Every time I share my kayaking trips I always get asked about my inflatable kayaks – and I can’t believe I haven’t done a proper review before!
What’s even crazier is that this week marks exactly 6 years since I first bought my two Intex Challenger K1 kayaks*, and I’m very happy to say that they’ve lasted really well and I’m excited to continue using them this summer.
So where to start?
Why buy an inflatable kayak?
For me, owning a proper fibreglass kayak was never in the cards. They require a lot of money, large amounts of storage space, a car with roof racks, and the ability to lift and tie the thing onto said roof racks without causing yourself (or other road users) harm.
Meanwhile, inflatable kayaks offer the perfect solution; they’re extremely inexpensive (especially the Intex Challenger, which you can currently buy on Amazon for just under £90!*), and they’re incredibly easy to transport and store, due to their ability to pack down into a 65cm by 40cm bag!
I own two of these kayaks, and chuck them both into the back of my Mini Cooper with space to spare for another big bag or two of beach gear.
It’s a no-brainer, especially if you’re a beginner kayaker – but I’ll talk more about that in a second.
Setting up the Intex Challenger
Included when you buy the kayak are the oar poles (which you connect together), an inflatable seat, a pump, a fin and a weird green thing which I now understand to be a floatation device from reading some Amazon reviews… who knew! 🤷🏼♀️
When you unfold the kayak there are two pump holes, labelled by number to show which order you should pump these up in first. Start with the inside hole (which pumps up the base of the kayak), and then go for the outside hole which pumps up the outer part of the kayak. It is a hand/foot pump, not an electric pump, and I tend to find it takes about 5 minutes to pump up the whole thing.
Then, you have to add the fin to the based of the kayak, inflate the seat by mouth (usually takes a couple of minutes) and clip it into the kayak, before connecting the oar poles. I genuinely find this the hardest part and it takes me few tries to connect them in the correct way – but that’s possibly just my illogical brain.
Overall it takes me about 15 minutes to set up the kayak fully from bag to ready-to-get-in-the-sea.
Kayaking with the Intex Challenger
The inflatable seat makes the kayaking experience nice and comfortable, and I personally enjoy lying back and taking my legs out on top of the nose of the kayak on very still water! However, it’s not hugely supportive, unlike a fibreglass kayak seat, so it might start hurting your back if you’re going out for several hours. My trips tend to be 2 hours maximum.
Once you’re in the kayak, you’re nice and low and feel really stable. To give some context, I am a 5’6″ female weighing around 9 stone, and I have never fallen out of this kayak, or even had any experiences where I felt like I was going to, even in slightly choppier waters. However, my partner Alex is 6 foot tall (not sure how much he weights but he’s pretty slim/fit), and he felt more unstable and wobbly due to the weight. I have since read several reviews on Amazon of more full grown men saying that this hasn’t been a problem for them, so it could have been to do with how well we pumped up the kayak on that day. I’d recommend having a read* and making up your own mind!
I go kayaking with my dad who has a fibreglass kayak and can keep up with no problems in terms of speed and moving around, but all kayaks are different in terms of what they’re designed to do. I am so used to my inflatable ones now that I can’t remember what it’s like in a fibreglass one, but my friends do say that it feels a bit less responsive than proper kayaks. I think because it’s so light, it can get pulled around a bit by the wind/waves, so you just have to put a little bit more effort in (which isn’t a bad thing!). Just remember, this is a piece of equipment that is at best 1/5th the cost of the ‘proper’ version, so you don’t really expect it to be the same quality.
I’ve had these kayaks for 6 years now and they’ve never had a hole! I’m pretty impressed by this, because I’m not very careful with them 😬. I do launch off rocky coves all the time and regularly drag them through the sand, which is pretty stupid, but I’ve been lucky in not having any issues. They are made of thick inflatable material (thicker than a beach lilo for example), but less thick than some other inflatable kayaks on the market – but as I say, no problems as of yet.
Packing away the Intex Challenger
Immediately after you get out of the water, pull the stoppers out of the kayaks to start their deflation process.
This is the only part that’s a bit of a pain in the arse. It’s okay if you’re planning to chill at the beach for an hour or two after your kayak so they can sit and deflate by themselves, but if you’re planning to head straight home, you can forget about folding them back into their carry bags properly.
I nearly always having to take them home half-deflated, and then leave them outside to properly deflate for a couple of hours once back. Although, technically, you should be opening them back up at home to rinse them anyway, so not always a bad thing.
With regards to the carry bags, these got pretty torn up over the years and I have since replaced them with some garden equipment canvas bags.
Pros & Cons of the Intex Challenger inflatable kayak
- Amazing value (currently just under £90, and I’ve had tonnes of use out of these – best £90 I’ve ever spent?!)
- Easy to store
- Easy to transport
- Quick to assemble (~15 minutes)
- Stable and pretty comfortable
- Not sure how they’d hold up with very tall or heavier people; please read more reviews!
- Handling is quite light so needs a bit more effort than a regular kayak
- Packing away is a bit of a pain (but I’d still prefer it than heaving a fibreglass kayak over my head and strapping onto a car!)
My kayaking trips with the Intex Challenger in Cornwall:
I get a tonne of use from these kayaks, taking them out once a week in the summer months, however it is also important to note that I wouldn’t call myself an advanced kayaker. I always go out on flat days, but these kayaks (and myself) have also been put to the test in breezier, choppier conditions too and been fine. My typical kayak trip will be maximum 2 hours.
- Kayaking around St. Michael’s Mount
- Kayaking at Swanpool & Maenporth
- Kayaking on Truro River
- Kayaking on Helford River
Other recommended kayaking kit:
- Buoyancy aids!* I never go kayaking without them; so important for safety! Make sure you get one that is adequate for your weight.
- Dry bag* for carrying picnics and other stuff in a waterproof way. Wear these on your back or clip to the kayak.
- Waterproof key / phone pouch*; absolutely key for your essentials. I like the waist-belt style like this as it fits more than just your phone (unlike the lanyard ones that go around your neck*).
- Wetsuit gloves*; necessary for longer trips to stop rubbing /chafing around your thumbs, and for in winter when it’s COLD.
What do you think? Would you try an inflatable kayak?
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