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.
- Inflatable kayaks buying guide
- Features of inflatable kayaks
- FAQs when choosing the best inflatable kayak
- Best single kayaks
- Best tandem kayaks
- Best 3-person kayaks
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
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|Product||Seats||Weight||Weight capacity||Best for||Cost|
|Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame||1||36 lbs / 16.2 kg||300 lbs / 136 kg||Touring||$$$$|
|Sevylor Quikpak K5||1||25.5 lbs / 11.5 kg||250 lbs / 113 kg||Lakes and slow rivers||$$|
|Itiwit Strenfit X500 1-person Inflatable Kayak||1||39.6 lbs / 18 kg||275 lbs / 125 kg||Touring||$$$$|
|Intex Challenger K1 Kayak||1||27 lbs / 12 kg||220 lbs / 100 kg||Lakes and slow rivers||$|
|Sea Eagle 330 Inflatable Kayak||2||26 lbs / 11.8 kg||500 lbs / 227 kg||Whitewater (up to Grade III)||$$|
|Driftsun Voyager||2||27 lbs / 12 kg||450 lbs / 204 kg||All-round use||$$$$|
|Intex Explorer K2 Kayak||2||30.6 lbs / 13.9 kg||400 lbs / 180 kg||Occasional use on lakes and slow moving rivers||$|
|AIRE Lynx II||2||39 lbs / 17.7 kg||475 lbs / 215 kg||Rivers, distance paddling, whitewater||$$$$$$$$|
|Gumotex (Innova) Seawave Kayak||3||39.6 lbs / 18 kg||551 lbs / 250 kg||Long distance touring||$$$$$$|
|Sevylor Big Basin||3||34.8 lbs / 15.8 kg||490 lbs / 222 kg||Lakes and slow rivers||$$$|
Inflatable kayaks buying guide
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
- 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!
FAQs when choosing the best inflatable kayak
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.
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
Best single kayaks
Best for: TouringThe 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.
- Built-in aluminium rib frame for excellent steering
- Very stable (good for beginners)
- Durable construction
- Adjustable and padded seat
- Zippers are not watertight
- Heavier than other models
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.
- Easy to Carry
- Quick to set up
- Nice Price
- Hand pump and paddle included
- 1-year limited warranty
- The paddle is not the best quality
- Not suited to long distances
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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.
- Rigid construction glides well
- Excellent efficiency in the water
- Good storage options
- Compatible with a spray skirt
- Unstable, sits high in the water
- Not for beginners
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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.
- Includes pump, paddle, and cargo net
- Very stable and lightweight
- Limited leg room
- Tracking is not great
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Best tandem kayaks
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.
- Puncture resistant
- Very stable
- Well priced
- 3 Year limited warranty
- Tends to drift in stronger winds
- No storage pockets or bungee attachments
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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.
- Very quick to inflate
- Lightweight and compact
- Accessories are included
- Reduced storage space
- Not as durable as other inflatable kayaks
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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.
- Good value for occasional use
- Adjustable seats
- Good weight capacity
- Not very comfortable for tall paddlers
- Carry bag is a rather flimsy
- Durability could be better
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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.
- Fast speed hull
- Self-bailing drain holes
- Superior durability
- Stable and steers well
- 10-year no-fault manufacturer warranty
- More expensive than other double inflatable kayaks
Best 3-person kayak
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.
- Guaranteed leak proof system
- Easy inflation/deflation
- Integrated splash guards
- 1-year limited warranty
- Not suitable for fast rivers or sea
- May feel crowded for 3 adults
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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.
- A good choice for the environmentally conscious
- Comes with a backpack carry case
- Doesn’t hold rigidity well in choppy conditions
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.