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inflatable kayak choice advice needed

I have recently found that I love the sport of kayaking....but have also found that I am physically not able to transport and secure a hard shell onto my truck by myself. I actually had to leave the kayak at the lake parking lot and drive home to get my husband to load the yak in the truck for me. This is when I started to investigate and research the inflatables. I plan to use the boat on lakes and fairly easy rivers at first, but would like to eventually advance to some low grade whitewater.

I appreciate any thoughts, advice, and recommendations before I take the plunge and buy one.


  • AIRE has a great reputation
    for inflatable boats, including kayaks. Although they mostly make serious whitewater kayaks, they have some that would be better on flat water or both flat and white.


    In the Tributary group, under Touring, see the Sawtooth. Also, see the Strike.

    Another good website is:


    Some folks here will likely suggest folding kayaks -- which I know nothing about, but which may work for you.

  • I have a Helios II by Innova
    -- Last Updated: Sep-15-12 2:04 AM EST --

    its about 15 years old and I like it as a double, not as much as a solo but Innova makes other boats designed a singles. There are ome great folding boats but they will not set up or break down as fast but they are easy to rooftop and do not have to be taken apart after every use.

  • if it quacks like a duck...
    -- Last Updated: Sep-15-12 8:46 AM EST --

    then it really is a duck. Dgrizz, I really like your choice of boats- wanting to do some floats and mild whitewater in and around wv. I own three: a riken cherokee: old, heavy, super reliable, easy to patch, easy to paddle. You might be able to get something like it used from a rafting outfitter. A sevylor sk 1oo ds- my favorite boat although its currently not available from the manufacturer- the floor is superstiff and its highly manuevable. Also have an aire tomcat. My least favorite of the three. It paddles fine but it is a bladder boat and I'm not impressed with the quality of vinyl thAT aire uses for the bladders. They are easy to repair or replace but I like a boat I don't have to repair to begin with and aire boats are not cheap. The reality is that you would be happy with most of ducks available in todays market.
    The key with ducks is current. You can wear yourself out on the flats. Think Greenbrier in the Spring, or upper New in the Summer.
    Saturn also recently entered the duck market.
    I Have duckies, will loan for you to try ut. Live in WV. Contact me via the wvwa.net message board. Doing a ducky trip next weekend.

  • AIRE bladders are urethane and bomber
    though the Tomcat bladders ARE vinyl (just for clarification). Even the Strike in the Tributary series uses urethane. AIRE boats, including their rafts are among the most respected inflatables out where I live -- people trust them for 14 day Grand Canyon trips, for example. Just trying to give correct info about a company that makes great gear for the river community.
  • Options
    appreciate the advice...what about sea e
    I have looked at several of the kayaks mentioned. One I also have looked at quite abit, but have not seen mentioned so far is the Sea Eagle Fast Track. Any thoughts on this one?
  • Options
    folding kayaks??
    Can you tell I am new to this?! Thanks for mentioning the folding kayaks...I had not heard of them! Am researching them now as well. Are they suitable for lakes, rivers, and mild whitewater? I'm intrigued by the incredible warranty offered by Folbot too. Any thoughts?
  • folders may be one option
    -- Last Updated: Sep-15-12 7:58 PM EST --

    I am a huge fan of folding kayaks, though it would depend what sort of Class II you were going to do. Really shallow and twisty might not be the best match, but if the rivers around you are moderately straight with open whitewater some folders would be OK.

    For intro folders it is hard to beat PakBoat. Their Puffin Saco single runs around $1000 and weighs under 25 pounds. I can lift mine with one hand. Takes about 20 minutes to assemble though you can leave it set up all season. You can paddle it with the deck as a sit inside kayak or remove the deck and paddle it open like a pack canoe(without the deck it is only 21 lbs.) Nice boats. Tougher than they look, too. We bought our first Pakboat from a guy who uses them on fishing guide trips in whitewater rivers in Patagonia and in the Northern reaches of Canada and Alaska.

    One advantage folders have over inflatables is that they tend to paddle more like a hard shell -- i.e., they track straighter and a bit faster.

    Biggest drawback is that it is nearly impossible to find them in dealerships to try out. Where in WV are you? I'm in Pittsburgh and would be happy to let you check out my Puffin if you are ever up in this area. I just broke my arm (on the second day of our vacation 2 weeks ago, no less) so I won't be paddling it any time soon, but it is still set up if you'd like to use it. I'm 10 minutes from a river put-in. Send me a private email if you'd like to get in touch.

  • Options
    Sea Eagle 385FT
    I have the Sea Eagle 385FT and like it a lot. It takes about 10 mins to pump up with the supplied foot pump and is also easy to fold up back into the trunk. It cleans up and dries quickly once I get home. It tracks straight with the fin in the back. The skin is pretty tough as long as you don't drag it. I have used it over 20 times without any visible wear. It is also very stable for kids and family, but I mainly use it on lakes and bays. It has a 36" beam, so it's not the fastest kayak, but comparable to other SOTs with the same dimension. The other kayaks suggested are also pretty good. The folders will feel more like a hard shell than the inflatables.

    If you decide to get it, the deluxe seat is a better deal. It sits higher and so easier for the paddle to clear the side tubes.
  • Look here
    www.foldingkayaks.org and if you are on Facebook join the folding kayak Klepper and Co site. Can't give you the link because can't get on Facebook. I really like Feathercrafts but have owned Folbots. They will replace parts free even on prowned boats.
  • Options
    I have a feathercraft......great kayak......but I don't like the trouble of setting it up/tearing it down every time I paddle (so it has become a perpetually set-up part of my kayak inventory).

    The issue may be more the weight of your kayak and how high you are having to lift it, etc. I would try to load some of the lightest ones that still fit your needs before going with flexible/collapsables.
  • take apart? Article reference.
    There is an article in the most recent issue of California Kayaker Magazine (Summer 2012) on kayaks for people living in small spaces. Many of the options for small places are also useful for lighter weight transport. Specifically, the take apart boats but the weight of each piece in half or thirds.

    Can be read online for free at http://www.calkayakermag.com/magazine.html
  • skin on frame
    -- Last Updated: Sep-18-12 12:31 PM EST --

    You may want to consider a skin on frame kayak. These are all handbuilt and there are numerous small makers as well as often home-built ones for sale by folks who have made their own. I have an 18' SOF that weghs a mere 31 lbs so a more modest size SOF is often under 25 lbs.

    A good intro to SOFs is builder Brian Schulz's blog:


    Ypu can build your own through instructional classes or free design bt Tom Yost:


  • Options
    Get a trailer..
    -- Last Updated: Oct-09-12 10:32 PM EST --

    I am female too. 5'2" and my back isn't what it used to be so I feel your pain. A dolly is a big help but how to get it on TOP of the car? There are racks like the Thule Hullivator that come down from the roof to the side of the car but you still have to lift up the kayak a bit to get it on there.

    Keep in mind that even an inflatable weighs something. My inflatable weighs about 35lbs (it's a lot cheaper than a 35lb kevlar boat!) and I can lift it to carry it when it's inflated without a problem but I don't think I'd be able to get it above my head..so that's where deflating it would come in.

    It's an Advanced Elements Advanced Frame 10.5" kayak. I highly recommend it because it's a GREAT rec kayak as well as an inflatable. It's a tough boat that I've had in Class 1/2 whitewater and it tracks and steers great. I use it for river boating in the Pine Barrens and on the Delaware River. It's a tough boat that I've dragged over rocks, tree trunks, etc..without a problem.

    Advanced Elements sell a lot of different types of inflatables, from smaller rec boats to whitwater kayaks as well as a nice folding/frame up. Check them out because their boats are not only well made and well designed but very affordable.


    You can find reviews of the AE boats and the other boats mentioned right here on the Reviews section of Paddling.net.

    My problem is that my car is a Jeep Wrangler with a soft top and it's very high up so car topping a boat isn't an option. So I went for the inflatable and used to carry it on a cargo rack that attached to the rear bumper hitch. Worked well enough.

    But then I really wanted a longer, faster boat so I succumbed and bought a sea kayak and a Trailex kayak trailer.


    BEST thing I did! MUCH easier to load/unload even a 16' sea kayak on and off the trailer than it is to inflate/deflate the 10' inflatable. Inflating the boat always took longer than I liked and after paddling I had to deal with a wet boat to deflate, fold and clean and dry out!

    Plus, the kayaks live on the trailer in my garage! No unloading/loading from the car! I just pop 'em on the trailer and they are ready for the next time! The Trailex aluminum trailer is so light that you can move it around without a problem so if parking is a problem I just detach it from the hitch and put it next to the Jeep.

    Look into this option because IMO it's much better than being relegated to just having an inflatable. I haven't deflated my Advanced Element inflatable in 4 years. I'd probably buy another one though because it's a really nice rec kayak so if you are wedded to the idea of an inflatable than look into the Advanced Elements line of boats. They have tons of options at great prices.

    AE doesn't sell direct but Airkayak.com is the best place to get their boats and they have other brands as well with free shipping and lots of accessories. They have great customer service too.


    However, armed with a dolly and a trailer you can buy whatever kayak you want/need and never need a man to help you again to load or unload your boat. Just another option that works for me.

  • trailer -- great idea!
    I do like this solution (assuming the OP has a place to keep the trailer, doesn't mind driving it and doesn't mind spending the money).
  • cheap deal on a light folder
    -- Last Updated: Sep-27-12 1:29 PM EST --

    I had mentioned Pakboats and if you are still considering what to get, there is a guy just posted a Pakboat Puffin 12 (predecessor of the Saco and the model I own) for sale on Ebay for $400 "buy now" plus $60 shipping. I doubt you would find a cheaper deal on such a light and good quality folder under 25 lbs. It is bid now at $92 but has not met minimum. Looks to be in excellent shape (though the owner must be dislexic as he has it listed as a "Backpack Puffin" though it is clearly a Pakboat.) The "buy now" price is quite reasonable and the cheapest I have seen a used one listed for. If I did not already own one I would jump on this.


    EDIT: He actually has TWO for sale and the other is only $325 plus shipping.

  • Options
    I like the trailer recommendation that another poster made. That way you can get a real kayak, which will work better and ultimately weigh less than an inflatable. And be a LOT less work, in terms of inflating and deflating.

    Years ago, I bought one of those cheap Sevylor inflatables. A girlfriend at the time and I went out to Tahoe to try it out. Man what a joke. Despite our best efforts, that thing would only go in circles. And by that I mean it just sat there and spun, it didn't really ever go straight, no matter how hard we tried to coordinated our efforts. I sold it the following week on Craigslist.

    The Skin-On-Frame idea is also a great idea. The place I've been eyeing those at is http://www.seawolfkayak.com/. This guy teaches a workshop where you build your own SOF kayak that you get to keep. It weighs only 29 lbs. I have an email in to find out when his classes are for next year.. I really want to go!

  • another SOF class
    Brian does classes, too. For $1200 you can spend a week in one of his workshops in Oregon building your own boat.


    He also leads on-site classes in various places around the country.
  • 385FT
    385FT? Isn't that a little long for a kayak? How do you turn the thing?
  • I recently tutored a newbie who had
    purchased a 12' SeaEagle inflatible kayak, with no foot pegs for bracing.
    This person weighed at lease 250# and when she got into the boat, the ends both were out of the water and as the paddler tried to move, it became clear that the boat would definately be able to rotate on a dime. It was tatamount to one sitting on an inflatible air mattress. She finally got the hang of how to take a stroke, but there was no place to brace her feet. All in all, it was very tiring for her, so if one has weight issues, it may be more reasonable to go with a hard kayak as opposed to an inflatible.
    Just my thoughts.
  • Options
    Not all inflatables are equal..
    -- Last Updated: Oct-09-12 10:46 PM EST --

    Sea Eagle and Sevylor definitely aren't in the same category as Aire, Innova or Advanced Elements. It's like comparing a Mercedes to a Kia. Yes, they all have 4 wheels and an engine BUT....

    Just as all hard shell kayaks are vastly different so are inflatables so shop carefully. I looked at the Sea Eagle and it barely even resembles a kayak. One thing I liked about the Advanced Elements is that it is definitely a kayak and it's a great rec kayak that happens to be inflatable.

    I could've replaced it long ago but I kept it because it paddles so well. It doesn't do circles (unless I want it to) and tracks as straight as any 10' kayak does, maybe better! But it maneuvers and handles wonderfully as well. I prefer my 16' sea kayak on "bigger water" but that's to be expected.

    If you do get the AE inflatable make sure you get the optional "backbone" as it stiffens up the boat and helps with tracking.

    I still stand my my recommendation of a trailer and am glad to see many agree with me. That's the way to go because then you aren't limited to just one size and type of kayak and it's MUCH easier to live with provided you have a place to park it.

  • dgrzz when the weather gets warm
    -- Last Updated: Oct-10-12 12:08 AM EST --

    in the Spring get on the wvwa message board. We'll have us a nice float. My wife likes floatin the upper new. She don't kayak, just duckies and rafts.
    I'll get Wess to bring his Sea Eagle, Bob his Saturn ducky, Rodney his Thrillseeker, and I'll bring my Riken cherokee, Seyvlor sk ds1oo, and Aire Tomcat. Tom and Bridget can bring whatever kind of fancy ducks that got. We'll call Brad at Ace and get him to let you try a commercal grade duck. We'll have you quackin' before you're off the water. Who would a thought Sevylor would finally make a more durable, value oriented, higher performance boat than Aire? Yet I tell you it is true. Next thing ya know madriver will be makin' polyethylene canoes, and perception will be sellin' flatwater boats. My, oh my, how things change.

  • Trailer solves several problems
    -- Last Updated: Oct-10-12 1:11 AM EST --

    I'm also a small female and have been sea kayaking the last 10 years, using a trailer for transportation. The only time I use a roof rack is when another person (husband) is going also AND there would be difficulties associated with trailering--a rare occasion. He, too, hates rooftopping.

    The trailer's advantages:

    1. You can load and unload ANY single kayak by yourself. The price difference between plastic and glass in the same model is enough to buy the trailer. The glass kayak might be 3 or 4 lbs lighter than equivalent plastic model...that's not going to make much difference if you're struggling to rooftop. But the same money spent for a trailer really does make a huge improvement in ease of loading and unloading. If you later buy a composite sea kayak, you can still use the same trailer. It doesn't limit your choices of material at all.

    2. You can switch vehicles without having to buy new roofrack equipment. The same trailer can be towed by any vehicle that uses the same trailer ball size as the trailer's coupler. And trailer balls can be unbolted from an existing drawbar or bumper and swapped out for a different size quite cheaply.

    3. Gas mileage is likely to be better trailering than rooftopping.

    4. You don't risk dropping the boat on your vehicle, and there's less chance of injuring yourself or harming the boat.

    5. Depending on the specific trailer, you can carry other gear on it.

    6. You don't drip salt water on your vehicle, just on the trailer.

    7. You won't smash your kayaks by driving under a low-clearance roof.


    1. You need space to store the trailer.

    2. Parking can be a problem in some locations.

    3. Ferry fares will be high for the extra length of a trailer. (On the other hand, the extra height of rooftopped kayaks might also incur a surcharge.)

    4. Toll roads that charge extra for more axles will slam you. (On the other hand, they also slam for the extra height of rooftopped items.)

    5. You have to be aware of the extra length, turning space needed, jackknifing clearance, and avoid places where you might drive into a situation that requires backing out a long way.

    6. In some states you will have to register the trailer for an additional fee. This fee varies a lot. Our annual fee was only $15 to $18 before the state I used to live in got greedy, last year. Then it jumped to more than $50 a year. Now that I've moved, the fee is low again.

    There are probably other pros and cons but I think I've covered the common ones. If you hear that a trailer is too hard-riding for glass kayaks, then either change the springs or get another type of trailer! Any kayak-specific trailer will have very soft springs. And make sure the wheels and tires are rated for highway driving--not all trailers have those.

  • Options
    What does the hard shell boat weigh?

    There are small kayaks that some of the women in our club paddle that weigh 30 to 40 lbs and are suitable for lake and river use. And loading in the bed of a truck can be almost as easy as loading on a trailer.

    There are also wheel carts if the distance from the parking area down to the lake is a problem. There is a pretty big performance difference between a duckie and a plastic boat, so unless you've demoed an IK and like it, think about sticking with a kayak that is the right size for you.

    The Calypso is 12' long and 38 lbs and good for over 200 lbs of paddler and gear. One of the ladies in our club paddles one of these on the lake and Class I whitewater and it is a fast boat for her.

  • Several options
    Don't remember what your budget is, but here goes:
    Innova makes really good, lightweight inflatable. I'm looking at buying a used Safari, but there are a lot of folks that like their Sunny's.

    Epic makes a really good 12', fiberglass kayak. 30 lbs. My wife has one and really likes it.

    Trailers are also great. Love mine.
  • You might consider loading aids
    -- Last Updated: Oct-10-12 1:39 PM EST --

    I think someone mentioned dolly wheels to help carry the boat between the vehicle and the water. Also, arranging your rack to that you can put just one end of the boat up, then slide the other end up, cuts the lifting to a small fraction of what it is right now.

    How much does your boat weigh? As others have said, there are plenty of very light boats out there, though they are not as cheap as the plastic ones. Let's say your current boat weighs 50 pounds, since plenty of medium-sized plastic kayaks suitable for smaller people weigh no more than that. Put dolly wheels on one end and you only have to lift about 20 pounds (it will be less than half the full weight on account of where the wheels are mounted) while rolling it to and from the car. To get one end of the boat onto the rack you'll have to lift a little more than half the weight (since it's not practical to grip it by the tip while doing so), but you do NOT have to lift overhead in most cases, or if you do it usually won't be by much. Then, lifting the end that's still on the ground is easier still. You'll be lifting less than half the total weight, and as you slide the boat onto the rack, the weight you lift becomes progressively less so that by the time your arms need to reach above your head you are hardly pushing up against any weight at all.

    If your truck has a cap, you can mount one crossbar at the very rear, making this loading method easy. Otherwise, side-loading bars, which either extend out from one crossbar or run lengthwise between the two area easy for using the slide-up method too. I've always loaded heavy canoes and small motorboats onto the roofs of trucks and even full-size vans this way, and these boats are far too heavy for me to load in the same manner that I see used by nearly everyone loading kayaks. I use the same method with boats of moderate weight because I see no reason to do it the hard way. There's no reason the same can't be done with a kayak. You might think about equipping yourself with a useful rack before switching to an inflatable, especially since inflatables require a lot of time to inflate and deflate, and also to dry and store properly after use. You'll probably spend less money modifying your rack or getting a better one than you would spend on a good inflatable.

    You can also invest in one of those racks that lets you load the boat at waist level, then swing the whole mechanical contraption up onto the roof with spring-loaded assist. Even THAT would most likely be cheaper than a new boat.

    Oh, after reading your post again it looks like you are putting the boat IN the truck. In that case, putting some carpet on the tailgate will allow you to slide it in, in which case you only need to be able to lift half the boat's weight, mostly likely not even as high as your waist. Don't lift the whole boat - just lift one end at a time, and employ attachable wheels if necessary.

  • Or, just for fun
    Take a box rail, like this http://www.tractorsupply.com/national-hardware-reg-5116-box-rail-galvanized-12-ft--3551872
    and mount it above the truck bed so that it sticks out over the back of the truck. Then, get a hanger like this http://www.tractorsupply.com/national-hardware-reg-5022-hanger-with9-bolt-3551848
    And insert it in the box rail. Attach a block and tackle to the carrier.
    Now, you connect the block and tackle as close to the middle of the boat as you can and slide it onto the bed using the rollers on the hanger.

    I've always wanted to try this out!
  • Loading your boat.
    I bought a Sea Eagle SE370 inflatable and used it for most of the paddling season. It was OK for the price but as I said to my friend, it was a "gateway drug" :) Near the end of the season, I bought a used boat that is much better. The inflatable was slow and didn't track well. The new boat, a sit-on-top, is much better and I can keep up with my friends.

    I saw a video on youtube that might help you.


    I don't use that method, I have a folding ladder that I fully extend and lean on the back of my truck cap. I then simply push the boat up the ladder onto the roof rack. I then make the ladder into an inverted V and use it to adjust and tie down the boat.

    Here's a link to the ladder I use:


    Good luck.
  • Regarding that loading video...
    Most likely it would work better to load from the rear of the car instead of the front, and take advantage of the rollers on the rear rack which are there just for loading/unloading. What most people would do using the setup shown in the video, is place a rubber-backed bath carpet on the rear window of the car, and slide the kayak on that carpet up to the rollers on the rear crossbar. There's no boat-alignment problems when sliding it on carpet, and a rubber-backed carpet won't slip. That's much simpler than the method shown in the video and does not require such precise boat alignment when sliding it up or down.
  • Options
    That model comes with a tugboat and a tugboat operator.
    Takes 72 hours to inflate, and tracks good. ;-)
  • Options
    Bit the bullet and bought the Sea Eagle
    I am so appreciative for all the comments, suggestions, and advice. After several months of researching, I bit the bullet and got the Sea Eagle. It inflates super easy and quick ( less than 10 minutes) and is very stable getting in and out. I think it tracks well and it definitely holds a lot of weight. My husband and I paddled a local lake for a couple of hours comfortably. I am anxious to try it out on a river and hope to put in on the Ohio soon. I think for now this boat serves my needs well!
  • sea eagle seats- high back style
    congrats dgrizz. I noticed that sea eagle has upgraded their seats and I'm definately jealous. None of my duckies provide much back support. I've been thinking about buying one of their inflateable seats, let me know what you think about them and whether you can lean back and get some support from them.
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