If you haven’t figured it out already, we really love being out in the water. Whether you read our article about tents for camping on the beach (because sand shouldn’t stop a wonderful time out in nature) or how we’ve never seen a reason to let below zero temperatures keep us from enjoying the adventure of winter camping, we love everything that has to do with getting out and finding life in the natural world.
If something is experimental, all the better! This is why hearing about portable kayaks or backpack kayaks really caught my attention because it’s not something my brother and I had heard of before. We’re not solid enough water athletes to buy our own kayaks and roof mounts on vehicles to haul them to and fro, but these were something we could definitely see ourselves dropping some money on.
Time out on the water is amazing, but I’m not a great swimmer. The extent of my natural swimming gift is showing people how not to float. This won’t stop me from tossing on a life vest and getting out there, but I’m not the type who gets to just swim out into the lake, so hearing about portable kayaks has definitely fired up my interest.
MASSIVE 2018 UPDATE: A lot has changed in the kayak market from inflatable kayaks to folding kayaks and more. Some models have been discontinued, others have appeared on the market with authority, and we have done our best to massively update our listings. Check out the chart for quick hits or scroll down for full reviews!
Note on “average scores” – in this case there is a huge price difference between inflatable kayaks versus folding models that work with firm frames. Because of this keep in mind that most inflatables will rank higher for being far more affordable while the most durable options may very well be the folding ones that fall in overall ranking because they’re 4-5X the cost. So while the number is a good general guide: all of these are good choices. So shop based on budget and your own specific needs. Thanks!
|Kayak Model||Type of Kayak||Avg Rating|
Intex Explorer K2 Inflatable Kayak
Sea Eagle Inflatable Kayak
Elkton Outdoors Inflatable Fishing Kayak
Intex Challenger K2 Kayak
Elevens Cruise Plus Foldable and Portable Kayak
Folbot Touring Kiawah Foldable and Portable Kayak
|Folding Frame & Skin||7.7|
MYCANOE 2.5 Origami Folding Foldable Canoe
Intex Explorer K2 Inflatable Kayak Reviewed
Not everyone can afford the top of the line portable kayak models, but that doesn’t mean they can’t find high quality watercraft in a much more modest budget range.
While the full folding kayaks with outer skins are generally seen as often being the best as far as “high end” models, but there are several inflatable kayaks that are absolutely worth checking out and this is top of the list when it comes to inflatable design, while also being our best overall option.
Two of our favorites come from Intex, and so we’re starting with the very popular Explorer K2 kayak. This is a 2-person kayak that is inflatable and while you won’t be hitting the white water rapids with this model, for a calm river or time on a smooth lake, it’s a great way to get out and about the water without having to lug around the full sized kayak – or pay for a cheap beat up one at a ranger’s station.
Bright colors make this inflated kayak very easy to see, which can also come in handy if you happen to end up needing rescue. The shipping weight is a mere 37 pounds and this kayak can support up to 348-350 lbs safely which is a solid number for an inflatable model.
The Sea Eagle inflatable kayak is a portable kayak model that we are huge fans of. It might be a relative newcomer on this list, but even in a couple short seasons they have proven to be a really outstanding design that stands out among the many inflatable options out there.
While it can hold up two three people, it is designed with two seats and has a capacity to carry up to 650 lbs putting it clearly above any other inflatable option we have come across up to this point. Coming with two deluxe sized inflatable seats, a foot pump, carry bag, repair kit, and two kayaking paddles that are each 7’10” in size, and a self bailing drain valve. The hull as a solid 32 lb weight for cutting through waves and it is made from high quality material resistant to puncturing.
This design is NMMA certified and in addition to this the kayak conveniently inflates in a mere 8 minutes. If you are looking at an inflatable kayak you can actually depend on then Sea Eagle is a model that you definitely want to give a serious look to. While these won’t hold up to the top of the line hard-shell kayaks (no inflatable will), a truly good inflatable like this one will work for most individuals who want some sort of easy to transport kayak or canoe but aren’t into the serious high level rapids or rough waters that really do require a traditional solid piece design.
The seats are comfortable, the paddles are easy to put together and come apart in four pieces for easy packing (and are an actual kayak paddle design), while also including inflation gauges for the side tubes to make it easy to know when the kayak is properly filled.
Intex Challenger 2-Person Inflatable Kayak (w/Aluminum Paddles) Reviewed
Intex not only has the top overall spot on our list but one of the top challengers is the other inflatable kayak by Intex that really has a strong reputation among avid river rats and other outdoor fans who have enjoyed a lazy summer day on smooth water. This portable kayak is inflatable in nature and is 40.5 lbs and can carry up to a maximum of 350 lbs, provide a nice sleek option that makes it easy to get onto lazy water without too many issues.
Add in two solid aluminum 86 inch oars and suddenly the family day out on the lake or slow moving river can take on all its full water fun!
Sporting many solid high level ratings across multiple outdoor websites proves that this particular design has a large number of fans from verified buyers and outdoor specialists who know how to get the job done. Particularly good for lake and lagoon use, this opens up many areas to explore that you wouldn’t traditionally think of as kayak country and makes it easier to transport your water vessel and enjoy your time out in the outdoors.
While this good looking blue and green portable inflatable kayak by Intex looks good as it holds up well to durability test, it’s important to note that these are still portable by nature which means you want low currents or gentle water, they’re not designed to white water anything.
As long as you keep that in mind, you’ll love what these sporting kayaks can bring to the table.
Oru Kayak Bay Kayak Reviewed
The Oru was definitely going to make this list, and we find it to be an intriguing choice that has certainly caught the attention of many other outdoor adventurers, as well. The Oru is not an inflatable model but an intricately designed body and skin setup that allows the packed up unit to go from box to fully functioning and water-worthy kayak in less than five minutes once you’re familiar with it.
This sleek white kayak is a single seat kayak that folds out to 12 feet in length and weighs just a touch over 35 pounds. Solid polyethylene construction gives this boat a very different feel and setup in addition to a solid foam seat.
Because of the advanced design of this folding kayak it can be transported in a normal car trunk or the back of an SUV instead of needing a heavy duty rack installed on the top of your vehicle. That easy transportation is definitely a plus.
Have doubts? Check out this amazing article on travelers carrying and using this kayak over an entire year. It’s a great read!
If you want something a bit sturdier or more conventional in design because you’re just not a fan of inflatable kayaks, then you’ll want to take a look at the top rated folding kayak produced by Elevens Cruise. Currently available in four good looking colors (red, white, blue, & yellow) this durable folding portable kayak is an outstanding option that costs more than the inflatable choices but also offers a sturdier build and more conventional shape that many experienced kayakers appreciate.
This lightweight portable folding kayak is durable because it’s made from a double-ply FRPP frame that is rated up to 10,000 folds and also is specially engineered to resist wear from UV light from the sun as well as corrosion from saltwater. This is a mere 30 lbs in weight, making it very easy to transport while it folds small enough to be stored in most closets or even a common car trunk.
The company likes to boast that this kayak goes from box to boat in only 10 minutes, and that actually is not an unreasonable expectation. The assembly doesn’t require any tools while a solid hull design and a focus on overall stability means that the Cruise Plus is going to not only be one of the fastest portable kayaks around but one of the most stable, as well!
Featuring a fully set up length of 12.8 feet and a width of a svelte 23.6 inches, this is a kayak that is built to be small and fast. A one year seller warranty means you can put it to plenty of use knowing you are covered – so test it out to make sure it meets your specific needs!
In addition to this, the frame is built from a solid anodized aluminum alloy and the kayak comes with a free life vest, seat, electronics storage bag, and free paddle.
So what are the down sides?
With heavy use the average lifespan is stated as being about 3-4 years before you need to look at another one. While fast and sleek, there are also major weight restrictions as the approved payload is only 200 lbs, which eliminates it as a choice for many of us larger outdoor types.
So technically not a kayak, but another example of a folding portable boat that can be a great purchase for the right outdoor enthusiasts. This is an “Origami folding canoe” that has gained a lot of attention for its patented design and setup. In fact, this is an award winning piece of water gear and is even TUV certified.
14 feet when fully setup and laid out, this lightweight folding canoe can be set up in a mere 10 minutes or folded up for transportation in a mere 5 at the end of the day. A convenient carrying case makes it easy to move around until you find the right place to get started.
Rated for up to 20,000 folds, this customized polypropylene body also features a 15 year UV treatment meaning this is one option that is going to absolutely going to last the test of time. The winner of the 2014 International Boat Show for best invention, MYCANOE likes to argue this is the best folding canoe in the world and it is really hard to argue with that point.
At full size it is 14.5 feet featuring two seats this is an outstanding option that really focuses on bringing a new level of quality to this top rated folding canoe and it can come with a stabilizer kit for when you are pushing the high load limits (400 lbs is the recommended ceiling while the maximum load is 440 lbs).
Paddles aren’t actually included with this one, so you will have to find a good pair of paddles you can trust, but once you have those this stunning folding canoe will be set to go.
The Elkton Outdoors inflatable fishing kayak is a quickly inflating kayak that goes from a compact storage size to a fully blown up water vehicle in mere minutes. Built to be both rugged and durable, this inflatable option is 118 inches x 35 inches X 16 inches once fully inflated and gives plenty of space for a couple of active individuals who want to get away from the common shore casting spots and find a sweet new fishing hole to cast away at.
The Elkton Outdoors fishing kayak is built to last, using heavy duty 18-gauge 1000D PVC that resists rips and tears. This is crucial so you know that your inflatable kayak will be resistant if you hook an aggressive bass or northern that decides to throw the lure right next to the kayak.
This is a compact and lightweight option that is a great alternative to your conventional fishing kayak and this comes with two adjustable seats, plenty of rod holders, double sided oars (i.e. real kayak paddles) a repair kit, foot pump, and even a carry bag.
These are built tough, easy to repair when needed, and have three separate air chambers to increase resiliency if a leak does occur in one.
You can’t use an electric pump – these kayaks were designed to take air under low pressure. An electric pump will badly damage the kayak from forcing in too much air pressure.
In addition, some individuals have commented that you need to buy your own paddles and upgrade from the free ones. This inflatable kayak is a sliver under 50 lbs and brings some really outstanding options to the table.
Folbot manages to make the list with a solid lightweight option with their skin-on-frame folding kayak design. This is a kayak built for casual paddling and touring on the water while being lightweight and portable enough for easy travel. Weighing only 32 lbs and able to carry a payload of up to 200 lbs, this is definitely a folding kayak for lightweight individuals who want to get some water time.
The frame is made from a strong yet lightweight aluminum and then the skin is pulled over the skeleton and secured. That creates a good looking and easy to use kayak. This doesn’t require any tools and once you are used to setting it up the entire process should only take about 10 minutes. On top of this, the design helps to withstand common outdoor challenges like sunlight and saltwater.
Kiawah creates and excellent option here that helps you get from point A to point B nice and easy and allows for an easy folding clean up at the end of the day. Enjoy the comfortable molded seat and it is worth noting that this model as of this writing is 100% American made.
The following was at one point our top rated choice but between more great models being released and this one going out of stock, we’ve had to bump it down to make space for those being actively made and stocked – but keep an eye out to see if this one returns in the future.
FORMER #1: TRAK High Performance Kayaks Reviewed
These folding kayaks are among some of the most popular with frequent outdoor enthusiasts, and it’s not hard to see why as these high performance water craft are so popular among so many outdoor fans. The picture off to the left shows the popular T-1600 TRAK portable folding kayak, and this is a model that really sets the standards for the field.
The TRAK T-1600’s frame is made from anodized aluminum, creating a skeleton that is extremely strong and durable while also remaining very light weight by comparison to other metals.
The PolyTrak shell that goes over the frame is completely water proof and designed to be some of the best you can find on any type of folding kayak anywhere because of its super durability to resist all but the most concentrated and brutal of punctures. This is one of those rare high quality options that works for true beginners as well as experienced paddlers with an adaptable and innovative design that will help you explore any local waters.
- Extremely high quality materials used in the design
- No tools needed to assemble (easy to figure out)
- Adaptable design
- Very good looking design, especially in comparison to many inflatable models
- Will stand the test of time
- 16 feet long
- Supports up to 292 lbs
- Foldable, relatively easy to carry and store
If you want the absolute best when it comes to folding kayaks, which are often the best of the best when it comes to the various portable models, then this is the one you want to try out!
One of the more interesting points I found about these kayaks is just how many different directions companies have gone to get that all important “portable” or “fold up” effect going for their kayak models.
Just a few examples include:
- The backpack kayak
- Bare frames with canvas “skins” to pull over
- Inflatable kayaks
- Hard shell kayak
- Folding kayaks and more!
There are people looking at new designs and even taking current models for creating a version of a kayak that is easy to transport and making minor changes and improvements that continue to create progress to make every single one of these options better, more durable, and more reliable.
Pakayak, for example, is a portable kayak that started via Kickstarter program and was pushing for a solidly designed, sturdy, and truly portable backpack version of a kayak that can literally be put on the back, allowing you to hike to your ideal kicking off point before spreading it out and getting it out in the water.
You can check out their original Kickstarter video HERE.
Then again, they are far from the only ones who have figured out how to create some sort of a kayak that is much more portable than the more conventionally designed and built one piece models.
Read on to see some of the popular options that are currently available for you fellow outdoor enthusiasts as well as some information about what is being worked on to give you even more high quality options in the future.
Portable Kayaks FAQ
Q: Can these be used to replace traditional kayaks?
A: For lazy water, yes, but these are NOT designed for high impact white water rafting or the really heavy duty, sort of hair on end challenges that many advanced kayakers crave.
Q: Are inflatable kayaks stable?
A: The high end ones are. While they won’t be built for really challenging high end rapids the way that a conventional kayak can be, for normal use high quality inflatable kayaks are a solid and great portable option as long as you make sure to carefully note the full payload for each model (and this is total weight – people, gear, and all).
Q: What is sturdier – an inflatable kayak or a folding kayak?
A: Assuming we are only dealing with really high end models like the ones in this article, then generally speaking a good folding kayak will be a bit sturdier because it can be built with heavier/harder materials including a design that allows for a better ability to cut through water (waves).
Q: Why buy an inflatable kayak?
A: Inflatable kayaks are lightweight, easy to carry (portable), and offer a low cost alternative for many people who want to get out in the water every so often but are content with a nice easy day out on the water as opposed to anything too skilled.
Q: Are inflatable kayaks safe?
A: Yes. As long as you are taking care of it, avoiding rapids that are too challenging for most kayaks, and keep a careful eye on the weight limits that you should be fine in 99%+ of all situations. As with any outdoor situation, make sure to use common sense and you should be fine.
Q: How much does a folding kayak cost?
A: You get what you pay for and the top notch models tend to be over $1,000 on the low end and can go much higher. However, many people are huge fans of this particular design over inflatable models.
Q: Are folding kayaks popular?
A: Generally speaking, absolutely. They’re lightweight versions of the real thing, easy to store, easy to setup, easy to pack, and they are gaining popularity to the point that some developers even managed to get a pitch onto the TV show “Shark Tank.”
Looking Up More Information on Portable Kayaks
There are all kinds of stories online looking at the various options when it comes to owning your own mobile kayaks, so don’t be afraid to get out there and do some research on what’s being developed and what new options might be out there. The nesting kayak, as described at this news atlas article, is another example of how outdoor enthusiasts are looking at traditional kayaks and focusing on moving to a more mobile and adaptable solution.
This is one example of a “backpacking kayak,” which is portable and can be carried like a (heavy) backpack for hiking to be marched in to isolated lakes or water areas where you can then expand and properly set up your water craft before pushing off into the water with your now fully set up and fully functioning kayak.
This is a really interesting way to get out and really enjoy the great outdoors so why not see what’s being done to expand your options in this area?
There are many different types of portable kayaks out there, with new ideas being formed all the time. Take a look at the many interesting options out there and see which one hits your needs perfectly! These might be a far cry from your heavy duty conventional kayaks or from the popular fishing kayaks that combine two amazing outdoor activities, but there’s a lot to love about what these models have to offer! I look forward to seeing you out there!
Take a look at this great video to get an idea of how these kayaks work and I’ll see you out on the water sometime soon!
Resources for Further Reading: