When looking to buy a kayak, the amount of options is almost overwhelming; sit on top or sit in, tandem or single rider, fishing or touring. However, there’s one kind of kayak that people don’t usually consider: inflatable kayaks.
I can already hear the cries of panic:
“What if it pops in the middle of the lake? I COULD DROWN!!! ”
But before you dismiss inflatables, you’ve got to read our ultimate guide to the best inflatable kayaks. You’ll find that they’re a lot more durable than you imagine, and have many advantages over their hard-shelled cousins.
Best Inflatable Kayak Comparison Table
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Benefits of Inflatable Kayaks
There’s a reluctance to purchase an inflatable kayak due to the belief that they’re more vulnerable to the elements, prone to leaks, and not as durable.
However, anyone that has owned or paddled an inflatable kayak is quickly converted into a fan. And why wouldn’t they be? They handle almost the same as hard-shelled kayaks and are incredibly sturdy – some are even suitable for white water kayaking.
But what most people are drawn to is their portability. Inflatable kayaks are light, and also easier to store and transport. When deflated, the kayaks will fit into a holdall that is no bigger than an average rucksack. No more worrying paint scratches from strapping a hard-bodied kayak to the roof of your car! 🙂
The other big advantage is the price. With good inflatable kayaks available for around $100, they are much cheaper than hard-shelled kayaks.
Here’s a summary of the pros and cons of inflatable kayaks. You’ll notice that inflatables have a lot going for them.
- Easy to Store and Transport - Great for “outdoorsy” people who enjoy kayaking but don’t have space for a hard-body yak.
- Lightweight – Inflatable kayaks often weigh less than 25 pounds and can be easily carried by one person.
- Price – Much cheaper than hard-shelled kayaks.
- Durability - Although inflatable kayaks are made from the toughest of materials, they are not as durable as molded plastic kayaks. That being said, they will still last for years if properly cared for. Most models come with simple patch repair kits for accidents.
What to Look Out For
Inflatable kayaks come in many different styles and a price range to suit all budgets from cheap inflatable kayaks under $100, to heavy-duty touring inflatables that will set you back several hundred dollars.
The type that best suits you will depend on what you want to do (general paddling, fishing, touring), who you want to do it with, and what features you require.
Here are a few things you should consider when making your purchase.
- Number of Seats – Who do you want to go kayaking with? Inflatable kayaks are available in single, tandem, and even three seat models.
- Materials – The hull has to be made from durable materials that are not easily punctured. You’ll be safe with thick, heavy-duty PVC.
- Extra Air Compartments – Higher end models will feature multiple air chambers that will allow the kayak to stay afloat in the event of a puncture.
- Robust Skeg – Due to their lightweight nature, inflatable kayaks require a skeg to keep them going in a straight line. Skegs are often lost easily. Check the skeg is securely attached to the kayak underside.
- Deflated Weight and Packaging – Make sure to check the deflated weight and dimensions. The whole idea of having an inflatable kayak is for it to be lightweight and capable of being stored away easily.
- Accessories – Are air pumps and patch kits included? What about paddles? And have you checked for built-in features like adjustable seats, cargo bungee straps, and mesh side compartments?
Inflatable Kayak Reviews – Our Top 5 Picks
There are so many good inflatable kayaks available that picking our top five was a hard task. However, we believe that we’ve gathered a list of the very best inflatable kayaks to suit every budget and all your paddling needs. Here are our top recommendations:
Intex Challenger K1 Kayak
The Intex Challenger is great recreational kayak for beginners, and at under $100, it’s also a fantastic bargain. Sleek neon green, provides extra visibility for safety out on the water.
It is composed of double-welded material complete with inflatable I-beam floors for improved stability and hard plastic skegs to increase speed and tracking. Some people complain about poor tracking, but you’ve got to remember; the K1 isn’t a touring kayak. It’s a budget inflatable kayak intended for having fun on the water.
At nine foot by 30 inches, 25 pound total weight, and featuring grab handles on both sides, this kayak is super easy to transport. Once inflated, the K1 has a maximum carrying capacity of 220 pounds.
The roomy cockpit has plenty of leg room for one person. Cargo is held securely by the netting at the front of the kayak with a large enough storage area to pack whatever you would need for a day trip.
The Intex Challenger also comes with everything you need to get started: built-in inflatable seat and backrest, 84-inch aluminium oar, carry case, hand pump, and a repair patch.
All in all, it’s a great first-time kayak for anyone with a limited budget and no space for a traditional kayak.
Intex Explorer K2 Kayak
The Explorer is one of the newest models of Intex’s Sport Series of inflatable kayaks. It’s ideally suited to tandem paddling sessions on slow rivers and lakes.
It has plenty of room for two adults (max capacity 350 pounds) or can be manoeuvred easily by one. A streamlined design and skeg ensure that the kayak tracks well.
It features durable 30 gauge vinyl, and a sturdy I-beam floor, which helps to strengthen the kayak while also providing maximum comfort.
Lost skegs are a common problem on inflatables, so you’ll be pleased to know that the K2 has a removable skeg that can be detached if you’re paddling in shallow waters.
An ultra comfortable ride is ensured with adjustable seats that have backs. They seats are removable giving the option of single or tandem riders.
The K2 comes at a very affordable price tag has is great value, considering it comes with two aluminium paddles, a repair kit, and a dual action air pump.
People that have purchased the Intex Explorer K2 rave about it being portable, easy to inflate, and incredibly stable. If you’re looking for a sturdy inflatable kayak for weekend trips that won’t break the bank, the K2 is a solid option.
Advanced Elements FireFly Inflatable Kayak
The FireFly is a great beginner kayak, suitable for light recreational use. It is compact and lightweight being only 7’10” long and under 20 pounds when inflated. Its wide body also makes it very stable, hard to tip, and easy to manoeuvre – hence why it’s a good fit for beginners.
The Firefly has a unique dual layer for increased durability. The main body is constructed from heavy-duty PVC which is protected on top by a 600D polyester cover.
The fixed panels at the bow and stern are performance enhancing features that stiffen the kayak, help to part waves, and provide directional stability. There’s also a tracking skeg which helps with keeping you on course.
The bungee lacing and a mesh pocket on the deck don’t offer lots of storage; however, this kayak wasn’t designed to be loaded up for long family kayaking trips. It’s great at what it was designed for; fun day trips out on the water.
It comes with a duffel bag and repair kit, but be aware that you will need to buy your own paddles (here are our recommendations) and pump. But at around $250 for a good, mid-range recreational kayak, we think that’s a fair compromise.
If you’re looking for a compact and sturdy little explorer, you can’t go wrong with the FireFly.
Sea Eagle SE370 Inflatable Kayak (Pro Package)
Big enough to fit three people and supplies, the Sea Eagle 370 is perfect for camping trips. The tough-as-nails hull is made from 38mm PolyKrylar, which can even withstand dog claws if you fancied taking your four-legged buddy along.
Or if you fancy navigating rapids, the durable sea eagle can safely handle class III rivers! And yes, it is an inflatable kayak we’re talking about.
The SE370 also has an insane weight to storage capacity ratio. It weighs just 32 pounds, but is rated to hold a staggering 650 pounds!
Do the math; 650 pounds can easily accommodate three people, fishing equipment, and a couple of days’ worth of camping supplies. This kayak is equipped for weekend getaways with the family.
However, the beauty of the Sea Eagle 370 is that a single paddler can just as easily navigate it. It is extremely manoeuvrable and fast for a ten-foot kayak.
Two fins and a streamlined design allow this kayak to slice through open water easily. Inflatable spray skirts fastened to the front and rear do a good job of keep water out as you cut through waves. Any residual water is taken care of by the self-bailing drain valve.
The SE370 is versatile and can be used for general paddling, mild white water kayaking, and kayak fishing. And when you’ve had your fun, you can pack it away in the closet until next weekend.
The Pro Package comes with two Pro seats (super comfy), two aluminium paddles, foot pump, repair kit, and handy carrying bag.
Sevylor K5 Quikpak Kayak
Style, functionality, and performance, the Sevylor Quikpak has it all. This top-of-the-line kayak not only looks good, but has several innovative features that make it a joy to paddle.
Double lock valves allow easy set up, and the K5 can be inflated in just five minutes.
Bow and stern handles make it easily transportable, and the splash cover surrounding the cockpit keeps your dry.
But the coolest feature by far - not only on this kayak but any kayak we’ve reviewed - is the backpack that doubles as a seat! How’s that for cool?
The PVC body with tarpaulin base is designed for lake use. The durable materials won’t tear easily, but if you do have a puncture, the multiple air chambers will keep you from sinking.
There’s plenty of storage space with bungee tie downs at the front and back and a zip lock behind the seat. And rated to 250 pounds, this kayak will securely hold you and your gear.
Users report that the K5 handles well. It’s highly manoeuvrable and turns on the spot easily. It also tracks good (thanks to its skeg and efficient design) and glides through the water with speed.
It comes with the easy transport backpack, three-piece paddle, and hand pump. Oh, and also a one year warranty from Sevylor – just shows how much faith they have in this kayak.
While there are higher end inflatable kayaks out there, we think the Sevylor Quikpak K5 has the balance of high-quality features to price just right. It’s a yak that you’ll be proud to own and will have for years to come.