The 8 Best Inflatable Kayaks of 2021

The perfect portable, quick-to-inflate kayaks for all types of water exploration

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The Rundown

Best Overall: Advanced Elements StraitEdge at Amazon

"Tracks well in open waters like vast lakes, and even performs admirably on coastal excursions."

Best Buy: Intex Explorer K2 at Amazon

"A lightweight, compact option that won’t break the bank."

Best Whitewater: Aire Force at NRS

"The four-chamber boat is easy to pilot through rapids and around rocks and river debris."

Best Solo: Intek Challenger K1 at Amazon

"Includes a paddle, high-output air pump, patch kit, and carrying bag."

Best Tandem: Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame at L.L. Bean

"This two-person kayak may be one of the most versatile inflatable kayaks available."

Best for Fishing: Aquaglide Blackfoot Angler 130 at REI

"Comes with a bunch of features like an adjustable seat, map case, accessory mounts, under-seat shelf storage, and more."

Best for Camping: Sea Eagle 370 at Amazon

"Two networks of ropes (at the front and back) let you strap down loads of gear."

Best for Expeditions: Oru Coast XT at Orukayak

" A foldable boat that delivers all the advantages of a hard-shell boat along with the portability typical to an inflatable"

Inflatable kayaks come with two key features not found in hard-shell kayak boats: they are generally less expensive, and they are much easier to transport and store. Rather than dealing with the hassles of a rooftop carrier, you can toss an inflatable kayak in your truck, check them with your luggage when flying, and easily stash them when not in use. And choosing one of today’s modern inflatables also doesn’t mean you’re sacrificing much in terms of performance, thanks to industry tech that makes the vessels stable, fast, easy to maneuver, and loads of fun.

Here, the best inflatable kayaks.

Best Overall: Advanced Elements StraitEdge

Advanced Elements Strait Edge Inflatable Kayak

Courtesy of Leisure Pro

What We Like
  • Aluminum rib frames at bow and stern

  • Padded folding seat

  • Lacing and D-rings for gear

  • Includes repair kit and duffel bag

What We Don't Like
  • Performance is not best for advanced kayakers

Thanks to aluminum rib frames in the bow and stern, the StraitEdge kayak from Advanced Element is one of the most versatile inflatables available. It boasts a hull design similar to hard-shell, sit-on-top kayaks, making the StraitEdge ready for Class III whitewater. It also tracks well in open waters like vast lakes and even performs admirably on coastal excursions—two self-bailing ports help in high waves or rough waters, which can be sealed in calmer conditions.

The one-person craft comes with a padded folding seat and a repair kit, and the 34-pound kayak can be easily hauled around in the included duffel bag. The five air chambers are made of heavy-duty PVC tarpaulin that’s extremely puncture-resistant and has both bungee deck lacing and D-rings to let you strap down your gear for longer excursions, along with fishing rod holders. It measures 166 inches long and can handle a maximum weight of 300 pounds. Note that the pump is sold separately.

Best Buy: Intex Explorer K2

AIRE Force Inflatable Kayak

Courtesy of NRS

What We Like
  • Affordable price point

  • Includes two paddles

  • Comes with pump, repair kit, and bag

What We Don't Like
  • Not good for longer excursions

Suitable for lakes and mellow rivers and capable of carrying two paddlers (with a max weight of 400 pounds), the Intex Explorer K2 is a lightweight, compact option that won’t break the bank. In fact, the Explorer K2 comes with everything you need to get out on the water, including two paddles, a repair kit, carrying bag, and a high-output hand pump. Boston valves on either side of the kayak afford quick inflation, while the I-beam floor construction allows for comfort and rigidity. Attach the skag, and you’ll have more directional stability than crafts without a fin, and the vessel's streamlined design makes it easy to paddle. Both inflatable seats are adjustable and come with backrests, and the wide, stable cockpit also has ample storage, with grab lines on both ends to help maneuver the craft into the water. The three air chambers are constructed of puncture-resistant vinyl, and the whole thing weighs in at only 36.7 pounds.

Best Whitewater: Aire Force

AIRE Force Inflatable Kayak

Courtesy of NRS

What We Like
  • Adjustable cockpit

  • Lightweight at 32 pounds

  • Includes repair kit

What We Don't Like
  • Pump is not included

Built to deliver the performance of a hard-shell kayak paired with the comfort and ease of an inflatable, the Aire Force provides a self-bailing kayak solution for serious whitewater navigation. At only 9 feet, 6 inches long, the four-chamber boat is easy to pilot through rapids and around rocks and river debris, with a max load capacity of 275 pounds and humble weight of 32 pounds. The 1,100-denier base fabric will stand up to serious punishment, while a 12-inch stern rise allows you to navigate toward the whitewater with confidence. Thigh straps come standard, helping the paddler stay in the cockpit and adding a bit more torsional strength to and control over the boat, with an adjustable cockpit suitable to all paddlers. It does come with a repair kit, but not a pump.

Best Solo: Intek Challenger K1

What We Like
  • Affordable price point

  • Adjustable, inflatable seat

  • Cargo net for storage

  • Includes paddle, pump, bag, and patch kit

What We Don't Like
  • Not good for choppy water conditions

If you want to go solo when exploring lakes or mild rivers, consider the Challenger K1 from Intek. Constructed of rugged, puncture-resistant vinyl, the kayak sits on an I-beam floor for stability, with a low-profile deck to encourage paddling ease and high-buoyancy side chambers to keep the water out. A removable skeg adds directional stability, while an adjustable inflatable seat with a backrest provides comfort for hours. In the cockpit, you’ll find a cargo net for extra secure storage, along with grab lines at the bow and stern to make it easy to get the boat in and out of the water. It weighs a highly portable 28.28 pounds and is rated to handle paddlers up to 220 pounds. Better still, it comes with everything you need to start exploring, including a paddle, high-output air pump, patch kit, and carrying bag.

Best Tandem: Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame

Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame

Courtesy of Moosejaw

What We Like
  • Solo or duo paddling

  • Good for day trips and longer expeditions

  • Ample amounts of storage

  • Comes with bag and repair kit

What We Don't Like
  • No pump or paddles included

The two-person AdvancedFrame from Advance Elements might be one of the most versatile inflatable kayaks available. Measuring 15 feet in length, the boat is suitable for day-tripping or expeditions, with a slender hull reinforced by aluminum ribs that’ll slice through rough water and stubborn currents. It can also be configured for solo or two paddlers. If the weather’s cooperating, you can go with an easy-entry open deck configuration, or integrate the single and double decks (each sold separately) to convert the kayak to a closed deck in a matter of seconds. 

The single deck, which sits on the front of the boat, is laced with bungee cords secured by D-rings for ample storage, while the back deck includes a mesh gear storage area and more D-rings to tie on additional gear. Three layers of ripstop fabric line the six air chambers, while a pressure release valve in the floor allows for quick adjustments without having to leave the folding seat. It comes with a carrying sack and repair kit, but not a pump, and is rated to carry an impressive maximum of 550 pounds.

Best for Fishing: Aquaglide Blackfoot Angler 130

Aquaglide Blackfoot Angler 130

Courtesy of Outdoor Play

What We Like
  • Has fishing cooler and rod holders

  • MOLLE plates with mesh bags for tackle

  • Adjustable seat height and angles

  • Comes with carrying bag and fin

What We Don't Like
  • No pump included

You can fish off any boat, but what sets the Blackfoot Angler 130 from Aquaglide apart from more generalist inflatable kayaks is the host of angling-specific features that come standard, including an integrated fishing cooler with rod holders and a map case; universal accessory mounts to attach a cup holder, sports camera, and rods; and MOLLE plates with mesh bags to provide a custom carrying system for your tackle. The ample cockpit can be modified to carry two paddlers, but solo anglers will truly appreciate the extra room and storage, including webbing tie-down loops, deck cargo bungee cords at the bow and stern, and stainless-steel D-rings.

The adjustable seat comes with low and high settings, a customizable back angle, and an under-seat storage shelf. The footrests are also adjustable. The Blackfoot Angler 130 is constructed of Duratex, a reinforced PVC that’s lightweight, stiff, and durable—and the strength of the kayak is further reinforced with a drop-stitch floor. A cockpit splash guard to keep water out, five scupper drains remove water from the boat, and an EVA traction pad adds grip. The whole package weighs only 41 pounds, and setup is a breeze thanks to the Halkey-Roberts-type valve. It comes with a backpack-style carrying bag as well as an attachable fin and a repair kit, but not a pump.

Best for Camping: Sea Eagle 370

What We Like
  • Supports up to three paddlers

  • Two skegs for better tracking and speed

  • Can be maneuvered in rougher waters

  • Comes with pump, paddles, and repair kit

What We Don't Like
  • Lacks D-rings to tie down gear

When it comes to kayak-camping, the perfect vessel should offer plenty of storage for a few nights' worth of gear, good stability, and an overall light weight to make portages a breeze. And the Sea Eagle 370 has all three in spades. It can be outfitted to support three paddlers, with a maximum weight rating of 650 pounds, but two paddlers hit the sweet spot in terms of storage options for weekend escapes. Two networks of ropes (at the front and back) let you strap down your load of gear, yet it only weighs 32 pounds and inflates in eight minutes flat.

The floor employs Sea Eagle’s five-tube I-beam construction, putting more of the weight on the floor than the sides to makes it easier to paddle. It also creates a more rigid craft to amp maneuverability, control that’s bolstered by two rear plastic skegs to keep the boat’s tracking true. Five one-way valves make it easy to inflate and deflate the three air chambers, and K80 PVC with high-frequency welded seams provide the durability you need, season after season.

Lashed-down inflatable spray skirts can also be employed in rougher waters; the boat is rated to handle up to Class III rapids. The deluxe package includes two seats, a carrying bag with a shoulder strap, a A42 foot pump, two paddles, and a small repair kit.

Best for Expeditions: Oru Coast XT

Oru Kayak Coast XT Folding Kayak

Courtesy of Oru Kayak

What We Like
  • Good for intermediate and advanced paddlers

  • Lots of storage options

  • Carrying bag can be checked while flying

What We Don't Like
  • Expensive

Likely inspired by the intricacies of origami, the Coast XT isn’t technically an inflatable kayak. Like all of Oru’s products, it’s a foldable boat, one that delivers all the advantages of a hard-shell boat along with the portability typical to an inflatable. Suitable for intermediate and advanced paddlers, the 15-foot vessel slices through waves and is constructed of 5-millimeter, double-layered polypropylene. The material is puncture- and abrasion-resistant with custom extrusions and that comes with a 10-year UV treatment.

This year Oru updated the design with aluminum cockpit latches and extra-reinforced strap anchor points, storage options like bungee straps to let you haul days' worth of gear, and a closed cockpit configuration that can be used with a spray skirt. Setup takes about 15 minutes, and when broken down, it’s about the size of a large suitcase and weighs only 34 pounds. The Uro Pack comes with two compression straps and a padded shoulder strap and can be checked while flying, so it can fuel your most far-reaching expedition goals.

Final Verdict

It’s all about versatility with the Strait Edge from Advanced Elements (view at Amazon). The kayak uses aluminum rib frames at the bow and stern to create a hull akin to a hard-shell sit-on-top model, so it can handle Class III whitewater, coastal exploration, and any sort of lake paddling. The one-person craft is rated to carry up to 300 pounds and includes a padded folding seat. 

But if you’re targeting solo exploration of smaller lakes and mellow rivers, consider the Intek Challenger K1 (view at Amazon), which includes an I-beam floor construction to boost stability, solid storage options, and a detachable skeg for better tracking. It also comes with everything you need to get right on the water, including a paddle, high-output air pump, patch kit, and a carrying bag. It weighs in at less than 30 pounds and can handle loads of up to 220 pounds.

What to Look For in an Inflatable Kayak

Durability

Most inflatable kayaks are plenty durable, typically made of rugged PVC or other synthetic materials that are engineered to resist punctures, though more expensive kayaks often provide higher-quality, thicker materials, which adds strength. "Because some inflatable kayaks are wrapped in a rugged fabric and the inflation provides a little ‘give’ to the hull of the boat, you can feel like you’re bouncing off obstacles you encounter like rocks or the shore," says John Junke Jr., Digital Community Moderator at REI. Punctures are a rarity, but you might encounter a leak at the seams; fortunately, most inflatables have multiple air chambers, so the whole boat shouldn’t deflate. And almost all inflatable kayaks come with repair kits.

Ease of Setup

Most inflatable kayaks can be pumped to full size in about five to eight minutes using a hand or foot pump, though boat size will dictate how quickly you can get the craft inflated. "You can expedite the process by purchasing a 12V electric pump, inflating the chambers of the kayak to almost full, and then finishing it off with the manual pump," says Junke. "It’s important not to over-inflate the kayak, which can result in leaks and putting strain on the bladders of the kayak. Under-inflating the kayak could lead to sagging or bending in the kayak or riding too low in the water and creating more work to paddle the kayak. We recommend a dual-action pump that has an air pressure gauge on it," he adds. Take note that not all inflatable kayaks come with a pump.

Stability

Unlike canoes, kayaks allow the paddler to sit in the craft, closer to the surface of the water, which makes almost all models more stable. In general, the wider the craft, the more stable, though if speed is important, a sleeker model has less drag, so it will generate speeds more quickly than wider models.

Portability

The ability to travel with your inflatable kayak—on a plane, or by tossing it into your trunk—is one of the biggest advantages of these boats. They can weigh anywhere from 20 to 40 pounds, and most come with a carrying case with straps (either a single shoulder carry or straps like a backpack). “Inflatable kayaks compact down to a size that allows them to fit in the trunk of a car and/or stored in a closet,” says Junke. “This alleviates the need for a roof rack for transportation or a garage space (or other outdoor storage solution) for a hard-sided kayak.”  If you plan on doing lots of travel, look for inflatable kayaks that include a durable storage bag that can stand up to the rigors of the baggage handlers; most are well below the typical 50-pound limit and can be checked as luggage without incurring additional fees.

FAQs

What are the types of inflatable kayaks?

Different types of inflatable kayaks are best for different types of activities, whether its whitewater kayaking, lake paddling, or fishing. So take two things into consideration: the type of water you’ll be paddling, and what you plan on doing while on the water. For lakes and gentle rivers or streams, you can go with a less durable (and less expensive) model because the demands on the boat from the water will be pretty minimal. Those looking to run whitewater in upwards of Class III rapids want an inflatable kayak that can stand up to the waves, rocks, and trees of more furious rivers, and should also look for narrower, shorter boats that provide a lot of maneuverability and control. The same goes for inflatable kayaks specific to sea kayaking, which are typically longer and more slender than freshwater boats to help you gain speed, cut through waves, and better fight currents and shifting tides. Anglers, meanwhile, should consider fishing-specific boats, which typically include features like pole holds and fish coolers. Campers and those looking to take on multi-day expeditions should look for kayaks that come with lots of storage, a high max-weight rating, compartments, and lots of lash points to help carry your gear. And if you anticipate rougher waters, look for those with self-bailing features or boats that you can accessorize with paddling skirts or top decks.

What are the typical materials of an inflatable kayak?

Most inflatable models are made of PVC, nylon, or vinyl. PVC is the most common because it’s typically less expensive than other materials, very easy to patch, and quite durable—but it can be damaged by chemicals, UV rays, and extreme temperatures. Nylon and vinyl do tend to hold up against those conditions better, and many boat-makers will use proprietary tech to increase durability. Sealed seams are also fairly common and help extend the boat’s life.

How should I care for my inflatable kayak?

To assure a boat’s long life, avoid dragging the craft over sharp rocks or crashing into docks or a riverbank. Once you’re done boating, be sure you dry the craft completely before storing, and if you’re paddling in saltwater, rinse the boat with fresh water to avoid the damaging impact of salt. Then store it in a cool, dry place to avoid any impact from UV rays. You can also treat the kayak once a year with a protective spray to fend off any UV ray damage.

Why Trust TripSavvy

TripSavvy writers are travel experts—and it shows in their carefully researched, objective recommendations. In the process of writing these roundups, TripSavvy’s team of writers spend hours reading expert opinions and user reviews. Nathan Borchelt is a travel and adventure enthusiast with a wealth of professional experience on writing on all things outdoors.

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