Updated Jul 22, 2022 6:38 PM
Inflatable boats give you most of the benefits of metal and wooden boats but are much easier to store and transport. You don’t need a large place to store them, whether at a marina or in your garage, and you don’t need a trailer to get them from your home to the water. Most can be strapped to the top of your vehicle for easy transport, or you can deflate them for even easier transportation.
With today’s technology, the best inflatable boats allow you to do most things that standard boats allow.
Things to Consider Before Buying An Inflatable Boat
Deciding which inflatable boat is best for you depends on how you’ll be using it. If you’re going to use it to fish, consider pontoon and belly boats for fishing placid lakes and inflatable rafts for float fishing trips.
Inflatable kayaks are good lightweight options for wilderness paddling hunts. Some styles are better suited for general outdoor adventures, such as whitewater rafts and stationary inflatable boats. Those are good for lake use.
Regardless of what type of inflatable is right for you, it should feature several key qualities. Most important is durability. Any inflatable can tear, regardless of how well-made it is. Invest in one that comes with a well-equipped repair kit, especially if you plan to take your boat into remote areas.
Additionally, it should be easy to set up and transport—otherwise, there’s no reason to get an inflatable boat instead of a standard one. It should come with setup tools and instructions so you can prepare it for the water in 30 minutes or less. To help you narrow down the best inflatable boat for you, ask and answer the following questions.
Do you want an inflatable boat for float fishing on rivers?
There are two main styles that anglers use to float-fish rivers: drift boats and inflatable rafts.
Drift boats are usually made with lightweight aluminum or wooden frames. They are a classic choice, but many anglers opt for inflatable fishing boats instead—and for good reason.
Inflatable fishing boats are lighter than drift boats, can potentially navigate more severe rapids, and are often less expensive. You will need to purchase both the boat and the internal frame that allows you to fish from it. A package that includes the boat and frame is usually more cost-effective and always easier than putting together your set-up piecemeal. Look for inflatable rafts designed specifically for fishing. These will likely have more sturdy bottoms that allow you to stand and cast.
Will you be fishing lakes and ponds?
An inflatable boat won’t be comparable to a bass fishing boat, but you can catch plenty of fish with an inflatable craft. Some are big and sturdy enough to accept a decent-sized motor and will allow you to cover a lot of water. Inflatable vessels are more susceptible to waves than other kinds, but an inflatable is excellent for calm lakes and ponds.
Another popular inflatable boat for navigating still water is a belly boat, also known as a float tube. This watercraft keeps you afloat while your legs are still submerged in the water. You will need to wear waders to stay warm when the water is cold. These are best suited for quiet water and hot weather. You will have to paddle or kick yourself around a lake, which means you won’t be able to cover a ton of water. But these put you close to the fish and are fun to use when the conditions are right.
Do you need an inflatable boat for whitewater?
For some people, there’s nothing better than a whitewater river trip. Get your friends, a permit, and load up your raft with everything you need for a day—or more—on the river. The first riverboats were wooden dories, but today, inflatables are often the go-to for river trips. Whether you want to paddle with your friends or use a motor, inflatable rafts are an excellent option for whitewater expeditions.
Not all inflatable rafts are equipped for the same type of water. Some rafts are only rated for Type II rapids, while others are made for more serious water. Make sure not to exceed your raft’s rating level.
Do you need something lightweight?
While all inflatables are relatively portable, none are as portable as a packraft. Packrafts are individually sized inflatable vessels that are light and compact enough to stash inside your backpack. This means you can launch your packraft anywhere you can reach on foot, while most other types require you to get your vehicle to the water.
Packrafts are awesome options for outdoors people who like to explore and recreate in remote, roadless areas. You can bring a packraft to a high mountain lake in search of native Colorado River cutthroat trout, or you can take one to run a remote canyon river during spring runoff. Get one that is well-made and durable enough to last many wilderness adventures.
Are you looking for a budget boat?
High-quality boats don’t come cheap, and it makes sense. Companies invest substantial money into creating inflatable boats that are able to perform similarly to metal and wooden framed boats. Well-made inflatable vessels should last much longer than cheap ones.
Still, if you’re on a budget and looking to get a boat, an inflatable one is likely the way to go. Most inflatables carry smaller price tags than non-inflatable ones. That said, don’t go with a discount-store blow-up raft for serious—and potentially dangerous—adventures. You can use a cheap raft to hang out with your buddies and dunk nightcrawlers at your local lake. The kind of budget inflatable vessel you get depends largely on what you plan to use it for, as well as how often and for how long you plan to use it. Cheaper inflatable boats definitely won’t last as long as pricier ones, but they will still likely give you enough fun to make the purchase worth it.
Why It Made The Cut: The Orvis x NRS Hookjaw Raft comes equipped with everything you need for a successful day on the river.
- Boat Weight: 87 lbs
- Load Capacity: N/A
- Dimensions: 9′ 10″ L x 5′ 4″ W
- Easy to adjust frame
- 3-5 year warranty
- Durable and reinforced in high wear areas
- Not recommended for rapids above class III
- Frame and accessories sold separately
The Orvis x NRS Hookjaw Raft comes with a fishing-specific frame that features one low back padded seat ideal for rowing, and a high back swivel chair perfect for casting. The NRS/Star High 5 Self-Bailing inflatable raft is the backbone of the package, and the rubber is no joke—it’s self-bailing and features a 4-inch thick drop-stitch floor insert that inflates to a rigid 8-10 psi. Above all, it’s a durable, maneuverable, and easy-to-transport craft that handles whitewater conditions well for a fishing boat.
Best for Lakes and Ponds
Sea Eagle Stealth Stalker STS10 Sea Eagle
Why It Made The Cut: The Sea Eagle Stealth Stalker STS10 Frameless Fishing Boat is a portable watercraft with a stable two-part wood floor that’s ideal for still water.
- Boat Weight: 78 lbs (w/floorboards & motor mount)
- Load Capacity: 1200 lbs
- Dimensions: 10″ 1′ L x 5′ W
- Built in rod holders
- Roomy enough for two adults
- Easy to pack and carry alone
- Compatible with a motor
- Can be difficult to steer and maneuver on the water
The Sea Eagle Stealth Stalker STS10 Frameless Fishing Boat is a lightweight-two-person rig that comes equipped with four built-in rod holders. This boat is stable and has two 360-degree swivel seats made specifically for fishing. You can mount a gas or electric motor up to 5 HP to jet across a lake, or paddle around with the boat’s 5-foot oar set.
Best Belly Boat
Togiak Float Tube Classic Accessories
Why It Made The Cut: The Classic Accessories Togiak Float Tube combines comfort with performance.
- Boat Weight: 15 lbs
- Load Capacity: 300 lbs
- Dimensions: 55.25″L x 47″W x 19″H
- Easy to transport
- Comfortable for a day on the water
- Plenty of storage
- Can be difficult to inflate and deflate
The Togiak Float Tube features a comfortable high-backed stadium seat with adjustable support straps. The hydrodynamic hull shape is stable and buoyant. For a small belly boat, this fishing vessel is replete with storage space. This is a great option if you are looking for a casual float tube for rivers or for a small, easy to store inflatable boat that you can take out fishing alone.
Best for Rivers
Intex Mariner Inflatable Boat Intex
Why It Made The Cut: The Intex Mariner Inflatable Boat is a well-made, affordable inflatable watercraft.
- Boat Weight: 73 lbs
- Load Capacity: 880 lbs
- Dimensions: 9′ 9″ L X 4′ 2″ W
- Quick and easy to inflate
- Excellent for small groups
- Durable and stable
- Great quality for the price
- Can be difficult to move alone
The Intex Mariner Inflatable Boat is a heavy-duty inflatable boat that you can use to run rapids and explore lakes. Welded-on rotational oar locks allow for serious navigation. The vessel comes with a motor mount fitting. The durable and intentional construction is intended for fast moving water and is suitable for small group excursions. Both a 3-person and a 4-person size is available. Specs above are listed for the 3-person model.
Intex Explorer Inflatable Boat Series Intex
Why It Made The Cut: Float all your worries away with the Intex Explorer Inflatable Boat Series.
- Boat Weight: 7.72 lbs
- Load Capacity: 210 lbs
- Dimensions: 73″ x 37″ x 16″
- Very affordable
- Gets the job done
- Available in three sizes
- Relatively easy to inflate
This Intex inflatable boat is affordable, comes with two oars and welded oar locks, and will provide plenty of entertainment on calm water. It is available in three sizes, from one person to a three-person, all with varying prices and capabilities. Regardless of the size, the price is impossible to beat.
At this price, the product is not the most durable or reliable in fast water conditions. If you choose this as the best inflatable boat for your needs, we recommend sticking to calm waters and being very aware of the load capacity. Having a patch kit on hand for budget inflatables is helpful to ensure you can stay out on the water all day, even if there is a leak.
The specs above are based on the 2-person model.
Q: How safe is an inflatable boat?
An inflatable boat should be as safe as a normal boat, as long as you are operating it appropriately in the conditions for which it’s made. Abide the manufacturer’s recommendations, especially with regard to the ratings that inflatable vessels have in relation to river rapid classifications. Carry PFDs and take the same emergency precautions you would with a normal boat.
Q: How do you maintain an inflatable boat?
There are a couple of things every inflatable boat owner should do to maintain an inflatable boat, and help it last a long time. Keep your boat away from the harmful UV rays as much as possible. Rinse it down after each outing. Fill your boat with air before each season and leave it overnight to make sure it’s holding air.
Q: How long will an inflatable boat last?
This depends largely on the type and quality of the inflatable boat. Most inflatable boats that are made out of PVC have a lifespan of 2 to 10 years. Some have the potential to last up to 20 years with the proper care.
Q: Is it safe to fish in an inflatable boat?
Yes, inflatable boats are safe and effective for fishing. Most inflatable boats are quieter than traditional boats and don’t disrupt the water or fish quite as much. Invest in an inflatable boat that is designed for fishing and utilizes durable materials for a long-lasting fishing boat.
Q: Are inflatable boats good on rough water?
Some inflatable boats are good on rough water, but not all. There are several types of inflatable boats; some are designed for rivers, whereas others may be designed for calm waters like lakes and ponds. If you are traveling through fast-moving or whitewater, having an inflatable boat designed for that type of paddling is recommended.
Inflatable boats are portable, maneuverable, and just fun to use. They’re easy to transport, affordable, and make for social outings. They will get anglers, hunters, and general outdoor recreationists on the water easily. Not all inflatable boats are ideal for all activities, so be sure to take some time to consider the intended use, your budget, and the boat’s durability while shopping.