Nothing beats a day of paddling for unwinding, exercise, and sheer fun. Whether you’re new to the sport or a paddling veteran, inflatable kayaks offer a great paddling option. Toss one in the back of your car (no need to invest in expensive roof racks), take one on an airplane to your next adventure (they’re compact), or even consider backpacking one into that secret lake you’ve always wanted to fish (many weigh less than 40 pounds). And inflatables offer all the fun of hard-shell kayaks at a fraction of the cost. Here are some benefits to owning an inflatable kayak and some key things to consider before you buy.

This model is designed for small bodies of water and is great for beginners. Intex

Deciding on what you want to use your inflatable kayak for (and the kinds of water you want to paddle on) will help determine the type of inflatable kayak you choose. For those new to paddling who just want to get out on the calm waters of their local lake, or for those who like to fish, wider, more stable models will be appropriate.

For more experienced paddlers who want to enjoy more whitewater kayaking, a sleeker design with a tougher outer skin that stands up to abrasive rocks should be considered. Want to surf big ocean waves? Then an inflatable with a self-bailing cockpit and a skeg to help you turn more sharply is in order. Thinking your primary purpose through first, however, will provide happier paddling down the road.

Rigid Design

Fishermen will love this model, which includes integrated rod holders and adjustable brackets for mounting GPS systems, fish finders, and swivel rod holders. Intex

Ah, the age-old question. If you like company, then a two-person model is what you’ll want to focus on. Bear in mind, though, that the larger the craft, the heavier it will be, which may affect your willingness to simply grab your lightweight solo kayak and jump on an airplane for a paddling adventure.

Paddlers’ heights (and weights) should also be considered. Paddlers over 6-feet tall will want to make sure there is sufficient legroom once they’ve boarded with their paddling partner.

Nimble and Durable

This model has a maximum weight capacity of 300 pounds. Blue Water Toys

Carrying capacity ties back to use. If you plan on using your inflatable kayak to explore a chain of lakes for several days, you’ll need to consider how much weight your craft can carry in addition to the passengers. Tie-down and storage capabilities will also be important.

Fishermen should also be mindful of weight ratings that should include the weight of the paddler (two if it’s a tandem), fishing tackle, coolers, and any electronics you want to have onboard. Every inflatable kayak will have a published weight rating. Stick to it and you’ll be fine.

Finally, make sure everyone in your party always wears a personal flotation device. If the weather and water are warm, slightly underinflate your craft as heat will make it expand. Conversely, in cold weather, slightly overinflating will compensate for the kayak contracting in the cold air. Above all, never leave an inflatable kayak in the hot sun without letting some of the air pressure out.