What is the best Inflatable Kayak to buy
As a whitewater rafting guide, I get asked what is the best inflatable Kayak to buy in 2022. I have tried many of them and have put clients in the on multiple occasions.
Inflatable kayaks, or IKs, have come a long way over the years. Now you can safely take them in Class III rapids, and if you know what you are doing, even Class IV. There are two-person, trick, sea, and whitewater inflatable kayaks at various price points.
In this article, we will do a deep-dive into the world of IKs, and I will give you my recommendation of the best inflatable Kayak to buy in 2022. These are my honest, unbiased recommendations, and since I’m not paid to promote a particular brand my suggestions come from my own experiences with each brand I reference. What is the best
History of Inflatable Kayaks
Inflatable kayaks have been around for quite some time, but they were never considered a viable replacement for hardshell kayaks until recently. IK’s were seen as less durable, challenging to maneuver in whitewater, and prone to flipping. IK’s were an excellent solution for lakes and open water and for being stored and transported easier.
Flash forward to today, and you will see IK’s on the Grand Canyon. I have personally taken them on the Middle Fork of the Salmon. My son ran his first Class IV Rapid in an IK; well, he may have flipped at the end.
Inflatable vs. hardshell Kayaks
Now I know what some of you are saying, ” IK’s don’t compare to a hard shell.” I would agree with you, but we need to see that they serve different purposes. Hardshell kayaks are great for big water, incredibly maneuverable, and durable. Hardshell Kayaks are great for surfing and designed to navigate rough water. However, high-quality IK’s can also handle Class III and IV water.
IK’s are also safer because you fall out if you were to roll over, and you have to master the roll in a hardshell to get yourself upright. They also have self-bailing floors, preventing your Kayak from filling up with water. IK’s weigh less and are easy to pack–even onto a plane if need be.
Hardshell’s can certainly maneuver better and take on much bigger water, and they also are ideally suited for running waterfalls and other large drops. If you love surfing waves, Hardshells are the perfect Kayak to use.
If you search the web, you will find staunch opinions on either side of the debate. My recommendation is that if you are planning on running Class III/IV or less and want a Kayak that can do that, I would run an IK. If you’re going to devote your whitewater experience to Kayaking, and plan on taking on more extensive water or drops, get a Hardshell.
Best Inflatable Kayak manufactures
When looking for the best inflatable Kayak to buy, I recommend narrowing your focus to a few good suppliers. There are a lot of cheap alternatives out there, but if you plan to run whitewater, you will need to buy a high-quality Kayak. One rule of thumb would be that anything under $600 probably is not suited for whitewater.
NRS: Inflatable Kayak
Northwest River Supplies, or NRS, makes a couple of decent IK’s, but recently got out of the IK business. They used to make IK’s under the Maverick line, but since they purchased Star Rafts, they have put most of the IK product line under that name.
The Star inflatable Kayak is an inexpensive and stable PVC boat, and I own a few. They maneuver pretty well in big water and can handle big wave trains. I did, however, swap out my seat and added thigh straps to make it ready for larger rapids.
NRS has a few product lines under the Star name, with the Raven being their top-of-the-line boat. As a side note, their product videos leave a lot to be desired. Considering that they only show their Kayaks in slow-moving water. It makes me really confident in their ability to handle rough whitewater.
AIRE: Inflatable Kayak
Aire has an expansive product line of Inflatable Kayaks to try. I have owned and have been impressed with a few of their models. Their entry model is the Tributary, and it is a long IK that is incredibly stable, and I have used it on my guide fleet for years. They are affordable boats that can take a beating from client abuse!
Their Lynx line is their flagship model and can handle any water you put on. It is a little heavier than the Tributary but runs much better in bigger rapids.
Aire also offers a playboat, the Aire Force, which is loads of fun. It is the closest I have come to feeling like I am in a hardshell. It catches eddylines and waves just like a Hardshell, and you can even roll the boat. Aire’s drawback is that it is designed for smaller Kayakers and can be bogged down with people like me that weigh over 200 lbs.
Hyside: Inflatable Kayak
I ran Hysides on the Middle Fork of the Salmon and was impressed with how they ate up the rapids. They were tough enough to hit any Class III or IV that I went down, and they were easy to paddle throughout the day. The only drawback was that their backrest was uncomfortable, and their side tubes were pretty large, which caught in the evening wind that blew up the canyon.
They are made out of Hypalon, which is much more durable than PVC boats, making their price point a little higher than the other two manufacturers.
The best inflatable Kayak to buy is . . .
What is the best inflatable Kayak to buy? I would have to say it is the Aire Tributary if budget is a motivating factor. The Tributary is a great boat and will get you down most rivers.
However, if you can afford it, I would go with the Hyside Padiallac I. It is a great boat that will tackle any water that you throw at it.
Go get your Inflatable Kayak and get on the water!