First kayak for an apartment-dweller (probably folding or inflatable)?

After being sidelined from hiking and backpacking by knee injuries over the past couple years, my wife have been doing more and more paddling. We love it, and the rental & guided trip fees are adding up fast, so it feels like time to invest in our first boat.

We’ve done extensive research but are still a bit hesitant on what to look for in our first kayak. We’d love some advice from this community, based on our particular desires & restrictions.

Here’s our ideal use scenario:

  • Must be storable in a small 1-bedroom apartment and transportable in our Prius (so, probably folding or inflatable)
  • We want a tandem
  • Paddling mostly in Northern California: flat water lakes/rivers/tidal inlets, plus ideally open waters in relatively calm conditions (e.g. paddling under the GG Bridge, Monterey Peninsula, etc with rolling swells but not breaking waves).
  • Ability to store gear for an overnight camping trip (could just mean dry bags lashed to the deck)
  • Comfortable in typical Northern CA coastal weather (cold water, cool temps, windy). Not sure if this requires a sit-inside.

We imagine getting a traditional plastic or fiberglass boat when we buy a home and have more storage space, but would rather not wait indefinitely for that day to come.

Is there a boat that will do all this? Will we have to pay an arm and a leg for it? We may have to compromise on some of this desires, but wanted to put it all out there to start. Thanks for the help!

Is there a canoe/kayak club in your area that stores boats at their facility? …or… Move to Jacksonville and join the Seminole Canoe and Kayak Cub. Our dues and rents are inexpensive. Buy that old Folbot tandem that is for sale. it is heavy, old, big and klunky. Somebody here probably loves it. OK, don’t move. Don’t by the antique. But do check out the club(s) out there.

Most people I know with short inexpensive tandems don’t like them once they get past drifting and first trips. I once went on a 20 mile “epic” paddle. There was a father and son with and inflatable. It was high quality made by one of the big inflatable boat manufacturers I used to use as yacht tenders. I stopped to take a picture and they pulled ahead never to be caught up to again. Some can be good paddling machines. Some are too soft and flexible and suck up too much energy. You will get many ideas shortly.

I’m in Sacramento and there are many outstanding places to paddle. From what you describe, I would go high quality inflatable like a Sea Eagle Fast Track. Well made with top notch materials and able to take on some Class III, they paddle well, fill time is fast (10-12 minutes), and weigh around 36lbs for their 12.5’ model. You mention paddling under the Golden Gate Bridge…umm, no, nada, hell no! I’ve paddled it with a group of seasoned sea kayakers in my P&H Capella and the current is unbelievably STRONG. It would carry a inflatable or folder out to sea easily. The wind, waves, swells, and not worth the risk even if somewhat of a strong paddler in a sea kayak. Learning how to re-enter in 56 degree water with wind/waves is lethal. In addition to our hard shell sot’s,

sit inside yaks, paddle board, we have a Saturn Ocean Pro. It’s their 14’ inflatable with the high pressure, drop stitch raised floor and self bailing and paddles very well. Can be used as tandem or single and built very well. Bang for the buck at $650., it’s as good as it gets. They use high quality materials and Halkey valves. It compares well to Aire and NRS inflatables, but paddles easier/better since the floor is raised a few inches to reduce drag. I call it the freight hauler and have used it on Class III no problems. That said, don’t go down a Class III (or II) unless you have experience or certainly alone. Our rivers are running full, fast, and freezing cold…hypothermia kills in minutes. Photo of the Saturn Ocean Pro

There was an article about Kayaks and Small Living places in California Kayaker Magazine. it can be read online at under Issue #9 - Summer 2012.

For a tandem, you are looking at inflatable to sectional. Inflatables are very much impacted by winds, so best in places that are protected.

Renting a place for the kayak is an option. I live in San Francisco and keep kayaks in a storage area that I rent. There are on-water places you can also rent, which give the added benefit of providing a place you can paddle right from. Let me know what town you are in, and I’ll see if I know of any on-water places to rent nearbye.

Ps- Paddling under Golden Gate Bridge may meet your breaking wave requirement, but the main challenge there is tidal currents. The currents can get up quite a bit faster than a paddler can paddle. Not uncommon for the Coast Guard to rescue boaters that didn’t take this into account and got flushed out under the bridge and not able to make it back in.

I expect and hope that you will get lots of comments about the dangers of open water paddling. I paddle only canoes in the Midwest and even around here Mother Nature has taught me how dramatically and quickly weather conditions have changed. Sea Kayaker magazine used to have an article every month about experienced kayakers that got surprised by weather changes and never came back. I was told that there have been 5 kayak deaths here in Michigan so far this year. You do not have the skills or experience for open water paddling regardless of your gear; even a passing boat could put you in a very bad situation.

Thanks for all the comments so far. I think I hit some nerves with my comment about paddling the Golden Gate Bridge. This was clearly a bad example. We did paddle the bridge a few months ago on a guided day-trip that was timed to work with the currents, and it was a day of easy and fun paddling, with enough swell and wind to make it exciting but not scary or overly challenging. But we are very cautious and would never do this or any other open water trip on our own - though we would do certainly do it in appropriate conditions with a knowledgable guide, and it would be nice to have a boat that would be able to handle it.

Other trips we have our eye on are Monterey to Point Lobos, and Pacifica to Half Moon Bay. Again, we’d only do these with a guide who is highly qualified and knows how to judge the local currents, surf, and weather conditions.

We would only paddle on our own in protected water.

But my earlier comments still stand, including that we’d like to find a boat that can handle windy or choppy conditions decently.

Maybe this just isn’t possible with a foldable/packable or inflatable boat, in which case, we need to decide what the best compromise option would be.

As for the comment about buying a traditional kayak and renting a storage location - we live in Oakland, CA and I’m guessing this will be cost-prohibitive, but I suppose I could be wrong about that.

Thanks again for all the help, and please keep the advice coming!

Plastic Modular Kayaks, more for Lilly dipping in protective waters.

Not a tandem, but they break down and store in a bag. The bags are about the size, of golf bags. I have a friend who leads expeditions in these, on the Amazon. They have also been used, in big water excursions .

NDK makes the Triton in a 2 pc. I have a friend, who bought one recently. They plan to store it, in a toy hauler style RV trailer. They are costly though.

Totally not what you’re looking for, but kind of a cool option, an inflatable paddle board, and you can add a seat to it.

I would aim for a kayak that does what you want for the areas you are paddling on your own (not guided) - so the protect areas. For the guided trips, rent from the guide//company.

I’ve done the Pacifica-HMB and Monterey areas ones you talked about, and those are true coastal trips where I would only do with a regular (hard shell) sea kayak. The various options for apartment storable boats all have some sort of limitations that would make them not really good for something like those (with exception of a fiberglass sea kayak turned into a sectional).

Storage for boats often runs in the $50 to $100 a month range. There is a place in Oakland called Kayak Condo or something like that which rents, but I don’t have a link. They are on the estuary between Jack London Square and Coast Guard Island. Many marinas do rent space to kayakers.

@Johnysmoke said:
Totally not what you’re looking for, but kind of a cool option, an inflatable paddle board, and you can add a seat to it.

Agree about a paddle board being a option. I added a few D-rings to my 11’ inflatable board to add a clip in kayak seat. I placed the seat on a 4" high cushion and it’s very comfortable. I can stand or sit and it paddles/performs very well.

Thanks everyone for the help. It seems like our best bet at this point is probably an inflatable, and we’ll plan to rent boats for guided trips for now.

Now the trick is figuring out which inflatable is best. As a reminder, our main requirements are that it be a double and have the ability to carry gear for an overnight camping trip.

The Saturn Ocean Pro looks pretty great. The self-bailing design & the fact floor rides above the waterline, plus the fins seem like it might give a make for easier & more efficient paddling. But it’s a bit overwhelming how many options there are. Would love any more advice that folks have.

I had the Aire Lynx II, which was incredible, and have also paddled the Super Lynx which has more room. This is NOT a vinyl pool toy. This is perfect for apartment living.

I would look at the Advanced Elements boats with frames. The frames help bring them a bit closer to a hard shell boat in performance.

Look at Pakboats folding kayaks as another option. Their prices are reasonably comparable to hardshells, they are lighter (besides being far more portable, including for airline travel) and their XT touring line is suitable and seaworthy for open water (the solo Quest 150 and convertible solo/tandem XT-16). I have been paddling mostly higher end folding kayaks for 15 years including in the Great Lakes and coastal Pacific and Atlantic. Currently own 4 Pakboats: a Quest 135 (yellow one in shot below) and three older model Puffin solos (red one below is a 12’ Puffin that I modified with a Pakboat Arrow deck), and previously used an XT-15 that belonged to an ex-boyfriend. I took the smallest Puffin to England with me back in May to paddle on rivers there.

Folders can actually outperform hardshells in some rough water conditions because they absorb some of the wave force rather than being battered by it. The newer Quest models can also be paddled with or without the decks as a sit-inside or sit on top, which makes them quite versatile.

I bought a Pakboat Quest 150 on Willow’s recommendation. I does paddle like a hardshell sea kayak and is LIGHT! (25 lbs)

The best part is that it packs into a small duffel and is sized for airline checking without oversized luggage fees.

Glad I read about the Pakboats! I had the Puffin 12’ and it was a good kayak. Do you think the Quest 15’ would handle someone my size at 6-2/218lbs? Thanks

I seem to recall a guy who was 6’ 3" and 210# who reported that he had a Quest but I don’t remember if it was the 150 or the older 155 (really little difference in the two – the 150 has more features and is a bit easier to set up.) I’ll see if I can find it and send you the link (it was on another forum.)

You can also call Pakboat and ask them. They are a small outfit, based in New Hampshire, and very easy to talk to and have personal experience with their products. You may have to leave a message on the phone or send an email. Usually when I have emailed them over the years, the owner, Alv Elvestad, would answer my questions directly himself. He does travel (often to Scandinavia, where he has family ties) and leads kayaking trips so he is not always able to respond immediately.

Ok, I think we’ve decided on going inflatable, for the purpose of cost and convenience, We’ve narrowed it down to:

Sea Eagle Razor Lite
Sea Eagle Fast Track
Saturn Ocean Pro

Any thoughts on pros & cons? The Saturn is cheapest and seems great, but it has no return policy, unlike the Sea Eagle boats, so if we don’t like it we’re stuck.

I’ve read a lot of positive reviews for the 393rl, but haven’t paddled one. It’s a boat that I’m considering.

Look at Innova inflatables as well. You can check for more ideas on inflatables