Top Three Inflatable Kayaks Per Category

I get lots of questions about which inflatable kayak would be good for different groups of people such as families, big people, small people, and children.

There are also lots of questions about which models are best for river kayaking, ocean bay paddling, lake paddling, etc.

There are so many options now for inflatable boats that it can be hard to narrow down your search.

I have written several articles over the years that deal with each category specifically but I decided to do one main article that gives a run-down of the top 3 inflatable kayaks for each category I could think of.

The kayaks that I have put in each category are my opinion only and based on my experience, what I have learned and what I have seen to work first hand.  It seems that most people are looking for a kayak that fits into several different categories which of course can make the search a little more difficult.

It takes a little bit of research and comparison to choose the model that will work best for your needs.  The below categories are simply meant to be a starting point as to where you might want to start your search.

So let’s get started. I have chosen 15 main categories. To get detailed information on each individual kayak go to the inflatable kayak review page.

Most Popular

These are the models that I have noticed to be very popular. I think the reason is that each of these kayaks give you a lot for your money.

  • Sea Eagle FastTrack
  • Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame Convertible
  • Sea Eagle 370

Best for Lake Paddling

These models will paddle very well on flat-water lakes. They excel in tracking and speed.

  • Sea Eagle FastTrack
  • Innova Sunny
  • Tributary Sawtooth

Best for Sea Kayaking

The below kayaks were designed specifically for sea kayaking. They are able to do day trips as well as multi-day ocean paddling trips.

  • Aire Sea Tiger
  • Innova Helios I or II
  • Innova Seaker

Best for Ocean Bay Kayaking

These models are excellent for paddling within ocean bays. They are not necessarily the best choice for venturing further out to sea.

  • Innova Helios I or II
  • Sea Eagle FastTrack
  • Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame

Best for Easy to Moderate Rivers

These are good for up to class III river kayaking.

  • Sea Eagle 380X
  • Tributary Tomcat
  • NRS Maverik

Best for Whitewater

These kayaks are able to handle up to class IV rapids very well.

  • NRS Maverik
  • Aire Force
  • Aire Lynx

Best for Lake and Ocean Bays

Lots of people want to be able to paddle on lakes as well as in easy ocean bays. The below models will fit the bill.

  • Sea Eagle FastTrack
  • Innova Helios
  • Aire Super Lynx

Best for Families

These are great for families who want to paddle together as they are longer and typically have lots of extra room.

  • Sea Eagle 465 FastTrack
  • Sea Eagle 420X
  • Innova Sunny

Best for Small Children

For smaller children who want to kayak in their own boat, these models will work well. They are small, light weight and easy to manoeuver.

  • Advanced Elements Firefly
  • Infinity Orbit
  • NRS Rascal

Best for Traveling

Although most IK’s are able to easily go traveling with you, these models are very lightweight and easy to bring along but also perform well.

  • Innova Twist
  • Infinity Orbit
  • Innova Helios

Best Overall Quality

It is too difficult to choose just three models that are the best quality.  In truth there are three manufacturers that in my opinion design and construct the best quality inflatable kayaks.  They are:

  • Innova kayaks
  • Aire kayaks
  • Sea Eagle kayaks

Best Convertible

These IK’s are able to convert from a tandem model to a solo model. They are great for those who want to bring a partner along for the ride but also want the ability to paddle their kayak solo when they choose.  I have chosen three popular models but in truth there are several IK’s that could go in this category.

  • Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame Convertible
  • Sea Eagle FastTrack
  • Aire Super Lynx

Best for Those Big and Tall

These kayaks will suit those who need extra width as well as possibly extra length.

  • Sea Eagle 380X or 420X
  • Advanced Elements StraitEdge 2
  • Aire Outfitter

Best for Smaller People

There are so many models that would suit a smaller person but the below three will be a particularly good fit.

  • Infinity Orbit
  • Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame
  • Innova Helios

The Lightest

These are the lightest IK’s on the market.

  • Innova Twist – 16 lbs.
  • Advanced Elements Firefly – 16 lbs.
  • NRS Rascal – 17 lbs.

It can be hard to narrow down the choices for each category to just three models so this is just a basic reference, there are many others that are worthy contenders and could easily have been added.

As new inflatable kayaks come on the market and older models get upgrades this list can definitely change. However for now each of these are all very relevant and well suited for their respected categories.

If I missed any specific categories don’t hesitate to let me know and if I think of any more I will add them to the list.

Comments

  1. We have enjoyed our XR2 Sevylor in northern California Rivers for the last 5 years and are looking for a second 2 person boat. We are comparing the Tributary, the NRS Outlaw, and the Solstice Flash. We are looking for something that handles Class III sections. There is very little info on the Flash, has anyone used that boat? Also, is the NRS single walled and the Tributary double walled (with zippers),and does that make much difference?

    • Hi Julie, Unfortunately I don’t have any experience with the Soltice Flash but I believe the the NRS and the Tributary kayaks are better quality. I tend to lean more towards the NRS Outlaw mostly because NRS specializes in river kayaks and I know so many people who love river running in them. If you have the skill the Outlaw can be paddled in up to class IV rivers. However the Tributary kayaks definitely hold their own and they do come with a better 5 year warranty (compared to only 3 years for the NRS Outlaw). The Tributary kayak material is slightly stronger, as you mentioned they are double walled – also why it has a better warranty, also why it is more expensive. I don’t think you can go wrong with either kayak. Hope that helps!

  2. Allison: Based on reviews and videos I bought a 380X Sea Eagle, hoping that the water I used to gather in my Innova Helios going through Class II/III rapids (crazy?, no it can do it) would “drain away” and I would not be sitting in cold water between rapids in the 380X. Of course I expect to get wet during such encounters…but not SITTING in river water after one goes through the rapid, i.e, it drains below my butt. However, as soon as I sit in the kayak the water rises to a couple of inches above the floor. I’m only 200 lbs.I never read anything about “wet” kayaking in anyone’s 380X review so I am rather disappointed in this craft. I like its stability and tracking on flatwater but I do both and versatility is what the Sea Eagle website says it does. With the kayak properly inflated, all of the drain holes open and the kayak just resting on the water, the water level is indeed below the inflated floor right at the drain hole, but any weight and the water comes in above the floor and you are sitting in it. Am I doing something completely wrong here or is this your understanding that this is normal and the water will only “drain” to the level commensurate with the weight of the occupants and their load? The distributor says “you should have the holes closed on flatwater” and have them all open when doing whitewater and it will drain away”. Duh. As it is a flat floor unlike an Aire or NRS I wonder is it even possible to have it drain away if you are not sitting on a raised floor? Any advice as I am about to ship it back for a refund? I certainly like this feature, a six month “trail”.

    thanks

    • Hi Daryl, That is really frustrating. I feel the water should drain away much better than that and not rise to your seat level when you sit in it. I know it can be a wet ride when in the rapids but I haven’t heard of the 380X filling with water to such a degree. I’m wondering if you close a few of the drain valves if that might help, although you may have already tried that. The only other thing I can suggest is to give Sea Eagle a call before you send it back and see if they have any brilliant ideas on how to fix the issue. Sorry I couldn’t help you more and very sorry it hasn’t worked out for you! I hope Sea Eagle can shed some light on the problem.

    • One of the most important things I’ve learned from reading what Lee Arbach at http://www.theboatpeople.com has to say is that the thickness of the floor in an inflatable is absolutely crucial to avoid sitting in water when the bail holes are open. All Sea Eagle air deck floors (Explorers, Fasttracks) are about 3″ thick. This is not nearly thick enough to allow water to drain below the top of the floor when the bail holes are open and the boat is loaded. I owned an Explorer 380x and never opened the bail holes because I used it only on flat water. I also owned an Aire Sawtooth that has a 6 or 7 inch thick floor with bail holes that can’t be closed. At 230 pounds, I never even saw any water in the cockpit on flat water. Aire boats are designed for whitewater use and you won’t ever be sitting in water if the boated is loaded at or below it’s spec.
      According to Lee, with a 12 or 13 foot long whitewater boat, you need a 6″ thick floor if you are going to load the boat up with two 200 pound people. This eliminates a lot of boats that are advertised as whitewater capable including NRS Outlaws, (read the review from an unhappy owner on the NRS website), Sea Eagle Explorers and Fasttracks, Solstice Flash 200 and European Z-Pro Flash 200s (4″ floor). The only boat I’ve seen other than Aire and boats from specialty whitewater outfitters that will work is the Zoik Alter Ego II which has a 6″ floor. The Zoiks, Flashes (U.S. and European) and Sea Eagle Explorers and Fasttracks are all made by Woosung, so the quality is consistent across all these boats, it’s mostly floor thickness that makes them more or less well-suited for whitewater use.

  3. Eleanor says:

    Hi Alison, I love your site! I am experienced canoer, with a high tech 17ft canoe which weighs about 50 pounds, which means it is too heavy for me to take out alone as I am not as young as I used to be. I also have a 14ft dagger hard plastic kayak. So here is my issue: I am looking for a lightweight, under $500 inflatable kayak so my dog (who goes with me in my canoe and is well trained) can paddle with me when no one is around to canoe with me. This is my first look at inflatables and I have been reading a lot of reviews. I live on the Conneticut River in Mass. and would like to go out for a paddle after work, and the water is usually slow to moderate moving, though the river is broad enough to get some wind at times. When I started this search I thought I might just want a play toy, but then realized that because of my boating experience I need something a little better. I don’t want to just turn in circles. I am trying to balance cost, weight (around 20-30), performance, durability, and enough space for me and the dog, though I don’t see myself taking any gear. I have looked at the Sevlor Tahini, the Sea Eagle 330 and the Sea Eagle 370 (which is just a bit to heavy) the Innova Twist, Double Twist and the Orbit. Though canoeing is always my first choce, I would like to find something for after work paddling. What woud you recommend?-Eleanor

    • Hi Eleanor, Glad you are finding the site helpful!! I would stay away from the Sevylor Tahiti. If you are an experienced paddler, you will not be happy with it. The Sea Eagle 330 is decent and would work well. The 370 is going to give you more space for your dog and will paddle a bit better but as you mentioned is a little heavier. I like the Twist a lot, the quality is good and it is a comfortable ride. The tracking and performance are slightly better with the double. The Orbit is a lot of fun and is very easy to maneuver. However it has a fair amount of yaw movement and there isn’t that much room for a dog – unless he’s really small. So overall I would say the 330 or the Twist are your best bet for under $500. Hope that helps!

      • Eleanor Cresson says:

        Hi Allison, Thanks for the reply. If it were between the Double Twist and the 330, which would be better?-Eleanor

        • Hi Eleanor, If your dog is bigger/heavier go with the Double Twist, it’s a great kayak. However the seats are not adjustable so for solo paddling you would need to sit at the back and have some heavier weight up front in order to balance out the weight so that the kayak performs as it should. If your dog is not that heavy then go with the Sea Eagle 330. Still a great kayak and the seats are adjustable so you can take one seat out and move the other so that you are seated in the middle of the kayak.

  4. Allison,
    I just spent a day watching a person having a ball surfing with a hard body kayak that looked to be specifically designed for surfing. Is there an inflatable kayak you would recommend for the same?

    • Hi Doug, The smaller inflatable kayaks tend to work best for surfing because they are easier to maneuver quickly. There aren’t any that are specifically designed for surf but I think one of the best choices would be the Airis Play. It’s an absolute blast to get that kayak in ocean surf!.. If you will be in heavy surf then take a look at the Innova Swing as it has the closed deck for added protection. Cheers.

  5. Allison,
    Love your site! Canoeist for ,lo, these last 40+ years and now looking for something lighter and portable for two people. We do mainly flat water and have come across “Saturn” kayaks available in Toronto. Do you know anything about them?
    Also do you have any opinions and info on different modes of seam sealing ?
    Thanks in advance, and have a great Xmas, Alex

    • Hi Alex, glad you are finding the site helpful! Unfortunately I don’t have much experience with the Saturn kayaks but I believe the quality is decent, but I can’t comment on how well they perform. Quite honestly I’ve never had an issue with the seams of my kayaks so I don’t have much experience with sealing them. I would suggest contacting the manufacturer directly for any tips on that. Sorry I couldn’t help you more. Good luck!

  6. john oliver says:

    I just bought the 13′ saturn kayak and love it. very durable material. i have a fleet of hypalon rafts and this is my first PVC craft and I’m pretty happy with how thick and durable the material is. It inflates rock hard. i bought the explorer model. i chose it because it has those 4 shallow fins thus allowing decent tracking and able to go through shallow water. i’m not so sure i like the 2 front “skegs” (fins) as they keep the boat from wanted to turn. i’ll probably cut those off and see if it improves. its not a white water model and i’m sure it fills up with water just like all my rafts do, which is why i have a hand held bilge pump.

  7. Just found your web site and really appreciated the info I found. I have the Sea Eagle 330 and being rated for 500lbs, it’s excellent for two 125lb people. I’m looking for a whitewater inflatable. I’ve been looking at the Solstice Flare 1 and cannot find the depth of the floor. It looks like the Zoik alterego which has the 6″ floor. If you have any knowledge of this I would appreciate any info.. Thanks.

    • I believe they are the identical kayak. As far as I know the companies aren’t connected but maybe they get them made at the same manufacturer? Not sure, but they are virtually identical. I haven’t actually tried the ‘Soltice Flare 1’ but if it is the same as the Zoik AlterEgo then the floor should be 6″.

  8. Excellent perspectives! How about a “best for camping/expedition” category?