They pack into a backpack and fit in the boot of your car – no roofracks needed to cart these full-size kayaks and canoes to the sea or river. Tough enough to ride surf and whitewater, new materials are being used to create sturdy and longlasting craft, with designs that will stay afloat even if you have a puncture. Here’s WideWorld’s pick of the best on the market
Best budget model
Sevylor Tahiti classic – £129.95
A tried and tested design that was first produced in 1963, this is the oldest of all the Sevylor models – and it’s had a long life for a reason. Made from special PVC, this canoe has twice run the Amazon and has even been used in the Antarctic. Three air chambers with Boston valves, an I-beam floor (long thin, interconnected cylinders of air) and a drain hole with plug out the back make it a practical, simple choice, and the removable seats give back support if they’re used, extra stowage space if they’re not.
Max capacity: 165kg.
Best for handling
Advanced Elements Firefly Package – £239
For a simple, easy to navigate kayak you can’t get better than the Firefly. With a tracking fin built into the back and two rigid panels in its superstructure, it gives really precise handling while still folding down into a briefcase-size bag. Bungee deck lacing and a mesh pocket on top of the spray deck is a bonus, but be aware that there’s little space inside for stowage.
Max capacity: 113kg
Advanced Elements Advanced Frame Kayak – £499
One of the closest designs you can get to a regular kayak while remaining an inflatable. The rigid sections of bow and stern give unparalleled stability and trackability in the water, while ripstop fabric up top, combined with enough stowage for an overnight bag, make this a dream package for the single paddler.
Max capacity: 136kg
Advanced Elements StraitEdge Canoe – £569
Rigid aluminium ribs in bow and stern, added to the wide beam of the design give this superb Canadian-style canoe great handling in the water. A few smart details give it a real edge for sportsmen: fishing rod holders, stern bag built in and adjustable height seats mean you can spend all day in this with no complaints.
Max capacity: 181kg
Best on the sea
Gumotex Safari – £349.95
Self-bailing with two outlets front and back, this is a perfect model for sea-going adventures. Made from Nitrilon, a tough, stiff man-made fibre, it is rigid enough to ride over waves despite its length, while there’s strapping and stowage space aft and stern for long-haul expeditions.
Max capacity: 100kg
Best for whitewater
Stearns Inflatable Pivot – £390.00
Great for rougher water, this five-chamber kayak is self-bailing, so you won’t get flooded when the sea or rapids get choppy. While normal inflatables experience drag from having a complex, multi-chambered hull shape, the Pivot uses a tri-hull system that keeps you paddling true, while the unique high arch of the hull maintains brilliant manoeuvrability. Smaller details – like an integrated map case and a dry storage bag – make this a truly premium purchase.
Max capacity: 115kg
Best for space
Gumotex Palava – £546.25
Incredibly roomy with a vast 380cm length, this comfortably seats two adults and a child – or three small adults – and still fits in a package just 55x40x25cm. In fact, it comes with its own drybag, and at 21kg it’s just about feasible to haul this a long distance to the riverbank. High, laterally fitted seats give proper canoe comfort for long-distance paddling, while thigh-straps inside the hull give you the option of kneeling through rapids.
Max capacity: 240kg
Best for touring
Stearns Spree 1 – £210
A proper kayak, with a proper spraydeck and balance, Stearns Spree 1’s are discontinued by the manufacturers but you can still get hold of them from UK stockists. It’s worth a search too: a thick tarpaulin hull keeps the structure safe from damage and also streamlines your motion in the water for really good control, and the three-chamber inflation system is surrounded by fabric to give a sturdy form.
Max capacity: 105kg
Best for fishing
Sevylor Coral Sea – £249
Strong and stable, the Coral Sea even has a fitting that allows you to attach a motor. Thanks to the design that ends in two spurs at the stern, it’s also stable enough for diving and snorkelling, as well as fishing, and the on-top position means you won’t get swamped and slowed down by taking on water.
Max capacity 180 kg
Best top-end model
Hobie Mirage i12s – £1495
Expensive, yes: but you get what you pay for. The Mirage is a technological breakthrough for inflatables: a rudder in the stern, plus Hobie’s patented pedal-paddling system for when you need your arms for something else. With a special screw-lid dry stowage area and even its own wheeled store bag, this is the ultimate in kayaks. You can even buy a sail for it – let the wind do the work for once.
Max capacity: 227kg