8 Best Inflatable Kayaks [Product Reviews & Guide]

Kayaking is a wonderful water sport that is growing year on year. Originally created by the First Nation people of Canada as a way to travel and fish, it is currently used by many people around the world to… travel and fish.

But kayaking is much more than that: it’s a great way to get some fresh air, exercise, spend time with your friends, family, or significant other – or just by yourself – and maybe explore your local rivers and lakes.

We’ve put this guide together to help you find out more about the best inflatable kayaks, and work out if they’re the right option for you.

Best Inflatable Kayaks at a Glance

Kayaks can be divided into two categories. They are either hard shell or inflatable.

Both of them are pretty much what they sound like: the hard shell kayaks are usually made from solid plastic and keep their shape.

Inflatable kayaks are blown up like armbands when you want to use them, and then deflated and put into a box or backpack when you’re finished.

This can make them much easier to transport, and they’re usually lighter.

Inflatable kayaks are a much more recent invention, but they’re quickly becoming more popular because they’re convenient. Let’s look through some different options.

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How To Choose The Best Inflatable Kayak 

The best inflatable kayak on river

One of the many advantages of inflatable kayaks is that they’re much easier to move and store than hard shell kayaks. Let’s walk through how a typical kayak trip might work.

Firstly, you’ll need to load up a car or truck with your kayak. For a hard shell that will probably involve hooking a trailer or using a roof rack (although it can be done without a roof rack), which can be expensive, difficult, and heavy.

You may well also need two people unless you’re especially strong or you’re using a lightweight kayak. For an inflatable? Just clear your backseat or boot and put your kayak there in its box. Don’t forget the pump!

Then you drive to the river, lake or sea. If you’ve got an inflatable there won’t be much to think about, but a lot of drivers find transporting hard shell kayaks stressful and worry about them coming off the roof or trailer.

Obviously, you should double-check everything before you drive. When you arrive at the water you’ll either need to inflate your kayak – which, with practice, will take five minutes – or get it off the roof rack/trailer and carry it to the water’s edge. This can be an issue if you’re alone, and you could end up dragging the boat, potentially damaging the edges.

You’re finally on the water. Great! Just don’t think too much about how much effort it’s going to be to reverse all of that and get it home, safely…

There’s no ambiguity here: inflatable kayaks are much, much more convenient and portable. Some kayaks will fold up into their own rucksacks, and others have bags and boxes.

Either way, there shouldn’t be any issue with carrying them by yourself, and it takes away a lot of the planning, extra equipment, and stress.

Durability & Materials

Throughout the history of kayaking, people have been innovating and finding new ways to make kayaks and new materials that improve them. Most hard shells are now made of plastic, but originally First Nation people used wood, bones, and seal skin.

Inflatables are very similar: the idea has stayed the same, but manufacturers have developed different types of PVC, canvas, and other plastics to help you have the best possible experience.

The primary concern when choosing a material for an inflatable kayak is how durable it is. The kayak might be wonderful to paddle, easy to inflate and deflate and pack away nicely but if it pops the second you hit a pebble it simply won’t be a good investment.

Fortunately, manufacturers know this and test lots of different materials. It’s a good idea to think about this when looking at inflatable kayaks, and you should check reviews to see how other customers have got on with their kayaks.

Finally, unfortunately, the best kayaks will eventually get punctures. This doesn’t mean they’re broken and useless forever: you can patch them up and continue using them, like a bike tire!

A lot of the kayaks we looked at earlier come with puncture repair kits or have them available as an optional extra. They should be easy to use, and efficient, and extend the life of your kayak so you can keep on enjoying it.


One of the most convenient things about the best inflatable kayaks is how easy they are to store. Hardshell kayaks can be left in your garden, but it’s better if they have a bit of shelter, which adds to your ‘kayak accessory’ shopping list (trailer, roof rack, a shelter for storage).

Inflatable kayaks don’t have this problem because they can easily be put away into bags or boxes. Some even fold into their own rucksack, which is even more convenient.

Inflatable kayaks are also smaller and lighter. A hardshell kayak is usually carried by two people – one at the bow, and one at the stern. You can drag them, but that’s a good way to damage the bottom of the kayak and hurt your back. In contrast, putting an inflatable kayak into a bag is usually no more difficult than picking up a tent, and the worst that’ll happen is you might struggle to do the zip up.

Finally, it’s important to make sure that your inflatable kayak is dry when you pack it up. This won’t be possible every time – we’ve all gone kayaking on a sunny day only to have unexpected and heavy rain and ended up leaving in a hurry.

If this does happen, you should dry your kayak off as soon as you can, possibly by spreading it over a washing line. Do not tumble dry! This will mean that your kayak doesn’t go smelly, get mildewed, or damaged from rot.

The materials should be waterproof, but that doesn’t mean that they’re supposed to be constantly wet. Looking after your kayak is the best way to make sure it lasts a long time.

Tandem vs Single

The kayaks we’ve looked at have had room for one or two people. This is fairly standard, and it would be unusual to have more than two people in one kayak. In fact, it’s much more common to have a solo kayak.

There are lots of reasons for this. Firstly, some people just like having a boat to themselves, and find that this is more fun.

You can still go kayaking with more than one person – you just don’t have to share your ‘yak. Also, this keeps the boats smaller and allows you to paddle something that’s less bulky and easier to navigate through narrow spaces.

Some people prefer to have two people in a kayak. This is called a tandem. A lot of people enjoy sharing a boat because it allows them to speak to the other paddler more easily, share snacks and other items, and if you’re paddling for a long period of time you can take breaks and split the work.

Some solo kayakers will also use tandem kayaks, so they can use the additional space to store food, tents, children, or dogs.

Ultimately, it’s not one choice vs the other – it’s what is right for you. If you’re unsure about which to purchase, try hiring some from a local water sports center so you can see if you like to share, or if you’d rather be by yourself.


Just compare the two, obviously, hand pumps can be taken anywhere, etc. I will include a product or two here.

The most important thing to take into consideration when choosing a pump is will it work with your kayak.

Otherwise, you’re just wasting your money. A lot of the kayaks on our list will come with a pump included, or you’ll be able to find out which pump is compatible on the ‘suggested extras’ list on Amazon.

However, if you do have the opportunity to choose between the two, you’ll need to think about the following.

Hand pumps are (obviously) more work, and they are usually bigger. If you’re about to spend all day paddling, you probably won’t want to waste energy getting the kayak ready. Plus, they take more time.

On the other hand, electric pumps are faster, but they will need either batteries or to be plugged into an electricity supply.

If you’re at a campsite or at home this should be fine, but if you’re somewhere more isolated this could be a problem. If you do choose to use a battery-operated pump, it’s worth bringing a spare set of batteries in case the original ones run out.

Inflatable vs Hardshell 

As inflatable kayaks become more popular, more kayakers are trying them and leaving traditional hard shells behind.

However, many people eventually find a favorite and eventually commit to one or the other with an actual purchase. Let’s look at the key differences, advantages, and disadvantages of inflatable and hard shell kayaks.

Inflatable kayaks are much more convenient. They’re easier to store, easier to transport, cost less and some people prefer to paddle them.

Beginners will often try an inflatable kayak before investing in a more costly hard shell, and some people will stay with inflatables for a longer time.

You can fold them up into a mid-sized box and transport them in a completely normal car without any other equipment, which saves a lot of money.

Hard shells are much better when you actually get them in the water. Inflatables tend to sit on top of the water and hard shells cut through it, which means they go faster and require less effort.

They’re also better when it’s windy because this will easily push an inflatable off-course.

Hard shells are more traditional and more common, and for many people, this is what they’re comfortable and familiar with.

If you learn to kayak at a water sports center you’ll probably be taught to use a hard shell, and it can take some time to adjust, especially if you’re going to difficult areas or like to do tricks.

Just like the tandem kayak vs single kayak, there isn’t really a ‘right’ answer, just what works best for you. If you’re fortunate enough to have a place to keep a kayak right next to a water source and you’re willing to spend more money, a hard shell kayak might be better, but for a lot of people, the convenience of an inflatable kayak makes it right for them.

Length of Kayak – Short vs Long 

Kayaks come in all kinds of shapes and sizes, and this can impact how they move, how they feel, and what they are used for.

Extremely short kayaks are sometimes referred to as ‘play-boats’ and are about the length of a small car.

They’re a lot of fun, great for tricks and they are usually pretty sturdy. However, they won’t go fast and they can get exhausting when you’re out for longer periods of time.

Long kayaks are called ‘touring kayaks’ and can be over 16ft. They do tip over more easily, but you’ll also be able to go faster and further in them because they’re more streamlined.

Most of the kayaks we’ve looked at here are between 11ft and 13ft, which means they’re somewhere in the middle. This might make them relatively fast and fairly stable, but that can be difficult for inflatable kayaks, so take care when making a choice.

Best Inflatable Kayak – FAQs

Best inflatable kayak on lake

Are inflatable kayaks worth it?

Yes! A lot of people switch from hard shell kayaks to inflatable kayaks and never go back. They’re more affordable but still last for a long time when they’re well cared for, and they’re also much easier to store and transport.

It’s a good idea to look around, read reviews and the information from the manufacturer, and make sure you’re getting the best deal but for many people, inflatable kayaks are a good investment and worth the money spent.

Are inflatable kayaks good for beginners?

Yes. Inflatable kayaks are usually the best option for beginners because they’re cheaper and easier to maintain than hard shells.

You probably won’t find an inflatable kayak that you can use on long trips or for ‘serious’ kayaking, but if you’re looking for something that will be great for casual paddling and works nicely for beginners, an inflatable kayak can be perfect.

Also, if you’re just starting out you might not want to spend a lot of money on a kayak, roof rack and somewhere to safely store it. An inflatable kayak will cost less money for the boat and won’t require lots of other gear to go with it.

Can one person use a two person inflatable kayak?

Yes! One person can use a two-person kayak, regardless of whether it’s inflatable or a hard shell.

However, it’s much easier for one person to use a two-person kayak if it’s inflatable, and some inflatable two-person kayaks are designed to be used by one or two people interchangeably.

A few of the kayaks we looked at earlier are for two people but have movable and removable seats so you can use them alone and utilize the extra space for storage.

This can be perfect if you’re looking to bring a dog, children, or just a picnic when you go kayaking.

How long does an inflatable kayak last?

This really depends. Most inflatable kayaks will have a warranty, so make sure to check that before you buy and look at the company’s refund/exchange policy.

Inflatable kayaks (like everything else) last longer if they’re well cared for, so make sure that you don’t drag your kayak across hard rocks as this may damage the material, make sure that any punctures are correctly patched up, and don’t put the kayak away when it’s wet.

If you don’t have time to dry it properly when you’re out, make sure you do it when you get home. Most inflatable kayaks should last you a good number of years.

Can you put a dog in an inflatable kayak?

You could put a dog in an inflatable kayak. More importantly, you should put a dog in an inflatable kayak.

There are few things nicer than paddling down a river with your dog sitting next to you, possibly in a little captain hat, looking at the views, and enjoying each other’s company.

We’d recommend not bringing a dog the first time you use your inflatable kayak because you’ll need to get used to it, and having a dog with you could bring added stress when you’re setting up and actually getting onto the water.

You should also check that the kayak isn’t made of anything that might get damaged by your dog’s paws.

Are inflatable kayaks good for rivers?

Inflatable kayaks work best on calm waters, so slow-running rivers and lakes are ideal.

Because inflatable kayaks are extremely light and literally full of air, they tend to sit on top of the water instead of cutting through it like a hard shell kayak.

This means that they can get thrown off course or even blown over (capsize) if there’s a lot of wind or a strong current. Don’t let this discourage you: most of the best inflatable kayaks will work well on rivers, and it’s easy to spend a nice afternoon paddling around on your local river.

How tough are inflatable kayaks?

Tougher than you might expect. The idea that an inflatable kayak might pop like a cheap beach ball is pervasive but untrue: manufacturers of inflatable kayaks put a lot of effort into making sure that the plastic they use is durable and can withstand people walking on the kayaks, scraping against rocks, or underwater obstacles and general wear and tear.

Some kayaks are tougher than others, and it’s worth doing some research and reading reviews if you’re shopping online to make sure that you get a good quality inflatable kayak that will last.

Best Inflatable Kayaks – Conclusion 

Inflatable kayaks are a great option for a lot of people. They’re easy to store, transport, and can be versatile and used for one or two people without having to invest in separate boats.

Since their inception manufacturers and designers have come up with lots of different ways to make inflatable kayaks, which is why we now have so much diversity and so many options for kayakers.

Although they’re often used by beginners, many experienced kayakers enjoy using inflatables and prefer them over hard shells.

Like any other big purchase, it’s important to think hard about what you want and research thoroughly before you buy.

The kayaks we’ve laid out for you are a real mix and there are options for people on larger and smaller budgets, with different experiences, and for those who like to do specific things in their kayaks, like fishing.

We hope you’ve found this useful and informative, and that you find a kayak that you love and get a lot of use out of.

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