Last summer, I found myself in a predicament that many fellow kayakers find themselves in. I wanted to purchase my very own kayak, but I was very limited on storage space and didn’t really have a way to transport a full-sized kayak.
After doing some research and making some compromises, I came to an excellent solution: the inflatable kayak. I’ll admit— I was skeptical at first. After all, it did feel like I was buying an oversized, expensive pool floatie. However, after a few times out on the water, I concluded that buying my inflatable kayak was, indeed, a good decision.
Curious if buying an inflatable kayak is for you? Here’s what I learned through my experiences as an inflatable kayak owner and what I would do differently next time.
Table of Contents
What are inflatable kayaks?
If you’ve never seen an inflatable kayak before, you may have some questions. You’re probably familiar with hardshell kayaks, which are typically made from materials like plastic, fiberglass, or a composite.
Inflatable kayaks are made from synthetic rubber and plastic polymers and filled with air— much like a floatie. However, the material is much more durable, which allows it to withstand rocks, sticks, and other obstacles you may encounter in the water. Like hardshell kayaks, you can find inflatable kayaks in a variety of sizes and designs. Some cost less than $100 while others will set you back more than $1,000.
No matter what type of kayak you’re looking for, you can probably find an inflatable version. Many manufacturers offer inflatable recreational kayaks. Others, like Advanced Elements, offer day touring, expedition touring, crossover, angling, and whitewater models.
Why did I buy my inflatable kayak?
The inflatable that I ultimately bought was the Intex Explorer K2. This model is a tandem kayak, meaning it has seating for two people. I love kayaking with friends, and having a two-person kayak allows me to bring a buddy along whenever I’d like.
The Explorer K2 stood out to me for two reasons— it was on sale and it had fantastic reviews. With nearly 14,000 reviews on Amazon, the ‘yak had 4.5 stars and appeared to be the best inflatable kayak within my budget. After reading a few firsthand accounts, I was sold. It seemed like most people were generally satisfied. And best of all, after only a few times on the water, owning it would pay for itself. Instead of renting a kayak every time I want to go out for a paddle, I can just bring my own!
At ten feet long, the Explorer K2 can safely carry up to 400 lbs. The kayak comes with several accessories and parts, including:
- Two inflatable backrests that are easily adjustable to give the front or rear paddler more legroom
- A removable skeg that clips onto the bottom of the kayak for increased directional stability
- Two paddles
- A high-output hand-powered air pump
The boat is roomy and has plenty of space for two people, a dry bag, water bottles, and even a dog.
What are the pros and cons of inflatable kayaks?
So was it worth it? In short— yes! The kayak has held up well, and I haven’t experienced any issues so far. It has traversed gentle rivers and quiet lakes with ease, and I am excited to continue to bring it along on future outdoor outings.
I broke down my experience in a series of pros and cons below. Again, these are based on my experiences with the Explorer K2. You may find that other inflatable kayaks don’t have the exact same advantages and disadvantages.
Pros of Inflatable Kayaks
Here are some of the reasons why I love my inflatable kayak.
- They are compact. If you’re looking to save space, inflatable kayaks are great. Mine is a little larger than a big air mattress and fits perfectly at the bottom of my closet.
- They are relatively inexpensive. I bought my tandem inflatable for just under $100. You won’t find other deals like that with other types of kayaks.
- They’re more durable than you think. I’ve dragged this kayak over asphalt, hit rocks, and paddled over limbs and stick in the water. She’s still holding up strong and hasn’t sprung a leak yet! The best inflatable kayaks will be able to take a beating.
- If you do spring a leak or take on water, you won’t sink. One of the cool things about this kayak is that it has several individual chambers that you have to air up. If you encounter a puncture or leak in one of them, you still have others to help keep you afloat.
- They are stable. My kayak has carried two people and a rambunctious dog all at once, and never did I feel like we were about to tip. The Explorer K2 is very wide, giving it great stability and making it great for kayak beginners.
Cons of Inflatable Kayaks
As great as they are, there are some not-so-great aspects to the inflatable kayak as well.
- They don’t track as well. If you’re a kayaking enthusiast looking for performance, the Explorer K2 inflatable kayak probably isn’t for you. The tradeoff to its stability on the water is that you can’t go very fast nor nimbly navigate. If you want to do some touring or longer expeditions, you’re better off finding a model specifically suited for it.
- They do take some work to inflate/deflate. Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as simply lifting the kayak off the rack and heading down to the water. Prepare to spend around 10-15 minutes inflating all the compartments and pieces. When it comes to deflating, you’ll need to make sure your kayak is dry before putting it up. Folding up a wet kayak can lead to mold, mildew, and unpleasant odors. Getting it back in the bag can also be a little annoying.
- It probably isn’t going to last as long as a hardshell. Growing up, my family had a hardshell kayak that lasted decades. Inflatables are made from a durable material but are still more prone to leaks and splits at seams.
Though I love my kayak, there is one thing I’d do differently. Instead of purchasing the larger Explorer K2, I think it would have been better to purchase two smaller one-person kayaks. Although I could take the K2 out by myself, it’s a tad large and cumbersome. Two smaller kayaks would make it easier to go out for a quick solo paddle.
The Best Kayak Is the One You Have
If you don’t have the storage space or means to transport a hardshell kayak, I definitely recommend an inflatable kayak. Though it might not give you the same performance or longevity as a hardshell, it’s important to remember that the best kayak is the one you have!