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The 8 Best Inflatable and Collapsible Kayaks for Summer 2022

These collapsible and inflatable kayaks are built to last a lifetime in the water (and fit in the back of your tiny apartment’s closet).

best inflatable and collapsible kayaks

Kayaks give you unrivaled access to quiet lakes, rushing rivers and hidden inlets. And, on calm water, they require little-to-no technical skill. The only problem with ‘yaks is when you’re out of the water — most are heavy, bulky and take up a ton of space in your home (if you live in an apartment, you’ll need to get creative).

Enter: Inflatable kayaks. (While most collapsible kayaks are inflatable, there are a few others that use frames and folds instead of air; some are good, some are more cumbersome than convenient.) Inflatables simplify that process. They pack down small, which means they’re easy to store and transport. "While an inflatable kayak will never outperform a hard boat, they do handle well on most water thanks to advancements in materials and boat designs," says Wes Eads, Gearhead and Sales Associate at outdoor e-retailer Backcountry.

Take note: inflatable kayaks offer less control since they sit on the water instead of in it, and they require perfect air pressure for optimal performance. But, generally, inflatable, collapsible and foldable kayaks make everything else easier — from transportation to storage. Plus, they open up a world of new paddling possibilities; put one on your back and you can hike in five miles to a hidden lake, or check it underneath a plane for international travel. They’re usually lighter on your bank account, too.

Don’t fall for the $100 boats you can get at Walmart, though. “To ensure you’re getting a quality boat, you need high-quality materials and construction methods,” says Eads. Look for vessels made from Hypalon (like commercial rafts) and PVC with high-pressure valves (especially C7s produced by Leafield), and ideally welded seams instead of glued, which are tougher on rough water. And, bonus if the boat has an internal cell of air (called an air chamber) as well as an external shell. “This acts as a second layer of defense against puncturing,” Eads adds.

Here are eight high-quality collapsible kayaks worth your money.

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Best Overall Inflatable Kayak
Bote Zeppelin Aero 10' Kayak
Scott Seiver

  • Easy to inflate and deflate

  • On the heavier side
  • Weight: 37.5
  • Capacity Weight: 300 pounds
  • Dimensions: 10' L × 38" W × 10' D

First-timers and seasoned paddlers alike will find something to enjoy about our favorite kayak on this list: whether it's the easy setup, comfort or performance of the little vessel.

At 37.5 pounds, the Zeppelin certainly isn't made for long hikes, but what it lacks in ultra-lightweight, it makes up for in stability and performance. The Zeppelin 10' is the single-seater little brother to Bote's 12′6″ tandem kayak and includes all the same features: bungees, Rac receivers, MAGNEPOD and a self-draining hull that make it ideal for multi-day paddling trips or long days on the water. We strapped our camera, Yeti cooler backpack, Chacos and jackets to the Zeppelin and had everything we needed, right at our fingertips.

The kayak and inflatable seat inflate in less than 5 minutes thanks to the included hand pump, and each of the three air chambers' inflate/deflate ports are labeled with the correct air pressure for easy filling. Setup and takedown are a breeze, and the travel bag makes it a cinch to throw and stow in the truck or the garage.

If you're a car camper or have a little extra space, Bote's inflatable option is for you.

    Best Splurge Inflatable Kayak
    NRS Aire Force Inflatable Kayak

    • Pro-level accessories make this kayak capable as hell

    • Pricey for infrequent paddlers
    • Weight: 32 pounds
    • Capacity Weight: 275 pounds
    • Dimensions: 9'6" L × 38" W

    From legacy-brand NRS, the Aire Force is a dependable, splurge-worthy upgrade for intermediate to advanced kayakers who want the best of the best. Combining the performance of a hard shell with the convenience of an inflatable, the Aire Force comes with a few key features that set it above the rest: thigh straps offer more control while tackling sizable whitewater, while new double-mesh drain holes expel water quickly and don't get plugged up with debris. Built-in float bags on stern and bow help you roll with the best of them, and multiple air chambers are sealed with the gold standard of valves, the Leafield C7.

    NRS recommends this boat for intermediate to advanced paddlers under 185 pounds, so those with bigger builds or less paddling experience may want to shop for another option on this list.

    Best Budget Kayak
    Sevylor Quikpak K5
    Now 23% off

    • Affordable fun

    • Pump can be finicky
    • Weight: 25.5 pounds
    • Capacity Weight: 250 pounds
    • Dimensions: 33.5" L x 8.5" W x 20" H

    The QuikPak hits the sweet spot of relatively cheap without compromising quality with the bonus of being quite convenient to carry. Made of 25-gauge PVC with a few skegs, which are similar to a rudder but immovable, on the bottom to help with tracking, this inflatable kayak is reliable enough for a riled-up lake or light river paddle. The built-in spray skirt stretches across the cockpit and is an excellent guard against weather and water. Multiple air chambers are a must when working with inflatable boats — these are your first guard against having the boat pop when there’s a leak. Most intriguing, the whole kayak (minus the pump) packs down into the seat to become a 25-pound backpack for easy transport, and it can be off your back and on the water in under 10 minutes. You’ll probably want to upgrade to a less finicky pump and paddle, but $300 for a ‘yak is still a pretty sweet deal.

    Best Folding Kayak
    Oru Kayak The Lake
    Joe Tornatzky

    • Easy to store and transport

    • Instructions can be hard to access
    • Weight: 18 pounds
    • Capacity Weight: 250 pounds
    • Dimensions: 42" L x 10" W x 18" H (kayak box)

    The Oru Kayak Lake model is the brand's newest version of their ever-popular folding kayak, and at $499, is the most economical model they've offered. The setup, once you master the whole process, can be done in under a minute. This is totally flabbergasting because for such a sturdy and large thing (a kayak), the setup feels like it shouldn’t be this quick, but it is!

    One thing to note is that the QR code on the product to help with setup did not actually take me to a helpful video, but instead to the Oru Kayak TikTok, which was entertaining, but not helpful. I had to find the setup video on YouTube which was slightly annoying but ultimately no big deal because I had cell service. I could see this being an issue if you were out in the great outdoors with little service. In my honest opinion, setup instructions should be printed on the interior of the kayak.

    But setup aside, once I was on the water the feeling was otherworldly. I did have to adjust the paddles for my size (a bit of a guesstimate) and next time would do a little research about the appropriate kayaking form. All in all, this kayak is ideal for city dwellers short on space, with access to cell service (for the instructions) and a little patience.

    Best for More Than One Person
    Sea Eagle SE370SK_P
    Sea Eagle

    • Speedy and well-constructed

    • Heavy
    • Weight: 53 pounds
    • Capacity Weight: 650 pounds
    • Dimensions: 12.5' L x 34" W

    Sea Eagle’s tandem offering is the poster child of why people have been turning to the company for reliable inflatable kayaks for over 50 years. It weighs just over fifty pounds and packs down small enough to throw in the trunk, yet it can fit three people and ferry up to 650 pounds, making it an excellent option for bigger guys or overnight trips on flat water with a ton of gear. It’s made from a toughened PolyKrylar (a PVC material that will hold up to UV light, oil and gas) and all of its seams are welded. Plus, the I-beam floor has five inflatable tubes and two skegs underneath, making for a speedy and relatively responsive 12-foot vessel.

    Best for Clean Tracking
    Advanced Elements AE1012 AdvancedFrame Kayak

    • Foldable and inflatable construction feels extra sturdy

    • Can only fit one person
    • Weight: 36 pounds
    • Capacity Weight: 300 pounds
    • Dimensions: 30″ L X 17″ W X 10″ H (folded size)

    A hybrid of a folding frame kayak and an inflatable, this boat packs down relatively well (it fits into a medium duffel). At 36 pounds, it’s a little heavier than others — but it performs way above most. The aluminum ribs in the bow and stern give the boat more control and tracking in the water so it handles as close to a hard-shell kayak as you’ll find in an inflatable, which, to many, makes it worth the extra weight. Plus, the construction is top-notch: the boat is made from a triple-layer of polyester material with a double PVC coating, has welded seams, convenient carrying handles, multiple air chambers and the right amount of onboard storage room for long trips. (Advanced Elements also makes a cool tandem-convertible kayak in a longer version of the same frame that’s worth checking out).

    Best for Long Hikes In
    Kokopelli Rogue-Lite

    • Smallest, lightest pack on the list

    • Prioritizes lightness over comfort
    • Weight: 5.5 pounds
    • Capacity Weight: 300 pounds
    • Dimensions: 12" L x 8" W (packed size)

    Kokopelli’s Rogue-lite is a pack raft, not a kayak — but considering it rolls up to be just 4.8 pounds and the size of a paper towel roll, it’s the most ideal boat on this list for stuffing into a backpack or on a bike for hike-in launches and high-alpine lake fishing. Don’t be fooled by its compact size, either — the boat, crafted for easy white water, moderate rivers and lakes, is made from Kokopelli’s uber-durable proprietary blend, in addition to a Kevlar-reinforced floor with seams that are both stitched and double-taped. The lighter weight does come with some comfort compromises — there’s no seat back — and just a single inflation chamber, but with the featherweight of this boat and reliability of the Kokopelli brand, the payoff is well worth it.

    Best for Tackling Rapids
    Cronin Ugly Ducky

    • Ideal for white water use

    • Not great on calm lakes/ water
    • Weight: 40 pounds
    • Capacity Weight: 650 pounds
    • Dimensions: 9’9″ L x 39″ W

    While most inflatable kayaks are notoriously terrible in white water, the Ugly Ducky is made specifically to help you tackle rapids. It may look like a glorified pool float (hence the name), but the huge rocker nose and tail allow you to plow through lateral waves rather than dive into them as traditional or inflatable kayaks tend to do (no rolling required, either). Instead of the typical I-beam floor of a ducky that forces you to sit higher in the water, Cronin’s has a drop-stitch floor, putting you essentially at water level, making you more stable on rapids. It won’t treat you well on a calm lake since the square front isn’t ideal there, and the rocker nose catches the wind, but in white water, fans say the goofy-slash-ingenious design lets them tackle rapids a class above what they can handle in a hard boat. One downside: while the boat does pack down to about the size of a carry-on suitcase, it doesn’t come with a carrying case or a pump.

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