Inflatable kayak - now time for the real deal

Hello, first time in a kayak was an inflatable one that was a gift from my company. I’d never been in one before, but I see the potential for having a great time in one - albeit a real one.

I was afraid that this would put a bad taste in my mouth about the experience of kayaking, but quite the contrary, I’d like to get one that my wife and I can share so that we can get some true enjoyment out of a genuine kayak.

We have a 27’ open bow boat on a big lake in TN and we’d like to have another entertaining implement rather than tubes, wake board, knee boards, etc. and we think a nice kayak would be a wonderful addition.

The kayak would mostly be used for sight seeing and getting deeper into coves that have shallow water that we wouldn’t take the 27 foot boat. I’d also like it to be a longer one so that I can cover an area in a decent amount of time. Getting out into open lake water and paddling sounds like a blast, although I didn’t try that with the inflatable one. Since I’ve been looking, I keep leaning toward the sit-in models and the ones that range in length from 12-16 feet.

The only deal breaker on getting a kayak is figuring out how to transport it from our slip to the destination with our 27’ open bow boat. Do they tack well if it’s pulled behind? Do you have any suggestions on how to transport it with our day boat?

So, the two questions we have are"

  1. What type/style/make of kayak will fit our needs - budget of $1k to $1.5k
  2. how to get it from the boat dock to where we tie up for the day? That distance ranges anywhere from 1-5 miles on the water.

I’m 5’8" - 170# and physically fit, my wife is fit too at 5’4".

Thank you

You need to do a lot of looking at kayaks on this site and others. Be advised that your budget should also include money for a proper paddle ($150 to $300 +) and a pfd designed for paddling ($70 +). Some will even insist you will need a dry suit. And don’t forget footwear and paddle gloves.

More than almost anything else, learn how to paddle. There really are right ways and wrong ways and it’s much more rewarding to do it right.

There are also higher end inflatables as well as folding kayaks that could work well for your situation – inflatables have long been used as compatible companion boats for larger craft, as in inflatable ship to shore launches.

Sea Eagle and Aquaglide each make several models of longer drop-stitch floor inflatables within your price range that can convert from solo to tandem boats. Drop stitch design makes a firmer floor that adds rigidity and speed. The company AirKayaks has a good catalog website with most all of their models. The Sea Eagle FastTrack 385 or Razorlite 473 models could be good options., though these are sit on tops, no sit inside If you do buy from AirKayaks don’t take the cheap paddles they include in the packages. For your purposes you don’t need the 4 piece breakdown paddles they include anyway. Invest in good fiberglass or carbon composite shaft paddles from Werner, Aquabound or Bending Branches. See if they will offer an upgrade if you consider a package.

Folding kayaks are less well known in the USA and more popular in Europe, but they have the same lightness and portability of inflatables but tend to have stiffer hulls and can perform closer to hard shells. Pakboats in New Hampshire makes several models convertible from solo to tandem. One cool thing about their models is that the decks are optional so you can convert the boats from sit-inside to open sit on top, which is nice for warmer weather. Their Pakboat Puffin Saranac might be a good option. It is convertible from solo to tandem and can be used with or without the deck.

I have owned 4 models of Pakboats and they are terrific and durable boats. Assembly takes about 20 to 30 minutes with practice and they fit in a large duffel bag for storage and travel. I took one with me to England last year as free checked baggage. Even if you keep them set up they are so light that having to carry them over distance is not a big deal.

Too many ways an inflatable can fail…

Willowleaf, I appreciate the suggestion of the assembly style kayaks. As much as I like working with my hands and restoring/repairing things, I think I’ll stick to a kayak that doesn’t require the added time for making it water ready. When we go to the lake, it’s mostly on the weekends and time is not our friend when we arrive.

There are modular kayaks. Space saving but you’d have to put two parts together. No idea how they handle.

Something like an Oru Kayak might work I suppose. They would save space for transport and still have a short set up time I would imagine.

I think towing a kayak would only work at very slow speeds.
Do they make overhead racks for boats? Or is it possible to fit a kayak inside the boat at all?

The more I read and peruse on the setup style kayaks, the more I’m leaning toward the conventional kayaks.

What I like what I’ve seen so far in terms of a nice 12’ recreational boat are these models:

Delta 12AR
Delta 12s
Eddyline sandpiper
Wilderness Tsunami 12.5
Dagger Axis 12.0

The research on what separates these will likely be comfortability, weight, maneuverability, consistent high reviews, etc.

Barge: quality inflatables are not really subject to “failure”. Why do you think the military uses them and they are used for class 4 to 6 whitewater?

Well, I had to look that one up. I didn’t know class 6 rapids existed. I was going to joke: what’s that, Niagara Falls? … But it turns out I was almost right!

I need to go see this. Not too far from my home base.

Indychuck: Your list of boats you are considering is kind of puzzling. Those models don’t have much in common. The Dagger Axis is a “crossover” kayak designed to be a used in moderate whitewater as well as flatwater, but as a compromise it is not terrific at either. Seems an odd choice.

The Tsunami 125 is too high volume for either of you and your wife would swim in it. All the Tsunamis with a 5 in the number are higher volume for each length for heavier folks, not fit ones. Tsunamis tend to be heavy for their length compared to other models and really don’t check most of your boxes

Can’t argue with the Delta 12S for your wife but the 12.10 would be better for you than the 12ar. They are light and perform well, But pricey.

The Sandpiper is also a wide higher volume boat and the gaping cockpit is a safety issue. A lot of money for a boat with such limited functionality. Eddylines Sky or Skylark are a better choice, but still short and not that fast.

Both the Deltas and Eddylines are at the top of your budget for ONE boat.

I would suggest you visit a good kayak outfitter and get some direct exposure to the different models. I would caution against using “reviews” to select a boat. The majority of kayak user reviews are worse than useless especially in the rec boat sector. Most people who buy them have little or no experience with anything else so unrealistic “10 out of 10” ratings abound.

I don’t get your objection to inflatables – they can be set up in minutes with the high volume pumps that come with them and they eliminate the transport and on-board storage issues that concern you. Yacht tenders are usually inflatables. You could get two decent solo inflatables for what you would pay for a single Eddyline or Delta.

You first state that you are looking for something 12’ to 16’ to take out on the open lake to “cover distance” yet now you have listed short wide boats that will not enable speed (though the Eddyline Skylark is surprisingly nimble for a 12’ rec boat but it still is not going to have the speed of a 14’ and up).

Maybe better for you to make a more specific list of your priorities in order of importance. One or two short wide hardshell rec boats are not going to meet much of your original wish list.

By the way, kayaks do not tow well behind a power boat.

Willowleaf - I was taking the advice of Magooch’s post about doing a lot of reading on this site as well as others to help determine the type of kayak we are looking at.

Based on the descriptions of the manufacturer’s websites, they meet the goals of price and type of kayaking. You may be puzzled due to the part where I mentioned covering a large area in a decent amount of time. I’m not wanting to race to the destination, but I’m not wanting to spin my wheels and not get anywhere either.

“Covering a large area” and “speed” has a lot of ambiguity as does “kayaks do not tow well behind a power boat”. Does that mean that if I travel wide open that it won’t track well or does it mean it can’t be done at all? There is quite a bit of ambiguity here as well.

What is meant by a short 12’ boats vs. long 12’ boats?

Here is a brief description of the kayaks I listed and they all appear to meet the low expectations I have - price, length and used in larger, more calm bodies of water.

  • Axis 12.0 - Amazing versatility on lakes, reservoirs, intercoastal waterways, and pond. The Axis provides excellent tracking from a height-adjustable drop skeg that keeps it moving straight
  • Tsunami 125 - is swift and agile, the spacious cockpit and deeper hull is ideal for day trippers. A touring kayak that excels in tight, twisting environments.
  • skylark - This kayak is attractive to beginners and one that they can grow in, yet also provides a lightweight and fun alternative to the more experienced paddler. The Infinity Seat and Backrest add comfort and adjustability for a custom fit. The Skylark comes standard without thigh braces and can be ordered with as an option.
  • sandpiper - Anyone can paddle this boat! The large cockpit makes getting in or out of this very stable recreational kayak a breeze, even from a dock or boat deck.
  • Take along your kid, your dog, your camera, the groceries, oh – and don´t forget the fishing rod. It´s stable enough to land a big one.
  • Delta 12ar - The Delta 12AR’s Large Recreational Cockpit and premium outfitting are geared towards easy entry and all-day comfort. Setting it apart from other open cockpit kayaks, our Fusion Hull design offers effortless glide, precise handling and exceptional stability. Whether you’re a novice, angler, photographer or paddling enthusiast it’s the perfect platform for your next adventure

I agree with visiting a good kayak outfitter, although I thought a good place to start would be here due to the members sharing their experience rather than trying to make a sale.

I’m not totally objecting the idea of an inflatable, I’ve watched a couple youtube videos and the 2 or 3 that I’ve seen so far are on time lapses to show how quick they can be set up. They are also being set up on large tables, floors or the ground. I won’t have that type of room on our day boat, so it appears they may need assembled prior to transporting, then I’m back to square one of getting it to our hang out place with the power boat.

Thanks again for the suggestions, soaking them all up at this point.

There is a Zephyr available for rent for $50 a day near our lake, we may give that a shot to see how it transports on the water as well as functionality.

Along the Georgia coast they do a kayak fishing trip where they lay the sit on tops across the front of a center console and shuttle it to a distant flat. The problem is it makes the open bow boat unusable for anything else during the “haul”.

IndyChuck, I would think with a 27’ boat, hauling a kayak would not be a problem–open bow, or whatever. Before you buy anything, see if you can arrange to try out a few kayaks and I would strongly recommend at least 14 feet. Just for comparison, try out something even longer. Be warned though, the longer boats will instantly spoil you.

Try a Pungo 120 , or better a 140.

@IndyChuck said:

I agree with visiting a good kayak outfitter, although I thought a good place to start would be here due to the members sharing their experience rather than trying to make a sale.

I can share my experience with a 2008 Eddyline Skylark as it was my second kayak, purchased used for $700 (first kayak was a 10-foot fat slug). Every kayak EDY produces has two sealed bulkheads, even that tiny Sky. An important safety factor and the reason I bought it, as well as it’s light weight. I did have perimeter lines added, but that’s the only work done on the boat.

I took my ACA L1 course using the Skylark, learning how to capsize, do a paddle float re-entry, and various strokes. I paddled it on inland lakes, both large and small, and on Lake Michigan, primarily in a protected harbor area. I was not comfortable in heavy chop or waves over a foot due to my inexperience (first year paddler). Nor did I ever paddle it far from shore. Had a lot fun with that kayak. Ultimately it taught me that if I wanted to go faster and learn skills like edging, etc., I needed a longer and less beamy boat that fit better.

That 10-year old Skylark continues to be paddled on inland lakes by a family member who loves it.

For getting in and out from a boat, you may find a sit on top kayak easier to work with. Can be challenging to get in and out of a sit inside from a boat, even if you have a low swim deck. Some of the sit on tops also are stackable, which means they can mate together top and bottom and take up less space when stored.

Or you may want to consider a SUP.

Some background info, in case you haven’t seen. There are some articles in California Kayaker Magazine that may be of interest. Issue #9 had an article on kayaking and small living spaces, which is a similar issue to what you are dealing with. And issue #10 had an article on the basic different types of kayaks and their pros and cons. All can be read for free at

Hmm. I would also take with a grain of salt the hype in kayak manufacturer’s product descriptions, which you have copied and pasted. Yes, those are respectable manufacturers but they are still targeting a common denominator of consumer and are offering broad generalities that obscure the specific characteristics of those models and their appropriateness for your target goals.

Again, the list you have compiled includes widely divergent models. i get the impression that you and your wife are above average in fitness (and below the mean in body proportions) and I reiterate that some of those boats are oversized for both of you and will probably frustrate you in performance. And why buy a higher volume boat than you need when you are concerned about weight for handling and transport and space for storage and transport?

@willowleaf said:
Barge: quality inflatables are not really subject to “failure”. Why do you think the military uses them and they are used for class 4 to 6 whitewater?

The military is specifically trained, and if you find an inflatable with the same mil-spec material, layered tubes and chambers, and self-sealing, please advise.

In our state, inflatable paddleboards are illegal in public parks…its not like some state official saw these in LL Bean and just made up a law. There have been many incidents.

…leaky valves or poor attention to fastening the valves leading to loss of flotation
…poor care and maintenance/storage leading to abrasion and loss of flotation
…over-inflation/being left in the sun leading to weakened material, leaks, and loss of flotation (try leaving an NRS River Tube which has been inflated on a cold morning in the sun…
-damage during transport, small holes
-abrasions from landing, holes loss of floatation
-punctures from gear, trash (we are all told to wear wet shoes for glass and the like)
-improper repairs, weakened patches


In the very best case, having to buy a new boat.

My outdoor club has kept a livery of inflatable whitewater rafts for over 50 years – with proper care and maintenance they have served well for hundreds of trips. I’ve used folding kayaks with inflatable sponsons for over 15 years. Despite a couple of minor puncture issues (one from inside the boat from an improperly installed seat frame and one from failure to relieve the pressure before transport on a hot day), have never had a “failure” that created any kind of operator danger or that was not immediately remediable. All my boats have had multiple chambers and I carry repair kits that can be quickly deployed, even patches that can be applied underwater. I would argue that inflatables and folding kayaks are easier to repair and reinforce than hardshells.

There are “pool toy” inflatables at one extreme and highly competent and reliable inflatables at the other. There are drawbacks and potential safety issues to any type of watercraft, and I can understand some situational restrictions on certain types. But a blanket condemnation of inflatables as having “too many ways to fail” is unwarranted.