There’s a broad range of inflatable kayaks on the market today. And while some cheap models have a well-earned reputation of being flimsy and prone to punctures, there are also plenty of quality designs and brands. And if you’re heading out on the ocean, you’ll want to ensure your inflatable kayak is up to the task.
We’ve reviewed the best inflatable ocean kayaks in various categories. So it doesn’t matter if you’re looking for the best overall or something that can handle open ocean fishing; we’ve got you covered. For more information, check out our comparison table and buying advice.
Our Top Picks
If you’re in a hurry, here are our top picks. Or continue scrolling to see our full list with in-depth reviews.
- Best Overall: Advanced Elements AirFusion Evo
- Best Value & Excellent for Beginners: Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame
- Best Crossover for Whitewater & Ocean: Sea Eagle 380x Explorer
- Best Tandem: Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame Convertible Elite
- Best for Fishing: Sea Eagle 385fta FastTrack Angler Series
Best Overall: Advanced Elements AirFusion Evo
Length: 13′ | Width: 24″ | Weight: 32 lbs | Capacity: 235 lbs
In regards to performance, this may be as close to a hard-sided sea kayak as you’ll find in an inflatable model. The secret is in the Advanced Elements AirFusion Evo’s frame. It’s made of aluminum which, when coupled with the high-pressure air chambers, gives it the sort of rigidity that you won’t find in most inflatable kayaks.
This allows it to perform like a heavier and more expensive hard-sided kayak. Combined with the narrow beam, the Evo can keep pace with many kayaks of similar size. An optional skeg can also be installed, which is invaluable when it comes to paddling in the windy or wavy conditions of the ocean.
The sit-in design can accommodate a spray skirt around the inflatable combing, and the air pressure is strong enough to allow a tight skirt fit without the combing warping. However, it is a shorter, narrower boat, so some big and tall kayakers may find the cockpit a little cramped.
There’s a reasonably sized storage hatch in the stern, and some gear can fit in the cockpit. There are also bungees on the deck in front of the seat. The biggest drawback to the Evo is the load capacity is just 235 pounds. This makes it better for day trips, as it will struggle to hold enough gear for more extensive excursions.
Reasons to buy:
- Aluminum frame provides excellent speed for an inflatable
- Optional skeg
- Repair kit and carry bag included with purchase
Reasons to avoid:
- One of the lower load capacities
Best Value & Excellent for Beginners: Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame
Length: 10′5″ | Width: 32″ | Weight: 36 lbs | Capacity: 300 lbs
From the same company that brought you the Evo, the Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame shares many similarities but in a smaller package and a lower price. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have the same aluminum frame as the Evo. Still, comparable aluminum ribs provide solid rigidity, allowing it to perform better than lesser inflatables.
It measures two-and-a-half feet shorter than the Evo and is eight inches wider. This makes for a more stable ride and a better choice for beginners or those nervous about paddling a narrower boat on the open water. But you lose quite a bit of speed for that luxury, making it better for more laid-back days on the water where speed isn’t as important.
The skeg tracking fin does wonders to help compensate for the stubbier keel and is invaluable for maintaining your course if the conditions are suboptimal. In addition, the load capacity is a more reasonable 300 pounds. So while it’s slower, it’s more equipped for overnight camping trips as long as you’re not trying to cover too many miles.
There’s storage compartment for gear, though it’s not as large as in the Evo, so be ready to get creative with how you pack. The deck bungees provide an excellent additional spot to keep your day gear and things you want close at hand while you paddle.
Reasons to buy:
- Outstanding rigidity for an inflatable
- Excellent stability and included tracking skeg make it easy for beginners
- Travel case and repair kit included
Reasons to avoid:
- Dimensions make it slower
Best Crossover for Whitewater & Ocean: Sea Eagle 380x Explorer
Length: 12′6″ | Width: 39″ | Weight: 40 lbs | Capacity: 750 lbs
Sea Eagle is known for their big, beefy inflatable kayaks that can feel more like a raft than a kayak. But beneath those bigger exteriors is a surprisingly solid performance that allows the 380x Explorer to handle a diverse array of water conditions, whether you’re heading for the saltwater or whitewater.
Sixteen self-bailing holes can be left open for whitewater adventures or closed while paddling on the ocean or lakes. A removable skeg is also included, making those open water paddles much easier should the wind or the waves kick up.
The reinforced Denier fabric is tough enough to handle rough whitewater, bounce off exposed boulders in the middle of the river, and keep going. Of course, as a bigger, wider boat, you won’t get the same performance in the ocean as you would with the two kayaks above. But the versatility you get with the 380x makes it an excellent option for those who want one boat for different types of excursions.
The Explorer can be paddled either solo or tandem, and the huge load capacity allows you to bring all your gear wherever you go. However, the cockpit can feel a little cramped with two people.
Reasons to buy:
- Tough exterior fabric meant to handle whitewater collisions
- Huge load capacity
- Included skeg
Reasons to avoid:
- Can feel cramped when paddled tandem
Best Tandem: Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame Convertible Elite
Length: 15′ | Width: 32″ | Weight: 52 lbs | Capacity: 550 lbs
Advanced Elements makes its third appearance on our list thanks to their impressive tandem, the AdvancedFrame Convertible Elite. The aluminum ribs are similar to the solo AdvancedFrame design and offers the rigidity, speed, and overall performance you’d expect from Advanced Elements.
A high-density drop-stitch kayak floor and high chines only add to how the Convertible handles and improves the stability. Durability won’t be an issue, either. The Convertible comes with three layers of material, giving it excellent redundancy and allowing you to bump into underwater hazards without fear of popping one of the air compartments.
Meant to be paddled either solo or tandem, the Convertible has a similar shortcoming as the Sea Eagle 380x. While the load capacity is big at 550 pounds, finding appropriate storage room for gear with two paddlers aboard can be problematic. But for solo overnight journeys, the front cockpit can be easily used for storage.
The seats are simple to move, allowing you to reposition for solo or tandem paddles. They’re well padded and comfortable, providing plenty of support, which can be hard to find in some inflatable models.
Reasons to buy:
- Flexibility to be paddled solo or tandem
- Three layers of material for excellent durability
- Built-in tracking fin
Reasons to avoid:
- Limited storage space for tandem paddles
Best for Fishing: Sea Eagle 385fta FastTrack Angler Series
Length: 12′6″ | Width: 36″ | Weight: 45 lbs | Capacity: 635 lbs
Here’s another Sea Eagle design that feels like a cross between a raft and a kayak. The Sea Eagle 385fta shares some similarities with the 380x, such as the same Denier reinforced material for extra durability and a big load capacity for all your gear. But make no mistake, Sea Eagle built this boat with one purpose. To catch all the fish.
While most inflatable fishing kayaks are plodders and aren’t meant for speed, Sea Eagle has developed their patented Needle Knife keel. The name speaks for itself. The bow is tapered and streamlined, allowing the 385fta to move at a faster speed with less effort on your behalf. Meaning you spend less time paddling and more time with your line in the water.
If you’d prefer to forego the paddling altogether, then no worries. The big transom on the stern of the 385fta can handle up to a 15-pound outboard motor. In addition, the hull is reinforced in specific areas in preparation for the additional wear and tear that’s inevitable while you’re reeling in the big one.
While Sea Eagle markets the 385fta for one-to-three paddlers, I feel it handles better as a solo. You could squeeze two or three people aboard, but it’s going to feel tight, and there won’t be much room for multiple fishing rods. Paddling solo also gives you more storage space, and the 385fta can hold up to 635 pounds!
Reasons to buy:
- Suitable for class II rapids
- Built-in rod, hook, and lure holders
- Stable enough to stand and cast from
Reasons to avoid:
- Cramped with more than one person aboard
Inflatable Ocean Kayak Comparison Table
|Advanced Elements AirFusion Evo||13′||24″||32 lbs||235 lbs||5||1|
|Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame||10’5″||32″||36 lbs||300 lbs||7||1|
|Sea Eagle 380x Explorer||12’6″||39″||40 lbs||750 lbs||3||1, 2, or 3|
|Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame Convertible Elite||15′||32″||52 lbs||550 lbs||6||1 or 2|
|Sea Eagle 385fta FastTrack Angler Series||12’6″||36″||45 lbs||635 lbs||4||1, 2, or 3|
Inflatable Ocean Kayak Buying Advice
Understanding what sets individual kayaks apart is a valuable part of the buying process. But it’s just as vital that you have a firm foundation of a kayak’s attributes. Knowing how a boat’s design, width, length, and other factors will allow you to make sound decisions when it comes to purchasing your next kayak.
We’ve broken down our reviewed kayaks even further so you can better understand what sets them apart from one another.
- Kayak Type
- Stability & Tracking
- Portability & Storage
The first type are known as sit-in kayaks. These kayaks are slimmer with a defined cockpit that places the paddler’s legs beneath the deck and close to the water. The narrower frame is due to the position of the cockpit. Since your center of gravity is lower, these kayaks don’t have to be as wide to maintain stability.
All three Advanced Elements kayaks on this list are sit-insides. If you’re interested in maximizing your speed and paddling efficiency, this is the type of kayak for you. For those that will be paddling in temperate or rainy environments, sit-in kayaks also provide a little more protection from the elements, especially if you utilize a sprayskirt.
Sit-on-top kayaks have their seat on top of the kayak. They don’t have a defined cockpit, giving you more room to move around and adjust your position as you paddle. While sit-in kayaks are not unstable, sit-on-top boats have superior primary stability. This will minimize rocking back and forth while you paddle and make newcomers feel more secure and confident.
The drawback is these kayaks are wider, creating more resistance and requiring more effort to move them through the water.
Here’s where people can get into trouble when purchasing an inflatable kayak. Many cheaper models are made of flimsy material secured with a simple glue or stitch work that will disintegrate and puncture in no time. If an inflatable seems too cheap, there’s probably a reason.
Instead, look for companies like Sea Eagle and Advanced Elements. You’ll spend a little more but spend way less time trying to patch a myriad of tiny holes.
These kayaks are made of heavy-duty fabric with multiple layers of material, which ensures that your boat won’t burst the first time you bump a rock, which I guarantee will happen no matter how careful you are.
Look for inflatables that market several layers of material and have triple or quadruple stitched seams. An aluminum frame or ribs like Advanced Elements models provide extra rigidity and prevent the boat from flexing and bending on the water. Many also have a solid floor or deck, which helps rigidity and offers additional stability.
Under the power of a traditional paddle, the Advanced Elements AirFusion Evo and AdvancedFrame Convertible Elite are the two fastest kayaks we’ve reviewed. Even if you paddle the Convertible Elite solo, the longer keel makes up for a slightly wider design and allows it to outrun the AirFusion.
The advantage to the two Sea Eagle designs on this list, though, is that you can install an outboard motor on the transom of both models. So naturally, once an engine is introduced, these two designs can outrun most kayaks under the power of just a paddle.
Be careful deploying the engine if you’re handling open water, swells, or choppy waves, though. Too much power isn’t always a good thing, and you may find yourself babying your 380x or 385fta up and over the waves as trying to plow through them with an outboard is a great way to swamp your boat.
With a bit of practice and an understanding of the basic paddle strokes, most paddlers should have little trouble maneuvering these kayaks where they want them. But shorter kayaks are easier to steer and master as there’s less water resistance and less effort is necessary to swing the bow into position.
The Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame is the easiest for beginners and casual paddlers to handle with its combination of a shorter keel and reasonable width.
If you choose to install an outboard on your Sea Eagle model, this will affect the kayak’s maneuverability the same way it can alter the speed. An engine makes turns much simpler to execute. Still, it’ll take some practice to maneuver a kayak under power into tight places, especially if you’ll be in a crowded area surrounded by other boats or paddlers.
Seats on inflatable kayaks can be something of a mixed bag. It’s hard to get the proper support from inflatable tubes or minimal infrastructure. However, Advanced Elements have done an excellent job of adding additional back support where they can. So while it’s not as comfortable as the seats you’ll find on a hard-sided kayak, they should be more than adequate.
The narrower dimensions of the sit-in designs may feel too cramped for some taller or larger paddlers to be comfortable. If you think it’s going to be a tight fit, see if you can’t sit in the design you’re interested in before you purchase it.
Stability & Tracking
All of these kayaks are very stable as long as they’re not taken out into big ocean waves or areas with strong tidal currents. However, there is some difference in their level of stability that it may be wise to take into account.
The AirFusion Evo is the highest-performing kayak on the list, but it’s also narrower and longer, making it feel more tippy than the others. If you go with the AirFusion and are new to the sport, start out in some protected areas close to shore until you’ve grown accustomed to how the kayak responds.
It’s best to understand what to do if you capsize and how to get back in.
Meanwhile, the big and wide dimensions of the Sea Eagle designs will feel like a battleship underneath you. These kayaks are more tolerant to shifts in your weight, making them ideal for casual paddlers who don’t want to feel their boat rock too much underneath them.
For fishing, the Sea Eagle 385fta is stable enough to stand and cast from, which can be a massive advantage when it comes to casting accuracy and spotting schools of fish.
Tracking on the three Advanced Elements models is superior to the Sea Eagle designs. This is due to their narrower width and reasonably long keels. They also can be easily outfitted with a skeg. Skegs improve tracking in windy conditions, especially if the wind is coming from the side where it tends to blow you off course.
A skeg won’t reduce this effect entirely, but it’ll help immensely. So if you plan on taking your Advanced Elements on larger bodies of water like big lakes or the ocean, I’d strongly recommend utilizing the skeg.
While not as tough as many kayaks made of polyethylene plastic, multiple layers of tough fabric and triple-stitched seams can absorb most accidental drops, drags, scrapes, and on-water collisions.
When moving your inflatable kayak to the water, always carry it instead of dragging it to minimize the chance of punctures. And when landing on rocky beaches, do so as gently as possible and be wary when landing in the surf. If possible, land and step out of your kayak while it’s still floating to reduce the risk of damaging your kayak on a rock.
Advanced Elements’ kayaks all come with a repair kit because no matter how careful you are, you’ll need to do some occasional touch-ups and repairs.
Portability & Storage
The most significant advantage of inflatable kayaks is they’re much lighter than hard-sided plastic or fiberglass kayaks. As a result, most solo paddlers should have little trouble getting their kayaks to the water. Again, Advanced Elements has an excellent advantage here since they come with their own carry case to make this even more straightforward.
The inflation process for both Sea Eagle and Advanced Elements designs is simple and should be easy for most with a little bit of practice. It’s a good idea to inflate your kayak at your home before going to the lake or ocean for the first time so you understand the process.
Storage space is more limited in these inflatable models since you can’t get the solid bulkheads or open tankwell styles of hard-sided kayaks. The AirFusion Evo does have a designated stern hatch that’s enclosed and will keep gear dry. But the drawback is the kayak’s load capacity is low, so it’s hard to store the proper equipment for an overnight trip.
Sea Eagle’s kayaks are known for their massive storage capacity; if you are paddling them on your own, you should have plenty of space for your gear. However, none of it is protected from the elements, so if you have water-sensitive equipment, you’ll want to invest in some dry bags for kayaking.
Depending on your needs and paddling goals, any of these kayaks may be suitable for you. If you’re only interested in fishing, for example, there’s no reason to go with the AdvancedFrame, which isn’t set up for that sort of adventure.
From an overall performance level, we find it hard to beat the Advanced Elements AirFusion Evo. With the speed and rigidity to keep up with hard-sided kayaks, this model melds the performance of more expensive boats while being able to be stored in your hallway closet.
Whichever of these kayaks you deem best for you, we hope this article has helped you narrow it down and provide a firm foundation for your ocean kayaking future.