Kayaking is a great outdoor activity for beautiful summer days, but storing and transporting the kayak isn’t part of the fun. Inflatable kayaks are a great alternative to the traditional kayak since they’re so much more portable. While inflatable kayaks don’t always compare to the same level of performance as hard-shell kayaks, you can use them for many of the same activities.
Inflatable kayaks are much easier to travel with. Whether you’re heading down the street or overseas, you can easily pack it in your duffel bag without the need for a roof rack or trailer. Check out this buying guide of the best inflatable kayaks so you know what to look for before purchasing your own.
Quick Answer: Best Inflatable Kayaks
- Best Overall: Intex Challenger K1
- Best Budget: Intex Explorer K2
- Best Lightweight: Advanced Elements PackLite
- Best for Fishing: STAR Rival Sit-On-Top
- Best for Whitewater: STAR Raven II Tandem
What to Look for in a Good Inflatable Kayak
To be able to use and transport your kayak easily, here are the most important things to consider.
1. Type of Kayak
When most people think of a kayak, they think of the ones you sit inside of. There are other types of kayaks that may be more suitable for you depending on what exactly you’ll be doing.
- Sit In Kayaks: Most people prefer these because you’re sitting inside the boat and therefore are more protected from water splashing in. Sit in kayaks are also more stable than other options. Especially if you’re kayaking in cold water, you’ll appreciate a sit in kayak. The downside is that it’s not as easy to get to your gear into this type of kayak when you’re moving.
- Sit On Top Kayaks: These are the easiest to get in and out of. However, they’re also more likely to tip over due to the higher center of gravity. These kayaks don’t have an enclosed seat, though sometimes it is recessed. Since you’ll essentially be sitting on top of the kayak, these offer a better range of motion for activities like fishing.
- Self-Bailing Kayaks: These are the best inflatable ocean kayaks and they’re also ideal for activities like white water rafting because your kayak won’t fill with water. Self-bailing kayaks have ports or holes on the bottom to drain water as it splashes into the kayak. Some of these kayaks don’t have a tracking fin, so they’re not the best for lake kayaking.
- Canoe-Style Kayak: Designed like a canoe, these are different from other styles because of their deeper seat and higher walls. They also give you more space to move around in as well as more stability. These are also popular for those who want to fish from their kayak or those who don’t like the idea of sitting on top. The canoe-style kayak gives you more space to store your fish and equipment. You’ll likely need a longer paddle for this type of kayak.
2. Length of Kayak
The length of the kayak you need will be based on what you’re using it for. Shorter kayaks (up to 12 feet) are great for things like white water rafting when you want to be more nimble and have more control of your kayak. Long kayaks (over 12 feet) tend to be more stable, have more storage, and are usually more efficient.
Most inflatable kayaks are made from one of the following three materials though some will combine two materials to balance durability with cost.
- PVC: The most common material used is polyvinyl chloride. It’s cheap yet durable and is resistant to tears. It’s UV resistant but will get damaged if you leave it in the sun for long periods of time.
- Hypalon: This material is used in most high-end kayaks. It’s more durable and resistant to extreme weather and UV rays than PVC, but it’s also more expensive.
- Nitrylon: The downside to Nitrylon is that it’s heavier than other materials. However, it’s also tougher, more eco-friendly, and more durable than PVC.
If your kayak isn’t comfortable you’re not going to enjoy spending time in it. A lot of that has to do with seat padding. Comfort can also be impacted by the position you have to sit in to paddle effectively. A seat that adjusts will likely make it easier to get comfortable.
5. Control / Handling
Make sure you check the reviews of inflatable kayaks so you know how well your favorite choices handle on different types of water. A kayak will handle differently on a smooth lake versus a choppy river. Depending on where you’ll be using your kayak, there are several things to consider. Here are some questions you should be able to answer before purchasing a new inflatable kayak – How stable does it feel when you’re paddling? How difficult is it to control when it’s windy? Does it have a fin/rudder/skeg? How responsive is the kayak when you try to control it? Are there footrests to increase control?
6. Ease of Setup, Tear Down, and Transport
You don’t want the trouble of transporting, setting up, or disassembling the kayak to dissuade you from using it. Make sure you understand how to set up and break down the kayak correctly and efficiently. Consider whether or not you’re okay with its carrying handles and the inflation time. Most electric pumps can have you ready to kayak in only a matter of minutes.
When your time on the water is over, be sure you’re comfortable with the kayak’s packability and that you can easily transport it home. Also keep in mind you’ll have to transport the paddle and possibly an inflatable pump. Usually transportation will be made easier because of an included carrying bag.
Depending on how long you’ll be out kayaking, extra storage space might be beneficial. If you’re only going out for a short time then maybe you only need space for a small water bottle. However, if you’re going out for an extended amount of time then you’ll likely appreciate having more space for things like food or a waterproof dry bag.
It’s best to make sure your blow up kayak is actually waterproof. Kayaks that absorb even a little bit of water will increase the drag and resistance you experience while paddling.
9. Drainage System
If you choose a kayak with a drainage system like scupper holes or a bilge this will allow you to remove unwanted water so your boat doesn’t get weighed down.
Realistically, your kayak will come across many bumps and bruises throughout its lifetime, so durability is important. It’ll hit rocks on beaches, probably be dropped on the ground, get banged around in your car, etc. So be sure you purchase a high-quality product and don’t settle for a random cheap kayak from Costco.
Many kayaks also include repair patches and kits and additional pieces in the event it gets damaged.
Best Inflatable Kayak Reviews
Now that you know what to look for, here are the best rated inflatable kayaks currently available.
Best Overall Inflatable Kayak
Best Use: Flatwater
Size: 9′ x 2’6″
Weight: 27.2 lbs
The Intex Challenger K1 Kayak is one of the best inflatable kayaks on Amazon. It’s both durable and agile, and gives you added safety on calm rivers and lakes. It measures 9’ x 2’ 6” x 1’ 1” and weighs just under 24 pounds. The seat is inflatable and removable, and the cargo net gives you space to store extra gear. For additional control, there’s a removable skeg and a grab line on both ends to help you get it in and out of the water. Also included is a 7’ 2” paddle, a pump, and a carrying bag. This kayak has a 220-pound weight limit, but Intex also has a 2-person Challenger kayak with a 400-pound weight limit. For a streamlined kayak that’s easy to navigate, the Intex Challenger K1 is the one for you.
Best Cheap Inflatable Kayak
Best Use: Flatwater
Size: 10’3″ x 3′
Weight: 30.60 lbs
The best inflatable 2-person kayak is sporty and will make your time paddling on the water easy and fun. The Intex Explorer K2 Kayak was designed for lakes and calmer rivers.The cockpit was created with comfort in mind. The seats are adjustable and removable as is the skeg. This kayak has three air chambers, is made of a heavy duty vinyl that’s resistant to punctures, and has an inflatable I-beam floor for rigidity. The fully inflated kayak measures 10’ 3” x 3’ x 1’ 8”, weighs about 30 pounds, and has a weight capacity of 400 pounds. Included are two 7’ 2” paddles, a pump, and a carrying bag. Kayaking in the Intex Explorer K2 ensures you’ll have a great day on the water.
Best Lightweight Inflatable Kayak
Best Use: Flatwater
Size: 7’10” x 2’11”
Weight: 4 lbs
The Advanced Elements PackLite is the perfect option to toss in your backpack when you want to take a hike to kayak remote waters, or it can be packed in your luggage for a flight. The kayak only weighs four pounds, measures 7’ 10” x 2’ 11”, and packs down to 11” x 11” x 5”. It’s made of a polyurethane-coated ripstop polyester and has a 250-pound weight capacity. The three-chamber design gives you impressive reliability and stability on the water. It features a rubber-molded handle and D-rings for tie downs. Included is an inflatable seat, a repair kit, and a mesh carrying bag.The Advanced Elements PackLite is an ultra portable kayak that you can easily travel around the globe with.
Best Inflatable Kayak for Fishing
Best Use: Flatwater, Fishing
Size: 12’6″ x 3’2″
Weight: 31 lbs
The STAR Rival Sit-On-Top Inflatable Kayak is widely known as the best inflatable fishing kayak. The 12’ 6” x 3’ 2” kayak has a 6” thick deck that inflates to 8 – 10 psi for easy casting, paddling, standing, and sitting. The 9” inflatable side tubes offer added stability and help to increase tracking. The kayak is made of PVC and features a welding technology that promotes air retention, longevity, and abrasion resistance. It features a removable fin and a screened drain port under the seat which drains water from the deck. The five Scotty® Mount Bases offer attachment points for rod holders, anchor locks, fish finders, etc. If you’re heading out on a fishing trip, you’ll love having the STAR Rival Sit-On-Top Inflatable Kayak with you.
Best Inflatable Kayak for Whitewater
Best Use: Flatwater, Whitewater
Size: 12’2″ x 3’2″
Weight: 38 lbs
For amazing whitewater thrills, the STAR Raven II Tandem Inflatable Kayak will be your new best friend. The best inflatable whitewater kayak lets you and a friend experience the best of the rapids in its padded, removable seats. The adjustable seats attach to D-rings in the boat for easy setup and storage, and the hook-and-loop fasteners attach to the floor to ensure the seats stay secure. The kayak is made of PVC and the welding technology promotes longevity and durability. The drop-stitch floor inflates to 8-10 psi to provide you with a comfortable and stable position on the water. When inflated it measures 12’ 2” x 3’ 2” and weighs 38 pounds. Whether you want to attack the rapids with a friend or enjoy a solo multi-day adventure and load the kayak with extra gear like a tent or a camping cooler, you’ll be impressed by the performance of the STAR Raven II Tandem Inflatable Kayak.
Best of the Rest
Best Use: Flatwater
Size: 10’5″ x 2’8″
Weight: 36 lbs
Performance and portability are perfectly combined in the Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame Inflatable Kayak. This 10’ 5” x 2’ 10” x 11.5” kayak weighs 36 pounds and has a 300-pound weight capacity. Its rigid bow and aluminum frame reinforcement allow it to glide through water similarly to a hard-shell kayak. This kayak is made of a triple-layer polyester with double PVC coating to increase durability. The cockpit measures 3’ 7” x 1’ 4.5” and gives you plenty of storage on longer trips. It comes with a repair kit and the kayak packs down to 2’ 6” x 1’ 5” x 10” and can be transported in the included carrying bag. If you’re in the market for an efficient kayak with a cutting edge design, check out the Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame Inflatable Kayak.
Best Use: Flatwater
Size: 12′ x 2’4″
Weight: 26 lbs
This recreational kayak is appreciated because of its versatility. The folding kayak doesn’t require a pump so it’s easier to road trip or take a flight with it. The Oru Kayak Beach LT Folding Kayak weighs 26 pounds, opens to 12’ x 2’ 4”, and packs down to 2’ 9” x 1’ x 2’ 5”. It’s made with a durable, double-layered polypropylene that can be folded several times without the material weakening. It’s also extremely resistant to punctures and abrasions. The large cockpit gives you extra space for fishing equipment or even your dog. The seat and foot brace are cushioned and the seat back is adjustable. Have an upcoming kayak trip on a slow-moving river or lake? Bring along the Oru Kayak Beach LT Folding Kayak.
Best Use: Flatwater
Size: 10′ x 2’8″
Weight: 23.4 lbs
The quick setup of the Sevylor Quikpak K5 will have you on the water in about five minutes. Designed for lake use, this kayak has a rugged 24-gauge PVC construction. The polyester cover and tarpaulin bottom protect against punctures. Multiple air chambers let you stay afloat even if one section is punctured, and the spray cover protects you from splashes. The double lock valves make it easy to inflate and deflate the kayak, and the airtight system protects against leaks. The 25.5-pound kayak measures 2’ 9.5” x 8.5” x 1’ 8” when inflated, and can be transported in an easy-to-carry backpack system that transforms into the seat. The Sevylor Quikpak K5 guarantees a smooth ride on the lake.
Best Use: Flatwater, Whitewater
Size: 12’6″ x 2’10”
Weight: 32 lbs
The Sea Eagle 370 Pro carries up to three people and gear, but it can be operated by just one person. The kayak holds up to 650 pounds but only weighs 32 pounds. The three-chamber kayak measures 12’ 6” x 2’ 10” and packs down to 2’ 7” x 1’ 7” x 8”. It’s suitable for up to Class 3 whitewater but can also give you a smooth ride on the lake. Two comfy yet moveable seats are included along with two 7’ 10” paddles, a foot pump, and a carrying bag. The two skegs give you better speed and tracking and the kayak features a self-bailing drain valve. If you want the best inflatable tandem kayak but might need extra storage space for things like camping gear or a third person, consider the Sea Eagle 370 Pro.
Best Use: Flatwater
Size: 11′ x 2’10”
Weight: 19 lbs
The Aquaglide Deschutes 110 Inflatable Kayak is lightweight and coasts effortlessly across the water. It’s made of durable Duratex™, has an EVA-covered floor, and the FeatherFrame cross piece provides structural integrity without the weight of added aluminum. The seat has a thick, padded cushion and a high, supportive backrest. There are carry handles on each side, and the D-rings along the front and rear deck bungees allow you to secure your gear while kayaking. It has a 300-pound capacity and weighs just 19 pounds. The kayak measures 11’ x 2’ 10” and packs down to 2’ 6” x 1’ 6” x 1’ 3”. Rinsing and cleaning the boat is simple thanks to the drain plug. For a kayak with excellent tracking, try out the Aquaglide Deschutes 110 Inflatable Kayak.
There are so many reasons to get an inflatable kayak. The compact and portable designs offer increased freedom with which to explore more of the world. With increased durability and reliability, inflatable kayaks are a great alternative to traditional kayaks.