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Kayaks have evolved from wooden tools of travel to modern pieces of recreational equipment. Today’s biggest secret in the world of kayaking are inflatable kayaks. If you’re thinking that these inflatable kayaks sound like glorified pool floaties, think again. Inflatable kayaks are made from advanced materials and can feature all of the performance of recreational kayaks.
Today’s inflatable kayaks are durable. They can be found in almost any configuration from recreational to specific. When it comes to packability and portability, nothing beats an inflatable boat. Imagine being able to go for a kayaking trip without putting a roof rack on your car. Just toss the boat in the back seat! Flying is also easy with the right inflatable kayak, as it can easily be brought as a checked in bag with your selected airline. Inflatable kayaks are also ideal for backpacking trips.
We’re going to take a look at what makes a great inflatable kayak. We know you want to understand what to look for so we’ll guide you through the process. Then we’ll recommend and review a few inflatable kayaks you might want to consider if you’re looking to pick up your first inflatable boat. Let’s get right into it!
Choosing the Best Inflatable Kayak: 6 Essential Features
It’s impossible to beat the convenience and packability of an inflatable boat. While packability ratings are off the charts, ease of use may not be. You’ll have to inflate and deflate the kayak each time you want to use it which may be a pain in the butt for some users. Which is more important to you? If you’re often traveling, you can easily bring an inflatable kayak with you, easily stuffing it in your car. Same thing with flights. You can bring your kayak as a checked in bag, avoiding extra fees.
Inflatable kayaks can be lighter than traditional boats. However, they’re still not light by any means. Big kayaks or tandem inflatables can be in the 100 pounds range. Don’t imagine that they’ll be as light as a set of water wings. These boats are made out of thick, durable material that isn’t featherlight.
Choose a boat that has a weight you’re willing to tolerate. Lighter boats tend to be more expensive. The models I picked (keep reading) weight from 29 to 32 lbs, which is great especially if you’re planning on traveling with them, or backpacking.
There are several different styles of inflatable kayaks you might consider. Sit on top kayaks may look more like stand-up paddle boards, but they’re designed for sitting and paddling. Sit on tops are great for recreational use and their self-bailing features are a wonderful bonus!
Inflatable kayaks with traditional closed cockpits allow for a bit more control of the kayak. These might be better for tighter areas or faster water like river running. You’ll find inflatable kayaks with reinforced frames that help add to the rigidity and overall performance of the boat if you look into their higher price ranges.
4. Tandem Inflatable Kayaks
Tandem kayaks are meant for two people in a single boat. These are much larger and heavier than single kayaks. They’ll cost you a pretty penny and they’re less commonly available but they can be a lot of fun and a great option for couples. Overall, they’re usually lighter and more convenient than two single kayaks if you know you’ll be paddling with a partner.
5. Tracking Fins
Some inflatable kayaks have an optional tracking fin which can be installed on the underside of the hull when inflating the boat. These are called “skegs”. These additional fins help the boat track straight in open water and prevent zig zag paddling. This makes each stroke more efficient and the overall paddling experience more pleasant for most users.
6. High-Pressure and Low-Pressure Inflatable Kayaks
High pressure kayaks are a relatively recent implementation in the world of inflatable boats. Essentially, the more pressure you can pump into a kayak the more rigid it becomes. This makes the boat more effective and efficient with each paddle stroke.
High pressure boats are more expensive than their low-pressure cousins but if you plan to use your boat often, opting for high pressure will result in a better experience.
AirFusion Elite Inflatable Kayak Review (My Favorite Inflatable)
- Model Weight: 32 lbs
- Max supported weight: 235 lbs
If you’re looking for an inflatable boat that will give any traditional kayak a run for its money, this might be your pick. Despite the relatively high price tag, this boat delivers some serious performance. Hard plastic front and rear caps protect the inflatable boat. It has a supportive aluminum frame for rigidity that will help it rival most hard bodied boats.
I love that deck lacing and the roll-top rear storage hatch. Around the cockpit is an inflatable coming for attaching your spray skit if you want to take this boat into choppy conditions. The seat is well cushioned and moderately adjustable.
It’s one of the best inflatable kayaks looking to tackle open waters and paddle a boat that won’t back down.
Sea Eagle Inflatable Kayak with Pro Package Review
- Model Weight: 32 lbs
- Max supported weight: 650 lbs
Remember when I mentioned inflatable tandem kayaks? This is a two-person inflatable kayak that comes loaded with features. Included are two aluminum paddles, though you may want to buy replacements if you like high performance custom paddles. It is possible to hold up to three people if you want to take a small child along. The weight limit is an impressive 650 pounds on this boat.
This is how the Sea Eagle looks like before mounting it
I like that it comes in at an impressive 32 pounds of lightweight inflatable boat. It inflates in as little as 8 minutes with the included foot pump.
Best for kayakers looking for a reasonably priced two-person boat for recreational days.
AIRHEAD AHTK-1 Montana Performance 1 Person Kayak Review
- Model Weight: 29 lbs
- Max supported weight: 500 lbs
Those of you who have ever gone whitewater rafting will recognize this design as the classic ducky. A solo kayaks great for paddling crazy water. With rubberized bow and stern tips, you’ll be safe from even nasty incursions with rocks or debris. It’s almost exactly 9’ long which makes it an agile choice for fast or narrow water. I like the three independent air chambers and nearly bomb proof 840 denier nylon construction. I went on a backpacking trip in Norway with this and it was fairly easy to bring it with me, doesn’t take up much space, easy to check in at airport, and it’s lightweight.
This is how it looks like, deflated
There aren’t many features on this boat, no adjustable foot rests or fancy additions. It’s a good choice for whitewater paddlers or those looking for something similar to a packraft. Easy to inflate.
Best for simple, durable, and effective paddling in rugged conditions on fast water!
Travel Safe! And Don’t Forget Your Kayak…
My goal is to help you find the best inflatable kayak that meets your traveling needs. We’ve covered a lot in this article. Just remember that the perfect kayak for you is a combination of where you like to paddle, and how you want to use the boat.
For whitewater, the AIRHEAD kayak might be the best choice on our list. For paddling the lake with the family, you might choose the Sea Eagle tandem kayak. Those looking for a kayak that has all the efficiency and features of a traditional kayak will seek the AirFusion Elite.