Kayaking can be a great way to get outside, on the water. But sometimes the kayak itself can be a chore to transport and use. A traditional kayak can be cumbersome to store, difficult to haul, not to mention heavy just to get from the beach to the water. This is where an inflatable kayak comes in. And fortunately for outdoor enthusiasts, they have come a long way in recent years.
No matter what they are used for, inflatable kayaks (and inflatable paddle boards for that matter) are gaining in popularity. There are many types, brands and models which have some advantages compared to the solid models. If you are looking for a kayak to spend an amazing time in (alone or with your family) we recommend that you check out the models we tried out below.
WHAT ARE THE ADVANTAGES OF an inflatable kayak?
An inflatable kayak has a lot of advantages (as well as some disadvantages that we’ll mention later) and benefits that make them a great option for your watersports.
Versatility. You can find kayaks for just one person (with a finely tuned form); for two passengers (its main structure are two parallel pontoons that meet at the bow and stern); and finally, there are multipurpose inflatable kayaks that can be used for paddling or even fishing (shaped more like rafts). They have very low draft, meaning that you can take a kayak in places that you would never consider taking a boat, because they won’t catch on as many things beneath you in the water.
Weight and size. Perhaps the #1 advantage, an inflatable kayak is a breeze to transport and to store at home. These kayaks are much lighter and easier to handle than traditional solid kayaks — with some high-quality kayaks being as light as 25 lbs., compared to some premium solid kayaks that approach 100 lbs (but the poly/plastic models are much lighter). Some inflatable kayaks can even fit into a large backpack. When deflated, they are many times easier to maneuver than a hard kayak.
Surprising durability. The best quality inflatable kayaks are made with materials of very high resistance (Hypalon neoprene). Nevertheless, if you’re looking for cheaper options you can buy those that are made of PVC (although these are not as durable). Let’s just say that the material used in these kayaks has come a long way in the past decade. Sure, you can puncture an inflatable if you really mishandle it, but then again you can also gouge or crack a solid kayak if you are careless with it too.
Forgiveness in the Water. An inflatable kayak gives you a little bit of a free pass if you happen to scrape over a submerged log, or ramp into a rock as you are paddling. Even a fully and properly inflated kayak has a little bit of “give” in its outer layer. A solid kayak, on the other hand, could be damage by that same encounter with a rock. Nothing is worse than hearing “crack!” when you are in a vessel on the water.
What are the Disadvantages of an Inflatable Kayak?
There is never a perfect answer on questions of outdoor gear, and we want you to go into your kayaking with eyes wide open. An inflatable kayak may have some disadvantages depending on the type of kayaking you expect to do.
Control of the kayak. Remember that they are very lightweight, and in rough waters and wind, they may be a bit difficult to handle. This will also depend on your level of experience and the model you choose — wider kayaks are always more stable, regardless of the type. A heavier kayak can be steadier and will never have variance in air pressure.
Regular inflation. Since they are inflatable, they will need to be inflated before and deflated after each use in order to preserve their usability, and this could be a disadvantage for a lot due to the time this takes, at a time when you are usually ready to get going in the water. Also, before storing it in a backpack after deflating you kayak, it’s important that you properly wash and dry it to reduce the risk of damage. You also need to be able to inflate the kayak up to the recommended pressure each time, so you don’t have variability in the feel of the vessel.
Best inflatable kayaks for one person
If you prefer kayaking alone there are dozens of models that you can acquire that can fulfill their basic function. Her we’re going to recommend those ones that we consider to be the best. Let’s begin.
AdvancedFrame Expedition by Advanced Elements
This model is one of the best we’ve found. It is made for stability, but can also feel fast under the right conditions. However, it is ultra-comfortable offers great style and a relatively affordable price compared to other high-quality models. It’s very manageable, with ample space for your legs.
A good feature of this model is that the front cover can be opened. This way your legs can bask in the sun (an unusual feature). In addition, its storage room is large enough to store your belongings for longer trips.
Some disadvantages of this model could be its weight (42 pounds), which can be a lot considering that it’s an inflatable kayak for only one person. Another minor issue that may bother some people is since it sits low on the water, you’ll likely end up getting water inside the kayak if you are in rough conditions or are of heavier stature. It is not a safety issue, though — the kayak is rated to handle a combined 450 lbs of weight of riders.
Still, we think this is a winner for most people who want to invest a reasonable amount of money in a good, all-around kayak. Find here.
AdvancedFrame Sport Kayak by Advanced Elements
Another model from Advanced Elements? Well yes! Advance Elements is a leader in producing inflatable kayaks (and for that matter, SUPs too) with their excellent designs and patented materials. This specific model is often considered to be almost same quality and strength as a solid kayak. It’s made with double-coated fabrics which give it durability, in addition to having an aluminum arch and stern ribs, giving the model even more strength.
In addition, this kayak model has hard bow and stern edges, which is significant because these are the parts that come into contact with the environment first. This is a kayak that can be used in all types of waters (open sea, lakes and even rivers).
Compared to the Expedition model listed above, the Sport is more for recreational use. It is a couple feet shorter, but with the same width, which means it is more stable on the water but will not be as good for touring or paddling fast. It is lighter — at only 25 lbs. — but is only recommended to handle 250 lbs of rider weight. Keep that in mind if you are a larger person.
A great, all-purpose kayak that won’t break the bank. Find it here.
Best inflatable kayak for fishing
If your favorite activity is fishing and you are looking for portability and stability, then we recommend this model:
Straitedge Angler Pro AE1055 by Advanced Elements
Not only does it offer the convenience of providing a place for fish finders, GPS and other accessories/equipment, but also offers very good maneuverability and stability, so much that you can actually stand when operating it. Of course, it goes without saying that the design of this model offers comfort, not only for your back but also your knees and thighs to rest against the sides of the kayak. The only flaw we could find regarding this model is its limited storage space.
Best inflatable kayaks for two, or for family recreation
Inflatable kayaks can be used for family activities during the weekends, and you can be sure that they will ensure your whole family enjoys an incredible time! Here we’re going to offer you our best recommendations for a more than one passenger kayak:
Chinook XP Tandem XL by Aquaglide
This model was designed specifically for family activities and has space for two adults and one child. It’s made of high-quality materials plus two separate air chambers. In our testing, we like the very comfortable design which makes the unit highly-stable for passengers, and it even has storage for food/snacks or any other accessory or equipment.
The XP Tandem is a great combination of rugged – we have never experienced any kind of tear-scare — as well as very portable. When deflated, it folds up into a small, compact unit. Speaking of deflating, it can deflate quickly. That is an underrated aspect of the Chinook, and something that is nice to have when your day is done and you are just ready to get back in the car. It is something we don’t always see with an inflatable kayak or paddleboard.
The Importance of Design
Design is everything when it comes to kayaks. The shape, layout, and intended use of any kayak will make a huge difference in how it feels and handles — and what it costs.
As a simple rule, shorter and wider kayaks are more stable but slower. Longer and slimmer kayaks are faster but more tippy.
There are a few types of common kayak categories you will see from most manufacturers:
- Sit-On-Top: A true recreational kayak style, that is meant for having fun at the beach, fishing, or a little exploring. An open cockpit allows it to have easy access.
- Touring or Sea: Long and slender, these kayaks are really meant for exploring and going fast.
- Recreational: Wider and shorter than a touring kayak, these are great for people who might appreciate a little more stability, but still like touring.
- Fishing: Built-for-purpose, they are shorter, wider, and stable and have some bells and whistles that will help a fisherman, such as rod holders, a place for a tackle box, and the ability to stand up quickly when reeling in a fish
- Whitewater: Open, short, and very wide. Meant for rafting down rivers and rapids. Not ideal for other uses.
To fish, to have fun, to relax… no matter what you use your inflatable kayak for, you will always have a wonderful time enjoying the water with it. It’s important that you examine the features of each model at the time of purchase, so you avoid possible issues due to a less than ideal design. It’s also important if it’s your first time buying one of these kayaks that you choose one that includes all the equipment and accessories you need, not including things like your attire and paddling footwear, of course. This way you’ll be avoiding future additional costs. If you like being active on the water you won’t regret choosing an inflatable kayak!