By Eugene Buchanan
There's no way around it: Hardshell kayaks invoke a feeling of confinement. With most of us trapped inside cubicles nine-to-five already, the last thing we want is that same feeling on the water. Inflatable kayaks, which boast nearly all of their cousin's nimbleness but none of the nervousness, throw that claustrophobia out the wide-open window. Use them for everything from up to Class III whitewater (even IV if you're up for it) to meandering waterways, lake tours and more. And they offer one thing their garage-hogging brethren can never top: When you're finished, simply roll them up and stash them out of the way for next time – which, given how much fun you'll have, will probably be sooner than you think. We tested the following on high- and low-water runs down the Yampa, Green and Colorado rivers out West and quickly realized there's a new sheriff in town when it comes to shooting your favorite local waterway.
|NRS Outlaw 1
Packs a punch for the price, this lightest-in-fleet kayak also punches holes with PVC-coated construction, generous 18 inches of rocker and a bomber drop-stitch floor.
|AIRE Force 1
The hole-blasting whitewater granddaddy of 'em all has AIRE's trademark PVC-shelled urethane bladders and boasts welcome adjustable thwarts.
|SOTAR Liquid SL
Fast, nimble and endlessly customizable with four solo length options, plus a solid urethane build with adjustable foot braces, thigh straps and backrest.
|SOAR Inflatables' S10
This more-than-capable river-runner offers a well-handling, high ride with 12-inch tubes and two seat options on a wider platform of Hypalon/neoprene.
Big-water adventure awaits. Strap in your thighs to this sleek-tapered design with a beefy, rock bashing 2,520-denier Hypalon bottom chafer.
|Advanced Elements' Attack
Nimble and lean on the pricing as well, this whitewater-ready solo shooter handles pushy rapids with a PVC shell with adjustable seat and thigh braces.
| Innova Swing II
While most of the above companies also offer IKs for touring, none specialize in it as much as Innova, whose new Swing II has something most other IKs don't: a deck to keep spray at bay.