Hoping to hit the water during the next sunny spell? These are the best inflatable kayaks to get you paddling on a budget
You could spend your sunny days on land – or you could kayak. Whether your dream paddle is a slow meander across glassy water or a multi-day trek exploring Britain’s network of canals, inflatable kayaks could be the boat for you. But regardless of whether you’re a novice or an expert, navigating the many available inflatable options is tougher than Class IV rapids.
There are trade-offs: you’ll not be winning any races in a budget inflatable, but their flexibility and portability make inflatables the ideal kayak for city-dwellers, those without a car, or anyone looking to explore local waterways at their own pace. Lower-end inflatables may look more like beach toys for children, but the designs have improved massively over the last several years and the performance can be surprisingly good – so long as you don’t mind pumping them full of air first.
Here’s what you need to know to buy the best inflatable kayak for you, keeping in mind your budget, where you’ll paddle, how you’ll transport and store the boat, and more. This is followed by our rundown of the best you can buy.
How to choose the best inflatable kayak for you
Do you need an inflatable kayak?
If you’re hit by pangs of envy whenever you see a paddle dipped into water, it’s time to invest in a kayak of your own, rather than relying on rental services. If you have space to store a hard-body boat and a large enough vehicle to transport one, it could make more sense to invest in a standard model.
But those without the luxury of a garage or car may find the portability of an inflatable a necessary trade-off. Inflatable kayaks take up very little space when deflated, are light to carry, can be easily transported, and can rival many standard models for robustness. They can be an incredibly practical option.
If an inflatable doesn’t sound right for you, there are other types of portable kayaks, including folding models from Oru and Tucktec, with the latter costing less than some of the inflatables on this list.
How much should you spend?
The more you spend, the better the quality of materials and manufacturing – no-one wants a seam to split on a cheap boat in the middle of a lake. But if you’re looking for an easy paddle on calm waters, a slow, basic inflatable generally costs £200 or less – although prices have increased of late due to supply chain and stock issues.
More advanced kayakers planning multi-day trips or paddles on the sea can easily spend £1,000 or more for an inflatable. Generally speaking, inflatable kayaks that can be inflated to a higher pressure will handle better and behave more like a hard-shell boat, and even be taken through rapids or on the sea. But don’t give up because you can’t buy a perfect boat: a slow kayak is better than no kayak.
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What features do I need?
Consider whether you want one or two seats, how much weight the kayak needs to carry, and how you’ll store and transport the boat. If you’ll be carrying the boat yourself, make sure it’s light enough to lift and folds up small enough to manage easily.
All inflatable kayaks take time to set up before hitting the water. Beyond inflation, you’ll need to install seats and the skeg (a bit of plastic that acts as the keel to keep the boat straight). Deflation and drying afterwards may prove more important than inflation. Look for “Boston valves” that let air out quickly and single-skin kayaks for faster drying. If you can’t see a kayak in person before purchasing, it’s worth finding a video online to get a better sense of the process.
What material should I get?
Single-skin kayaks will wipe dry quickly but higher-end models often come with an external fabric cover to protect against punctures and support higher inflation air pressures. Think of it as a wetsuit for your kayak. And like a wetsuit, it will be heavy and take time to dry. Without a garden or outside space to spread out to dry, these may not be the best models for you.
Another material used in higher-end boats is “drop-stitch”, a strengthened PVC that allows for much higher pressure inflation. These kayaks feel much more like hard-body boats, but are also much more expensive.
What else do I need?
When budgeting, don’t forget key accessories such as life jackets and a dry bag to carry precious items. Night paddles will require lights. Some inflatable kayaks include repair kits, carrying bags, paddles and pumps with pressure gauges – but not all, so check what comes with the boat before buying.
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The best inflatable kayaks you can buy in 2023
1. Intex K2 Explorer: Best budget inflatable kayak
Price: £128 | Buy now from AmazonIntex makes inflatable dinghies, so it’s no surprise this kayak looks like a pool toy — but don’t be put off. For paddlers in search of an affordable and lightweight boat that’s easy to inflate and fast to dry, the Explorer is a surprisingly solid choice. Despite its chunky appearance, it moves decently well. Though it features a skeg to help it hold your line, it does get buffeted about by wind, so is best used in good conditions on calm water. This kayak can be used as a single or double seater, and it comes with paddles, a pump and a bag, though the latter is flimsy. You can currently get 25% off over on Amazon – down from £170 to just £128.
Key specs – Total weight: 17kg; Length: 312cm; PSI: 1.0; Material: Nitrilon; How much can it carry? 180kg; Accessories? Bag, paddles, pump, repair kit and skeg
2. Itiwit Cruising 1/2 Kayak: Best flexible budget option
Price: £290 | Buy now from DecathlonMade by sports retailer Decathlon, the Itwit brand offers value for money and the core benefit of Itwit’s bottom-range cruising line is the flexibility. This boat can be used as a single or a double, but a smaller single-only and a larger three-person model are also available. Paddles and a pump are not included, so ensure you make room in your budget for both. This model has a fabric covering to protect the inflatable bladders and allow a higher pressure for better handling, but that does slow drying time.
Key specs – Total weight: 14kg; Length: 340cm; PSI: 1.5; Material: PVC with polyester exterior; How much can it carry? 250kg; Accessories? Bag, repair kit, skeg/keel, but no paddles or pump.
3. Sevylor Tahiti Plus: Best inflatable kayak for families
Price: £177 | Buy now from AmazonSevylor makes a wide range of inflatable kayaks, and this model is ideal for families. The Tahiti Plus weighs just shy of 12kg, but can carry two adults and one child up to 200kg and features three seats. It’s even designed to be carried as a backpack, which shows how small this boat rolls up. The single-skin PVC design makes it fast to dry, plus it features Boston valves for fast deflation, and there’s a pressure gauge on the side so it’s easy to inflate perfectly. It’s worth shelling out for the additional skeg to help keep this inflatable kayak on course.
Key specs – Total weight: 12kg; Length: 361cm; PSI: 1.0; Material: PVC; How much can it carry? 200kg; Accessories? Depends on where you purchase. Paddles and pump included, skeg may not be (about £25)
4. Advanced Elements Sport Kayak: Best lightweight inflatable kayak
Price: £550 | Buy from VortexThe Advanced Element Sport Kayak is a fantastic lightweight version of the company’s Advanced Frame Kayak. The model has a sizeable cockpit for maximum comfort and ease of movement, plus its aluminium ribs – which create a sturdy bow and stern upon inflation of the kayak’s four chambers – replicate the look and feel of a more rigid touring kayak. Its material durability and electronically welded seams mean it’s great for boisterous activity.
If you’re in the market for a particularly lightweight model, you might want to look to the Advanced Elements Ultralight Kayak, which weights in at a mere 8kg. The model can carry an impressive 102kg for all its slightness, however it rings in at a slightly more expensive £699.
Key specs – Total weight: 12kg; Length: 318cm; Width: 82cm; How much can it carry? 113kg; Accessories? Does not include pump, paddles or buoyancy aid
5. Aquaglide Navarro 145: Best inflatable kayak for multi-person touring
Price: £945 | Buy now from AmazonThe Aquaglide Navarro might sit at the top end of the budget spectrum, but it boasts some top end features that arguably see it able to tackle more adventurous paddles without issue.
It relies on three separate bladders to keep things afloat, for a start, in which two large tubes flank an inflatable flat floor, all of which require just a few PSI to get them ready for action. This saves on the sweaty job of manually pumping to ridiculous pressures.
From here, the velcro seats can be placed pretty much anywhere on the floor, making it easy to get the right weight distribution for multiple paddlers. Backrests are then strapped into place via solid buckles and D-rings and tensioned into place.
The overall build quality is excellent and there’s plenty of protection from the elements thanks to a large cover that zips over most of the opening. It certainly feels like it could handle the gnarliest of adventures with ease.
Key specs – Total weight: 16.3kg; Length: 441cm; PSI: 3 & 6; Material: PVC drop-stitch; How much can it carry? 272kg; Accessories? Seats, fins and skeg (no pump or paddle)
6. Driftsun Rover 120: Best inflatable kayak for thrill-seekers
Price: £956 | Buy now from AmazonWhere many of the inflatable kayaks on this list are perfectly suitable for a little paddle around a local body of calm water, the Driftsun Rover 120 (or 220 if you want the tandem model) is built for much greater things.
Able to withstand class III and IV rapids, it features eight self-bailing ports, ample tie-down points and a front action camera mount to capture it all.
Designed and tested on the rivers and rapids of Northern California, this classy (if expensive) inflatable kayak packs an increased rocker profile, similar to what you might find on a surfboard, that helps keep it stable when things get rough.
It’s all fashioned from a reinforced, layered PVC construction, designed to withstand knocks from obstacles, while a rapidly removable rear tracking skeg makes it simple to swap between white water mode and merely an ace kayak for speeding through calmer waters.
Key specs – Total weight: 14kg; Length: 381cm; PSI: 3 & 6; Material: 1000D polyester; How much can it carry? 136kg; Accessories? Paddle, pump, seats, fins and skeg
7. Gumotex Twist 2/1: Best all-round inflatable kayak
Price: £499 | Buy now from Kayaks and PaddlesLightweight and fast to dry, with a stable feel and solid handling, the Gumotex Twist is the inflatable kayak nearly perfected. And that’s because it’s made not from standard PVC but a stronger alternative called Nitrilon. That may sound made up, but this brand-name material – made from layers of synthetic materials and woven fabrics – offers the benefits of a single-skin kayak, while also supporting a solid 3.0 PSI for steady handling on lakes and rivers.
Not only is the Twist relatively light, but it packs down into a small size, making it easier to carry than rival PVC models. A single-person model is also available, although the two-person edition can be adjusted to be paddled by an individual too.
Key specs – Total weight: 13kg; Length: 360cm; PSI: 3.0; Material: Nitrilon; How much can it carry? 180kg; Accessories? Bag, repair kit, skeg/keel, but no paddles or pump
7. Bluefin Cruise SUP: Best inflatable SUP that’s also a kayak
Price: £499 | Buy now from AmazonTake a stand when you’re on the water with the Bluefin Cruise – or have a seat. This inflatable drop-stitch paddleboard features a few cleverly placed D-rings that allow you to clip in a seat. Pick up the included double-ended paddle and the Bluefin Cruise can be used a bit like a sit-atop kayak. It’s naturally not as fast or easy to handle as a true kayak, but if you’re looking for a light bit of kayaking and want to try stand-up paddleboarding too, this flexible option could be the solution. This SUP even has an integrated camera mount so you can easily film your paddles, standing or sitting.
Key specs – Total weight: 18kg; Length: 325cm; PSI: 18; Material: PVC drop-stitch; How much can it carry? 130kg; Accessories? Comes with seat, pump, paddles, skeg and bag.