The Best Inflatable Kayak


Inflatable Kayaks are an exciting and relatively new development in water sports. Not just due to their lightweight and economic nature compared to their rigid hull counterparts, but also due to the new recreational opportunities they make available because of their incredibly portable nature. 

These inflatable watercraft pack down into a relatively small footprint when not in use, and once inflated, can achieve sea-worthy levels of performance and reliability. There are several different classes and categories of use that inflatable kayaks can fall into. They run the gambit from cheap dinghies you might use on a picnic lake outing through to worthy whitewater boats that have high-performance levels and can survive impact against rocks and debris.

Our Top Pick
Intex ExplorerK2 Kayak

A reasonable weight capacity and adequate performance in most applications outside of whitewater make this an excellent option for all but the most serious kayakers. 

Despite what some people may think when they hear the word “inflatable,” many of these products are incredibly durable and hold distinct advantages over traditional kayaks when it comes to safety. Barring a cataclysmic event, inflatable kayaks are often more difficult to sink than rigid hulls due to their multiple air compartments. They, in essence, have backup flotation systems should one of the air chambers fail for one reason or another. 

As we briefly touched on, there are several classes of usability to choose from when looking at these products. Broadly, they fit into the following categories: Recreational, fishing, and whitewater. Most manufacturers will base their builds around one of these three activities when it comes to functional features and design. 

Regardless of whether they are intended to be used in lakes, oceans or rivers, you can further break down inflatable kayaks into categories based on price, professional vs. amateur use, and weight. All of these considerations will be taken into account in our reviews later in the article so you can make the most informed choices possible!

List of the 10 Best Inflatable Kayaks

1. Intex Explorer K2 Inflatable Kayak Set

best inflatable kayak Intex Explorer K2 Kayak
  • Carrying Capacity: 400 lbs
  • Inflated Dimensions: 10’3″ X3′ X1’8″
  • Solo or Tandem: Tandem
  • Weight: 30.6 lbs

The Intex Explorer K2 is the big brother of our previous entry on this list, the Challenger k1 of the same company. This two-person inflatable kayak is excellent for exploring smaller bodies of water and makes for easy paddling with a friend. 

With two seats, there is plenty of room for a companion on your journey or extra gear if making an extended solo trip. But, with a 400lb weight capacity, you’d be pretty limited in what equipment you can bring while traveling with two people. 


Two inflatable seats with adjustable backstraps for optimum comfort are all you will find in the cockpit. There are no dedicated locations for gear storage. However, there should be plenty of room to stash a bag or two between your legs with the open cockpit design without getting cramped. Included are two aluminum paddles, a carrying case, and a detachable skeg for added maneuverability.


The Explorer K2 hosts a vinyl 3-ply laminate construction that provides standard levels of durability present in most mid-level inflatable kayaks. However, external slipcovers attached over the stern and bow add an extra level of protection for front or rear-end collisions. 

Best used for:

Smaller still bodies of water like lakes and ponds are perfect uses for kayaks like the Explorer K2. A relatively minimalist design means that the K2 excels at being a tandem paddleboat, but there aren’t many opportunities for use outside of this area. However, that is certainly not bad, as sometimes trying to do too much can hinder overall performance.  


With an attachable skeg for stability, a roomy interior, heavy-duty vinyl construction, and a price tag of around $150, the Intex Explorer K2 is a fantastic option for someone who wants a high-quality inflatable watercraft without breaking the bank. This inflatable kayak doesn’t pretend to fit all applications, and it doesn’t need to. For a straightforward lake-bound kayak, there aren’t many better options out there

Reasons to Buy the Intex Explorer K2 Kayak:

  • Roomy cockpit
  • Includes two paddles
  • Spartan in design
  • Great for lakes

2. Intex Challenger K1 Inflatable Kayak Set

  • Carrying Capacity: 220 lbs
  • Inflated Dimensions: 9″ X2’6″ X1’1″
  • Solo or Tandem: Solo
  • Weight: 23.9 lbs

The Intex Challenger K1 inflatable kayak is an excellent option for those wanting to dip their toes into the water of inflatable watercraft. At just under $100, the Challenger K1 is even more budget-friendly than most kayaks in the category tend to be. However, despite the lower price, your purchase still comes with the full suite of accessories one expects, like a pump, oar, and carrying case. 


As just mentioned, a high-volume hand pump, collapsible aluminum oar, and storage bag arrive with your purchase. In addition, a detachable skeg can be removed or attached depending upon what sorts of conditions you will be paddling in. You can remove the inflatable seat if you’d rather paddle from your knees than the sitting position, and a cargo net in the bow of the boat provides an easy storage solution for a small dry bag or loose pieces of gear. 


30 gauge vinyl provides robust enough durability for most tame conditions. Of course, we always advise staying away from rocks and protrusions with inflatable craft, but the lack of extra reinforcement layers highlights the need even more.

Best used for:

This is a kayak meant for lazy paddling and recreational touring on still bodies of water, primarily lakes or calm days on the ocean. Due to the lightweight construction, lack of reinforcement, and minimal gear storage, you should avoid moving waterways like creeks and rivers. 


As a budget option, the Intex Challenger K1 is a great choice. If you’re looking to see all the hype surrounding inflatable kayaks without committing to a more significant purchase, then look no further. With a ready-to-go setup right out of the box and a handful of customization options, the K1 still impresses despite its fairly limited range of uses

Reasons to Buy the Intex Challenger Kayak Inflatable Set:

  • Friendly price
  • It comes with a collapsable oar, pump, and case
  • Great for casual use
  • Skeg attachment enables easy maneuverability

3. Intex Excursion Pro Inflatable Kayak

Intex Excursion Pro Kayak
  • Carrying Capacity: 400 lbs
  • Inflated Dimensions:12’7″X3’1″X1’6″
  • Solo or Tandem: Tandem
  • Weight: 39.01 lb

The Intex Excursion Pro is a step up from entry-level for those needing something a little more niche than just an afternoon paddle craft. In this case, the Excursion Pro is designed with fishing enthusiasts in mind. Several fishing-specific mounts and equipment configurations, along with a higher than average resistance to abrasive and puncture damage, make this an excellent option for someone who has fishing in mind when looking for inflatable kayaks. Two aluminum paddles, a repair kit, and a carrying case are all included with your purchase.


Several mount positions for fishing poles, GPS units, swivels, and other fishing gear are located throughout the craft. Covered storage space in the bow and stainless steel D-rings for tie-down points allow for many configurations of gear storage and equipment placement depending upon the situation you find yourself in. 

You can set up two inflatable seats for a tandem trip or a solo fishing outing with more room for storage. A footrest on the boat’s floor gives a place for you to brace when you catch the big one. Two different skegs can be swapped out for maneuverability or shallow water conditions. 


The Intex Excursion Pro is built with a heavy-duty laminate PVC core, ensuring resistance to puncture, abrasion, and UV damage from the sun. With 3-ply construction and chemical makeup that is resistant to saltwater, gas, and oil, this boat is incredibly durable and will stand up to most fishing adventures thrown its way. 

Best used for:

The heavy-duty construction and overall reliability of the Intex Excursion Pro, along with its fishing-specific features, makes this a great kayak for fishing trips on lakes, ponds, and even the ocean in moderate swells. 


If you like to fish from a boat and are also interested in inflatable watercraft, then looking further than the Intex Excursion Pro may be unnecessary. You can’t beat the fishing-focused functionality, durability, and reasonable price point of this kayak. While it is certainly doesn’t fit into the budget category, you still get an excellent value with your purchase.

Reasons to Buy the Intex Excursion Pro Kayak:

  • Fishing specific setup
  • Incredibly durable construction
  • Lots of storage options
  • Great Value

4. Sea Eagle 370Pro Inflatable Kayak

Sea Eagle 370Pro Inflatable Kayak
  • Carrying Capacity: 650 lbs
  • Inflated Dimensions: 12’6”x2’10″ 
  • Solo or Tandem: 3-Person 
  • Weight: 32 lbs

At around $380, the Sea Eagle 370 Pro falls into the mid-range category of inflatable kayaks. However, with extra sturdy construction, excellent maneuverability, and the ability to tackle moderate white water trips, the 370 Pro can compete against kayaks of a higher price point.  


The Sea Eagle 370 technically has a three-person capacity, likely due to its impressive weight rating of 650 lbs. However, with only two sitting positions, the three-person capacity is more of a technicality than a viable way to use the craft. 

Three individuals would be hard-pressed to find room here. Having said that, the ability for two people to comfortably pack as much equipment as they want enables more opportunities for extended trips. In addition, a two-fin skeg arrangement provides exceptional maneuverability and stability in all water conditions. 


Constructed out of 38 mil PolyKrylar (PVC) for abrasion and puncture resistance, along with high frequency welded seams for overall pressure stabilization, the Sea Eagle is an incredibly durable watercraft that can handle many situations on the water. If you plan on taking to the rivers, Sea Eagle says that the 370 Pro can handle up to class 3 rapids. 

Best used for:

As an incredibly versatile craft, the Sea Eagle 370 has no single best use case. However, if multi-night kayak camping trips across lakes or down moderately rough rivers are in your future, then this could be an excellent choice due to its high weight capacity and room for gear. 


The Sea Eagle 370 is an incredibly versatile watercraft that will stand up to most conditions the average user will throw at it. More experienced boaters will be impressed with the handling and durability of the craft.

Reasons to Buy the Sea Eagle 370 Pro Inflatable Kayak:

  • Dual-skeg design provides high stability
  • High weight capacity
  • Lots of room for gear
  • Can handle class 3 rapids

5. Advanced Elements Inflatable Kayak

ADVANCED ELEMENTS AdvancedFrame Inflatable Kayak
  • Carrying Capacity: 300 lbs
  • Inflated Dimensions: 10’5”x32”
  • Solo or Tandem: Solo
  • Weight: 36 lbs

The AdvancedFrame kayak from Advanced Elements is a hybrid inflatable craft with rigid construction and stability for open water paddling in lakes and coastal waters. The reason this is considered a hybrid is due to its internal aluminum frame. By combining elements of rigid hull folding kayaks and the more contemporary inflatable designs, Advanced Elements has been able to build a watercraft that has the performance of its rigid-hull counterparts while maintaining the portability and convenience of inflatables. 


The internal structure provided by the aluminum frame adds a level of performance through the water that supersedes most other inflatable kayaks, particularly those of similar price ranges. A repair kit and carrying case are included with purchase, although it would have been nice to see a pump or paddle included as well. Unfortunately, you will have to purchase both of those items separately. Bungies at the boat’s bow, along with several D-rings, allow for small bags and pieces of equipment to be stored and tied down.


Advanced Elements built this boat with reliability and durability in mind. Three layers of PVC, polyester, and vinyl makes for an abrasion and puncture-resistant build. The redundancy features are quite impressive with an incredible seven different inflation chambers, ensuring that if one, or even several, compartments lose air, you will still be able to safely get back to dry land. 

Best used for:

Lakes, ponds, and ocean waters are all viable places to take the AdvancedFrame out for a day of paddling. The sturdy frame design creates enough stability and performance feedback that you can feel comfortable taking this out into moderate swells in ocean bodies. However, it is best to avoid all but the calmest moving bodies of water like rivers. 


At a price of around $470, the AdvancedFrame is an investment. Still, if you are in the market for a single-person kayak that you can feel solidly confident in during your ocean voyages, the investment might just be worth it.

Reasons to Buy the ADVANCED ELEMENTS Inflatable Kayak:

  • Internal frame provides exceptional performance
  • Triple-layered walls resist puncture
  • No included paddles or pump
  • Good for ocean excursions

6. Driftsun Rover 120 Inflatable Kayak

Driftsun Rover 120 Inflatable White-Water Kayak
  • Carrying Capacity: 300 lbs
  • Inflated Dimensions: 8.5’ft. x36”x13”
  • Solo or Tandem: Solo
  • Weight: 22 lbs

The Rover 120 from Driftsun is an inflatable whitewater-focused kayak that comes with many of the features and design specifications you would expect from a rigid hull design. Driftsun has priced this model at just under $800, placing it into the upper echelons of inflatable watercraft designed for more serious users. But, with the high-quality construction and ability to handle up to class IV rapids, the Rover 120 is worth every penny. 


Driftsun modeled the geometry of the Rover 120 after traditional whitewater kayak designs that have been used for decades, albeit in an inflatable form here. An inflatable seat with adjustable back support, footrests, a GoPro mount, self-bailing drainage ports, gear tie-downs, and a detachable fin for flatwater applications are just some of the impressive features and design considerations that went in this boat. Included with purchase are an aluminum paddle, hand pump, and storage bag. 


As a kayak designed for whitewater usage, the Rover 120 needed durability and puncture/abrasion resistance as a primary design consideration, and Driftsun does not disappoint. 1000D reinforced PVC sidewalls and a heavy-duty PVC tarpaulin bottom make for a watercraft that will resist most punctures and impacts.   

Best used for:

There is no confusion about how the Rover 120 is designed to be used. Driftsun has created a sturdy and reliable inflatable kayak for serious whitewater enthusiasts. The provided still water skeg enables use in lakes, ponds, and the ocean, but to truly experience the performance this kayak is capable of, take it into some fast-moving water. 


Make no mistake about it, Driftsun’s Rover 120 is the preeminent solution for anyone looking to take an inflatable watercraft into some serious whitewater. With a seriously durable build quality along with all of the features necessary to keep you safe in raging waters, there simply isn’t anything better on the market.

Reasons to Buy the Driftsun Rover 120 Inflatable Kayak:

  • Included pump, paddle, and storage bag
  • Durable construction will avoid puncture and abrasion
  • Self-draining ports
  • Capable of class IV rapids

7. Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame Inflatable Kayak

Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame 2 Person Convertible Inflatable Kayak
  • Carrying Capacity: 550 lbs
  • Inflated Dimensions: 15’x32”
  • Solo or Tandem: Tandem
  • Weight: 52 lbs

With the AdvancedFrame Convertible Elite, Advanced Elements has created a top-of-the-line solution for inflatable kayak enthusiasts with a top-of-the-line price tag to accompany it. At nearly $1000, this is a product for those who are serious about their water-bound recreation. Along with rigid hull levels of performance and stability, the Convertable Elite comes with all of the bells and whistles you would expect, plus some you wouldn’t. 


At 15 feet long, with an internal aluminum rib frame, drop-stitch construction, and a skeg tracking fin, this is an incredibly stable kayak fit for all still water conditions and even some slow-moving rivers. One of the most remarkable features, though, is its ability to go from an open cockpit design to a closed deck in seconds by zipping up a deck conversion flap; this is where the “convertible” title comes from”.


A drop stitched floor, PVC tarpaulin hull material, with polyester sandwiched between, and the internal frame creates an ultra-durable design suitable for almost all flat water conditions you could run into. 

Best used for:

While Advanced Elements claims you can use this craft in up to class II moving waters, oceans, lakes, and ponds are where the Convertible Elite shines. Its open cockpit design, 15-foot length, and overall shape make this an excellent option for those who want to spend some time cross large bodies of water with a friend, a mountain of gear, or both. 


For those unafraid to invest some serious money into their paddling hobby, the AdvancedFrame Convertable Elite is the top of the line. This is a versatile and portable touring kayak fit for any body of water out there!

Reasons to Buy the Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame Inflatable Kayak:

  • High price point
  • Convert between closed and open deck design
  • The internal frame is sturdy and reliable
  • Great for hauling lots of equipment

8. Sevylor Quikpak K5 Inflatable Kayak

Sevylor Quikpak K5 1-Person Kayak , Gray
  • Carrying Capacity: Unspecified
  • Inflated Dimensions: 33.5 x 8.5 x 20
  • Solo or Tandem: Solo
  • Weight: 25.5 lbs

The Quikpak K5 from Sevylor is a lightweight, single-person inflatable kayak designed for those who want a little more portability built into their watercraft than just throwing something into a trunk. In addition to the unique carrying case design), Sevylor has utilized heavy-duty construction materials for a boat that can stand up to most conditions while maintaining a reasonable price point of around $350. 


The Quikpaks unique carrying case is a backpack design enabling ease of transport into more remote backcountry areas. What’s more is that the backpack case transforms into your seat when setting up the boat, meaning you won’t be carrying any extra weight with you. In addition, a bungee storage area is located on the bow, along with several D-rings for attaching gear. Splash guards can also be attached to help keep the deck area dry. 


24-gauge PVC construction for the sidewalls, PVC tarpaulin bottom, and thick polyester slipcover create several layers of protection against abrasion and puncture threats. In addition, the multiple air chamber design will help you get back to shore if an accident happens and you lose air pressure. 

Best used for:

The Sevylor Quikpak K5 is excellent for recreational touring on lakes, ponds, and ocean outings. Wide, slow-moving rivers could also be traversable, but sticking to relatively flat bodies of water is recommended. 


Sevylor has introduced a great mid-tier option for those who like the slim, closed-deck design and may want the option of easily backing their kayak into more remote areas. 

Reasons to Buy the Sevylor Quikpak K5 Kayak:

  • The backpack carrying case is ergonomic and clever
  • Includes case, pump, and paddle
  • Closed deck design with slipcover
  • Great for use in remote areas. 

9. Sevylor Coleman Colorado Fishing Kayak

Sevylor Coleman Colorado 2-Person Fishing Kayak
  • Carrying Capacity: Unspecified
  • Inflated Dimensions: 30.1″x11.6″x 19.2
  • Solo or Tandem: Tandem
  • Weight: 37.6 lbs

Another entry from Sevylor, the Coleman Colorado, is a two-person kayak with an open cockpit design intended for fishing excursions on lakes and calm ocean waters. With several features aimed at providing an ideal fishing experience, this could be an excellent option for those looking for a solid fishing and recreational paddle boat. 


Several adjustable Berkley quick set rod holders are located on both sides of the craft to help make your long days of fishing even more effortless. Paddle holders help keep them out of the way while fishing, and mesh storage pockets are available to keep all your gear organized. There is even a trolling motor attachment on the stern if you elect to purchase a motor separately. Unfortunately, neither a pump nor paddles are included with your purchase.


Constructed out of 18-gauge PVC on the walls with a nylon cover and tarpaulin bottom, the Coleman Colorado is durable enough for almost any still water conditions thrown its way. Some users have reported a floor deformation after extended use, but this seems to be a rare occurrence. 

Best used for:

The boat is designed for lake fishing, and in this, it excels. Sevylor created the geometry of this boat for stability and low speeds, precisely what you want in a fishing vessel. Ocean outings are possible as long as conditions are relatively flat, but you should avoid river trips for the most part unless the waters are exceptionally flat and slow-moving.


With its open cockpit design, comfortable dual seating arrangement, rod holders, and plenty of side storage, this makes for an excellent choice for day outings and afternoons of casting.

Reasons to Buy the Sevylor Coleman Colorado Kayak:

  • Trolling motor attachment point 
  • Wide, stable platform
  • Lots of storage for gear and paddles
  • It does not include pump or paddles with purchase

10. Driftsun Voyager Tandem Inflatable Kayak

Driftsun Voyager 2 Person Tandem Inflatable Kayak
  • Carrying Capacity: 400lbs
  • Inflated Dimensions: 10ft. x 35”x 16”
  • Solo or Tandem: Tandem
  • Weight: 27 lbs

Driftsun, as a company, was born on the rivers and lakes of North Carolina. The Voyager 2 is an excellent example of the company’s design philosophy. The slim pointed design of the craft makes it a great choice for those looking for a touring kayak that can stand up to several different scenarios. The Voyager 2 achieves exceptional performance in still lakes and choppier river or ocean waters with the detachable skeg and low water profile. 


Driftsun hasn’t added many additional features to this boat outside of what is required from a water performance perspective. For example, bow and stern handles allow for easy launching when two people are present, and double threaded Boston valves make for a quick setup process with the included double action hand pump. But that more or less sums up the feature set of the Voyager 2. But, what is important is how the boat performs, and in this case, it performs exceptionally in still water and choppy conditions. 


High-volume side tubes covered with a tough 840D nylon slipcover ensure that this kayak is highly resistant to abrasion and punctures from foreign objects. The bottom of the Voyager 2 is constructed with heavy-duty PVC tarpaulin to help keep you safe during the occasional shallow water scrape. 

Best used for:

For recreational touring in lakes, ponds, oceans, and moderately moving rivers, the Voyager 2 is ideally suited. The rocker-inspired profile design makes for a versatile performance spectrum for both calm and choppy waters. However, the cockpit is an open design, so if conditions bring a lot of splash over on the deck, be sure to open the drainage valves.


At around $730, this is certainly a more expensive kayak meant for those serious about having the best inflatable kayak out there with high-performance levels and optimization for its intended use. With the Driftsun Voyager 2, that is precisely what you will find. A high-performing jack of all trades, the Voyager 2 will take you and a friend almost anywhere you could want to go.

Reasons to Buy the Driftsun Voyager Tandem Inflatable Kayak:

  • Versatile for calm and choppy waters
  • Includes storage bag, paddles, and pump
  • Very durable nylon slipcover resists puncture
  • Limited with its extra features

Buyers Guide

If you’re new to kayaking, purchasing an inflatable kayak can be an incredibly overwhelming experience with the myriad of weight specifications, carrying capacities, material construction, skegs, design geometries, and maritime-specific terminologies. But, once you begin to narrow down what you’re looking for and gain a basic understanding of the various design specs commonly found, that sense of being overwhelmed will quickly disappear.

The two most important areas of consideration you need to clarify when beginning the purchasing process are price and intended use.

Inflatable kayaks can range in price from the sub $100 range to $1000 +. It is not uncommon for kayaks at these extreme ends of the spectrum to have what appear to be the same set of features and functionality on the surface. 

But, the difference that matters is in construction quality, material durability, and performance in the water. Having two kayaks that look remarkably similar but perform radically differently once in the water won’t surprise those familiar with the sport. 

It’s always important to set your expectations in line with your budget. If you’re looking for the best, you may need to dig deep into your pockets. But if you’re limited on budget, you may not be able to get all the bells and whistles, however, our list should still allow you to find a product that is both affordable and performs well.

What are you planning to do with your new kayak? Of course, the obvious answer to this question is to put it in the water and paddle. But, perhaps unsurprisingly, the honest answer is much more complex than this. Do you want to fish? Hike your boat into alpine lakes? Paddle the oceans? Cruise down raging whitewater rivers? Each answer will necessitate a radically different class of boat, each with its own unique set of design specifications and adjacent features. But, once again, setting expectations early on will drastically reduce the number of options out there that wouldn’t apply to your uses anyway. 


There are several different materials commonly found in the construction of inflatable watercraft, primarily PVC, nylon, and polyester. Varying gauges of PVC will generally make up the sidewall and floor construction. While nylon and polyester tend to be sandwiched between the PVC layers for added abrasion and puncture resistance. 

Many manufacturers also include coverslips and splash guards that are usually made with nylon for added protection and keeping water out of the cockpit. From time to time, you will run across inflatable kayaks made with materials other than those listed here. However, these are less common in the consumer market, so we will only briefly touch on them here. 

Pennel Orca: This is a synthetic rubber material that is incredibly tough, resistant to abrasion, UV rays, chemicals, and extreme temperatures. You will generally find this material used on professional whitewater-worthy boats for guides.

Nitrylon: Technically a combination of materials, Nitrylon refers to nitrile synthetic rubber that has been embedded over a low-stretch polyester fabric. Once again, this material is very puncture-resistant, stronger than PVC, and easy to patch. The downside, however, is that the material is incredibly heavy, making it unviable for most users who want something portable and easy to use. 

Storage & Portability

The ability for inflatable kayaks to be stowed in their deflated form when not in use is one of the most unique and valuable features about them compared to their traditional rigid hull counterparts. Foregoing the need for roof rack mounts during transport and large open spaces for at-home storage allows a much larger group of people to participate in kayak-based watersports than would otherwise be able to. 

While there are always exceptions to the rule, generally speaking, most inflatable kayaks, in their storage cases, take up roughly the same amount of space as a medium-sized piece of luggage. Meaning transportation is viable in most SUV rear compartments and even trunks and backseats in most midsize vehicles.  

Assuming you plan to use a vehicle to transport your kayak right to the water’s edge, it’s a reasonably safe bet that almost any inflatable on the market will fit into a midsize vehicle like we just mentioned. However, storage size considerations become much more important if you plan to hike in or otherwise transport your boat by foot before setting up. The Sevylor Quikpak K5 is an excellent example of an inflatable built with portability at the forefront of design considerations. Its included storage case doubles as a backpack for easy carrying. 

But, even with some of the larger kayaks on the market, storage and portability are a given. The Advanced Elements Advanceframe (our pick for best 2-person kayak) is one of the bulkier items on our list, and even so, its stored dimensions sit at 35″ X 21″ X 12″. Even with a larger kayak like the Advanceframe, storage in a closet or transport in the backseat of any moderately sized vehicle is more than achievable. 

Use Categories

Broadly speaking, there are three categories of use for inflatable kayaks—Touring, fishing, and whitewater.

  • Touring: Touring kayaks are your standard afternoon paddling boat. They are a jack of all trades that should handle most still water conditions and are comfortable to use. They often have an open deck design, meaning the top is open and is roomier than other designs. For the most part, they should be kept out of moving water as their performance standards are based around paddling in flat or gently rolling waters. 
  • Fishing: Fishing kayaks share many of the performance specifications of touring boats. But, often include many more additional features that don’t directly affect the kayak’s water performance. These features include pole mounts, GPS attachment points, trolling motor mounts, and extra netting for gear storage. 
  • Whitewater: Whitewater kayaks have drastically different ergonomics and geometries than their touring and fishing counterparts. Sidewalls and flooring usually have higher volumes for added floatation when going down runs and drops. In addition, the overall shape of the craft tends to be more pointed, with an upward flare towards the nose to help keep water out. Self-bailing drainage ports and closed deck designs are also commonly found in whitewater-specific kayaks.


As we touched on earlier, the pricing of inflatable kayaks can vary drastically. Anything around the $150 and below range is considered a budget kayak and should be fairly limited in its use for safety reasons. Afternoon paddles around calm populated lakes should be fine, but be wary of using cheaper inflatables in situations where you could run into variable conditions. 

Anything from $150-$500 will be solidly built and trusted for use in a broader array of situations. Make sure you still have the correct type of kayak for what you are doing, though. For those who know they will spend at least a reasonable amount of time on the water but don’t consider themselves hardcore enthusiasts, this is the price range to be looking at. Anything from $500 up begins to approach a quality that isn’t professional per se but close to it. 

Advantages of Inflatable Kayaks

Inflatable kayaks hold several distinct advantages that set them into a class of their own. Before ever getting a boat into the water, during the purchasing process you’ll notice that the cost differences between hard shells and inflatables make themselves apparent. Inflatable kayaks tend to be much cheaper overall when comparing equivalent functionalities and use categories. 

Regardless of what watercraft you go with, inflatable kayaks will always be more affordable, lighter, and portable than a traditional boat.

What kayak portability does is enable them to be carried miles upon miles into the backcountry, opening up a whole new world of wilderness lakes, rivers, and creeks for paddling and traversing that have previously been unreachable for water sports. 


Despite these obvious benefits, there are some drawbacks to consider, particularly regarding ease of use. Traditional hardshell kayaks are always ready to use. Simply place it in the water, and you’re good to go. No setup is required. With an inflatable kayak, there is some prep time needed to get up and go. 

Small volume handpumps will be your primary means of pumping air in the boat, and they can often be quite tiring and take some time to fully inflate your kayak. Additionally, when done for the day, they must be thoroughly dried before folding and storing to prevent mold growth and degradation of the air chamber material. 

It would be unfair to claim an inflatable kayak as safer than a rigid hull, at least as an objective claim. The rigid hull kayak has the advantage of typically being a bit tougher and able to withstand harder blows from sharp rocks, while inflatable kayaks hold the advantage of knowing that if something does go wrong and you lose an air chamber, the backups should prevent you from having to worry too much. With rigid hull kayaks, when things do go wrong – you may find yourself with a bit less forgiveness.

Pro Tips!

  • Transport is relatively easy with inflatable kayaks. They are easily stored in the included carrying case that fits nicely in a back seat or trunk when deflated. Some can even be strapped to a backpack for deeper expeditions into the wild. 
  • Maintenance primarily consists of ensuring your boat is completely dry before putting it away for storage. 
  • Fixing leaks is a fairly straightforward process. Some boats come with patch kits and instructions. However, if your particular boat did not come with a kit, third-party patch kits are widely available online and at sports shops for reasonable prices. 
  • Most boats come with an easy-to-use hand or foot pump that will get the job done. However, if you will primarily be launching your boat from the back of a vehicle, consider getting a small electric pump that plugs into your car’s 12-volt adapter for an even easier setup.

A Quick Primer on Maritime Terminology

Although most kayaks are used on lakes, ponds, and rivers, any boat or water-bound vehicle will utilize traditional maritime terminology when referencing the various parts of the boat. To avoid confusion later on, we’ll give a quick overview of the basics:

  • Bow: The bow is the front, or nose, of the boat.
  • Stern: The stern is the rear end of the boat
  • Port: Port refers to the left side of the boat from the perspective of the captain facing forward. An easy trick to remember port from starboard is that both “left” and “port” both have four letters.
  • Starboard: Starboard is the right side of the boat from the captain’s perspective, looking forward.
  • Skeg/Fin: A skeg and fin refer to a protruding fin on the kayak’s bottom that helps with stabilization and overall performance. Different fins can be applied for different water conditions and applications. Some kayaks will have single fins, others a dual fin setup: some short, some long. You get the idea. Hardcore boaters will argue that fins and skegs are technically different, and while they’re correct, they are the same for our applications. Fin=Skeg.
  • Cockpit/Deck: This is another area that would require more nuance in an actual maritime situation, but they refer to more or less the same thing for our situation. Technically speaking, the deck of a boat is the floor, the place where you sit or stand. And the cockpit is where you operate and control the craft from. For larger vessels, these are two different things. But, for kayaks, you sit and “operate” the ship all in the same space. From a functionality perspective, they are the same. Once again, deck=cockpit.

Several more critical maritime terms are essential to understand all the different areas on a boat. But the above should remove any confusion from the rest of this article and begin to put you on the right track. I highly recommend doing some research and familiarizing yourself with these terms and others, as knowing all of the specific parts of a boat can be incredibly helpful in an emergency, provided others are familiar as well. Plus, it’s a fascinating subject and will give you some street cred with fellow boaters on the water. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Can Tandem Kayaks be Set-up for One Person?

Yes! Many users opt to buy tandem crafts just for the added gear storage they provide.

Does it Come with a Storage Bag?

Almost all inflatable kayaks come with storage bags. If any do not, it is the exception rather than the rule.

How Many Air Chambers Does it Have, and Does it Matter?

Every boat design and manufacturer will have its own philosophy and setup regarding how many air chambers the kayak has and how they are arranged. That being said, most boats will have at least three independently inflatable sections. The exact number of partitions isn’t the most crucial area of consideration, though. What is more important is the overall build quality from a manufacturer that you can trust.

Any Particular Order for Inflating the Chambers?

We always advise following the manufacturer’s instructions when setting up your kayak.

What’s Different About an Inflatable Fishing Kayak?

Kayaks designed explicitly with fishing in mind will have a few unique areas compared to other craft. Pole mounts, a fishing platform, and accessible tackle storage being the primary areas of differentiation. 

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Triston Brooks is an outdoorsman, international traveler, and self-proclaimed adventurer. He calls home Boise, Idaho, and is employed as a seasonal wildland firefighter and EMT. His off-season is spent traveling the world, trying to find adventure. Motorcycle trips through Thailand, backcountry camping in North Africa, and New Year's celebrations in Havana are a few of his highlighted stories.

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