Best Inflatable Kayak
Anyone taking their first curious looks into kayaking are often surprised to hear there are inflatable options. Thoughts of rips, tears and punctures bring images of sinking kayaks and an unwanted panicked swim for land.
Top Choices: Inflatable Kayaks
(links take you over to the item on Amazon or REI - more on these below)
The truth is, inflatables can actually be incredibly durable, and not only that, track and move around just as well as many of the traditional solid yaks on the market.
We’re going to take a look at the best inflatable kayaks, and some of the different types. Single kayaks, tandems, sea, rough and calm water, and vessels that can be fished from, and we'll also take a look at some of the cheaper options.
What Are The Pros And Cons Of An Inflatable Kayak?
Is a blow-up the best choice for you?
It’s really going to depend on your circumstances. As with everything, there are pros and cons. Factors to consider include how far away you live from the water, to the types of water you intend to paddle around.
Easy To Carry & Transport Around
This is probably the most obvious one.
Expandable yaks are, in general, lighter than their hard shelled counterparts. Not only are they lighter, but they of course deflate and compact away into a small package. So when you are on the move, it folds away so it’s more easy to carry.
And it weighs less, so you don’t necessarily need to be like Arnie at the gym.
Are you traveling long distance? Want to fly to the other side of the continent or the planet? Well, you can pack up your inflatable and check it into the hold-all.
Good luck trying to do that with a traditional hard shell, haha!
It’s not even just planes either. If you want to travel by bus or train, the only real way you’re going to bring your ‘yak is if it deflates into a portable carrier.
If you’re driving, you can just throw your deflated yak into the trunk and you’re off on your way. Contrast this to having a hard kayak. You would need to fix it onto a rack on the car/truck. So there’s all the hassle of buying a roof rack. Then each and every time you need to go somewhere, you need to lift the ‘yak onto the rack and affix.
There are many ways to do this, and there are some cheaper ‘cheats’ if you want to take a shortcut. But at the end of the day, blow-ups are much more convenient and portable.
They Are Very Stable
A lot of blow-ups have generally wider hulls. Think of whitewater kayaks for a moment. These have the wider base and taller side walls. This makes them much more sturdy and stable. You need the stability as the river throws you around and tries to eject you from your seated position. Yes, Mother Nature does have a cruel side to her!
You can however get inflatables with narrower hulls, which are designed more for touring.
Overall, the chances of tipping over one of these are relatively low.
This is another feature for the safety conscious to consider.
Costs Are Generally Less
Inflatables are, much of the time, less expensive water craft. In most cases this is usually because the materials are cheaper.
As with most aspects of life, costs makes these kayaks more appealing. You’ll find more beginners tending to opt for the blow up option more often. And also regular kayak users who want a second or third boat, as a backup to their hard-shell.
That’s not to say that blow-ups are specifically for beginners, no. Just that you will notice a larger proportion of beginners and novices in expandable yaks.
They Can Sink!
Any vessel can sink, whether inflatable or made from tough composites. However, the tougher and generally more expensive of these type are arguably just as tough as any hard shell.
Video of a Sinking Yak (warning - contains strong language!)
- We always recommend that you wear a PFD when kayaking
We can’t say the same for the cheaper blow-ups, though. These may not have rubber reinforcement to the base material, and that can leave them more open to punctures. The old saying is that you get what you pay for – so if you’re taking kayaking at least reasonably seriously, a cheaper inflatable craft maybe isn’t the way to go.
Try to get your hands on one with several air compartments. Each air compartment has its own valve and is inflated individually. The big benefit of separate air compartments is that if you do run into the unfortunate situation of ripping or puncturing your kayak, only that one compartment will deflate. The others will remain inflated, meaning there is less likelihood of sinking.
Now, if you only have 1 or 2 compartments, and you spring a leak, well then you’re in for an unwanted swim. Probably the last thing you want!
So in essence, more air compartments mean you are much more likely to stay afloat in prickly situations. And it’s a heck of a lot safer too (especially if you’re not the strongest swimmer!).
In fact, in some ways the inflatable type (with many compartments) are actually safer than the hard shells. Why? Well, if the hard shell does actually start leaking in lots of water, the whole kayak is affected. This means you're more likely to sink, unless you have a huge bucket on board!
Not As Efficient To Paddle
They're almost always going to be less speedy than the best hard edged ‘yaks.
Does this mean that blow-ups paddle like dogs? No! Air-filled efforts can be just as much fun as their hard cousins. It’s just that if you are looking for the fastest type of vessel to paddle, with the highest efficiency rate, saving as much energy as possible….then perhaps an inflatable kayak is not the best choice.
For 99% people out there, who want to paddle around and have fun, and hey, burn off a few calories with a more strenuous outing, an expanding yak is just fine.
Just be wary of the wind. Generally speaking, these craft catch the wind a little more and this can make paddling around harder again.
Takes Time To Setup And Pack Away
Each time you want to paddle, you need to bring the pump and spend at least a few minutes inflating all the compartments.
Then when you’re done, you need to do the exact opposite. It can be annoying for some, especially those with little patience!
It’s also recommended to dry out the kayak before packing away for long periods. So, often you’ll need to think about bringing it home and airing out to dry for at least a day or two before packing away. Something else to think about.
A hard shell is so much more convenient in this respect. Drag it into the water…and away you go. Finished? Just trail it out again.
The hard ‘yak can also be left tied up against the river bed (make sure you tie it tight!) and left to float. You wouldn’t want to do this with an inflatable (not for any long periods of time anyway).
Durability & Life Expectancy
Sadly, inflatables just don’t live as long as tough hard shelled ‘yaks. They can last a very long time if you look after them properly though.
Make sure that you regularly inspect the underside for damage. Part of this inspection could include test inflation and paddling in shallow waters. If you do happen to find a leak, then repair it straight away. You need to keep on top of any damage as soon as you see it arising.
How To Choose An Inflatable Yak: Considerations
Many of the inflatable vessels on the market tend to be made from PVC, which can be highly durable and water resistant, as well as being lightweight and affordable. Some yaks feature a blend of PVC with other materials such as nylon or polyester, in order to boost its strength and puncture resistance. This will often be measured by denier, with the number relating to the thickness of the material. The higher the number, generally the thicker the fabric.
UV protective coatings can also be applied to PVC to help minimize damage and weakening in the fabric caused by the sun.
Different Lengths Of Kayaks
You’ll notice that inflatable kayaks come in different lengths, just as they do with hard shell vessels, with the longer, narrower vessels often being quicker across the water than short, wide vessels.
Yet, the longer the yak, the more difficult it might be to maneuver, especially if you’re on your own and a beginner.
Generally speaking, a tandem or 3 person yak will likely be longer than a one person yak. However, this is not always the case. With inflatables often having a high weight capacity, they can sometimes allow for two paddlers in a relatively short yak.
Similarly, you’ll find one person yaks of the same length as some tandems, usually with more space for storage or indeed, longer legs.
Inflatable vessels will often tend to have a higher weight capacity than their hard shell equivalents. This can be because of the design of the inflatables and that they tend to be more buoyant because they’re air filled.
The weight capacity tends to refer to the maximum weight that the yak can hold, usually when spread out across the length of the vessel. You may not get the maximum performance out of a vessel if you pack it to its max capacity or concentrate all of the yak’s cargo in the one spot.
Think about how many people will be joining you in your yak and how much gear you want to be able to bring, as this should give you an idea of what capacity you’ll require.
Accessories (Essentials And Nice-To-Haves)
Just as with traditional hard shell yaks, there are some accessories that can be useful on an inflatable. Padded seats with adjustable seat backs can be a good idea to have, especially if you plan to spend a little while on the water.
Storage options can also be a useful accessory, whether it’s in the form of D-rings or bungee rigging to secure some of your gear, or covers that create a dry-ish space to store camping gear.
If you plan to fish, you may want to think about angling accessories, such as rod holders or mounts to attach your electronics. While angling accessories may not be essential if you’re a recreational paddler, one thing that can be essential is a patch repair kit in case you accidentally puncture or damage your hull.
Seems obvious, BUT, another essential piece of equipment that you likely won’t want to be without is a pump to blow up your yak. Some yaks will come with a pump but not all of them, so make sure you check before purchasing your yak, or you may have to buy one separately.
How To Use Your Inflatable Kayak: Top Tips
Once you’ve got your own inflatable yak, it can be useful to know how to use it and how to keep it in tip top shape so you can enjoy it for as long as possible.
Since inflatable kayaks can differ, in some regards, to traditional kayaks, we’ll take a look at some of the more inflatable specific aspects of how to use your yak.
How To Get In And Out Of One!
You can get into your inflatable kayak in a way similar to how you would enter a traditional yak.
A simple way is to position your craft on the water, turn your back to it, with your back facing the seat and sit down while holding onto the the side of the vessel that’s closest to you.
If you need to re-enter from the water (see video below), it can be useful to hold on to the side of your craft, then pull yourself back into the seat using your legs to push you up and out of the water.
To get out, simply paddle up to the shoreline, swing your legs out to the same side. Then stand up. You can use your paddle to steady yourself, positioned behind your seat across the back of the craft.
How To Set Up
The best place to set up will likely be at the edge of the water, as this should allow you to keep the vessel in its carry bag for easier transportation.
You’ll probably find there is more than one chamber to inflate, so it can be a good idea to start by inflating the floor section first. Attach the hose of your pump to the valve on the yak and you’re ready to begin.
Once you’ve inflated the floor, you can start with the sides. In order to make sure your floor section will end up in the right position, you might find it easier not to inflate the sides all the way at first, until you know that the floor will be centered.
Once you know it’ll be in the right position you can go ahead and fully inflate the rest of the craft.
Best Way To Paddle
An efficient way to paddle is to make sure each blade fully enters the water with each stroke.
Rotate your torso during each stroke and make sure that as you pull the blade through the water with one hand, push with the other, so that both arms are sharing the work on each stroke.
You might find that you have to paddle in a different style from a traditional kayak as an inflatable may not be as low profile and you may need to reach further over the sides because of the depth of the vessel.
If you’re paddling in a tandem vessel with a second paddler, it can be important that your strokes are synchronized so that you can move along the water efficiently without your paddles colliding.
Looking After Your Inflatable
Just like with traditional kayaks, it’s not recommended that you leave inflatable vessels exposed to direct sunlight, as the UV light can damage the craft and weaken it.
But with inflatable yaks, there are other things to consider as well. One thing you’ll want to make sure is that your vessel is completely dry before you fold it up and pack it away, otherwise you could find it’s a victim of mold and mildew the next time you open it out.
A good way to dry it out is to simply leave it outside, if you have time. If you don’t have time, you can dry it with towels while it’s still inflated. Then, deflate the floor section and turn the vessel upside down to let any remaining water drain out.
You can then deflate the rest of the yak and continue drying it off with clean towels.
You can keep it clean by using a kayak soap or inflatable boat cleaner before you store it for a long period or after it’s been in storage.
Best Inflatable Kayaks
1: Advanced Elements AE1012 AdvancedFrame Kayak
- Length: 10 ft 5 inches
- Width: 32 inches
- Weight: 36 pounds
- Weight Capacity: 300 pounds
The AE1012 has been around for a few years now. This popular sit-in inflatable has 3 layers of tough material to help guard against any damage or punctures. It’s durable enough to take class II rivers.
Both ends (bow and stern) have aluminum ribs to help shape the hull. This helps with tracking, along with the skeg, making your paddling life easier. Don’t worry, the ribs are pre-built, so you don’t have to actually fit and set these up yourself.
There are 7 chambers in total, helping to keep sinking disasters to a minimum.
There are zipper storage areas to keep your valuables safe and dry. Bungee cords can be used to hold down extra stored gear.
A repair kit, fold-away padded seat and a bag for transportation are included. Note that paddles are not included, so you need to pick these out for yourself separately.
You can optionally fit a spray skirt to keep the water out when you paddle along.
2: Driftsun Voyager 2 Person Inflatable Kayak
- Length: 10 foot (26 inches deflated)
- Width: 35 inches (16 inches deflated)
- Weight: 37 pounds
- Weight Capacity: 450 pounds
The Driftsun Voyager is a tandem inflatable yak that can be ideal for exploring lakes and rivers or even for a day at the beach. It’s designed to be buoyant and handle a range of waters, including choppy conditions.
This durable craft is made from PVC tarpaulin and tear resistant coated nylon. It has a high weight capacity that can be useful for carrying extra gear and there are bungee cords and covered storage areas both at the bow and stern for your essentials.
It comes with padded seats that can be adjusted and removed, and it comes with two aluminum paddles so you’re ready to hit the water. A good thing about this vessel is that it can also be paddled by a single paddler, which could give you extra room for camping gear or space for your dog.
It also comes with a removable skeg for improved tracking and comes with a hand pump and carry bag.
3: Airhead Montana Kayak
- Length: 9 ft 9 inches
- Width: 30 inches
- Weight: 27.7 pounds
- Weight Capacity: 300 pounds
The Airhead Montana Kayak is designed for a single paddler and can be ideal for a range of water conditions, including moderate whitewater.
Crafted with 840 denier coated nylon, it’s lightweight, built to be durable and features three air chambers for added safety in the unfortunate event of a puncture.
It’s a stable vessel that is relatively wide for its short length, which could make it easier to maneuver on narrow rivers and low class rapids. It also benefits from an inflatable seat, which offers back support and can be easily removed.
There is plenty of space for gear if you’re planning a day trip, with a storage area at the bow, complete with bungee rigging for added security. Behind the seat you’ll find additional space for a dry bag or other gear.
This yak, however, does not come with a pump included.
4: Sevylor Quikpak K5
- Length: 10 ft
- Width: 34 inches
- Weight: 25.5 pounds
- Weight Capacity: 250 pounds
The Sevylor Quikpak K5 kayak is a one person inflatable craft that can be ideal for traveling and hiking to your perfect paddling spot. It’s designed to fold neatly into its backpack system, which can then be conveniently unfolded to become the seat of your kayak.
It features a tough tarpaulin bottom and PVC construction for added durability and protection against punctures. Plus, with multiple air chambers, it’s designed to stay afloat if one chamber does happen to puncture.
Another handy feature on this craft is the spray cover, which gives it more of a sit-inside appearance. This can help to keep splashes off your legs, as well as provide you with some protection from the weather, be it sun or rain.
This could be an ideal vessel for a multi-day adventure because of the storage space. There’s plenty of room for gear, including camping equipment, with the secure bungee storage areas both at the rear and in front of the cockpit.
It also comes with a paddle and a hand pump.
5: Sea Eagle SE370K_P
- Length: 12 ft 6 inches
- Width: 34 inches
- Weight: 32 pounds
- Weight Capacity: 650 pounds
An old favorite, the SeaEagle SE370K_P is a kayak that is pretty durable considering it is one of the cheaper options on our list. It’s made from toughened polykrylar, and should be inflated in around 8 minutes.
This ever-popular choice does come with everything you need to get going. A double set of paddles, inflatable seats, and a pump (make sure you go for the pump package if you actually need this).
More on what we said about this here
6: Sevylor Coleman Colorado 2-Person Fishing Yak
- Length: 10 ft
- Width: 39 inches
- Depth: 9 inches
- Weight: 41 pounds (shipped weight)
- Weight Capacity: 470 pounds
This tandem badboy is our pick for the best 2 person inflatable. It's also a fishing kayak.
It is made from super-durable PVC, nylon and tarpaulin to help ensure it is protected against being ripped open. Fish hooks, rocks, tree branches and all other sorts of nasties will try to puncture your ‘yak. The Colorado is best prepared to take all this on.
There are also multiple air chambers to cover you should you be unfortunate enough to get a leak.
This kayak has a lot of neat little features to make your journeys easier. It has D-ring handles so you can drag it around when it is inflated. There are fishing rod holder and plenty of meshed pockets to keep bits and pieces secured. The biggest storage area is at the stern.
The paddle holders mean you can go hands-free when you want to. A Sevylor trolling motor can be attached to the rear (it has the fittings included), if you really want to take a break.
7: STAR Paragon Inflatable Kayak
- Length: 11 ft 2 inches
- Width: 36 inches
- Weight: 37 pounds
This STAR Paragon Inflatable Kayak is designed to offer the experience of a touring yak with the convenience of an inflatable vessel. It comes with a folding seat, fins, pump, repair kit and comes in a carrying bag.
It’s a one person sit-on-top yak made from durable PVC and features keel inserts in the bow and stern to provide rigidity and enhance stability and tracking.
Tracking should also be improved with the addition of the interchangeable stern fins, which act like skegs. The fins are 5 inches and 9 inches, so you can choose the right size for your performance requirements.
The Paragon also benefits from front and rear splash covers so that you can store your gear safely underneath, and there is both bow and stern bungee rigging for additional storage.
8: Advanced Elements Island Voyage 2 Inflatable Kayak
- Length: 11 ft 2 inches
- Width: 37 inches
- Weight: 31.5 pounds
- Weight Capacity: 400 pounds
The Advanced Elements Island Voyage is a tandem kayak that can be suitable for either one or two paddlers. It comes with a removable fin, carrying bag and a repair kit.
Designed for recreational paddling, this vessel could be a great choice if you’re looking for a durable, easy to use boat for taking out on lakes or rivers. It is stable, lightweight and benefits from comfortable padded seats that can be adjusted and feature bottle holders and pockets.
It has a large 400 pound capacity, with plenty of space to store your gear if you’re heading out on a day trip. There is covered storage at the bow and stern, as well as bungee rigging and front and rear carrying handles that may make it easier to lift to the water once it’s inflated.
9: Aquaglide Columbia 110 Inflatable Kayak
- Length: 11 ft 4 inches
- Width: 36 inches
- Weight: 30 pounds
- Weight Capacity: 300 pounds
This Aquaglide Columbia 110 is an 11 foot 4 inch inflatable yak that is designed for one paddler for use on flatwater. It has a Duratex PVC and 600 denier polyester hull, crafted to be durable, with added UV protection.
This yak is made to perform similar to a hard shell yak, with an Aquaglide XP floor and X Beam technologies that enhance its hydrodynamics and boost its performance on the water by providing rigidity as well as stability.
It also benefits from a retractable skeg which can help with tracking. There are bow and stern storage covers, which each have splash guards, which can help to minimize splashes from waves while you’re paddling. Bungee rigging provides extra storage on the deck.
For comfort, there’s an adjustable padded foam seat with a storage pocket and there are neoprene pads on either side of the gunwales for added comfort when getting in and out and when paddling.
10: Solstice Swimline Durango Kayak
- Length: 11 ft
- Width: 37.5 inches
- Weight: 33 pounds
- Weight Capacity: 440 pounds
The Solstice Durango Kayak is designed to be used as either a one person or two person kayak. This can make it ideal for family adventures on rivers, lakes or at the beach and gives you the versatility to also take it out by yourself.
It has a generous 440 pounds capacity, which could make it a good choice for camping trips where you might want to bring along extra gear. There is both bow and stern storage with covers to help keep your gear dry. There are also bungee cords on top of the covers to provide additional space for equipment and D-rings for securing items.
The yak comes with two padded seats, a carry bag and a repair kit.
11: Intex Challenger K1 - (Budget Choice)
- Length: 9 ft
- Width: 30 inches
- Weight: 24 pounds (Shipping)
- Weight Capacity: 220 pounds
Ok, we’re talking budget here.
The Challenger K1 is by far the cheapest option on the list. As such, don’t expect a top-end experience. Does that mean you should avoid? Not necessarily. It won’t track as well as the other options.
But at the end of the day, it’s an inexpensive option for those who want to try out paddling to see if it’s for them. And if it is, you can always upgrade to a better option and use the K1 as a spare.
And hey, if you’re only going for short paddles every now and then, the K1 could be used on an ongoing basis.
This sit-in has a fairly large storage area on the bow end. A mesh net is used to hold your gear down. Note that it is not waterproofed, so it may get wet depending on your paddling technique.
There are just 2 air chambers, so a sudden, big leak, means you are likely looking at a swim if the worst happens.
A pump, paddles, removable skeg, and grab handles, to carry the vessel around, all come included. That’s pretty good in our book, given the cost.
12: Sevylor Tahiti - Classic Kayak
- Length: 10 ft 7 inches
- Width: 31 inches
- Weight: 24 pounds (Shipping)
- Weight Capacity: 400 pounds
Another tandem inflatable. The Sevylor Tahiti Classic is another popular tandem choice, made of 26-guage PVC.
It has 2 adjustable seats that can be removed. So if you only want to ride solo you can place the one seat in the center of the ‘yak.
The I-beam floor provides stability, but you can also purchase a skeg and attach for increased stability.
2 spray covers are provided to help keep you dry while paddling.
It’s a light yak, weighing in at only 25 pounds. Don’t let that make you think it can’t carry heavy loads, though. It can take up to 400 pound loads.
Can You Get 4-Seat Kayaks?
Generally, no. Some yaks might have seats for three people but normally this is the maximum number of seats.
Are Inflatables Safe For Use On The Sea?
Yes, they can be safe for a whole range of waters and conditions. Their air-filled nature makes them particularly buoyant and they can be pretty stable. However, in very choppy conditions or for ocean touring, you may want a more specialist vessel.
Can I Go Fishing Using An Inflatable Kayak?
Yes, you can. You can add additional accessories to your inflatable to make it more suitable for fishing but some inflatable yaks may come with specific angling features.
Are They Easy To Repair?
Generally, inflatable vessels are easy to repair and usually require a patch kit to cover over any small puncture. The patch can then be applied to your vessel while deflated.
Are Blow Up Kayaks Ok For Dogs?
For the most part, yes they can be suitable for dogs. The material on inflatable yaks tends to be strong and can usually stand up to hitting the occasional rock, so they should be tough enough to withstand dog paws.
Can I Go Kayak Camping Using An Inflatable Kayak?
Yes, you can go camping using an inflatable yak, as long as you have enough room for all the gear you want to take. You may want to use a few dry bags to store your clothing and food, as inflatable yaks may not have a lot of dry storage availability.