Inflatable kayaks have taken the market by storm and are no longer seen as an odd novelty. In fact, many avid paddlers now consider them the norm. But before you jump into the world of the inflatable kayak owner make sure you know how to select the right kayak for the adventures you will be taking it on.
There was a time when the idea of an blow up kayak would draw snickers and ridicule from any serious paddler. Most potential buyers envision a large pool float and impending doom as it folded up around you or lost buoyancy halfway across your favorite lake.
But times have changed, and advances in technology have made the inflatable kayak more than a possibility—it is a booming industry.
Selecting an inflatable kayak offers many advantages: easier transport, lower cost, and versatility, to name a few. But it also requires a bit of research if you are to ensure you select the right one for you and your planned adventures.
We reviewed the best of the best based on use and provide some tips for making your final selection. Hopefully, this information lets you select the perfect inflatable kayak for you.
The 8 Best Inflatable Kayak of 2020: Outdoor Empire Reviews
- Best for Fishing #1: Elkton Cormorant Tandem Inflatable
- Best for Fishing #2: Mirage i9S
- Best Whitewater #1: Aire Tributary Tomcat
- Best Whitewater #2: Sea Eagle 420x Explorer
- Best Ocean #1: Saturn 14’ Ocean Kayak
- Best Ocean #2: Mirage i11S
- Best Tandem Kayak #1: Advanced Elements Expedition
- Best Tandem Kayak #2: Sea Eagle SE370 Pro Package
|Category||Best fishing||Best whitewater||Best tandem|
|Capacity||450 lbs||375 lbs||450 lbs|
|Weight||27 lbs||34 lbs||42 lbs|
|Number of Chambers||3||4||9|
|Base Fabric Material||Tough PVC Tarpaulin||1000-denier PVC||Drop-stitch floor|
|Cost||Check Price||Check Price||Check Price|
1. Best Inflatable Fishing Kayak #1: Elkton Cormorant Tandem Inflatable
This is not just a fishing kayak. It is an incredible kayak specifically outfitted for fishing. Not only do you get a dependable, well-constructed kayak, you also benefit from many of the features anglers need.
The 18-gauge rip-resistant 1000D PVC construction with reinforced tarpaulin bottom material provides a rigid, comfortable to operate platform, plus it is difficult to puncture with wayward lures or hooks.
Two adjustable seats allow all day comfort for you and your favorite fishing companion. The removable skeg provides a higher degree of control than normally seen in inflatables.
A total of six rod holders—two for trolling and four for general use, place rods—within hands reach at all times. A side-mounted paddle holder keeps paddles secure and out of the way when fishing. The large front mesh bag provides plenty of storage, while the open rear deck allows temporary installation of tackle bag or cooler.
Each package includes two aluminum paddles, high volume pump, removable skeg, and a carry bag.
If you are looking for a kayak specifically designed for the angler that’s under $500, this is the one for you.
- Two-person, 450 lb. capacity
- Six rod holders
- Heavy-duty, puncture-resistant materials
- Built specifically for angling
- Dark color (grey/black) may get uncomfortably warm
- Wide side walls may interfere with paddling or casting
2. Best for Fishing #2: Mirage i9S
Everyone who kayaks and fishes is familiar with the name Hobie. It is synonymous with top-of-the-line fishing kayaks. Now, those who wish to enjoy the portability of an inflatable can benefit from the quality that is Hobie.
Overall, this is the best inflatable fishing kayak on the market, offering a heavy-duty construction, great storage area, and the MirageDrive hands-free propulsion system.
Constructed of 1000D PVC with a drop-stitch floor, not only is the i9S extremely durable, it can also withstand inflation pressure far above other models. This means that you benefit from an easy-to-control, solid construction without worrying a loose hook will send you to the bottom.
The open-deck construction allows for plenty of gear storage, including a rear bungee area that can easily accommodate a cooler or tackle bag.
But best of all is the MirageDrive hands-free propulsion system, which allows you to maneuver and fish at the same time, travel greater distances with less energy, and switch from forward to reverse instantly.
If you can afford the high price tag, there is little reason to keep shopping as it will be hard to beat the i9S.
- Hands-free operation
- Plenty of on deck storage, including bungee secured rear deck
- Low profile will make paddling and casting a breeze.
- Very high price
- Lack of fishing accessories—there aren’t any rod holders
Learn more about the Mirage i9S.
3. Best Inflatable Whitewater Kayak #1: Aire Tributary Tomcat
If you are interested in entering the whitewater kayaking world but lack the ability to store or transport a traditional kayak, there is another option—the inflatable. The Aire Tributary Tomcat is an ideal inflatable for beginners in whitewater adventuring.
The 1000-denier PVC construction provides ideal protection from cuts, abrasions and punctures. Bow and stern dodgers provide additional protection against the sudden impacts you are sure to encounter.
Plus, the mesh drain system allows the water that is sure to splash into the kayak to drain harmlessly away. There are also multiple tie-down loops that are perfectly placed to secure your gear to prevent loss or shifting in rough conditions.
For an economical entry into the whitewater kayaking world, it is hard to beat the Tomcat.
- Heavy-duty materials, including bow and stern dodgers specifically designed to guard against the hazards a whitewater paddler is sure to encounter
- Gear tie-down loops
- Available in single or tandem models
- Multiple colors offered
- Suitable for beginners but may not meet needs of advanced paddlers
- Bare-bones kayak, no frills or accessories
4. Best Whitewater #2: Sea Eagle 420x Explorer
The Sea Eagle 420x opens many doors for the whitewater kayaker. Not only is it designed to handle a wide range of waters, including Class III rapids, it is also designed to be used by up to three paddlers. This is a kayak you and your friends can enjoy on the lake, in the rapids, or even through the surf.
The rugged, three-chamber hull is constructed of super-tough 1100 Decitex that’s reinforced and overlapped at the all seams for superior resistance to puncture and slicing.
Inflatable to 3.2 psi, the walls and floor become rigid enough to ensure superior handling under all conditions while still remaining flexible enough to withstand the impacts whitewater paddling is sure to bring.
Self-bailing drain valves, bow and stern skirts, dual carry handles, and 26 stainless D-rings provide safety, protection, and security for you and your gear no matter what Mother Nature brings your way.
The Pro Package includes everything a new kayaker needs to hit the whitewater—420x hull, two inflatable seats, two paddles, and instructions.
As one of the best-engineered inflatable kayaks available, the Sea Eagle 420x provides the durability needed to take you anywhere, but the convenience of increased portability.
- Includes improved AB50s 8-foot carbon-fiber paddles
- Includes everything a new kayaker needs for whitewater paddling
- Capable of being on the water in 15 minutes out of the box
- Can be outfitted for fishing, sailing, or even with a small outboard
- May be a bit too large for the single paddler
- Speed and handling decreases on the open water
5. Best Inflatable Kayak For Ocean #1: Saturn 14’ Ocean Kayak
If you are going to take your inflatable kayak onto the open ocean, you need the durability of a hard-shell, but you still want the convenience of an easy-to-stow inflatable. This is where the Saturn 14’ Ocean shines.
The high-end, heavy-duty Dtex PVC construction, double-layer air floor, and top tubes provide the stability needed to tackle open water with confidence and the protection from puncture any inflatable requires. These same materials protect against friction and the sun’s harmful UV rays as well.
When fully inflated, the floor becomes rigid enough to stand up in, something that many hard-shells balk at. Two removable aluminum benches provide the comfort needed for a full day of paddling as well as ample storage so you can keep you gear secure and out of the way.
They can also be used to mount a variety of accessories including GPS, fishing rod holders, and even video cameras (something few inflatables offer).
- Extremely durable and resistant to UV rays as well water friction
- Very portable and quickly deflated
- Included ability to mount aftermarket accessories
- Longer inflate time needed
6. Best Ocean #2: Mirage i11S
Hobie’s Mirage i11S is not the kayak for the budget minded, but if you want quality construction, comfort, and the legendary MirageDrive propulsion system (and are not afraid to pay for it), this is the kayak for you.
At first glance, you will undoubtedly notice the i11S. You cannot help but notice it thanks to the low-profile design, vibrant colors, and eye-catching Hobie graphics. But as great as it looks, it performs even better.
Fully inflated, it is over 11 feet in length and 39 inches wide, weighing in at 64.5 lbs. This combination of size and weight allows the rider to enjoy superior stability despite the low, almost SUP design. Stability does not stop with the hull either.
The Vantage CTi seat’s supportive backrest provides the support needed for a long day on the water.
Of course, the most impressive feature on any Mirage model is the MirageDrive hands-free propulsion system. Coupled with the integrated left- or right-hand control rudder, you will enjoy unheard of control and mobility.
Because it is an inflatable, transportation and storage is also a key concern. The i11S deflates easily and stows in the included carry bag, which will not only fit easily into a trunk but can also be transported on a commercial airplane.
- Quality construction from a trusted name in kayaks
- Innovative MirageDrive and integrated rudder system
- Low profile is easy to paddle and easy to enter or exit
- Sit-on-top design offers less protection (you will get wet)
- High cost
- MirageDrive can limit use in shallow areas
7. Best Two-Person Inflatable Kayak #1: Advanced Elements Expedition
One of the downfalls of inflatable kayaks is the lack of rigidness, which in turn results in decreased tracking. Users are often forced to make repeated course corrections or risk turning in a wide circle.
The Advanced Elements Expedition has solved this problem and provides the best of both worlds—an inflatable that feels and handles like a hard-shell.
The secret to the Expedition is the addition of aluminum ribs, which provide increased stability at the bow and stern. The aluminum frame is covered with a highly durable, puncture-resistant, three-layer PVC cloth for worry-free use in less-than-ideal conditions.
But do not worry. You’ll still enjoy the advantages of an inflatable: when it time to go, simply deflate, fold, stow in a carry bag, and put in the trunk or back seat for easy transportation.
The Expedition is also capable of being set up as either a solo or tandem kayak, with two inflatable seats included and an extra roomy cockpit built for two but extra comfortable for one.
Plus, there is also plenty of room for your gear, even a bungee tie-down on the front deck for even more carrying capacity—and with a 300-pound capacity, you will want for nothing when away from shore.
- Solo or tandem set up with three different possible seat positions
- Aluminum ribs offer superior stability and tacking, like riding in a hard-shell
- High-back, extra-supportive seats for all-day comfort
- Includes repair kit, manual, two seats, and carry bag
- When packed, it may not meet airline size/weight limits
- Wide width requires use of a longer paddle
- Not self-bailing—bring a bucket
8. Best Tandem Kayak #2: Sea Eagle SE370 Pro Package
The SE370 is one of the highest rated and most popular inflatable kayaks on the market, repeatedly selected as the best of the best. When you add the Pro Package, you get a great kayak and everything you need to hit the water right away.
Sea Eagle has been making quality inflatable boats since 1968 and is well known for producing top-notch, high-end inflatable kayaks, and the SE370 is not exception. At a mere 32 pounds, it sounds too small to be viable open water kayak, yet it boasts a two- or even three-person capacity.
Once inflated it is far roomier than expect and is considered one of the roomier inflatables available. The 38-mil PolyKrylar construction provides superior puncture resistance and excellent stability, even when loaded to the maximum capacity.
Overall, this is one of the best-made, most versatile inflatable kayaks on the market suitable for all levels of paddlers. The Pro Package includes dual seats, two paddles, a repair kit, a carry bag, and a foot pump.
- Made by one of the leading names in inflatables
- Based on the already popular, award-winning 330 design
- Amazing three-person capacity
- Constructed of nearly indestructible 38-mil PolyKrylar
- Everything you need to hit the water
- Can be a bit unmanageable with two inexperienced paddlers together
- Due to lack of substantial keel, it is not ideal for rough water or in windy conditions
Inflatable vs. Hard-Shell – Which one is better?
There is little that compares to the thrill of paddling through new waters on your very own kayak. It is the perfect way to connect with the outdoors and exercise at the same time. Plus, a kayak is far cheaper and easier to maintain than a power boat.
However, despite all its advantages, not everyone has the ability to store and transport a traditional hard-shell kayak. Enter the inflatable, which offers a variety of advantages including a much smaller footprint for transportation or storage when not in use.
But is an inflatable kayak as good as a hard-shell? Or, are you sacrificing safety and function for convenience? Let’s look at the pros and cons of an inflatable so you can decide which is right for you.
A typical inflatable will weigh approximately 25–30 pounds, less than the 50–80 pounds for the average hard-shell.
Although both inflatable and hard-shell kayaks are available in all price ranges, generally speaking, an inflatable will cost less than a comparable hard-shell design. However, it is important to remember that you get what you pay for. A cheap sub-par kayak is a bad idea, whether inflatable or hard-shell
The idea that an inflatable kayak could provide the same level of safety and stability as a hard-shell was a major hurdle when first introduced, and many early models failed. However, advances in technology have allowed many inflatables to be as stable as any hard-shell, even capable of whitewater paddling.
This is the major advantage of an inflatable: the ability to transport it in the trunk or even back seat of any car and store in the corner rather than the garage. Plus, most come with a convenient carry bag.
Surprisingly, the inflatable kayak often has a higher capacity of persons and gear than a similarly sized hard-shell
Here the hard-shell wins. With a traditional kayak, very little care is needed prior to use or after you are done. An inflatable obviously needs to be inflated and deflated before and after each use. They also need to be cleaned to keep damaging dirt and debris from being packed away and should be dried after each use.
In the end, the inflatable kayak has come along way since it was first introduced. Not only has it proven its worth, but it is now available for use on almost any water, including whitewater, and can be configured for a wide range of uses including fishing, tandem use, and ocean paddling. Some can even be fitted with small outboards.
How to Choose the Right Inflatable Kayak
Because there are so many different inflatable kayaks on the market, many of which are designed for specific purposes, it is important that you select one that meets your specific needs. Let’s look at some of the considerations that you need to take into account when shopping for your inflatable kayak.
Although there are many quality bargain kayaks, both hard-shell and inflatable, it is important to remember that you get what you pay for.
While the cheaper model may appear to offer all the features you need, it is unlikely that it was produced with the same quality materials or attention to craftsmanship that you need. Remember, you will be going out on the water with this. Do you really want to trust your safety and enjoyment to the lowest bidder?
Inflatables are being manufactured from a variety of materials. You want to make sure the one you select is constructed of a heavy-duty, puncture-resistant material, such as the following:
Polyvinyl Chloride is the most common material for inflatable kayak construction. It is usually bonded to nylon or a similar cloth for additional protection from ripping. PVC is UV resistant but will still suffer sun damage if exposed for extended periods. Be sure to store indoors and out of direct sunlight.
This is a combination of nitrile synthetic rubber bonded to polyester fiber. It is tougher and more puncture resistant than PVC, and it also has a high resistance to abrasions. Many people prefer it because it is also eco-friendly.
This material is more abrasion resistant than either of the other options, although it is harder to work with and therefore more expensive. Only high-end models use it as the main construction material; others prefer to utilize PVC with a Hypalon coating due to the decreased cost.
There are several types of inflatable kayaks available. Which is best for you?
This is the traditional style with the operator sitting inside a recessed cockpit. The advantages of this style are increased stability and the ability to stay drier, especially if you add a spray skirt.
Of course, the closed design means a decrease in ready access to gear, most of which will be stowed in the front or rear compartments, making them difficult to get to when underway.
Sit on Top
Just as with the hard-shell, this design has the operator sitting on top of the hull, with no cockpit or enclosed compartments, although the seat may be slightly recessed for increased stability. This design is increasingly popular with anglers for the greater freedom of movement it provides.
These are still kayaks but feature a higher wall and wider hull for increased stability. Some can even accommodate a standing operator. You have more space for gear, and it is safer to move around; however, they can be more difficult to operate and generally require a longer paddle.
Tandem or Solo
After reading the review, you have probably noticed that many models are available in either tandem or solo designs; some can even be converted into either. Obviously, the tandem models allow you to take a friend along or transport extra gear if solo.
However, they are a bit larger and can be difficult to manage if alone or when two inexperienced paddlers team up.
Any kayak, inflatable or hard-shell, is eventually going to have water inside the hull. This is especially true should you capsize and then right the kayak. When this happens, having a self-bailing design will be a blessing. Not only will a dry kayak be more comfortable, it will also be much easier to handle.
Many inflatable kayaks are offered in pro packages or starter packages. Despite what the different names imply, they are essentially the same: kits that contain everything you need to get on the water. Open the box and you will find the kayak, paddle, carry bag, foot pump, and probably a repair kit.
If you purchase a kayak without a pro package, or a package that do not contain these basic items, buy each separately.
One downside to owning an inflatable kayak is the lack of accessories.
There are very few manufacturers that offer options suitable for the inflatable or even build hulls with the proper attachment points. If having fish finder, camera mounts, fishing rod holders, or even extra storage is important to you, make sure you select your kayak carefully.
Tip: Although many inflatable kayaks come equipped with everything you need to get on the water, including a paddle and pump, there are some items you will want to personalize. A properly fitted paddle will be the difference between gliding across the water with grace and ease or fighting for every stroke.
Keep in mind that many inflatable designs include wider-than-normal walls, so it may be necessary to select a paddle slightly longer than those you use on a traditional kayak. It is also important to have a quality pump; otherwise, you will spend an unnecessary amount of time inflating your kayak when you could be enjoying it.
Many users prefer a foot pump, although an electric pump that plugs into your vehicle’s auxiliary power outlet is always a plus when you can use it.
Top Inflatable Kayak Brands
This California-based company produces a wide range of inflatable kayaks, SUP, and associated gear. They pride themselves on providing affordable products that function as close as possible to traditional hard-shell crafts, which is accomplished by adding rigid supports to the inflatables.
Not only does this increase stability, it also adds a great level of tracking for better maneuverability. Additional information and a full product line can be found on their website.
Although they are the undisputed leader in high-end kayak production, Hobie is a relatively late comer to the inflatable market. That being said, their limited line of inflatables is just as impressive and includes all the innovations that have made their traditional models so popular.
With accessories such as the MirageDrive hands-free propulsion system and integrated rudder, the Mirage series is especially popular with anglers. You can see all that Hobie has to offer here.
This company has been producing inflatable boats since 1968 and is one of the first to offer an inflatable kayak. This long history and experience they have provided has made them a leader in the industry, and their craft have a reputation for being well-constructed and suitable for a wide range of adventures.
They offer inflatable suitable for recreation paddling, fishing, ocean adventures, and even whitewater use. Learn more at their website.
This is an outdoor company owned by outdoorsmen and is committed to providing top-performing gear at the best value. Although they started out producing a wide range of non-boating hunting and fishing gear, they recently broke into the inflatable kayak market.
Their craft are design specifically for fishing and include standard features, such as rod holders, hook proof floors, and storage compartments perfect for tackle boxes or coolers. You can see all their products at their website by clicking here.
Although they were originally an electrical accessories manufacturer in Post WWII France, they soon became the leader in producing vinyl and PVC inflatable products.
Thanks to an unintended invention, they become the first to successfully weld these materials into a useable, leak-proof design and soon started producing portable bathtubs.
This led to inflatable pool toys and eventually inflatable boats and kayaks. Today they offer a wide range of innovative yet affordable products, each of which can be viewed on their website. Now owned by Coleman, there is a good chance you or someone you know is using a Sevylor product on the water right now.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are inflatable kayaks safe?
Yes, today’s inflatable kayaks are as stable and safe as traditional hard-shell designs if used in the proper conditions and with the proper training.
How do you transport and use an inflatable kayak?
Most are transported in a compact carry bag, similar to a tent. Once you arrive at the launch site you unfold and inflate. Depending on the design, you may need to install the seats or cross braces
How do you dry and store an inflatable kayak?
Once you are finished for the day, deflate, fold, and transport your kayak in the carry bag. After you arrive at home, it is recommended that you clean and dry the kayak, which can be done with a garden hose and by allowing it to lay in the open air, to avoid packing potentially damaging dirt and debris inside the bag.
If the inflatable kayak is not your thing you can: