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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 17 available today. 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 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.
Dimensions (L x W): 12'3" x 2'5.5" | Weight (boat and bag): 26.1 lbs
REASONS TO BUY
No need for a pump
REASONS TO AVOID
Uncomfortable and rigid carry
"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.
Dimensions (L x W): 10'3" x 2'9" | Weight (boat and bag): 33.25 lbs
REASONS TO BUY
Stable and swift
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.
Dimensions (L x W): 12'6" x 2'10" | Weight (boat and bag): 42.8 lbs
REASONS TO BUY
Very adjustable seating
Tandem or solo paddle
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.
This is a very large boat, and even for a tandem, it's quite heavy. Its carrying bag sports a single shoulder strap, and its long shape is cumbersome to haul. The components are functional, but they're not the highest quality. The foot pump is small and tedious to use, and the paddles fit together loosely, causing them to wiggle and wobble while you paddle. We appreciate the comfort of sitting higher above the water while we paddle, but it causes this boat to catch the wind more than its low-profile counterparts. Still, among all the budget-friendly tandem kayaking packages we've tested, this is the one we enjoy paddling the most.
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
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 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.
Dimensions (L x W): 15' x 2'8" | Weight (boat and bag): 55.2 lbs
REASONS TO BUY
Best handling of all tandem models
Can paddle as a tandem or single boat
REASONS TO AVOID
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.
However, this outstanding vessel comes suffers in the portability metric. The AdvancedFrame Tandem weighs over 50 lbs, 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, it doesn't include 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 this model for every excursion with a co-captain.
Dimensions (L x W): 7'6" x 2'11" | Weight (boat and bag): 5.25 lbs
REASONS TO BUY
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.
This is our fifth year of testing packable and inflatable kayaks, and we paddled many of the most 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.
Our in-depth testing involves dozens of individual assessments across five rating metrics:
Handling (25% of overall score weighting)
Comfort (25% weighting)
Ease of Set Up (20% weighting)
Portability (20% weighting)
Durability (10% weighting)
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.
Analysis and Test Results
We crafted our tests to encompass five mutually exclusive metrics to formulate 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.
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 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).
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. If you want an all-inclusive package and the ability to paddle alone or with another person, the Sea Eagle 370 Pro and Sevylor Quikpak K5 are excellent options. These low-cost kayaks performed better than we expected. Each includes a pump and paddle (the Quikpak also has a spray skirt), and both retail for a very fair price. 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.
One of the most important metrics is handling. Not all kayaks handle the same types of water. 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) across flat water? 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 can?
After hundreds of hours of paddling, the Oru Beach LT, Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame, and Advanced Elements Convertible Tandem 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 a foldable or inflatable 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 its narrow shape and because it can be easily tipped by less experienced paddlers. It's also exceptionally heavy, both on land and in the water. 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. The similarly short AE PackLite is also maneuverable, though its lack of a rigid shell slows it down slightly compared to the Tucktec.
How Waterproof Is It?
We noted each kayak's material and whether it was truly waterproof or if it got saturated 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 while you're paddling. We considered the size of the cockpit to keep out waves and runoff from paddle strokes. The Bote Deus Aero 11' is one of the driest boats we tested, with an open back end on its more SUP-style stern, easily letting the water run off the back and sides to effectively keep waves from crashing over the top of this high-riding sit-on-top kayak. The Sea Eagle 370 Pro is one of several kayaks with a functional on-water drainage system. Others include the Aquaglide Navarro 110, Aquaglide Chinook 120, Intex Excursion Pro K2, and Airhead Montana. 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, Oru Lake, and Tucktec are all made of foldable plastic, which is quite waterproof. However, they also 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, 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? Is it effective for propulsion and useful when pushing off objects if a paddle is included with the kayak? By far, the highest seated watercraft we tested is the Bote Deus, a fully sit-on-top kayak that converts into a SUP-like board (with non-removable sides). This added height gives you an extra advantage when paddling, though we needed a longer paddle to maintain effectiveness.
The Tucktec boasts the next highest seat, giving an additional advantage while paddling. The Bluefin 142 is one of the narrowest we tested, helping you make a more powerful vertical stroke. The Sea Eagle 370 Pro, AE Convertible Tandem, and Intex Excursion Pro K2 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, Chinook 120, Bote Deus, and Intex Excursion Pro K2 all have adjustable foot braces that will help you stabilize your stroke. The Bluefin has the best foot brace, with individually adjustable pegs and a cockpit with padding that wraps over the top of your knees to offer serious stability options.
For a piece of gear that may transport you to distant locations, comfort is crucial. It can be a literal pain in the bum if your boat is uncomfortable. We assigned equal weight to the comfort and handling metrics, because together, these two factors provide the clearest image of how a kayak will perform on the water. The questions posed and tests performed to determine the comfort of each kayak are complementary to those carried out for our handling tests.
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 and Aquaglide boats and the Tucktec 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.
We gauged how easy each boat was to get in and out of from the beach, a dock, or in the water. The sit-on-top Bote Deus is one of the easiest to get back onto in deep water, as it has a flat back end like a SUP board.
We considered additional space for extra items to be stowed. 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.
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.
Ease of Set Up
If you're going to assemble and disassemble your inflatable kayak every time you use it, you don't want that to be a drag that may discourage you from going out. We considered both the setup and takedown process for every kayak 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 setup to when we felt confident and swift in our assembly. While the origami Oru Beach and Oru Lake initially feel a bit confusing to put together, they quickly became the fastest and easiest boats 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 models, though, as the metal clamps require a fair bit of muscling and perfect alignment to clip shut. The initial setup of the Sea Eagle 370 Pro is notable as you have to install all nine valves on the boat yourself. Once the valves are correctly installed, though, the setup of this tandem is much simpler.
We enjoyed the efficiency of models like the Oru Beach, Oru Lake, Pakayak Bluefin, Sevylor Quikpak K5, 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 is shared between the origami-style Oru boats and the Tucktec, all of which use every piece — including their methods of carrying and assembling — to become the boat.
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. The Quickpak, of course, has the pump left behind, but it's relatively small and easily packed away during paddling.
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 and all five chambers of the convertible Bote Deus.
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. Notably, several kayaks we tested incorporate multiple types and sizes of valves, requiring you to ensure you have the right adapters when setting up. Be sure to take inventory of all the valves your new boat may have when choosing an accompanying pump.
Putting your inflatable kayak away shouldn't be a chore that ruins the end of a fabulous outing. When considering how easy each kayak was to disassemble, we timed how long it took to get off the water and into the bag. We also noted how easy it was to drain and dry each boat. Open concept kayaks like the Oru Beach, Oru Lake, Tucktec, Bote Deus, and Intex Challenger are the easiest to drain by simply tipping them upside down on the shore. Others, like the Navarro 110, Chinook 120, Sea Eagle 370 Pro, Intex Excursion Pro K2, and Airhead Montana have drainage holes on the bottom that come in handy.
We also considered how easy each boat was to clean up before tossing it in the back of the car or closet. Kayaks with totally waterproof, simple exteriors — like the Airhead Montana, Intex Excursion Pro, and AE PackLite — and those with hard exteriors — like the Oru Lake, Oru Beach, Tucktec, and Pakayak Bluefin — make for easier subjects to wipe free of dirt and sand. After years of testing, the hard plastic-sided models have proven themselves the easiest, as we're able to put them away still wet, and they will dry on the shelf — without molding in any crevices.
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 design of the storage/carry bag plays a large part in each kayak's portability as well. The Sevylor Quikpak K5 becomes a backpack, making it much easier to cart to and from the car, even on longer beach paths. Over-the-shoulder options are more enjoyable than duffel bags, as seen in the Oru Beach. The Oru Lake is the second lightest boat we tested. It is easily carried for moderate distances with its suitcase-like handle or can accommodate a shoulder strap clipped to convenient D-rings on its top side.
The Tucktec is fairly low weight, with a strap that's padded on one side, but the padding on the 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. The Bote Deus is another model that includes wheels on its carrying case. While they do function better than those of the Bluefin, it's a marginal difference. On wooded trails to the beach and across the sand, these very small plastic wheels struggle to carry the weight of this 55-pound package.
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 all three Intex models, the Sea Eagle 370 Pro, Sevylor Quikpak K5, and the Sevylor Madison. The Bote Deus comes with its own pump (which is tricky to fit in the bag) but not its own paddles. It does have a large external zippered pocket and a small side pocket to help carry a few extra items. No inflatable kayak we tested comes with its own PFD, though, which is required on all bodies of water by the U.S. Coast Guard.
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, 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 the Sevylor Madison and Quikpak K5, both Aquaglide models, and both AE AdvancedFrame boats.
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.
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 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 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.
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.
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.
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