The Best Inflatable Kayaks (Review & Buying Guide) in 2021
Love kayaking, but don't have the space to store one? These inflatable kayaks are just what you need.
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BY Lisa Conant / LAST UPDATED ON February 23, 2021
Inflatable kayaks can provide the benefits of a traditional kayak with one main advantage: they don’t take up nearly as much space. Paddle out to the lake and listen to the sound of a fishing reel spinning as the lure travels through the air. Open a cold beverage and savor the sounds of nature. As the sun goes down and you’re packing the gear into your SUV, there’s no immediate need to lift with your knees in order to finagle a heavy kayak onto the roof. An inflatable kayak brings convenience to the outdoor experience. It’s surprisingly durable and stable. Pull the plug, wrap it up, and tuck it neatly away until the next adventure. There are various inflatable kayaks to fit the needs of buyers. They range in size and weight with multiple seats and accessories. Below are some of the best inflatable kayaks currently on the market. Let’s take a look.
This cleverly designed kayak is a hybrid between a completely inflatable kayak and a folding frame model. Built-in aluminum ribs in the bow and stern give this boat the ability to perform like its rigid-model counterpart.
- This kayak features multiple air chambers to prevent a leak from causing the boat to sink while on the water
- It weighs only 36 pounds
- This kayak is larger when deflated and requires more room to store than some other models on the market
- Only suitable for one person, not two
The Challenger is designed for adventures on slow-moving rivers or lakes. It’s built using heavy-duty, puncture-resistant vinyl in an eye-catching color graphic.
- The front end is fitted with a cargo net for additional storage
- The cockpit is a closed deck with I-beam floors for added stability
- This kayak is suitable only for a single rider, not two, and it’s rated to support only 220 pounds, so be sure to check yourself and your gear weight together prior to launch
The Sevylor’s easy-to-carry backpack system allows you to store everything you need. The backpack itself unfolds into the seat for this single-passenger inflatable kayak.
- Sevylor states that it takes just five minutes to fully inflate the Quikpak K5
- This kayak is built using 24-gauge PVC construction, making it rugged enough for lake use
- There is some concern that the tarpaulin skirt does not fit snugly enough around the kayak and causes some drag while on the water
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Benefits of Inflatable Kayaks
- Lightweight. One of the biggest benefits of inflatable kayaks is that they’re relatively lightweight compared to their regular counterparts. Most inflatable models weigh from 20 to 50 pounds and are easier to transport and carry to and from your destination.
- Compact. This may be the most important benefit to many people. Inflatable kayaks are extremely space-saving compared to regular kayaks. They can easily be carried in a vehicle’s trunk without needing special mounts to transport them from place to place, and they can be stored in a much smaller space in your basement, garage, or shed, not requiring any special wall mounts or hanging equipment to keep them out of the way.
- Versatility. Because they’re so compact and lightweight, inflatable kayaks can be taken with you to virtually any destination, which is a huge selling point for traveling farther distances to places that may not have kayaks for rent, or for taking them camping, even if you’re tight on space.
- Budget friendly. Many inflatable kayaks are available at a much lower price than some permanently molded models. This makes them a great option for people who are on a tight budget, or who may be trying out kayaking for the first time and aren’t sure they’re ready to invest in a more robust and expensive model.
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Types of Inflatable Kayaks
Inflatable Recreational Kayaks
These inflatable kayaks are usually under 12 feet in length and have a wider base to promote stability on the water. They’re primarily designed for day-tripping, slower-moving rivers and streams up to Class I or II rapids, and light touring on calmer lakes and ponds. They’re excellent entry-level kayaks, as well as good multi-use models.
Inflatable Touring Kayaks
These are sometimes referred to as “flatwater kayaks” and are mainly designed for traveling longer distances on flatwater surfaces, as their name indicates. They’re long and narrow in size and shape to promote easy and smooth gliding movement through the water. They also come equipped with tracking fins or rudders so the user can have maximum control while steering.
Inflatable Fishing Kayaks
These models come in several different sizes and can either be sit-in kayaks, or sit-on-top kayaks. They’re built to have extra-wide, rigid floors for stability so that anglers don’t tip the boat when trying to reel in a big fish. Many have a self-bailing feature, which is a nice bonus. Their main selling point over other types of inflatable kayaks is that they come equipped with accessories, such as D-rings and rod holders to help anglers secure their equipment.
Inflatable Whitewater Kayaks
As their name implies, these kayaks are specifically designed to be able to maneuver in and take on Class I to Class IV rapids. They’re wider in design than touring kayaks and have no tracking fins. These models usually have the option of attaching a spray skirt, which is designed to keep water out of the kayak’s interior, keeping the paddler drier and minimizing the risk of sinking.
Inflatable Canoe-Style Kayaks
Again, as the name implies, these are modeled after a hard-shell canoe, with higher walls and no enclosed cockpit. Unlike regular kayaks that are propelled by a double-sided paddle, these types use a single-blade paddle, just like a regular canoe. They’re usually two-seaters, also just like a real canoe.
Inflatable Sit-In Kayaks
These are the more traditional and most common types of inflatable kayaks, whether they’re recreational, touring, whitewater, or fishing. The paddler sits in a recessed cockpit, just like in a hard molded model. These types of kayaks are beneficial in that they’re warmer in cool weather and drier, especially if you attach a skirt around the cockpit opening to help keep out water.
Inflatable Sit-On Kayaks
These types have a flat, open, and wide deck that the paddler sits on with his or her legs exposed. These are often preferred by anglers who need to be able to change position quickly when trying to reel in their catch, or by people who have difficulty getting in and out of a traditional sit-in type of kayak. They’re very stable in order to prevent accidental tipping, but do allow the paddler to get wetter during use than their sit-in counterparts.
Intex is part of Intex Technologies, a parent company founded in 1996 in New Delhi, India. Intex is known for producing budget-friendly and durable inflatable products, such as its Prism Frame above-ground inflatable pools and its innovative line of inflatable air beds.
Sevylor is a France-born corporation founded in 1948 that specializes in affordable, high-quality inflatable sport and recreational products. It was acquired by the Zodiac corporation in 1981, and is in the same family as the well-known Coleman, Marmot, and Contigo brands in the U.S. The company makes fun products like the Wakeslider Sharkglide Towable Float and the Tahiti Classic Inflatable Kayak.
Advanced Elements is a newer player in the game of inflatables. It specializes in inflatable kayaks, stand-up paddleboards like the Fishbone Inflatable SUP, solar showers, and waterproof gear bags like the Deep Six Deck Pack.
Sea Eagle has been manufacturing high-quality inflatable boats since 1968 and is a North American leader in the industry. Located in Long Island, N.Y., the company is famous for producing inflatable fishing boats and inflatable sport runabouts.
Inflatable Kayak Pricing
- Under $200: This price range will get you a great starter inflatable kayak. These base models will usually come as single seaters and will be made of less durable materials than those in a higher price range.
- $200-$600: These are more middle-of-the-road models. They may come in one- or two-seater versions, and are starting to utilize more technologically advanced materials and construction methods.
- Above $600: Inflatable kayaks in this price range will be the most lightweight, durable, and technologically advanced models that utilize the latest in construction techniques and materials. This is usually for more advanced kayakers.
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Look for an inflatable kayak that’s constructed from the highest-quality materials that will have the least chance of malfunctioning or leaking. These materials include chlorosulfonated polyethylene (CP) rubber that coats fabrics to make them more rugged and resistant to punctures and harsh UV rays; HD40 gum, an anti-abrasive material used on the bottoms of many models; Denier ripstop polyester, a cross-hatched fabric made from interwoven reinforcement threads that resist tearing; AIREcell urethane, a thermal-welded internal bladder system that resists wear and tear; PVC; coated vinyl, and more.
Welded seams and a poly-based fabric with drop-stitching are both designed to add structural integrity to inflatable models to give them a longer lifespan, greater inflation pressures, and air retention to provide solid, stable, and friction-free kayaks. They help to guard against early leaks and popped seams so that you can get maximum use out of your kayak before needing to replace it.
A good, strong, and reliable inflatable kayak will have top-quality air valves made to withstand harsh temperatures, salt water, and rough rapids. The four top brands of air valves used in most inflatable kayaks are Summit, Spring, Twistlok, and Leafield. They’re all user-friendly and provide superior support and strength to your inflatable kayak.
- Tracking System. Consider what your primary use for your inflatable kayak will be and whether you need it to have a tracking fin or retractable skeg in order to aid in steering, or if you can get away without it.
- Weight and Weight Capacity. Consider what the upper weight limit is that you’re comfortably able to carry and load on your own. Look for inflatable kayaks that you can use independently. Do you want a two- or single-person kayak? How much weight is that kayak rated to carry? Will it be strong enough to carry all your passengers and gear without damage or malfunction?
- Dimensions. This will be a big deal depending on what you intend as your primary use for an inflatable kayak. Kayaks over 12 feet in length are usually faster and have improved tracking for open water. Shorter kayaks are slower and can be better suited to streams and rapids. Deeper models provide greater legroom and more storage than shallower models, allowing you to go farther. Wider kayaks are more stable and less tippy but can create more drag.
- Seat Type. This becomes important if you plan to spend a prolonged time in your kayak. Traveling all day requires a seat that’s comfortable, stable, and maybe even removable. Look for something that also offers good back support to minimize your risk of spinal injury during rides.
- Accessories. Many inflatable kayaks come with several different accessory options, like mesh carry bags, bow and stern grab handles, stainless steel D-rings and bungees for holding gear, splash skirts to keep you dry, removable fins, and more, all designed to make your kayaking experience more efficient and pleasurable. Consider which options are important to you when buying.
- Warranty. Inflatable kayaks are definitely not as strong and durable as their rigid counterparts and can often come with more defects or malfunctions. Get a model that’s backed by a solid warranty that protects your investment.
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Best Inflatable Kayaks in 2021
- Always unpack your inflatable kayak immediately and inflate it to check for damage or defects. Most models come with a limited warranty that you’ll want to take full advantage of if something is wrong.
- Make your first trip a rather short one in order to familiarize yourself with the kayak and get comfortable using it. Sticking close to home will help minimize the risk of an emergency and getting stuck somewhere far away.
- Always plan your routes carefully. Check out the waterways you plan to use online and see if they’re suitable for the type of kayaking you’re planning to do. Watch the weather and check it right before setting off to avoid getting caught in a surprise storm.
- Take everything with you. You can get checklists online prior to your trip that will help ensure you’re truly prepared with all the accessories and necessities.
- Tell someone about your plans or be sure to go with a buddy. Never kayak alone or without letting someone know where you’ll be going. This is crucial in case of an accident or other unplanned event.
- Try to avoid highly trafficked waterways that will be super choppy and full of stressful encounters with other boats or personal watercraft. This type of scenario is not only dangerous, but it’s also not peaceful or fun when you’re trying to dodge a bunch of boats and their wakes.
Q: What are the best inflatable kayaks?
The best inflatable kayaks will be made from high-quality, technologically advanced materials. They’ll have a good track record and lots of positive user reviews online.
Q: How much does an inflatable kayak cost?
An inflatable kayak can cost anywhere from $160 to $1,500, depending on the brand and type you get. Beginner inflatable kayaks usually go for between $160 and $400.
Q: Can you use an inflatable kayak in the ocean?
Yes. Contrary to popular belief, inflatable kayaks are durable enough to be used on ocean waters. That being said, we would avoid taking it out in large seas or squalls, just to be safe.
Kayaking is not only a fun pastime that you can do alone or with friends, but it’s also a great workout and an excellent way to see nature. Inflatable kayaks are a perfect compact and lightweight option for a lot of people. Whether you like the Advanced Elements Inflatable Kayak or the Intex Challenger Kayak, there’s surely something to fit your taste and budget.
Have a favorite inflatable kayak that didn’t make our list? Let us know what it is and why you like it. We’d love to hear from you.