Today’s inflatable kayaks have come a long way from their humble origins. Once little more than a pool toy, modern inflatable models are made with rugged materials that can withstand sharp rocks and high waters.
It’s an appealing design to adventurers with limited storage space—an inflatable kayak can be folded to fit in a backpack, small car, or a box in the back of the closet. Inflatable models offer a portable and compact alternative to bulky and cumbersome hardshell versions.
But not all inflatable kayaks are built with the same degree of quality. Some models will give you years of adventure and enjoyment, while others will leave you feeling…deflated.
We took a closer look at some of the more popular inflatable models available today. By combing through user ratings and expert reports, we picked the models that stood out in terms of quality, price, features, and customer satisfaction.
Here are the best inflatable kayaks on the market today!
Top Rated Inflatable Kayak Reviews
1. Advanced Elements AE1012-R AdvancedFrame
Quick take: A hybrid folding frame model that blends performance and portability.
The AdvancedFrame kayaks from Advanced Elements aren’t strictly inflatable. Instead, they’re a hybrid of folding frame and inflatable models—a combination that blends performance with portability.
With built-in aluminum ribs in the bow and stern, the AdvancedFrame allows owners to save space without sacrificing the tracking and speed of hardshell kayaks.
The setup is as simple as unfolding the frame, inflating it, and attaching the seat. Buyers report that setup and breakdown take roughly 10 minutes each.
The hull is also built with three layers of durable material, including heavy-duty PVC Tarpaulin. The seams are welded and reinforced on the bow and the stern.
The solo AdvancedFrame is 10 feet, 5 inches long and 32 inches wide. It weighs 36 pounds and has a maximum carrying capacity of 300 pounds. Advanced Elements also makes a “convertible” version of this model, the AE1007-R. The AE1007-R has 3 seat locations to switch between solo or tandem.
The AE1012-R AdvancedFrame offers the best of both worlds to people with limited budgets or storage space. The performance of this inflatable model rivals many hardshell models, yet it still can be easily packed away in a large suitcase or the trunk of a car.
With the smart hybrid construction, we think it’s the next best option to a more expensive fiberglass model. It steers, handles and performs far beyond its price.
We’re also very impressed by the convenience of the setup procedure. It’s very quick to get arranged and inflated. Likewise, it’s super easy to put in storage.
Users report that the AdvancedFrame exceeds expectations in tracking and speed. It’s also quite stable and difficult to tip over without trying to. We’re impressed that it rides and performs pretty identically to a traditional hard-body model. Especially at this price, you’d be hard pressed to find a hardshell model that has any significant advantages over the AdvancedFrame.
Many were also impressed by the durability of the AdvancedFrame, particularly along the bottom of this boat. A few owners reported that they’d used them extensively for years, bumping up against rocks, tree branches and the like without any issues.
The rugged material of the AdvancedFrame is built to withstand the test of time without ripping or puncturing. That’s especially important for people who are going to be putting out in gravel areas around rivers. Many fabric models can’t handle gravel push-offs. Previous buyers said that every construction element from the fabric shell to the internal valves, was sturdy and reliable.
A number of reviewers were pleasantly surprised at the quality of customer service at Advanced Elements. Questions, complaints, and requests were met with helpful and prompt responses, and most buyers who ran into trouble were able to resolve their issues without much hassle.
For top performance in the water, owners recommend purchasing the Advanced Elements “backbone.” The backbone is a metal bar that can be placed along the floor of the boat to improve speed and tracking. We put this in the “Con” category because an extra purchase is required to achieve peak performance with this model.
Another inconvenience was noted by some reviewers. In order to store this one, the material must be left to dry before packing it away. If the AdvancedFrame is packed up while damp, the fabric can become moldy. It can be a bit inconvenient to have to plan drying time into your schedule for your water adventures, so that’s something to be aware of.
The AdvancedFrame is our top pick because it offers the portability of a inflatable model with the performance of a hardshell. With durable construction, solid speed and tracking, and an easy setup, this one will give you years of enjoyment on the water.
The AdvancedFrame earns high praise from nearly every reviewer, many of whom have owned their kayaks for many years. If you’re looking for an affordable inflatable kayak that can keep pace with hardshell models, we strongly recommend the the AE1012-R AdvancedFrame.
2. Aire Lynx II
Quick take: Luxury and longevity.
Our top quality pick is the Aire Lynx II. It’s one of the more expensive models on the market, but it’s well worth the investment.
This self-bailing inflatable kayak is large enough to fit two people, but can be easily maneuvered solo. The length and shape make it one of the best inflatable kayaks for extended river trips. Compared to the majority of inflatable kayaks, the Aire Lynx II is much faster and easier to maneuver.
With a length of 12 feet and a width of 39 inches, the Lynx II is a large and stable kayak best suited for rivers. It features PVC-coated tubes and floor for a rugged hull that can withstand up to Class IV rapids. That’s seriously rugged for an inflatable model!
It also comes with comfortable seating—the adjustable seats feature stiff backrests for superior support. There’s ample room to store cargo, and optional thigh straps to get more out of your paddling. Overall, it’s more ergonomic and more pleasant to use than our other recommendations.
Perhaps the best feature of the Lynx II isn’t part of the kayak itself, however. The Lynx II is backed by a ten-year unconditional warranty—ensuring you’ll be out on the water for years to come.
The Aire Lynx II has inspired glowing reviews across the Internet, and each claimed this kayak was worth the investment.
Owners praised the durability of the Lynx II, with many claiming they’ve used their kayaks for many years without any significant damage to the hull. On the contrary, the Lynx II manages to look brand new after years on the water. Previous buyers said they’d been using theirs for up to 20 years!
It’s also an extremely portable kayak, weighing only 32 pounds. Setup and breakdown are a breeze, according to users, and once deflated, the Lynx II is compact enough to be strapped to a backpack.
The Lynx II stands out from other inflatable models in terms of speed, performance and control. The continuous curve shape of the hull is designed to be faster and more responsive, easily skimming over the top of the water. Previous buyer said that made for a much easier paddling experience, with less effort and strain required from those onboard.
The ten year unconditional warranty is also a terrific upside of the Lynx II—though, according to reports of the kayak’s durability, you may never have to actually use it. Still, it inspires a great deal of confidence in the quality of Aire’s product.
The only prominent downside to the Lynx II is the price. At nearly twice the cost of most other inflatable kayaks, the Lynx II is no small investment.
The Lynx II is a cut above the competition. With superior speed, control and durability, this high-end kayak is an investment in quality.
The ten-year unconditional warranty also ensures that owners can have the confidence of many years of enjoyment from their Lynx II. If you’re looking for a kayak that will last a long time, the Lynx II is worth every penny.
3. Sea Eagle 330
Quick take: An inexpensive and durable tandem kayak that doesn’t cut back on quality.
If you’re looking for a inexpensive kayak built for two, we recommend the Sea Eagle 330. It’s one of the most popular models around, and consistently earns high ratings from owners.
The Sea Eagle 330 can fit two adults with a maximum capacity of 500 pounds—though the kayak itself weighs only 26 pounds. It’s light enough to be carried by a single person, and setup takes about 6 minutes.
The body of the Sea Eagle 330 is made of durable puncture-resistant, K-80 polykrylar material. The hull is able to withstand up to Class 3 whitewater rapids, and the seams of the material are welded together at a high heat to prevent leakage.
This kayak also provides ample storage space, enough to enjoy several days of camping. There are also inflatable spray skirts for the front and back of the kayak, and a self-bailing drain valve—both essential features in ocean surf and rapids.
For first-timers, families, and recreational kayakers, the Sea Eagle 330 is a great choice. The entry-level price point and ease of use are two of the most attractive features of this kayak. It’s also very easy to set up and take down.
One of the most important qualities of inflatable kayak is durability—nothing is more worrisome than the thought of slowly losing air a few miles downriver from civilization.
Luckily, users say the Sea Eagle can withstand not only abuse from sharp river rocks, but also the general wear and tear of time. The tough material of the hull as well as the high-quality seams allow owners to tackle up to Class 3 rapids with confidence. Reviewers said they’d taken the Sea Eagle on all sorts of waters without problems, from still lakes to Class 3 rapids without having any handling or durability issues.
To be clear, the Sea Eagle 330 is better suited for calmer waters than whitewater rapids. However, it does speak to the durability of the hull to note that this kayak can hold its own in such conditions. The Sea Eagle is also versatile enough that many users use it as a multipurpose kayak, paddling it through rivers and lakes.
The Sea Eagle 330 also tracks well, according to its owners. Many inflatable kayaks suffer from poor stability and control, but Sea Eagle has attached two skegs to the 330 in order to improve speed and tracking. Previous buyers said it maneuvers easily and stably on all water conditions, whether you have one or two people onboard. They said they didn’t think they could tip it over without trying pretty hard.
One of the most common complaints about this kayak is the lack of back support from the inflatable seats. Buyers with back problems may find it a challenge to paddle the Sea Eagle 330 for extended periods of time. Many reviewers suggested purchasing the higher quality Deluxe Inflatable Seats, also sold by Sea Eagle.
Additionally, some taller users felt cramped when using the 330 with another adult. Taller shoppers may want to check out the longer version of this kayak, the Sea Eagle 370.
It might not be the fastest kayak around, but the Sea Eagle 330 is one of the best inflatable kayaks in its price bracket. It has earned a great reputation from users, who say this kayak has given them years of enjoyment on the water.
If you’re looking for an inexpensive recreational kayak that won’t break the bank, the Sea Eagle 330 is one of the best deals in the world of kayaking.
Which Inflatable Kayak is Perfect for You?
Our favorite kayak for the price is the Advanced Elements AE1012-R. If you’re looking for a kayak that doesn’t sacrifice performance for portability, we recommend this model. With a durable design, collapsible frame, and good tracking and speed in the water, this kayak comes highly acclaimed by beginners and experts alike. It’s the best choice if you’re looking for the best value, and have a flexible budget.
If you have a larger budget and are on the water regularly, the Aire Lynx II is worth a look. It earned our “highest quality” spot for its unparalleled durability, speed and maneuverability. It offers superior cargo space and comfort when compared to other inflatable models. All that quality is backed by a ten-year unconditional warranty. It’s by far the most expensive vessel we’ve recommended in this guide, but if you can afford it, the Aire Lynx II is well worth the money.
For first-timers, weekend warriors, or kayakers on a budget, we highly recommend the Sea Eagle 330. This wildly popular inflatable kayak has earned high ratings among owners, and is a lot more durable than the competition. It’s inexpensive, decently ergonomic, and a great starter vessel. While we think that ardent paddlers should spend a bit more, we’re confident that the 330 is the best in its price bracket.
Want to explore even more great kayak options? Read our reviews for the best kayaks!