Inflatable kayak design has come a long way since the first generation of blunt-nosed, one-man raft style designs hit the market more than a decade ago. Sporting sleeker, pared-down shapes, today's IKs come loaded with features serious kayakers can appreciate--like comfortable, adjustable seat systems and ample storage capacity.
But the undisputable advantage to these blow-up beauties? Packability. Like your favorite rain jacket, an IK crumples up and stuffs into a sack small enough to check on most airlines--and stash in the corner of a cluttered garage--making it the perfect addition to any wayfaring boater's quiver. Here are five multi-use IK options.
Innova Helios I
L: 10 ft., 2 in., W: 28 in., 24 lbs
capacity: 220 lbs
Following the popularity of the Helios II tandem version, the new Helios I is an attractive single. Measuring just over 10 feet long, turning and maneuverability are its forte; speed fanatics might want to consider a longer boat. It's constructed from a lightweight, rubber-laminated polyester fabric Innova claims is more abrasion-resistant than PVC, and weighs in at just 24 pounds. This boat can handle lake, ocean, light whitewater, or air travel--it fits in the overhead bin on commercial airplanes. In addition to three main chambers, separately inflated decks hide a surprising amount of storage space in the bow and stern. Netting and bungee cords on the deck and horizontal side carry handles trim this no-frills IK, which also comes with a drybag backpack. An optional rudder ($119) helps keep it on track in slightly rougher seas.
L: 13ft., 8 in., W: 38 in., 34 lbs
capacity: 650 lbs
The Sevylor XK2's slender touring shape performs on flatwater, and moderate rocker provides stability while bombing down the river. This, paired with the XK2's breakdown and storage capabilities (the drop-stitch floor detaches and all pieces fit inside the included duffel bag), make it perfect for paddlers who like to keep their options open--it comfortably seats two, or makes for a roomy single. Keel strips along the hull keep the XK2 on track, at the cost of some added drag. The thin floor slopes inward, so paddlers may find themselves sitting very low. That makes it a wet ride, so dress appropriately. Still, the XK2 gets props for quality materials--the hull and floor are made of stiff polyester sandwiched between two layers of PVC. It comes with seats, footrests, pump, and carry bag; optional thigh braces and rudder are available.
Sea Eagle 380 X
L: 12 ft., 6 in., W: 37 in., 47 lbs
capacity: 750 lbs
The Sea Eagle is a hefty boat, and our testers were pleasantly surprised to discover it turns quickly and easily, tracks fairly well, and is extremely stable and forgiving. Constructed from tough reinforced fabric (with a double layer on the floor), the large-diameter tubes will hold up in whitewater or support up to 750 pounds of paddlers and fishing tackle. Two self-bailing holes at both the bow and the stern can be opened or closed depending on conditions. Heavy-duty rope around the bow and stern splashguards make the boat easy to grip and haul. With three main chambers, the outfitting is basic and sturdy, but mysteriously lacks D-rings to strap down drybags and gear. The Sea Eagle comes with a repair kit, instructions, pump, two paddles and carry bag.
Aire Super Lynx
L: 14 ft., W: 35 in., 46 lbs
capacity: 600 lbs
The IK design veterans at Aire have lavished their considerable expertise on the Super Lynx, to excellent effect. The tubes are the perfect diameter for flatwater or easy whitewater. The air cell floor is buoyant and sloping so paddlers sit up high, but not too high, and enjoy a dry ride as water effortlessly drains out. Both paddlers have plenty of legroom and storage space and there is no shortage of options to secure dry bags with 18 sets of cargo loops. The Super Lynx is a stiff boat, constructed from PVC-coated polyester, which translates into efficiency on the water. Tracking, turning, and overall paddle-ability receive a thumbs up. The Super Lynx comes with carry bag and instructions, and is available in green, yellow, red, purple, or light blue.
Advanced Elements StraitEdge 2
L: 13 ft., W: 35 in., 47 lbs
capacity: 500 lbs
Advanced Elements designs always seem to be well thought out. The PVC-coated material and hardy construction of the Strait Edge 2 follow suit--set it up as a self-bailing river shredding machine or close the drain holes and insert the included aluminum hull rods to improve tracking in open water. Four D-rings attach near the bow, and fishing rod holders on the bow and stern can be moved to either side of the boat. The boat's svelte shape tracks well and zips across the water; though, being longer, it turns a bit slower than other boats in the test. The seats integrate well on the floor, but the Velcro that helps attach them could become a sand trap after a while. The Strait Edge 2 comes with a repair kit, seats, and a carry bag.