Kayaking offers a great way to exercise and enjoy nature at the same time. Nothing quite beats a day on the water paddling, fishing, navigating rapids, or simply spending time with family or friends.
But, as blissful as the experience is, many tend to skip this activity because of the hassle of storing and transporting the kayaks.
This is understandable since traditional kayaks are bulky, and even the smallest ones take up a pretty sizeable space in your garage or shed. Not to mention you need a vehicle large enough to transport it. With such limitations, it’s easy to see why kayaking seems like an inaccessible hobby to many.
But, perhaps, there’s a better alternative.
Enter the inflatable kayaks.
I know the thought of inflatable kayaks may induce visions of tears, rips, and punctures, and images of sinking boats, and an unwanted, panicked swim for land. The mention of an inflatable kayak can also bring to mind a glorified pool toy.
However, thanks to advances in technology, today’s inflatables are both durable and reliable.
Of course, they may not be quite as good as the traditional, hard shell kayaks, but some of the best inflatables incorporate modern technologies into their design giving the traditional options a run for their money.
I agree, the soft shells might not slice through the water with the dexterity of a traditional kayak, but the trade-off here is the ease of use, portability, and price.
Setting up an inflatable kayak is a cinch and takes a matter of minutes. Most options are also easy to store and can be deflated to fit into a very small space.
More importantly, they don’t sacrifice their practicality and performance.
Now, if the idea of an inflatable kayak sounds good to you, here’s a rundown of the best inflatable kayaks on the market.
Table of Contents
The Best Inflatable Kayaks For The Money
#1 Oru Beach LT Folding Kayak - EDITOR'S CHOICE
For a portable kayak with performance levels comparable with those of a hardshell, meet the Oru Beach LT.
The Oru LT is a beginner-friendly kayak built with a focus on simplicity.
Though this kayak isn’t inflatable, its unique construction and usage put it firmly in the same class as similarly portable kayaks.
But, is the Oru, with all its features, the right kayak for you?
Features and Benefits
As with the popular Oru Bay Lt, the Beach LT body is made with five-mm thick, double-layered polypropylene so you have no need to doubt the reliability of this kayak. It will easily take a beating and will even allow you to dock it on a rocky beach with no problems.
But, for all the benefits of foldability, we were concerned with the fold/unfolding life of the Oru kayak. Our essential question was, “How many times you can fold/unfold the Oru Bay LT before the creases rip it apart?”
Well, the folks at Oru anticipated how the creases might present failure points and rated the boat for at least 20,000 fold cycles before deterioration of the structural integrity. 20k is a lot, and would last you for several decades, even if you used the Oru Beach daily.
Comfort was a priority in the design of the Oru Beach LT. Sure, it’s not as comfortable as some of the squishier, inflatable options, but it’s still a chilled boat to ride in.
As a low-riding, narrow-profile choice, it’s pretty easy to get in and out of with plenty of stability. The seat is cushioned, while the seatback is fully adjustable, eliminating any fatigue due to posture.
The foot braces are equally adjustable, letting you find the perfect place to paddle in comfort, whatever your height or leg length.
Though an overly large cockpit enhances this yak’s spaciousness, it makes the Beach LT incompatible with a spray skirt, meaning you’re likely to get wet in choppy waters.
The problem is further exacerbated by the lack of scupper holes for draining the yak when it gets flooded.
But, apart from that, the Oru Beach LT is one comfortable kayak and a joy to use.
Weighing just 26 pounds, the Oru Beach handles incredibly well; it rides low, meaning you don’t have to worry about stability.
Furthermore, with a dimension of 12’3”, it’s a long kayak, and despite lacking skegs to enable accurate straight lines, it has awesome tracking capabilities, easily cutting through the waves like a champ.
The construction, lightness, and stability also mean it’s easy to maneuver, even through narrow paths, and it’s extraordinarily fast.
Ease of folding
Oru Beach users benefit from a signature, origami-style folding design, allowing the kayak to fold up to the size of a large suitcase.
Once compacted, it’s easy to stash under your bed, in the closet, or even in your car’s trunk.
It’s also possible to go on a hike with the yak strapped to your back.
#2 Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame - Best Inflatable Option
Love the feel, sturdiness, and tracking the performance of hard-shell kayaks but don’t have the space or budget for one?
Enter the Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame inflatable kayak.
It ranks high among the best inflatable kayaks, and is the perfect compromise to a fixed shell yak, offering the best of both worlds.
With excellent handling, longevity, and ease of set up, this kayak will rack up the miles while ensuring a practical kayaking experience.
Features and Benefits
Advanced Element’s AdvancedFrame construction screams quality, delivered through the aluminum frame construction and PVC-coated polyester, covered in a thick, waterproof layer.
The fabric on this kayak doesn’t only feel much thicker and sturdier, but it also sports thickly reinforced seams for ultimate strength.
Plus, the bottom has plasticity, meaning it can easily withstand abuse including getting dragged over sand or rocks or even paddling over submerged sticks.
Another aspect the AE AdvancedFrame excels in is comfort.
The kayak comes with adjustable, thick cushioned seats eliminating fatigue, even after extended use.
Additionally, the narrow shape of the cockpit facilitates an optimally comfortable leg position for easier paddling.
Unfortunately, it lacks any foot braces, but that’s not an issue since you can use your knees and lengthwise bridges to dig in deep when paddling upriver or through a current.
The built-in aluminum ribs on the AE AdvancedFrame are arguably the biggest selling point.
Besides giving the yak a defined shape, something unusual for inflatable kayaks, the frames create a more streamlined shape helping the kayak cut through the water efficiently.
Additionally, the frame construction acts as a skeg to improve the overall tracking and prevent zigzagging through the water while paddling.
With its fairly long, pointed bow and a wide deck, it rides low, offering unmatched stability, even in choppy waters.
The only complaint with the AE AdvancedFrame’s performance is it lacks a scupper hole to drain excess water while paddling.
Ease of set-up
Honestly, setting up the AE AdvancedFrame is our least favorite feature of this yak.
It is a little arduous and time-consuming to prepare it for action.
While deflation is a doddle, filling the seven air chambers is an uphill task, not to mention it comes with detailed, and, in our opinion, unnecessarily long directions.
As an inflatable option, the AE AdvancedFrame is reasonably portable, because you don’t need a roof rack to transport or store it.
However, aluminum frames and double construction bulks up the yak’s weight, meaning it’s not something you would want to lug around on your back.
Besides the weight, the yak is extraordinarily heavy for a single-person vessel, especially considering some of its competitors.
#3 Sevylor Quikpak K5 - Best Bang for your Buck
If you’re looking for a decent kayak at a fraction of the competition’s cost, you can’t go wrong with this backpack kayak from Sevylor.
The Sevylor Quickpak K5 is a lightweight and budget option yak that caught our eye for its unmatched performance for the price.
It’s reasonably durable, and comes with everything you would need to take on high waves and choppy waters.
Features and Benefits
The Quikpak, with a heavy-duty, polyester construction reinforced with a 24 gauge laminate PVC bottom, is decently durable.
While the fabric isn’t waterproof, the laminate underside will give you confidence when kayaking over rocky terrain or wading through submerged sticks and logs.
The Quickpak doesn’t have the durability of some of the premium models such as the Advanced Elements or the Oru Beach, but it holds its head high against the competition.
If anything, the only issue we had with the durability is the lack of waterproofness on the fabric side, resulting in a funky smell after a while if you don’t always get it completely dry after use.
Otherwise, the Quickpak is solidly constructed, and you’ve no reason whatsoever to doubt its integrity.
The Quickpak may not win any medals for length, but it’s still a comfortable yak and a joy to use for long periods without getting tired.
The fully adjustable seat, which offers a clever folding method of the backpack portion, provides plenty of space for stretching your legs.
It’s also possible to ride the Quickpak high out of the water, which helps novice kayakers feel even more comfortable when out in the action.
Paddling is also a doddle, though we were unimpressed by the three-piece paddle that is included as it loosens over time and misaligns the blades to different angles.
For a clunky-looking kayak, the Quickpak performs decently well, with the skegs on the bottom helping with tracking to eliminate swinging back and forth with every stroke.
This yak is also relatively stable, riding high out of the water.
However, the Quickpak isn’t a speedy yak, with the fairly blunt bow choking speed and tracking ability.
For what it offers though, the Sevylor has a pretty decent performance, especially considering the entry price.
It’s also a versatile option, and people can enjoy using the vessel on different types of water zones.
Ease of use
The Sevylor Quickpak isn’t too hard to set up, with the dual-action pump included which helps to fill in the three chambers of the yak.
Inflating the yak doesn’t take a long time, and the directions of use that are included make the process even easier.
With a modest weight of 23 pounds and a backpack design, the Sevylor K5 Quikpak is among the easiest kayaks to carry around.
It feels much heavier in a duffle, which is why we recommend using the convenient backpacking design.
Our biggest gripe is that the fabric isn’t waterproof, so it might absorb some water, severely impacting the overall weight.
#4 Intex Challenger K2 Kayak - Best Tandem
The Intex Challenger K2 kayak might lack in the finesse and durability, but it makes up for it with a shockingly low price tag and impressive handling.
This tandem inflatable is an open-style kayak which comes with plenty of goodies.
It’s lightweight, yet has a generous weight capacity to support up to two average adults. We also love the high walls that minimize the occurrence of splashes from choppy waters.
Overall, the K2 offers everything you would need to enjoy a weekend on a gateway lake.
Features and Benefits
The super-tough, vinyl material offers a durable and puncture-resistant construction.
While it’s not anywhere close to polyethylene material, it’s reasonably robust and will survive rugged use.
It’s also resistant to scratches and binds well with the I-beam structure to maintain airtightness.
Additionally, the vinyl material is resistant to UV-damage.
The only issue with the build quality is that the K2 only features only two compartments for holding air. While it saves time and effort while setting the kayak up, it also means you would only have the base and chair to support you in the case of a puncture.
The K2 isn’t our first choice for an eight paddle, but it’s pretty comfortable for short excursions.
It’s not large, but because the sides are thin and don’t encroach on the valuable sitting area the K2 yak feels relatively large.
The seats are also inflatable and come complete with Velcro and a buckle for a more comfortable experience.
The paddles which are included have a squishy texture, making them feel more comfortable than the competition.
The K2’s performance is fantastic, and we love how it rides low in the water. It’s a stable option, making it easier to get in and out of, especially if you’re hauling yourself in after a refreshing dunk.
For its size, we also love that it doesn’t catch wind much, thus you’ll never feel like you’re getting forced into the middle of the lake or offshore.
Finally, the long skeg helps with improved tracking and eliminates back and forth movements with each stroke.
Ease of use
The K2 features only two chambers, meaning inflation should be the least of your concerns. It’s possible to fill this yak effortlessly and in a matter of minutes.
Additionally, weighing a mere 34 pounds, it’s easy to carry the kayak even for long distances without getting tired out.
#5 Sea Eagle Inflatable 380X Explorer - Heavy Duty Option
We feel the Sea Eagle Explorer should be the tandem kayak that all other inflatables should be compared with.
While it’s built for recreation, it’s also a practical and serious kayak, able to handle the roughness of the wild.
Features and Benefits
The Sea Eagle’s toughness is legendary, and this is due to the 1,000 denier, reinforced PVC.
The kayak easily stands up to some pretty serious abuse and will take on whatever mother nature, wind, or waves throw in the way.
You don’t have to worry about landing on beaches, running a river, or even slamming into rocks here and there with this kayak. But, it is inflatable, so you should keep a watch out for knives or anything sharp.
A selling feature of the Sea Eagle is the Class IV whitewater certification.
It’s a versatile option, allowing you to paddle it in a wide range of conditions, but if whitewater paddling makes your heart skip a bit, then it’s a kayak worth considering.
The Sea Eagle is built with convenience in mind, with the two comfortable seats offering an easy resting position.
Though rated for two, this is a heavy-duty product and can even accommodate up to three while still leaving space for your gear.
Inflatables, especially tandem kayaks, aren’t known for their tracking and handling abilities, but the Sea Eagle is an exception.
This product features a removable skeg to improve the overall performance.
It’s easy to maneuver the Sea Eagle, and the tracking is simply fantastic.
In particular, the 39-inch wide hull and a flat bottom increase the overall stability on calm water. At the same time, the rockers in the bow and stern improve the performance on whitewater.
The Sea Eagle’s stability is exceptional, and we feel this kayak could be an inspiring option for beginners looking for a secure craft.
Ease of use
Users report the Sea Eagle’s load, including the kayak, pump, and paddles, get heavy fast, so you shouldn’t let the relative lightness of the kayak fool you.
Nevertheless, the Explorer is a premium option, chocked full of practical features to enhance your kayaking experience.
Best Inflatable Kayaks Buying Guide
With so many inflatable kayaks on the market, choosing the right option for you can feel intimidating.
To help with the selection, we’ve prepared a comprehensive guide outlining what you need to consider before making a purchase.
But, before I share the tips with you, let’s look at the different types of inflatable kayaks.
Inflatable kayaks come in a variety of designs, but in this text, we shall limit ourselves to the five common types as below:
As their name suggests, closed-design kayaks feature an enclosed cockpit entailing sliding your feet and torso into the kayak.
This might limit your wiggle room, but it is efficient at keeping the cold water off your legs when paddling during cold weather.
Inflatables with a hybrid design combine elements of a traditional kayak and a canoe.
The hybrid kayaks are characterized by a long, narrow design, with seats attached to the vessel’s bottom. Also, hybrid kayaks feature high walls preventing water from splashing into the boat.
Open design kayaks allow your body to fit onto the top part of the craft.
This option makes it easier to climb in and out of the vessel, but you’ll have to tolerate some splashing on your legs.
A sealed kayak doesn’t allow water to exit the boat automatically, meaning you’ll have to bail the kayak by hand whenever water gets inside it.
Sealed kayaks are ideal for use on calm, open water where waves and splashes are minimised.
Self-bailing kayaks have ports that open once the kayak has taken water on board for automatic water release.
These boats are common in rough waters and whitewater kayaking, where you’ll get wet anyway.
Factors to consider when selecting an inflatable kayak
First, we’d like to address the elephant in the room and dispel any concerns.
See, for a long time, inflatable kayaks have been seen as flimsy and simply overgrown pool toys, but we shall put that to rest.
Modern-day inflatables are sturdy, reliable, and extremely puncture resistant.
I’ll give you two examples.
Both the Navy Seals and professional whitewater guides use inflatables, even in the most demanding conditions.
This is because the inflatables are built from extremely sturdy materials, with some having layers of tough rubber or PVC. Though not puncture-proof, they can take a beating, probably more than you can imagine.
And because they’re filled with air, these inflatables can shrug off hard impacts, which might crack the hard-shelled options.
The choice of your inflatable material will determine how reliable and long-lasting your kayak is.
Some of the common materials used on the inflatable kayaks include:
Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) might not be eco-friendly, but it has awesome tear resistance.
This material also has a strong resistance to UV rays because it can withstand long exposure to sunlight.
Hypalon, like PVC, is UV-resistant.
Beyond weathering the sun’s rays, Hypalon is also more durable, abrasion-resistant, and eco-friendly than PVC.
Nitrylon is a blend of nitrile and synthetic rubber.
Though a bit heavier than PVC or Hypalon, it’s more eco-friendly.
Plus, the material is soft, puncture-proof, and durable.
The inflatable kayaks’ biggest draw is their low weight load, meaning carrying them around with you is a lot easier.
When carrying them, all you need is to deflate them to reduce their volume and use a pump to inflate them when you are ready to hit the water.
Conversely, traditional kayaks are bulky and will require lots of effort to get from one location to another.
Having extra space on your inflatable kayak allows you to store your belongings on-board.
Ideally, you should have a dry dock in your inflatable where you can store some of your valuables, such as a phone or camera, without worrying about them getting wet.
If you’re a fisherman, consider picking a kayak with sufficient space to store your small ice box or dry box to keep your fish safe from contamination till you reach the shore.
Wrap Up: Our Choice
After careful consideration, we feel few inflatable kayaks can beat the Oru Beach LT.
While some might argue the Oru Beach LT isn’t a true inflatable, the ease of use, portability, and price point in an inflatable direction.
We love this option because of its practicality; it strikes a balance between the performance of a hard-shell option and the portability and ease of use of an inflatable.
Even better, this model’s entry price is forgiving, considering all the features and performance it offers.