Convertible Inflatable Kayak Questions

Hi all,
I am looking for advice about buying an inflatable kayak. I appreciated the info from this article Everything I've Learned from 40 Inflatable Kayaks | as well as reviews and this forums, but I still have a few questions.
A bit about me and what I’m looking for: I am 5ft tall, about 115lbs. I use my bike and my camping backpack for both daytrips and multi-day long camping overnights and would most likely do the same with a kayak. I would consider myself a beginning/intermediate kayaker: I’ve rented boats for one day and multi-day camping trips on flat water (or up to the very occasional mini section of class II) and took a supported half day outing on a sea kayak but certainly don’t know any of the ins and outs of wet exit rescues or anything like that. I currently do not own a car so have determined that an inflatable is the best option as I’ll always need to be borrowing a car or carpooling. I don’t live near a store that sells inflatables so I’ll need to buy online and therefore cannot test out anything in advance. I presume most of what I’ll be doing is flat water or lakes. I do have plans to visit a friend on the coast who does bay/coastline kayaking and it would be great if the boat was able to handle that but I’m fine renting if not. Finally, I would love a boat that is convertible between solo and tandem. I prefer solo kayaking but because I don’t have a lot of friends with boats and I imagine if I want to go with someone the easiest way would be to set up the boat as a tandem. The other option would be to buy a second boat but depending on the brand that is a very expensive option. Oh and obviously good tracking, handling, etc…

so I know I’m basically looking for a unicorn here, but the question is, what’s my best option knowing I’m not going to find the perfect thing.

  1. The convertibles that I’ve seen have said 2 people or 1 larger person—could I even use a convertible as a solo at my size? Those are 15 foot boats which are a good 5 feet longer than any solo I’ve been in before.
  2. I have only found two convertibles (or any inflatables really) that seem to have the option of adding a deck so that the boat can work better for touring. That’s the Aquaglide Navarro 145 and the Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame Convertible. Am I missing any solo or convertibles that have the optional deck? (I am also happy with just a closed deck system but the convertibles all seem to come standard with open).
  3. I appreciate the above advice article dividing inflatables into “classes.” I am looking for a class 3 under his system (all double stitch) or a class 2 with options for extra rigidity (like a double stitch floor). I don’t have a sense of how hard the drying issue is going to be but I have plenty of room to do it, so I’m not as worried as that author is about drying out class 2 boats, but perhaps I am just naive. Is there a list of these “class 3” and “class 2” boats anywhere so I can see what other options I might have? Otherwise I am having to decode hundreds of different advertisers posts.
  4. What other thoughts or advice do folks have about inflatables that I should be considering that is not addressed above?

You ask for a lot, grasshopper…lol. The article misses other stuff like skin on frame kayaks (not really what you want but it is an inflatable), packrafts, etc. If I was looking for a convertible solo/tandem boat, I would consider an Innova Twist II. I would be wary of bay/coastline kayaking except in a boat made for that. Most inflatables are not up to that task safely, imo.

Have you looked at folding kayaks? Pakboat makes a convertible called the Puffin Saranac that not only converts from solo to tandem but also can be used with or without the removable deck. I have several Pakboats including an older solo version of the Puffin. They have a collapsible aircraft aluminum frame (just like packpacking tent poles) so they are more rigid than most inflatables. Also less affected by wind and have more cargo room since they don’t have the bulky inflatable walls. They do have inflatable sponson tubes along the inside of the skin that add flotation and help tighten the skin. The Saranac is under 30 pounds and can be packed in a bag that meets airline restrictions to be standard rather than “oversized” baggage. I have flown to Europe from the US with my kayak in standard luggage. Could also carry one on a bike trailer. Below is a video of a French cyclist/kayaker using her folding bike to transport a Pakboat solo and the Pakboat to carry the bike.

@PaddleLite thanks for the suggestions. I hadn’t heard about that brand. I will definitely check them out!!! And also look more into skin-on-frame that wasn’t covered in that article. Well, I don’t know that I’m looking for a lot…more that…most people on the forum or who write reviews seem to be larger men who live near coasts or Great Lakes and don’t seem to have transportation concerns and seem to have lots of paddling friends or family. So I was trying to give a bit of background and talk about all the considerations going into the decision (maybe too much as folks seem intimidated to answer my post :-).) Do you have any info on the specific questions or know where I could find more info? This is a new world for me so I’m trying to learn about all the options as broadly as I can. Would you say the need for a specifically designed bay/coastline kayak is due to the lack of a rudder or just the overall boat design?

@willowleaf I hadn’t considered a foldable only because a friend has an Oru and does not have good things to say. But I didn’t know about this other model so I will definitely look into it! And yes, that video of the foldable bike into the boat and the boat into the bike pretty much captures it!! Now I only need the foldable bike…

For coastal paddling (ocean or great lakes) you want a kayak longer than 12’ and as narrow as possible and one with a deck and a coaming (the cockpit rim) that will support a sprayskirt.

The Oru kayaks are kind of a novelty and have many performance flaws. I would not use one or any of the similar plastic panel folders in coastal conditions.

I have owned and paddled folding kayaks for 20 years, including in the Atlantic, Pacific and Great Lakes. Models I have owned, like the Feathercrafts, have been used to cross oceans, in Antarctica and by military special forces teams. They are seriously competent boats.

Several of the major makers went out of business about 7 years ago (including Folbot and Feathercraft) so they are harder to find but Pakboat still makes models that fit a range of people. I highly recommend their Quest 150. If you could find a used one of the smaller Quest 135 (which I have but tgey don’t npnake any more) it is scaled even better for smaller people. Even their 12’ Puffin Saco (like the one in the bike and boat video) can be used in sheltered coastal bays, but is not an open water boat for rough or windy conditions.

I believe Advanced Elements may have some newer models of inflatable kayaks that can be used with a sprayskirt and are long and sleek enough to be safe for coastal paddling. I have not looked at their offerings for a while.

Since most inflatable and folding boats are made in Asia there has been a shortage of them in the past few years die to manufacturing and supply chain backlogs. So you may have to be flexible about your expectations for a perfect choice.

@willowleaf thanks for all this information. I looked at pakboat’s website today and you are right: that is definitely much more in-line with what I am thinking. And to top it off, they are simply stunningly beautiful boats reminiscent of traditional designs. Of course, they have the price point to match. It is unfortunate that this type of boat company is struggling, but you can see that with their website that they haven’t really updated to the digital age in the way that Oru and others have.

Would you recommend any other community forums besides to see if any used ones come along? The 13.5 would be better suited for me than the 15.5, especially because 90% of the time I will be paddling on rivers or lakes, and most of that solo, I imagine. I’m also on my state kayaking facebook page.

Seeing how rare they are, I will imagine I need to buy a new one. Are there any other companies you recommend besides pakboat (especially ones that might have a cheaper price point–I found some with a more expensive price point but…)?

Actually Pakboats are quite reasonable – costing around what you would pay for a good quality similar hardshell plastic kayak.

There are just not that many folding kayak companies around any more. You are not going to find anything new that would be cheaper. In fact the Pakboats are close to the price of the Oru kayaks and the higher end inflatables even though the Pakboats are lighter, more versatile and perform better.

There was just not enough business in North America to support some of the better companies and the high expense of making such complicated products. Not like a plastic boat that just gets cast in a big metal mold, these folders are all hand assembled from a hundred parts. There are still European companies that make folders like Klepper and LongHaul. They are even more costly than Pakboat and the boats are heavier.

Feathercraft made the best ones before they closed the business around 2014 (?). I paid $3,300 for my first Feathercraft, a 13’ Kahuna model, in 2002 and my 15’ Wisper I got used for $2200 though it would have been $5000 new.I paid $800 for my Pakboat Quest 135 because it was a factory demo. But even at full price it was one third what I paid for the similar Feathercraft I bought 20 years ago.

Companies like Oru and Tucktec have big marketing budgets but that doesn’t make their rinky-dink boats all that good.

If you are at all handy with basic tools there are free instructions to make at least a dozen different models of you own folding kayak at That can be done for under $500.

But if you can’t build your own you have to face the realities that with the current shortages of ANY kind of kayak and the loss of several of the major companies that used to make them, your options for a competent well-made folding kayak are NOT going to be super cheap or “competitive”. You do get what you pay for in kayak world. Nobody needs to offer discounts in this shortage market. I worked in the outdoor gear biz and can tell you the profit margins on kayaks are very low because of what they cost to make. Besides, I look at the expense of boats as more of a long term “rental” since resale is high on them. I sold that $3,300 first Feathercraft kayak for $1800 after using it for 8 years. Since it only cost me $1500 in the end that was less than $200 a year for all the great trips and enjoyment I got from the kayak. Right now I could sell my Wisper that I got for $2200 for around $3000 because of their popularity and rarity. I would never sell it but the resale is that good. I have bought and sold a lot of kayaks over the years and never seen demand like I have recently. A lot of people got interested in the sport during the Covid “pause” just when it was getting harder to have them made and transported to stores.

I would suggest you not obsess about cost and try to get what will be best for your use. Put it on a credit card and pay it off over a couple of years. you won’t regret getting a good quality boat.

Unfortunately, the best source for folder advice and used boats was the members site and forums. But the adminstrator doesn’t have the time or energy for it any more and the programming problems he was having and it recently shut down and nobody has picked up managing it yet. If I did not already have too much on my plate I would have considered stepping up since I was a long time contributing member. For now there is no central place I know to exchange folding kayak information.

I will be selling two 14’ long Pakboats later this year. I bought them “used” a few years ago but they looked like new. But they turned out to have defective inflation tubes (bad batch of coated fabric) that leaked. The prior owners failed to contact the company to get replacements under warranty and those are no longer available. I got materials to make replacements (it is not that hard) but got distracted by other projects and have yet to finish them. I will probably post them on here for sale once I get them squared away. The model is called the Swift and was what they replaced with the Quest models – very similar frame and shape.

I agree with you that I would rather buy a nice quality boat that I can keep and maintain for years. And pakboat does seem to be the one at the right quality and price intersection. This conversation has been very helpful as I think about my options. It has also helped me realize that at this time I am not quite ready to buy as I may need to put other spending priorities ahead of a kayak for the moment. I’m not quite sure of my timeline, then, but it would be great to keep in touch as you start to consider bringing these boats out of storage. Is there a good way to contact you?

I’ll send you a private message with email and phone number.