Just like lakes, rivers, and oceans have very different shapes and movements, there are different inflatable kayaks designed to handle the challenges posed by these specific bodies of water.
- Lake inflatable kayaks are efficient on the water and designed for speed in calm waters.
- River kayaking is more physically demanding and requires an inflatable kayak that is more durable in all types of waves and currents. They typically have a shorter hull to maneuver quickly.
- Ocean inflatable kayaks are narrower than lake kayaks and typically longer to track better and allow more versatility.
I have been paddling and involved in water sports for over 20 years in Ontario and British Columbia. As the founder of Inflatable Kayak Authority, I put my extensive knowledge and experience towards writing honest reviews and guides and helping others find the best inflatable kayaks for them.
In this guide, we’ll be looking at the specific differences between lake, river, and ocean inflatable kayaks. We’ll compare materials, cost, length, width, design, set-up, and storage so you have all the information you need to make an informed decision on which is the best choice for you.
Table of Contents
- What’s the Difference Between Lake vs River vs Ocean Inflatable Kayaks?
- Inflatable Kayak Materials
- Respectable Inflatable Kayak Brands for All Activities
- What Inflatable Kayaks Cost
- Inflatable Kayak Lengths
- Inflatable Kayak Widths
- The Hull Design and On Water Performance
- Cockpit and Seat Design
- Set-Up and Storage
- So Which Should You Choose?
What’s the Difference Between Lake vs River vs Ocean Inflatable Kayaks?
You might be wondering how there could possibly be much of a difference between good-quality inflatable kayaks. The differences may not be very noticeable at first, but they are significant enough that it can affect your water performance.
An ocean kayak vs river kayak has differences in length, while a sea kayak vs regular kayak has differences in width. A sea kayak vs lake kayak are also constructed of different materials. And a river kayak vs lake kayak also has differences in durability and trackability.
With so many varieties, you may have stumbled upon this article wondering: “So what kind of kayak do I need?” Well, you’ve come to the right place.
They all vary in material, cost, size, and design to be the most effective for a specific body of water. Let’s first take a look at the materials each kayak is made of and why they are designed that way.
Inflatable Kayak Materials
An inflatable kayak requires specific materials to either be more efficient or remain durable in rougher waters. The most common materials that make up inflatable kayaks are PVC, Hypalon, Nitrylon, Neoprene, Polyethylene, and textiles. The two most common and well-known materials used in inflatable kayaks are PVC and Hypalon, thanks to their durability.
Most of the inflatable recreational kayaks on our list also use aluminum frame reinforcement, which increases tracking abilities on calm waters.
Lake and Recreational Kayak Materials
Recreational kayaks, also known as lake or fresh water kayaks, are made from various types of materials. Still, most are manufactured with polyester and PVC, which is a vinyl polymer, for more outstanding durability and protection.
The AquaGlide Chinook 90 is constructed with 600 Denier hex ripstop polyester, which keeps it puncture-resistant and protected against any elements you may come against. The Advanced Elements Firefly kayak is made of PVC and has a 600 D polyester cover which is lightweight and durable.
Inflatable Ocean Kayak Materials
Between ocean kayak vs lake kayaks, ocean kayaks are typically longer and more durable to remain stable through waves and currents. The Sea Eagle 385ft FastTrack is constructed with NeedleKnife™ Keel, which makes it portable while maximizing durability and stability on the water.
The AdvancedFrame Convertible is also made with a combination of PVC and other materials. Its durable exterior comes with double-coated PVC-coated nylon and tarpaulin fabric, which is a flexible and robust waterproof material.
Inflatable Whitewater River Kayak Materials
Similar to ocean kayak materials, inflatable kayaks designed for whitewater river rafting use tough materials to prevent punctures as you paddle through rough waters. Kayaks like the Advanced Elements Attack Pro use the sturdy PVC tarpaulin material and advanced drop-stitch technology to make sure the kayak will stay inflated and maintain high performance.
The Sea Eagle 380x Explorer is made of 1000 Denier Reinforced material to provide extra heavy-duty durability in rough waters and conditions. It is difficult to tear, waterproof, and abrasion-resistant.
Respectable Inflatable Kayak Brands for All Activities
Sea Eagle, Advanced Elements, and AquaGlide are fantastic brands with inflatable kayaks constructed of high-quality materials and designed to last. Below are some great options for all-purpose inflatable kayaks from each brand.
The Sea Eagle 385ft FastTrack is portable, affordable, and stable. It’s the perfect lakes and rivers kayak to take with you anywhere. You can use it on almost any body of water, and it is excellent for both beginner and experienced paddlers. It has a lightweight design and uses thick 1100 Decitex reinforced material for more reliability and strength.
The Sea Eagle 380x Explorer is also a versatile choice for various water conditions. It performs well on both rougher rapids and flatwater. It also has a large weight capacity so that you can go with up to three people and extra gear.
The Advanced Elements StraitEdge handles both rough waves and ocean currents as well as flat water. Designed to be versatile, this inflatable kayak incorporates aluminum rib frames in the stern and bow for improved trackability on calmer waters with self-bailing ports to remain steady in rough conditions.
The Advanced Elements StraitEdge2 Pro is a sit-on-top kayak built with aluminum rib-frame and drop-stitch technology for more outstanding performance in the bow and floor. With the self-bailing ports opened, you can paddle through rough waters or close them in calm conditions to improve trackability.
The Chelan 120 is a premium inflatable kayak designed for all types of paddling. It combines a drop-stitch, hard-bottom floor with Duratex tube construction to make it look and perform like a hard-shell kayak. It works for all skill levels and weighs only 28 pounds.
The McKenzie 125 is a stable crossover lakes and rivers kayak that tracks well in both flatwater and whitewater conditions. It is perfect for one or two people to paddle with some extra gear. It can ride over waves and maneuver easily thanks to its high rocker bow and stern design.
What Inflatable Kayaks Cost
Various factors go into the cost of an inflatable kayak, but it mainly depends on its material and size. Hypalon is typically the most expensive material, while PVC is the least costly.
Here are some of the average prices for inflatable kayaks in their specific categories.
Lake and Recreational Inflatable Kayak Prices
Lake and recreational inflatable kayaks are popular because they are less expensive than other types of kayaks. They typically range between $300 and $1000. For example, the AquaGlide Chinook 90 is $399.99, which includes the kayak, seat, storage bag, quick-release fin, and a repair kit.
The Advanced Elements Firefly kayak goes for a similar price at around $349.99. You can also purchase a package that includes the inflatable kayak, paddles, a removable folding seat, a foot pump, and a duffel bag for storage.
The Intex Explorer K2 is the most affordable kayak on this list at $249.99. It is ten feet long and designed specifically for smaller bodies of water with calm conditions. The cockpit offers more space, and the streamlined design makes paddling easier.
Inflatable Ocean Kayak Prices
Ocean kayaks are typically the most expensive type of inflatable kayak due to their length and durability. They cost on average between $1,000 to $1,350. However, you can find some ocean kayaks for an affordable price. For example, the manufacturer lists the Sea Eagle 385ft FastTrack deluxe solo package at $949 on their website. The kayak itself has a value of $999, making the package deal a great option, and a lower price than most kayaks alone.
The AdvancedFrame Convertible is valued at a more typical price for an ocean kayak around $899.99 to $999. At 15 feet long and 32 inches wide, you can take this kayak out for longer expeditions and speedier travel.
Both ocean and river kayaks cost more than recreational boats. However, between ocean kayak vs river kayak, river kayaks are generally more economical.
Inflatable Whitewater River Kayak Prices
A high-quality inflatable kayak designed for whitewater paddling costs between $800 and $1,800. The reason why it is more costly than others is due to its increased durable construction.
The Attack Pro from Advanced Elements is $799.99. Its length, width, and design are specific for greater durability and stability during full whitewater paddling. The cost of the Sea Eagle 380x Explorer is around $899 to $1,050. It is versatile and tracks well using its removable fin.
Inflatable Kayak Lengths
Average kayaks are about ten feet long, but you can find kayaks of many different lengths. They can be as short as six feet or as long as 16 feet. A longer kayak has greater speed, while shorter kayaks are more maneuverable. Depending on what you use your kayak for, you may prefer one length over another.
Lake and Recreational Inflatable Kayak Lengths
Recreational inflatable kayaks are generally sit-on-top models that allow you to get in and out of it easily. They are more stable and easy to maneuver around obstacles due to their shorter length, which measures about 8 to 12 feet.
Here is a list of a few recreational models at the recreational kayak length:
- AquaGlide Chinook 90: 9′ long
- Advanced Elements Firefly: 7′ 10″ long
- Intex Explorer K2: 10′ 3″ long
- Island Voyage 2: 11′ 2″ long
Inflatable Ocean Kayak Lengths
Ocean kayaks are the longest type of kayak. They have a narrower body to cut through waves and gather more speed when going straight. Also called “touring” kayaks, they range between 12 and 14 feet in length.
Here are a few ocean kayak models and their lengths:
- Aquaglide Navarro 145 DS: 14′ 4″ long
- AdvancedFrame Convertible: 15′ long
- Sea Eagle 385ft FastTrack: 12′ 5″ long
Inflatable River Kayak Lengths
When you’re looking for an inflatable kayak to paddle down rivers and rapids, you’ll want to look for a kayak between 8 and 10 feet. Anything longer will not allow you to maneuver through narrow passages and turns as well. Maneuverability is crucial with river kayaks, especially if you plan to go down a river with narrow turns.
Here are a few river kayaks and their inflated lengths:
- Aquaglide Chinook 100: 10′ long
- Advanced Elements Attack Pro: 9′ 9″ long
- Advanced Elements StraitEdge: 9′ 8″ long
- Sea Eagle 380x Explorer: 12′ 6″ long
Inflatable Kayak Widths
There are many varieties when it comes to a kayak’s width, which depends on the boat’s purpose. The wider the kayak is, the more stable it will be, but it will also be more challenging to turn. On the other hand, narrower kayaks are easier to maneuver and gain speed but may lack stability. Take a look at the typical width ranges for different inflatable kayaks below.
Lake and Recreational Inflatable Kayak Widths
You will see most recreational kayaks with wider and rounder widths that keep them stable on the water. They are typically around 32 to 38 inches wide. It also slows them down and keeps them afloat if they face any waves.
The great thing about a larger width is that you do not need to worry about capsizing and can relax on the water for a while. It is also easier to learn on recreational models because of their wider bodies.
- AquaGlide Chinook 90: 35″ wide
- Advanced Elements Firefly: 35″ wide
- Intex Explorer K2: 36″ wide
- Island Voyage 2: 36″ wide
Inflatable Ocean Kayak Widths
As I mentioned above, ocean kayaks are longer and narrower than other types. This is so they can cut through waves and pick up speed when traveling in a straight line. They generally range from 30 to 39 inches wide.
- AdvancedFrame Convertible: 32″ wide
- Sea Eagle 385ft FastTrack: 36″ wide
- Aquaglide Navarro 145: 39″ wide
Inflatable River Kayak Widths
River kayaks require stability and quick maneuverability and, therefore, can be wider. They range from 34 to 42 inches, but the best width for you depends on your preference and experience. If you are a beginner paddling on rough waters, having a wider kayak will help you learn how to navigate much quicker with the extra stability though you may move slower.
Take a special look at the width of the hull. The wider the hull, the greater the kayak’s stability.
- Aquaglide Chinook 100: 36″ wide
- Advanced Elements Attack Pro: 35″ wide
- Advanced Elements StraitEdge: 35″ wide
- Sea Eagle 380x Explorer: 39″ wide
The Hull Design and On Water Performance
When comparing kayaks, the design of the hull will tell a lot about its performance on the water. There are four different hull designs for kayaks:
- pontoon or tunnel hull,
Lake and Recreational Inflatable Kayak Hulls
Recreational inflatable kayaks typically use a flat or pontoon hull because it provides more stability. The AquaGlide Chinook 90 and Island Voyage 2 kayaks both have flat hulls for calm water conditions. They both provide excellent trackability and stability when paddling recreationally.
A flat hull can be found on many kayaks because it is both easy to maneuver and stable. On flat water, it provides more stability than speed. Pontoon hulls are not very fast, but they provide greater stability by combining a round hull with flatness.
Inflatable Ocean Kayak Hulls
Since ocean kayak hulls require speed and trackability, they typically use a V hull design. The Sea Eagle 385ft FastTrack and AdvancedFrame Convertible sport an efficient V-shaped hull that improves speed and tracking.
V-shaped hulls allow kayaks to cut through waves and rougher conditions, making them more efficient on the water. They can also pick up speed much faster. However, you sacrifice some stability that pontoons or flat hulls provide.
Inflatable River Kayak Hulls
River kayaks typically need more maneuverability and control as you paddle. Some, like the Advanced Elements Attack Pro, have a V-shaped hull. Others, like the Sea Eagle 380x Explorer, have a flat hull.
Flat hulls are more versatile and stable in moving waters, though they might feel a little shaky at first. For kayaks like the Attack Pro, the V-shaped hull can easily cut through waters and speed down rapids.
Cockpit and Seat Design
The cockpit is where you sit on a kayak. The two types of cockpits are open deck or closed, also known as sit-on-top or sit-in cockpits. For the most part, river and ocean kayaks use a sit-inside design to protect you from splash.
Sit-on-top kayaks are typically more comfortable for some people because you don’t have to squeeze in and out of them. For taller people, having more open space may also be necessary. Lake kayaks often have open decks, so you can easily climb in and out of it, even on the water.
A closed cockpit is great for colder weather because it keeps you warm and protects you from splash. Most high-quality inflatable kayaks also include high-back seats, which provide more stability and comfort as you paddle.
Recreational Inflatable Kayak Cockpits
Some recreational kayaks come with a closed cockpit like the Advanced Elements Firefly. Its design is compact, but taller people may not be able to fit comfortably.
Many recreational kayaks typically have an open deck. Many have a sit-on-top design for greater comfort and to seat other people or bring in gear. The Island Voyage 2 is a durable model with an open cockpit for recreational kayaking. Its adjustable high-back seats wrap around your lower back for extra support as you sit and include inflatable seat cushions.
Inflatable Ocean Kayak Cockpits
Many ocean kayaks also have a sit-on-top design like recreational ones. The Aquaglide Chelan 155 provides lots of room for one or two people and includes removable seats with high backrests and inflatable seat cushions for ultimate comfort.
The Aquaglide Navarro 145 and AdvancedFrame Convertible can be used with an open cockpit or converted to a sit-inside kayak with the optional zip-on deck cover. The cover can be useful in keeping you warm during colder months on the water. It also includes a thick padded seat cushion and high backrest to keep you comfortable.
So what kind of kayak for ocean is best? It’s the one that makes you feel the most comfortable and safe on the waters as you cut past waves and paddle through currents.
Inflatable River Kayak Cockpits
River kayaks designed for rough waters either have a sit-inside cockpit or a sit-on-top design with straps to hold your legs in. The Advanced Elements Attack Pro has thigh straps and a high-back seat to ensure you do not fall out of the boat and remain comfortable when you paddle.
An open cockpit may be safer when whitewater kayaking because you will not be trapped in your boat if it flips. However, an open inflatable kayak deck might increase your likelihood of flipping since it is not holding you inside.
The Aquaglide Chinook 100 is a narrower kayak that allows you to fit up to three people and kayak down class III and IV rapids. It comes with quick-release seats that allow you to attach or detach them quickly while the boat remains sturdy.
Set-Up and Storage
An inflatable kayak that is easy to set up can make a big difference in how much you enjoy your boat. The reason why many people buy inflatable kayaks is also for their storability. It does not take up much space, and many models come with a bag where you can put your deflated kayak and keep it in the car or store it in your garage when you are not using it.
Keep in mind some important questions as you look for the right kayak size as well:
- Would you be able to carry the kayak comfortably by yourself once inflated?
- How easily would you be able to maneuver it on the water?
- Will you have a friend or family member who can help you transport the kayak?
Lake and Recreational Inflatable Kayaks
The AdvancedFrame Convertible kayak is 15 feet long and takes less than ten minutes to inflate and deflate. The folded size is 35″ x 21″ x 12″, making it easy to pack and carry your kayak. The AquaGlide Chinook 90 has Boston valves which allow for quick inflation and deflation.
Not all inflatable kayaks come with a pump, so you may need to buy one separately. You can decide if you prefer a hand or electric pump that can quickly inflate your boat and any seats.
Inflatable Ocean Kayaks
Even the longest ocean kayaks can fold up into packages that are easy to store. The Sea Eagle 385ft Fast Track solo weighs just 35 pounds with a length of 12′ 5″ and a width of 2′ 9″. When it is deflated, it measures 25″ x 18″ x 8″, which is small enough to fit into the back of your car, and fits into its own carry bag. Like most inflatables, the inflation time is about eight minutes with the included hand pump.
The Aquaglide Navarro 145 does not include a pump, so you will need to buy one separately. When you inflate the kayak, make sure you have the proper Halkey-Roberts and Boston Valve adaptors to ensure the pump fits. It only weighs 33 pounds and can be easily stored in the included duffel bag.
Inflatable River Kayaks
Most river kayaks are relatively easy to inflate with a hand or electric pump and take about the same amount of time as other inflatable kayak types. The Aquaglide Chinook 100 is lightweight at only 23 pounds, and you can store it in the included duffel bag.
The Advanced Elements Attack Pro weighs about 25 pounds and has a folded size of 43″ x 19″ x 9″. It comes with a duffel bag and shoulder straps so you can carry it to the water. Inflation takes about 5-10 minutes, and you can deflate it or use an electric pump to suck out all of the air for storage.
So Which Should You Choose?
An inflatable kayak can save you a lot of money and space compared to a hard shell one. The materials inflatable boats are made of now make them extremely firm and durable.
Now that you’ve finished reading, you might be wondering: “what kind of kayak is best for me?” Depending on the type of water conditions you plan to paddle in, the best inflatable kayak for you may vary.
A river kayak is best for more experienced paddlers who want to ride on rougher waters.
Ocean kayaks are great when you want to explore for a longer period of time, go ocean fishing, or plan to paddle through waves.
A lakes and rivers kayak is also designed for fresh bodies of water in terms of durability, while a sea kayak is made of tougher materials to last in abrasive conditions.
A lake or recreational kayak is best for beginners and those who want to leisurely paddle through flatwater without putting in too much effort. Beginners should start with recreational kayaking to get used to paddling and balancing on the kayak.
Before you move on towards more extreme kayaking on oceans or rivers, it is crucial to take lessons to prepare yourself first. With these difficult conditions, the risk for accidents becomes much higher, and you want to learn how to kayak in the ocean and practice maneuvering your boat with a professional before doing the real thing.
Now that you’ve read all about the three different types of inflatable kayaks, you may have some burning questions! Here are the answers to some of the most common questions about inflatable kayaks.
Can You Use a River Kayak on a Lake?
Most river kayaks can cross over to other types of water conditions. River inflatable kayaks are often just as wide as lake ones, which makes them very stable.
However, many river kayaks cannot carry the same amount of weight as a lake kayak, so if you’re planning to go fishing or bring extra gear with you, you may not be able to use it on a lake. They also may not be able to track as well on flat water, making it difficult to
Can You Kayak on Any River?
All river rapids have a class specification that categorizes how rough they are. It goes from Class I to Class VI. Class I is easy, smooth water with gentle turns, while Class VI is extremely difficult. In Class VI, paddlers face threats of death.
Not all inflatable kayaks can handle the higher classifications, and many can only handle up to Class III or IV. Make sure you know before buying the highest class your kayak can take, so you don’t end up with one that breaks apart in the rapids.
Can You Use an Ocean Kayak on a Lake?
Ocean kayaks can be used on lakes, but not the other way around since the waves will tip over recreational kayaks too easily. The design for ocean kayaks works in all types of open water, and they have retractable rudders and skags, which improves tracking. However, they may not be as efficient or maneuverable as a result.
A sea kayak vs lake kayak might be a difficult choice if you want one that is more versatile. However, the differences between the two are becoming somewhat closer due to improved technology and the growing interest in kayaking in multiple water conditions.
Why are Inflatable Ocean and River Kayaks So Expensive?
Inflatable ocean and river kayaks are more expensive than recreational boats because of the type of constructed material. Typically the type of rubber inside the kayak will have the most impact on the price of an inflatable kayak.
Ocean and river kayaks are far more durable in design and construction while remaining lightweight. The material is also typically tear-resistant. Some may also come with a coating that is very puncture and abrasion-resistant, such as Nitrylon. Nitrylon is also better in colder weather. Hypalon is another material that is more expensive but has a much higher UV resistance. It also lasts the longest.