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.

There are loads of inflatable ‘yaks 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 them on this page to help you choose the most suitable inflatable kayak for your specific needs.

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

Best Inflatable Kayaks for Single Paddlers

If you’re planning on paddling solo most of the time, here are the best one-person inflatable ‘yaks you can get in 2021.

Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame

Great day touring kayak

Advanced Elements Advancedframe Inflatable Kayak

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 built-in aluminum ribs at the bow and stern to support its inflatable frame. The result is that the AE AdvancedFrame 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 are an indication of its price point. A PVC vinyl inside is covered by a waterproof fabric, making the yak that much more resistant to punctures.

As for its size, it is comfortable for people 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 handling and tracking is worth it.

Advanced Elements Advancedframe Features

If you are into cold-weather paddling, you’ll be able to use a spray skirt with the AdvancedFrame. 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. Its hull is made of PVC tarpaulin, meaning it won’t tear in light rapids.

If you are familiar with Advanced Elements, you’ll know that they make quality products with useful features. It even has bungee cords on the deck for storage.

You will not be disappointed if you are looking for a single-person sit-inside day-touring kayak.

Sevylor Quikpak K5

Ultra-portable backpack/kayak system for beginner paddlers

Sevylor Quikpak K5 Inflatable Kayak

Features

Durable reinforced deck and hull fabric
Backpack storage system makes it portable
Several value-added features built-in
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, recreational inflatable kayak meant for beginners. 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.

It 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

It has features that would raise it to the 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 Sevylor 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, an aluminum paddle, and a repair kit. The paddle is not that good though, you will probably want to replace it down the line.

Sea Eagle Explorer 300x

Probably the most versatile inflatable kayak, ever

Sea Eagle 300x Inflatable Kayak

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 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, which means it can be used on rough waters.

The material is amazingly tough. You can hammer at it, throw bricks at it, even run a Jeep over it, and the SE Explorer will still be good as new. This is one of the reasons why it is considered one of the best inflatable whitewater kayaks. No rocks or cliffs will puncture it in rougher waters.

It has a triple chamber hull design, with each tube inflating to 3.2 psi, making the tubes extra firm. And of course, a boat of this caliber has drop-stitched floors to keep it rigid over waves.

Flat-water tracking is helped by 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.

Aquaglide Chinook 90

Middle of the pack

Aquaglide Chinook 90 Inflatable Kayak

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 models.

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 the Chinook, 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 recreational paddling, or even mild rivers. It doesn’t have scupper holes, so it’s not suitable for whitewater, 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.

Advanced Elements Expedition

Best inflatable touring kayak

Advanced Elements Expedition Elite Ae1009 Xe

Features

Paddles almost like a hardshell
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.

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

The Expedition is remarkably well-made, which uses quality materials. I think the reason it is still inexpensive is that Advanced Elements doesn’t use super thick PVC vinyl air chambers as you would find on the Sea Eagle Explorer. Instead, they use PVC tarpaulin to cover the air tubes and protect them from punctures and the sun.

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

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

The drop-stitched floor makes the Expedition stable and comfortable for prolonged use. You can easily stand up in it if you want to.

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

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, and it even has velcro paddle holders on the side.

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

Sea Eagle Razorlite 393rl

Full dropstitch kayak – performs like a hardshell

Se Razorlite 393rl Kayak

Features

Performs like a hardshell
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 drop-stitched kayak. Every air chamber inflates to 10 psi, making the body 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 under.

This all results in an inflatable kayak that tracks and goes just as fast as a hard shell.

Se Razorlite 393rl Features

The Razorlite is more expensive than traditional ‘yaks, 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 a portable ‘yak that performs and handles like a hardshell, you will love the Razorlite. It is definitely a contender for the top inflatable kayak of 2021 award.

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

Best Tandem Inflatable Kayaks (2-person)

In this section, you’ll find my reviews of 2021‘s top inflatable tandem ‘yaks for two, or even three people.

Sea Eagle 330 & 370

High-quality, beginner-friendly

Sea Eagle 330 Inflatable Kayak

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 Inflatable Sport Kayak models (SE 330 and the longer SE 370) hold an interesting place on my list.

They perform better than other entry-level competitors, but are not quite out of the recreational paddling zone.

They are backed by a 3-year warranty, just like all other Sea Eagle boats.

In fact, their body material is so tough that they are rated for Class III whitewater!

This all makes the SE 330 and 370 a bit more expensive than other beginner models, but they are much better quality.

The two versions are identical except for the length: the SE 370 is 381 cm (12’6″) long, the 330 is 340 cm (11’2″).

The 370 is supposed to be for 3 people, even though it comes with two inflatable seats. Practically speaking, I would say 2 adults and a child would fit.

The SE330/370 have an I-beam floor and a rather large body, which is good and bad. The large, lightweight body means that they can be set off course by the wind.

You sit really high because of the tall body and the high inflatable seat. On that note, I would recommend you get the deluxe seats, not the ribbed SEC ones. They are way better.

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

Intex Excursion Pro

A nice balance between cost and features

Intex Excursion Pro Inflatable Kayak

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 inflatable 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.

Intex Excursion Pro Features

There are a few things that are bothersome with it though, 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. I’m also not a fan of the inflatable seat.

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

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.

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, 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, I would recommend the 120 to beginners who are looking for something that is better than the average enter level kayak.

The Chinook line has several features that raise it above entry models, which you can read about in the detailed review.

Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame Convertible

Excellent 2-person day tourer

Advanced Elements Advancedframe Tandem Inflatable Kayak

The AdvancedFrame might sound familiar, as it has a single paddler version which I talked about above.

It performs well on the water thanks to its rigid bow and stern rib-frame, and is very comfortable to paddle in.

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 around both openings, meaning both paddlers can use a spray skirt. This is very rare for an inflatable tandem ‘yak, so if this feature is a priority for you, look no further.

Sea Eagle Explorer 380x or 420x

Versatility for 2 people

Sea Eagle 380x Inflatable Kayak

The Sea Eagle Explorer lineup also has a single-person model listed above, the 300x.

The 380x is the tandem version, being 380 cm vs the 300 cm of the 300x. Every other aspect of the boat is the same as the smaller brother.

The company also makes a 420x model, which is 427 cm long. This is the 3-person version.

Note that the increase in length is not linear:

  • 80 cm increase from the single to the 2-person version
  • 47 cm increase from the tandem to 3-person

3 people could theoretically paddle in the 420x, but there would be little room for gear.

The biggest appeal of the SE Explorer lineup is in its versatility. They can literally be used for any type of kayaking.

Do you want to go on whitewater? Check.

Do you want to go touring? Check.

Do you want to go out on open waters? Check.

The SE Explorer can do it all.

Sea Eagle Razorlite 473rl

The best tandem dropstitch kayak

Se Razorlite 473rl Kayak

The Sea Eagle Razorlite lineup has a smaller, single-person version which I have talked about earlier.

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

This is a fully dropstitched kayak, which means that each air bladder is made of drop stitch material that inflates to 10 PSI. It becomes rock hard, and its paddling characteristics improve as a result.

The rigid bow and stern enable the body to cut through the water with ease. In fact, with the skeg installed, it paddles almost as traditional hardshell models do.

And the icing on the cake: the longer body makes this one of the fastest inflatable kayaks on the market.

The 473rl is top of the line in technology and quality. It also has a 3-year warranty, which is a lot in the industry.

Se Razorlite 473rl Features

Types of Inflatable Kayaks

Before we get into design and usage-based categories, 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.

Usage based categories

Kayaks are manufactured differently and incorporate different features based on how they will be used and in what bodies of water. Some of them are 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

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 calm water, lakes, and even slow rivers.

Day touring

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

Day tourers are sleeker, are easier to control, and also offer some cargo space for your gear.

Touring

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 ‘yaks, as they are more comfortable and offer more storage space.

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

Whitewater

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 also have scupper holes to allow water collected in the cockpit to drain away.

They do not have a skeg (or it is removable), as it would be an obstruction.

Fishing

An inflatable fishing kayak offers extra features that anglers need, like fishing rod holders, mounting pads, and mounting brackets. Here is a list of awesome inflatable boats & kayaks made specifically for fishing.

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 it.

Everything else falls into place based on this.

Before I got into details about their characteristics and what features you should look for, watch this insightful video on the subject.

Characteristics

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 one that is right for you, a lot depends on the type of water you will be paddling in based on the list below:

  • Flat water (lakes, ideal weather) = Recreational kayak
  • Slow-moving rivers = Touring or day-touring kayak
  • Fishing = Fishing kayak
  • Multi-day trips = Touring kayak with room for camping gear
  • Sea/ocean = Touring or sea kayak
  • Whitewater rapids = Whitewater kayak
  • Winter = Rugged kayak with sealable cockpit

But with that said, many people will fall in love with paddling and will eventually buy more than one kayak, since each type is suitable for a different purpose.

Durability and safety

You may think inflatable kayaks are inferior to their hardshell counterparts when it comes to durability, 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 models.

Professional kayaks are tough enough in adverse conditions because they are made from multiple layers of durable materials like rubber or PVC.

For example, in the case of a heavy impact against a cliff, a traditional kayak might develop a crack. However, the air chambers of inflatables would deflect the impact, letting the boat simply bounce off the cliff without damage.

Not only that, they consist of multiple air chambers. This redundancy is an important safety feature, so if any single chamber suffers a puncture, the other chambers still keep you afloat. Most inflatable kayaks have three air chambers: the floor, and the two sides.

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

As you can expect, the quality of inflatable kayaks will vary in line with their price points. Better models are more expensive.

But you should also 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 on:

  • What it is made out of
  • How it is made
  • How thick the fabric is

The body of the boat 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.

The 3 main categories of materials used to manufacture the body of an inflatable kayak are:

  • 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 are changing the way inflatable kayaks are designed.

The use of drop-stitch tech not just for the floor, but also for the body is revolutionizing inflatable paddling. Full drop-stitched kayaks like these come very close to the rigidity, control, and handling of hard-shell models, while still retaining the convenient features that we love in inflatables.

Traditional air bladders and I-beam floor

Inflatable Kayak I Beam

Drop-stitch body

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.

Fold them up, put them into their carry bag, and 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, inflatables are a great option since they do not occupy much space. 

Stability on the water

If you compare the design of inflatable vs hard shell kayaks, you will notice that the 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 yak from the water.

Handling

Handling, speed, and tracking (going straight) are where even the best 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 models is almost as good as that of hardshells. Cheaper inflatables are definitely more difficult to control and keep going straight.

The solution to this problem is to go with a kayak that has a fixed or removable skeg. It will make your boat easier to control and keep heading straight.

Important features you need to consider

If you’re on the hunt for any type of inflatable kayak, it’s a good idea to get one that has as many features as possible.

Here are the most useful features you should definitely look for, they make the experience of paddling easier and more pleasant.

Body and cockpit size

For a short person, the size of the cockpit will 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.

My recommendation is that if you’re under 183 cm (6′), paddle solo most of the time, and don’t have much gear, you can go with a 1-person inflatable kayak.

However, if you’re tall or need more storage space, it is a good idea to go with a 2-person (tandem) model. That will also ensure that you get more storage space and room for your legs in the cockpit.

It can save you a lot of discomfort in the long run and will provide you with plenty of space in the cockpit for storing all the gear you take on the occasional overnight camping trip.

Controlling a 2 person inflatable kayak when paddling solo is not more difficult as long as you reposition the seat to the center. Doing so will provide you with excellent control, and you won’t look like a paddler doing a kayak wheelie.

Storage space

The amount of storage space the boat 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.

Weight capacity

Inflatable kayaks in general have a larger maximum weight capacity than hardshells, since they are so buoyant thanks to the air bladders.

Nevertheless, you will want to check this specification as well, just to make sure.

Remember to add the weight of all passengers and gear for your calculation.

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 handles’ design, but also the padding of the handles, and their positioning

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 move the backrest into a comfortable position. Good back support will mean you will not suffer from back pain after a long trip (also known as “yak back”).

You can also set the elevation of some seats to make sure you never have to sit in water splashed into the cockpit, but this is a rare feature.

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

However, if you get a kayak with a dropstitched high-pressure floor, make sure it comes with a properly padded seat. Dropstitched floors are very hard, and sitting on one for hours without ample seat padding is painful.

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 to reduce the amount of water that gets into the cockpit.

These can ensure that the gear in the storage compartment and the storage space remains dry. Or at least mostly dry.

If you want to stay completely dry though, you will need a sit-inside kayak with a coaming and spray skirt.

Spray skirt

A spray skirt (aka. spray deck) is a flexible, waterproof skirt you pull onto your waist and attach to the coaming around the cockpit opening of sit-inside kayaks.

This is useful under certain circumstances:

  • During winter paddling in cold temperatures, a spray skirt will keep the inside of the yak relatively warm.
  • A spray skirt can keep you 100% dry during whitewater kayaking, when you would otherwise fill up with water. It also enables eskimo roles.

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 one which comes with a proper duffel bag, as it is the most secure way to store the kayak and will also ensure that takes up the least amount of space possible.

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.

Accessories

Some kayak packages come with loads of accessories, but some have very few.

The 2 most important accessories you should know about are:

If the kayak you are looking to get does not include these, you are looking at spending another $100-150 for a decent paddle and a hand pump (or foot pump).

You generally don’t need an electric pump for inflatable ‘yaks, since they are easier to inflate than bigger inflatable boats and SUPs.

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. 

Top-tier inflatable kayaks have footrests, but most of them do not. This will mean that you need to place your feet in between the hull and side tubes. It works but is not ideal.

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 you control the vessel 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, but make sure it is removable if you plan on going on whitewater.

Drain plugs

Drain plugs (scupper holes) allow the boat to drain away any water which enters the cockpit. You can open and close the plugs as you need.

Scupper holes are most 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

Inflating a kayak is very easy, even without an electric pump. There 3 chambers you need to inflate in a specific order and should take 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 air bladder are harder to dry. You never want to put a damp boat into storage, as it will develop mold. If you don’t have time to dry it right after use, you need to open it up and let it dry completely at home.

Once your ‘yak is completely dry, you simply fold it up and put it into its carry bag where it will await your next adventure.

Repair kits

Most inflatable kayaks come with a repair kit in case they are punctured: a patch kit, glue, and other tools needed for the repair.

You can repair small punctures or tears on the spot, but that is unlikely to happen.

An inflatable kayak will easily last for 10+ years if you look after it well. How you need to take care of it depends on the material it is made of, as well as how & where you use it.

Conclusion

Buying an inflatable kayak is a good idea for a number of reasons:

  • It is extremely portable.
  • You can easily use it in various water bodies.
  • It is easy to set up and deflate for storage.
  • If you opt for a high-end model, the paddling experience will be very similar to that of a hard-shell.

I wrote an entire article about just how safe inflatable kayaks are if you are interested, but the short version is that good quality models are rugged and will provide years of fun and adventures.

Now the only question is: Which one is your favorite inflatable ‘yak?

Let me know in a comment below! (As long as it’s not the Intex Challenger 🙂 )

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.

3 thoughts on “12 Best Inflatable Kayaks in 2021 (Modern & Safe)”

  1. Thanks for creating this article, it answered a lot of questions I had in my head, and some I didn’t even know I had 🙂 Buying our new tandem kayak is much easier now.

  2. You insights into this topic are great, I’m so glad I found this article. I live in an apartment but have always loved the water and boats, which is why I am looking into getting an inflatable. Everything is clear after reading this, I think I will get a sea eagle, it seems like they make good boats and not just toy floaties.

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