How to Choose the Best Inflatable Boat

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How to Choose the Best Inflatable Boat2018-03-10T01:59:53+00:00

If we all had unlimited storage space and money, then having to choose the right inflatable boat among the myriad available wouldn’t pose a problem. But alas, few of us suffer from this “problem.” As such, most people are forced to choose just one inflatable boat that best meets their needs.

The Sea Eagle Inflatable Canoe is a highly versatile inflatable boat that’s superb for a wide variety of uses for two+ paddlers. More info at Sea Eagle.Com

Sometimes this choice might be easy. Other times, though—especially for people who do a range wide of water borne activities—the choice proves agonizingly painful.

While this article can do nothing about the “pain,” it can help people shopping for an inflatable boat more simply choose the best inflatable boat for their needs.

To accomplish this, I came up with a neat idea, at least I thought it was.

To make sorting through the multitude of options available in the world of inflatable boats, this article compares each type of inflatable boat to how well it does a particular activity.

The types of inflatable boats examined are listed below. If you want more information about a particular type of inflatable boat, please follow the link for each to read an in-depth guide about each type of boat.

Finally, I’d like to stress one thing. 

There is no such thing as the “Best Inflatable Boat,” despite what many click-bait websites try to tell you. Instead, the “best inflatable boat” is whatever boat best meets your needs. As such, it is imperative to know what you want to use a boat for before buying one.

Quick Recommendation on Where to Start | Begin With Versatility

If all else fails and you’re still confused about where to begin your search for the “perfect inflatable boat” for your needs, I’ll offer two recommendations. I base this recommendation on the assumption that you want an inflatable boat that provides the most versatility and you aren’t shopping for the cheapest piece of floating junk around. At a minimum, these recommendations offer a good “starting point” in your search for a boat that best meets your needs.

Maximum Versatility for Couples : Inflatable Canoes or Inflatable Expedition Level Kayaks are good boats to first begin your search.

Maximum Versatility for Solo Paddlers : Inflatable Expedition Level Kayaks are the best boat to look at first in your search for a boat that meets your needs.

Whitewater Rapids

For running powerful, Class IV and Class V rapids on a frequent basis.

Boat Types Rating Comments
Whitewater Kayaks Best Max Class V rapids. 1 paddler
Whitewater Rafts Best Max Class V rapids. Larger groups
Inflatable Kayaks – Expedition Very Good Max Class IV rapids
Inflatable Canoes Very Good Max Class IV rapids. Paddlers must be very experienced to take a canoe through Class IV rapids, however.
Inflatable Kayaks – Recreational Good Max Class III rapids
Catamaran Kayaks Good Max Class III rapids
Inflatable Rafts | Recreational Good Max Class III rapids.
Inflatable Fishing Rafts (some models) Good Max Class III rapids.
All other inflatable boats Fair/Poor/None Never use float tubes on rivers

Dedicated Fishing Boat for Rivers

A “dedicated fishing boat” is aimed at anglers who seek many fishing friendly features to increase comfort and productivity. I’m assuming fishing in rivers with a max of Class II rapids, although several boats are capable of running Class III or higher.

Boat Types Rating Comments
Inflatable Fishing Raft Best 1-2 people.
Whitewater Raft with Fishing Frame Best Must buy a raft frame for fishing
Catamaran Kayaks Best 1-2 people.
Inflatable Fishing Kayaks Very Good Usually for 1 paddler only.
Inflatable Canoes Very Good Just know how to run Class III rapids to avoid capsizing
Inflatable Rafts | Recreational Very Good Need to buy a few detachable accessories. 1-2 people.
Pontoon Boats Good Max Class II rapids. Portable.
Inflatable Kayaks | Expedition & Recreational Good Great for spin fishing. A bit challenging for fly fishing.
All other boats Poor They aren’t meant for river fishing

Dedicated Fishing Boat for Lakes & Flat Water

Using a motor for lake fishing is always helpful, as it saves significant time and allows the angler to cover more water.

Boat Types Rating Comments
Inflatable Fishing Raft Best 1-2 people. Need motor.
Inflatable Fishing Kayaks Best Motor nice but not required
Catamaran Kayaks Best Motor or rowing frame nice to have, but not required
Inflatable Kayaks | Lakes Very Good Easy to paddle. Can add some “fishing friendly” features if desired.
Inflatable Canoes Very Good Canoes are great to fish from once you find your balance
Inflatable Fishing SUP’s Very Good 1 paddler. Motor very helpful but not required.
Inflatable Rafts | Recreational Very Good Need motormount and motor
Pontoon Boats Good Tiring to paddle long distances. Can’t stand.
Inflatable Kayaks | Recreational & Expedition Good Use of detachable skeg mandatory. Optional higher seating position seats helpful.
Float Tubes Good to Poor Good for backcountry lakes. Fair for smaller ponds. Poor for large lakes.
All other boats Fair to Poor

Long Distance or Frequent Flat Water Paddling

For people who plan to take frequent day trips across large expanses of flat water, such as lakes, stagnant rivers and sheltered ocean bays. This is for longer trips, greater than three+ miles or so, with 5-20 mile trips not being uncommon.

Boat Types Rating Comments
Inflatable Kayaks | Lakes Best
Inflatable Canoes Best
Catamaran Kayaks Very Good If used with optional rowing frame. Fair otherwise.
Inflatable Kayaks | Expedition & Recreational Fair Can do long distance flat water paddles, but it’s not a lot of fun. Must use detachable skeg. Decent boat for five mile trips. Terrible for 20 mile trips.
All other boats Fair to Poor

Multi-night or multi-week floats on remote rivers

Assumes paddler will encounter Class III rapids along the river, as is often found in remote areas.

Boat Types Rating Comments
Inflatable Kayaks | Expedition Best For 1-2 paddlers. Can also do Class IV rapids.
Whitewater Rafts Best For larger groups. Need rowing frame to allow for maneuverability.
Inflatable Canoes Best Paddlers need experience to handle Class III rapids, but canoe is capable of doing it.
Catamaran Kayaks Very Good 1-2 paddlers
Inflatable Kayaks | Recreational Good Can’t be used in temperatures below freezing. Max rapids is Class III. Limited weight capacity limits trip length. Less durable fabric limits use.
Inflatable Rafts | Recreational Good Can’t be used in temperatures below freezing. Max rapids is Class III. Reduced durability and weight capacity limits use to short trips in areas not too remote.
Inflatable Fishing Rafts (some models) Good Some models can run Class III rapids. Detach some fishing accessories to make it more “expedition friendly”
Inflatable Fishing Kayaks (some models) Good Some models can run Class III rapids. Detach some fishing accessories to make it more “expedition friendly”
Pontoon Boats Fair Max Class II rapids. Very limited weight capacity. Good for 1-2 nights max. 1 paddler only.
All other boats Fair to Poor

Multi-Night or Multi-Week Paddles Across Lakes and Flat Water

This activity assumes no use of a motor.

Boat Types Rating Comments
Inflatable Kayaks | Lakes Best For 1-2 paddlers.
Inflatable Canoes Best  Best for 2 paddlers.
Catamaran Kayaks Very Good Rowing frame is a good option to have
Inflatable Kayaks | Expedition Good to Very Good Must use detachable skeg. Better for “short paddle days” than “long paddle days.” 10 miles is about the most you’d want to do each day.
Inflatable Kayaks | Recreational Good Use detachable skeg. Limited to use in temps above freezing. Limited weight capacity and durability makes less suitable for long or remote trips.
Inflatable Fishing Kayaks (some models) Fair to Good Detach some fishing accessories to make it more “expedition friendly”. Some kayaks have rowing frames available.
All other boats Fair to Poor

Fun at the Beach

Boats that both the kids and their parents can play with when visiting the local beach.

Boat Types Rating Comments
Inflatable Kayaks | All Best Hard to argue with their versatility at the beach. Easy to get back into the boat after your kids flip them (which they’ll do on purpose).
Inflatable SUP’s Best Their popularity at the beach says all you need to know!
Inflatable Rafts | Recreational Very good Lots of fun, too. Pain to paddle miles beyond the beach, however.
Catamaran Kayaks Very Good
Pontoon Boats Good Not really designed “for fun” or for kids to play with, but it works for one kid or adult
Inflatable Fising SUP’s Good Bit wide and need to remove “fishing features,” but they still work for some fun.
Inflatable Canoes Good Unlike regular canoes, inflatable canoes are easy to get back in when you tip them…which kids will!
All other boats Fair to Poor

Backcountry Fishing or Floating

Requires walking in, usually over a considerable distance, to reach a particular body of water for fishing or recreational floating.

Boat Types Rating Comments
Sea Eagle PackFish Best A tiny raft that’s ideal for fishing or fun floating. See more info about the PackFish at Sea Eagle.Com
Float Tubes Very Good Fishing only on smaller lakes
Pontoon Boats Very good Only the true “backpackable” size
All other boats Poor Too heavy or bulky to backpack several miles, at least not without the help of a horse.