As many people are weighing their options for affordable, lightweight, and/or transportable kayaks, they have no doubt been confronted by an explosion in the popularity of inflatable kayaks. Thinking back on one’s childhood days of riding on the back of an inflatable “Shamu the Whale” pool toy probably doesn’t help when imagining whether inflatable kayaks are a good alternative to traditional kayaks.
So what’s the real story? Are inflatable kayaks any good? Are they stable? Are they safe? How durable are they? Or are they mostly hot air? Keep reading to get all your questions about inflatable kayaks answered!
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Common Questions About Inflatable Kayaks
So what’s up with inflatable kayaks anyway? As much as we all loved our green alligator floatie pool toy back in the day, you wouldn’t really want the equivalent of that when going out in open or fast moving water.
We’re going to dive into some of the most commonly asked questions about inflatable kayaks and then give our recommendations for 4 of the best ones. Ready? Let’s go!
Are Inflatable Kayaks Any Good?
In a word: yes! I’ve probably done a disservice by mentioning pool toys a couple times already this article so now it’s time to banish that thought from your head.
Inflatable technology has come a long way over the past few decades. Whereas it used to be used primarily by military and commercial operations, recreational companies have figured out a way to harness the same construction processes to build durable, professional, and high-quality watercraft that serves the needs of an ever-increasing number of people.
Now you can see serious inflatable water toys of all kinds like stand up paddle boards, canoes, wakeboards, fishing pontoons and more. Inflatable watercraft are more and more becoming the “go-to” vessels of choice in a multitude of sports.
Are Inflatable Kayaks Stable?
For the most part, inflatable kayaks are just as stable as traditional kayaks. Once again, if you think of inflatables more like a stiff whitewater raft, then you realize that these things have some heft and ruggedness to them.
Just like a normal kayak, however, they do have a tipping point and have variable primary and secondary stability. If you’re looking at standing up in your kayak for fishing or other purposes, make sure to do some research because some inflatable kayaks might not be as well-equipped for that as others due to varying degrees of “hardness” in the floors of the kayaks.
You can always buy or build your own hard floor insert to remedy this problem if you want a harder floor for your kayak. If you buy one, it will typically be of an easy to inflate drop stitch construction material that inflates to a high, strong PSI.
If you want to build one, you can always find tutorials on YouTube or elsewhere of how to construct your own out of plywood or other materials.
Are Inflatable Kayaks Safe and Durable?
This is a big question especially for those who will be doing river kayaking or other shallow water kayaking where you’re prone to run over sticks, rocks, or other obstacles.
This is a case of you’re going to get what you pay for. You can find some fairly inexpensive inflatable kayaks (think less than $200) on Amazon and elsewhere and these are fine for putzing around a lakeside dock or a pond. But if you’re looking to travel away from shore or put some miles on the kayak, you need to know that it’s reliable. Unfortunately, some of those cheap inflatables are just not made as solidly as their more expensive counterparts.
What the more expensive kayaks offer is a combination of double and triple layer fabric, separate inflation chambers, and airtight valves amongst other things. These all have different parts to play in keeping the kayak safe and durable.
The crucial factors that make IKs so durable
The 2 or 3 layers of fabric provide extra protection against a tear or puncture. A stray stick might puncture through one layer but be stopped from full penetration by the other layer(s).
Separate inflation chambers mean that if for some reason you do experience a puncture or rip in one part of your kayak, it will be contained to just that one chamber. You will have 2 or 3 other chambers that have not been affected and that will enable you to stay afloat long enough to get to shore and fix it or find help.
Airtight valves mean that once air goes in the air won’t go out. There is no need to worry that once the kayak is inflated that it will start losing air on you and deflate. If pumped up to a proper PSI and cared for properly, an inflatable kayak will be every bit as tough and durable as a regular kayak.
Once again, you should think of the extremely tough military grade vessels that are used in certain kinds of military operations like Navy SEALs beaching a stealthy inflatable boat and jumping off to perform some covert operation. Some inflatable kayaks are made using the same materials and construction processes as those used to make military equipment.
Thinking of it that way should put your mind at ease that what you’re buying is, in fact, a safe, durable, and reliable piece of equipment that you can use over and over again for years to come.
How Do Inflatable Kayaks Compare To Traditional Ones?
This is a perfectly valid question and perhaps the most crucial one.
Everyone is intrigued by the ease and convenience of an inflatable vs. a traditional kayak, but all that convenience will amount to nothing if you get in the water and it paddles like a turd 💩.
One of the keys to performance is rigidity. Not just that, but having the proper keel and bow shape affect performance as well. That’s where inflatable technology has made leaps and bounds over the years.
To be fair, a good inflatable kayak will never outperform a high performance traditional kayak. They just can’t be made with that degree of precision. But the average recreational kayaker will hardly notice the difference between a good quality inflatable kayak and an average traditional kayak.
5 of the Top Inflatable Kayaks
Now that we’ve gone over some of the most common questions people have about inflatable kayaks, it’s time to take a look at some of the top ones.
Given the popularity of inflatable kayaks nowadays, it’s easy to be overwhelmed with choices. That’s where we come in. We’ve put in the hours doing extensive research so you don’t have to and here’s what we’ve come up with for the best inflatable kayaks to suit your needs.
Best Recreational Inflatable: Sea Eagle 330
Sea Eagle has been an innovator in inflatable watercraft since 1968. A company that has been around that long definitely knows what it’s doing!
Sea Eagle has a wide array of products for all types of paddlers, but they’re most known for their versatile, affordable, and beginner-friendly Sea Eagle 330.
What makes this a top pick for so many people is 3 things: it’s lightweight, rugged, and offers great value.
The Sea Eagle 330 only weighs 26 pounds and is easily packed down, so it’s convenient to transport in your vehicle or RV and to your launch point.
Despite its being lightweight, the proprietary construction methods and materials that Sea Eagle uses makes this an extremely rugged inflatable kayak. Many users love it because they can take their furry companions with them without fear of their nails damaging the hull.
For the average recreational paddler, the Sea Eagle’s affordability, portability, durability, and ease of use are going to be major pluses on their checklist.
The useful features that make the Sea Eagle a standout in some aspects can also work against it. Specifically, being especially lightweight, which is a huge pro in many people’s book, it is prone to getting blown around quite a bit on windy days.
What’s more, there are users who feel the kayak isn’t as stable as they’d like it to be. One user remarked,
“Kayak was made of quality materials but nonetheless very “tippy” and unstable. Sea Eagle advertises the model 330 as suitable for comfortably accommodating 2 adults but I feel that this is, at best, a real stretch.”
Tippiness, getting blown around, and not being big enough for 2 people despite being advertised as such are the 3 main criticisms that come up frequently amongst users of this kayak. Keep these considerations in mind when making your buying decision.
Weight: 26 lbs Length: 11 ft. 2 inches Width: 34″ Capacity: 500 lbs
Best Tandem Inflatable: Advanced Elements AE1007-R AdvancedFrame Convertible Inflatable Kayak
Advanced Elements is a top player in the inflatable kayak world. They offer a wide range of inflatable kayaks for all skill levels and types of paddling.
The AE1007 AdvancedFrame Convertible kayak is one of their best-rated kayaks. So what separates this kayak from all their others? A few things, actually.
First, its advanced frame design means that this kayak paddles more like a hardshell kayak than one would expect. Their “advanced frame” consists of built-in aluminum ribs in the bow and the stern which increases rigidity and, in turn, tracking.
The “convertible” part of the kayak comes from its ability to convert from a tandem kayak to a solo kayak with just a few adjustments. There are 3 seat positions that allow this conversion, forward and aft for tandem kayaking and one right in the middle to allow solo paddling.
The middle position is key because many other tandem kayaks that convert to a solo kayak do so by removing the front seat and suggesting the paddler paddle from the back of the kayak. This might work on shorter kayaks but with a 15 foot kayak, being able to paddle from the middle gives you much better control.
It might seem trivial but users love the looks of this kayak. It’s a dead sexy (said in my best Fat Bastard voice) kayak for an inflatable.
And needless to say, at 15 feet in length, there is storage and leg room aplenty! Not to mention a hefty 550 pound weight capacity that puts most traditional kayaks to shame.
It’s hard to find a bad review of this kayak but the few that are out there primarily complained about the storage bag being a big issue. It’s just barely big enough to fit the kayak after use and is more of an oversized tote bag than a comfortable, sturdy carrying pack. The carrying straps aren’t long enough for over the shoulder carrying and make it awkward and heavy to just tote by hand.
Another negative is that this kayak is a bit heavy for an inflatable, weighing in at a hefty 56 pounds. If you were looking at inflatable kayaks as a lightweight alternative to traditional kayaks, there are better ones out there for you.
There are also a few extras you might have to shell out for like paddles, a pump, and optional backbone and frame decks which turn a reasonably priced kayak into a higher priced kayak once you include the extras.
Overall, however, with overwhelmingly favorable reviews the price will be well-worth the investment for years to come.
Weight: 56 lbs Length: 15 feet Capacity: 550 lbs Width: 34 inches
Best Hybrid Inflatable Kayak/SUP: BOTE Deus Aero Inflatable Kayak
Y’all, I squeeee’d like a little girl when I saw this bad boy! BOTE continues to impress and be a trendsetter in cutting edge kayak and SUP design and technology. The Deus Aero inflatable kayak is no different.
BOTE Deus Aero, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I mean, where do you even start with this? Every last detail is superbly thought out, it will be hard to capture each and every one but I shall try.
First, just looking at it you’d hardly be able to even tell that this was an inflatable kayak. The eye-catching teal and orange colors really make this stand out visually and has the visual appeal that BOTE is known for.
But far more than visually appealing, the Deus Aero’s construction is another sight to behold. It boasts 4 independent chambers, which makes it unparalleled in stability and durability in the inflatable kayak world.
Being a hybrid kayak and SUP, the other really neat feature is its open stern. This enables the water to funnel out through the backend instead of swamping the kayak.
It also has a non-slip deck pad making it easy to stand up and paddle from whether you’re in kayak or SUP mode.
There are tons of other super cool little features that put BOTE head and shoulders above the rest that you can check out in this little walk through video here:
The obvious downside of this kayak is going to be its price tag. In this case, you can’t expect to get Cadillac quality for a Ford price. This isn’t going to be your “value” kayak. This is unabashedly an excellent, high quality, cutting edge watercraft and it deserves every penny it’s priced at.
Aptly named as the Latin word for “god,” the DEUS reigns in portability, performance and versatility.
Weight: 41 lbs Length: 11 feet Width: 33″ Capacity: 300 lbs
Best Inflatable Fishing Kayak: Elkton Steelhead Fishing Kayak
I like Elkton kayaks. They’re a fairly new player in the kayak world but they’ve already developed a reputation for making good quality kayaks and accessories. Let’s explore a few of the pros and cons about this kayak, shall we?
First thing is the Steelhead fishing kayak is great because it can be purchased as either a solo or a tandem inflatable fishing kayak.
Next thing is that the Steelhead includes a rigid dropstitch floor. As any angler knows, you need a solid platform to stand and cast from. The Steelhead is stable and sturdy enough to cast a line from.
Not only that, but the Steelhead has a self-bailing drain in the floor. This is handy if you’re in rough waters or if you drip water in the boat from all the fish you’re hauling in!
Lastly, the list of included accessories and features is exhaustive: 5-7 hard mounting points for rod holders, spray shield, locking valves, drop-in adjustable foot rests, lightweight paddle, carry bag, pump and more.
As one happy user put it,
“This kayak is solid, sturdy and has all the space I need for carrying supplies for fishing or just for fun (or taking the family pet for a ride!) on the water. To the manufacturer – VERY WELL DONE!!”
So far there’s not much to report on the con side. This is probably due to the fact that this is a newer brand of kayak. It’s not as widely known as other kayaks so there’s not as much information available about it.
The only negatives I’ve seen so far have to do with the packaging and the instruction manual, which aren’t really substantive demerits in my book. But stay tuned! If I see more info about this kayak I’ll be sure to update this post.
Weight: 40-44 lbs Length: 10′ 10″ – 12’6″ Width: 39″
Capacity: 400-600 lbs
Best Whitewater/River Inflatable Kayak: Advanced Elements Attack Pro Whitewater Kayak
Last but certainly not least we have the Advanced Elements Attack Pro. Unlike most of the others mentioned above, the Attack Pro is not your typical recreational/touring kayak. We, of course, couldn’t do an article without mentioning a top quality inflatable kayak for whitewater, which is exactly what you get in the AE Attack Pro.
The Attack Pro is only 9’9” which is all you need for a kayak that’s going to be punching through some fast-moving rapids. It has a 12” rocker that helps it easily climb over high waves and its rock-solid drop stitch floor makes it super maneuverable.
Despite high-performance features like the ones mentioned above, its 9.5” tubes make for a wide, stable platform that is suitable for beginners just getting into whitewater kayaking.
The Attack Pro also comes equipped with thigh straps and adjustable foot pegs for a snug, secure ride. It also has a full time self-bailing design so you never have to worry about your kayak getting swamped.
The Attack Pro was made to be a kayak that provides enough stability to appeal to beginners but also playful and responsive enough to please the more experienced adrenaline junkies.
What’s great about this harmonious interplay between beginner and advanced kayak is that the Attack Pro comes with a beginner’s price tag. This is a great value kayak that’s going to give serious pleasure to all who buy it.
While this kayak is certainly well-equipped to handle some pretty gnarly whitewater, a little more rocker on the nose might make for a smoother ride. I’ve seen other inflatable whitewater kayaks with an 18 inch rocker that can ride over the waves with ease.
Weight: 26 lbs Length: 9′ 9″ Width: 30″ Capacity: 225 lbs
BAKLife Bottom Line
Well, after reading 2,500 words on inflatable kayaks, you all should be IK Einsteins by now! Haha, just kidding…
The bottom line is that inflatable kayaks are indeed safe, durable, reliable, and just as good as many traditional kayaks, especially as inflatable technology continues to improve and innovate.
While we’ve already given you our picks for 4 of the best inflatable kayaks on the market today, it’s a whole wide world out there worth exploring. Even if these ones didn’t quite whet your appetite, it’s worth looking into the myriad other inflatable kayaks that are out there. Surely you’ll find one that meets all your needs so you can go out there get paddling! With that being said…
Last update on 2020-10-30 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API