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What to Consider When Buying a Portable Kayak

As kayaking popularity has grown over recent years, so has engineering and design. What once kept the masses out of the kayaking game - transportation, portability, storability - have largely been solved by any number of new portable kayak options. So, if you are an apartment dweller, a small car driver, or a strength / mobility restricted kayaker, there are still options for you.

Common Portable Kayak Options

  • Inflatable Kayaks - Don’t think pool floatie! These durable, but compact, kayak options use drop stitching and heavy duty material to create air chambers that give structure to your kayak. Many are NMMA certified and exceed standards set by the US Coast Guard. Inflatable kayaks come in a wide range of prices and performance.
  • Foldable Kayaks - From “origami” type to hard shell fold-in-half, there are a number of foldable types of kayaks on the market. They can offer some of the lightest weight (under 20 Ibs) possibilities that fold up as small as a large portfolio case or sturdy hard shells that mimic traditional kayaks.
  • Modular Kayaks - One of the newest innovations in kayak portability, these kayaks are designed with multiple pieces that are fitted together to form the kayak and then disassembled for transport and store. Some of the pieces even fit inside each other to create a small footprint for storing and mobility. You can get vessels that fit one, two, or even more paddlers.

What you should consider when buying a portable kayak

What type of water or activity do you want it for?

The first thing to consider as you delve into the realm of portable kayaks is what kind of water you will be paddling. If you are interested in calm lakes, fishing ponds, or streams, then you will want a different kayak than if you are shooting the rapids, fighting ocean waves, or blazing a trail through the wilderness with your kayak on your back.

All of those ARE possible, however, with the amazing kayaks on the market today. Choose a longer kayak for better tracking if you want to travel long distances and pick up speed. A wider kayak offers better stability. If you are new to the game or like to fish, wider is a good choice for you. If you really need portability, then you want the lightest, most compact option you can find. 

How many paddlers?

Another consideration when shopping for portable kayaks is how many paddlers it can carry. Many kayakers are built for a single rider, but you can get tandem kayaks. Modular kayaks can actually let you put together pieces to add paddlers. However, that isn’t always as much fun as it sounds, as it can be a challenge to work together in sync. 

How far or long do you want to go?

When you think about your kayak, you need to consider how many hours at a time you will be paddling. If you are looking for a kayak for longer trips, you will want to consider speed, weight, and storage. Another important consideration as you spend more time in your kayak is comfort and compatibility. Look for a portable kayak that is excellent in the size / weight / portability department and that has all the storage or comfortable add-ons you need.


How much time in setup and tear down?

All portable kayaks require a certain amount of setup and tear down that a traditional kayak generally doesn’t. From inflating to unfolding / clipping / securing to connecting, you must decide how much time and energy you want to spend on your type of portable. Some folding yaks can be ready to go in as little as 3 minutes. Inflatables that are hand-pumped can take awhile or you can invest in a good pump. There are pros and cons to all.

And before you think that a traditional is the fastest because there isn’t any “constructing” your yak, you need to consider the constraints of transporting and securing it to a roof rack, etc.  So you always have to weigh all the options.

How much do you want to spend?

As with any purchase, you need to consider your budget. While some portable kayaks are a less expensive option, many of them are just as costly as traditional hardshell kayaks. Sometimes, you have to pay for the conveniences and engineering behind these ingenious contraptions. In general, it is true that you get what you pay for, so expect to spend a bit more to get better quality. That being said, do your homework and you may find that getting a portable kayak doesn’t need to break the bank.

Consider, as well with a portable kayak, that you don’t need to invest in additional items likely needed for a hardshell like hanging racks, roof racks, etc. So a portable can be more cost effective that way as well.

What do you want to “add on” to your kayak?

Sometimes a limiting factor with portables is how much you can customize or accessorize for your activity. Particularly if you are a kayak angler, you want the ability to add equipment and store items needed for a day of casting.

However, this is not a deal breaker as many portable kayaks today come with many of the accessories you want and need. Oftentimes, they aren’t as easy to customize after the fact, but with advance planning your portable can do all that you need it to do.

Hopefully, with all the options available to kayakers today, you can find just the right kayak for your needs. Happy Paddling!

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