Tips for Inflating Your Kayak

Tips for Inflating Your Kayak

The popularity of inflatable kayaks has multiplied enormously since the materials have improved so much. Whereas the first versions were a little flimsy, modern inexpensive inflatable kayaks can withstand even harsh white water conditions while being lighter than hard-shells.

But this got me wondering whether there are any valuable tips for inflating your kayak. I did a little research and found some useful information.

Type of pump to use

One essential item you will need is a pump. Some inflatable kayaks are sold with pumps, and others are not. The type of pump you use can make a big difference in how quick and easy it is to inflate your kayak. Bear in mind also that you may need adaptors depending on the type of valves on your kayak.

The first time you inflate your kayak, it may take a little longer, but once you’ve practiced, it should only be a five or ten-minute job. So what choices of the pump are available?

Hand Pump

The majority of kayaks seem to be supplied with hand pumps, but they are not the best, to be honest. Yes, they come in both high and low-pressure variants and can inflate a kayak quickly. The problem is that you have to either bend over them or kneel on the floor to operate them. Either position can soon give you some pain, in the knees or back, so not ideal. For me, a foot pump is preferable.

Foot Pump

We’ve all seen the bellows style foot pumps, and these work very well. Unlike the hand pump, you operate them standing upright, so no knee or back pain. It takes a good few minutes to inflate a kayak, and you can switch legs easily with barely a break.

The downsides are that foot pumps are not particularly robust, and being operated on the ground causes its problems. They are prone to sucking in dust and grit, which will gradually wreck the pumping action, plus the bellows sections will eventually split.

Electric Pump

I think we can all agree that letting an electric pump take the strain is much better than doing it yourself! The electric pump is not necessarily any quicker than the manual pumps, but so much easier! Simply attach the hose to the kayak, connect the pump power leads to your car battery and switch it on.

If you have space, it is probably wise to keep a hand or foot pump in your trunk, just if you have problems with your electric pump. If you are going on an extended kayaking trip, you must take a manual pump to top up the pressure as required.

Inflate at the Waterfront or Home?

One of the significant advantages of inflatable kayaks is their small size when deflated, so inflating the waterfront is best for most people. This way, the kayak will fit in the trunk of your car, and you don’t need a roof rack. That said, doing a trial run at home before heading to the lake will undoubtedly pay dividends in the future.

Inflating Your Kayak

Before you inflate your inflatable kayak, it’s a good idea to do some preparation first.

Choose a good spot

  • Find a clear open space, if at all possible, away from traffic and other people. Make sure you have plenty of room for your gear and the inflating kayak.
  • Check the ground where you are going to inflate your kayak. Make sure there are no sharp objects that could damage or puncture the kayak.
  • Make sure there is a clear route to the water. Inflatable kayaks aren’t that heavy, but they are quite large. Try to find a launch area that is easy for you to get in and out of the kayak. Sloping grassy banks are an accident about to happen, so find somewhere flat and even!

Now you’ve found the ideal spot, lay your kayak out fully and straighten out any folds. Have a quick look to find all the inflation valves. They could be three, five, seven, or more.

Don’t over-inflate

Before you start, make sure you know what psi each compartment needs, as inflating the sides to a high pressure could damage the seams and cause leaks. They may not all need the same pressure. More expensive inflatable kayaks have high-pressure floor areas to give the boat rigidity. You will need a pressure gauge for accurate inflation, either handheld or as part of the pump. The separate handheld gauges are more accurate and reliable.

Which Sections to Inflate First

Inflate the floor first. This may also have several compartments. Now start on the sides, followed by the seat if it’s the inflatable type. You may need to inflate one side partially, then move to the other so that you can position the floor correctly. 

Once you’ve finished, make sure the side compartments have the same pressure. Uneven pressure will cause the kayak less stable in the water.


Before you set off, check that all the valves are fully closed. Getting out to the middle of the lake to find one side is slowly deflating is more than annoying. It’s also advisable to double-check the area you inflated your kayak, just in case you’ve left something behind.


What’s the Right Pressure for a Kayak?

Different manufacturers give different pressures, and even separate compartments on the same kayak may have unique pressures. Make sure you read the manual to use the correct pressures for each compartment. In most cases, the sides of your kayak will need between 1.5 and 3 psi. On basic kayaks, the floor will probably be the same, but on dropped stitch high-pressure floors, you may need to inflate it to 15 psi. As you can see, it is imperative to check the manual for the correct settings.

Can You Over Inflate a Kayak?

Over inflating a compartment in your kayak could damage the material or the seams, possibly causing leaks. With modern high-pressure pumps, it is very easy to over-inflate a kayak. 


Inflating an inflatable kayak doesn’t take very long—just a few minutes with an excellent electric pump or up to ten minutes with a manual pump. This short video on inflating a kayak shows just how quickly you can do it. A little preparation before starting, such as checking the area you are using for anything that could damage your kayak, will definitely pay off. After a bit of practice, you’ll find the time it takes to inflate your kayak reduces.

This article was last updated on April 22, 2021 .

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Categorized as Kayaking
Martin Parker

By Martin Parker

Martin Parker is a freelance content writer with a passion for offshore sailing, snowboarding, camping, and motorcycles. He regularly writes articles and reviews about camping and the outdoors to fund his passions.