Last year, the paddling industry saw record-breaking sales of inflatable watercraft. This year we predict that trend will continue. Already, the increased demand for blow-up boats is pushing high-end technology into more affordable models. What does that mean for you? Better performance for a better price. These were the three new models that really caught our attention.
Alpacka Raft Scout ($695)
If you’re into pack rafting, you’ve probably heard of Alpacka Raft. This year, the brand updated the Scout to deliver more packability and capability, which are often at odds. Designers increased the tube diameter by nearly an inch (to ten inches), which produces a more stable ride in whitewater. They also lengthened the boat, giving taller paddlers more legroom and improving tracking.
The new Scout is still only 3.8 pounds and rolls down to the size of a large backpacking air mattress—small enough to fit into a 55-liter pack. Testers easily carried it on backcountry excursions to high alpine lakes
Mirage iTrek 11 ($2,799)
Last year, Hobie’s iTrek Ultralight 9 was the star of the show, and for good reason: it was both agile and category-defining as a sit-on-top inflatable equipped with the brand’s game-changing pedal-driven propulsion system. This year, we loved that boat’s larger sibling, the Mirage iTrek 11. It’s much more stable, thanks to an elongated chamber on each rail. It’s also over a foot longer, so it tracks significantly better, which testers appreciated as they battled the wind. While the iTrek 11 comes with a roller bag, it does weigh a hefty 44 pounds all in. That said, testers thought that extra poundage was a worthwhile tradeoff: this boat is simply more practical for more people.
Decathlon X500 ($899)
Those seeking a more traditional kayak should look to the one-person Decathlon X500. One veteran tester proclaimed it “the hardest inflatable I‘ve felt!” The secret is strategic use of drop-stitch technology. What’s that? Thousands of polyester threads are embedded in the inflation chambers so they can hold higher air pressure. Most blow-up kayaks employ this tech only in the base; Decathlon uses it throughout the entire hull. This translates to speedy performance and aggressive turns on par with roto-molded plastic rides. But it comes at a cost: the X500 is somewhat tippy. As such, this boat is excellent for intermediate to advanced paddlers.