TOP 13 Best Inflatable Kayaks Reviewed 2020 (The Ultimate Guide)
Kayaks have been around for an astonishing 4000 years.
First used by the indigenous, subarctic peoples of the world to hunt, they’ve come a long way since then, manufactured in all kinds of materials, and used for all kinds of activities.
But it’s only in the last 50 years or so that we’ve realized just how much fun they actually are.
As a pastime, kayaking is enjoying a boom, but not everyone can afford a decent hard-shell, or has the room to store or means to transport one.
That’s why inflatable versions have increased in popularity over the past decade – particularly with the advancements in technology and the quality of the materials.
You can forget that cheap, plastic dingy you sank when you were a kid.
So, I’ve put together this in-depth review and buyer’s guide to the best inflatable kayaks in 2020. Here, you’ll find everything you need to know before you make a purchase towards your next adventure.
I wonder if our Inuit ancestors would have approved?
Enough talk – let’s get yakking.
- TOP 13 Best Inflatable Kayaks of 2020
- Intex Explorer K2 Inflatable Kayak
- Intex Challenger Inflatable Kayak
- Blue Wave Sports Nomad Inflatable Kayak
- Sevylor Quikpak K1 Kayak
- Airhead Montana Inflatable Kayak
- Sea Eagle 370 Pro Inflatable Kayak
- Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame Kayak
- Solstice by Swimline Flare Kayak
- Aquaglide Navarro 130 Convertible Kayak
- Advanced Elements AirFusion Elite Kayak
- Driftsun Rover Inflatable Whitewater Kayak
- Elkton Outdoors Steelhead Kayak
- Advanced Elements AirFusion Evo Inflatable Kayak
- How to Choose the Best Inflatable Kayak – A Complete Buyer’s Guide
- Are inflatable kayaks durable?
- Can inflatable kayaks pop?
- How long does an inflatable kayak last?
- Are inflatable kayaks hard to paddle?
- Are inflatable kayaks stable?
- Can I take my dog in an inflatable kayak?
- Can you use an inflatable kayak in the ocean?
- Can you fish in an inflatable kayak?
- Is it possible to repair an inflatable kayak?
- How do you dry an inflatable kayak?
- Which inflatable kayak is best?
TOP 13 Best Inflatable Kayaks of 2020
Intex Explorer K2 Inflatable Kayak
Review: Perhaps best known for their inflatable pools and spas, Intex have been making affordable inflatable products for over 40 years (their first inflatable was a beach ball).
Today, they make some excellent budget-friendly inflatable kayaks, and it’s with the Explorer K2 that we begin our review.
Designed for two people with comfort and space, and for use on quieter waterways, the Explorer comes with everything you need for you and a partner to get away from it all.
With a maximum weight capacity of 400 lbs, paddles and pump included, removable skeg for improved tracking, and three air chambers for safety, you certainly get a lot of bang for your buck for under $100.
- Unbeatable price.
- Boston valves for quick inflation/deflation.
- NMMA certified.
- Grab lines.
- Carry bag included.
- Very highly rated.
- Not as durable as more expensive models.
- Limited storage space.
Intex Challenger Inflatable Kayak
Review: We have another Intex inflatable up next, this time the popular solo Challenger model.
It’s a super-compact and lightweight craft that is nimble on the water, made from a durable, welded material with a weight capacity of 220 lbs.
Featuring a bow cargo net for storing extra gear, grab lines front and back, an inflatable, adjustable seat, and I-beam floor to add stability, paddlers will enjoy a fun day exploring calm waters in a spacious and comfortable cockpit.
The bright, eye-catching design is a nice safety feature, as is the two air chambers should one accidentally be punctured.
- Great price.
- Pump and paddle included.
- NMMA certified.
- Carry bag.
- Boston valve.
- Very highly rated.
- Again, the vinyl isn’t nearly as durable as more expensive PVC.
- Tracking isn’t the best.
Blue Wave Sports Nomad Inflatable Kayak
Review: Made with 24 gauge PVC and anti-leak welding, this sit-on-top sports kayak from Blue Wave has three air chambers for safety.
In a smart, striking, and stylish yellow, the inflatable is well-designed, with an oversized pressure valve with double locking air-tight seal for quick inflation and deflation.
Complete with a heavy-duty, fully adjustable fabric seat, the Nomad can be packed down into a very small carry bag that’s included, offering you the perfect opportunity to be nomadic. The maximum weight capacity is 231 lbs.
- Pump and four-piece aluminum oar included.
- Repair kit.
- Dual direction fins.
- Large grab handles.
- The kayak seat isn’t the best.
- Instructions leave a lot to be desired.
Sevylor Quikpak K1 Kayak
Review: A similar design to the Intex Challenger, but made with more durable materials, the Sevylor Quikpak is exactly that – a kayak with a super-fast set up and take down time.
You’ll be up and out within five minutes, on a 21-gauge PVC yak that is designed for lake use, with a durable tarpaulin base that offers extra protection against punctures and scrapes from below.
Multiple air chambers provide peace of mind to make it back to shore if there is an accident, and the air-tight system is guaranteed not to leak. A backrest and choice of foot positions cater for paddlers of all sizes, so long as you don’t exceed 400 lbs in weight.
- Attractive sit-on-top design.
- Highly portable with its own backpack.
- Includes paddle and pump.
- Secure bungee storage.
- Drink holder.
- Tracking isn’t the best.
Airhead Montana Inflatable Kayak
Review: Next up is this Airhead Montana inflatable kayak, which has been designed as a two-person craft.
This particular model is good to go on lakes and moderate whitewater, and is super lightweight, compact, and portable.
The three air chambers are enclosed by rugged 840-denier nylon with UV and water-resistant coatings, ensuring this yak is puncture resistant and won’t be tarnished by the sun.
A bungee net to the front of the craft offers some storage space, while neoprene elbow guards allow for a more comfortable paddling experience. The weight capacity for the tandem yak is 500 lbs.
- Stable design.
- Bright orange color for visibility.
- Boston valves.
- Six D-rings.
- Grab handles.
- Paddles sold separately.
Sea Eagle 370 Pro Inflatable Kayak
Review: When it comes to inflatables, it wasn’t going to be long before a Sea Eagle made a splash. The reputable inflatables company enters the fray with this three person sports kayak offering a 650 lbs weight capacity.
Although marketed for three, it only comes with two seats, but they’re super comfortable, deluxe models that provide excellent back support while being completely removable. Perhaps the intended third person is actually a dog – as the hull is designed to withstand claws.
Two hull skegs improve tracking and speed, while the open/close drain valve keeps your deck clear of water build up.
Lightweight and highly portable, the 370 Pro can be up and ready in under 10 minutes, and comes with everything you need to get you yakking in no time.
- Name to trust in inflatables.
- Paddles and pump included.
- Suitable for up to class III rapids.
- Carry bag.
- Pet friendly.
- Not the most attractive color scheme.
Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame Kayak
Review: Much like Sea Eagle, Advanced Elements have become a byword for inflatable kayaking in recent years, and this single-seater, sit-in kayak with aluminum frame is one of their most popular models.
The first of our inflatable yaks to contain a frame, the ribs help with stability and durability, as well as assisting the craft with tracking through the water. Add three layers of material to prevent punctures and you have a seriously tough kayak.
The high supported seat is fully adjustable and provides hours of paddling enjoyment, all in the comparable look, feel, and performance to that of a hard-shell.
- Name to trust.
- Easy to set up.
- Multiple air chambers.
- Durable, lightweight frame.
- Tracks well through the water.
- Not suitable for larger, heavier people.
- Pump and paddles not included.
Solstice by Swimline Flare Kayak
Review: This Solstice Flare 1 inflatable kayak is a beautifully designed little craft that is ready for the whitewater.
At just over nine feet long it’s a highly portable and compact sit-on-top that has superb maneuverability and control on up to class III rapids.
With a drop-stitch floor for increased Psi air inflation and stability, an outer 1000D nylon fabric for extra puncture and scrape protection, screw-type drain valves, and multiple-position foot rests, you’re in for a crazy fun time with this eye-catching, top-quality inflatable kayaking package.
- Attractive look and feel.
- Bow covers for cargo.
- Pump and carry bag included.
- Large, detachable skeg.
- Adjustable bucket seat.
- Paddle sold separately.
- Might be a little on the narrow side for some.
Review: Here we have the first real example of a touring inflatable kayak, a super-lightweight and beautifully designed craft with loads of features to keep the lone adventurer happy.
With a drop stitch floor for added inflation and stability through the waves, it’s ideal for use through choppy waters and traveling distances. To the stern, you have a zip-open dry compartment to store your gear, an accessory strap at the bow for extras, comfortable, adjustable Velcro seat, and hex shell covered pontoons.
This 13 foot yak is your ticket out of here. But perhaps the best feature is that it’s a convertible. In fine weather, enjoy an open, sit-on-top experience, but to stay dry and protected, simply add the optional zip-in deck to turn the yak into a sit-in.
And at only 35 lbs, it’s one of the lightest inflatables in its class.
- Top quality design and materials.
- Attractive, stylish look.
- Low rocker hull for distance kayaking.
- Comfortable carry handles.
- Spray skirt compatible.
- Stern drain plug.
- Paddles and pump not included.
- Zip-in deck sold separately.
Advanced Elements AirFusion Elite Kayak
Review: Staying with touring kayaks we have another entry from Advanced Elements, their Air Fusion Elite model.
It has been designed as a practical and efficient marriage of aluminum alloy frame tubes and pressurized air tubes, with a simplified set up procedure that significantly improves on previous versions.
It’s also wider and roomier than its predecessor, ensuring a more comfortable experience and track through rougher waters.
With zip storage hatch in the stern, and bungee webbing on the bow deck, this is a great touring kayak for those long distance paddles you’ve been dreaming of.
- Name to trust.
- Cutting edge technology.
- Very highly rated.
- Spray skirt compatible.
- Tracks like a hard shell.
- Paddles and pump not included.
- Looks like a banana.
Driftsun Rover Inflatable Whitewater Kayak
Review: Next up is a return to tandem kayaks with this whitewater ready model from Driftsun.
If you’re looking to share a fast-moving river adventure with a partner then this is the yak for you. With a drop stitch, high-pressure floor for strength and stability, this durable, lightweight craft is ready to go inside 10 minutes inflation time.
The 1000D reinforced layered PVC side tubes and heavy-duty PVC tarpaulin bottom provide durable protection from punctures, while the eight, self-bailing ports keep the deck drained of water.
Designed for up to class IV rapids, there’s even a camera mount at the bow to capture those adrenaline-fueled memories. One of the best tandem inflatable kayaks there is.
- Paddles, pump, and carry bag included.
- Rear tracking fin.
- Super lightweight.
- Adjustable comfort seats.
- Corrosion resistant hardware.
- Highly rated.
- I can’t fault it.
Elkton Outdoors Steelhead Kayak
Review: I was never going to miss the opportunity to include a fishing kayak in this review, and with so many to choose from, I’ve gone with this Steelhead model from Elkton Outdoors.
Aside from being packed with features to keep any angler happy, it’s stable enough to use for standing casts with its drop stitch floor system.
With no less than five Scotty mounts to pimp your ride with additional hardware, ample storage bow and stern, self bailing drains, and paddle parks, this craft has got some serious goods with which to entice any fisher-person.
And it’s designed for comfortable use on rougher water, so you’ll have loads of fun even if you’re not throwing in a line.
- Paddles, pump, and carry bag included.
- Two skegs for excellent tracking.
- Easy set up.
- Adjustable seat and footrest.
- Weighs only 40 lbs.
- None to speak of – let me know if you find any.
Advanced Elements AirFusion Evo Inflatable Kayak
Review: Our final entry in this review is the current highest evolution of the inflatable kayak. I guess that’s why it’s called the Evo.
It’s another offering from Advanced Elements (who else?), with a hybrid aluminum frame and high pressure drop-stitch air chamber design that easily rivals hard-shells for performance.
This is one of the best inflatable touring kayaks on the market, with excellent tracking and paddling to fully explore those far-flung waterways, inlets and rivers, as well as being suitable for ocean use.
Imagine the very best a hard-shell yak can offer, and put it in a lightweight and highly portable carry case. That’s the Evo from Advanced Elements.
- Outstanding build quality.
- Roll-top rear storage access hatch.
- Spray skirt compatible.
- Shoulder-strap carry bag included.
- Fast paddling and easy tracking.
- Doesn’t include paddles and pump.
- Expensive for an inflatable.
How to Choose the Best Inflatable Kayak – A Complete Buyer’s Guide
All these choices and all those features might have left your head spinning – but fear not!
Below, you’ll find an in-depth buyer’s guide to choosing the right inflatable kayak for you.
An FAQ section will follow, to mop up any queries I might have missed.
Here’s what you should be looking out for – even if you’re a seasoned yakker.
Why Choose an Inflatable Kayak?
In spite of recent innovations in the inflatable kayaking world, namely advancement in material technology, some people are still unconvinced that they’re as seaworthy as a hard-shell.
Both have their advantages and disadvantages – which I won’t go into here.
Check out this article for more information and a detailed comparison between inflatable kayaks and hard-shells, to further help you make a decision.
However, in the interest of keeping things simple, kayakers make the switch to inflatables for four, very persuasive reasons.
- Budget – inflatables are, on the whole, cheaper than hard-shells.
- Storage – the fact that you can keep an inflatable under your bed is a huge bonus.
- Portability – by the same token – you can throw this in the trunk of your vehicle and off you go (or even carry on your back).
- Weight – inflatables don’t weigh nearly as much as a hard-shell.
Aside from this, inflatables can actually be more durable in the water, as they bounce off obstacles rather than crashing into them, denting, chipping, or scraping the body work in the process. A sort of bumper car on water, if you will.
And they’re designed and tested to go toe to toe with hard-shells (in the same class), in some cases out-performing their hard-shell counterparts.
So, put aside any negativity or preconceived ideas you might have over inflatable kayaks – and give them a go. You will be pleasantly surprised.
Kayaks basically come in two different types – sit-in, and sit-on-top.
Sit-in kayaks are exactly that – there is a cockpit in which your legs are enclosed by a spray deck. This protects you from the elements, and is ideal if you’re out in colder weather, or in for some chop.
Sit-on-top kayaks don’t have a cockpit and are much more open. The chances of you getting wet are much higher, but these yaks are generally more stable than the sit-in versions.
And just to confuse you even more, there are several kayak styles that utilize the sit-in, or sit-on-top design, depending on what they’re being used for.
- Touring kayaks are long and sleek, designed to cut through the water with excellent tracking and the ability to travel long distances. They’re nearly always of the sit-in variety.
- Sea kayaks have specially designed V-shaped hull to tackle incoming waves and rougher waters. They’re usually only available as sit-in yaks.
- Recreational kayaks can be either sit-in, or sit-on, primarily for use in calmer conditions, slow moving rivers, and mill pond lakes. They are the most popular of all styles – and make up the vast majority in this review.
- Whitewater kayaks are small, agile and maneuverable for negotiating fast currents and rapids. They’re predominately sit-in kayaks, but can come as sit-on as well.
- Fishing kayaks are designed with anglers in mind and can come in either type, but sit-on-top yaks are more commonly preferred because of their improved stability. Follow that link for more information.
When it comes to the inflatables, they’re available as sit-in and sit-on kayaks, and in all the styles listed above.
That’s barely scratching the surface of what is available in the yak world, so for a more in-depth look (and to save me writing the length of a bible), check out the video below on the different kayak types.
Once you’ve figured out the type and style of the kayak you’re thinking of purchasing, you’ll want to address the size of the vessel.
And the size will vary greatly depending on that type and style – and what it’s designed for.
But for inflatable, recreational kayaks – like the majority included above – your main decision should be if you’d prefer a solo or a tandem kayak.
Outside that, it’s whatever you will feel comfortable getting in and out of, piloting, transporting, and storing. Not to mention if you will actually fit the kayak in the first place. This is where sit-on-top yaks have an advantage, as they’re more likely to cater for any size of human.
And size also matter when it comes to being easy to transport. Check out this article for more of the best lightweight kayaks out there.
Inflatable kayaks are manufactured from a number of different materials – and explaining what these are is important for anyone who thinks they’re just going to burst.
At the budget end of the spectrum, you’ll find they’re made from a heavy-duty, puncture-resistant vinyl. The Intex kayaks are good examples of this.
However, the vast majority of inflatable kayaks are built with more highly durable PVC, or a combination of several materials to improve overall strength. This improves on puncture and abrasion resistance, while still being cheaper to make and thus more affordable for you.
Nitrylon is stronger and more durable than PVC, and is a combination of synthetic rubber bonded with natural rubber and polyester fabric. It’s also more eco-friendly.
Hypalon is the most expensive material, a trademark from Dupont Chemicals, and with a fan base including the US military and coast guard. Although much heavier, all you need to do is watch a video of someone driving over this stuff in an SUV to see what all the fuss is about.
Also, look out for kayaks with a ‘drop stitch’ floor. This means that it has been designed and constructed to allow higher air pressures and therefore more strength and stability, compared to that of an I-beam version.
You’ll find drop stitch flooring is more common where kayak stability is very important, like in many of these inflatable fishing kayaks.
When choosing an inflatable kayak – or any kayak for that matter – you must decide what you’re going to be predominately using it for.
Is it for leisurely, recreational, or casual use – once every so often in calm water conditions?
Are you planning on fishing from it?
Is it tackling whitewater that you’re interested in?
Perhaps you want something for overnight camping trips and traveling some distance?
Whatever your requirements, there’s an inflatable kayak to suit you – so make sure you’re looking at the right kayak for what you want to use it for.
Both inflatable and hard-shell kayaks all come with a maximum weight limit as standard – so you know how much of a load it can take before you’ll likely end up in the drink.
Fishing kayaks, like these ocean-fishing kayaks, are designed to take a lot of weight, accounting for the angler’s tackle, gear, and potential catch.
However, tandem, or three-person kayaks will be able to take the most, as up to three adults need to fit on the craft comfortably, without the fear of sinking.
Remember that this is just a guideline, and you should never fill a kayak to its maximum weight limit – even though it says it’s safe to do so. Leave yourself plenty of wiggle room and avoid accidents.
Kayaks often come with a number of extra features or accessories that may or may not be useful – depending on what the craft is going to be used for and your personal wants and needs.
Fishing kayaks will have rod holders, mounts for fish finders, measuring scales, and extra storage bungee or pouches for tackle and gear.
Touring kayaks will have storage hatches and webbing where you can keep equipment and clothing safe and dry. The ability to pack a tent on board is very useful for exploring long distance waterways.
That’s just a couple of examples, but keep a look out for what else might be important to you, such as –
- Carrying handles.
- Pump and paddles included.
- Grab lines.
- Removable or adjustable seating.
- Paddle grips.
- Removable skegs for improved tracking.
- Quality carry bags or backpacks.
And other bells and whistles that might tempt you to splash out.
Personal Skill Level
And speaking of splashing out – before you do you might want to consider your own kayaking skill level first.
Are you a total novice or a seasoned pro?
It matters, because you should really suit the type of kayak you’re buying to your level of experience.
There’s no point in throwing money at a top-of-the-range whitewater yak if you’ve no idea how to control it.
Be honest with yourself, and purchase a kayak that is relative to your skill level and experience. In time, that will grow, and you can build towards owning a more professional kayak in the future.
For the most part, inflatable kayaks are cheaper than hard-shells.
Hard-shell kayaks can stretch well into thousands of dollars – particularly for ocean-going, custom-made, touring, or racing craft.
Certain inflatable fishing kayaks might push to around $4k, but that’s generally because of propulsion drive systems and other fancy inclusions.
In short, even for the very best inflatables, you won’t be spending much more than a thousand bucks – two at the very most.
Still, it’s not pocket change, so always try to buy the best you can afford – and suit the amount you spend on the who, what, why, where, and when going to be using it.
Are inflatable kayaks durable?
Yes, they are. As previously mentioned, inflatables are improving all the time, and they have come a long way over the past few decades with some seriously impressive technological advancements.
That is, of course, providing you purchase a decent inflatable kayak. You get what you pay for, and if you’re scrimping on the pennies you will likely get an inferior quality product.
Look out for kayaks made with the very latest inflatable materials for the most durable options.
Can inflatable kayaks pop?
Anything that is filled with air will likely pop – especially if it’s mistreated (or deliberately stabbed) in any way.
However, inflatable kayaks have been designed to be highly puncture-resistant, with the top-end models being near impossible to burst – even if you drive over them, or go at it with a hammer.
So, to answer the question, a decent inflatable kayak isn’t going to pop – as you imagine a balloon would. When striking a rock, it’s highly unlikely you’ll suddenly hear a ‘BANG!’, rather the craft will simply bounce off.*
And even if it does manage to pick up a puncture, inflatable kayaks are designed with more than one air chamber, so you can get safely back to shore in an emergency.
Still, never go out on any water without a PFD, so have a look at these fishing personal flotation devices that are as practical as they are lifesaving.
*Again, all of this is subjective to the quality of the kayak.
How long does an inflatable kayak last?
A good inflatable kayak – properly taken care of – should last anywhere between 5-10 years, with top of the line models often lasting even longer.
Of course, this is dependent on how it’s used and maintained. Always store your yak in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions, away from bright sunlight and harsh weather.
Regularly check the craft for any faults or failures, keep it clean, and patch up or fix any damage as soon as any occurs.
Are inflatable kayaks hard to paddle?
Again, it depends on the quality and type of the kayak. It’s not ‘one size fits all.’ Many inflatables offer similar tracking and performance to hard-shells.
But like every product in life, some will be better than others.
By and large though, inflatable kayaks are fun, recreational craft enjoyed where long distances aren’t going to be covered, and arrow-straight tracking isn’t necessary.
They do sit higher in the water than hard-shells, and some might find this more of a challenge when it comes to paddling.
Are inflatable kayaks stable?
Again, it depends on the type of kayak.
Sit-on-top inflatables are more stable than sit-in inflatables.
And exactly the same can be said of hard-shells.
Look for sit-on-top inflatable kayaks with a drop stitch floor – they offer the most stability across the board.
Can I take my dog in an inflatable kayak?
Great question! And for the answer, you need to check with each individual kayak.
Some inflatable models just aren’t going to be suitable for taking a dog, less so to do with the material’s quality, and more to do with the size and style of kayak.
You need something roomy, stable, and made with a tough, puncture-resistant decking that will be able to handle all kinds of claws and paws.
When in doubt, contact the manufacturer directly and ask. And have a look at these kayaks that are suitable for dogs.
Can you use an inflatable kayak in the ocean?
If it has been designed for open water, then yes, you can use an inflatable kayak in the ocean.
Certain inflatable kayaks will be more suitable as ocean going craft than others – just take great care when it comes to rip tides and rogue waves. I wouldn’t put into the sea in anything less than a top-quality kayak – inflatable or otherwise.
Can you fish in an inflatable kayak?
Yes, of course! In fact, that is one of their most popular and successful uses. For more information, head on over to this article on the best inflatable kayaks for fishing.
However, if you prefer something even more stable, then check out the best inflatable fishing boats – if piloting a dingy or raft is more your bag.
Is it possible to repair an inflatable kayak?
Providing it has not been destroyed beyond all hope, then yes, it is possible to repair an inflatable kayak.
In fact, depending on the damage sustained, they’re probably more susceptible to repairs than hard-shells.
Watch the useful video below as a guide for patching up your inflatable yak.
How do you dry an inflatable kayak?
It’s a pretty straightforward process for airing out your inflatable kayak before you pack it away for use next time.
Before you set out, make sure you pack a couple of old towels you can use as dedicated yak dryers.
Then it’s simply a matter of removing the seat and any other accessories or gear, and giving the kayak an initial rub down with the towels before deflating.
Tip the yak on its side to drain any residual water once all the air is out.
Continue to wipe the yak down and soak up any extra water with the towels. As you roll the craft up for storage, you can clean the hull before inserting it back into the carry bag.
Watch the video below for a visual guide on how to clean and deflate your inflatable kayak.
Which inflatable kayak is best?
Deciding which inflatable kayak is the best is an insurmountable task – because it’s largely subjective.
It also greatly depends on the kayak type and what you’re going to be using it for. It’s up to you to find the most suitable craft for you and your needs – I can only point you in the right direction.
A world-class fishing kayak isn’t going to beat a cheap whitewater tub on class III rapids, for example.
But it might be fun to test that out.
In conclusion, the moral of the story has been that kayaking is awesome. End of discussion.
But the craft in which you choose to enjoy this thrilling/relaxing/practical/fun pastime is up for much debate.
And if you do decide to go for one of the best inflatable kayaks of 2020, I hope this guide has helped you narrow down your search in this class.
Let me know which vessel you would choose and why.
Happy inflatable kayaking!