If your inflatable experience has been in pontoon boats, rafts and float tubes, you will be amazed at how much easier it is to paddle a kayak. Versatility is the kayak's primary advantage as many are equally at home in rivers, lakes and oceans while running whitewater, fishing in still water or riding waves. Most inflatable kayaks look like canoes, but the ones that work best in slow water have low profiles to minimize the wind's effect and directional skegs to improve tracking.
Sea Eagle 330
If you want a good all-around, entry-level kayak that's stable, easy to paddle and stays on course, the 330 is hard to beat. This two-person kayak is ideal for calm rivers, lakes and oceans, but its self-bailing design, tough Polykrylar fabric and specially-sealed seams give it the ability to handle Class III whitewater. Sea Eagle has a good reputation and backed the 330 with a three-year warranty. Its 26-pound weight and small-packed size make it easy to take anywhere. Two skegs and a wide flat bottom make it almost impossible to tip. With so much going for it, the 330 is an unbeatable value at its $300 base price.
Advanced Elements Dragonfly
The Dragonfly is a small, one-person kayak that weighs in at 19 pounds and fits in a suitcase. It's PVC-coated nylon skin and ripstop tarpaulin fabric provide excellent puncture resistance, but it isn't self-bailing so you'll want to stay out of rough waters. On the calm waters of a lake, river or ocean, the single fin will keep it on course, and the padded seat rests will keep you comfortable. All things considered, the Dragonfly is so much fun that it's well worth its $500 list price.
At only 24 pounds, the one-person Helios is another lightweight inflatable that fits an extremely small space. This highly regarded kayak has a long track record for excellence, but it's only suitable for flat water. Its simple design lacks skegs or fins, but it tracks very well at a good rate of speed. Innova's Helios is an ideal kayak for day trips as it has good storage and stability, great handling and a comfortable sitting position. A low stretch polyester and rubber coated Nitrylon exterior make it durable and attractive. At $800 this kayak is a bit more expensive, but you will get what you paid for.
The XK17 is a sea kayak that has room to carry two to three passengers and their gear at a good rate of speed. Its spacious interior, self-bailing design and puncture-resistant Sevytex material make it a good choice for expeditions. Twin tracks on the hull keep it from veering off course and rigid side tubes help it cut through the water. If you value utility more than portability you won't mind its 45 1/2 pound weight and bulky size. The XK17's increased flexibility comes at a price, and it averages $950. Not bad considering all it can do.