Kayaking is a fantastic way to enjoy time out on the water either solo or with a friend. That being said, an inflatable kayak is often one of the most affordable options for recreational paddlers. So, they’re a great choice if you want to hit the water without breaking the bank.
With so many different inflatable kayaks available today, though, finding the right one for you can be a challenge. So, here are our reviews of the five best inflatable kayaks for your next water-based adventure.
Benefits Of An Inflatable Kayak
When purchasing a kayak, you have to decide between inflatable and hardshell models. Inflatable kayaks are some of the most popular options available for recreational paddlers. Here’s why:
- Affordable. Your average inflatable kayak is generally more affordable than a comparable hardshell model. This makes them a solid choice for entry-level paddlers or anyone on a budget.
- Lightweight. Unless you’re interested in shelling out some major cash for a fiberglass or kevlar hardshell kayak, an inflatable model is likely going to be lighter than a plastic alternative.
- Easier To Transport And Store. Inflatable kayaks, by virtue of being inflatable, take up less space in storage than their hardshell brethren. You can also roll them up and place them in your trunk instead of installing a kayak rack on your car whenever you want to go paddling.
- More Stability In Flat Water. The vast majority of inflatable kayaks have a flat hull design. This provides more stability in flat water than what you’d find in a hardshell boat with a V-shaped hull.
- Very Durable. Punctures are perhaps the number one concern of any inflatable kayak owner. However, the inflatable boats are made with super-thick PVC or vinyl which is just as, if not more, durable than the plastic in hardshell boats.
The Intex Explorer K2 is a budget-friendly inflatable tandem kayak for new paddlers. It is made from rugged vinyl, which is sturdy enough to handle moderate water conditions and regular kayak outings.
Thanks to its bright yellow color, the boat is highly visible on the water. It also has an I-beam floor which provides structure and stability while paddling. The boat’s removable skeg is also useful for better tracking in windy or challenging conditions, particularly with two people in the boat.
As far as comfort goes, the Explorer K2 has inflatable and fully adjustable seats with backrests. The boat is also quick to inflate using the included high-output pump. This makes the kayak easy to transport and store while deflated but also efficient to inflate when you get to the put-in at the start of your trip.
- Removable skeg for better tracking
- Inflatable seats with backrests are very comfortable
- Quick inflating with included high-output pump
- Maximum weight capacity is only 400lbs which is a bit low for two people
- Not great for very windy conditions
The Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame Expedition is a high-end inflatable touring kayak. It features a sleek design that’s purposefully built to handle longer kayak expeditions or day trips in rough weather.
The boat is built using durable PVC fabric with drop-stitch technology in the floor that makes it feel much like a hard-shell kayak. It also has aluminum ribbing around the sides for more rigidity and stability in harsh seas.
This kayak has a V-shaped hull and is compatible with a rudder add-on, which both provide better tracking through the water. The Expedition also has large hatches for gear storage on longer trips.
- Good stability in rough weather thanks to V-shaped hull
- Large hatches for gear storage
- Performs as well as a traditional sit-in hard-shell kayak
- Fairly heavy for a solo inflatable kayak
The Intex Challenger is an affordable solo kayak that’s designed to be easy and comfortable to paddle. Due to its flat hull shape, the Challenger is best for casual paddles around flat lakes and mild rivers.
It is lightweight enough to transport to and from the lake on your own. The boat is made with a sturdy vinyl fabric that’s puncture-resistant. Additionally, it has an inflatable I-beam floor that provides even more stability as you get in and out of the boat.
Although it is a sit-in style boat, the Challenger’s cockpit is large and spacious. So, it has all the advantages of a sit-in boat, such as better control in choppy conditions, without feeling constricting. It also has an inflatable and fully-adjustable seat for added comfort on longer paddling days.
- Affordable enough for an entry-level kayaker
- All the benefits of a sit-in kayak without feeling claustrophobic
- Fully adjustable and inflatable seat for comfort
- Not a great choice for open ocean or foul weather use
The Lagoon is one of Advanced Elements’ most affordable solo inflatable kayaks. It has a unique design that incorporates a rigid structure at the bow and stern for better tracking in the water and performance in rough conditions.
The boat features the same materials found in other Advanced Elements kayaks but also has an inner tube and built-in rigid panels for even more durability and stability. It also has a sit-in design, which provides more control of the boat and better paddling performance.
The seat on the Lagoon is inflatable at the bottom and has a padded backrest for added comfort. This kayak is very lightweight for an inflatable boat (23lbs/10kg) but can accommodate paddlers up to 250lbs (113kg) in size.
- Rigid bow and stern paneling for better tracking and performance in rough weather
- Inner tubes provide extra stability while paddling
- Sit-in design allows for superior control of the boat
- Minimal gear storage space
The Driftsun Rover is a quality tandem inflatable kayak with a surprisingly high 600lbs maximum weight capacity. Driftsun designed this boat with reinforced layered PVC, which provides it with enough durability for use in up to Class IV whitewater rapids.
The boat also has a high pressure rigid floor for added stability as well as 1000D reinforced side tubes for protection against rocks and strainers in whitewater. It comes with a removable skeg that’s useful for tracking in flatwater.
The Rover is built with 8 self-bailing ports that automatically drain even in rough weather. This kayak also has two fully adjustable seats with high backrests and removable footrests for stability and control on the water.
- Very lightweight for a tandem kayak but has 600lbs (272kg) maximum weight capacity
- Durable materials with reinforcements in high-wear areas
- Can be used in up to Class IV whitewater
How To Choose An Inflatable Kayak
An inflatable kayak is a major investment, so you want to be sure that you’re getting the right boat for your needs. Here are some of the most important things to consider as you’re shopping around:
When you buy a kayak, you have a choice between a solo and a tandem boat. Solo boats are ideal for people that like to paddle on their own or who want the flexibility that solo paddling provides. Alternatively, tandem kayaks are a good choice if you’re a new paddler or if you only have the budget for one boat for your family.
Even though inflatable boats tend to be fairly light when compared to hardshell plastic alternatives, weight savings are still important. This is particularly true if you’re planning on paddling a lot on your own as you probably won’t have another set of hands to help you out.
In general, any boat that’s less than 30lbs (13kg) is considered fairly light and is a good option if weight is your primary concern.
If you’re new to kayaking, a boat with a flatter hull is going to provide more stability on flat water. This is ideal for people that are a bit apprehensive about kayaking or who are only interested in calm water paddling.
However, if you’re looking to hit the open ocean, a boat with a V-shaped hull will provide better stability in rough conditions. This added foul weather stability does mean that the boat will be a bit more likely to tip over on flat water.
Comfort is critical when buying a kayak. You won’t want to spend time on the water if your boat is super uncomfortable, so getting a kayak that you actually enjoy sitting in is paramount.
Thankfully, most inflatable boats are quite comfortable. Features like inflatable and adjustable seats can make your experience much more enjoyable. Footrests and spacious cockpits can help, too.
If you’re thinking about heading out on longer multi-night paddling trips, a boat that has ample gear storage is a must. However, only a handful of inflatable kayaks offer hatches for protecting your gear. So, you’ll need to look specifically for this feature if you’re interested in touring trips on your boat.
An inflatable kayak can be one of the best investments you ever make if you love spending time on the water. There are some truly fantastic models out there to choose from, so the key is finding the right one for your needs. Be sure to fully consider what you intend to use the boat for before you start shopping to ensure that your kayak is ready for all your future adventures.