

When it comes to inflating your kayak, you need to be mindful of how air pressure changes in your kayak tubes:

  • pressure drops when air is cooled
  • the pressure increases when air is warmed

If the temperature of the air is much higher than the water temperature, the water will cool down the air in your tubes and cause low air pressure in your kayak. This can become a problem, as your kayak will not perform optimally.

To avert this situation, you may need to drop your kayak into the water for 10-15 minutes to let the temperatures “equalize”, and top it off afterwards.

Another situation you will be faced with during winter on a sunny day is that when you are on a break onshore, the sun will quickly heat up and expand the air in your tubes. This might lead to overinflation. I can say with 99.9% certainty that your kayak won’t pop, but it’s wise to pay attention to this.

Best inflatable kayaks for winter kayaking

There are a lot of inflatable kayaks, but not many are suited for winter paddling.

In my opinion, the following kayaks are the best ones for winter kayaking. They all have:

  • Comfortable seats for lengthy paddling
  • Are made of heavy-duty, durable materials
  • Are constructed to make them suitable for the extremities of winter kayaking (stable, rigid, tracking fins, room for storage, bungee storage straps, D-rings, etc).

If you know of any other ones that are suitable for winter paddling, please leave them as a comment at the end of the article.

Advanced Elements Expedition AE1009-XE

The Expedition by Advanced Elements is high quality touring kayak. It is a step-up from your normal inflatable kayak, since it is shaped like a hard shell kayak and paddles like one as well. This is made possible with the company’s aluminum rib-frame technology, which shapes the bow and stern of the kayak.

It also has a drop stitch floor, which makes the bottom firm.

You need to inflate 9 (!) air chambers for the kayak to win its final shape, which sounds daunting at first, but it’s actually quite quick once you get used to it. This is because 6 of the 9 chambers only need 1-2 pumps of air.

The AE1009 also has a cockpit coaming to attach a spray skirt, which is great for paddling in cold weather.

There is also lots of room under the spray deck and on top as well, making it great for longer trips.

I have much more to say about the Expedition in my detailed review here.

Weight 42 lbs. (19 kg)
Inflated size (& folded size)13′ x 32″ (31″ X 16″ X 10″)
Capacity1 person – 450 lbs. (204 kg)
Air chambers9
Whitewater ratingClass II
Extra featuresSpray skirt compatible
Drop-stitch floor
Aluminum rib-frame

Sea Eagle Explorer kayaks

The Sea Eagle Explorer is another high-quality, albeit more pricey inflatable kayak. It is made in 3 sizes: 300 cm, 380 cm, and 420 cm.

The Explorer is a very stable kayak, capsizing it is no easy feat. It is made of very strong PVC and includes a drop-stitch floor for extra stability.

I have a detailed review of the Explorer here if you are seriously considering it.

This kayak is rated for Class IV whitewater, so if you know your trip will take you through chops, this might be a good choice.

The Explorer cannot be fitted with a spray skirt though, so it may not be your best choice for extended winter kayaking trips. This is the only reason it is not my #1 pick.

Check out the best price of the Explorer on >>

Weight 40 lbs. (18 kg)
Inflated size (& folded size) 12′ 6″ x 39″ (31″ x 20″ x 9″)
Capacity2 people – 750 lbs. (340 kg)
Air chambers3
Whitewater ratingClass IV
Extra featuresStrong PVC
Drop-stitch floor
Class IV rapids
16 drain valves

Itiwit Strenfit X500 kayak

Itiwit is a sub-brand of Decathlon, the sporting goods store. Normally you would not expect much from an in-house store brand, but the Strenfit X500 is an exceptional kayak, so it needs to be included in this list.

I have to admit that I didn’t try this kayak on water, just at the store, but it was very impressive. Supposedly the company spent 30 months on the development of this kayak, and has several patents pending on the design and use of materials.

It is approved for sea touring beyond 300 m from shore, which is actually what it is made for.

It is remarkably rigid, and just oozes quality. It has a cockpit coaming to attach a spray skirt and a drop stitch air floor that inflates to 10 PSI like a SUP. Even though I only sat into it at the store, I could feel how comfortable it would be. The seat was awesome, and the foot rest held well.

One thing that really stood out with this inflatable kayak was how narrow it was. You can see that it is only 25.2″ wide, compared to the 32″ width of the Advanced Elements Expedition. It is the closest to a hard shell kayak I’ve seen from an inflatable.

There are 2 negatives with this kayak though:

  • Its capacity is only 275 lbs (125 kg). Not very much.
  • It is supposed to be very tippy, especially when you’re not paddling. This means that this kayak is only suitable for advanced paddlers.

I am not sure you can get this kayak in the USA though, I saw it at a store in the UK selling for 600 GBP.

Strenfit X500 Kayak

Weight 40 lbs. (18 kg)
Inflated size (& folded size) 12′ 6″ x 25.2″ (37″ x 20″ x 10″)
Capacity1 person – 275 lbs. (125 kg)
Air chambers5
Whitewater ratingno info
Extra featuresStrong PVC
Drop-stitch floor
spray skirt compatible
narrow like a hard shell kayak

Echo Ikayak

The Echo iKayak is another inflatable yak which can handle winter paddling.

It also has drop-stitch floors for extra rigidity, and a lot of space under and above the spray deck to store your gear on longer kayaking trips.

It has an aluminum frame you put under the cover, which keeps the hull angled to shed water. In comparison, the Advanced Elements Expedition above uses 4 inflatable “deck lifts” to achieve this.

This is also one of the few inflatable boats that can be fitted with a spray skirt to keep you warm and dry during winter paddling.

This kayak does not come with a carry backpack, rather some fabric to wrap the folded kayak. This just means that it’s not suitable for hiking, but it’s OK for moving from A to B in the trunk of your car.

You can also install a rudder (AE4005 Rudder Kit), which you can steer with foot pedals. This make it easier to turn and improves tracking. Pretty cool!

You can find this kayak for around $600, making it one of the cheapest kayaks with a drop-stitch floor.

Echo Ikayak
Weight 40 lbs. (18 kg)
Inflated size 13′ x 36″
Capacity1 person – 450 lbs. (204 kg)
Air chambers3
Whitewater ratingunknown
Extra featuresStrong PVC
Drop-stitch floor
Spray skirt compatible
Aluminum frame under cover

If you know of any other inflatable kayaks you could safely use during winter, let me know in the comments below.

You might also want to check out my guide on winter paddling, which teaches you the ins and outs of the sport.

And most importantly:

Winter kayaking is a lot of fun in inflatables, try it if you have the chance.

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.

2 thoughts on “Guide to Inflatable Kayaks for Winter Kayaking”

  1. For kayaking in cold water (either in the winter, or any time of the year near glaciers or icebergs), is it safe to say I would want a kayak that is NOT self-bailing, so I’m not sitting in a few inches of 33 degree water the whole time? To save money, I was thinking of using my existing AIRE Tributary Tomcat for this purpose, but haven’t thought of a way where it’s not letting in ice-cold water in from the bottom.

    1. Tom @

      Oh yeah, you definitely don’t want to be sitting in ice-cold water. I’m not familiar with your kayak, but if there is no way to close the scupper holes, it is not suitable for winter kayaking.

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