Looking for the best inflatable kayak? We researched 50+ top inflatable and foldable kayaks before testing a fleet of 9 for hundreds of on-water hours. For months, we paddled these kayaks across lakes, through waves, and down rivers to learn what they could handle. We brought along friends, dogs, picnics, and gear to test capacity and durability. We had both novice and advanced paddlers to join our expeditions and test the comfort, ease of use, and limits of each boat. We became intimately familiar with all the benefits, pitfalls, and little quirks of each kayak to pass our findings on to you. Whatever your inner paddler desires, we point you toward the right yak for you in 2019.
The Best Inflatable Kayaks
|Price||$1,199.00 at REI|
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|$442.60 at Amazon|
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|$699.00 at REI|
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|$700 List||$239.48 at Amazon|
|Pros||No inflation required, lightweight, very durable, stable, fast, tracks well, easy set up and clean up||Handles well, high durability, fast, stable, fabric is water resistant||Handles and tracks well, very durable, helpful features, option for single or tandem paddling||Adjustable for many sizes, durable, stable, plenty of storage and tie-ons||Everything included, affordable, durable, easy backpack carry, everything becomes part of the kayak|
|Cons||Expensive, seat cushion thin, rigid pack makes for an awkward carry||Heavy, floor difficult to inflate, hard to drain||Heavy, no paddles or pump included, expensive||Fabric retains water, collects sand/debris, ridiculously difficult to pack up, extremely heavy||Poor paddle, rides high, blunt bow, fabric retains water, difficult to drain|
|Bottom Line||For a portable kayak with performance closer to that of a hardshell, meet the Oru.||With excellent handling, a long lifespan and comfortable to boot, this kayak will go the distance.||A heavy but excellent and versatile tandem kayak.||A solid kayak for adventure or leisure, as long as you don’t mind its weight and the challenge of putting it away.||For a decent kayak at a fraction of the cost of the competition, we love this backpack yak from Sevylor.|
|Rating Categories||Oru Beach LT||AdvancedFrame||AdvancedFrame Convertible Ta...||Columbia XP Tandem XL||Sevylor Quikpak K5|
|Ease Of Set Up (20%)|
|Specs||Oru Beach LT||AdvancedFrame||AdvancedFrame...||Columbia XP Tandem...||Sevylor Quikpak K5|
|Measured Weight (boat and storage bag only)||26.1 lb||33.25 lb||55.2 lb||43.2 lb||23.4 lb|
|Capacity||Single; 300 lbs||Single; 300 lbs||Tandem (2); 550 lbs||Tandem (2+); 600 lbs||Single; 250 lbs|
|Kayak Size (length x width in ft)||12'3" x 2'5.5"||10'3" x 2'9"||15' x 2'8"||14'7" x 3'2"||10' x 2'8"|
|Packed Size (length x width x height in inches)||32" x 28.5" x 11"||33" x 16" x 15"||35" x 21" x 12"||34" x 21" x 17"||22" x 17" x 9"|
|Included Accessories||Repair pieces||Repair kit||Repair kit||Repair patches||Pump and paddle|
|Material/Construction||Double-layered polypropelene||Aluminum ribs in bow & stern, PVC-coated polyester||Aluminum ribs in bow & stern, PVC tarpaulin, 3 layers rip-stop material||Duratex hull, 600D polyester, Aquaglide X-beam technology||Heavy duty polyetster bottom, 24-gauge laminated PVC|
|Features||Adjustable foot brace and backrest, bulkheads, carry handles||Adjustable backrest, bungees, pressure relief valve in floor, skeg||Paddle keepers, seatback pockets, bungee straps, D-ring attachment points||Splashguards, accessory straps, fishing rod holders, carry handles, adjustable seats, mesh storage pockets, skeg & scupperhole||Backpack carrying system turns into seat , storage area, bow and stern bungees, accessory D-rings, spray skirt, skeg|
Oru Beach LT
"Hold on just a minute," you might say, "how can a non-inflatable kayak be the best in an inflatable kayak review?" Well, when we set out to test inflatable kayaks, we realized that there's also a growing market out there for kayaks that are just as packable as inflatable kayaks but don't require any inflating. We think the reasons for buying an inflatable or a packable yak are pretty much the same - storage and portability - so we included them all. And lo and behold, the Oru Beach LT is our favorite of the bunch! Aside from being able to leave the pump at home, we are blown away by the performance of this polypropylene, origami kayak. Added length, just the right angles on the bottom, and a prominent keel make the Oru practically sail through the water with stability, ease, and speed while retaining a surprising amount of maneuverability. The Beach LT is a breeze to set up and break down and a snap to drain of water and clean. With an extra-large cockpit and 300-lb weight capacity, we have no problems bringing along our furry friends and a bunch of gear to camp for a weekend. And guaranteed by Oru for 20,000 folds, the durability of this double-layered watercraft left no doubt in our minds as to its ability to handle the bumps and scratches over the years like a pro.
The large cockpit of this boat does allow some waves to break over the top or water to collect from your paddle, and there's no self-bailing option with the Oru, leading to some water hanging out in the cockpit with you. The design of the seat also lacks a little bit in comfort and the ability to stay in place as you paddle. And as much as we enjoy the rigid structure of this foldable kayak, it does make carrying it against your bare skin a bit uncomfortable. But overall, this kayak is an exceptionally high-performing kayak, bridging the gap between portable and hardshell models - and can fold up and sit in the back of your closet to boot!
Read review: Oru Beach LT
Secondary Editors' Choice Winner
Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame
If you're after the best inflatable kayak that's truly inflatable, the Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame is our top choice. This inflatable kayak combines incredible performance with a reasonable price tag. It boasts an internal folding aluminum frame that gives it the structure it needs to glide through the water with impressive tracking and speed. The water-resistant outer fabric adds to the overall durability and performance of the vessel. It feels nearly as fast on the water as a hardshell kayak and is quite comfortable for even longer journeys. Made of sturdy materials with reinforced construction, the AdvancedFrame is sure to keep you paddling for years to come.
Unfortunately, the cost of the internal frame we love so much is in the weight of this 33 lb 4 oz kayak. Challenging to drag around in its duffle bag, the AdvancedFrame also takes a long time to assemble with no less than seven air chambers, five of which require a special adapter to inflate - in lieu of that, you'll need to harness the power of your lungs. With no port for drainage, we also had a difficult time getting all the water out of the hull after an outing, which typically resulted in finding leftover water somewhere inside the next time we set up this boat. But if your main concern is with the on-water performance and comfort of your kayak, the AdvancedFrame excels in both areas.
Read review: Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame
Best Bang for the Buck
Sevylor Quikpak K5
The Sevylor K5 Quikpak is a great combination of above-average performance and a reasonable price for a complete kayaking kit. It comes with a paddle and a pump that fit handily into the pockets and attachment points of this packed up kayak. Which, by the way, packs up into a backpack, making it significantly easier to carry than any messenger bag or duffle style kayak. For even more convenience, every part of the backpack is a component of the assembled kayak, meaning all you're left with when you've finished setting up is the pump itself. Additionally, the Quikpak shows a decent level of versatility in what type of water it can handle, as it rides high, has a blunt bow, and the cockpit is covered by a "spray skirt" of sorts. The fabric outer hull helps increase the durability of this boat so you can enjoy your purchase over and over again.
However, that outer fabric isn't waterproof, which does add to the overall drag on the boat, in addition to taking a long time to dry out before packing up your kayak and hitting the road or trail. Its higher profile also works against you when you find yourself paddling against or across the wind. And while we appreciate having a paddle and pump already included for one low price, neither piece of equipment was one we much enjoyed using for longer than we had to. But for what you get - a pretty good all-around kayak with everything you need to get on the water - we think the value of this little boat can't be understated.
Read review: Sevylor K5 Quikpak
Top Pick for Backcountry Paddling
Advanced Elements PackLite
The absurd portability of this little 5 lb 4 oz kayak makes the Advanced Elements PackLite an easy choice to carry for miles through the woods or days through airports and on buses to get to amazing destinations. We love that it can be added to a backpack or suitcase and gives us access to lakes and streams we would never have dreamed of being able to paddle on before. With a quick set up process and easy to clean off, the PackLite is the ideal travel companion. We also appreciated the excellent quality repair kit and directions, as you never know what may happen when you're really "out there."
What it has in portability comes from what it lacks in areas of its performance and comfort. Tracking is lessened by the short, wide shape of this boat, designed more to get you out there and less to help you win races. Not the most luxurious kayak to paddle, but you'll likely be the only one out there on a boat. The material is quite thin, to keep it lightweight, and it tore readily on a rough dock - but the patch held up impressively well! And don't forget that for all that small, lightweight boating, you'll still need a paddle and pump to take along for the haul. But if what you want is to paddle where no one else even is, the PackLite can give you that.
Read review: Advanced Elements PackLite
Top Pick for a Tandem
Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame Convertible Tandem
Combining the impressive durability and handling prowess of the AdvancedFrame series with the ability to paddle this craft with a friend or on your own makes this our top choice for a tandem vessel. As a very long boat with integrated tracking fins and a slick PVC tarpaulin hull, this boat can make some impressive moves on the water. We continue to be impressed by how much maneuverability this vessel maintains while still comfortably seating two adults. And its ability to also be paddled by a solo adventurer with relative ease is a major selling point! With intense construction of durable materials, we feel confident gliding over submerged sticks and underwater rocks without worry.
All this boat comes at a cost to portability though. This boat weighs over 50 lb, so while you might be able to paddle it by yourself, carrying it to the launch point alone or heading solo upriver or against the wind might require a bigger feat of strength. The design of this boat also leaves no room for a drain, but plenty of spaces for water to hide, making it difficult to dry your boat entirely before storing it again. And like all the AE yaks we tested, this one doesn't come with any paddles or pump and adapter. Yet with useful features, a fairly simple set up, and the best on-water performance of any tandem we tested, we prefer this model to every excursion with a co-captain.
Read review: Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame Convertible Tandem
Why You Should Trust Us
Our expert panel of testers is lead by Maggie Brandenburg, a longtime backcountry adventure guide and avid paddler. Maggie first held a paddle in her hand at the age of eight and has been hooked ever since. She has spent over a decade guiding on-water trips, from serene paddling through the Everglades to charging down the whitewater of the American West. She has paddled thousands of miles in rivers, lakes, and oceans, putting scores of different types of kayaks to the test. Maggie is a Senior Review Editor at OutdoorGearLab and has been professionally testing and reviewing gear since 2016.
Our testing took place in some of the most iconic alpine lakes and rivers in the world, in and around the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Maggie enlisted the help of dozens of friends to thoroughly examine each of these kayaks. From fellow expert paddlers to folks who had never held a paddle in their lives, a huge variety of people helped test these kayaks. After spending dozens of hours researching the best inflatable kayaks, we spent two hot, sunny summers having kayaking adventures. We brought dogs, gave kayaks to kids, and spent hundreds of hours getting to know these crafts quite literally inside and out.
Related: How We Tested Inflatable Kayaks
Analysis and Test Results
All metric scores are an average of how each kayak performed in that category through a myriad of tests and collection of experiences in comparison to the other products tested. Therefore, our scores aren't absolute, but relative to each other. For example, the Comfort metric is an average of each product's scores as we tested how easy they are to get in and out of, how comfortable the seats are, how long paddlers were willing to paddle the boat, appropriateness of spacing and position in the boat, adjustability of position, presence of foot braces, etc in relation to the other yaks presented here. Read through the metrics below to learn how each score was calculated into the overall score, and gain insight into the best inflatable kayak for your style of adventure.
Related: Buying Advice for Inflatable Kayaks
The US Coast Guard requires all paddlers under the age of 13 wear an approved Personal Floatation Device (PFD, or life jacket) at all times while on a kayak. Furthermore, one life jacket per passenger is required - and most effective when worn! Additional local regulations may vary, so check with your nearest agency before you head out - and always tell someone where you're going and when you'll be back.
Related: The Best PFDs and Life Jackets
Though typically less expensive than their hardshell counterparts, a packable kayak isn't cheap. We reviewed products across a wide price range. In doing so, we found a large range of functionality. The higher-priced products consistently performed better in this category, although that correlation isn't absolute. We don't consider the price of a product as a part of the overall score, but it is an important factor in deciding what kayak you will eventually purchase. Kayaks with a high value, like our Best Buy winner, the Sevylor K5 Quikpak, allow you to get out on the water without spending a ton out of pocket, and still enjoy an acceptable level of performance.
If you're a serious paddler who likes to cover significant distances on water, though, you'll much likelier to be happy with your boat by spending more in this category. The tracking and handling experience among the high-priced models presents a clear difference compared to the lower-priced kayaks.
One of the most important metrics in this review is how each kayak handles on the water. While not all kayaks are made to take on the same types of water, we tested each one for the purpose for which they were created. We noted three primary attributes when assessing the handling ability of these kayaks.
How easy is it to control?
How well does the boat track (hold its course when moving on water) across flat water? How easily does it turn, and how responsive is it to small changes in paddle stroke? How much drag does the boat have and how much resistance do you feel as you paddle? How stable is the boat during different forms of paddling - relaxed vs. intense? How easy or difficult is the boat to paddle into or across wind? Can the kayak handle the type of water the manufacturer claims it's made for? After scores of hours of paddling, the Oru Beach LT and Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame and AE Convertible Tandem all proved to be excellent performers on the water; nearly as easy and responsive as some hardshell kayaks. They cut through the water better than we ever thought an inflatable or foldable kayak could. The Aquaglide Columbia XP Tandem XL is a close contender as well. The Tucktec manages to combine the maneuverability of a shallow boat with the tracking gained from its good-sized tracking fin on the back.
How waterproof is it?
We noted the material each kayak is made of and if it was truly waterproof, water-resistant, or got totally soaked while paddling, thereby increasing resistance and drag. We also looked for drainage systems in the form of bilge or scupper holes that remove water from the boat even while you're paddling. We considered the size of the cockpit in keeping out waves and runoff from the paddle itself. The Sea Eagle 330 Inflatable Sport and Aquaglide are the only kayaks that have an on-water drainage system. The Sevylor K5 Quikpak has an included "spray skirt" that zips over your legs and helps to keep out most exuberant waves and paddle drippings. The Oru Beach and Tucktec are both made of folding plastic, which is obviously quite waterproof, though they also both feature fairly open cockpits that can take on water quickly in certain situations.
How effective is a paddle stroke?
Where does the seat sit within the kayak, and how does that affect your paddling? If a tandem boat, are the two seats at helpful distances from each other or are you likely to hit your partner's paddle? Can you adjust the seat to gain better vantage? Is it possible to brace your feet for a proper kayaking stroke? If a paddle was included with the kayak, was it effective for propulsion and useful pushing off objects? The Tucktecboasts one of the highest seats, giving you an advantage while paddling. The Aquaglide and AE Convertible Tandem have the most adjustable placement of seats and the most room in which to change things around to best suit the individual paddler. The Aquaglide and the Oru are the only two with adjustable foot braces, which provide the most stable and effective base for an efficient paddle stroke that you could keep up with for hours.
Comfort matters a lot for a piece of gear that can take you to far off places while making you entirely reliant on continuing to use it - which, if it's uncomfortable, can be a big pain in the bum. We assigned this metric the same weight as Handling because these two, more than any other metrics, give you the best picture of how each kayak performs on the water. The questions we asked and tests we performed to get at the comfort of each kayak are complementary to those carried out for Handling tests.
This category is a lot about "the feels" tests and relies heavily on input from a wide variety of paddlers. We involved people young and old, large and small, accomplished and novice, and everything in between to try out these kayaks and provide feedback about their personal experiences. A troop of Girl Scouts, a family with small children, friends with several dogs, acquaintances who had never paddled anything before, and folks who were at the upper limit of rated capacity all tested kayaks for how well each worked for them.
Users considered how comfortable the seats of each kayak are to sit in both initially and after spending minutes or hours in the cockpit. We also gauged how easy each boat is to get in and out of, from a beach, a dock, or water over our heads. While getting back in your boat in the middle of a lake is never easy, only one boat did we find it to be actually impossible - the Tucktec. Its extremely low sides meant that every time we tried to climb in, it flooded with water and quickly became submerged. Even entering over the bow or stern didn't help, as the ends tended to come unclipped and by their open design, still allowed the vessel to fill with water, making it unpaddleable. Boats were also assessed individually for special features they may have had that increased the comfort of the paddler, such as the thick padded seats of the Advanced Elements, Tucktec, and Aquaglide models.
Additional space for extra items to be stowed out of the way was also taken into consideration. The PackLite and Intex Challenger K2 have mesh storage spaces on the bow of the boat to hold gear out of the way. The Aquaglide not only has mesh pockets on the backs of both seats but boasts a ton of extra room to bring additional gear or bodies on an adventure. Using the AE Convertible Tandem as a single paddler leaves TONS of room for all kinds of gear (while also maintaining maneuverability on the water), and even as a tandem option there's plenty of room for dogs or extra items. The K5 Quikpak even has a useful storage area behind the seat for holding a dry bag or acting as a cooler (our favorite choice). The bungee straps found on several models' sterns or bows (or both!) are very handy for strapping down PFDs and other items you want to keep secure yet close at hand.
Ease of Set Up
If you're going to assemble and disassemble your watercraft every time you use it, you don't want that to be a drag that may discourage you from taking your kayak out every chance you get. For every kayak, we considered both the setup and takedown process as part of this metric.
There's a first time for everything, and for inflatable kayaks that means reading directions. We abided by directions included with each kayak to see how helpful they were, how easy they were to follow, and how intuitive the process was. We also gauged each kayak's learning curve from that first set up to when we felt confident and swift in our assembly. While the origami Oru initially felt very confusing to put together, it quickly became the fastest and easiest boat to assemble. We also enjoyed the efficiency of models like the Oru, Tucktec, and Sevylor that used every piece or nearly every piece of what you carry to the beach in the assembly of your kayak. Every piece of the origami-style Tucktec and its method of carrying become the boat. While we think this feature is excellent, putting this stiff, sharp-edged plastic boat together - and having it stay together - was not at all like the folding Oru, and proved to be much more difficult than we had expected. The Oru is far easier to assemble than the Tucktec. In contrast, the inflatable Sevylor's easy transformation from a neon green backpack into a savvy little grey kayak with only the pump left behind is particularly impressive.
Just as importantly, putting your kayak away shouldn't be a chore that mars the end of a fabulous outing. When considering how easy each kayak was to disassemble, we kept track of how much time it took us from on the water to in the bag. We also noted how easy boats were to drain and dry. Open concept kayaks like the Oru, Tucktec, Intex, Aquaglide, and Sea Eagle were the easiest to drain by simply tipping them upside down on the shore. And considering most launching areas aren't the most debris-free zones, we also considered how easy boats were to clean up before tossing them in the back of the car or closet. Kayaks with totally waterproof, simple exteriors like the Oru, Tucktec, and PackLite make for easier subjects to wipe free of dirt and sand.
As all the kayaks in this review are more portable than traditional hardshell kayaks by their very nature, we didn't assign too much weight to this inter-comparative metric. However, considering how large, heavy, and awkward something is will make a huge difference in how far you're willing to carry it, and therefore will limit the bodies of water you have available to paddle on.
But weight doesn't tell the whole story, or else the PackLite, our Top Pick for Backcountry Paddling, would be the only winner here. The design of the storage/carry bag itself plays a large part in the portability of each kayak. Kayaks that come in large duffle bags are harder to carry regardless of their weight. The Oru features a messenger style carry, and the Sea Eagle has a similar style of one-shoulder carry. However, the one that stands out the most is the incredibly convenient backpack yak, the Sevylor. Despite weighing 23 lbs 7 oz (29 lbs 7 oz including the accompanying pump and paddle), the wide-strapped backpack design of this kayak's carry system made trucking it over longer distances not only doable but almost enjoyable! On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Tucktec led us to believe it would be a breeze to carry with its one-sided strap and fairly low weight. While those are both helpful aspects, we soon discovered that the strap with which to carry it is so rough and scratchy, we couldn't comfortably use it on bare skin! So clearly just a kayak's weight doesn't tell the whole story.
Another important factor when considering portability is how many additional things you'll need to carry along with the kayak itself. Several of the kayaks we tested come with the paddle(s) and pump already included in the overall package, cutting down on the number of hands required for hauling. Those inclusive kayaking kits include the Intex, Sea Eagle, and Sevylor. As a part of this metric, we also considered how easy each kayak is to carry already set up, as many paddlers may want to assemble their rig next to the car and leave superfluous equipment behind. The Aquaglide has sturdy handles at the bow and stern that facilitate sharing the weight more effectively with your paddle partner than its duffle bag ever could. And the Oru has conveniently placed hand cut-outs inside the cockpit to facilitate an easy single-person carry.
To assess durability in a single season, we put these kayaks through the rigors they would see in all kinds of likely usage scenarios and considered their construction and what we observed during outings.
To mimic many seasons-worth of use in a single paddle season, we used these kayaks as much as possible in as many conditions as we could hunt down. We dragged them across rocky beaches and boulders, threw them in our cars and on the ground, paddled them across submerged logs and rocks and on windy days. We invited rowdy kids to assemble and pack them up. We filled them with gear and dogs of all sizes. Kayaks with a fabric exterior held up better to the abuse of sharp objects both submerged and on land. Those include the Aquaglide, Sevylor, and both AdvancedFrame boats. The rigid, origami Oru is also a champion in this category.
Additionally, we considered the materials used in the construction of each kayak and inspected them for integrity. We compared manufacturer claims of durability with what we observed during testing. We also looked at the repair kits, repair patches, or extra pieces that came with each kayak and evaluated them for helpfulness and effectiveness. Some kayaks we even broke during testing, and subsequently tested the included repair patch or kit (lookin' at you, PackLite). While it might be easy to assume that thicker materials automatically make for a more durable boat, the story isn't so simple. Several models broke in other ways, like the failing valve connection of the Aquaglide and the snapped strap of the Tucktec. While time is the true test, we sure put these kayaks through a LOT in our season of testing.
There are a lot of options on the inflatable and packable kayak market today, and it's no simple feat to find out which is the right choice before you drop hundreds (or more!) of dollars on a rig. Consider the intended use of your future kayak - where you plan to go, how long you hope to be out, what things you'd like to bring with you - to help inform your decision. Research water and weather conditions where you plan to travel and always remember to bring a life jacket for every living creature on your boat!
We can't lie, testing inflatable kayaks was a ton of fun! We hope that the results of our tests and the insights they brought us have helped you to gain insight into the best way to integrate a packable yak into your lifestyle. Now go forth and have as much fun out there as we did - and remember to be safe!
— Maggie Brandenburg