The best folding kayaks are absolutely amazing pieces of kit – you get a boat to go exploring in, but you don’t need loads of space to store it, or a roofrack to transport it.
Owning your own kayak gives you the freedom to paddle wherever you like, whenever you like, but full-size boats are not the easiest thing to store or transport. This is where the best folding kayaks really come into their own.
Easy (or at least much easier) to stash when not in use, the best collapsible kayaks enable you to keep your boat in all kinds of handy places (from the garage or shed to a summerhouse or beach hut). And, with many fitting fairly easily into the back of a car or van, you can even take your kayak on holiday with you.
Not all boats are born equal, though. The very best folding kayaks shouldn’t just be easy to move around and store, they also need to be simple and reasonably fast to put together and then disassemble post-paddle. And you also need to consider weight and, most importantly, performance on the water.
Like their rigid cousins, the best folding kayaks come in all shapes and sizes, the mechanisms vary enormously, and the cost can differ by a considerable amount. Before making a purchase, you need think about where you’re most likely to paddle your collapsible craft, and in what sort of conditions.
Here we look at the premier collapsible paddle craft available today from various different kayak brands, assess their strengths and weaknesses, and help you choose the best folding kayak for your needs and enjoyment.
Best collapsible frame kayaks
A premium-class collapsible kayak with excellent performance capability in a wide range of conditions
• Price: £3,388 (UK) / $3,850 (US) / €3,868.95 (EU)
• Weight: 24kg/53lb
• Length (assembled): 490cm/16ft
• Width (assembled): 57cm/22.5in
• Cockpit length: 77.5cm / 30.5in
• Cockpit width: 42cm / 16.5in
• Packed size: 104 x 48 x 22cm / 41 x 19 x 9in
• Maximum carry weight (including paddler): 159kg / 350lb
• Set-up time: 10–20 minutes (with practice)
TRAK kayaks are high-performance, very versatile top-end boats, which can be used in a wide range of conditions, and the TRAK 2.0 Ultimate Touring Kayak is the flagship boat of the Canadian company’s fleet.
This 16ft collapsible craft offers near enough the same level of technical capability as a top-end, fully rigid touring kayak, but you can fold it down into a roll bag, so it’s possible to chuck it in the back of the car or van and take it on holiday, opening up a world of exploring possibilities.
With an excellent coaming for attaching a spraydeck, and some internal storage space, it’s suitable for day touring or multi-day expeditions in all conditions. The frame, made with anodized aircraft-grade aluminum, is colour-coded (to make it easier to assemble) and treated to withstand salt and corrosion.
It looks complicated, but each half fits together like tent poles and the skeleton is then strengthened by the addition of carbon fibre ribs, before being inserted into the skin, which is made from three-ply, expedition-grade polyurethane. The outer skin of the TRAK 2.0 is super tough and can survive smacks, bangs and encounters with all kinds of obstacles that would destroy most non-rigid kayaks.
Once in position, the bow and stern are connected by a hydraulic tensioning system, which tightens the skin and can be tweaked for different levels of performance in a range of conditions.
These boats are extremely adjustable – in fact they’re pretty much the only kayaks on the market (foldable or rigid) that allow you to alter the boat’s waterline and adjust the rocker (the amount of curve along the bottom of the hull) according to the kind of conditions you’re paddling in.
You can even change the rocker while you’re on the water, making it more pronounced to give you better maneuverability in rough conditions, or straightening it out for more efficient glide for touring on flatter water.
Although expensive, the TRAK 2.0 comes with a rolling travel bag, spray skirt, sea sock, two gear floatation bags and a load of MX5 kayak lubricant to keep the frame in good working order. It does take a bit of time to get good at putting TRAKs together and taking them apart, however, so don’t rush it when you first start out.
You also need keep on top of the maintenance, making sure the frame remains lubricated and in good working order (don’t just pull it apart, throw it in the bag wet and expect it to be perfect months later).
But, as this real time video demonstrates, it is very possible to go from paddling the TRAK 2.0 to having the whole thing rolled up and packed away in the bag within 5 minutes.
Reasons to buy
• Excellent performance on the water
• Very tough
• Top quality carry case
• Five-year warranty
Reasons to avoid
• Can be fiddly to assemble
• Hard to repair
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Neris Alu-1 400 folding kayak
Backpack this boat to the waters edge, put the poles together, slide the skin on and enjoy a day’s paddling
• Price: £1,184
• Weight: 19kg/42lb
• Length (assembled): 400cm/13ft
• Width (assembled): 79cm/31in
• Cockpit length: 200cm/78.5in
• Cockpit width: 46cm/18
• Packed size: 110 x 45 x 25cm / 43 x 18 x 10in
• Maximum carry weight (including paddler): 150kg/330lb
• Set-up time: 20–30 mins
Neris are a British brand that make a range of inflatable and foldable craft, from packrafts through to collapsible kayaks. Our pick here is the Alu-1, which is designed as a single-person kayak suitable for a range of one-day recreational paddling adventures and fishing trips on flat rivers, lakes, estuaries and bays. It does have a long, relatively open cockpit, so it can accommodate an adult with a small child (in calm waters).
Initially, it’s wise to allow yourself plenty of time to put this kayak together before getting out on the water, but after a while the process will get much quicker and you’ll have it done and be out on the water in no time.
Like its cousins in the Alu range (which include 2- and 3-seater models), the Alu-1 has a collapsible aircraft-grade aluminum skeleton that slot together like tent poles (the longitudinal stringer set is made with anodized duralumin tubes, reinforced by a 20 x 35mm keel bar to prevent vertical bending in bigger waves and to keep the kayak skin proud of the frame, protecting it from damage in the event of a collision with underwater objects).
The cross ribs are constructed from 11-layer, laminated, moisture-proof birch plywood – the kind typically used in yacht building. Two separate grades of high-quality marine grade PVC fabric are employed to create the kayak skin, which slides over the frame and is held securely in place by a washboard coaming design developed by Neris and based on sailing mast tracks.
The tough hull is made with 1,050g density PVC, and lighter 620g material is used for the deck. The boat breaks down to fit into a backpack, which is included (along with an inflatable seat and a repair kit). Spray decks and steering systems are available, but you need to purchase them separately.
Reasons to buy
• Generous carry capacity
• Clever design
• Good backpack
• Rudder can be fitted (extra cost)
Reasons to avoid
• More fiddly assembly
• Large cockpit lets in water and chill
• No dry storage
• Not suitable for some sea conditions
Klepper Aerius Classic I+
The original folding kayak has a classic design and is manufactured using premium materials, and it still performs as well as it did 100 years ago
• Price: £2,800 (UK) / $3,080 (US)
• Weight: 26kg / 57lb
• Length (assembled): 490cm / 193in
• Width (assembled): 72cm / 28in
• Packed size (2 bags): 133 x 35 x 25cm + 75 x 70 x 25cm / 52 x 14 x 10in + 20 x 5.5 x 10in
• Maximum carry weight (including paddlers): 300kg / 661lb
• Set-up time: 12 minutes
With a history stretching back over a century, Klepper boats were the first ever commercially-available folding kayaks, and the Aerius Classic is the one that’s closest to the original design in a range that now includes several different models.
In 1907, Johann Klepper, a Bavarian tailor and paddler from Rosenheim, conceived the idea of a foldable kayak that he could take anywhere. It turns out his desire for an aquatic freedom machine was one shared by many others, and Klepper’s design became very popular in the 1930s, and remains so today, especially with traditionalists.
Made with top-quality materials, this one-person kayak can be put together in less than quarter of an hour, and is suitable for recreational paddling on rivers, lakes, estuaries and calm bays. It can also be fitted with a sail, which opens up a whole new world of fun opportunities.
The hand-crafted frame is constructed with triple-dipped ash and birch, assembled with a snap-lock system. Over the top of the skeleton slides a thick, tough CSM skin, reinforced with keelstrips for extra abrasion resistance and topped off with a breathable, waterproof deck made from Egyptian cotton. Assembly is easy (after a bit of practice), and after you have finished paddling the whole thing breaks down and fits into two carry bags.
Other features include two air sponsons for extra stability; an adjustable, molded foam seat and backrest; and deck bungee and carrying toggle. For a Klepper folding kayak that can handle more challenging water, try the Aerius Expedition, which has a higher spec and can be paddled along the coast, or the shorter and more nimble Tramp (380 x 66cm /150 x 26in), ideal for negotiating narrow rivers and whitewater up to class 3. The Classic and the Expedition models are also available as doubles.
Reasons to buy
• Beautifully made with premium materials
• Classic design
• Compatible with a sail
Reasons to buy
• Bigger, bulkier and heavier than some others
• Two bags required to transport the craft
• Not capable of tackling most sea conditions
Best origami-style kayaks
Oru Bay ST
The original origami-style kayak, which comes flat packed and folds into a sea-going freedom machine
• Price: £1,415 (UK) / €1,599 (EU)
• Weight: 11.8kg / 26lb
• Length (assembled): 373cm / 12ft 3in
• Width (assembled): 64cm / 25in
• Packed size: 84 x 36 x 74cm / 33 x 14 x 29in
• In-boat storage: 90L
• Max paddler height: 190.5cm / 6ft 3in
• Maximum carry weight (including paddler): 136kg / 300lb
• Set-up time: 10–15 minutes
Based on the original origami boat that propelled Oru Kayak into the water in the first place, the new iteration of the Oru Bay ST is a robust and versatile closed-cockpit kayak that you can paddle in a variety of conditions, from lakes and rivers to reasonably challenging seas.
Like the rest of the Oru family, the craft comes virtually flat-packed in a large carry bag, and then folds out to transform into a sleek touring kayak, with a performance profile. The Bay ST boasts dry storage capacity behind the removable bulkheads at the back, for overnight trips, and decklines and bungees on the front can be used for stashing extra kit.
Once assembled (which takes around 20 minutes) watertight zipper channels seal the deck, and carry handles make it easy to carry to the water in pairs (although it’s light enough to cart solo). There’s a comfortable, padded seat and a fully adjustable backrest, and you can attach a spraydeck to the coaming around the cockpit.
Innovations on the new model include aluminum cockpit latches and extra-reinforced strap anchor points for increased durability. The translucent white hull of the Bay ST can be illuminated from the inside during night paddles, which looks amazing out on the moonlit water.
Reasons to buy
• Versatile and capable in a range of conditions
• Easy to store and transport
• Good dry storage
• Great features
Reasons to avoid
• No rudder
• Hard to repair
• No colour options
Best multi-section kayaks
Pakayak Bluefin 142
A clever clip-together craft with pieces that fit ingeniously inside one another for easy transportation, and then combine to form a rigid high-performance kayak
• Price: £2,729 (UK) / $1,995 (US)
• Weight: 27kg/59lb
• Length (assembled): 432cm / 14ft 2in
• Packed size: 107cm / 42in
• Cockpit: 46 x 90cm / 18 x 35.5in
• Set-up time: 5 minutes
The Bluefin 142 is the newer and slightly longer model of an ingenious compartmentalised kayak that was originally launched in 2016, following a massively successful Kickstarter campaign.
This brilliant boat breaks down into six pieces, five of which can be swallowed up into body of the largest one, like a set of Russian Babushka dolls. The whole ensemble then fits tidily into a zipper bag for easy storage and transportation.
It’s not as light as some other collapsible kayaks, but the bag has wheels, which makes it easier to move around. When you put the boat back together, which can be done in a matter of minutes, you have a top-notch sea kayak complete with a sophisticated cockpit with coaming for a sprayskirt and a comfortable seat, which is capable of taking on near enough anything.
The manufacturer’s patented clamping system swiftly secures each section together with a durable water-tight seal, and then you’re off. The on-water performance levels of the Bluefin 142 are just as good as any other high-end plastic kayak on the market, and with dry storage compartments fore and aft, plus bungee cords for easy-access extra storage, it can be used for day touring trips or overnight adventures.
And yet it’s so much easier to move around and store than your typical 4-metre plus boat – in fact you can just pop it in corner of the garage, or slide it into the back of the car or van.
Reasons to buy
• Looks and feels like a fully rigid kayak
• Handles well, even on technical water
• Super quick and easy to assemble
• Decent dry storage
• Transport pack has wheels
• Good range of colours
Reasons to avoid
• Quite heavy
• Bulky to transport
Best inflatable kayaks
Decathlon Itiwit X500
You can get on the water in minutes with this quickly inflatable folding kayak, available at an affordable price
• Price: £699.99 (UK) / $899 (US) / €620 (EU)
• Weight: 18kg/40lb
• Length (assembled): 380cm / 12ft 5.5in
• Width (assembled): 64cm / 25in
• Packed size: 94 x 50 x 27cm / 37 x 19.7 x 10.6in
• Maximum carry weight (including paddler): 125kg/276lb
• Set-up time: 5 mins
Conceived in response to feedback from paddlers who were seeking an inflatable kayak that had the performance qualities close to that of a rigid boat, the Itiwit X500 was designed by a naval architect.
The Itiwit packs down into a decent backpack (included) for easy transportation (and storage), and it is extremely quick to assemble. You simply inflate the large chamber (the floor) to 10 PSI max (0.7 bar), followed by the mid-sized chambers (the sides), then the small chambers (the arches), and then insert the footrests, fit the seat and adjust the backrests. Once you’ve done it a couple of times, you can be on the water in five minutes flat.
You’re not going to get the full range of technical capability offered by a real rigid kayak, but the Itiwit is definitely good enough for intermediate paddlers to take out on most rivers, all lakes and in a range of sea conditions.
The raised coaming around the cockpit means you can use a spraydeck (sold separately), so it’s boat for all seasons. There’s a cargo area at the rear, and bungees on the front for easy-access storage. The bow and stern are coloured bright orange, to improve the visibility of the kayak to other bigger boats, for safety reasons.
The obvious weakness of inflatable kayaks is the potential of suffering a puncture. However, the Itiwit has five independent ‘air chambers’, and even if two of these deflate due to damage, the kayak will still float sufficiently to get you back to shore, and punctures can then be fixed (a repair kit is included).
That said, obviously it’s highly advisable to avoid paddling close to sharp reefs and shell-covered rocks. The Itiwit X500 is made with two layers of tough PVC, with a drop-stitch mesh that holds the shape of the boat nicely. The price of this boat is pretty reasonable, but annoyingly you do need to buy the pump separately.
Reasons to buy
• Very quick assembly
• Excellent, easily adjustable footrests
• Comfortable foam seat
• 5 independent air chambers lowers the risk of catastrophic puncture
• Easily repairable
• Good price
Reasons to avoid
• Handpump not supplied
• Can’t be paddled next to sharp objects
• Not great in wind
Sevylor Adventure Inflatable Kayak
An inflatable fair-weather kayak perfect for families or pairs of paddlers that’s quick to assemble easy to get on the water
• Price: £390
• Weight: 12.5kg/28lb
• Length (assembled): 314cm / 124in
• Width (assembled): 88cm / 35in
• Packed size: 20 x 118 x 32cm / 8 x 46 x 13in
• Cockpit: Open
• Maximum carry weight (including paddlers): 165kg/364lb
• Set-up time: 5–10 minutes
Blurring the distinction between kayak and canoe, the Sevylor Adventure has an open cockpit and can be propelled with a double-bladed kayaking paddle or a single-blade canoe oar. Either way, affordably priced and fairly quick and easy to inflate and get on the water, this boat is perfect for couples or families looking to get out and have a bit of fun on the water without taking on anything too serious.
Capable of carrying two adults, or one adult and a couple of kids (or various other combinations), it’s ideal for gentle river trips, exploring lakes and bays, and for days at the beach when the conditions are calm. You can’t enclose the cockpit with a proper skirt, so it’s best suited for fair weather paddling in warmer weather, but there are small integrated spraydecks at the stern and bow to help keep splashing water out, and the walls of the boat are also high.
There are two seats – both easily removed, depending on the configuration you’re going with. The Adventure has a flat bottom, and the lack of rocker means it’s not the most maneuverable boat out there, but the removable fin adds some tracking capability (remember to fit it before you inflate the boat).
Generously proportioned, the Adventure is wide in the middle, and it’s a forgiving and stable craft that’s suitable for beginners. Made with tough, heavy duty PVC, there are three air chambers, which will give you some peace of mind in the event of an on-water puncture, and inflation/deflation is quick and simple, using Boston, Mini Boston and Mini Double Lock valves. It comes with an Easy Inflation manometer (for checking pressure) a carry bag, foot pump and a pair of basic paddles.
Reasons to buy
• Relatively lightweight
• Quick assembly
• Drains well
• Great kayak for families
Reasons to avoid
• Open cockpit (suitable for fair weather paddling only)
• Not very maneuverable
• Not great in high winds
What to look for in the best folding kayaks
Just like rigid boats, the best folding kayaks come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, with a variety of technologies employed enabling them to be collapsed for easy transportation and compact storage. What constitutes the best folding kayak for you will depend upon several things. Before making a purchase you should think very carefully about where and when you are most likely to be using the kayak. The following factors are also well worth taking into consideration too.
Sure, having a folding kayak will mean you can explore more and even take your boat on holiday, but what kind of paddling are you going to be doing, most of the time? If you’re an out-and-out touring sea kayaker, consider the Oru Bay ST or the Pakayak Bluefin, but if rivers and lakes are more your style, the Klepper Aerius Classic or Neris Alu is a better option. The TRAK 2.0 can do a bit of everything, while the inflatables are great for families and beginners.
Technology and design
Again, this comes down to what sort of kayaker you are and who you are likely to be paddling with. If you’re likely to be surrounded by kids, impatient to get out on the water, then an inflatable is definitely best.
Folding frame boats can be fiddly until you get the hang of them, and will probably take longer to assemble and take apart than you expect. Allow yourself enough time to do this right, in reasonable conditions, otherwise you might damage the boat through error and frustration (and they’re not cheap).
Frame kayaks require some TLC and maintenance – don’t neglect to oil them and look after all the moving parts. No matter what kayak you go for, avoid putting it away wet, especially if you’re not sure when you’ll next use it. After use on saltwater, it’s always worth washing your boat down with fresh water.
Different-sized kayaks lend themselves to various forms of paddling – sea touring boats are long, while whitewater creek and playboats are short and nimble – but you also need to look carefully at how big the kayak you are considering is when it’s folded and packed away. While all folding kayaks are easier to store and transport than rigid boats, the size of the carry bags does vary a lot. If it doesn’t fit in your vehicle or garage, you’re wasting your money.
Weight and carry bag
It’s not just size that you need to take into account when you’re thinking about transporting your boat. The best folding kayak for you is the one that you can actually pick up and move from your vehicle to the waterside – if you go for a model that’s too heavy for you to handle, you won’t end up using it much, even if it’s fantastic on the water.
Look carefully at the quality of the carry bag, too – if it fails, you will find it hard to manage your boat (without buying a replacement bag), so a sturdy bag – with wheels if the boat is on the heavy side – is ideal.
Features and inclusions
Just because a boat is collapsible, that doesn’t mean it can’t be well featured. The best folding kayaks should all come with comfortable seats and carry bags, but depending on the style, they may also boast sophisticated cockpits with raised coaming for attaching sprayskirts, plus storage areas, bungees, perimeter safety lines and carry toggles/handles.
Check to see what comes with your kayak – some are simply sold as bare boats, but with others you can occasionally buy a kit that includes spraydecks/skirts, maintenance and repair kits, paddles and (for inflatables) a pump.
For the best folding kayak, you’re going to be making a significant outlay, n0 question about that, but some are cheaper than others. The more often you get out on the water, the better value your boat becomes. Fairweather paddlers might be better with an affordable inflatable at first, but if you appreciate fine craftsmanship and excellent design, the Klepper Aerius and TRAK kayaks are beautiful things to behold, while both the Oru Bay ST and the Pakayak Bluefin are truly ingenious designs.
Durability and repair
As we’ve mentioned, you’re going to be spending a fair amount of fold on the best collapsible kayak, so you will want it to last. Anything that folds is prone to failure to some extent, but we have selected the more robust models here. The Pakayak Bluefin is pretty bulletproof.
The frame kayaks are constructed with tough materials (especially the TRAK 2.0), and the inflatables are also more resilient than they look (and can be easily repaired). Several models offer generous warrantees, just make sure you read the small print and then look after the boats with the care they deserve.
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