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.
- Things to consider when choosing the best inflatable kayaks
- Features of inflatable kayaks
- Best single kayaks
- Best tandem kayaks
- Best 3-person kayak
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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|Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame||1||Touring||$$$|
|Sevylor Quikpak K5||1||Lakes and slow rivers||$$|
|Aquaglide Columbia XP One||1||Touring and all-round use||$$$|
|Intex Challenger K1 Kayak||1||Lakes and slow rivers||$|
|Sea Eagle 330 Inflatable Kayak||2||Whitewater (up to Grade III)||$$|
|Driftsun Voyager||2||All-round use||$$$|
|AIRE Lynx II||2||Rivers, distance paddling, whitewater||$$$$$$$$|
|Sevylor Big Basin||3||Lakes and slow rivers||$$$|
Things to consider when choosing the best inflatable kayaks
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.
Many inflatable kayaks also have detachable skeg — a piece of triangular plastic that attaches to the bottom of the kayak. This helps prevent the boat from being effected by crosswinds and crosscurrents.
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 hear. 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. Many of them are adjustable to suit you height etc.
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.
In certain conditions, inflatable kayaks will take on water. However, they 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.
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.
- 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 and all-round use
The Aquaglide Columbia XP One is a midrange inflatable kayak designed for recreational touring and long distance. This model is actually one of the best inflatable kayaks from ocean adventures due to the lifted bow, streamline design and removable tracking skeg which enables the kayak to cut a straight path through the water without drifting. When it comes to comfort the Columbia XP One is fitted with integrated front and back splash guards which protect the user whilst paddling. This model also features adjustable footrests and an adjustable padded seat with a high backrest and foam base to prevent back pains on longer excursions.
The Columbia XP One is neither the most expensive nor the cheapest inflatable kayak on the market. Despite this, it’s a highly durable product. The hull is made from a hard-wearing blend of UV protected Duratex and 600D polyester. We particularly like that the Columbia XP One features moulded handles for easy carrying, as well as built-in mesh storage pockets in the seat, and exterior bungee attachments for carrying any extra gear.
- Very portable
- Highly durable
- Easy setup
- Excellent tracking
- Pump and paddle not included
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
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: 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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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 beginners guide to canoeing is a great place to learn more.