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The 6 Best Inflatable Kayaks of 2024

We paddled for miles to test packable and foldable kayaks from Oru, Advanced Elements, Pakayak, Aquaglide, Tucktec, and more
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Best Inflatable Kayak Review
Credit: Jason Peters
By Maggie Nichols ⋅ Senior Review Editor  ⋅  Apr 23, 2024

The Best Inflatable Kayaks for 2024


Want a kayak but have limited space? We've researched 100+ and tested dozens of foldable, packable, and inflatable kayaks over the years to bring this year's lineup of the best 15 available today. We've 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 both 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.

Our favorite water gear can help get you out paddling for your next adventure day. Our aquatic experts have tested the best kayak paddles and top PFDs to accompany your new packable kayak. If you'd rather paddle a hard-sided kayak, we've tested those too, as well as the best stand up paddle boards and the top inflatable SUPs.

Editor's Note: Our inflatable kayak review was updated on April 23, 2024, to include alternative recommended kayaks to our award picks.

Top 15 Inflatable Kayaks - Test Results

Displaying 1 - 5 of 15
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Awards Top Pick Award Editors' Choice Award Best Buy Award Top Pick Award  
Price $1,995 List$1,199 at REI
Compare at 2 sellers
$670 List
$529.00 at Amazon
$769.80 at Amazon
Compare at 2 sellers
$499 List
$499.00 at REI
Overall Score
73
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76
Star Rating
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Pros Great tracking and handling, easy to assemble, dry storage on boardNo inflation required, lightweight, very durable, stable, fast, tracks well, easy set up and clean upHandles well, high durability, fast, stable, fabric is water resistantHandles and tracks well, very durable, helpful features, option for single or tandem paddlingVery lightweight, no parts leftover, smooth hull, lots of room inside
Cons Exceptionally heavy, unimpressive case portability, too unstable for many paddlersExpensive, seat cushion thin, rigid pack makes for an awkward carryHeavy, floor difficult to inflate, hard to drainHeavy, no paddles or pump included, expensiveDoesn't track well, too open for waves, seat plate has sharp edges, basic package is lacking
Bottom Line A nesting-style sea kayak that paddles through big waves while taking up less room in the closetThis lightweight and foldable kayak has performance closer to that of a hardshell and is a joy to paddleWith excellent handling, a long lifespan, and great comfort, this kayak will go the distanceRather heavy but a great performance for a two-person model that can also be used soloA less expensive folding kayak that's exceptionally easy to set up and store and is a joy to paddle on calm, flat waters
Rating Categories Pakayak Bluefin 142 Oru Beach LT Advanced Elements A... Advanced Elements A... Oru Lake
Gliding and Tracking (25%) Sort Icon
10.0
9.0
9.0
8.5
7.5
Maneuverability (20%)
8.0
9.0
7.0
6.5
8.5
Stability (20%)
4.0
6.0
7.0
8.0
5.5
Ease of Transport and Set Up (15%)
4.0
9.0
4.5
4.0
9.0
Comfort (10%)
8.5
8.5
8.5
8.0
6.5
Construction Quality (10%)
9.0
9.0
8.0
8.0
9.0
Specs Pakayak Bluefin 142 Oru Beach LT Advanced Elements A... Advanced Elements A... Oru Lake
Measured Weight (boat and storage bag only) 70.2 lbs 26.1 lbs 33.25 lbs 55.2 lbs 17.0 lbs
Capacity Single; 300 lb Single; 300 lb Single; 300 lb Tandem; 550 lb Single; 250 lb
Kayak Size (length x width) 14' 2" x 2' 12' 3" x 2' 6" 10' 3" x 2' 9" 15' x 2' 8" 8'11" x 2' 8"
Packed Size (length x width x height) 22" x 14" 45" 32" x 28.5" x 11" 33" x 16" x 15" 35" x 21" x 12" 42" x 18.5" x 10.5"
Included Accessories Towel Repair pieces Repair kit Repair kit Extra plastic buckle, extra velcro patches
Material/Construction Plastic resin, stainless steel clamps Double-layered polypropylene, 10-year UV treatment Aluminum ribs in bow & stern, PVC-coated polyester Aluminum ribs in bow & stern, PVC tarpaulin, 3 layers rip-stop material Double-layered polypropylene, 10-year UV treatment
Features Adjustable foot pegs and backrest, separate bulkhead storage, carry handles Adjustable foot brace and backrest, bulkheads, carry handles Adjustable backrest, bungees, pressure relief valve in floor, skeg Paddle keepers, seatback pockets, bungee straps, D-ring attachment points, converts to solo boat Adjustable backrest


Best Overall Kayak, No Inflating Required


Oru Beach LT


84
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Gliding and Tracking 9.0
  • Maneuverability 9.0
  • Stability 6.0
  • Ease of Transport and Set Up 9.0
  • Comfort 8.5
  • Construction Quality 9.0
Dimensions (L x W): 12'3" x 2'5.5" | Weight (boat and bag): 26.1 lb
REASONS TO BUY
No need for a pump
Durable
Top-notch handling
Easy assembly/disassembly
REASONS TO AVOID
Uncomfortable and rigid carry
Thin seat
Expensive

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 — and in direct comparison with the smaller Oru Lake — this foldable plastic watercraft remains our favorite. Once you've gotten used to 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 help 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 LT can 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 far from alone in this review as a hybrid hardshell kayak that packs down like an inflatable, it's remained our favorite boat for every casual paddling mission. If you prefer a thicker seat, check out the Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame. Though it's more challenging to drain, this kayak features a comfy and adjustable seat.

Read more: Oru Beach LT review

We love the paddling, portability, and overall user experience of the Oru Beach.
Credit: Abriah Wofford

Best Bang for Your Buck


Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame


74
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Gliding and Tracking 9.0
  • Maneuverability 7.0
  • Stability 7.0
  • Ease of Transport and Set Up 4.5
  • Comfort 8.5
  • Construction Quality 8.0
Dimensions (L x W): 10'3" x 2'9" | Weight (boat and bag): 33.25 lbs
REASONS TO BUY
Durable
Excellent handling
Stable and swift
Water-resistant fabric
REASONS TO AVOID
Heavy and carry bag is small
Floor not fun to inflate
Difficult to drain

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 andavailable 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 gets a hole — the AdvancedFrame has inner and outer chambers instead. 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 the 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 smaller than we'd like, making it challenging to fit this boat and all its components back inside unless you fold the boat 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 our favorite inflatable model for flat water and even some waves — and well worth its reasonable price tag. Another option we love is the Oru Beach LT. Due to the packable, foldable design, it's easy to dry out and doesn't require a pump, but it is a sizable investment.

Read more: Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame review

inflatable kayak - we love paddling this boat, even after years of continual use.
We love paddling this boat, even after years of continual use.
Credit: Jason Peters

Excellent Value for a Tandem


Sea Eagle 370 Pro


56
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Gliding and Tracking 5.5
  • Maneuverability 6.0
  • Stability 4.5
  • Ease of Transport and Set Up 6.0
  • Comfort 6.5
  • Construction Quality 5.5
Dimensions (L x W): 12'6" x 2'10" | Weight (boat and bag): 42.8 lbs
REASONS TO BUY
Includes everything
Very adjustable seating
Tandem or solo paddle
Comfortable
REASONS TO AVOID
Awkward carry bag
Included pump is small
Paddles are wobbly

The Sea Eagle 370 Pro is one of several all-inclusive inflatable kayak packages we've tested over the years. The money-saving appeal of not having to purchase a pump and two paddles separately is obvious, but not all of these complete kits provide an enjoyable paddling experience. The 370 Pro has the right combination of adjustability and comfort, reasonable durability, and low price, making it our favorite budget-friendly tandem-turned-solo model. This boat rides higher out of the water, lowering drag and increasing paddle comfort. Fully adjustable seats not only have supportive backs but can be easily positioned anywhere in the boat to accommodate leg room, gear space, and even a four-legged friend. Moderately thicker walls don't deform when fully inflated and maintain the shape of this boat even when loaded to its 650-pound capacity.

Even for a tandem, this boat is very large, and it's pretty heavy. Its carrying bag offers a single shoulder strap, and its long shape is cumbersome to haul. Although the components are functional, they're not of the highest quality. The included foot pump is small and tedious to use, and the paddles loosely fit together, causing them to wiggle and wobble when paddling. We appreciate the comfort of sitting higher above the water as we paddle, but it also causes this boat to catch the wind more than its low-profile contenders. Yet, among all the budget-friendly tandem kayaking packages we reviewed, we enjoy paddling this one the most. If you're looking to upgrade, check out the AdvancedFrame Convertible Tandem. The durability, handling, and features made it our favorite pick for a tandem. Just keep in mind that it's a larger investment.

Read more: Sea Eagle 370 Pro review

inflatable kayak - we love the higher vantage point and greater adjustability of the...
We love the higher vantage point and greater adjustability of the budget-friendly Sea Eagle 370 Pro complete (minus the life jackets) kayaking kit.
Credit: Abriah Wofford

Best for Experienced Paddlers and Big Waves


Pakayak Bluefin 142


73
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Gliding and Tracking 10.0
  • Maneuverability 8.0
  • Stability 4.0
  • Ease of Transport and Set Up 4.0
  • Comfort 8.5
  • Construction Quality 9.0
Dimensions (L x W): 14'2" x 2' | Weight (boat and bag): 70.2 lbs
REASONS TO BUY
Tracks like a dream
Handles very well
Easy to put together
True dry storage
REASONS TO AVOID
Extremely heavy
The case isn't well designed
Too tippy for novice and intermediate paddlers

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. The length tracks exceptionally well in the water, 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 142 still has its faults. Our expert paddlers love this watercraft's performance to cut through serious waves on the lake or ocean, but 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 its low sides can work against you should 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 — at 70 lbs, this is the heaviest boat we tested, by far. And though its case has both wheels and backpack straps, we despised hauling it for long distances or over rough terrain. The wheels are tiny and perform poorly 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. If you're shopping for a model suitable for beginner and advanced paddlers alike, we recommend the Oru Beach LT.

Read more: Pakayak Bluefin 142 review

The Bluefin isn't for everyone, but experienced paddlers love its ability to handle big waves through dialed-in hip control.
Credit: Abriah Wofford

Best Tandem Kayak


Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame Convertible Tandem


72
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Gliding and Tracking 8.5
  • Maneuverability 6.5
  • Stability 8.0
  • Ease of Transport and Set Up 4.0
  • Comfort 8.0
  • Construction Quality 8.0
Dimensions (L x W): 15' x 2'8" | Weight (boat and bag): 55.2 lbs
REASONS TO BUY
Best handling of all tandem models
Durable
Useful features
Can paddle as a tandem or single boat
REASONS TO AVOID
Heavy
Difficult to drain and dry

With impressive durability and handling prowess, the AdvancedFrame Convertible Tandem from Advanced Elements can be paddled with a friend or on your own and is our top choice for a tandem inflatable kayak. As a very long boat with integrated tracking fins and a slick PVC tarpaulin hull, this kayak can make masterful moves on the water. We were continually amazed by this vessel's maneuverability while still comfortably seating two adults. Its ability to be paddled by a solo adventurer with relative ease is another major selling point. We felt confident gliding over submerged sticks and underwater rocks thanks to this well-designed boat's quality construction and durable materials.

On the downside, this outstanding vessel suffers in portability. Weighing over 50 pounds, the AdvancedFrame Tandem is not light. Though you may be able to paddle it by yourself, carrying it to the launch point alone or heading solo upriver or against the wind may require a bigger feat of strength. The boat also lacks a drain but leaves plenty of spaces for water to hide, making it difficult to dry entirely before storing it again. And like all the AE yaks we tested, it doesn't come with paddles or a pump. Yet with useful features, a fairly simple setup, and the best on-water performance of any tandem we tested, we prefer the AdvancedFrame Tandem for every excursion with a co-captain. Still, if you don't require an extra seat, you can shed some pounds and some cash with the Advanced Elements PackLite. At 5.25 pounds, it's exceptionally light but will cost you in performance.

Read more: Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame Convertible Tandem review

inflatable kayak - we love adventures with friends and dogs in this big tandem from...
We love adventures with friends and dogs in this big tandem from Advanced Elements.
Credit: Jenna Ammerman

Best for Backcountry Paddling


Advanced Elements PackLite


50
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Gliding and Tracking 2.0
  • Maneuverability 6.0
  • Stability 5.5
  • Ease of Transport and Set Up 9.5
  • Comfort 4.0
  • Construction Quality 4.0
Dimensions (L x W): 7'6" x 2'11" | Weight (boat and bag): 5.25 lbs
REASONS TO BUY
Ridiculously portable
Extremely maneuverable
Quick assembly
REASONS TO AVOID
Easy to rip
Pump and paddle not included in weight

The absurd portability of this little 5.25-pound inflatable 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, it lacks some 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 to use it — and those aren't included in the weight. That said, if what you want is to paddle in more remote destinations, the PackLite can help you achieve this. Those who prefer to invest in something more durable may like the Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame. It has much to offer, including great construction quality and excellent handling.

Read more: Advanced Elements PackLite review

inflatable kayak - with all the places you can take this ultralight kayak, you may be...
With all the places you can take this ultralight kayak, you may be the only one on the water!
Credit: Jenna Ammerman

Compare Products

select up to 5 products to compare
Score Product Price
84
Oru Beach LT
Best Overall Kayak, No Inflating Required
$1,199
Editors' Choice Award
76
Oru Lake
$499
74
Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame
Best Bang for Your Buck
$670
Best Buy Award
73
Pakayak Bluefin 142
Best for Experienced Paddlers and Big Waves
$1,995
Top Pick Award
72
Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame Convertible Tandem
Best Tandem Kayak
$980
Top Pick Award
70
Aquaglide Deschutes 110
$680
68
Tucktec Folding Kayak
$400
67
Aquaglide Navarro 110
$730
66
Bote Deus Aero 11'
$1,249
56
Sea Eagle 370 Pro
Excellent Value for a Tandem
$389
Best Buy Award
53
Intex Excursion Pro K2
$398
50
Advanced Elements PackLite
Best for Backcountry Paddling
$392
Top Pick Award
49
Airhead Montana
$450
45
Intex Explorer K2
$196
39
Intex Challenger K2
$186

inflatable kayak - testing kayaks with our friends - both human and canine.
Testing kayaks with our friends - both human and canine.
Credit: Jason Peters

How We Test Inflatable Kayaks


We've been testing packable and inflatable kayaks since 2018, paddling many iconic rivers and pristine alpine lakes in and around the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Each year, we put together a ragtag team of water lovers, all eager to get out and paddle. Some are fellow expert paddlers with years of experience, many are novices just excited about it all, and quite a few are brand new to paddling. Collectively, this crew spent hundreds of hours splashing, paddling, 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, literally getting to know each one inside and out. For the full scoop on our testing process, see our How We Test article.

We test kayaks side by side to better understand which ones excel for what purposes.
Credit: Abriah Wofford

Our in-depth testing involves dozens of individual assessments across five rating metrics:
  • Gliding and Tracking (25% of overall score weighting)
  • Maneuverability (20% weighting)
  • Stability (20% weighting)
  • Ease of Transport and Set Up (15% weighting)
  • Comfort (10% weighting)
  • Construction Quality (10% weighting)

Why Trust GearLab


Our expert panel of testers is led by Senior Review Editor, Maggie Nichols, 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, lakes, and 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 2016.

Inflatable boats require you getting to know various valves and...
Inflatable boats require you getting to know various valves and adapters before heading out on the water.
Testing is hard work, but with friends and views like this, you&#039;ll...
Testing is hard work, but with friends and views like this, you'll never hear us complaining.
Each kayak in our review has its own method of assembly, some more...
Each kayak in our review has its own method of assembly, some more complicated than others. The Pakayak Bluefin is among the most straightforward, though it's very heavy.
We put each of these boats to the test, toting them from place to place, setting them up, and paddling with friends, kids, and dogs.

Analysis and Test Results


We crafted our tests to span six mutually exclusive metrics formulating a comprehensive picture of each kayak's performance. 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. We gained important insights into each boat's benefits, challenges, and best uses by incorporating a wide range of skill levels and body types in our testing and using each model across water and weather conditions. Read on to explore a detailed analysis of how each packable or inflatable kayak compares to the others we tested.

inflatable kayak - ready to get out on the water? we tested the best inflatable and...
Ready to get out on the water? We tested the best inflatable and packable kayaks to help you find the perfect one to outfit your summer.
Credit: Jason Peters


Value


As packable and inflatable kayaks continue to grow in popularity, the number of available options grows. These boats can range widely in price. In general, there's a trend of more expensive boats performing better, but it's not a perfect correlation. It's also worth noting that some boats are sold as a complete package, including the pump and paddle(s) you'll need to set up and get out on the water (minus the PFD).

Safety First


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.

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. For those in love with the idea of a hardshell, folding kayak, the Oru Lake performs very well on flat waters, with a basic package costing less than you might think. The Tucktec Folding is even more affordable — and comes with a paddle — and is a solid choice for smaller paddlers and very calm water and weather. If you want an all-inclusive package and the ability to paddle alone or with another person, the Sea Eagle 370 Pro is an excellent option. This low-cost kayak performed better than we expected, and your purchase includes a pump and paddle. While the Oru Beach LT is one of the more expensive models we tested, year after year, 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. This boat is worth the extra investment if you want to get out on the water frequently and without hassle.

inflatable kayak - don&#039;t let cost stop you from enjoying the lake. there are...
Don't let cost stop you from enjoying the lake. There are budget-friendly options for every paddler.
Credit: Jason Peters

Gliding and Tracking


This metric has a lot to do with your overall experience paddling. We tested how well each boat glides through the water, looking at their external material and feeling how much drag each one has. We tested how quickly they start moving with a regular paddle stroke and how far they continue to move when we stopped paddling. We also took note of their tracking ability — that is, if they move forward in a straight line or if they waggle back and forth with each stroke of the paddle. In general, boats that are longer and narrower track better and those that have hardened or plasticized exteriors glide more easily.


Several of the boats we tested have hard exteriors that minimize drag and facilitate easier gliding, including all the foldable models — the Oru Lake and Beach LT, and the Tucktec — and the nesting doll-style Pakayak Bluefin. With their smooth plastic hulls, all four of these kayaks glide well. The only hindrance to the Bluefin is that it weighs about 70 pounds, making it slower to gain momentum in the water.

inflatable kayak - the pakayak bluefin 142 has a hard shell and a pointed prow to slice...
The Pakayak Bluefin 142 has a hard shell and a pointed prow to slice through the water. It's also the heaviest model we tested.
Credit: Jason Peters

Several inflatable models address this issue by covering the bottom of the boat with PVC-like material, also creating a smooth plasticky surface for easier gliding while remaining bendable for storage. The Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame and AdvancedFrame Tandem both take this approach, as does the Aquaglide Deschutes 110 and Navarro 110, and the Bote Deus Aero 11'. However, both AdvancedFrame kayaks take this a step further — they each have a prow stiffened with an aluminum rib, giving them both a pointed bow that more effectively slices through the water.

Kayak Anatomy and Terminology


There are a lot of terms used to refer to the parts of a boat, and while they may seem confusing at first, knowing them will help you to better understand each portion of your craft:
  • Bow: the front end of the boat
  • Stern: the back end of the boat
  • Cockpit: the section that contains the seat
  • Deck: the top side of the kayak, facing the sky
  • Prow: the forward-most portion of a boat above the water line
  • Hull: the outer portion of the boat, both in and above the water
  • Rudder: a mobile feature that is actively moved to help steer the watercraft
  • Keel: a flat blade sticking down into the water to prevent the boat from being blown sideways in the wind. In kayaks, this is often not a blade but a ridge running the length of the centerline of the craft
  • Skeg: similar to a keel, but projects backward toward the stern and helps to keep the boat moving straight

Longer boats, those with strongly pointed prows, and those with skegs or rudders offer better tracking than others. Many of the longest kayaks we tested — like the Oru Beach, Pakayak Bluefin, and Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame Tandem — also have acutely angled prows that help them to slice through the water and stay heading in a straight line.

inflatable kayak - the aluminum-reinforced keel on both advanced elements advancedframe...
The aluminum-reinforced keel on both Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame models we tested make them better than pretty much every other inflatable when it comes to tracking and slicing through the water.
Credit: Jason Peters

Shorter boats and those that lead through the water with horizontally flat bottoms (which include most of the inflatable kayaks we tested) waggle back and forth with every paddle stroke. The rather short Tucktec combats this with moderate effectiveness by having both a pointed prow and an adjustable skeg hanging off the stern. Many other models include skegs on their undersides that add a little to their tracking ability.

The Tucktec is the only model we tested with a skeg hanging off the stern of the boat. While it looks like a rudder, it doesn't move from side to side to aid in steering, making it simply a unique skeg rather and an actual rudder.
Credit: Abriah Wofford

Maneuverability


We also wanted to see how well each inflatable kayak turns when you actually want it to. We tested their responsiveness to sweeping turning strokes and gauged how quickly or sluggishly they changed course. We did this not just on calm, flat waters but on choppy waves and windy days to see how well they handle inclement weather. Not only did we maneuver around objects, we also paddled right over the top of them at times to see if these boats got caught or hung up on submerged branches and rocky beaches. For those that come with a paddle, this is also where we tested the effectiveness of that paddle.


Many of the lightest kayaks proved the easiest to turn in ideal conditions. The Aquaglide Deschutes and Navarro, the Advanced Elements PackLite, the Oru Beach and Lake, and the Tucktec all turn easily and readily with less effort. However, once factoring in the wind and waves, many of these same lightweight boats become difficult to maintain course and challenging to paddle back to safety.

The Deschutes is a lightweight inflatable that turns easily and is enjoyable to paddle on calm days and flat water.
Credit: Maggie Nichols

In rough conditions, the Pakayak Bluefin is one of the best portable kayaks we've tested. Built with the rounded shape of a sea kayak, this long kayak is designed to be steered and stabilized with your hips. With practice, this long heavy boat, with its exaggerated side-to-side rocking, is ideal for riding over big waves and slicing through them to reach your destination. This type of flexible control isn't great for paddlers not experienced in its quirks and challenges, however. If you're after a more relaxed boat that can still handle wind and waves, the Oru Beach LT does a solid job staying the course.

inflatable kayak - the advancedframe boats cut cleanly through the water with their...
The AdvancedFrame boats cut cleanly through the water with their hidden aluminum frames.
Credit: Jenna Ammerman

As you might expect, kayaks with rigid and thicker flexible exteriors handle sliding across submerged objects better. The hard and smooth Oru Lake and Beach, and Pakayak Bluefin sail over drowned sticks and sharp rocks with relative ease. The Bluefin boasts the same thick resin construction shared by many regular (i.e., not foldable or otherwise able to come apart) kayaks, helping it to glide over hidden obstacles without us even feeling it. The similarly hardened Tucktec is nearly as good as these others. It has an adjustable skeg on the stern that may occasionally bump on underwater items, though it typically is pushed up and out of the way rather than hampering forward progress.

inflatable kayak - the oru handles much like a hardshell kayak with its rigid...
The Oru handles much like a hardshell kayak with its rigid structure. Added length and intuitive shaping along the bottom lend stability and speed.
Credit: Jenna Ammerman

The Bote Deus Aero takes a novel approach to being maneuverable. This kayak-SUP hybrid rides high out of the water and turns much more like a SUP than a kayak. In this same vein, it's well-equipped to ride over submerged sticks with ease. The AE AdvancedFrame and Tandem also have slick PVC-coated hulls that more easily glide over sunken objects.

inflatable kayak - sitting this high above the water requires a longer paddle but also...
Sitting this high above the water requires a longer paddle but also gives extra length to your paddle stroke.
Credit: Penney Garrett

Stability


We considered and tested each kayak's stability both out on the water and back on land, getting in and out. To test their on-water stability, we asked inexperienced paddlers of many ages to paddle around on calm and windy days and see how they felt in each boat. They evaluated tippiness and rockability and how confident they felt about not falling out. We sent testers out with medium and large dogs and even played a few rounds of “bumper boats” to really see which kayaks feel stable and which send their paddlers tumbling into the water. We also tested how easy it is to get in and out of each boat from the shore, from docks, and from the water.


The wide Aquaglide Deschutes proved to be a crowd favorite in terms of stability. This inflatable kayak is unique among models we tested in that it has two thickly inflated sides, but the floor does not inflate. This kept even our inexperienced paddlers feeling comfortable riding through the waves, with their seats below the surface of the water and the sides keeping them level. With a wide-open cockpit, the Deschutes is also one of the easiest boats to get in and out of. The Bote Deus is another one of the easiest to get in and out of from the shore or the water, as its sit-on-top style makes walking a breeze, and its flat back end facilitates climbing out of the water after a refreshing dunk.

inflatable kayak - the deschutes has a non-inflatable bottom, adding the feeling of...
The Deschutes has a non-inflatable bottom, adding the feeling of extra security to this already wide kayak.
Credit: Maggie Nichols

The AE AdvancedFrame Tandem is impressively stable even on wavy waters, putting all our paddlers at ease, and is simple to get in and out of. The single version, the Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame, is also impressively stable, though its narrower cockpit requires a bit more finesse than the open style of any tandem boat. The Aquaglide Navarro is wide and fairly stable but also has a more narrow cockpit to maneuver in and out of. The Oru Beach is reasonably stable for most paddlers, though its hard hull rides the motion of the waves more than many others that have more sunken seats.

inflatable kayak - the ae tandem feels stable, even with a tall 80-pound dog in tow.
The AE Tandem feels stable, even with a tall 80-pound dog in tow.
Credit: Jenna Ammerman

Readers with a keen eye may notice the low relative score of the Pakayak Bluefin in this metric, and we'd like to clarify our rating with some extra information. The Bluefin has a design closer to that of a sea kayak than any other model in our lineup. This means it's long and tall and rolls side to side more easily than kayaks designed for flat water. For our paddlers with less experience on the water or in a boat of this shape, this resulted in many of them falling out when hit with even a small wave across the side of the boat. However, for our experienced paddlers, the Bluefin provides a different type of stability. Knee brace points on the underside of the cockpit and adjustable foot pegs allow you to wedge yourself into place and control the rocking of the boat with your hips. These extra points of contact keep the paddler stably attached, allowing the boat and your bottom half to roll over the waves while your torso stays upright to continue paddling through rough conditions.

inflatable kayak - the bluefin is a great boat for the experienced paddler who...
The Bluefin is a great boat for the experienced paddler who appreciates the stability of having hip control of their kayak.
Credit: Abriah Wofford

Ease of Transport and Set Up


Here we considered the physical size and weight of each portable boat. We also carted them around in our cars, by our sides, and on our backs across parking lots and beaches and up and down long flights of stairs and meandering trails to the water. We considered the extra materials needed to set them up. We then assembled and disassembled them repeatedly on all kinds of surfaces to evaluate how easy or agonizing they are. And we considered how easy they are to store back at home.


The Advanced Elements PackLite steals the spotlight here with a ridiculously low weight of just over 5 pounds. It's the only inflatable kayak we tested that can be tucked in a backpack and hiked several miles out to a remote testing location. It's simple to set up and provides access to bodies of water we never dreamed we'd be able to paddle on.

inflatable kayak - the biggest perk of the ae packlite is extreme portability.
The biggest perk of the AE PackLite is extreme portability.
Credit: Maggie Brandenburg

The Intex Explorer K2 and Intex Challenger K2 are both impressively lightweight and portable — doubly so for two tandem models. Weighing 26.2 pounds and 27.5 pounds, respectively, these tandems pack up smaller than most and make it easier than ever to get out on the water with a friend. The Aquaglide Deschutes is also fairly lightweight (26 pounds) and comes with a backpack-style carry bag that can also accommodate your paddle, pump, and PFD, making even longer treks to the water more bearable. The Deschutes is one of our favorites to set up, as it has just three chambers that all take the same adapter, are located very near each other, and are very easy to inflate quickly.


The Oru Lake weighs a scant 17 pounds and isn't bad to carry. It folds up like an elongated suitcase, though, and a shoulder strap costs extra. The Oru Beach also becomes a suitcase shape, weighing 26.1 pounds, but this model comes standard with a comfortable shoulder strap. It's reasonably easy to carry, if a bit large for stuffing into a small trunk or back seat. Both of these origami boats take a time or two to get the hang of their setup but quickly become very easy to set up and take down in very little time. Their rigid exteriors also let you put them away still a little wet, knowing that they will easily dry on the shelf in the garage.

inflatable kayak - the 17 pound oru lake (left) next to the 26 pound oru beach (right)...
The 17 pound Oru Lake (left) next to the 26 pound Oru Beach (right). The Lake is carried like a suitcase (with optional attachment points for a not-included shoulder strap) and the Beach is carried by a padded shoulder strap.
Credit: Abriah Wofford

The Tucktec is another origami-style boat that's lightweight but isn't our favorite design. Its shoulder strap is scratchy on our bare skin, making it unpleasant to carry. It folds up easier than previous versions of this same boat, and clamps far more securely than earlier iterations. However, it still requires quite a bit of force to get the clamps into place correctly. We do appreciate that every bit of this package becomes the boat, though, and it rolls up into an impressively small package.

The Tucktec folds together simply, though requires a fair bit of hand strength to place many of the clamps.
Credit: Abriah Wofford

The Bote Deus and Pakayak Bluefin also come with backpack straps for their carry. The Deus isn't terrible, but weighs over 55 pounds, which isn't something everyone is willing to cart around. The Bluefin weighs a staggering 70.2 pounds and has very little padding between the rigid hull of the kayak and your back. Pakayak has included wheels on the storage sack for easier transport, but they're so tiny that the moment they're off the pavement and rolling over sand or dirt, it feels like you're simply dragging this enormous boat.

inflatable kayak - the deschutes comes in a backpack case that has plenty of space left...
The Deschutes comes in a backpack case that has plenty of space left over to carry your paddle, pump, and PFD down to the water.
Credit: Abriah Wofford

Comfort


This category is a lot about “the feels” and relies heavily on input from various 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 at the upper limit of rated capacity tested our inflatable kayaks and shared their feedback.


Our testers considered how comfortable the seats were to sit in after minutes or hours in the cockpit. The thickly padded seats of both Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame and Aquaglide boats are features we noted and appreciated. The Sea Eagle 370 seats are able to inflate thickly to add height to your paddle and can be deflated slightly to achieve maximal comfort. The Bote Deus and Tucktec have thick seats, though they're both rather rigid and start to lose their luster after many hours spent sitting in them.

inflatable kayak - the thickly inflated, fully adjustable seats of the sea eagle 370...
The thickly inflated, fully adjustable seats of the Sea Eagle 370 make it simple to perfectly position yourself.
Credit: Abriah Wofford

Seat and footrest adjustability also play into this rating. Every kayak that we tested has an adjustable seat back that can be changed to lean back when you want to glide and relax or lean forward when you need to dig in and paddle hard. The Aquaglide Deschutes is one of the more relaxing kayaks we paddled, with a wide open cockpit, a thickly padded and easily adjustable seat, and a foam-covered floor for added grip. Though it's not a large boat, it has plenty of space for a small cooler, a dry bag full of your favorite goodies, and even a 60-pound dog.

inflatable kayak - the deschutes has plenty of space for chillaxin with maggie the dog.
The Deschutes has plenty of space for chillaxin with Maggie the dog.
Credit: Maggie Nichols

The PackLite and Intex Challenger K2 have mesh storage spaces on the boat's bow to help hold gear out of the way. The flat, spacious SUP top of the Bote Deus leaves plenty of room for gear — assuming you can tie it down to keep it from falling off the back. 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.

inflatable kayak - the intex excursion pro k2 has a surprising surplus of space, making...
The Intex Excursion Pro K2 has a surprising surplus of space, making it easy to paddle with a partner without crashing paddles.
Credit: Jason Peters

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, and even the smaller Oru Lake, both have ample 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 easy storage in the rear of the boat, though it's not a waterproof compartment.

inflatable kayak - the aquaglide navarro has zippered access to additional storage...
The Aquaglide Navarro has zippered access to additional storage space, though it's not the easiest to use.
Credit: Maggie Brandenburg

Construction Quality


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, and paddled them across submerged logs and rocks and on windy days. We invited rowdy kids to assemble and pack them up and filled them with gear and dogs of all sizes. We found that inflatable kayaks with a fabric exterior held up better to the abuse of sharp objects, both when submerged and when on land. Those include both Aquaglide models and both AE AdvancedFrame boats.

inflatable kayak - fabric covers and thick plastic-y bottoms characterize a bunch of...
Fabric covers and thick plastic-y bottoms characterize a bunch of the inflatable models we tested and proved to be quite durable.
Credit: Jason Peters

The Bote Deus lacks a fabric exterior but instead has the intensely thick hull and foam top of your standard inflatable SUP. As it's designed to hold 2-15x as much pressure as an inflatable kayak, its construction reflects that added requirement. The rigid, origami Oru Beach and Oru Lake and nesting doll-style Pakayak Bluefin 142 are clear champions in durability as well.

inflatable kayak - the bote deus is made from exceptionally thick material with a...
The Bote Deus is made from exceptionally thick material with a foam-padded top, giving it above-average durability.
Credit: Abriah Wofford

Additionally, we considered the materials used in the construction of each packable and inflatable 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.

Lasting Through the Years


Our lead tester has been using the Oru Beach LT regularly for over five 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 managed to pop out of place and disappear during an adventure. We're happy to report that Oru happily replaced this section free of charge.

We even broke some kayaks during testing and subsequently tested the included repair patch kit (lookin' at you, AE 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.

inflatable kayak - after years of use, the advanced elements advancedframe is just as...
After years of use, the Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame is just as good as the day we first bought it, with added features that give us confidence in its durability and safety.
Credit: Jason Peters

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. In contrast, both Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame kayaks we tested — the single and the 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.

inflatable kayak - the rigidity of the beach lt, while still remaining relatively...
The rigidity of the Beach LT, while still remaining relatively flexible, makes this one durable boat! And with Oru's 20,000 fold guarantee, you'll be paddling for a long time.
Credit: Jenna Ammerman

Conclusion


There are many options on the packable and inflatable kayak market today, and it's no simple feat to narrow it down to the right choice before you drop hundreds of dollars (or more) 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 the 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 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.

inflatable kayak - enjoy life on the water in your new kayak.
Enjoy life on the water in your new kayak.
Credit: Jason Peters

Maggie Nichols