Want a kayak but have limited space? We researched 90+ foldable, packable, and inflatable kayaks and chose the best 13 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
Best Inflatable Kayak of 2021
|Price||$314.98 at Amazon||Check Price at REI|
Compare at 2 sellers
|$450 List||$350 List||$199.28 at Amazon|
|Pros||Complete package, doesn't soak up water, spacious, can paddle solo also||Durable design, casual comfort, good value||Very maneuverable, easy to set up, dries quickly||Lightweight, tracks and handles well, every piece becomes the boat, easy take down, liftable tracking fin||Very inexpensive, everything included, low and stable|
|Cons||Small paddle blades, unimpressive attachments, materials less durable||Not fast, difficult to dry, bag isn't great||Poor tracking, limited storage, unimpressive features||Difficult to fold when cold, very low probability of re-entering from the water, carry strap is rough, calm water only||Not durable, pump is inefficient, average portability|
|Bottom Line||Everything you need to get out on the water with a friend or by yourself for a great price||A casual tandem at a competitive price that's built for comfort rather than speed,||A high-sitting maneuverable kayak made for dodging obstacles and turning on a dime||A folding, portable option that's not the easiest to set up and doesn't handle rough waters gracefully||What it lacks in finesse and durability it makes up for with a shockingly low price tag and decent handling|
|Rating Categories||Intex Excursion Pro K2||Aquaglide Chinook 120||Airhead Montana||Tucktec Foldable Kayak||Intex Challenger K2|
|Ease Of Set Up (20%)|
|Specs||Intex Excursion Pro K2||Aquaglide Chinook 120||Airhead Montana||Tucktec Foldable Kayak||Intex Challenger K2|
|Measured Weight (boat and storage bag only)||34.6 lb||37.6 lb||32.0 lb||25.0 lb||27.5 lb|
|Capacity||Tandem; 400 lbs||Tandem; 550 lbs||Single; 300 lb||Single; 350 lbs||Tandem; 400 lbs|
|Kayak Size (length x width)||12' 6" x 2' 8"||12' 1" x 3' 2"||9' 2" x 2' 11"||9' 6" x 2' 7"||11' 5" x 2' 11"|
|Packed Size (length x width x height)||26" x 19" x 19"||26" x 14" x 24"||28" x 19" x 16"||48" x 15" x 6"||28" x 18" x 12"|
|Included Accessories||Paddles, pump, repair kit, GoPro/phone mount, fishing rod holders, and pressure gauge||Quick-release fin, PVC rod holder sleeves, and repair kit||Repair kit||Folding seat, foam rails with handles, tracking fin, shoulder strap||Repair patches, pump and paddles|
|Material/Construction||3-ply PVC vinyl laminate with polyester core||600D hex ripstop polyester (fabric top)||UV and water resistant 840D nylon||1/8" high-density polyethylene thermoplastic||30-gauge PVC vinyl, I-beam floor|
|Features||Adjustable backrest, drainage hole, foot braces, carry handles, fishing rod holders, phone/GoPro mount, skeg, tracking fin, converts to solo boat||Paddle keepers, foot braces, adjustable backrest, skeg, drainage hole, carry handles||Foot brace, adjustable backrest, drainage hole||Foam rails, seat, foldable design, moveable tracking fin||Bow & stern grablines, cargo net, skeg|
Best Overall Kayak, No Inflating Required
Oru Beach LT
"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
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
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
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
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 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
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, this means 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 give you that.
Read review: Advanced Elements PackLite
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
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 the benefits, challenges, and best uses of each boat. To explore a detailed analysis of how each kayak compares to the others we tested, read on.
Related: Buying Advice for Inflatable Kayaks
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.
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 is an excellent option. It performed better than we expected, includes a pump and paddle, and retails for a very fair price. Though 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.
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.
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 the only kayak 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
We also enjoyed the efficiency of models like the Oru Beach, Pakayak Bluefin, 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 goes to the origami-style Tucktec, which uses literally every piece — including its method of carrying — to become the boat. While we think this feature is excellent, 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.
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.
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.
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. Boats that come in large duffel bags equipped only with small over-the-top handles are less pleasant 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.
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.
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, and the Sevylor Madison.
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.
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. 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 when submerged and when on land. Those include the Sevylor Madison, both Aquaglide models, and both AE AdvancedFrame boats. The rigid, origami Oru Beach LT and nesting doll-style Pakayak Bluefin 142 are both champions in this category as well.
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.
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.
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.
There are a lot of options on the packable and inflatable 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. Be sure to 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 is a ton of fun. We hope that our tests' 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.
— Maggie Brandenburg