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, after years of testing various models, I’ve created this list of 2023‘s best inflatable kayaks. You might also want to read this guide on how to choose the perfect inflatable kayak for your needs before making up your mind.
|1.||Winner in 2023|
Sea Eagle 380x
A great choice for those looking for a stable and durable kayak that can be used in both calm and rough waters.
|1, 2, 3 person versions||$$$||Details|
|2.||Best day tourer|
This sit-inside, hybrid body kayak is a good option for day touring, with just enough space and great tracking
|1, 2 person versions||$$$||Details|
|3.||Best for families & beginners|
Sea Eagle 330
The Sea Eagle 330 inflatable kayak is a great choice for anyone looking for an easy to use, compact and lightweight kayak.
|2, 3 person versions||$$||Details|
Sevylor Quikpak K5
This beginner-friendly kayak turns into its own backpack for great portability,.
|5.||Best inflatable touring kayak|
If you want to go on multi-day trips in an inflatable kayak, the Expedition is a great choice.
Sea Eagle Razorlite
This full drop stitch kayak handles like a hardshell. It offers no compromises in tracking, but remains light & portable.
|1, 2 person versions||$$$$||Details|
|7.||Best middle ground|
This kayak offers a middle ground in everything from features to price.
|1, 2, 3 person versions||$$||Details|
|8.||Best cheap kayak|
Intex Excursion Pro
This kayak has a lot of features, but its quality is not on par with that of the pricier kayaks. Still, it might make for a good 1st kayak.
Best Inflatable Kayaks in 2023
If you’re planning on buying an inflatable kayak, here are the best ones you can get in 2023.
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.
You can also customize the kayak with an adjustable seat, better paddles, an electric motor with a mount, or even a full-on rowing kit.
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 the boat’s 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.
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.
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! You can safely take this kayak on rough water without worry.
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 for family adventures, either the SE 330 or 370 is a great choice.
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.
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, but I would stick to mostly calm waters.
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.
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 paddling adventures.
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. This is also great if you know you won’t be paddling on calm waters.
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.
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.
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.
Experienced paddlers will really enjoy this one!
If you’re searching for a portable ‘yak that performs and handles like hard-shell kayaks, you will love the Razorlite. It was definitely a contender for the top inflatable kayak of 2023 award, but the SE Explorer won due to its versatility.
The adjustable seat holds your back well, but can be a bit hard after hours of kayaking due to the high-pressure floor.
It also comes in a 2-person tandem version, which you’ll find lower in this article.
The Chinook from Aquaglide is a mid-fielder in everything from its mid-range 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.
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 3 sizes as well for solo or even 3 person kayaking (or more space for gear), you might want to check them out as well.
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 relatively good product with loads of features, good tracking, and lots of accessories.
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 since Covid, and you don’t want to overspend on something that only has a 90-day warranty. This kayak had a more affordable price pre-2020.
If you can’t find it at a good price, the Sea Eagle 330 is a better choice.
Characteristics of the top inflatable kayaks
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 a 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.
- 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.
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.
What are inflatable kayaks made of?
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
One of the main reasons people opt for an inflatable over a rigid kayak is their weight and portability. Inflatables 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, 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.
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.
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 🙂 )