As the weather heats up in the Northern Hemisphere, thoughts turn to outdoor activities and “fun-in-the-sun.” If you’ve arrived at this blog article, you’re already intrigued with the idea of paddling across a lake, down a lazy river or along a coastline, and are looking into inflatable kayaks. Maybe you have limited space, want to pack into the back country, need lighter weight options or travel in an RV. Regardless of the motivation, there are a myriad of choices which can be daunting.
Please note: This Blog Post has been updated for 2021 – see updated article.
To help you narrow down the field, AirKayaks has put together a table comparing our 2020 inflatable kayak options – the table is located at the bottom of this article. The kayaks have been divided into four sections sorted by price – Under $500; $500 to $749; $750 to $999; and $1000 and up. Within each of those four sections, we have sorted by manufacturer, model name and stock number, price range, number of paddlers, kayak lengths, widths, weights, payloads, # of chambers, inflation pressures, design style and kayak type.
AirKayaks originally posted this article in 2019. We have updated it to reflect the kayak choices and changes for 2020. To help you get going, we describe the attributes of each style first. For further information on inflatable kayak choices, benefits and definitions, please also see our popular guide to Choosing an Inflatable Kayak – What You Should Consider.
Enclosed Design Inflatable Kayaks
The enclosed hull design is similar to many hard shell kayaks; this is shown above in the Advanced Elements AE1044 AdvancedFrame DS-XL kayak. The snugger cockpit design keeps excess water and wind from entering the kayak, and also less direct sun. Many of them have coamings (the gray tube in the photo above, encircling the cockpit) that allow you to attach a spray skirt.
What is a spray skirt? This is an accessory that attaches to the kayak around the coaming, and then again to your body (shown above on an Innova Swing). The function is to keep out even more wind and water.
Many of the enclosed decks can be zipped open for easy entry or to cool off, but the benefits of the enclosed design include the ability to kayak in windier and colder climates/situations (shown above, the Aquaglide Navarro series).
A closed-design tandem can also be paddled solo, but it is not as balanced as the paddler must sit in the rear fixed cockpit, rather than the optimal position “just rear of center.” Typically, adding weight to the front will help balance out the kayak (as shown with Eddie sitting in the front cockpit of an Innova Swing 2 kayak).
Open Design Inflatable Kayaks:
This includes the largest number of kayaks. The open design consists of a kayak with higher walls – which keeps out some water – but a much more open design (shown above on the Kokopelli Moki with removable spray deck and spray skirt. The benefits include the ability to adjust the seat for optimal performance and easily store additional gear.
Open-design kayaks large enough to be paddled tandem can also quickly convert to solo usage by moving the seat without cockpit restrictions. This is shown above on the AquaGlide Chelan 155 HB XL for 1-3 paddlers – it is paddled solo by removing one seat and repositioning the other seat.
While these designs are open, some have optional spray decks, which can be attached to make them enclosed if desired. The photo above shows an Advanced Elements Convertible DS paddled tandem in the open design as well as solo with the enclosed deck. In the Comparison Table, these are labeled “open/enclosed” if they come with a zip-out deck, or “open (1)” if an optional spray deck is available.
Some of the open design kayaks are also self-bailing, meaning they have open ports in the floor. These are best for fast moving water such as rivers/whitewater; as the water comes in, it will also pass out. Some self-bailers are called “crossovers” as they have plugs in the floor which can be left opened or closed. The plugs should be closed in calmer conditions so water doesn’t come back in, as shown above.
Sit-On-Top Inflatable Kayaks:
The Sit-On-Top features the most open design of all. Side walls are lower or the kayak has a slightly recessed seating well. These are great for recreational situations where the weather or water is warm (unless you plan on gearing up with a dry suit), for wave-running, some whitewater, or where you want to be able to dive or jump into the water and cool off. Shown above is the Advanced Elements StraitEdge 2 (now replaced by the high-pressure StraitEdge2 Pro) inflatable kayak. Since these are simpler in design, they are often the easiest to set up and the lightest weight – though not always!
While we don’t go into details in our Comparison Table below, another sit-on-top option is an inflatable standup paddle board with an optional attached seat. The photo above shows a Hala Gear Carbon Nass inflatable paddle board with an optional seat attached.
High Pressure vs Low Pressure Inflatable Kayaks
At this point we want to mention high-pressure versus low pressure inflatable kayaks. To keep the kayak afloat, air chambers are inflated to a recommended PSI (air pressure per square inch). We typically consider anything under 3PSI to be low pressure. Low pressure kayaks are often less expensive to construct, and are great for recreational use, though won’t paddle quite as well as some of the more rigid (high-pressure) kayaks.
In general, the longer the kayak, the more one needs high pressure so that the kayak won’t be “saggy.” The image above shows a low-pressure 1-PSI PVC floor (on the bottom) versus a 4-6 PSI drop-stitch, high pressure floor.
This is further illustrated in the image above, showing an AquaGlide Blackfoot 125 HB inflatable fishing kayak which is 6 PSI for the floor and 3 PSI on the side walls.
On the following table, we list PSI as floor PSI/side chamber PSI. While some of the kayaks are all-around high pressure (such as the Advanced Elements EVO above) others feature high pressure floors.
Last, we mention one of the lesser-known innovations, the inflatable Packraft kayak. By “definition,” Packrafts are dinghy-style inflatables light enough to carry for long distances; most weigh less than 10 lbs and can be easily backpacked into remote areas.
While originally geared towards backpacking, bikepacking and whitewater, some of the newer models are focusing on flatwater touring and come with tracking fins. Kokopelli Packraft has come out with a tandem version – the Twain. The photo above shows the 85-inch Kokopelli Rogue Lite solo kayak, which weighs in at 5.7 lbs. The Packrafts are available in both open style and enclosed style (decked).
2020 Comparison Table Guide to Inflatable Kayaks at AirKayaks
As previously mentioned, we have divided our 2020 inflatable kayak list into four sections sorted by price – Under $500; $500 to $749; $750 to $999; and $1000 and up. Within each of those four sections, we have sorted by number of paddlers, manufacturer, model name and stock number, kayak lengths, widths, weights, payloads, # of chambers, inflation pressures, design style and kayak type. If you have trouble reading it, here is a printable PDF version. For further information on inflatable kayak choices, benefits and definitions, please also see our popular guide to Choosing an Inflatable Kayak – What You Should Consider.
To find out details on each of the models listed above, visit the website at www.AirKayaks.com. Or feel free to give us a call at 707-998-0135.