Looking for the best inflatable kayak? We researched over 40 of the top inflatable and foldable kayaks before testing the best 7 side-by-side for hundreds of on-water hours. For months, we paddled these kayaks across lakes, through waves, and up rivers to learn how versatile they are and what they could handle - and what they couldn't. We brought along friends, dogs, friends' dogs, picnics and mountains of gear, to test the capacity and durability of each boat. We asked kids to set up these boats to see how easy they really could be, and both novice and advanced paddlers to join our expeditions and test the comfort and limits of each boat. We became intimately familiar with all the benefits, pitfalls, and little quirks of each kayak to be able to pass our findings and insights on to you. Whatever your adventurous inner paddler desires, we'll point you toward the right yak for you.
The Best Inflatable Kayaks
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 was our favorite of the bunch! Aside from being able to leave the pump at home, we were 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. With its origami design, the Beach LT is a breeze to set up and take down and a snap to drain of water and clean. With an extra large cockpit and 300-lb weight capacity, we had 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, so you'll likely find yourself sitting in a decent amount of water on your journey. The design of the seat also lacks in comfort and the ability to stay in place as you paddle. And as much as we enjoyed the rigid structure of this foldable kayak, it did make carrying it against the skin a bit uncomfortable. But overall, this kayak is an extremely high-performing kayak, ready to give those hardshell boats a run for their money - 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 strong 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 took a long time to assemble with no less than seven air chambers, five of which inflate by 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 very 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. The higher profile also works against you if 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
Notable for High Capacity Comfort
Aquaglide Columbia XP Tandem XL
The pleasure cruise of the kayaking world, the Aquaglide Columbia XP Tandem XL is an extraordinarily comfortable "tandem" kayak that also delivers a high level of performance to its 2+ crew members. With thick padded seats and sturdy foot braces that are 100% adjustable, just about every paddler can recreate in style and comfort in this boat. It also is rated with a whopping 600lb capacity, so you can bring a third member to your crew - whether a child (or two small children!) or even a furry friend and still have both room and capacity for plenty of gear. This spacious and durable kayak tracks well, turns easily, and is stable enough to withstand quite a bit of excitement from enthusiastic animals and offspring.
As an oversized boat with all the bells and whistles, the Aquaglide Columbia takes some time to set up and get underway. It's also a puzzle to fit all the components back into the surprisingly small drawstring bag, made more difficult by the non-waterproof fabric hull which tends to hold onto every grain of sand it comes into contact with. And when you do get it back into that bag, carrying this 43 lb 3 oz behemoth farther than a close parking spot away is not something to look forward to. But to get the whole family out on the water or take a comfortable overnight adventure, it's hard to beat the space and feel of the Aquaglide.
Read review: Aquaglide Columbia XP Tandem XL
Analysis and Test Results
Throughout three months, we paddled these kayaks incessantly. We voyaged across lakes, paddled along shores, and ventured up and down rivers. We asked not only our experts to test these watercraft to the max, but also called on friends to join us in working on the adventure to help us get a full picture of the best and worst attributes of each kayak for all sizes and skills of paddlers. We took this cumulation of experiences and used them to compare each boat to the others by rating them across five different metrics to present them to you with a clear and concise picture of what each is best suited for. These metric ratings, weighted by importance, give each kayak an easily comparable, overall score of 1-100.
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!
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.
Though typically less expensive than their hardshell counterparts, a packable kayak isn't cheap! Costing hundreds to even thousands of dollars, we reviewed a wide price range of kayaks. In doing so, we found a large range in functionality that didn't necessarily correspond with the price of that particular model. While we never consider the price of a product as a part of the overall score, we recognize that it is an important factor in deciding what kayak you will eventually purchase. So take a moment to consider the following price vs. performance chart below. It ranks how well each kayak scored overall compared to how much it costs. Kayaks with a higher value can be found in the lower right-hand quadrant and include products such as our Best Buy winner, the Sevylor K5 Quikpak. Hover your mouse over or tap the plotted points to reveal which kayak it represents.
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. I.e., a kayak made to take on big waves doesn't automatically score better than a kayak made for flat water, rather each kayak was evaluated as to how well they handled what they were designed to handle. You can see how each kayak compares in this metric by examining the following chart.
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 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 boat 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 both proved to be excellent performers on the water; nearly as easy and responsive as many hardshell kayaks (even better than low-end models). The Aquaglide Columbia XP Tandem XL was a close contender as well.
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 unfortuitous waves and runoff from the paddle itself. The Sea Eagle 330 Inflatable Sport and Aquaglide were the only kayaks that had 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.
How effective is the 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 Aquaglide has the most adjustable placement of seats and the most room in which to change things around to best suit the individual paddler. It 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 (pun intended). 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. A summary of how each boat rated against the others can be seen in the following graphic.
This category was a lot about "the feels" tests 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 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. 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 AdvancedFrame 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. The K5 Quikpak even has a useful storage area behind the seat for holding a dry bag or acting as a cooler. 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 big drag that may discourage you from taking your kayak out every chance you get. For every kayak, we considered both the set up and take down 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 and Sevylor that used every piece or nearly every piece of what you carry to the beach in the assembly of your kayak. The Sevylor's 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 away your kayak 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, 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 and PackLite made 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. Below is a chart of our weight measurements of just each kayak and its storage bag, excluding any paddles or pumps they may have come with.
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 into 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!
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 came 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. The chart below demonstrates our findings, judgments, and reflections.
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 AdvancedFrame. The rigid, origami Oru was 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. 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