Intex Challenger K2 Review
Cons: Not durable, pump inefficient, average portability
Manufacturer: Intex Corp
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The Intex Challenger is a two-person inflatable tandem with a 400 lb capacity. It's made of 30-gauge PVC vinyl and comes with paddles, a pump, and a repair kit.
For how much this kayak resembles an oversized pool floatie, we are rather pleased with how well it handles on the water. It rides low in the water, which makes it more stable to paddle and easier to get in and out - especially if you're hauling yourself back in after taking a refreshing dunk in the middle of the lake. It also helps to not catch the wind so much, giving you a bit of an easier task than you'd have paddling into the wind in a taller vessel. It has a long skeg which helps it track better. Being an 11'5" long boat, we found there to be an adequate amount of space to fit two people and paddle comfortably in unison.
That being said, taller paddlers are a tighter fit than, say, the Girl Scout troop that spent a hilarious evening touring the lake and jumping in and out of boats. We also discovered that forgetting to attach the skeg to the Intex makes it significantly less stable and in fact, one duo actually flipped the kayak multiple times! And while we appreciate that the paddles are included, we found that they are rather flimsy and not of much help pushing off of objects like the shore or an encroaching branch. Additionally, the Intex has no scupper hole, so any water that comes into your craft is going to continue along with you until you get to a point where you can get out and flip the whole thing upside down. Though when all was said and done, we found the Intex to handle decently well for an inflatable kayak.
Though this kayak isn't our first choice for an eight-hour paddle upriver, it's pretty comfortable for short excursions. Riding low in the water with short sides makes it a snap to get in and out of. Because the sides aren't as thick as some of the competition, and don't encroach so far into the sitting space the Challenger feels like a wider boat than it is. The seats are inflatable and velcro and buckle to the boat, allowing you to find a more comfortable position specific to your needs. The paddles included with the Intex are also quite lightweight, which is always a bonus. They also have slightly squishy grips, which makes them a bit more comfortable - and different than most other paddles on the market! And to top it off there's a handy mesh covering the bow of the boat to store some extra items you may want to bring - just don't plan on them staying dry!
While we appreciate the attachedness of the seats, we felt that the backs are a tad short for our taste. This may not be an issue if you're leaning forward to paddle and make good headway, but if you'd rather recline and kick your feet up (maybe on your partner's shoulders if you're the stern passenger), these seats make that more challenging. We also found that as the K2 slowly started to deteriorate over the course of the season (details can be found in the Durability section), the ever-bulging sides that continued to grow became a bit of a paddling hinderance. But barring these few gripes, we were pretty comfortable spending an hour or two paddling around in the Intex Challenger.
Ease of Set Up
As far as inflatable kayaks go, the Intex is pretty easy to set up. It only has two compartments (the floor and the hull/sides) and the seats which are quick. It also comes with a handy little measuring gauge to help you easily tell when the kayak is full enough, rather than requesting a specific PSI with no way to measure it, as is common in many other kayaks. When you're done with your water adventure, it's very easy to dry the Intex with a towel - no having to wait in the sun for hours while some fabric hull dries out slowly. The Intex is made of a single layer of waterproof fabric. The whole Challenger K2 easily fits back into its oversized stuff sack as well, including all its components like the paddles and pump.
As much as we appreciate having a complete set up from the get-go with the Intex Challenger, we quickly discovered how much of a pain the included pump is. It's very small which makes it not only inefficient but also literally painful to use. You either end up bent all the way to the ground to use the pump holding it with a foot, or you get an intense arm workout as you accordion your way to a full kayak. This pump was one of our least favorite things about this model, though finding a different pump to fit the same valves is a cinch, so it was a short-lived complaint. Though the directions for inflating/deflating the Intex are laughable at best, it's truly an easy kayak to figure out even without written instructions. And while we appreciate the ease of the included kayak fullness gauge, it was so small and completely transparent that it was almost instantly lost in the sand. We also are grateful that Intex provided such a large storage sack for this kayak ensemble, as the rolling up process of the kayak tends to block the air valves, trapping air inside and making it challenging to flatten this boat completely. Aside from having a pretty ineffective pump, the Challenger K2 is a relatively easy, straightforward watercraft to inflate.
As a tandem kayak, you're unlikely to ever want to carry the Intex Challenger farther than you have to. Yet despite its size, this kayak retains a reasonable amount of portability. The duffle it comes in has plenty of space not only for its contents (boat, paddles, and pump) but with a bit of forethought can also accommodate a life vest or two! The Intex folds up into a pretty easy shape to store and we feel isn't too much to stuff into the back of a closet for the winter. The paddles are also light, and weighing in at 33 lbs 3 oz total, the Intex is one of the lightest tandem kayaks we tested. And if you're carrying just the boat itself (without paddles or pump), you're only responsible for just over 27 lbs of watercraft. Additionally, if you decide to inflate the boat at your car and walk it down to the water fully set up, it comes with ropes along the bow and stern to quickly pick it up and go.
One of our least favorite ways to carry something heavy and awkwardly shaped is by carrying it entirely on one side of our bodies. With the duffle carry of the Intex, that's exactly what you'll end up doing. Despite being the lightest of the three tandem models we tested, lugging over 30 lbs of anything in a duffel bag with no shoulder strap and thin handles is not our idea of fun. And to top it off, the Intex has a pretty low capacity - just 400lbs allotted for two people and whatever else you'd planned to bring with on your adventure (dogs? food? water? gear?). But if you're sending the kids out to play for an afternoon, this may not matter so much to you. And if you can get them to carry it, even better!
The durability of the Intex Challenger K2 was by far the least impressive thing about it. We had a hard time finding any good aspects of this boat's durability. It survived having a very small, mellow dog riding on the bow, but we're not confident it would have done so well with a more excitable canine. Probably the least inspiring part of this kayak is how literally on the first inflation of the hull a large bulge appeared along one side in the middle, despite our testers carefully using the included gauge to get the proper amount of air. This bulge not only continued to grow through successive uses but also spread to the other side of the kayak, making the entire craft wider and unseemly.
Constructed of only a 30-gauge PVC vinyl, this tandem feels like a short step from your average pool floatie. It does come with repair patches, though these patches are small and self-adhesive (like a sticker) rather than having a separate, stronger glue to hold them on. However, as much as we used this boat, we never actually had to patch it.
Another aspect of this boat that worried us is that there are only two compartments that hold air. This is awesome when you're setting up and taking down the boat, as it saves time and effort. But if your hull popped while you were out on the water, you'd only have the floor (and seats) left to keep you afloat. Those aren't our favorite odds, and we recommend bringing (and preferably wearing) one life jacket for each passenger on any boat, especially this one. At the end of the day, the shockingly low durability of the Intex Challenger K2 is what kept it from being a good combo of performance and price. But if you're just looking for something for a weekend or a season, the Intex still might be in your wheelhouse - just don't expect anything miraculous from it.
The Intex is a pretty decent value, all things considered. For around or under $100 you can get the complete set up to start paddling. Granted, you may find yourself needing to purchase a new one each summer or cutting the season short after a close encounter with a sharp boulder or enthusiastic dog. But compared to renting a kayak every time you drive up to the lake, the Intex is a pretty good solution for what you pay.
Are you a serious kayaker but want to downsize your craft to something you can stuff in a trunk or closet by breaking into the world of inflatable kayaks? The Intex Challenger is not the boat for you. Have you only been kayaking that one time on vacation and always wanted to be able to do it more but didn't want to spend the big bucks on a serious kayak? The Intex may be just your speed. A decently lake-worthy boat, the Intex Challenger K2 is an inexpensive total set up that provides just the right amount of access and fun for the not-so-serious kayaker. Easy to roll up and throw in the van when you take the kids up to the lake and small enough to stuff on a shelf in the garage when you're not using it. It's not the boat to last you a lifetime, but it might be the right boat to help you make the memories of a lifetime!
— Maggie Brandenburg