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Name a better activity than kayaking on a lake with your dog. I’ll wait.
For folks who regularly rent kayaks at their local lake or river, buying one will save you tons of money (plus, all the kayaks on this list are way more comfortable and maneuverable than a crappy rental kayak). Kayak rentals can run upwards of $100 per day, so if you use your kayak between five and 10 times depending on the price, you’ll get your money’s worth.
While summer is coming to an end and there might only be a few more days of sunny weather to get on the water depending on where you live, kayaks are great buys during the end-of-year shopping holidays. You’ll likely be able to score hundreds of dollars off during Prime Day, Black Friday or Cyber Monday, and you’ll be all set to get on the water once spring rolls around. Live in a place where it stays consistently warm? Then you won’t even need to wait.
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Here’s everything you need to know about inflatable and folding kayaks before you buy.
Inflatable kayaks vs hard kayaks
The main differences between inflatable kayaks and hard kayaks are weight, size, storage, stability, and speed.
A hard kayak requires a roof rack to transport, two people or a kayak rack to get from the car to the water, and the strength (or a lift-assist kayak rack) to lift it on and off the roof rack of your car. If you can’t be bothered with all of that, an inflatable or foldable kayak is your best bet. They generally range from 17 to 60 pounds depending on whether you get a single or tandem and pack down small enough to fit in the trunk or backseat of a car. These can also be stored in a closet or under a bed, so you can still have a kayak even if you live in an apartment.
For storage, inflatable kayaks need to be left out to dry completely before packing them away, or you run the risk of mold. Hard kayaks are much easier to dry off, and of course don’t need to be folded up for storage.
In terms of stability, inflatable kayaks get the win. They tend to have wider bases, which makes them much less likely to tip over. This impacts the speed and maneuverability a bit, which we’ll get into below, but they’re generally great for recreational paddling and calm water.
Are inflatable kayaks cheaper than hard kayaks?
Inflatable kayaks generally tend to be cheaper and on the low end of the price range than their rigid counterparts. You can get a $100 or $200 inflatable kayak, whereas the lowest price you’ll find on a hard kayak is probably around the $400 range. Once you get into higher-end inflatable and hard kayaks though ($1,000+), the prices tend to even out.
You get what you pay for with inflatable kayaks though. A $100 or $200 model likely won’t be comfortable, won’t be very lightweight, and won’t have any of the durability features we highlight below. We recommend inflatables in the mid-tier price range (around $500) for the best bang for your buck.
Are inflatable kayaks slow?
While inflatable kayaks are huge on stability, the downside is that they’re not as speedy as hard kayaks. Hard kayaks tend to build speed faster than their wider inflatable counterparts, which can be important for paddling long distances. If you’re just paddling on your local lake or river for a few hours, you’ll be just fine with a slightly slower inflatable kayak.
Are inflatable kayaks durable?
Inflatable kayaks can be ultra-durable, but you need to look out for durable materials and quality construction. A $100 inflatable kayak probably won’t be as tough as one at a higher price point with better construction. For the highest durability, look out for boats made of PVC with high pressure spring valves and drop stitch technology. If you’re into more casual paddling, you can get away with an inflatable kayak with a PVC bottom/hull and lower pressure valves.
Is the Oru kayak any good?
Of course, the foldable kayak on this list — the Oru Lake(opens in a new tab) — doesn’t conform to the same size or durability standards as inflatable kayaks. The Oru Lake is much smaller and lighter than the other models we tested, weighing in at just 17 pounds and packing down to the size of a medium suitcase. It’s rated for durability up to 20,000 folds, and while it’s much lighter than some of the other kayaks we tested, it still maintains good stability on calm waters.
Oru kayaks are also made of an ultra-tough corrugated plastic as opposed to the PVC that most inflatable kayaks are made of. We found during testing that the outer plastic of Oru kayaks seemed to be just as durable as inflatable PVC kayaks.
What inflatable/foldable kayak is the best?
We think the Oru Lake(opens in a new tab) is the best option, due its lightweight design, great portability, fast setup, and reasonable price point. We also liked the Retrospec Coaster for paddling with dogs, and the Bote Zeppelin Aero(opens in a new tab) for the 2-in-1 paddle board and kayak design.
Read on for more details on each kayak, and scroll to the bottom for the rundown on how we tested each one.
How we tested
The kayaks on this list were first chosen through rigorous online research. Each of the kayaks selected were then hands-on tested at multiple lakes and rivers to get a sense of how they navigated different bodies of water. All of the lakes and rivers were relatively calm, flat water, but for the higher level testing, there was also a fair amount of wake from boats. All of our picks remained stable and easy to paddle in all of these conditions.
We also tested the Kokopelli Twain,(opens in a new tab) which would be great for hike-in paddling since it’s super light. We didn’t include the Twain in our final list of recommendations because the setup was a bit of a pain in comparison to the other models, and the comfort level just wasn’t up to par with our top picks.
We tested the Oru Beach LT(opens in a new tab) too, and though we liked the adjustable-height seat back and the footrest, we didn’t find that the added size and stability was worth nearly double the price of the smaller, cheaper Lake model. If the adjustable seat back and footrest are deal breakers for you, Oru also offers a Lake+ model(opens in a new tab) with these features.
While testing, here are some of the things we looked out for:
Comfort: We ensured our top kayaks are comfortable for at least two hours of paddling. This includes seat support, seat height, leg room, and width.
Tracking and maneuverability: No one wants to use a kayak that doesn’t want to turn or go in a straight line. We checked maneuverability by testing quick and slow turns in each direction, and checked how well each kayak tracked in a straight line.
Stability: For recreational kayaking (especially for beginners) stability is important. We made sure each of our top picks was stable enough for a beginner paddler to feel comfortable and secure. All of our top picks also stood up well against moderate to high wake from motorboats on a lake.
Ease of setup/takedown: The easier the setup and takedown, the more likely you are to use your inflatable kayak. We noted the setup times for each of the kayaks, and prioritized quick and easy setup and takedown.