In recent years, the design and technology of inflatable kayaks has improved tremendously. While inflatable kayaks used to be more like toys, used for fun and flotation, today they offer the improved durability, handling, and speed that make them serious competitors to hardshell kayaks. In fact, today’s inflatables offer several important advantages over traditional hardshell kayaks.
So to help you break down what to look for, we’ve put together a complete buying guide to help you choose the best inflatable kayak in 2021 as well as look at a number of important features in our inflatable kayak buying guide.
Quick Answer: The Top Inflatable Kayaks
How to Choose an Inflatable Kayak: A Buyer’s Guide
When you’re considering buying an inflatable kayak you’ll need to think about a few things before you hit the buy button. In this guide to buying an inflatable kayak, we’ll help you answer some of those questions you might have whether you’re looking to buy your first beginner kayak or you’re more experienced and looking for a high end inflatable kayak. We’ll help you know what to look for and choose the right one for your needs.
Where and how will you use it?
There are a number of different types of inflatable kayaks, each with different features that make it suitable for different styles of kayaking.
If you’re looking for the best inflatable kayak for whitewater conditions, here are a few things to look for:
- Rated for rapids – Inflatable kayaks that are rated for white water will be clearly labeled, and you should look for the rating.
- Self-bailing – Some inflatable kayaks are self-bailing (they have a built-in water drainage hole), and some aren’t. For rough water, you will want a self-bailing kayak.
- Spray skirt – Some inflatable kayaks have a spray skirt that reduces the amount of water that enters the kayak in the form of spray or waves. If you use a kayak in rougher water, look for one with a spray skirt, especially if it doesn’t have self-bailing capabilities.
Ocean and Sea Kayaking
If you plan on using an inflatable kayak out on the open ocean, here are the features to look for:
- Salt-water resistant – Salt water can damage any kayak over time, but many inflatable kayaks are made of materials that resist saltwater. Look for a durable vinyl that resists saltwater.
- Height in the water – It is often true that saltwater means wind. Some inflatable kayaks ride very high in the water and are subject to being blown quite a bit by the wind. If you plan on using your kayak in windy, beachy conditions, look for one that rides lower in the water.
Lakes and rivers kayaking
Inflatable kayaks are ideal for use on flat water like lakes and calm rivers. They’re one of the most stable types of kayak due to being so buoyant. Some of the features you’ll need to look out for if you plan on using your kayak on rivers and lakes include:
- Removable skeg – Many inflatable kayaks have a removable skeg that you can take off for use in rivers if the water is too shallow. This gives you better clearance below the hull and prevents losing or damaging the skeg if it impacts a rocky bottom.
- Durable hull materials – In shallow water, you have a greater risk of damage from punctures and abrasions from below. Look for a hull that is triple-layered, for extra protection so you don’t get a leak.
Due to their great buoyancy and high weight capacity, a lot of people opt to use an inflatable kayak for fishing. You can use any kayak but there are few features that you can look for if you want to use it specifically for angling.
- Rod holders – Some inflatable fishing kayaks have rod holders to make it easier when out on the water. You’ll definitely be thankful for them on a long day of fishing.
- Good storage – If using your kayak to go fishing you’ll definitely want to choose one with ample storage compartments to hold all your gear, tackle and the fish at the end of the day.
Who Will Be Using The Inflatable Kayak?
Choosing the right inflatable kayak often depends on considering who will be using it and what they need to be comfortable.
Big and tall adults
Inflatable kayaks are designed for portability and fast inflation, which can often mean they are on the small side. Big and tall adults should look for:
- Width and legroom – Tall people should give themselves plenty of legroom because cramped conditions can get uncomfortable in a short time. Keep in mind that inflatable kayaks usually have much thicker walls than hardshell kayaks, so they are often narrower to sit in, and wide adults may need more width in an inflatable.
- Overall weight capacity rating – Overloading an inflatable kayak can impair the safety and durability of it. Remember that the overall weight rating doesn’t include just passengers: it’s for passengers and all their gear and cargo. Look for an inflatable kayak with a realistic weight rating for your needs.
Pets and kids
Inflatable kayaks are a great option for kids and to use with pets. They’re super easy to use and very buoyant and safe. That being said there are a few things to keep in mind to best protect kids and pets.
- Durable floor – Dog claws, in particular, may damage or abrade the inside of an inflatable kayak. Look for a kayak with rugged materials that can withstand this kind of scratching.
- Overall stability – Most inflatables are extremely stable, but kids and pets can sometimes be unpredictable. Look for a kayak that is low in the water and doesn’t tip easily.
Important Features for Inflatable Kayaks
These days most inflatable kayaks will be made using quality materials and have all the necessary accessories as standard but we’ll cover some of the features that are key and what to look out for.
Most inflatable kayaks are made of durable PVC vinyl, and the gauge of vinyl is usually listed. The higher the gauge, the thicker the vinyl. The biggest difference in hull materials is whether the kayak has a single-layer, double-layer, or triple-layered construction. A single layer or double layer is usually simply made of vinyl, while triple layers usually mean that there is some form of polyester or rigid material sandwiched between two layers of vinyl.
The more layers, the heavier the inflatable kayak is, but, the more it resists punctures and abrasions. If you plan on using your inflatable on rapids and whitewater then you’ll want to get one with mulitple layers. More layers also usually give the kayak more rigidity, for better handling in the water. Finally, many inflatable kayaks also have an outer fabric layer that provides additional protection and may form a spray skirt.
Weight and Capacity
While inflatables are always lighter than hardshell kayaks and easier to handle out of the water, you should always avoid dragging them or letting them rub on the bottom of a river. Particularly if you are a solo kayaker, consider how much weight you are comfortable handling and how far you will need to transport the kayak once it’s inflated.
Because they’re generally very buoyant you can often carry more weight in an inflatable kayak than in a hardshell kayak. But, even so, if you plan on taking multiple adults and lots of gear on a paddling trip make sure that you check your kayak can support the weight before you set off.
Skegs are small rudders that you can attach to the rear of your kayak to help with tracking when you’re in the water. Many inflatable kayaks have removable skegs or interchangeable ones for different types of water. Generally speaking, you always want a skeg because it improves speed and tracking and helps you paddle a kayak more efficiently. A removable skeg is a great option for shallow water, and for convenience in packing and storing your inflatable. However, some removable skegs are easy to lose, if an impact dislodges them from the bottom of the kayak.
Multiple Air Chambers
Multiple air chambers are incredibly important. Not only do multiple air chambers protect you, by helping an inflatable kayak remain buoyant on the water in the case of a leak or puncture, but they also improve the overall hull shape of an inflatable kayak.
Over time, improper inflation may cause some air chambers to distort or lose their shape, and multiple air chambers reduce the impact of this distortion and prolong the life of an inflatable. It may seem like more air chambers adds more complexity to the initial setup and inflation of the kayak, but they are an excellent feature to have and don’t really slow down initial inflation very much.
Overall Height in the Water
If you are using an inflatable kayak for fun paddling around lakes and ponds, then the overall height isn’t really a problem and may make it more fun. However, the higher the kayak is in the water, the longer your paddles should be for comfort. And height in the water can reduce the streamlined shape, and ability of a kayak to move sleekly through the water rather than bobbing on top of it. High inflatables are more subject to the wind, which can cause paddlers to have to use more effort in steering and controlling an inflatable.
The Best Rated Inflatable Kayak Reviews
Inflatable kayaks are a fantastic option for someone looking to buy a kayak. There are a number of advantages of inflatables over their hardshell counterparts that we’ll cover at the end of this page, but below we’ve got some brief reviews of some of our favorites.
#1. Sea Eagle 300x Explorer Inflatable Kayak
The Sea Eagle 300x inflatable kayak can handle a variety of different water conditions, including surf and class four whitewater. You can take this inflatable kayak out on open water with confidence thanks to the highly efficient self-bailing valves and slide skeg that removes easily.
For those that fish, camp, whitewater kayak, explore, or adventure, this kayak can suit all of your needs with far less bulk than a traditional rigid kayak. Even if you’re partial to flat-water and some relaxed paddling, the Sea Eagle 300x makes getting around a breeze and only takes five minutes to inflate.
This kayak measures 9-feet 10-inches long and has a width of 39-inches which gives it excellent stability in different water conditions. The standard size can fit a single person and their gear, for a total of 395 pounds which makes this kayak a viable option for some overnight paddling trips.
There are also three recessed, one-way air valves, quadruple glued seams, and three separate chambers dividing the starboard portion, port side, and floor so you can feel confident this kayak is durable and built to last no matter how often you use it.
The 1000 denier reinforced material is also sturdy enough for longer trips but allows you to easily deflate and pack up the kayak for transport. If you’re interested in traveling with a companion, there is also a tandem version available.
#2. Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame Inflatable Kayak
The Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame Convertible Kayak is a truly impressive hybrid kayak, with the best features of a hardshell combined with the convenience of an inflatable. The internal aluminum frame gives excellent rigidity and a streamlined shape that provides a sleek, efficient profile in the water.
At an impressive 15 feet long and 550-pound weight capacity, it is spacious and comfortable even for tall adults, and the triple-layered hull provides excellent durability. The rip-stop fabric shell, welded seams, 6 air chambers, and pressure relief valve all speak to the high-quality construction, and the versatile seating configurations, back supports, paddle holders, and deck lacing make it useful for almost any purpose.
The two drawbacks of the AdvancedFrame Convertible Kayak is that it weighs more than 50 pounds, making it more cumbersome to transport than most inflatables and it doesn’t come with any accessories but it more than makes up for that with incredible comfort, durability, and pleasure to use.
#3. Sea Eagle 370 Pro Inflatable Kayak
The Sea Eagle SE370 is an inflatable kayak that can hold 3 people or an incredible 650 pounds, and is even rated for up to Class III rapids. It has deluxe seats, 2 skegs, a drain hole, and everything you need to enjoy a white water excursion, in a comfortable kayak that weighs just 32 pounds. The welded seams, deluxe air valves, saltwater and UV resistant hull, and 3 air chambers make it incredibly durable and ready for any adventure. The fact that the Sea Eagle SE370 sits a bit high in the water is actually an advantage in whitewater conditions, and it’s a joy to handle.
The Sea Eagle SE370 isn’t quite as versatile as some inflatables. The skegs aren’t removable, and it only has a single hull layer instead of three, but that’s a minor tradeoff since so few inflatables are actually designed and rated for white water. It’s a roomy, comfortable way to explore rivers and rougher waters that many inflatables can’t handle.
#4. Driftsun Rover 220 Inflatable Kayak
- Durable & Lightweight - Fully inflates to a full sized kayak in less than 10 minutes and weighs a manageable 28 Lbs. 1000D...
- Stable & Maneuverable - Rigid High Pressure Drop Stitch Floor, Removable Flat Water Tracking Fin, and ample rocker profile deliver...
- Adventure Ready - Whitewater Rating: Suitable up to class III and IV rapids, 8 Self Bailing Ports, Plentiful Tie Down Points for...
The Driftsun Rover 220 inflatable kayak features a durable design that takes ten minutes to inflate and weighs only 28 pounds. This kayak also uses reinforced PVC material for the bottom and sides to prevent punctures during whitewater excursions, and the floor features drop stitching for extra rigidity.
If you’re looking for adventure, this inflatable kayak can handle class-four rapids thanks to the tie-down points for stashing your gear and the eight self-bailing ports that keep the water from collecting as you move. There’s also a mount on the front for an action camera or similar small device so you can capture all the memories of your adventures.
With this inflatable kayak, you get two aluminum paddles, a deluxe hand pump, the removable fin for flat water, and a travel bag for easy transport. Thanks to the tandem design, this inflatable kayak holds up to 600 pounds, but there is also a solo version available.
#5. Aire Lynx II Inflatable Whitewater Kayak
For optimal control and maneuvering, you’ll want to check out the AIRE Lynx II tandem inflatable kayak designed to handle both big water and lazy river time with equal performance. The hull design makes this inflatable kayak a bit quicker than other models, and the responsiveness allows for more precise steering in rougher water.
The Aircell system offers a double layer of PVC material and welded seams for the best durability. There are also three air chambers and inner urethane bladders as added protection in case there’s a puncture.
This design also has two adjustable seats that each have a storage pocket, a total of seventeen cargo loops for stashing your gear and carrying handles to make getting out on the water easier. At just 43 pounds, one person can move this inflatable kayak, and it comes with an exceptional 10-year warranty.
#6. Driftsun Voyager 2 Person Tandem Inflatable Kayak
- INFLATES QUICKLY: The Driftsun Voyager Kayak inflates to a full size kayak (10ft. x 35” x 16”) in less than 5 minutes with the...
- COMPACT & MANEUVERABLE: When deflated for transport this inflatable kayak measures only 26”(L) x 16”(W) x 8”(H) and fits...
- DURABLE DESIGN: Heavy-duty PVC Tarpaulin bottom provides durable protection from punctures, Double Threaded Boston valves are...
The Driftsun Voyager inflatable kayak can hold two people and a modest amount of gear but inflates in less than five minutes using a hand pump. This inflatable kayak features a design that’s easy to steer and also folds down to a compact size of 26-inches by 16-inches by 8-inches and 27 pounds.
The pointed bow of this inflatable kayak, coupled with the angled design of the hull, allows you to cruise both flat and choppy water, but it’s not meant for whitewater or high surf. The heavy-duty PVC material offers excellent puncture resistance, and the Double Threaded Boston valves ensure no air escapes.
With this inflatable kayak, you’ll find everything you need to get started, including two adjustable padded seats, two aluminum kayak paddles with grippy handles, a tracking fin, a hand pump, and a storage bag for easy transportation. Two carrying handles make this kayak easy to carry down to the water, and the hardware is corrosion resistant for added durability.
#7. Intex Excursion Pro Inflatable Fishing Kayak
- Super tough laminate PVC with polyester core: Light weight and highly resistant to damage from abrasion, impact and sunlight
- High pressure inflation provides extra rigidity and stability, with high pressure spring loaded valves for easy inflation and fast...
- Includes 2 removable skews for deep and shallow water, 2 floor mounted footrests, 2 integrated recessed fishing rod holders, 2...
If you’re looking for a highly durable design that is also lightweight, the Intex Excursion Pro inflatable kayak is an option to consider. This inflatable kayak features extra-tough PVC construction with a polyester core to save weight and prevent punctures and other damage from abrasions or the sun.
The PVC material is also resistant to contaminants such as oil, gasoline, and water, so you can confidently take it to your local waterways. Two adjustable seats and two optional skews make this design ideal for both deep and shallow water, and the firmly mounted footrests in front of each seat add some comfort other designs lack.
This inflatable kayak also offers mounting points for other accessories such as an action camera or GPS. You can also equip this kayak with fish finders or fishing rod holders or remove the mounting brackets entirely. The design also includes two recessed fishing rod holders and ultra-comfortable bucket seats.
The higher pressure inflation for this inflatable kayak, pointed bow, and spring-loaded valves ensure that it stays inflated and offers stability and rigidity even on longer trips. Included with the kayak, you’ll find 86-inch aluminum paddles and a high-output hand pump for quick inflation.
#8. Intex Explorer K2 Inflatable Tandem Kayak
- Comfortable for anyone: Kayak includes an adjustable inflatable seat with backrest; Cockpit designed for comfort and space
- Dimensions: Inflated size 10 feet 3 x 3 feet x 1 feet 8 inch; Maximum weight capacity: 400 pounds
- Directional stability: Removable SKEG for directional stability
The Intex Explorer K2 is rugged, comfortable, and incredibly easy to set up and use. It’s not the biggest kayak coming in at just over 10 foot but has a good 400 pound weight limit. It has 3 high-pressure air chambers along with an inflatable I-beam floor for excellent durability, rigidity, and handling.
It’s everything you look for in an inflatable kayak, weighing in at just over 30 pounds and ample, comfortable space for 2 adults with some space left over for supplies and safety equipment.
The Intex Explorer K2, like most inflatable kayaks, it does sit a bit high in the water, which can make it a bit more subject to wind, but this incredible inflatable kayak is so durable, versatile, simple to use, and sheer fun for the whole family that it’s only a minor drawback. Sitting higher in the water can also be a positive as it makes it a lot more stable and less likely to sink!
#9. Sevylor Quikpak K1 Inflatable Sit on Top Kayak
Next we have one of the few sit on top inflatable kayaks, the Sevylor Quikpack K1. It’s on the budget end of our list so won’t win any awards for performance but if you like the idea of a sit on top kayak but don’t want to get a hardshell, then this might be for you.
It’s been out for a number of years now and has gained a lot of popularity due to its inexpensive, yet durable features. We’ve found it’s not always available now so if you spot it in stock you might want to grab it up.
#10. Intex Challenger K1 Budget Inflatable Kayak
And lastly, the cheapest inflatable kayak on the market that we’ve seen is the Intex Challenger K1, a great option for an inflatable kayak under $100. The Intex Challenger comes in two models: the K1 for solo kayaking, and the K2 for tandem kayaking. Both versions of the Challenger are made of rugged vinyl, with high quality Boston valves, and have an inflatable I-beam floor, for an inflatable kayak that is surprisingly durable and rugged. The comfortable inflatable seats, removable skeg, and inflatable footrests create a cockpit that is comfortable for hours of fun on the water.
While this will not last for ever, considering the price we think that the Intex Challenger series is an affordable inflatable kayak that is surprisingly comfortable, durable, and a great ride. And it’s also a great value because it comes with the paddles, pump, patch kit, and carrying case that make it a complete set right out of the box.
Conclusion: Which One Should you Buy?
If you’re in the market for a capable and high-quality inflatable kayak, we recommend the Sea Eagle 300x inflatable kayak. The 300X offers exceptional durability and ease of use while also lending itself nicely to a variety of water conditions. Another perk is that the design allows you to inflate this kayak in as little as five minutes, and the construction features a highly durable 1000 Denier material for added strength and puncture resistance.
The Sea Eagle also comes in a tandem version, the 380x, and can withstand ocean conditions, class four whitewater conditions, and flatwater with equal grace making this our go-to option when you need all-around performance and comfort.