What is the Best Inflatable Kayak: Inflatable vs. Hardshell & Class IV Rapids

Jason Loomis
Written by
Last update:

If you’re new to paddling or exploring, you’ll come across the words inflatable kayak, hardshell kayak, and class IV rapids.

So what is the difference between these 3 kinds of kayaks and which kayak is the best one to buy if you’re into the great outdoors?

Read on to find out.

You can check out my full guide here to the best inflatable kayak, but here’s a short summary of the three different kinds of kayaks.

NameCategoryProduct
ADVANCED ELEMENTS AdvancedFrame Inflatable KayakBest OverallADVANCED ELEMENTS AdvancedFrame Inflatable Kayak
Intex Challenger Kayak SeriesBudget PickIntex Challenger Kayak Series
Oru Kayak Foldable KayakUpgrade PickOru Kayak Foldable Kayak

1. ADVANCED ELEMENTS AdvancedFrame Inflatable Kayak

Our rating: 9 / 10

ADVANCED ELEMENTS AdvancedFrame Inflatable Kayak

Check Price on Amazon

Pros:

  • Ultra durable
  • Super lightweight
  • Can hold up to 500lbs
  • Quick inflation time
  • Great for class IV rapids

Advanced Elements is a company that makes quality inflatable kayaks. With the AdvancedFrame, Advanced Elements has created a high-end inflatable kayak that can rival any hard-shell out there.

The kayak is incredibly durable. For a company that makes inflatable products, you wouldn’t think so, but the skins are thick and don’t have any signs of a leak.

When it comes to weight, this kayak weighs in at 35 pounds, which is quite light. It’s easy to carry and set up by yourself. Set up can be done in about 5 minutes. At 1foot wide and 27.5 inches long, it’s easy to haul over rocks or logs!

2. Oru Kayak Foldable Kayak

Our rating: 6 / 10

Oru Kayak Foldable Kayak

Check Price on Amazon

Pros:

  • Stable on the water
  • Doesn’t take up much space
  • Is lightweight and easy to tote around
  • Foldable kayaks are perfect for car camping
  • Very durable

Cons:

  • A little bit heavy at 12-18 lbs
  • Expensive, but worth it
  • Fragile fin

(2 Pack)

The Kayak is an important investment. If you plan on spending time on the water, try to get a kayak that you will be able to use for years. Solo kayaking is a very different animal than tandem kayaking.

You don’t have a lot of room, so you can’t carry a lot of gear with you. Which is why it’s a good idea to try out your kayak and paddle before you buy it.

3. Intex Explorer K2 Kayak

Our rating: 6 / 10

Intex Explorer K2 Kayak

Check Price on Amazon

Pros:

  • Affordable
  • Sleek and fast design
  • Easy to store
  • Durable
  • Great for 2, for couples, and solo kayakers

Cons:

  • Storage is mediocre
  • Not ideal for rougher water

If you’re looking for a budget friendly, lightweight, easy to use kayak for two, the Intex Explorer has everything you’re looking for.

This durable inflatable is made from heavy duty PVC, which is an industry standard for a reason. Expanding its 125-inch width and 48-inch height takes some time and can be a bit challenging, so practice before you go with a partner.

But, once inflated, it’s lightweight and easy to balance. It comes with a carrying bag, two high-output valve stem hand pumps (for rapid inflation), two aluminum oars, and two air chambers, so if something does happen, you and your partner will still be safe.

4. Intex Challenger Kayak Series

Our rating: 6 / 10

Intex Challenger Kayak Series

Check Price on Amazon

Pros:

  • Good customer ratings
  • Easy to inflate and store
  • Good value for your money
  • Good for paddlers of varying experience levels

Cons:

  • Lower weight limit
  • Can be uncomfortable in choppy water

Now let’s take a look at the challenger inflatable kayaks from Intex, which have become very popular based on customer ratings.

When it comes to inflatable kayaks, there was never been a better time to get started. They’re not as heavy or bulky as hardshell kayaks, which means they’re easy to transport and store. They’re also much more affordable, especially if you’re looking to just try out kayaking for the first time.

However, not all inflatable kayaks are made the same, and it’s important to go with a reputable brand. The inflatable Explorer is quite reasonably priced compared to some models but has everything you need to start out.

5. Sevylor Quikpak K5 1-Person Kayak

Our rating: 5 / 10

Sevylor Quikpak K5 1-Person Kayak

Check Price on Amazon

Pros:

  • Affordable
  • Very compact and lightweight
  • Can be folded for easy storage
  • Comes with a handy carrying case
  • Made of durable materials
  • Really excellent customer service
  • Stable, tracks straight, and glides with ease
  • Easy to inflate and deflate
  • Can carry up to 275lbs in weight

Enter the Sevylor Quikpak K5. This kayak is incredibly easy to use and is perfect for those wanting to try their hand at kayaking.

The K5 is perfect for canals, ponds, rivers, and lakes – even for class IV rapids.

It’s super lightweight so you don’t have to worry about inflating it. At only 12 lbs this kayak is one of the a lot lighter on the market. It’s also really compact, so it’s easy to fold for storage. Once you’re done, the QuikPak K5 deflates in minutes. This kayak measures 10 x 18.5 x 46. And when packed, it measures 10 x 3 x 18.5 inches.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Are Intex inflatable kayaks any good?

While i mostly raft, i sometimes take one of these cheap inflatable kayaks out. So far i have stuck to similar brands like Intex and Sevylor. I’ll admit the quality is not as good as my hard-shell, but for the price, it’s totally acceptable. For an inflatable, they’re totally worth the money.

What is the best brand of inflatable kayak?

There are a lot of different brands of inflatable kayaks out there, but I really like “Khan”. They are made in New Zealand and known for being fairly tough kayaks.

People who love their kayaks say they are easy to transport and set up. The only caveat is this brand doesn’t make any inflatable kayaks for really big water, so they’re not the best for class IV rapids. But if you’re looking to take an inflatable kayak to the lake or on easy rivers, check them out.

Are inflatable kayaks safe in the ocean?

I get this question a lot and should qualify a few things before answering it.

First of all, I’ve been on the beach in some pretty big surf and have never seen anyone being launch or sucked off shore in a sea kayak. There are many groups that do take them out in swells and surf, but those tend to be experienced kayakers who are prepared for the conditions they might face. The same is true for whitewater kayaking in swift current.

The only time I would think twice about this is if you are at a beach. Large breaking waves come at you extremely fast and unpredictably and there is the chance that you may be launched. Whitewater kayaks are specifically designed to deal with the turbulent water at the ends of the river, but my concerns would be the same for inflatable kayaks.

What is the best inflatable kayak for Whitewater?

An all around champ for whitewater is the SmartTrack from Wavesport. It offers a one-touch system for setting up and it is built for class IV rapids. This isn’t to say you need steep whitewater rapids to utilize a surf kayak. In fact, they are great in just about any big water. There are great kayaks on the market with everything from hard shells to removable skegs to inflatable boats.

Inflatable kayaks are the ultimate travel kayak as they can be deflated and carried in a backpack. For more on the best inflatable kayaks, check out my detailed comparison post where I lay out the pros and cons of the best models.

Conclusion

One of the first decisions you need to make when buying a kayak is whether you should buy an inflatable kayak or a hard shell kayak. The hard shell kayaks are usually made of polyethylene and are more robust than inflatables that are usually made of a PVC or Hypalon. The downside of getting a hard shell kayak is that it can be a pain to move around and storage is not always convenient. You need a vehicle or else you have to call in a favor from a friend with a vehicle. But the pros of buying a hard shell kayak is that they are easy to maneuver and they can handle most water conditions. Most of them are incredibly durable and can handle many years of use.

Our Recommendation

NameCategoryProduct
ADVANCED ELEMENTS AdvancedFrame Inflatable KayakBest OverallADVANCED ELEMENTS AdvancedFrame Inflatable Kayak
Intex Challenger Kayak SeriesBudget PickIntex Challenger Kayak Series
Oru Kayak Foldable KayakUpgrade PickOru Kayak Foldable Kayak