Want to get afloat this summer? Try an inflatable – they’re fast, affordable and scrunch down to fit into the average family car.
We’ve been bobbing around in inflatable kayaks for a while now, and every time we sling the bag in the boot and the pump in the footwell, we marvel at how quick and simple they are. Let’s take a recent weekend. We’re lucky enough to live 15 minutes’ drive from the River Nene, perfect for some vigorous inflatable canoe testing
Some of the best inflatable canoes
Z-Pro Flash FL100 £459 12kg
Here’s a very tough, very enjoyable boat. It’s a bit like a sit-on-top kayak in the way you use it, complete with drainage holes for white water which can be sealed if you’re on the flat.
The skeg is quite large, so if you’re in shallow water it’ll catch, but it tracks very well and can be paddled comfortably for a fair distance.
The seat is supportive and easy to adjust – we set it back slightly when playing around and there was enough space for an eight-year-old to sit up front.
You pay a premium for this specification because it’s designed to bounce off rocks, just like an inflatable whitewater raft.
The shiny, wipe-dry material is durable, if a little heavier than the canvas-coated recreational boats.
We thought the detailing was good quality – fine for those who take their water sports seriously.
Recommended for: anyone who might want to explore a bit further, try out some rapids and expect to get a lot of use out of their boat.
Stand Up Paddleboard
Sitting (or standing) slightly to one side in this review is the Woosup inflatable board. Stand up paddle – SUP – is very current and inflatable boards like this make it possible for more people to give it a go. A solid board costs around £800-1000, so this is a much cheaper way to try the sport.
The materials are very robust – when we rolled this out it felt pretty solid without any air! It comes with a pump and gauge; the latter is very easy to use, simply clip it into the end of the pump hose. The green area will show when it’s at the right pressure.
You can also fit a standard Z-Pro seat to rings on the board and turn it into a sit-on-top boat – improving versatility of the board, though we haven’t tried this.
The soft feel of the deck is very comfortable, but that aside you wouldn’t know it was inflatable once on the water. A solid board would be more responsive, but since SUP seems more like a workout than a serious way to travel, the pure efficiency isn’t crucial unless you’re racing or surfing.
We were surprised by the length of the paddle but it all makes sense once you set off; the light carbon shaft is easy to handle and the blade allows you to make a J-stroke in the water – similar to the stroke you make in an open canoe with a single-bladed paddle – to keep the board tracking straight.
We used the board without the skeg because the river was shallow in parts and would have caught.
After a month of this you’ll have the upper body of a Norse god. Possibly.
Recommended for: those looking to try SUP with a versatile board. We’d get a seat and additional double-ended paddle so everyone in the family could use it.
Seyvlor Colorado £429
The staple of the Seyvlor range, this is a versatile two-person boat which is a bit tougher and tracks better than the Seyvlor Riviera so makes it more useful.. The material has shown no signs of degrading, though we do rinse it down after using it in salt water.
Long days are fairly effortless mainly because you can shuffle around, kneel or even sit on the sides of the boat and paddle, so you don’t get cramped. The seats have neat stowage, and there are useful bags that come with the package. Like every boat here, apart from the Woosup, it’s much better with the skeg in place, holding its course well and making longer trips possible.
Recommended for: family or couples looking to explore local waterways and as a holiday boat.
£359/£389 with paddles and buoyancy vests
The spec is the same as the Tango 3 and size-wise it’s similar to the Colorado (above). It does look like good value compared with the Seyvlor boat.
Recommended for: couples looking for a compact but reliable holiday boat.
A go-anywhere kayak which tracks well and can be paddled fairly effortlessly. Of all the boats here, this was the best in a straight line and also the easiest to flick around, apart from the shorter Z-Pro Flash (a shorter, one-person Sport SK100DS is also available).
The materials, valves, pump and paddles were excellent, and having used lower-spec boats in the range for years, we have no doubt this is as tough as old boots. The tough inner floor is detachable, so just that bit fiddlier to put together, and the heavy-duty end coverings aren’t as close a fit as those on the Flash.
The Sport’s seats include a mesh bag which convert into bum bags, so you’re sorted for secure stowage for smaller items, as long as they can get wet. We’d use an Aquapac container for valuables, and get dry bags for camping gear and clothes if heading off overnight.
This boat will take two plus a small tent and camping gear, so you can head off down most UK rivers for an explore. You’ll appreciate the lightweight (16.1kg) when lumping it between portage points, when you have to get your gear and boat out of and back into the water.
Recommended for: moderate whitewater, exploring, one or two person days out.
Z-PRO TANGO 3 £399
Something of a battleship compared to the other inflatables on test here. It seems that three-person boats aren’t quite as popular because of their size, but after loading it to the gunwales with people, and watching it cruise calmly along in quite windy conditions, we think bigger boats like this have certain advantages.
For a start, families can all go together. Two adults and an apparently infinite number of smallish children fit into the extra length easily. We wouldn’t go far like this, but we’d gladly paddle a couple of miles down to a pub.
Like all these boats you’ll get a wet backside, so it’s best to pick a stop that doesn’t have expensive chairs. Well, it works for us…
The Tango 3 won over our testers because it wasn’t too big for two, and handled with comparative ease. We like the fabric, the comfortable Z-Pro seats and its lightness. Even at this size it packs down fairly small, so there’s no real compromise from picking a bigger boat.
Recommended for: family river trips and messing about on calm days on the coast.
Inflatable Canoe Accessories
The more expensive boats tend to come with their own pump, but for cheaper vessels you may need to buy a stand-on two-way pump. These cost around a tenner and will get your boat ready in about three-five minutes.
Another crucial element is the paddle. It’s easier to use double-bladed paddles because you’re putting the same effort on each side of the boat. If there are two or more in a boat you can use single-bladed paddles which are good for touring because you can swap sides to avoid getting tired. Paddles cost £20-£100+; SUP paddles start at about £50-£200+.
It’s not illegal to paddle without a bouyancy jacket but they do insulate and keep you afloat in cold water. It goes without saying that children should wear them, and toddlers need jackets with collars that keep their head clear of the water, from £20.
The final piece of the jigsaw is membership of the BCU – £32.50 which lets you paddle on most rivers and canals in Britain, with third party insurance. The website’s most useful page is the ‘where to paddle’ area