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The best inflatable kayaks on the beach

The 10 Best Inflatable Kayaks for Easy Paddling in 2020

Perhaps you’ve recently seen someone pull up at the beach with a camper van and a couple of kayaks strapped to the roof and thought if only kayaks were that little bit more portable.

I was once fanatical about kayaking, with high hopes of paddling the Amazon River and taking on the white waters of Slovenia. But the logistics of porting a hard-shell kayak from one place to another, without the aid of a 4×4, is incredibly impractical. Inflatable kayaks are sure to change all that. No longer a play toy for kids at the beach, modern inflatable kayaks are made of high-quality waterproof materials which can withstand abrasions and stay afloat in choppy waters. Thanks to new technology, the best inflatable kayaks for whitewater no longer pop at the sight of a rock, and while they may not be quite as robust, they certainly give their hard-shell cousins a run for their money.

If you’re reading this article then you’ve probably come to the same conclusion about inflatable kayaks as us, but need a little guidance as for the which brand and model to invest your money in. Well, we’ve taken a look at several of the best inflatable kayaks on the market, evaluated their usefulness in terms of portability, quality, and of course, performance, to put together this list of 2020’s top 10 inflatable kayaks.

Summary of the best inflatable kayaks in 2020

Disclaimer: We use affiliate links and may receive a small commission on purchases.

ProductSeatsWeightWeight capacityBest forCost
Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame136 lbs / 16.2 kg300 lbs / 136 kgTouring$$$$
Sevylor Quikpak K5125.5 lbs / 11.5 kg250 lbs / 113 kgLakes and slow rivers$$
Itiwit Strenfit X500 1-person Inflatable Kayak139.6 lbs / 18 kg275 lbs / 125 kgTouring$$$$
Intex Challenger K1 Kayak127 lbs / 12 kg220 lbs / 100 kgLakes and slow rivers$
Sea Eagle 330 Inflatable Kayak226 lbs / 11.8 kg500 lbs / 227 kgWhitewater (up to Grade III)$$
Driftsun Voyager227 lbs / 12 kg450 lbs / 204 kgAll-round use$$$$
Intex Explorer K2 Kayak230.6 lbs / 13.9 kg400 lbs / 180 kgOccasional use on lakes and slow moving rivers$
AIRE Lynx II239 lbs / 17.7 kg475 lbs / 215 kgRivers, distance paddling, whitewater$$$$$$$$
Gumotex (Innova) Seawave Kayak339.6 lbs / 18 kg551 lbs / 250 kgLong distance touring$$$$$$
Sevylor Big Basin334.8 lbs / 15.8 kg490 lbs / 222 kgLakes and slow rivers$$$
Inflating a kayak

Inflatable kayaks buying guide

Use

The first thing to consider, before you choose an inflatable kayak, is what sort of kayaking you will be doing. Cruising down slow moving rivers or exploring sheltered lakes and bays? Fishing? Multi-day kayaking trips? Heading out on the sea in choppy conditions? Or hitting some whitewater rapids? All of these types of kayaking are highly feasible in an inflatable, however, some are better suited to certain things than others.

Size

Our list of the best inflatable kayaks includes options for one, two and even three paddlers. As well as how many people a kayak can hold, the size of the kayak also has a bearing on the type of kayaking you can do in it. For overnight trips and fishing you’ll need to opt for something with internal space and storage.

Portability

One of the main benefits of inflatable kayaks is how easily they are to transport. Whilst some models are bound to heavier than others, it’s important that, whatever their weight, they have a carry bag. This should be easy to carry — with shoulder straps if possible. But a decent handle at the very least.

Material

The material of inflatable kayaks is fairy key to their success and popularity. The fabric needs to be durable enough to not pop at the sight of sharp rock, but light enough to pack down and transport without the use of trailer! Here are your fabric options:

  • Hypalon: Durable and strong. Resistant to UV rays, chemicals and extreme weather. It is found on high end kayaks, but not as abrasion resistant as PVC.
  • PVC: Cheap, abrasion resistant and durable. Has questionable environmental impacts, though.
  • Nitrylon: Stronger, more durable and more eco-friendly than PVC. But also heavier.

Stability

Most inflatable kayaks are relatively stable in the water and are good for beginner kayakers. However, if you’re wanting to move quickly in the water with good manoeuvrability you’ll need something narrow and long. That said, inflatable kayaks need to have a certain amount of width and can’t be too long, otherwise they’ll lose stability easily.

Comfort

You can get the most high performing, speedy kayak in the world, but if you find it uncomfortable to sit in, it’s useless! Of course, you’ll not be able to test the comfort levels of an inflatable kayak before you buy one. So to heighten the chances of it being comfortable, consider the following:

  • Seats

    Kayaks with adjustable seats add to comfort levels as they can be moved back or forward in the kayak to suit your preferred position. Seats with a supportive backrest will also help you stay more comfortable, as will a little bit of elevation off the floor of the boat. Some seats are flat on the floor with little or no padding, whilst others are padded or inflatable, raising you up off the floor and putting your body in a more natural sitting position.

  • Internal space

    Space isn’t such an issue for small people. But for tall paddlers it’s important that you choose a kayak that provides enough leg room for you. Cramped up knees get uncomfortable very quickly. Adjustable seats help with this, but if you are sharing your kayak with another tall paddler it might be worth considering a three person kayak so that both have enough leg room. Another reason to opt for a spacious boat is if you intend using your inflatable kayak for overnight camping trips. You don’t want your camping gear encroaching on your own space. Again, it’s worth opting for a larger boat than the number of people it is intended for.


Features of inflatable kayaks

  • Storage on kayak

    Storage

    Many inflatable kayaks have space to store gear, either inside the boat or on top. Cargo nets are an effective and lightweight method for storing gear, as well as gear loops or hooks to secure your belongs to.

  • carry handles on kayak

    Carry handles

    Used to transport a kayak to and from the water, handles are essential features. Ideally they should have a degree of padding for comfortable carrying, and are located at either end of the boat, on either side, or both.

  • Kayak seat

    Seats

    To provide comfort and support when sitting in your kayak, a seat with a backrest is really important. Most are adjustable to suit your height and preferred position, and they are either inflatable or made of foam. Almost all inflatable kayak seats are removeable.

  • splash guards

    Splash guards

    Some inflatable kayaks have guards at the front and back of the hull that help to keep stored items dry, as well as you! They are often removable to help access your gear.

  • carry bag

    Carry bag

    As mentioned, a carry bag is kind of an essential feature of an inflatable kayak, and most kayaks will come with one. If you envisage only ever launching your kayak within a short walk of your car, then a carry bag with handles or a shoulder strap will be sufficient. However, if you like the idea of taking a short hike to access the water then you’ll most certainly want to go for a backpack carry case. You may have to buy this separately, depending on which kayak you choose.

  • Foot rests

    Foot rests

    Foot rests are designed for both comfort and to gain more control over the kayak. They are usually adjustable to fit the height of the paddler, however, most lower spec inflatable kayaks don’t have foot rests at all, only the higher end models.

  • skeg
    Many inflatable kayaks have detachable skeg. This is a piece of triangular plastic that attaches to the bottom of the kayak to help prevent the boat from being effected by crosswinds and crosscurrents. This is especially helpful on flat-bottomed boats that tend to sit high in the water. V-shaped hulls, on the other hand, have less need for the extra stabilisation as they sit lower in the water.

Self-bailing and drainage plugs

In certain conditions, inflatable kayaks will take on water. However, many are self-bailing to prevent excess water from sinking your boat! If you look hard enough you’ll find small openings that let water out. Alternatively, kayaks have drainage plugs that can be opened to release any water that has been taken on. Just remember to close the plugs before you set off on the water!

Inflatable paddle board gear guide

FAQs when choosing the best inflatable kayak

Are inflatable kayaks worth it?
Short answer: yes!
Long answer: It depends on what sort of kayaking you plan on doing and which inflatable kayak you go for. If you plan on buying the cheapest option on the market for frequent use in variable conditions then it’s unlikely that it will be worth it. However, if you only intend on using your cheap kayak a couple of times a year on calm water then opting for a portable kayak that doesn’t need much space to store is a no-brainer. Opt for a higher end inflatable kayak and it’s much more comparable to a traditional hard kayak in terms of durability and performance. So for frequent use in more challenging conditions it will be worth the extra spend.
Are inflatable kayaks more stable?
Generally speaking, inflatable kayaks tend to be very stable due to their high sides and flat, wide bottoms. Most of the inflatable kayaks on our list provide excellent stability compared with regular kayaks. That said, they are not all designed with the same shape. The Itiwit Strenfit X500, for example, is one of the least stable options on our list and is best suited to more experienced kayakers.
How long does an inflatable kayak last?
If you look after your inflatable kayak then there’s no reason why it won’t last for 10 plus years. Of course, the more you use it the more wear and tear it will endure. And it also depends on how well made it is. Premium kayaks that are constructed with Nitrylon, like the Gumotex (Innova) Seawave Kayak, are more robust and durable than kayaks made from PVC and therefore should last longer. However, they come at a higher price. To improve the longevity of your kayak, be sure to thoroughly dry it after each use, clean it and store it properly.
Are inflatable kayaks hard to paddle?
Most inflatable kayaks are very easy to paddle, even for beginners. That said, they are not as streamlined in the water as hard shell kayaks so you’ll struggle to compete when it comes to speed. Most inflatable kayaks track well (which means that they stay straight!). This is helped by having a skeg attached to the bottom.
Can a dog ride in an inflatable kayak?

Yes! Bringing your canine friend along for the ride is certainly possible, providing there’s space in the kayak you choose. You’ll struggle to fit a dog into a one person inflatable kayak, but most two person kayaks will fit a dog, assuming it’s not a Great Dane! There are, however, a couple of things to consider:

  • Keep your dog’s claws trimmed
  • Put them in a doggie buoyancy aid
  • Lay down an old towel or mat in the bottom of your kayak to minimise wear and tear from claws
Can one person use a two person inflatable kayak?
In most cases this is possible. However, for efficient single paddling in a two person inflatable kayak, you’ll need a kayak with adjustable seats so that the paddler can sit slightly more centrally in the kayak. All of the two and three person kayaks on our list have adjustable seats.
How tough are inflatable kayaks?
There’s no sugar-coating it, inflatable kayaks can puncture. They will never be able to compete with hard-shell kayaks in terms of durability and toughness and you should always carry a repair kit and pump when out on the water. However, they can endure quite a lot more bashing around than you might imagine! And although you shouldn’t go out of your way to put your inflatable kayak through hell, you also don’t need to be too precious about knocking into rocks etc.
Are inflatable kayaks slower?
Most inflatable kayaks will be a little slower than their hard shell equivalent. If speed is important then consider a kayak that is narrow and long, like the Itiwit Strenfit X500, AIRE Lynx II or the Gumotex (Innova) Seawave.
How much does an inflatable kayak cost?
You can pay anything from around $150 (Intex Explorer K2 Kayak) to $1700 (AIRE Lynx II). There are also more expensive inflatable kayaks available, but haven’t included them on our list. For occasional recreational use that will last many years, you don’t really need to spend much more $500 or $600.
Are inflatable kayaks safe in the sea?
Inflatable kayaks are not recommended as a replacement for sea kayaks that are used in open waters and variable conditions. That said, most inflatable kayaks are fine to use in sheltered bays and calm water so long as you remain close to the coast and have some experience kayaking in changeable conditions. The main risk when kayaking on the sea is if the wind changes to offshore. This can make getting back to shore very challenging and can even push you further out to sea despite your efforts. If at all unsure, go with a guide and stay close to the shore.
How do you store an inflatable kayak?
Always dry your inflatable kayak completely before you store it. This may mean leaving it to dry out in the shade or inside a garage for a few days and / or towel drying it. But it should be totally dry before you fold it up to prevent mold or mildew building up. Once dry, roll it loosely into its bag or carry sack and store it in a cool, dry place that is off the ground and away from any walls where damp may build up. If you are worried about mice then store it in a large plastic box.

Best single kayaks

Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame

Best for: Touring

The AdvancedFrame from AdvancedElements is a hybrid kayak, somewhere between an inflatable kayak and a folding frame kayak. The built-in aluminium ribs in the bow and stern are made to steer through the water and cut through the waves almost as well as a hard-shell kayak while the wide, 32-inch base, makes this AdvancedElements inflatable kayak almost impossible to flip. Meanwhile, users can still enjoy the portability of an inflatable kayak. The AdvancedFrame takes approximately 15 minutes to inflate, 10 minutes to deflate, and will comfortably fit in the back of a car. The single and tandem model even come pre-assembled. It also features an adjustable padded seat for extra comfort on longer journeys. Unlike most inflatable kayaks the AF has a multi-layer construction for enhanced durability and puncture resistance, meaning that it’s not just a throw-away purchase.

This highly rated 1 person inflatable kayak is also available in a larger version with a more open cockpit. With 3 positions available, the seats can be adjusted to the perfect position for one or two paddlers.

Pros

  • Built-in aluminium rib frame for excellent steering
  • Very stable (good for beginners)
  • Durable construction
  • Adjustable and padded seat

Cons

  • Zippers are not watertight
  • Heavier than other models

Find the latest price on:
Amazon | REI


Sevylor Quikpak K5 1-Person Kayak

Coleman Sevylor Quikpak K5

Best for: Lakes / slow-moving rivers

This is one of our favourite kayaks for solo travellers. This Sevylor inflatable kayak quickly packs away into an integrated backpack with padded shoulder straps for easy portability and practical storage. The backpack is able to hold the paddle, pump and other accessories and then becomes the seat of the kayak so it won’t take up any cargo space. The Sevylor Quikpak K5 from Coleman is also ideal for last-minute trips as it inflates in just 5 minutes using double lock valves. It features a durable polyester coated tarpaulin bottom and a 24-gauge PVC construction which should protect the base from punctures. Another useful feature is the D-rings for attaching extra equipment,and the easy access bungee storage system.

Pros

  • Easy to Carry
  • Quick to set up
  • Nice Price
  • Hand pump and paddle included
  • 1-year limited warranty

Cons

  • The paddle is not the best quality
  • Not suited to long distances

Find the latest price on:
Amazon


Itiwit Strenfit X500 1-person Inflatable Kayak

Itiwit Strenfit X500 1-person Inflatable Kayak

Best for: Touring on calm waters

If you want to go places quickly on the water, then the Itiwit Strenfit X500 1-person Inflatable Kayak is a superb option to consider. The innovative design of this rigid inflatable kayak is like nothing else on our list, and a groundbreaking concept in convenient paddling. Thanks to the V-shaped hull that minimised resistance in the water, this touring kayak glides with ease helping you go further and faster than regular inflatable kayaks. The impact resistant drop-stitch construction also contributes to its rigidity.

There are certainly some teething issues in this new design. One of which is the stability of the boat, or rather the lack of it! Some playing around with loaded weight and inflation levels may mean that greater levels of stability can be achieved. But as a result, this is certainly not a good option for beginner kayakers, and even experienced paddlers may need to take some time to get used to it.

Overall, the X500 offers excellent efficiency in the water with some key features for longer journeys on the water. These include adjustable foot rests, a comfortable foam seat, two storage hatches as well as external webbing at the bow, and a padded backpack carry case.

Pros

  • Rigid construction glides well
  • Excellent efficiency in the water
  • Good storage options
  • Compatible with a spray skirt

Cons

  • Unstable, sits high in the water
  • Not for beginners

Find the latest price at:
Decathlon


Intex Challenger K1 Kayak

Intex Challenger K1 Kayak

Best for: Lakes / slow-moving rivers

The Intex Challenger K1 Kayak is the best budget option on our list. The inflatable kayak comes with the pump and paddle included as well as a built-in cargo net for carrying additional items. It features a streamlined design and roomy cockpit, however, the length of this kayak is not ideal for tall people. The Challenger K1 is made from a heavy-duty vinyl which is both puncture resistant and lightweight. This kayak is also suitable for beginners and solo kayakers as the inflatable I-beam floors provide excellent stability while the kayak itself is quick to deflate and packs into a relatively small bag. The Challenger K1 may not be the most durable item on our list, nor the most suitable to for choppy seas or whitewater, but the Intex Challenger K1 is certainly great value for money.

Pros

  • Includes pump, paddle, and cargo net
  • Very stable and lightweight
  • Economic

Cons

  • Limited leg room
  • Tracking is not great

Find the latest price at:
Amazon


Best tandem kayaks

Sea Eagle 330 Inflatable Kayak

Sea Eagle 330 Inflatable Kayak

Best for: Whitewater (up to Grade III)

This is the best double inflatable kayak for whitewater paddling and also a good option for leisurely kayaking or overnight trips. The Sea Eagle 330 comes with enough cargo space to carry camping equipment and is able to handle weights of up to 500 pounds. We like that the kayak itself only weighs 26 pounds and packs down into a drawstring bag which can easily fit into a car or into plane luggage. The Sea Eagle’s hull is made from a durable K-80 polykrylar material which is extra thick and resistant to punctures. It is also a good option for beginners too due to its wide and stable base and I-Bean construction. It’s fitted with a double skeg which provides far better tracking than other inflatable kayaks on the market, and the self-bailing drain valve is a useful feature for anyone taking on rough waters. Overall, this is a well-priced inflatable kayak that is well suited to river adventurers and beginners alike.

Pros

  • Puncture resistant
  • Lightweight
  • Very stable
  • Well priced
  • 3 Year limited warranty

Cons

  • Tends to drift in stronger winds
  • No storage pockets or bungee attachments

Find the latest price on:
Amazon


Driftsun Voyager

Driftsun Voyager 2 Person Inflatable Kayak

Best for: All round use

This 2-person kayak is one of the best inflatable kayaks for all-around use on lakes, rivers, or streams. It features an incredibly lightweight and compact design. The upper part is made from a rip resistance 840D nylon-coated oxford fabric which will withstand most abrasions, while the hull is made from a heavy-duty PVC tarpaulin fabric. This may not be the most durable fabric but it is puncture resistant and keeps the kayak lightweight so you can easily carry it to and from your launching point.

The Driftsun Voyager features a V-shaped hull, raised bow, a removable tracking skeg, and side tubes for enhanced steering and stability. These make it suitable for use on both calm and windy days. This tandem kayak also comes at a very reasonable package price which includes accessories such as a repair kit, hand pump, removable rear tracking skeg, aluminium paddles, padded seats, and, of course, a convenient travel bag. The best thing about the Driftsun Voyager is that it can be inflated/deflated in just 5 minutes.

Pros

  • Very quick to inflate
  • Lightweight and compact
  • Accessories are included

Cons

  • Reduced storage space
  • Not as durable as other inflatable kayaks

Find the latest price on:
Amazon


Intex Explorer K2 Kayak

Intex Explorer K2 Kayak

Best for: Occasional use on lakes and slow moving rivers

Though certainly not the highest spec inflatable kayak on our list, the Intex Explorer K2 Kayak allows beginner kayakers to enjoy occasional outings on the water without committing to a hefty investment. Plus, the lack of durability, compared with higher spec options, means that you’ll need to take care of it. However, when used and stored correctly, this easy to paddle 2 person kayak will go the distance for a good few years of occasional use.

It’s simple to set up, has decently comfortable and adjustable seats and comes with a carry bag. Plus, it can carry up to 400 lbs / 180kg, making it an excellent option for two adults. Taller folk may struggle with the lack of legroom and should stick to shorter outings. However, there is enough space behind the back paddler to carry food and gear for a day out on the water.

If you’re looking for a little more comfort and space with higher spec construction then the Intex Excursion Pro is worth considering.

Pros

  • Good value for occasional use
  • Adjustable seats
  • Good weight capacity

Cons

  • Not very comfortable for tall paddlers
  • Carry bag is a rather flimsy
  • Durability could be better

Find the latest price on:
Amazon


AIRE Lynx II

AIRE Lynx II

Best for: Rivers, distance paddling, whitewater

The Lynx II from AIRE is the best inflatable kayak on our list for long distance river kayaking and whitewater. The hull is designed for fast movement and rapid response. It also features self-bailing drain holes so you can focus on paddling instead of floating, exactly what you need whilst taking on choppy water and river rapids. When it comes to durability the Lynx II excels. Both the outer tubes and floor are made from a 2-layer denier outer PVC fabric and fitted with airtight welded seams for extra strength. If you’re looking for a kayak to take on an overnight trip then there are large sized storage pockets in the backrests of both seats as well as clip points for securing luggage. The seats are fully adjustable and can be removed to make the Lynx II a roomy single kayak too. The AIRE Lynx II is by far the most expensive item on our list. But given that it comes with a reputable brand name as well as a 10-year manufacturer’s warranty, we think it it’s an investment well worth making.

Pros

  • Fast speed hull
  • Self-bailing drain holes
  • Superior durability
  • Stable and steers well
  • Versatile
  • 10-year no-fault manufacturer warranty

Cons

  • More expensive than other double inflatable kayaks

Find the latest price on:
Amazon | Aire | Backcountry


Best 3-person kayak

Sevylor Big Basin

Sevylor Big Basin

Best use: Lakes and slow rivers

Considering that this Sevylor inflatable kayak is best suited to calm waters and lakes, the heavy-duty PVC tarpaulin provides plenty of protection from punctures and tears. This inflatable kayak is also fitted with multiple air chambers for extra buoyancy. This ensures that the kayak will stay afloat even if one chamber is damaged. The integrated front and rear splash guards and air-tight system will also help keep your crew dry and happy! We like that the Sevylor weighs only 35 pounds despite being able to carry a weight of 490 pounds. And we love that the double-threaded Boston Valves make inflating and deflating the kayak a painless task. Admittedly, at only 12ft long this the Sevylor Big Basin inflatable kayak may feel a little cramped for 3 adults. However, this length does make the kayak easy for three people to steer and manoeuvre whilst the 3 ft base is wide enough to keep passengers from taking a dip with the fishes! A superb choice for family paddling trips.

Pros

  • Guaranteed leak proof system
  • Easy inflation/deflation
  • Integrated splash guards
  • 1-year limited warranty

Cons

  • Not suitable for fast rivers or sea
  • May feel crowded for 3 adults

Find the latest price on:
Amazon


Gumotex (Innova) Seawave Kayak

Gumotex (Innova) Seawave Kayak

Best for: Long distance touring

At over 14 foot long, the Seawave, by Innova in the US or Gumotex in Europe, is the longest inflatable kayak on our list and also the most versatile. It boasts a spacious design that can accommodate one, two or three paddlers, thanks to the adjustable seating options. It can also be fitted with a spray deck for one or two people, to offer a seaworthy kayak that keeps paddlers and gear dry and contained.

Features include adjustable foot rests, inflatable seats, carry handles, safety ropes on the sides and a drain opening at the stern. It also comes with a backpack carry case and a removable tracking fin.

As well as its excellent tracking and speed on long distance trips, we really love that this premium kayak is constructed with Nitrilon that is tough and durable and a more environmentally appealing alternative to PVC.

It’s a pricey option and is better suited to intermediate paddlers looking to go further afield on their paddling missions.

Pros

  • Spacious
  • Versatile
  • A good choice for the environmentally conscious
  • Comes with a backpack carry case

Cons

  • Doesn’t hold rigidity well in choppy conditions
  • Pricey

Find the latest price at:
Gumotex | Innova


Whichever of this superb selection of inflatable kayaks you choose, be sure to enjoy your time on the water in safety. If you’re new to boating then our guide on how to paddle a kayak is a great place to learn more.

Happy kayaking!

About the author

author-beth

Originally from the UK and currently based in Turkey, Beth Carter is a full-time adventurer, former scout, and vegan traveller. When she’s not hiking long-distance trails with an oversized pack on her shoulders, you’ll probably find her peddling up and down scenic roads, or pitching a tent in a far-off mountain range. On the odd occasion, you might even see her sitting at a keyboard, coffee at the ready, typing about her latest outdoor pursuit.

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