How to Choose the Best Inflatable Kayak

How To Choose the Best Inflatable Kayak

Love paddling, but find it a challenge to store and transport a full-size kayak? Good news: You live in the golden age of inflatable kayaks. Today’s boats are stable, reliable, high-performance craft that can handle both flatwater and whitewater. They pack down small for portability, inflate quickly via a manual or electric pump, and are great for every skill level. Of course, there are a few tradeoffs compared to plastic models. Inflatable kayaks are more vulnerable to wind and large waves, are not suited to the biggest and most technical rapids, and are not quite as durable. But these are minor compromises if you need the portability and storability of an inflatable. Here’s how to find the right one for your needs.

Ask Yourself These Questions

There are a lot of choices when it comes to design and materials. Ask yourself a few questions to narrow your search to the best craft for your needs. 

What kind of paddling do I want to do?

The water conditions will greatly affect the type of boat that is right for you. Will you be sticking to flatwater lakes and rivers or tackling whitewater? For the latter, you want a kayak made for handling rapids and rocks. 

How much space do I need?

For longer day trips and overnights, you’ll need room for extra gear. 

How small does it need to be?

If you’re buying an inflatable kayak because of limited storage area, measure the dimensions of the space and make sure you look at boats that match. Same for car space. 

How light does it need to be?

Maybe you’re hoping to pack your kayak to a backcountry lake. Or maybe you just need to lift it onto a high storage shelf. Weight considerations will affect the material and size of your boat.

What’s my budget? 

There’s a wide range of prices depending on size, design, and material. 

Types of Inflatable Kayaks

Start your search by learning about the different types of boats and what they’re best for.  

Recreational Kayak

This is the most common type of inflatable kayak. They’re great for general use like exploring flatwater lakes and rivers. If you’re a new paddler and just want to get out on the water for day trips, this is likely what you want. These are often the most affordable option, but some are made with higher quality, more expensive materials.

Fishing Kayak

Although you could fish from most any inflatable kayak, fishing specific models have features anglers will appreciate. They'll often have a more puncture-resistant material to protect against hooks, as well as rod holders, cup holders, and mounts for devices like sonar.

Whitewater Kayaks

These models are often shorter than other inflatable kayaks (for maneuverability) and are made out of more durable material (to withstand collisions with rocks). Sometimes these boats are even self-bailing so that when water washes in it quickly washes out, much like how larger whitewater rafts work.

Tandem Kayaks

Many recreational models are made in a two-person version (and some fishing and whitewater kayaks come in tandem versions as well). While it is possible to paddle one of these by yourself, it’s more difficult, so it’s best to get a tandem kayak if you’ll be using it mostly with two people, as intended. 

Photo: Kennan Harvey/TandemStock


As with most things, you get what you pay for. Weight and durability are the big variables to watch for. 


PVC is widely used because it’s both cheap and durable. But if you’re willing to spend more, there are lighter and stronger options. 

Pennel Orca

This is used in higher-end models, as it’s exceedingly durable, abrasion-resistant, and also UV resistant. Naturally, it’s more expensive than PVC. It’s also heavier.  


This is a stronger alternative to PVC. It’s also easier to patch and performs better in cold weather. But it’s often heavier than PVC and costs more. 


Inflatable kayaks often have a few individual air chambers, which give the boat shape and rigidity when filled. High-quality inflatable kayaks hold enough air to make the sides of the boat nearly rigid. They won’t squish when you grab them and they may even have enough rigidity to cut through waves and allow you to stand up in the boat in calm water. An easy way to check the quality of a kayak is to see how much pressure its chambers hold. For the best performance, look for pressures over .2 BAR. 


Some higher quality inflatable kayaks use a construction method known as drop stitch. This allows larger air chambers that can hold higher pressure. Result: a boat that’s stiffer and more rigid, so you won’t notice any sag, and it cuts through the water faster and more efficiently. 

Deck Options

Most inflatable kayaks have an open deck where your legs are exposed to the sun and water. That’s going to be comfortable and easy to use for most paddlers, but some models have a closed deck that covers your legs like you would see on a more typical rigid kayak. A few are even equipped to use a spray skirt to insulate the paddler from the cold, wet, and wind. 


You’ll be inflating your boat often, so get a pump you like. It can be manual (hand or foot operated) or electric (plug it into your car). You want a pump that lets you fill each chamber with maximum air pressure. On long trips, carry a manual pump and patch kit with you.  


All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.