A fan of kayaks of all kinds for over 30 years, Tech Editor Fox Morgan discusses what makes the best inflatable kayak or canoe in this tried and tested guide There’s something for all budget levels.
I love my yacht tender, I use it a lot. But nothing quite matches the tranquillity offered by a kayak or canoe to explore shallow or winding creeks. Some people are afraid of these narrow looking craft and I’m no stranger to that myself. I’ve had a healthy fear of capsizing since I did an adventure holiday with PGL back in the early 80s. So one of the things I love about inflatable kayaks is that they are stable. Stable enough to stand up in, move around in and not worry about going for an unintentional swim.
They can be stowed in a cupboard under the stairs or in a shed. You can carry it inside your camper van or boat meaning you don’t have to sacrifice a load of fuel economy with a big old lump of plastic on your roof or unwanted additional windage.
They can be lightweight too. Though this can vary according to the size and build. The ones I have picked out for you vary from 9kg to 32kg.
Inflatable Kayak or Canoe?
The great thing about an inflatable kayak or canoe is that they can be used as an alternative to a traditional tender. They allow you to go exploring places where bigger boats can’t go and you can carry some luggage, some family, pets, fishing gear. Yes, they really are versatile!
Let’s just address practicalities though, with a kayak you do get a bit of water dribbling into your lap from the double paddles, so you’ll need to think about what clothes you wear (if you don’t have a full spray deck that is). But you can more easily take on some moving water and a few waves. Some of the best inflatable kayaks have the ability to clip on a full spray deck. With a double paddle and a braced seated position, you can cover a good few miles easily.
Canoeing though, that offers a more upright seating position and much less chance of getting wet. What you gain in the civilised paddling of the canoe you offset for them being slightly more tricky to maneuver in strong winds and they’re less well suited to going through surf and waves. I personally love a canoe for the fact I can wear normal clothes and not get wet. Canoes often have more luggage space too. Though due to their size they can be a lot heavier.
Each have their merits.
There are inflatable kayaks and canoes for couples, inflatable kayaks for small families and inflatable kayaks for solo paddlers. Whether you paddle on rivers, canals, estuaries or the sea, there are kayaks and canoes to suit everyone
Best Inflatable Kayak – A tried and tested buyers guide
Sevylor Madison 2 Person Inflatable Kayak
This two person kayak has two side chambers that inflate inside a hard wearing nylon outer that allows them to be pressured up. The floor is inflated too and this gives the kayak a certain degree of rigidity.
The two seats are inflatable and are quite comfy, you can adjust the pressure to suit your own backside’s preference.
The front and back ends of the kayak have small spray-decks to help keep water spray out of the kayak. They’re velcroed in place so are easy to peel back to access the valves sheltered underneath. The spraydekcs are strong enough to support a very small dog, but not much else.
There’s a large drain bung on the underside of the kayak to help you drain water out of the kayak when you haul it out of the water.
Naturally when we kayak with a double paddle, we get a little water coming into the kayak. So having a convenient drainage is good. This also allows you to flush it through with fresh water to remove any salt if you’ve been on the sea or salty water.
The Seylor Madison has a single, removable skeg on the bottom which helps it to track in a straight line. I didn’t have any trouble keeping this kayak gong straight, until that is, there was a strong crosswind. As with all lightweight personal watercraft they are effected by windage, So bear that in mind if you want to paddle out on a windy day.
It comes with a footpump and pressure gauge. The pump hose has a bunch of universal adapter attachments and I found them to be really awkward to get the right one in the valve and push the others out of the way.
The footpump was ok, but I think a dual chamber stirrup pump would be better. I found the footpump to be a bit leaky as it got up a little bit of pressure.
The two paddles are good enough, but if you paddle a lot then you might consider buying something a little more personally suited.
After an hour or so on the water I found that the chambers, which were pumped up on warm dry land, had gone a little soft, due to the cool water reducing the air pressure. It’s really tricky to top up the tubes while in the kayak and there’s a high risk of accidentally deflating a tube due to the way the valves are screwed in.
We managed to fit two adults and two small dogs in this Seylor Madison. It was quite a snug fit shall we say. Thankfully the smallest dog could fit on my lap.
As the sides are quite bulky due to the method of construction, I find paddling a little bit of a reach. The paddles are a little longer than those for a non inflatable kayak to compensate for this.
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Föhn Adventure High Pressure Kayak, 1 Person
This dropstitch-constructed single-person kayak from Wiggle gives a rigid ride and is agile on the water. Although it’s a solo ride, you could fit a small pet in there with you.
The little spray decks on the bow and stern are handy for lashing bits of kit to or shoving a jacket or jumper under the lash down.
The seat is adjustable and relatively well shaped to avoid a numb bum.
There’s a really handy paddle holder on the side so when you carry your kayak you don’t have the juggle the paddle too.
It comes with a decent shaped rucksack-style carry bag, It has good handles!
As it is drop stitch constructed, this allows the side pontoons to be narrower and less bulky, which allows for a more natural paddling motion.
Dimensions of the kayak are 352cm long x 73cm wide, the max load capacity is 220kg and this inflatable kayak weighs in at just 12.9kg. It also has a removable fin for directional stability.
Buy it Now from Wiggle.co.uk
Sevylor Tahiti Plus Kayak – 2 + 1
Budget-friendly entry level kayak for two adults and one child, ideal for lakes, fishing and calmer water.
It offers stability and comfort when out on the water, with an integrated spray deck at bow and stern.
The seats are easy to adjust and remove so you can paddle this alone if you want or adjust the seats to accommodate people to suit.
Now I do believe you get what you pay for and at the lower end of the budget range you get very few bells or whistles with this. The inflatable chambers are large capacity making this a bulky kayak to paddle. You’re not getting a rigid solid ride but something a bit softer and more compliant. It’s unlikely you’ll be paddling off particularly far in this, but hey, don’t let me hold you back. It rides waves by flexing over them rather than riding through them. Which can be a bit disconcerting. Avoid waves if you can with this. A bit of a boat wash is about as much as you’d want to tackle.
Definitely more of a summer vibe or for inland waterways exploration.
This inflatable kayak comes with a backpack style carry bag. It has a PVC hull, two PVC side chambers and floor chamber.
When inflated it measures 361cm long x 90 cm wide, and can carry a maximum load of 200 kg. Weight 11.7kg.
It comes with a boat repair kit too.
AQUA MARINA BETTA 1 person inflatable kayak, complete package
Decathlon is the palace of sporting dreams isn’t it. Their kayaks are pretty decent and budget friendly too.
This single-person inflatable kayak from Decathlon is an entry level price but offers a decent ride and a cheap way to get on the water.
There’s no drop stitching here though so, it flexes more than those that are. There’s two side chambers and an inflatable floor.
It is light at 9kg and can take a payload of 110kg. It measures 312cm long x 80cm wide.
It has an adjustable seat with backrest and the basic essentials to get you out on the water for minimal cost.
There’s two skegs on the bottom for directional stability and the curved rocker of this inflatable kayak make it idea for playing in small waves.
I really like the foot brace and other kayaks for more money often come without this. A footrest can make a huge difference for being able to paddle efficiently.
Buy it now from Decathlon
Sandbanks style Optimal single seater Kayak – Grey and Turquoise
Ooh, Sandbanks style inflatable kayaks are really quite lovely. But then of course they are. just take a look at the price. Lots of people rate these kayaks highly for being a rewarding kayak to paddle.
Drop-stitch construction throughout means it is incredibly stiff and gives a real positive paddling experience. A lot of people have likened the ride in surf to that of a rigid kayak.
It inflates to 10psi and the supplied pump is decent quality. Though as with all drop stitched items, the high pressure required will mean you’ll have to work hard to that up to the correct pressure. An electric pump wouldn’t go amiss if you buy this.
It isn’t a sit in kayak as there’s no access to fit a spray deck. It’s more of a sit-on kayak. The cockpit area is prone to filling easily with water so you might want to carry a small plastic bailer to help stop the slosh. I’d like to see thigh straps for this to help with the paddling efficiency.
The removable skeg on the bottom is sturdy and well mounted.
It comes with a wheelie rucksack with room to pack everything in. It measures 12’8’’ long x 32’’ wide, weighs in at 16kg and can carry a max payload of 159kg.
But it now from annscottage.com
Best Inflatable Canoe
Aqua Marina Tomahawk AIR-C High Pressure Kayak (3 Person)
This fab drop-stitched inflatable canoe is distributed by Decathlon, Wiggle and Amazon.
You are spoiled for choice where to get this from, which is probably right, since it’s not a cheap item. Shop around for a reduction if you can.
The Tomahawk inflatable canoe model offers great versatility on the water and could be used an an alternative tender. The high sides and the thinness afforded by the drop stitching makes it easy to paddle and stiff enough to keep it stable.
The added bonus is you can carry two people and your dog and some shopping in this one. Or your camping gear. Or 3 friends can paddle out together. It’s pretty big!
The Tomahawk isn’t quite the perfect canoe as you sit on a seat on the floor with your legs out in front of you, more like in a racing car than the standard canoe bench seat, but this serves to lower the centre of gravity making it feel so much more stable. And with the flat bottom adding to that stability, you’ll be glad it has two fins to help keep it tracking where you want it to go.
Coming at nearly 25 kilos though, you might want a friend to give you hand with this one.
Size: 478cm long x 88cm wide, Max. Payload: 260kg, Weight: 24.7kg, Air Chambers: 2+1+2, Kayak fins: 2
Price Between £695 – £1015
X500 Itiwit canoe
This is a second option for a canoe in this guide to the best inflatable kayak. Yes I know it’s a canoe but it’s a very nice canoe and absolutely worth considering if you love to pack a load of stuff and go off adventuring across lakes, rivers and other flat water.
The wooden seats are comfy as is the paddling position. The drop stitch construction of this Itiwit canoe from Decathlon gives a really rigid feel and a positive paddling experience with good tracking and steering.
This canoe has a contoured wetted hull shape, negating the need for the fin to help with tracking. This makes it a little less stable than the others but so much easier to pull up onto a beach or a platform or pontoon without damaging a thin plastic fin. The Itiwit is described as being for intermediate paddlers, but you can get started with this on calm water and build up your skill level that way.
Packing it away into the supplied carry bag is a master class of perseverance and determination. It’s a nicely deigned bag though so worth insisting to get it back in after use.
As with all things, you get what you pay for and this is no cheap water craft.
Designed to fit 2 adults and 2 children, the canoe has 4 seats, sized accordingly. It’s an ideal small craft to pack with camping gear for over night adventures, especially for two people and maybe a pet or two.
As with everything there’s a compromise and with the canoe, it’s the weight. It comes in at 32kg, which is pretty hefty.
When the canoe is inflated: length: 510 cm (16.7 feet) width: 100 cm (3.3 feet)
When stored in its bag: Height: 100 cm, width: 45 cm, Thickness: 38 cm
full weight: 32 kg (70 lbs)
SWITCH 2 in 1 – Inflatable Kayak & Paddle Board Package
Not sure if you want a kayak or a stand up paddleboard? Well, why not have a bit of both.
The Switch 2 in 1 paddleboard kayak allows you to stand up paddle or sit down paddle.
Users can quickly convert the board from a SUP to kayak using the IsleLink connection system; a series of webbing loops that run the length of the board rails matched with stainless steel G-hooks on all IsleLink accessories. Using this system, The Switch can be easily configured for solo or tandem kayak use and a wide range of other set-ups in both kayak and paddleboard modes, including connecting two boards together.
Other features include full-length soft and grippy traction pad supports (designed for comfort for yoga, pets, kids, and lounging). Using G-Hooks and IsleLink connection system, users can also secure accessories to the board.
The kayak-mode seats have a 4-inch inflatable seat cushion and fiberglass-reinforced seat backs for all-day comfort and control on the water.
Safety First – personal floatation devices
When using personal watercraft we always advise carrying some form of additional buoyancy aid.
This could be a a buoyancy jacket made of foam or an emergency inflate if you need it type of waist pack.
I wear a Yak solid foam buoyancy and a Spinlock Alto when I’m playing with small water craft.
Spinlock ALTO Belt Pack (Atoll Blue)
A 50n inflatable horseshoe buoyancy for when you really need it. The waist pack is light and you can barely feel you’re wearing it. So handy for paddlesports where you don’t want a bulky buoyancy to get in the way of paddling. It is manually activated so it won’t go off unless you tell it to. You can fall in the water to your hearts content and only pull the trigger cord if you really need it.
Yak Kayak & Kayaking – Blaze Kayak 50N Kayak Dinghy Sailing PFD Buoyancy Aid for Watersports Blue – Unisex
The basic 50n foam buoyancy is a staple of every paddlers cupboard/hanging rail. I’ve had my Yak buoyancy for over 10 years and although there’s the odd dirty mark on it, it’s still in great condition. I’ve used it for kayaking, paddlebaording and dinghy sailing, as well as a float to rest tools on as I swim around the waterline of my yacht scraping weed off.