The time when inflatable kayaks were introduced to the kayaking world should be taken seriously as they broke the barriers that most hard-shell kayaks were and still are subjected to-- namely portability and transportation. You would need special arrangements if yours is a traditional model to enjoy diverse water bodies located in the distant corners of the country. Inflatable kayaks set us free to conquer distance, being superbly portable, lightweight and affordable. Also, significant improvements have been made in their designs in the last decade.
In this buying guide, we will be reviewing some of the best inflatable kayaks available today that are fun and safe to use. As a hobbyist, I use the same model for sailing, fishing and water rafting activities. I will share the secrets of buying blow up kayaks; their low-maintenance and value will save a great deal of money. Before getting the right one, you need to understand your requirements first. Once you have that knowledge, hopefully, this review will do the rest for you.
How Did We Pick These Products?
Our product picking process involved several steps of researching, feature analysis, field-tests, comparisons, and reevaluation of assessments. Initially, we conducted extensive 30-hour online research to track down 35 top-of-the-line inflatable kayak models with the highest number of ratings and positive user reviews. Once we had the initial list of 35, we took them out for field-tests.
A group of community-based volunteers helped our team members carrying out the tests. We tested the kayaks out in different water bodies including salt sea waters and white-waters to find out their true potentials and performance. We closely examined the ergonomics, build material, sitting position, shape, extra space, stability, speed, and portability before we narrowed down our list to the final 12.
Once we had our top 12 boats, we reached out to some of the industry experts and kayak designers in a bid to have their insights into our list. They guided us in ranking the models based on their types and overall performance. It took us about a month to complete the research and testing process before we finally got the list of top 12 inflatable kayak models in hand.
Our Top 12 Best Inflatable Kayak
So, which inflatable kayak is the best? You can decide on the model from the list of our recommendations without a second thought. However, you can follow our reviews to know what makes a high-quality kayak in this category. Our team of boat engineers has evaluated each of the top-rated choices based on the ease of paddling, stability, build quality, design, ergonomics, storage, advanced features, speed, inflation, value, and portability.
Notable Brands & Their Popular Models
During our research we came across some good brands and their amazing products. Although they didn't make it to our list, we still think they should be explored by market researchers. If you want to delve a bit deeper into the market, you can always check out these brands and their products: Itiwit, Bestway (popular models- Hydro Force Wave Line, Bolt X2), STAR Inflatables (popular model- Pike), Aquaglide( popular models- BLACKFOOT ANGLER 125 HB, Columbia, Chelan HB, Chelan HB Tandem XL , Chinook XP, Chinook XP Tandem XL, Yakima), NRS (popoular models- Outlaw 2, Maverik ii, Dunham's Sports, Saturn, UK brand Lidl, Pacific Extreme, Zray (popular model- Pathfinder), iRocker, Crivit Beach (Popular model- Inshore 335), AIRE (popular models- Tributary Tomcat Solo, Lynx 2), Aqua Marina, Stearns (popular model- Spree One), Crane, Solstice (Popular models- Rogue XP and Durango), Airis Sport, Elkton Outdoors, BIC Sport, Target, Z Pro, Hyside (popular model- PADILLAC II), Gumotex (popular models- Twist 1, Twist 2, SAFARI 330), Andes, SOTAR, INNOVA Kayak (popular model- Sunny, Helios), BRIS (popular for their 4-man and 12-foot kayak models), Rave Sports, Zoik, Blue Wave Sports, and Riber.
Here are some good models we tested that couldn't make it to our list:
- Sevylor Tahiti K79 Classic Inflatable Kayak
- ADVANCED ELEMENTS AirFusion Evo
- Sevylor Quikpak K5 1 Man Kayak
- Sevylor Quikpak K1
- Sea Eagle 393RL RazorLite
- Sea Eagle 380x Pro
- Sevylor Big Basin 3-Person Kayak
- Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame
- Sevylor Fiji
- ADVANCED ELEMENTS Island Voyage 2
- Sea Eagle 435 Paddle Ski (435PS) Catamaran
- ADVANCED ELEMENTS PackLite
Why Use an Inflatable Kayak
Many poorly informed individuals still see inflatable kayaks as pool toys. These are lightweight boats that are built with tubes to hold pressurized air. The inflatable tubes have been used to make its sides, floor (with an underlying rigid structure), and bow. What makes them unique is their seat arrangements, easy dismantling, storage, and portability.
Generally, kayaks are designed for built to offer less paddling efforts. Many adventure freaks use inflatable models for different purposes like fishing, lake paddling, whitewater rafting, paddling adventures, and expeditions. Let's share some benefits of these types of vessels.
1. Lightweight Design
Inflatable kayaks might be lightweight but are rigid watercraft. Underneath the tubes are welded seams and I-beam constructions that increases the quality. Also, being lightweight, it's easy to be set up, and transported to the launch point by one person. Advanced models offer self-inflating options for quick and hasslefree setup.
2. Easy Storage
Inflatable models are foldable, and vinyl tubes are better kayak materials because they hold up better after inflating with air. Simply deflate them and fold them before storing them in backpacks or duffel bags. There are ultra-light models that weigh less than 7kg. You'll be amazed by the size after deflating a 3-meter kayak.
Inflatable kayaks are puncture-resistant and strong; that's why they are versatile. Most models come with double bladed paddles. Their versatility allows you to paddle with light-weight possessions like cooling boxes with drinks and bags. Apart from navigation, you can also use them for sea kayaking, white water rafting, fishing, or touring.
4. Launch Time
At launch points, a hand or an electric pump can inflate the vessel easily. However, it's not advisable to inflate the kayak, attach to or trailer or tie it up on the roof rack and drive to your launch point. Air resistance might damage this watercraft by using this method. Instead, get an efficient electric pump that can be connected to the car's D.C (direct current) port and inflate to save launch time.
Amazingly, owners of these vessels can take and use them anywhere. For the rigid models, paddling in remote locations or taking them along on a trip is easy. However, only a puncture-proof boat can guarantee durability while being used on any water terrain. Most of these boats are foldable and comes with easy carrying options. For some models, you might get a separate bag from a local store. However, make sure you get yourself a cart for taking our boat from your car to the water in case the water body is far from the location of your parked car.
6. Low Maintenance Cost
Most models in this category are sturdily designed and held with double-stitch finishing threads. High-quality kayaks are scratch-proof, and not prone to punctures. However, users must avoid sharp objects and rigid structures along water edges. Also, they should avoid collisions; rinse-off, clean and fold after use.
These inflatable water machines have more advantages than hard-body traditional boats. Usually, all these features can help buyers choose from our top 12 choices.
Types of Inflatable Kayak
Innovation has simplified the ease of using blow up kayaks. Most modern models come with different material strengths, sizes, shapes, and colors. However, in choosing any type, the model that allows you to paddle without hassles, and suit your needs should be a preference. Here are the most common types on the market.
1. Sit-on-top Kayaks
The sit-on-top model offers enough space for onboard movement, casting, and access to water activity gears. This type is convenient for paddling on calm water. Simply, sit on top of the boat, and worry less about cramping your legs, or resting your backrest for a better posture.
2. Sit-inside Kayaks
This is more of a traditional hard shell boat design, and it allows your lower body to stay inside the boat. It's more comfy, and tighter than sit-on-top models, and has an enclosed cockpit. Sit-inside types are designed for white-water paddling, they protect the users from the splashes of water.
3. Canoe Type
Unlike one man models, this type has higher walls, sides, deeper seats, and flat bottoms. It looks like a canoe with plenty of space for a maximum of 3 persons and is ideal for fishing.
4. Self Bailing Kayaks
Usually, this type of single kayak is made with low-quality materials and designed with ports (drains) at the bottom. These holes prevent flooding even when you paddle in shallow waters.
5. Ducky Kayak
Duckies are mainly designed for whitewater with a unique combination of traditional kayaks and rafts. It can be used by one or two people. It can bring a lot of fun if you go outdoors with this boat type.
6. Sup Kayaks
Usually, you'll find inflatable sup kayaks around beaches. While paddling this type of boats allows their paddles to stand straight.
Inflatable Kayak: A Comprehensive Buying Guide
Are you thinking of the next getaway family vacation on an island with ponds and shallow waters? Water sports and sea kayaking are fun-filled activities. Also, you can bring a pet along even if you choose to sail without another paddler. There are the 1-person to 4-person tandem models with adjustable seats. However, these are factors to consider when you are looking for one:
1. Intended Use
Every activity requires a specific type of model, and the sit-on type is recommended for fishing expeditions. The sit-on kayak allows users to adjust sitting positions and stretch their backs. Also, the design gives space for accessing and casting your fishing gear. Alternatively, the canoe style kayak is spacious; it allows you to hold fishing gears and boxes for your catch.
You need a canoe type of kayak with higher walls if you plan to paddle on turbulent waters. You’ll need a different type of inflatable model for white water rafting or paddling near a bay. Also, paddling on flat lakes or choppy waters will require the sit-in vessel. When paddling in a straight line, vessels with high-end features need less correction.
Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) might not be eco-friendly, but it has great tear resistance. The PVC is widely used for blow up kayak making because the material can withstand long periods of exposure to sunlight. They are well known for the fastest inflatable models.
The exterior covers of blow up kayaks are coated with Hypalon because this material is more UV-resistant. Usually, most inflatable boat manufacturers combine Hypalon and PVC materials to save production costs. They are more durable, abrasion-resistant, and eco-friendly than PVC materials.
A Nitrylon material is a mixture of nitrile and synthetic rubber. The weight of this material is heavier and more eco-friendly than Hypalon. Nitrylons are soft, puncture-proof, tough, and durable.
Blow up kayaks are more durable than hard-shell boats if they are properly maintained. You can use a well-maintained model for years without changing it. However, bad storage, the frequency of use, poor maintenance, and the strength of material determine the durability of the product.
Most models have weights ranging from 25 to 45 lbs. Usually, bigger kayaks have more weight and leg space. Before buying one, consider the weight of your gear if you use the boat for fishing. Don't forget that you will have to lift the watercraft and other accessories from the launch point to your vehicle after use. An ultra-light model is what you need for hiking and paddling.
Usually, most manufacturers build their products to a maximum of 4 meters (14 feet). There will be instability when models of kayak boats are longer than four meters. The ideal length of these boats should make them hard to flip over. If you are a tall person, get a suitable length that perfectly matches your feet length.
Self-bailing inflatable boats have drain plugs that allow paddlers to discharge water from the boat's compartment, and keep it dry. Usually, these boats are not built for sea kayaking, but shallow waters.
7. Weight & Seating Capacity
There are 3 and 2-person models that are often used for recreation and watersport competitions. Before buying this type, check the product label to see the weight capacity and seat arrangement. Generally, they have adjustable seats that allow space for your legs, and small equipment.
The most important inflatable kayak accessory is the pair of high-quality paddles. Other accessories like a handy repair kit, whistle, flashlights, first aid box, and navigation compass are must-haves. Also, an electric pump is used to set up the boat at launch points.
The water performance of these boats varies with prices. However, a budget is important while considering the features of your dream models. Normally, a standard model with high-end features would cost around $500.
Things to Remember
After buying an inflatable model, you might be disappointed if it's not fully inflated in less than ten minutes. However, the time of inflation is not the only factor that determines a foldable kayak. I'll share other important things to know about high-quality inflatable boats in this category.
1. How Safe Are Inflatable Kayaks?
Most models are not like hard-shell kayaks that are designed for harsh conditions or rough waters. You must follow the recommendations for use according to their specifications. However, high-quality models come with puncture-proof constructions to prevent sinking and rear skegs that enhance stability.
2. How Long Do Inflatable Kayaks Last?
Usually, inflatable kayaks with military grade PVC covers are built to last. The durability depends on the strength of its build materials and the level of maintenance. It's not all kayaks that can travel through rocky waters.
So, get one with a heavy-duty PVC Tarpaulin that's tear-resistant if you must travel through such terrains. After paddling in fresh or saltwater, deflate and wash-off microbes to prevent mildew growth. Then allow the kayak to dry under direct sunlight before folding it for storage. These procedures will enhance the lifespan of your kayak.
3. What Is the Right Size To Get?
The important factors that determine an ideal kayak size are height and weight. Also, it must have enough room for gear, accessories, and legs. It's easy to get the size that matches your preference from the kayak's specification datasheet.
Additionally, the maximum weight allowance of a kayak is different from the product's weight. Don't get confused with the information, but seek clarifications when in doubt.
4. Are Inflatable Kayaks Hard to Maintain?
It only requires thorough and timely maintenance. Usually, kayak owners have repair kits and accessories which they should use when necessary. Folding patterns are important to prevent cracks on their vinyl covers.
However, they should be exposed to sunlight to clear mildew growth after they have been stored for a long period. Also, owners of inflatable boats must avoid folding the seams because that's the weakest point on the watercraft. Don't allow any part of the kayak material to be snagged by the storage bag's zip.
Inflatable Kayak Using Tips
After choosing the right model that meets your needs, you must understand useful tips on how to use the product. I’ll share some important tips on how to use your kayak.
- Installation, Launch Time, and Inflation
Most inflatable kayaks are pre-assembled from the factory, but the set up is very easy if you follow the product’s manual. At the launch point, you are expected to unfold the boat and inflate it. It will be impossible to pressurize with air when the electric or hand-pump is not available. Before inflating, check to confirm the number of separate chambers in the kayak and the required psi.
Make sure that your inflatable kayak model designed for salt, fresh, flat, or turbulent waters. Paddlers must wear life jackets with reflectors before jumping on the kayak. Also, whitewater rafting will require the use of helmets. Don’t forget to bring your repair kit along because even the smallest roll of waterproof duct tape can be a lifesaver. Keep an anchor when you go fishing as you would need a stable boat for that.
Usually, people store their foldable inflated kayaks in duffel bags. Ensure to wash the deflated boat with soapy water before rinsing with clean water. Also, spread the kayak under direct sunlight to dry before storing it in a backpack or duffel bag. After prolonged storage, always unfold and dry in the sun to prevent molds, creases or weak spots on the kayak.
We've worked hard to track down the best inflatable kayaks of the market so your time is saved. Also, our confidence in each of our choices described above is unshakable. Apart from the purpose of use, our team of boat engineers studied their durability, versatility, weight, and strength of the build materials. There's no doubt that new innovations will bring better water performance for these watercraft soon. However, we'll recommend the SE370 Inflatable Sports Kayak Pro by Sea Eagle for beginners that are interested in developing their paddling skills.
It's always better to buy a cheap inflatable kayak that saves money for other accessories. The sit-on-top inflatable sea kayaks might be expensive but they have high-end features. So, get the Hobie Mirage i11S model with pedals and paddles for short and long distances respectively if you like water sports competitions. It's a top-of-the-line product with an attachment for water-friendly cameras. You can record every expedition and competition while having fun. Hopefully, you'll make the right use of our findings.