Capsizing a kayak isn’t exactly anybody’s idea of a good time. More often than not, the most challenging aspect of capsizing isn’t the swimming itself. The tricky part tends to be getting back in your kayak—especially if it’s filled up with water.
Although most of us try to avoid capsizing at all costs, mistakes do happen. When they do, having a float bag can help minimize your frustration levels as you try to right your kayak and empty it of water.
However, even though float bags seem like simple pieces of gear, there’s actually a lot that goes into getting the right one for your needs. To help you out, we’ve reviewed the best kayak float bags on the market.
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: NRS Standard Kayak Flotation Bag
- Best Budget: Harmony Gear Floatation Bag
- Best Float-Dry Bag Combo: Watershed Futa Stow Float Bag
Best Overall: NRS Standard Kayak Flotation Bag
One of the most popular models available, the NRS Standard Kayak Flotation Bag is a do-anything float bag that’s suitable for a wide range of paddling adventures.
Designed specifically for kayaks without a central pillar in the stern, this float bag is crafted so that it can fill up the entire compartment of a kayak with ease. It’s available in 3 sizes, too, so you can find the perfect option for your kayak.
NRS also built their standard float bag using 10 gauge urethane fabric, which is one of the most durable materials on the market. It comes with a 38-inch long inflation tube, too, to help ensure that you can set your float bags up in a matter of minutes. This float bag also includes 3 D-ring attachment points so you can secure it to your kayak before you hit the water.
As the NRS Standard Kayak Flotation Bag is one of the best-selling float bags available, there aren’t many drawbacks to using it. However, it is slightly more expensive than other basic float bags, and some paddlers have found that the inflation tube wears out after a few seasons. But if you need all-around performance from your gear, this is one float bag that’s worth considering.
Best Budget: Harmony Gear Floatation Bag
Offering quality flotation without breaking the bank, the Harmony Gear Floatation Bag is a solid choice for paddlers on a budget.
It features the same great design that you find on other popular float bags, but at a fraction of the cost. Harmony Gear built their float bag using thick vinyl for added durability over the long term. The vinyl on this bag is also made with a temperature-regulating material, so it’s less likely that the bag will burst or rip on a hot day on the water.
Additionally, this float bag comes with a twist valve on its inflation hose for a secure fit during the set up process. It also has a high-capacity dump valve so you can save time at the take-out and get on the road after a long day of paddling.
Do note, however, that the Harmony Gear Floatation Bag only has one grommet-style anchor point, so it can be tricky to secure to your kayak. It also only comes in two sizes, and it’s not ideal for longer kayaks. But if you need a reliable float bag on a budget, this one is an excellent choice.
Best Float-Dry Bag Combo: Watershed Futa Stow Float Bag
Arguably the most unique model in our review, the Watershed Futa Stow Float Bag is a hybrid float and dry bag that’s perfect for the adventurous paddler.
Watershed crafted the Futa out of their proprietary UV-resistant polyurethane-coated nylon for enhanced performance on the water. It also features an extra-long inflation and deflation tube for improved buoyancy control.
Better yet, the Futa can double as a dry bag for gear storage, thanks to its ZipDry seal and radio-frequency welding bonds. As a result, it can keep your gear dry, even when submerged.
The biggest drawback to the Futa is its hefty price tag. It also has relatively few attachment points for securing it to your kayak as you paddle. However, if you’re in the market for a versatile piece of gear that can do a little of everything on your kayak adventures, the Watershed Futa is tough to beat.
Kayak Float Bag Buying Guide
Finding the best kayak float bag might seem like a straightforward task, but there’s more to these valuable pieces of gear than meets the eye. Here are some key features and characteristics to look out for as you shop.
Float Bag Shape & Size
Modern float bags come in a wide range of different shapes and sizes so that they can fit in an array of kayak models and types. Each float bag shape and size is crafted with a specific kind of kayak in mind, so it’s imperative that you know what type of bag you need before you start shopping.
There are two main float bag shapes on the market:
- Standard – As the name suggests, standard float bags are the most common model you’ll find while you shop. These bags tend to be pretty wide as they’re designed to fill up all the space in large bow and stern hatches and open compartments. However, they do not work with kayaks that have a central support pillar (this is most common in the stern of whitewater kayaks).
- Split Float – Designed specifically for kayaks with central support pillars, split float bags are long-narrow bags that can fit on either side of this pillar. But, their long, narrow shape also makes them useful in some sea kayaks and other boats with narrow profiles.
Once you know what type of float bag you need, it’s time to find out what size bag is best for your kayak.
Most manufacturers create their float bags in a range of sizes, so there’s likely a size out there that’s right for your kayak. But you should always measure the size of your kayak before you start shopping to ensure that you order the correct size.
It’s usually best to order a size that’s slightly bigger than your kayak compartment. That way, you get a secure fit when you inflate the float bag in your kayak.
Inflation System & Ease of Set Up
Float bags are generally reasonably straightforward pieces of gear to set up, but not all models are created equal in this regard.
In particular, it’s worth looking for a float bag that has a longer inflation tube so that it’s easier for you to get the proper buoyancy in your float bag during the set up process. Since float bags generally need to be positioned in your kayak’s hatch or compartments before inflation, having longer inflation tubes can make the process a whole lot easier.
It’s also important to consider how easy it is to deflate and pack up a float bag before committing to a given model.
Some float bags only have one nozzle for inflation and deflation, making the packing up process slow and tedious. However, others, like the Harmony Gear Flotation Bag, have high-capacity dump valves so you can quickly deflate your float bag and pack it up after a long day of paddling.
Materials & Durability
Most gear manufacturers make their float bags with durability in mind. Since these bags are designed to stay inflated for long periods in a wide range of weather conditions, they must be rugged enough to handle whatever they might face.
When buying float bags, pay particular attention to the types of materials used to make the bag. Thicker materials like urethane, vinyl, and coated ripstop nylon are durable enough to withstand years of use on the water.
Additionally, be sure to take a look at any seams on a float bag before you buy. The seams are usually the weakest point on a bag since they’re under so much tension whenever it is inflated. Large seam allowances, welded seams, and other similar features can all prevent a float bag from leaking air while you paddle.
Many float bags are simply designed to be stuffed into a kayak hatch, filled with air, and left alone while you paddle. But others come with additional features that can be useful on the water. Two of the most popular extra features on float bags include:
- Dry Bag Functionality – While a float bag’s primary purpose is to prevent your kayak from filling with water if you go for a swim, some manufacturers now make float bags that double as dry bags for kayaking. These bags can be filled with spare clothing and other essential items, placed in a compartment in your kayak, and then inflated to the right buoyancy for extra water displacement should you happen to capsize while kayaking.
- Multiple Attachment Points – The majority of float bags come with at least one attachment point so you can secure it to your kayak. However, these solo attachment points aren’t always strong enough to keep your float bag in place if you capsize. To alleviate this issue, some manufacturers now make models with multiple attachment points. That way, you can better secure your lost bag to your kayak for improved performance whenever you paddle.
Kayak float bags are invaluable pieces of gear on the water, especially in situations where capsizing is a real possibility.
Of all the kayak float bags we’ve reviewed, it’s clear that one stood out among the pack: the NRS Standard Kayak Flotation Bag. We particularly like that NRS made this float bag with their super durable urethane fabric and that this model has multiple sturdy tie-down points so you can securely attach the bag to your kayak.