There are many options to choose from when looking for an inflatable kayak. It took us ages to analyse all the criteria and budget to choose our inflatable kayak. Our experience and tips on how to choose an inflatable kayak should save you time.
Understand the categories of inflatable kayaks
You have rigid kayaks and inflatable kayaks. You have sit-on kayaks and sit-in kayaks. But the different inflatable kayaks on the market can also roughly be divided into three unofficial categories.
To choose the best kayak, it’s important to keep in mind these categories. One is not necessarily better than the other: it all depends on how you will use the kayak and what’s important for you (see the list of questions below).
These are the categories we used for all the inflatable kayaks we looked at to help us eliminate options:
- Category 1 – wide and short inflatable kayaks
- Category 2 – low-pressured narrow/profiled inflatable kayaks
- Category 3 – high pressure/drop-stitch kayaks
I’ll refer to these categories later on when addressing the different answers to each question.
Still hesitating between an inflatable kayak and a hardshell kayak? See the pros and cons here.
The most important questions to help you choose your inflatable kayak
1. Where do you want to go with your inflatable kayak?
If you just want to paddle on a lake or in a bay, you can look at cheap options* for inflatable kayaks. Category 1 may be the best choice for you if you don’t plan to go far at all: they’re fun, stable and often very comfortable!
But if you have more adventures in mind, you’ll have to increase your budget. However, it’s not that simple. More expensive often means better, but not necessarily, as different kayaks are suitable for different environments and size requirements. The descriptions of the inflatable kayaks will usually specify the skill level and the ideal environment (lake/rivers, oceans or rapids).
We had already been on a few kayak expeditions when we looked for our inflatable kayak. We knew we’d want to take it for multi-day adventures. Hence, we needed a kayak with enough space for our camping equipment and food. We also like sea kayaking, so we looked for sit-in inflatable kayaks (rather than sit-on) that we could close with a skirt. I also prefer this option to be protected from the sun in summer or stay warm in winter. So category 1 wasn’t for us at all. It easily removed many inflatable kayaks not suitable for touring from our list.
If you want an inflatable kayak to go fishing, you’ll prefer an open deck with a lot of space.
Those who want to go whitewater rafting with their inflatable kayaks will have to look at the expensive category 1 inflatable kayaks (with robust materials like PVC). They are very stable and can turn very easily. It is actually quite difficult to go straight.
2. How many people (or weight) will you carry?
It can be dangerous to overweight an inflatable kayak. So think about the people and the equipment you’ll want to carry when you choose your inflatable kayak. Make sure you’re below the maximum load capacity.
For example, some kayaks are advertised for one or two people, but the maximum weight is 330 lbs/150 kg. It may not fit two adults and a bag!
If you’re a couple, I highly recommend trying a double kayak together before committing to buying one rather than two single kayaks. Not all couples like kayaking in the same boat.
3. Is performance important for you?
Again, if your objective when purchasing an inflatable kayak is to paddle near the beach for just an hour or so, performance may not be that important for you. Category 1 is enough to have fun. You may even prefer how they feel: they’re more flat, so they’re more stable, and they’re softer with more comfortable seats and often easier to get in and out. But they tend to behave a bit like a buoy and are rather hard to maintain in a straight line.
Hence, category 1 inflatable kayaks are for short distances only. If you plan to paddle for hours or on a multi-day trip, you don’t want to get overtired because your vessel isn’t good enough. You’ll want to look at inflatable kayaks with profiled shapes (categories 2 and 3).
Performance is key for us. Longer kayaks have a better glide as they go more straight, so we were set on purchasing a double kayak. Plus, it’s a lot less effort for long trips as one can rest (or take photos!) without slowing down the vessel too much.
Although they often have fins to increase performance, low-pressure kayaks (category 2) are not as good as the more rigid high-pressure drop stitch inflatable kayaks (category 3). However, the low-pressure floor can feel a lot more comfortable when you sit for hours.
Also, even if it wasn’t a deal breaker, we liked the idea of having an adjustable foot brace to improve our paddling performance and dreamt of a rudder to turn easily.
4. How will you travel with your inflatable kayak?
One of the perks of having an inflatable kayak is that it is easy to carry. No need to fix it to the roof of your car or on a trailer. However, some bags for inflatable kayaks are bigger than others, so keep this in mind.
For example, our kayak bag only fits into our car trunk when we put down two back seats, which wouldn’t be ideal for those travelling with a family. Category 1 inflatable kayaks are not rigid, so they tend to be lighter than categories 2 and 3.
You should also consider the weight of the kayak and of the bag. You’ll often have to carry it to the launch area, and it’s also important if you plan to take it on the plane with you. Our kayak bag is quite heavy, but we love that it has wheels rather than a backpack. But some people prefer a backpack if they may wish to take it on rough terrains.
We hesitated between buying two single kayaks or a double kayak. From our experience and for performance, we knew we preferred being together in the same vessel. But it makes a huge difference in the size of the carrying bag.
5. How will you pack and store your inflatable kayak?
If you have plenty of space at home to clean and dry your kayak, this question might not be as important for you as it was for us. We live in a small apartment in the heart of Brisbane City. So packing and storing is always a challenge. It influenced a lot our inflatable kayak choice as we cannot clean and dry it at home.
We opted for a fully drop-stitch kayak* (category 3) very easy to clean and dry with towels in just a few minutes. The material is water-repellent, and thanks to the drop-stitch technology that makes it rigid, there are no folds where the water may stagnate. When we pack it after using it, it’s fully dry, and we won’t unpack it until our next adventure.
None of the kayaks in category 2 were easy to dry. People we know who own a category 2 kayak have to open it again at home to let it dry for days and reduce the risk of mould. These kayaks often come with a second layer of tough fabric around the inflatable chambers to add robustness. This double layer creates hard-to-reach curves and gaps that can make drying interstices almost impossible.
6. Is it available in your country?
Make sure you consider the availability and the shipping costs when you look for inflatable kayaks online. They can add up quickly and make some local options look more affordable.
Also, we waited for longer than I ever expected to get our perfect kayak because it wasn’t available in Australia. They had the one-person version* available but weren’t selling the two-person kayak yet. In hindsight, we should have bought another one to enjoy at least short-distance paddling while waiting for a solution to get the perfect one.
7. What other equipment do you need?
When you compare prices, make sure you include all the equipment you need for your inflatable kayak. You’ll need at least paddles, a pump to inflate your kayak and lifejackets. Some deals come as a bundle, so you want to compare the final price.
When choosing your inflatable kayak and the pump, make sure they are compatible. If you opt for a category 3 inflatable kayak, you will need a high-pressure pump. We recommend a double-action pump for a quicker set-up.
How did you choose your inflatable kayak? Share your experience in the comments below!
The inflatable kayaks that made it to our list (and the one we chose)
We identified a few inflatable kayaks that met our needs: durability, performance, versatility and ease of transport:
- the Advanced Elements AirVolution*
- the Sea Eagle Razorlite*
- the Itiwit Strenfit X500*
We tested the Elite Advanced Elements* when kayaking in Sydney Harbour and had an excellent time. It’s quite handy how it can be set up as a single or double kayak with or without a deck*. Although it is a category 2, purchasing a drop stitch floor is an option to improve performance. We found it very comfortable, but we were worried about the drying part.
So we looked at the Advanced Elements AirVolution* (fully drop stitch, category 3), but it didn’t have a closed deck or foot brace. The wide open cockpit makes it easy to enter in the kayak, but it’s not compatible with a skirt.
Similarly, the Sea Eagle Razorlite* was another strong contender with its enormous capacity (750 lbs/340 kg, including the two paddlers) and its adjustable footrests. We read many positive reviews about the Sea Eagle brand for kayaks. However, we had the same comment as for the Advanced Elements AirVolution*: we weren’t fans of the open deck.
The Itiwit Strenfit X500 was our final choice (see the 1-person model available in Australia*). We could buy the tandem version in Europe. We love having a closed deck for protection. As promised, with the drop stitch technology, it dries in no time. Plus, it has enough storage space for all our camping gear (up to 460 lbs/210 kg capacity, including the two paddlers). It was created by Decathlon, a French company we trust for innovative sports ideas and performance.
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