Anyone who’s spent time online searching for an inflatable kayak knows one thing—there’s a heck of a lot of inflatable kayaks available. And these kayaks are available in a wide variety of colors, have diverse features and often have many interesting sounding “techno terms.” Moreover, the price range of inflatable kayaks range from the dirt-cheap to the ultra-expensive.

To help people who are shopping for an inflatable kayak choose the right boat for their needs, I created this article on Big Sky Fishing. The purpose of this page is to explain the following:

The Primary Types of Inflatable Kayaks

Best Uses for Each Type of Inflatable Kayak

Expedition Level

  • Multi-night or multi-week floats through remote terrain
  • Running whitewater rapids up to and including Class IV
  • Recreational day floats on rivers
  • Paddling around on smaller lakes and ponds. Not an ideal boat for long or frequent lake paddling.
  • While not a dedicated fishing kayak, these kayaks work just fine for “casual anglers”—or those anglers who don’t need a boat for daily fishing but still want a boat for overnight float trips or running river rapids.
  • Not temperature constrained—may be used in sub-freezing conditions

Dedicated Lake and Flat Water Paddling

  • Frequent and/or long paddles across lakes and other bodies of flat water
  • Multi-night paddle trips across lakes—such as taking a trip through the Boundary Waters or similar terrain
  • Can’t run river rapids greater than Class II
  • Excellent boats for long paddle trips on rivers that lack strong current—which is most rivers in the USA
  • Not temperature constrained—may be used in sub-freezing conditions

Recreational Level

  • The “fun” kayak—more than anything else this kayak is meant to play with
  • Quality recreational kayaks can run Class III rapids without problems, although I don’t recommend doing it frequently
  • Paddling around the local pond or lake. Not meant for long, frequent paddles across big lakes, but taking them out for a day of lazy paddling is just fine. Just don’t plan to paddle across a twenty-mile long lake—you won’t have a good time.
  • Lazy floats down nearby rivers
  • Ideal for RV’ers who need a boat for “day use” since these boats inflate in minutes and pack down into a small, lightweight package
  • Work ok for overnight floats, but the fabric isn’t nearly as strong as what’s found in Expedition Level inflatable kayaks. Thus, not a good for use on remote terrain.
  • Fun fishing platform, but lacks many features even casual anglers might find useful. Perfect boat for kids to fish from, though—I spent my childhood spin fishing from these types of kayaks.
  • Lower weight capacity limits than found in expedition level inflatable kayaks might prove limiting for couples who need a boat for overnight float trips
  • Temperature constrained—only use when air temperature is above freezing

Whitewater Kayaks

  • Designed specifically for frequent running of strong rapids rated Class IV or Class V
  • Basically, if you want to play in strong rapids—these kayaks are the boat of choice
  • Fun for lazy day floats on rivers
  • With rare exceptions, only suitable for one paddler plus a very small amount of gear

Fishing Kayaks

  • Designed for serious anglers who seek an inflatable boat that is primarily used for fishing
  • Some of these kayaks also pull double duty as a quality expedition kayak and lake paddling kayak
  • Suitable for day trips on rivers

Good Inflatable Kayaks vs. Cheap Inflatable Kayaks

There are two types of inflatable kayaks in this world today, good ones and bad ones. What is the difference between the two? Simple, really – construction. Good inflatable kayaks are boats that, with proper care, will easily last a decade or more, even with extensive use. Meanwhile, a bad inflatable kayak will be lucky to last the summer, often requiring numerous patch jobs.

So, how bad are “bad inflatable kayaks?” Real bad. I know. I’ve had several. These types of inflatable kayaks are generally purchased at mass marketers, like Wal-Mart, K-Mart, etc..They look nice out of the box. And they are cheap, around $150 or so. Yet, like a horror movie that doesn’t reveal the plot until the end of the movie, these inflatable kayaks will rear up and show their ugly side at times when you least expect or desire it.

See, poor quality inflatable kayaks are prone to rips in the seams of the boat. This is a very bad thing, since rips in the seams can not be adequately repaired. Additionally, the thin fabric on these boats will constantly get punctures. While these punctures are relatively easy to fix, it is still a pain trying to track them all down.

All said and done, save yourself some grief and get a good inflatable kayak, one that will last and that won’t require constant tender-loving-care. If you just need a inflatable kayak for the kids to paddle around on a small pond or something, well, these cheap inflatable kayaks may be just the ticket. But for any serious fishing or river floating use, especially uses that lead into remote areas, don’t even think of using a cheap inflatable kayak.