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Best Inflatable Kayak of 2021

We paddled for miles to test packable and foldable kayaks from Oru, Advanced Elements, Pakayak, Aquaglide and more
Photo: Jason Peters
By Maggie Brandenburg ⋅ Senior Review Editor
Friday September 17, 2021
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Want a kayak but have limited space? We researched 90+ foldable, packable, and inflatable kayaks and chose the best 14 to put to the test during hundreds of hours on the water. We spent months paddling across lakes, over waves, and down rivers to push their limits. With the aid of friends, dogs, snacks, and kiddos, we thoroughly explored the capacity and comfort of each model. We enlisted the help of novice and expert paddlers to see how easy each boat was to set up, handle on the water, and pack back into the trunk. No matter what kind of paddler you are, we've found the perfect inflatable — or foldable — kayak for your aquatic adventures.

Related: Best Kayaks

Top 14 Product Ratings

Displaying 1 - 5 of 14
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Awards Editors' Choice Award Best Buy Award Top Pick Award Top Pick Award  
Price $1,199 List$539.00 at REI
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$1,895 List$699.00 at Amazon
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$600.14 at Amazon
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Overall Score Sort Icon
84
73
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71
67
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Pros No inflation required, lightweight, very durable, stable, fast, tracks well, easy set up and clean upHandles well, high durability, fast, stable, fabric is water resistantGreat tracking and handling, easy to assemble, dry storage on boardHandles and tracks well, very durable, helpful features, option for single or tandem paddlingGood storage, stable, easy to dry
Cons Expensive, seat cushion thin, rigid pack makes for an awkward carryHeavy, floor difficult to inflate, hard to drainExceptionally heavy, unimpressive case portability, too unstable for many paddlersHeavy, no paddles or pump included, expensiveMismatched valves, catches wind, bag isn't great
Bottom Line This lightweight and foldable kayak has performance closer to that of a hardshell and is a joy to paddleWith excellent handling, a long lifespan, and great comfort, this kayak will go the distanceA nesting-style sea kayak that paddles through big waves while taking up less room in the closetRather heavy but a great performance for a two-person model that can also be used soloA stable boat with solid storage that's easy to paddle and easy to pack away
Rating Categories Oru Beach LT Advanced Elements A... Pakayak Bluefin 142 Advanced Elements A... Aquaglide Navarro 110
Handling (25%)
9.0
9.0
8.0
9.0
7.0
Comfort (25%)
8.0
8.0
8.0
8.0
8.0
Ease Of Set Up (20%)
9.0
5.0
8.0
6.0
6.0
Portability (20%)
7.0
6.0
4.0
4.0
5.0
Durability (10%)
9.0
8.0
8.0
8.0
7.0
Specs Oru Beach LT Advanced Elements A... Pakayak Bluefin 142 Advanced Elements A... Aquaglide Navarro 110
Measured Weight (boat and storage bag only) 26.1 lb 33.25 lb 70.2 lb 55.2 lb 32.0 lb
Capacity Single; 300 lbs Single; 300 lbs Single; 300 lbs Tandem; 550 lbs Single; 250 lb
Kayak Size (length x width) 12' 3" x 2' 6" 10' 3" x 2' 9" 14' 2" x 2' 15' x 2' 8" 11' 5" x 2' 11"
Packed Size (length x width x height) 32" x 28.5" x 11" 33" x 16" x 15" 22" x 14" 45" 35" x 21" x 12" 22" x 14" x 20"
Included Accessories Repair pieces Repair kit Towel Repair kit Quick-release fin and repair kit
Material/Construction Double-layered polypropelene Aluminum ribs in bow & stern, PVC-coated polyester Plastic resin, stainless steel clamps Aluminum ribs in bow & stern, PVC tarpaulin, 3 layers rip-stop material 600D hex ripstop polyester (fabric top)
Features Adjustable foot brace and backrest, bulkheads, carry handles Adjustable backrest, bungees, pressure relief valve in floor, skeg Adjustable foot pegs and backrest, separate bulkhead storage, carry handles Paddle keepers, seatback pockets, bungee straps, D-ring attachment points, converts to solo boat Paddle keepers, foot brace, adjustable backrest, skeg, drainage hole, carry handles, bungee cord


Best Overall Kayak, No Inflating Required


Oru Beach LT


84
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Handling 9
  • Comfort 8
  • Ease of Set Up 9
  • Portability 7
  • Durability 9
Dimensions (L x W): 12'3" x 2'5.5" | Weight (boat and bag): 26.1 lbs
No need for a pump
Durable
Top-notch handling
Easy assembly/disassembly
Uncomfortable and rigid carry
Thin seat
Expensive

"Wait a second," you may be thinking, "why is a non-inflatable kayak winning the best inflatable kayak award?" Well, as we test inflatable kayaks, we realize that the number one reason to purchase a boat of this style is because of its ability to be packed away and more easily thrown in a trunk and stored in a closet. While most of the kayaks we tested are inflatable, a few notable non-inflatable, but still very packable boats, also made our list. The Oru Beach LT is one. Even after several years of testing, storing, toting, and paddling, this foldable plastic watercraft remains our favorite of the bunch. Once you've gotten used to the process of folding and unfolding this boat, it's a cinch to get out on the water, and you don't need a pump. It's longer than most others, providing excellent traction, while its plastic hull limits drag and helps you paddle as quickly as you desire. The large, open cockpit is wide enough to please both new paddlers and those who've been enjoying kayaking for years. We had no problems hauling gear, 80+ pound dogs, and kids in this big boat. Though it's picked up a few cosmetic scratches, this craft is still our all-time favorite option for casual flatwater paddling.

If you're hoping to crash through some waves in your kayak, the very open design of the Beach will let waves lap inside. The seat design is also rather minimal, though not uncomfortable, and the plastic exterior can cause some rubbing while carrying against bare skin if you're not careful. We like that it's easy to dump excess water as you pull this boat apart after your adventure, and the nature of the non-porous material means it dries very fast. With this model, you won't have to worry about waiting hours for your boat to dry or cleaning mold out of the crevices later because you didn't wait long enough. While the Beach LT Is no longer alone in this review as a hybrid hardshell kayak that packs down like an inflatable, it's still our favorite boat for pretty much every casual paddling mission.

Read review: Oru Beach LT

Best Bang for Your Buck


Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame


73
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Handling 9
  • Comfort 8
  • Ease of Set Up 5
  • Portability 6
  • Durability 8
Dimensions (L x W): 10'3" x 2'9" | Weight (boat and bag): 33.25 lbs
Durable
Excellent handling
Stable and swift
Water-resistant fabric
Heavy and carry bag is small
Floor not fun to inflate
Difficult to drain

It's a rare occurrence that one of the top-performing models in any category is also one of the highest value items for budget-conscious shoppers, but that's exactly what the Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame brings to the table. This metal-stiffened craft is our favorite inflatable kayak and it's available for a comparatively reasonable price. The aluminum-reinforced keel creates a V shape that tracks well and cuts through the water far better than the flat bottom of most other models. The bottom of the AdvancedFrame is a water-resistant plastic-like material that lowers drag and helps you glide through the water faster and with less effort. In terms of the actual on-water paddling experience, this boat tracks better, goes faster, and catches less wind than any other inflatable option we tested. It has a thick seat that's comfortable, adjustable, and can handily accommodate some extra gear, a medium dog, or a small child along for the ride. And while most other inflatables employ a construction that inflates the left and right sides separately — leaving you stranded if one side happens to get a hole — the AdvancedFrame has inner and outer chambers instead, ensuring you can make it back to shore even if the outer chamber pops.

However, this boat is challenging to put away. Unlike many others with bottom drainage ports for drying out, the AdvancedFrame does not. Because of this, it holds onto water for a long time and is difficult to take apart and dry out before packing away, more easily accumulating mold in storage. It also has seven air chambers to inflate, five of which require a special adapter or lung power. Additionally, the bag is a little smaller than we'd like, making it challenging to fit this boat and all its components back inside unless you fold the boat just right. The AdvacedFrame is also as heavy as many tandem models we tested. But if you're willing to invest the extra time and energy into drying and storing this boat, it's absolutely our favorite inflatable model for flat water and even some waves — and well worth its reasonable price tag.

Read review: Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame

Excellent Value for a Tandem


Intex Excursion Pro K2


63
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Handling 7
  • Comfort 6
  • Ease of Set Up 7
  • Portability 6
  • Durability 4
Dimensions (L x W): 12'6" x 2'8" | Weight (boat and bag): 34.6 lbs
Everything included
Spacious
Can convert to a solo boat
Doesn't soak up water
Small paddles
Flimsy attachments
Less durable materials

If you're ready to get out on the water with a friend or by yourself but don't want to spend a fortune, the Intex Excursion Pro K2 is our favorite budget-friendly option. It includes everything you need to start paddling, minus the PFDs — paddles, a pump, a repair kit, and all kinds of accessories. Though we weren't expecting much in the way of on-water performance from this all-inclusive bundle, we're happy to report we were wrong. This long inflatable kayak is surprisingly spacious for two paddlers and tracks well when gliding through the water. Without any fabric to soak up water and a drainage hole on one end, drying this boat and putting it away into its oversized bag with all its many components is easier than most.

Feeling lighter in the water than many other tandems, the Excursion Pro K2 cuts weight by using thinner materials. Though we never popped it or sprung a leak during our testing, compared to the many other very thick-bottomed models we tested, this one gave us pause before paddling it over submerged rocks or sticks. It does come with a standard repair kit, though, just in case. We love that it also comes with the pump and paddles, though they're both smaller than is ideal. It takes more time to set up using the small dual-action pump, and the paddles come to a pointed end that's less effective when paddling — especially if you find yourself battling wind or current. But for an all-inclusive package that you can paddle with your friend, your kids, your dog, or even by yourself, it's tough to beat the Excursion Pro K2.

Read Review: Intex Excursion Pro K2

Best for Experienced Paddlers and Big Waves


Pakayak Bluefin 142


72
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Handling 8
  • Comfort 8
  • Ease of Set Up 8
  • Portability 4
  • Durability 8
Dimensions (L x W): 14'2" x 2' | Weight (boat and bag): 70.2 lbs
Tracks like a dream
Handles very well
Easy to put together
True dry storage
Extremely heavy
Case isn't well designed
Too tippy for novice and intermediate paddlers

The Pakayak Bluefin 142 is a long sea kayak, masquerading in a compact bag that fits in your trunk or closet. This hardshell boat snaps together with stainless steel clamps over watertight seals to become a full-length 14'2" sea kayak. In the water, the length tracks exceptionally well, and the hard exterior glides easily through the water. Adjustable footpegs allow you to properly brace yourself in ways that no inflatable boat can offer. Sealed dry storage areas in both the bow and stern of the boat provide plenty of storage space for gear that won't get wet as you slice through the waves. The cockpit can also accommodate a spray skirt for intense paddling missions, and the tall front easily rolls waves off to the sides, keeping the cockpit fairly dry.

The Bluefin is not without its faults, though. While our expert paddlers love the performance of this watercraft to cut through serious waves on the lake or ocean, intermediate paddlers less experienced with the pitch and roll of big waves frequently fell out of this narrow boat. It's designed to be able to roll but has low sides that can work against you when you find yourself parallel with the waves. It's also extremely heavy, affecting both your ability to control its pitch with your hips and how quickly you fatigue-- this is the heaviest boat we tested, by far, at just over 70 pounds. And though its case has both wheels and backpack straps, we despised taking it for long distances or over rough terrain. The wheels are tiny and don't handle well over bumps or through sand, and the backpack straps are practically useless, as there's only a thin layer of padding between your spine and this hard-shelled boat. We hope this bag gets improved in later iterations. But for on-water paddling performance that's on par with a regular sea kayak, the Pakayak Bluefin 142 is fantastic.

Read Review: Pakayak Bluefin 142

Best Tandem Kayak


Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame Convertible Tandem


71
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Handling 9
  • Comfort 8
  • Ease of Set Up 6
  • Portability 4
  • Durability 8
Dimensions (L x W): 15' x 2'8" | Weight (boat and bag): 55.2 lbs
Best handling of all tandem models
Durable
Useful features
Can paddle as a tandem or single boat
Heavy
Difficult to drain and dry

Combining the impressive durability and handling prowess of the AdvancedFrame series, this craft can be paddled with a friend or on your own and is our top choice for a tandem vessel. As a very long boat with integrated tracking fins and a slick PVC tarpaulin hull, this kayak 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. We also felt confident gliding over submerged sticks and underwater rocks thanks to this well-designed boat's impressive construction and durable materials.

This impressive vessel comes at a cost to portability, though. The AdvancedFrame Convertible weighs over 50 pounds, 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. This boat's design also lacks a drain but leaves plenty of spaces for water to hide, making it challenging to dry entirely before storing it again. And like all the AE yaks we tested, this one doesn't come with any paddles or a pump. Yet with useful features, a fairly simple setup, and the best on-water performance of any tandem we tested, we prefer this model for every excursion with a co-captain.

Read review: Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame Convertible Tandem

Best for Backcountry Paddling


Advanced Elements PackLite


55
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Handling 4
  • Comfort 4
  • Ease of Set Up 7
  • Portability 9
  • Durability 3
Dimensions (L x W): 7'6" x 2'11" | Weight (boat and bag): 5.25 lbs
Ridiculously portable
Extremely maneuverable
Quick assembly
Easy to rip
Pump and paddle not included in weight

The absurd portability of this little 5.25-pound kayak makes the Advanced Elements PackLite an easy choice if you want to float miles away from other fooks, deep in the woods, or in another country. We love that it can be added to a backpack or suitcase and provide access to lakes and streams we would otherwise never have dreamed of being able to paddle. With a quick setup process and simple cleaning, the PackLite is the ideal travel companion. We also appreciate the excellent quality repair kit and directions, as you never know what may happen when you're really "out there."

While the PackLite is highly portable, it lacks in areas of its performance and comfort. Not the most luxurious kayak to paddle, 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. The material is quite thin to keep it lightweight, and during our testing, it tore readily on a rough dock — but the patch was easy to place and held up impressively well. And don't forget that while this boat is very small and light, you'll still need a paddle and pump in order to use it — and those aren't factored into the weight you see above. That said, if what you want is to paddle in more remote destinations, the PackLite can help you achieve this.

Read review: Advanced Elements PackLite

Compare Products

select up to 5 products to compare
Score Product Price Our Take
84
$1,199
Editors' Choice Award
Though not inflatable, this foldable kayak is an impressive performer and proven crowd-pleaser
73
$600
Best Buy Award
This yak is among our favorites and it's built to last and perform at a high level
72
$1,895
Top Pick Award
A nested sea kayak that handles like a dream through the waves and wastes less storage space than a traditional model
71
$800
Top Pick Award
A heavy but excellent kayak that tracks well and can be used solo or tandem
67
$650
A steady boat with good storage that's pleasant to paddle and simple to put away
63
$370
Best Buy Award
All-inclusive paddle package for you and a partner or a solo adventure too
62
$600
A laidback and well-priced tandem model prioritizing comfort over speed
60
$349
If you want a portable kayak that’s enjoyable to use and won’t drain your savings, look no further!
55
$330
Top Pick Award
Take this lightweight, packable kayak just about anywhere you can imagine for a unique experience
54
$450
A high-riding kayak that turns on a dime and is built for dodging obstacles and riding rapids
50
$729
A short kayak with everything included so you can get out on the water for a casual adventure
49
$350
Portable and foldable, though with some set-up challenges and versatility restrictions
47
$255
An incredibly cheap tandem kayak, but not a bad way to get on the water
46
$299
A relatively inexpensive tandem ‘yak to enjoy some lake time with a friend

Testing kayaks with our friends - both human and canine.
Testing kayaks with our friends - both human and canine.
Photo: Jason Peters

Why You Should Trust Us


Our expert panel of testers is lead by Senior Review Editor, Maggie Brandenburg, a longtime backcountry adventure guide and avid paddler. Maggie has been paddling for almost as long as she can remember, completing an intensive skills course in a canoe before branching out to kayaks and rafts. She has spent over 15 years guiding backcountry adventures and on-water trips. From quiet paddling through secret channels in the Everglades and Caribbean to ripping down rapids in South Africa and the American West, she's paddled thousands of miles on rivers, across lakes, and through oceans, putting dozens of different kayaks (and canoes and rafts) through their paces. Maggie has been testing and reviewing on-water and land-based gear for GearLab since 2017.

This is the fourth year we've been testing packable and inflatable kayaks, putting them through the wringer in some of the most iconic rivers and pristine alpine lakes in and around the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Maggie assembled a ragtag team of friends and family, all eager to get out on the water to help test these boats. Some are fellow expert paddlers with years of experience, many are novices just excited about it all, and quite a few had never been in a kayak before this. Collectively, this crew spent hundreds of hours splashing, paddling, and having aquatic adventures, swapping kayaks, and getting to know which are best for what. From toting gear to carting kids and several delighted dogs, we pushed these crafts to their limits, quite literally getting to know each one inside and out.

Related: How We Tested Inflatable Kayaks

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

Analysis and Test Results


To formulate a comprehensive picture of each kayak's performance, we crafted our tests to encompass five mutually exclusive metrics. We combined tests collecting hard data like measurements, weights, and assembly processes with subjective tests assessing things like the comfort of boats for different types and sizes of paddlers. By incorporating a wide range of skill levels and body types in our testing and using each model across a range of water and weather conditions, we gained important insights into each boat's benefits, challenges, and best uses. To explore a detailed analysis of how each kayak compares to the others we tested, read on.

Related: Buying Advice for Inflatable Kayaks

Safety First
The US Coast Guard requires all paddlers under the age of 13 to 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 to also be on board — and remember, they are only effective when worn. Additional local regulations may vary, so check with your nearest agency before you head out — and always tell someone reliable where you're going and when you'll be back.

Ready to get out on the water? We tested the best inflatable and...
Ready to get out on the water? We tested the best inflatable and packable kayaks to help you find the perfect one to outfit your summer.
Photo: Jason Peters

Value


As packable and inflatable kayaks continue to grow in popularity, the number of available options continues to grow as well. There's a huge variety in the amount of money you can spend on one of these boats. While, in general, there's a trend of more expensive boats performing better, it's definitely not a perfect correlation. Additionally, some boats are sold as a complete package (minus the PFD), including the pump and paddle(s) you'll need to get set up and out on the water.


Our favorite inflatable kayak, the Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame is one of the more reasonably priced options we tested, giving it one of the highest values of any boat in this review. If you want an all-inclusive package and the ability to paddle alone or with another person, the Intex Excursion Pro K2 and Sevylor K5 Quikpak are both excellent options. These low-cost kayaks performed better than we expected, each includes a pump and paddle (the Quikpak also has a spray skirt), and both retail for a very fair price. While the Oru Beach LT is one of the more expensive models we tested, it remains the favorite among all our testers, from experts to beginners, for its impressive on-water performance, ease of use, and relatively low weight. If you want to get out on the water frequently and without hassle, this boat is worth the extra investment.

Don&#039;t let cost stop you from enjoying the lake. There are...
Don't let cost stop you from enjoying the lake. There are budget-friendly options for every paddler.
Photo: Jason Peters

Handling


One of the most important metrics in this review is how each kayak handles on the water. Not all kayaks are made to take on the same types of water, so we tested each one with the purpose for which it was created in mind. We noted three primary attributes when assessing the handling ability of these kayaks, which we'll break down below.


How Easy Is It to Control?


How well does the boat track (hold its course when moving) across flatwater? 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 hundreds of hours of paddling, the Oru Beach LT, Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame, and Advanced Elements 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 and track exceptionally well due to their longer lengths and hardened frames. The Pakayak Bluefin 142 is also a superb contender when it comes to tracking, minimizing drag, and maneuvering. It loses some points for being narrow and easily tipped by less experienced paddlers, as well as being exceptionally heavy, both on land and in the water. Impressively, the Tucktec Foldable Kayak manages to combine the maneuverability of a shallow boat with the tracking gained from its good-sized fin on the back. And with the rudder removed, the shortness and flat bottom of Tucktec help it to move like a playboat, allowing you to turn on a dime. The similarly short AE PackLite is also maneuverable, though its lack of a rigid shell slows it down a bit compared to the Tucktec.

The Oru handles much like a hardshell kayak with its rigid...
The Oru handles much like a hardshell kayak with its rigid structure. Added length and intuitive shaping along the bottom lend stability and speed.
Photo: Jenna Ammerman

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 is one of the few kayaks that has an on-water drainage system. The Pakayak Bluefin 142 has a tall cockpit front that breaks through oncoming waves, sending water off to the sides rather than into the boat. 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.

The Pakayak Bluefin 142 has a hard shell and a tall cockpit front to...
The Pakayak Bluefin 142 has a hard shell and a tall cockpit front to keep you slicing through the waves rather than taking them on.
Photo: Jason Peters

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 a better vantage? Is it possible to brace your feet for a proper kayaking stroke? If a paddle is included with the kayak, is it effective for propulsion and useful when pushing off objects? The Tucktec boasts one of the highest seats, giving you an advantage while paddling. The Bluefin 142 is one of the narrowest we tested, helping you make a more powerful vertical stroke. The AE Convertible Tandem and Intex Excursion Pro K2 both have impressively adjustable seat placement and plenty of room to keep you from knocking into your partner's paddle. The Oru Beach, Aquaglide Navarro 110 and Aquaglide Chinook 120, and Intex Excursion Pro K2 all have adjustable foot braces that will help you stabilize your stroke. The Bluefin has the best foot braces, though, with individually adjustable pegs and a cockpit with padding that wraps over the top of your knees to offer serious stability options.

The aluminum-reinforced keel on both Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame...
The aluminum-reinforced keel on both Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame models we tested make them better than pretty much every other inflatable when it comes to tracking and slicing through the water.
Photo: Jason Peters

Comfort


Comfort matters a lot for a piece of gear that can take you to far-off places. If your boat is uncomfortable, it can be a big pain in the bum — literally. We assigned this metric the same weight as the handling metric because these two, more than any other metrics, give you the best picture of how a kayak will perform 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 our handling tests.


This category is a lot about "the feels" and relied 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, collecting feedback about each individual's personal experience. 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 our kayaks and shared their feedback.

The Aquaglide Chinook 120 is one of several boats we tested that...
The Aquaglide Chinook 120 is one of several boats we tested that comes with padded seats rather than inflatable cushions.
Photo: Jason Peters

Our collection of testers considered how comfortable the seats of each kayak were to sit in both initially and after minutes or hours in the cockpit. The thickly padded seats of both Advanced Elements and Aquaglide boats, as well as the Tucktec, are a feature we noted and appreciated. We also gauged how easy each boat was to get in and out of from a beach, a dock, or the water. While getting back in your boat in the middle of a lake is never easy, the Tucktec proved impossible. Its shallow sides meant that every time we tried to climb in, it flooded with water and quickly became submerged. Entering over the bow or stern didn't help, as the ends tended to come unclipped, letting the whole thing fall apart in the water. The Pakayak Bluefin 142 also proved almost impossible to get back into from the water. Its rounded shape rolls easily no matter how we tried to mount it, and the low sides of the cockpit quickly flooded with water, making this 70-pound kayak even harder to get back to shore.

The Aquaglide Navarro has a thickly padded seat that&#039;s very...
The Aquaglide Navarro has a thickly padded seat that's very comfortable.
Photo: Maggie Brandenburg

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 boat's bow to help hold gear out of the way. Using either the AE Convertible Tandem or Intex Excursion Pro K2 as a single paddler leaves TONS of room for all kinds of gear (while also maintaining maneuverability on the water), and even as tandems, both these boats have plenty of room for dogs and other extra items.

The Intex Excursion Pro K2 has a surprising surplus of space, making...
The Intex Excursion Pro K2 has a surprising surplus of space, making it easy to paddle with a partner without crashing paddles.
Photo: Jason Peters

The Pakayak Bluefin is the only model we tested to have actual dry storage options enclosed in the bulkheads of both the bow and stern — though they are exceedingly difficult to access while paddling. The Oru Beach has plenty of room for your dog and/or gear in the cockpit, as long as what you bring can get wet. The Aquaglide Navarro 110 has a zippered access hatch to allow for easy storage in the rear of the boat, though it's not a waterproof compartment.

The Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame is another top performer in...
The Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame is another top performer in comfort, with its fully adjustable, thickly cushioned seat and cockpit designed to accommodate a variety of body shapes and sizes and paddling styles.
Photo: Kats Kitagawa

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 even going out. 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 the 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 Beach LT initially felt very confusing to put together, it quickly became the fastest and easiest boat to assemble. The Pakayak Bluefin is similar in this regard. Stainless steel clamps hold the six segments together, and a towel is included to help keep the seals sand-free. It's not quite as easy as the Oru Beach, though, as the metal clamps require a fair bit of muscling and perfect alignment to clip shut. And if you're setting up in the wind, it's a little too easy for the upright halves of the Bluefin to topple over.

With a little practice, the Oru easily goes up in under five minutes!
With a little practice, the Oru easily goes up in under five minutes!
Photo: Jenna Ammerman

We also enjoyed the efficiency of models like the Oru Beach, Pakayak Bluefin, Sevylor K5 Quikpak, and Tucktec. These boats use every piece — or nearly every piece — of what you carry to the beach in their assembly. The crown for this is shared between the origami-style Tucktec and backpack-style K5 Quikpak, both of which use literally every piece — including their methods of carrying — to become the boat. However, they're not without some unique flaws — the Quikpak's folded seat loses its comfort when used for hours on end, as you start to feel the buckles and straps folded into it. It also doesn't somehow incorporate the pump into the boat, so you are left with just that one thing. As for the Tucktec, putting this stiff, sharp-edged plastic boat together — and having it stay together — is not at all like the folding Beach, and proved to be much more difficult than we had expected. The Beach is far easier to assemble than the Tucktec, leaving only the strap behind. The Bluefin leaves behind its assembly towel and large carry bag, both of which can be securely sealed into one of the dry bulkheads while you paddle.

We prefer Boston valves for their ease of use, simplicity, and...
We prefer Boston valves for their ease of use, simplicity, and ability to keep sand out of the insides of our kayaks.
Photo: Jason Peters

Among valved models, we prefer those with quick-release valves (over Boston valves), as they are the simplest to deflate with just a twist of the centerpiece. All three Advanced Elements kayaks we tested use these superior, simple valves, as does the floor of the Aquaglide Navarro 110. Most other models use Boston valves that employ a two-cap system. Twist off the outer cap to access a one-way valve for inflation. Twist off the lower cap to remove the valve and release the air within. Though this method works, it has notable flaws. Two caps mean two leashes for caps which often get in the way of tightening them when you go to inflate again. Some forgo the second leash, meaning you can actually lose your valve at the beach and not even know it until you try to take your boat out again. When open for deflation, these gaping holes also easily let sand and other debris into the air chamber of your boat if you're not careful.

Literally every piece of the Tucktec&#039;s portable package becomes the...
Literally every piece of the Tucktec's portable package becomes the boat. Not a single strap is left out to be forgotten on the beach.
Photo: Maggie Brandenburg

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 it was to drain and dry each boat. Open concept kayaks like the Oru Beach, Tucktec, Intex Challenger, and Sea Eagle are the easiest to drain by simply tipping them upside down on the shore. Others, like the Navarro 110, Chinook 120, Intex Excursion Pro K2, and Airhead Montana have drainage holes on the bottom that really come in handy. And considering most launching areas aren't the most debris-free zones, we also considered how easy each boat was to clean up before tossing in the back of the car or closet. Kayaks with totally waterproof, simple exteriors like the Airhead Montana, Oru Beach, Tucktec, Intex Excursion Pro, Pakayak Bluefin, and AE PackLite make for easier subjects to wipe free of dirt and sand.

A completely waterproof exterior mades the PackLite easy to wipe...
A completely waterproof exterior mades the PackLite easy to wipe clean before putting it away.
Photo: Jenna Ammerman

Portability


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 what bodies of water are accessible to you.


But weight doesn't tell the whole story, or else the PackLite would be the only winner here. The storage/carry bag's design plays a large part in each kayak's portability as well. The Sevylor K5 Quikpak becomes a backpack, making it much easier to cart to and from the car, even on longer beach paths. On the other hand, boats that come in large duffel bags equipped only with small over-the-top handles are far less pleasant to carry, regardless of much or little they weigh. Over-the-shoulder options are slightly better, and both the Oru and the Sea Eagle feature this messenger-style of carrying.

The biggest perk of the PackLite is extreme portability.
The biggest perk of the PackLite is extreme portability.
Photo: Maggie Brandenburg

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 carry strap was extremely rough and scratchy on bare skin. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the wheels and backpack straps on the Bluefin bag had us thinking porting this boat around would be easy. Unfortunately, it is a whopping 70-pounds, and the two tiny wheels on the bag don't do well over rough surfaces, beach path debris, or any sort of sand. The backpack straps are next to useless on this behemoth package, as there exists just the barest hint of padding between your spine and the hard plastic body of the kayak.

The Oru Beach is made of lightweight plastic that folds into a...
The Oru Beach is made of lightweight plastic that folds into a perfect suitcase, making it easier to carry than many other, heavier, more awkward packed boats we tested.
Photo: Jason Peters

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 and made to fit in the haul bag. Those inclusive kayaking kits include the Intex Challenger K2, Intex Excursion Pro K2, Sea Eagle, Sevylor K5 Quikpak, and the Sevylor Madison.

The Intex Excursion Pro K2 not only comes with the pump and paddles...
The Intex Excursion Pro K2 not only comes with the pump and paddles but also includes extra accessories like this dual-purpose GoPro/cell phone mount.
Photo: Jason Peters

As a part of this metric, we also considered how easy each kayak is to carry when already set up, as many paddlers may want to assemble their rig next to the car and leave superfluous equipment behind. The AE Convertible Tandem has sturdy handles at the bow and stern that facilitate sharing the weight more effectively with your paddle partner than its duffel bag ever could. The Oru Beach has conveniently placed hand cut-outs inside the cockpit to provide an easier single-person carry. The Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame and Aquaglide Navarro 110 are both rather easy to carry one-handed down the beach path as well, though each weighing over 30 pounds means you make need some breaks on a particularly long path.

Sometimes it&#039;s easier to assemble your boat at the car and then use...
Sometimes it's easier to assemble your boat at the car and then use the handles to cart it down to the beach.
Photo: Maggie Brandenburg

Durability


To assess durability across months of use, we put these kayaks through the rigors they would see in all kinds of typical-use scenarios. We considered their construction and what we observed during outings. We've been paddling a few of these boats for years now, noting any issues that arise and areas where they continue to impress.


We used these kayaks as much as possible in as many conditions as we could muster. 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 and filled them with gear and dogs of all sizes. We found that kayaks with a fabric exterior held up better to the abuse of sharp objects, both when submerged and when on land. Those include both the Sevylor Madison and K5 Quikpak, both Aquaglide models, and both AE AdvancedFrame boats. The rigid, origami Oru Beach LT and nesting doll-style Pakayak Bluefin 142 are clear champions in this category as well.

Fabric covers and thick plastic-y bottoms characterize a bunch of...
Fabric covers and thick plastic-y bottoms characterize a bunch of the inflatable models we tested and proved to be quite durable.
Photo: Jason Peters

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.

Lasting Through the Years
Our lead tester has been using the Oru Beach LT regularly for over four years now, taking it on road trips and getting out on the water whenever she can, and has a durability update on this much-loved watercraft. The boat itself has held up phenomenally — over rocks, full of gear, and through innumerable folds on sandy shores. However, one small piece has gone missing. The pole that holds the seatback in place has a special cap on either end that secures it to the boat's sides. Unfortunately, one of these small caps has managed to pop out of place and disappeared during an adventure. We're happy to report that Oru happily replaced this section, free of charge, and the new pole has yet to come apart.

We even broke some kayaks during testing and subsequently tested the included repair patch 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 snapped strap of the Tucktec. While time is the true test, we still put these kayaks through a LOT during our seasons of testing.

After years of use, the Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame is just as...
After years of use, the Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame is just as good as the day we first bought it, with added features that give us confidence in its durability and safety.
Photo: Jason Peters

While most of these boats did not pop, tear, or develop leaks during our testing, we noticed an important divide in the inflatable models. Most inflatables we tested are comprised of a left air chamber, a right air chamber, and a floor air chamber. If you were to pop the left or right side, the half-inflated boat would be extremely difficult to get back to shore. On the other hand, the Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame models we tested — both the single and convertible tandem — inflate an inner chamber that goes around the entire perimeter, then an outer chamber surrounding that. This design ensures that if you somehow manage to pop the outer chamber of air, the inner chamber still gives enough structure to the boat for you to paddle it to a safe landing. It's hard to put a price on that kind of peace of mind.

The rigidity of the Beach LT, while still remaining relatively...
The rigidity of the Beach LT, while still remaining relatively flexible, makes this one durable boat! And with Oru's 20,000 fold guarantee, you'll be paddling for a long time.
Photo: Jenna Ammerman

Conclusion


There are many options on the packable and inflatable kayak market today, and it's no simple feat to narrow it down to the right choice before you drop hundreds of dollars (or more) 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. Be sure to research the 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 is a ton of fun. We hope that our results help you 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.

Enjoy life on the water in your new kayak.
Enjoy life on the water in your new kayak.
Photo: Jason Peters

Maggie Brandenburg