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The Best Inflatable Kayaks for Safety, Quality and Durability (2018)

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Introduction

Capable of being packed away and stored easily, inflatable kayaks have exploded in popularity in recent years among paddlers looking for convenience and flexibility at an affordable price. While there are certain advantages to a hardshell kayak vs. inflatable, the best inflatable kayaks are more than capable vessels for fishing, whitewater and even ocean paddling.

At American Paddler, we understand not everyone buys an inflatable kayak for the same reason. For that reason, we’ve broken down our inflatable kayak reviews based on seven useful categories:

For a list of tips, check our inflatable kayak buying guide at the end of this article.

Inflatable Kayak Reviews

A QUICK RUNDOWN: THE 7 BEST INFLATABLE KAYAKS OF 2018 (COMPARISON CHART)

KAYAKRIDERSWEIGHT LIMITBEST FORPRICEAP RATING
Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame ConvertibleTandem550 lbsVersatility$$
Advanced Elements StraitEdge Angler
Single300 lbsLake/river fishing$$
Sea Eagle 300XSingle395 lbsWhitewater$$
Hobie Mirage i12sSingle500 lbsOcean/pedal fishing$$$
Sea Eagle SE370Tandem650 lbsTandem paddling$
Sevylor Quikpak K5Single400 lbsPortability$
Intex Challenger K2Tandem400 lbsBudget$

Best Inflatable Kayak – American Paddler’s Pick

Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame Convertible

If you’re looking for the most versatile, fun inflatable kayak with rock-solid performance, look no further than the Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame Convertible kayak — our choice for the best overall inflatable kayak.

When you think “convertible,” you tend to think style, speed and performance. And with this kayak, you definitely get all three.

Advanced Elements has become a leader in inflatable kayak manufacturing, thanks in large part to its innovative aluminum frame ribbing that turns your inflatable kayak into a lightweight, foldable hardshell boat. With a rigid bow and stern that offer exceptional tracking and speed and plenty of cargo space, this kayak is set up for almost any outing: fishing, camping, day touring or recreational paddling on lakes, rivers and inlets.

Thanks to the kayak’s “conversion deck” design, you can transform the AdvancedElements Convertible into a single, tandem or open-deck sit-on-top kayak in a matter of seconds, with three high-back seating positions for exceptional comfort.

With six inflatable chambers and three durable, puncture-resistant advanced PVC layers, you also never have to worry about springing a leak, making it dog and fish-hook friendly, too.

At 15 feet long, the AdvancedFrame Convertible is a little longer — and heavier — than most inflatable kayaks, but that’s to be expected given its features. Deflated, the kayak folds down into a nice, manageable size, small enough to fit in the included carry duffel bag.

While such versatility makes this our top pick, Advanced Elements also offers a smaller line of recreational inflatable kayaks. For a little cheaper, check out the 10-foot solo version.

Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame Convertible kayak features

  • Lightweight aluminum frame for excellent rigidity, speed and tracking
  • Innovative “conversion deck” design for solo, tandem or sit-on-top paddling
  • Optional “drop-stitch” construction for high-pressure inflated floor
  • Durable, PVC-reinforced exterior with six inflatable chambers
  • Inflates to 15 feet long, 550 lb capacity
  • Deflates to 42 lbs (carry duffel bag included)

Best Inflatable Fishing Kayak

Advanced Elements StraitEdge Angler

As far as inflatable fishing kayaks go, it’s hard to go wrong with Advanced Elements’ StraitEdge Angler. Designed with the fisherman in mind, the Straitedge Angler is a comfortable, stable and highly customizable boat, offering a few cool features not found on comparable inflatable fishing kayaks.

Along with two standard rod holders positioned behind the high-back lumbar-support seat, the real “catch” is the Straitedge’s removable mounting rail above the bow. This handy feature offers anglers the option to rig a variety of add-ons, including fish finders, extra rod holders, GPS and other accessories. Bow and stern shock-cord webbing and stainless steel D-rings offer the ability to stow tackle, coolers or additional gear, and paddle holders mean you won’t need to worry about losing a paddle while battling a bass.

For anglers who like to stand while reeling in a catch, the StraitEdge’s wide, sturdy beam provides exceptional stability. And Advanced Elements’ aluminum-frame ribbing also means the kayak will track true even in rougher waters.

With hooks, equipment and the need to move quickly, fishing kayaks need to be able to stand up to some abuse. The StraitEdge passes that test with flying colors, with its multi-layered PVC hull, extra abrasion pads at high-contact points and five inflatable air chambers making for an extremely durable kayak.

Advanced Elements StraitEdge Angler features

  • Two rod holders, plus mounted removable accessory bar
  • Measuring tape printed on floor
  • Wide, sturdy beam for excellent stability, even while standing
  • Tough, durable exterior with abrasion pads and multiple chambers for safety
  • Aluminum-ribbed frame for good tracking and speed
  • Comfortable, high-back lumbar-support seat
  • 9’8” long, 35” wide fully inflated (300 lb capacity)
  • 41 lbs deflated, includes carry duffel bag

Runner-up: Those looking for a cheaper, tandem inflatable fishing kayak should check out the Coleman Colorado, while a higher-end option might include the NRS Pike Angler.


Best Inflatable Kayak for Whitewater

Sea Eagle 300X

When it comes to whitewater, not just any old inflatable kayak will do. Rapids — especially the higher-class whitewater runs — will rip apart the wrong boat, so it’s critical to be prepared.

The main difference between a whitewater kayak and a flatwater, touring kayak is the shape of the rocker, or the “upturn” of the bow and stern. The sharper the upturn, the more capable the kayak will be to handle the hairpin turns necessary when you’re bounding over the rocks and waves.

Our pick for the best inflatable whitewater kayak, based on its price, features and durability, is the Sea Eagle 300X. This single-person kayak is rated for class four rapids and features 16 high-capacity, self-bailing drain valves to quickly rid your boat of any water that splashes in. Such valves are crucial for whitewater running, but the Sea Eagle’s valves can also be closed for flatwater, making the 300X a good crossover option, too.

Certified by the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) and capable of holding 395 pounds, the Sea Eagle 300X is a durable, dependable boat. A high-pressure, reinforced drop-stitch floor creates a rigid, responsive kayak that handles well in rough rapids and provides a layer of protection against rocks, sticks and objects. It’s also removable, which helps with cleaning.

With a 1000 Denier reinforced hull and quadruple overlapped seams, the 300X is not likely to suffer many leaks, but in the unlikely event you do, all of Sea Eagle’s kayaks come with a repair kit, as well as a foot pump, carry bag and double-bladed paddle.

When not being used for whitewater, the Sea Eagle 300X also has the advantage of a removable, sliding skeg for better tracking and stability. This is a big plus, in our opinion, as it allows the kayak to be used for other purposes, including fishing, ocean surf and calm lakes.

Sea Eagle 300X features

  • Drop-stitch flooring and quadruple overlapped seams for maximum durability
  • 16 quick-bailing drain valves that can be closed for flatwater paddling
  • Bow and stern spray skirts with bungee strapping for gear
  • Inflates in 5 minutes (30 lbs)
  • Removable skeg for added tracking when not used for whitewater
  • Rated for up to class 4 whitewater rapids

Runner-up: For a cheaper option popular with whitewater runners, try the AIRE Tributary Tomcat. For a tandem whitewater inflatable kayak, check out the Sea Eagle 380X or 420X.


Best Inflatable Kayak for Ocean

Hobie Mirage i12s

Are inflatable kayaks safe in the sea? While any ocean-going expedition — especially in an inflatable kayak — deserves extra precautions, if you’ve got something like the wave-eating Hobie Mirage i12s, it’s certainly doable.

One of the few inflatable kayaks with pedals on the market, the Hobie i12s is justifiably considered a high-end inflatable kayak — with a price point that comes with it. However, Hobie’s sterling reputation for making only the best kayaks — inflatable or otherwise — means for some folks, it’ll be worth the investment.

With incredible stability, excellent tracking and responsive steering — all powered by Hobie’s patented MirageDrive pedal system and integrated “Twist and Stow” hand-operated rudder — the i12s will get you where you want to go quickly and efficiently. Anglers will especially love the wide-open cargo space for tackle and gear, and standing while casting is almost effortless.

While the i12s is more than capable of open-water fishing, its tough, durable 1000 Denier PVC-vinyl exterior is also made to withstand shallow-water hazards, where rocks, sticks and shells — or even fishing hooks — can catch your underside. And for swamps and shallow ponds, the pedal drive system can be removed to avoid getting caught on seaweed.

There’s also not a more comfortable inflatable kayak on the market, with the i12s’ Vantage CTi stadium-style seat allowing paddlers to sit upright for hours of casting, paddling or relaxing. Getting the i12s to the water isn’t a problem, either. Fully stocked, it’s 82 pounds (including the pedal drive), but the rolling travel bag and carrying handles should help with transportation.

Looking for an inflatable kayak with a trolling motor? Or perhaps a sailing kayak? The Hobie Mirage i12s can do both, with its optional electric motor add-on and sail kit. For the price, the Hobie i12s is extremely customizable, meaning there isn’t much you can’t do with it.

Hobie also offers a tandem version, the i14t, as well as the smaller i9s.

Hobie Mirage i12s features

  • Inflatable kayak with pedals, optional electric motor and sail kit
  • Solid, 1000 Denier PVC hull with drop-stitch technology for unmatched durability
  • Retractable, hand-operated rudder for tracking and maneuverability
  • Removable, stadium-style rigid-frame padded seat that can double as a beach chair
  • Comes with four-piece aluminum paddle, rolling carry bag, repair kit and pump
  • 12’ long, 36” wide fully inflated; 500 lb capacity

Runner-up: Not everyone will be able to afford the i12s, and we totally get that. Safety is the No. 1 concern with an ocean-going kayak — especially an inflatable model. For our second choice, check out the Sea Eagle 385 FastTrack, which offers many of the same benefits — including optional sails and fishing rigs — as a much lower price.


Best 2 Person Inflatable Kayak

Sea Eagle SE370

It’s remarkable what Sea Eagle can pack into their inflatable kayaks, and the Sea Eagle SE370 is another stellar entry in their outstanding lineup. At a very affordable price, the SE370 offers exceptional value and features as the best inflatable tandem kayak on our list.

Fully inflated in just 8 minutes, the Sea Eagle SE370 weighs just 32 pounds, but can carry a whopping 650 pounds of cargo — making this the perfect kayak for big guys, families or paddlers with dogs. Two seats are included, but there’s enough room for three passengers, with a durable I-beam floor providing exceptional rigidity for an inflatable kayak — especially at the Sea Eagle’s low price point.

What sets the Sea Eagle SE370 apart from its competitors, however, is its flexibility. Want to try whitewater? It’s rated for up to class 3 rapids (NMMA certified), with front and rear self-bailing drains. Just want to paddle straight on a calm lake or river? No problem. The SE370’s two molded-in skegs provide excellent tracking and speed.

With a solid, durable PolyKrylar construction, the Sea Eagle’s hull defies punctures from rocks or pups’ claws, and its five deluxe, one-way valves mean leaks are rarely a problem. It also resists wear from the sun’s damaging UV rays and saltwater abrasion.

I’ve owned this boat personally, and can vouch for its exceptional quality.

The Sea Eagle SE370 deflates quickly to fit inside the included carry bag, and the pro package also includes a foot pump (although we do recommend an electric upgrade), repair kit and two aluminum double-sided paddles.

Video: Sea Eagle reps run over kayak with a car to prove durability

Sea Eagle SE370 features

  • Front and rear detachable spray skirts
  • Two carry handles with bow and stern lashing for easy gear tiedown
  • Weighs 32 lbs, with enormous 650 lb capacity
  • Two inflatable seats included, but can seat up to three passengers
  • Tough PolyKrylar construction that resists punctures and leaks
  • Self-bailing drain valves for whitewater (up to class 3)
  • Two directional skegs for great tracking and speed on flatwater

Runner-up: At roughly the same price point, the Sevylor Big Basin is a 3-person inflatable kayak that offers a bit more durability and hull protection for river paddlers and slightly better seats. However, we stick by the Sea Eagle SE370 for overall features and value.


Best Inflatable Kayak Under $500

Sevylor Quikpak K5

I seriously can’t get over how cool this kayak is. While all inflatable kayaks are designed with portability and easy storage in mind, this is the only kayak I’ve found that literally folds into a backpack. With such ingenious engineering, the possibilities for traveling with the Sevylor Quikpak K5 are virtually endless.

Weighing just 25 pounds, this solo paddler is the perfect boat to take hiking, camping, mountain kayaking or on extended river expeditions. Once inflated (which takes just minutes with the included hand pump), the backpack actually doubles as your seat, meaning there’s no wasted weight whatsoever.

With such a convenient storage system, there must be a sacrifice in quality, right? Nope. The Quikpak’s 24-gauge PVC construction and strong tarpaulin bottom resist puncturing quite well, and Sevylor guarantees its “Airtight” lock system won’t leak.

While inflated, the kayak also has several cool gear storage options, besides the backpack itself. D-rings and bungees on the bow and stern allow all sorts of equipment to come along (tents and camping gear, anyone?). And easy-grab carry handles mean the Quikpak is easily transported by one person.

If there’s just one downside, it’s that the Quikpak K5 is rated for just 250 pounds, but that really is a tradeoff considering it’s so lightweight. It’s also highly maneuverable and tracks well, meaning mild river rapids are a breeze.

All in all, considering its PHENOMENAL price point, the Sevylor Quikpak K5 is by far the best inflatable kayak for the money on our list.

Sevylor Quikpak K5 features

  • Easy-to-carry, 25-pound inflatable kayak that folds into a backpack (which doubles as a seat)
  • Tough, durable exterior that resists puncture and valves guaranteed not to leak
  • D-rings, lashing and spray covers for gear storage
  • Includes hand pump and double-sided paddle
  • Holds up to 250 pounds (NMMA certified)
  • Multiple air chambers for enhanced safety

Runner-up: Though a little more expensive, the Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame Sport kayak offers better performance, speed and control at a still-budget price. It’s also just 26 pounds, which is VERY lightweight — even for an inflatable kayak — despite its aluminum-frame ribbing. A great second option.


Best Cheap Inflatable Kayak

Intex Challenger K2

Sometimes, all you want is something inexpensive to paddle around the lake. If you’re not quite ready to spend a lot of money, the Intex Challenger K2 kayak is a great starter boat to get your feet wet — or just something to take out on a whim.

Though you won’t get the performance of an Advanced Elements inflatable or the comfort and flexibility of a Sea Eagle, Intex has perfected its budget line of inflatable kayaks to cater to those just seeking a relaxing, stress-free afternoon on the water. This 30-inch wide, tandem inflatable kayak is super stable with a durable vinyl construction that holds up well against leaks, tears and UV damage.

The Challenger K2 measures 11.5 feet long — more than enough room for two paddlers — and includes high-back seats and cargo netting on the front for hauling gear. It’s not rated for whitewater, but you should have no problems on calm lakes and slow rivers. It’s even got a removable skeg.

At its very affordable price, you might be surprised that the Intex Challenger K2 also comes with two aluminum paddles, a high-capacity pump and repair kit to patch leaks. At an even more affordable price, there’s also the Challenger K1, the single-paddler version.

Intex Challenger K2 features

  • Inexpensive, budget inflatable kayak perfect for calm lakes and rivers
  • Includes two paddles, high-capacity pump and repair kit
  • Stable and durable, comfortably seating two paddlers and gear
  • 400-pound maximum capacity (which is GREAT for a budget kayak)
  • Removable skeg for easier paddling
  • Weighs 33 pounds; 11.5 feet long

Runner-up: With a 22-guage PVC construction, the Sevylor Fiji 2-Person Kayak is going to be a little stronger and more airtight (and it’s NMMA certified), but the Intex Challenger K2 still wins in our opinion for its better pricepoint and add-ons.


Inflatable Kayak Buying Guide

There are several factors to consider when buying your first inflatable kayak, but the most important are usage, construction, weight and capacity. Almost any inflatable kayak will be fine for slow-moving rivers, inland lakes and bays with little waves. But if you’re planning to take it out on rougher seas, fishing or on longer touring trips, you’ll want to invest in a kayak that’s suited to the task.

The best inflatable kayak for rivers — especially whitewater rapids — for example, is going to have features such as self-bailing drain valves and more rocker for better maneuverability. Inflatable fishing kayaks, on the other hand, need to be durable, puncture-proof and stable, as well as provide enough space for tackle, gear and rod holders.

Frequently Asked Questions

Increasingly popular among dog owners, the best inflatable kayak for dogs should have plenty of deck space and be wide, stable and claw-resistant. Most models today are made with tough, resilient exteriors, but you should still make sure it’s strong enough to resist your pup’s claws. In general, PVC will be stronger than vinyl.

If you’re a heavier person or will be paddling tandem or bringing a lot of gear, be sure to check the kayak’s maximum capacity, as this does vary widely from model to model. And of course, the weight of the kayak itself is also important, as this directly impacts how easy it will be to transport and store.

Are inflatable kayaks any good?

The short answer? Yes!

Like their hardshell counterparts, inflatable kayaks come in all shapes, sizes and price points, and can vary in quality. A far cry from the pool toys of yesteryear, today’s inflatable kayaks are made of durable, lightweight and puncture-resistant materials that won’t leak or get tossed easily by waves.

In fact, depending on your needs, the benefits of an inflatable kayak might actually outweigh that of a hardshell.

Inflatable Kayaks vs. Hardshell

Knowing the trends, kayak manufacturers have stepped up their game in recent years, and today’s inflatable kayaks are just about as solid in many respects as their hardshell counterparts. However, that’s not to say there aren’t still differences between the two.

Benefits of hardshell kayaks

Performance

A hardshell kayak is almost always going to be a better option for handling, speed and tracking. This is due to the body of the kayak itself. Because inflatables are more easily twisted and swayed by wind and waves, it’s tougher to maintain a straight course, and paddling can be a little tougher. Still, manufacturers of higher-end inflatable kayaks have made great strides, adding skegs, rudders and high-pressure chambers that can go a long way to stabilize performance.

Cargo space

Another area where hardshell kayaks will almost always outshine their inflatable counterparts is in cargo space. Because they don’t have to worry about holding air, most hardshell kayaks include below-deck dry storage in bulkheads or hatches — a luxury an inflatable just can’t match. For a better idea, check out our guide to the best recreational kayaks.

Benefits of inflatable kayaks

Portability and storage

The most obvious advantage to an inflatable kayak is the fact that you can take it anywhere. Because they can be deflated down to the size of a duffel bag and easily handled by one person, an inflatable kayak can go where a hardshell can’t, including:

  • On backpacking and camping trips
  • In the closet of your apartment
  • In the trunk of a car
  • Checked on an airplane

Weight capacity

Because they’re filled with air, inflatable kayaks are often more buoyant than hardshells, and thus able to carry more weight. This can be a big advantage for heavier people, families and tandem paddlers. Some inflatable kayaks can hold up to 650 pounds, while even the best hardshell kayaks hit their limit at around 400 to 500 pounds.

Price

Though quality inflatable kayaks will still cost some money, in general, you can buy an inflatable kayak for cheaper than you could buy a comparable hardshell model. This makes inflatables a great choice for a family on a budget.

Are Inflatable Kayaks Safe?

best inflatable kayaks
While inflatable kayaks are very safe, always wear a lifejacket. Don’t be like this guy!

Of course, with any kayaking expedition, safety is the first and most important concern. You should always bring a lifejacket and kayak safety kit no matter what vessel you’re paddling.

That said, inflatable kayaks are very safe. Advances in construction and quality have brought inflatables a long way from where they used to be, and today’s kayaks are built to be waterworthy and reliable, even in rough conditions. In fact, an argument could be made that inflatable kayaks actually handle waves a little better than hardshell kayaks in some circumstances.

When in doubt, check whether the kayak is certified by the National Marine Manufacturers Association, which verifies the safety of the kayaks it inspects. Even if it is certified, however, it’s important to make sure your kayak is rated for the kind of paddling you want to do. Not all kayaks are certified for whitewater or ocean paddling, for instance, and an ill-suited kayak can capsize in the wrong conditions.

As far as punctures are concerned, most inflatable kayaks are usually built with solid, durable materials and multiple air chambers, so even if you do punch a hole, you’re not going to sink.

Are Inflatable Kayaks Stable?

Stability is a primary factor of the kayak’s beam, or width, so in this respect, inflatable kayaks are really no different than hardshell boats. Longer, narrower kayaks will be easier to capsize than shorter, wider ones. As long as the kayak is properly inflated, you shouldn’t have any problems with most inflatable models.

Inflatable kayaks built for fishing, for example, are designed to be incredibly stable — so much so that anglers who prefer to stand up and cast can do so without worry.

How Durable Are Inflatable Kayaks?

While it varies from kayak to kayak, if you’re picturing the inflatable ducky raft wrapped around a poolboy’s waist, your image is way off. Inflatable kayaks these days are constructed of high-quality, durable PVC or tarpaulin that resists punctures and leaks. Cheaper models will be made of a material like vinyl, which isn’t as strong, but still should last several seasons of use.

Higher-end inflatable kayaks are even tougher, with some including features such as high-pressure drop-stitch construction, a modern inflatable tactic designed to mimic the rigidity of hardshell plastic.

Inflatable Kayak Tips

We hope our inflatable kayak reviews have helped you choose the best inflatable kayaks for your needs, and we’d love to hear why you chose what you did. If you’ve got a tip you’d like to share, drop us a line and tell us your story.

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