Ali Wood has fun on the water with 5 friends, 3 kids and one eager pup with these touring inflatable kayaks from Decathlon

Inflatable kayaks are the ultimate way to have fun with family and friends. No boating experience needed, no faffing around with roof-racks. Just pump and go. 

So when Decathlon launched a new rental service, in-line with their commitment to reduce CO2 emissions, it gave us the perfect opportunity to go paddling.

We tried out Decathlon’s ITWIT 1-2 person kayak (£280) and the ITIWIT 2-3 person kayak (below). The larger version right now, is reduced from £300 to £250, so if you’re quick, this is the one we’d recommend you buy for best value! 

Currently retailing at £250, Decathlon’s ITIWIT 2-3 man inflatable kayak is a great buy for beginners and quick and easy to inflate

However, if you’d rather try before you buy – perhaps splitting costs with pals for a weekend getaway, stag or hen party – Decathlon kayak rental starts from as little as £30, and is currently available in four UK stores, as well as Italy, Spain, Portugal and Poland, with new stores in the pipeline. 

Decathlon rental

It was a scorching afternoon sitting in traffic, when the idea struck me. “Let’s go kayaking,” I said, noting the sports megastore in Poole was coming up. I logged into my Decathlon account, booked the next available slot online and 20 minutes later we were driving away with a boot full of paddles and kayaks. Easy as that! 

Which inflatable kayak to choose?

Decathlon sell three beginner inflatable kayaks to fit 1, 2 or 3 people. Considered beach craft rather than ‘sea approved’, these are designed for touring in sheltered waters (300m from the shore). The inflatable kayaks are wide and flat-bottomed for maximum stability, sitting higher on the water than the more performance-designed kayaks that are narrower with sharper bows. 

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The inflatable touring kayaks have air bladders either side and on the floor, which are enclosed in a tough PVC fabric to increase strength and shape, but can be easily unzipped for repairs.

Ali Wood and friend Sophie try out Decathlon’s 1-2 man inflatable kayak

There’s an elastic holder at the back of the kayak for water bottles and bags, and the modular design means the raised seats can be positioned anywhere along the length of the kayak to suit different size paddlers.

Kayak bags

The kayaks arrived in neat backpacks, with a strap on the back to carry the pump (sold separately). At 14kg the 1-2 person kayak was just about comfortable to carry for a short walk (comfier if worn over a buoyancy aid).

The 15kg 2-man Decathlon kayak was ok to carry for short distances, but I found the bigger version very heavy

However, I found the 17kg Itiwit 2/3 a bit too heavy. It would be fine for a short walk from the car to the slipway, but I wouldn’t want to go any further. If you’re planning an expedition – for example a hike to a lake – you’d need a much higher-spec bag, or the lighter 1-man touring inflatable kayak.

Kayaking adventure

Now to plan the adventure. I messaged my Sea Swimming WhatsApp group and instead of doing our usual cold water swim, we decided to take advantage of perfect tides, and soaring temperatures to paddle around Christchurch Harbour in Dorset.

As there were six of us, we threw a Spinera SUP into the mix (a good budget paddleboard at £299), planning to swap around when the paddler got tired (after all, 3 people in a kayak is much faster than one person on a SUP).

Pumping up the kayaks

We met at 945am the following day on the green at Mudeford Quay in Dorset. As we pumped up the SUP and kayaks, terrier pup Suzy excitedly hopped in and out, sniffing the fabric and wagging her tail.

Pumping up Decathlon’s inflatable kayaks on the green at Mudeford,Dorset

Dogs and inflatable kayaks

Dog claws are not a problem for these tough PVC inflatable kayaks, but if you are taking a canine friend, you may want to invest in a dog lifejacket, and bring along a comfort toy and a bowl so you can refill their water. 

Sophie, dog Suzy, Lou, Fran and Laura paddling in Christchurch harbour.

We also planned a route where Suzy could get out and walk along the shore with owner Fran, whilst we paddled to the next pick-up point.  

I’d allowed plenty of time for blowing up the kayaks, based on my experience of SUPs, but actually the kayaks were much quicker than paddleboards.

Decathlon’s double-action hand pump has two chambers allowing it to inflate on the ‘pull’ as well as the ‘plunge’, making the process surprisingly quick and sweat-free. 

Inflatable kayak seats

The inflatable seats for each kayak were interchangeable, and removable, and there were guides suggesting where to fix them according to the number of passengers. If the back feels a bit loose once underway you can easily tighten it.

The upright detachable kayak seats keep your bum dry and gives extra comfort.

An upright paddling position is best, and rather than fully extending your arms, it’s best to throw your torso forward for maximum power and less strain on the arms.

Launching the inflatable kayaks

It was so hot, none of us could face wearing wetsuits so we chucked them back in the car and wore swimmers. I packed a couple of splash vests in a drybag, in case it got cold, along with my favourite Red Original water bottle (full of ice), and my phone stashed into a handy waterproof pouch that I strapped to my buoyancy aid webbing. 

Pleased to be launching ahead of time, and an hour before high water, we carried our kayaks to the water. They were extremely light, with grab handles forward and on the sides. 

Not twits!

It was at this point that Sophie commented what an odd brand name ‘Twit’ was for a kayak. We chuckled; indeed, ‘Itiwit’ could easily be read as ‘Twit’ from a distance. 

We slotted together the 2-part Decathlon paddles (sold separately, and available in short and long lengths) and attached the three fins to each kayak.

These are a lot shorter than the SUP fin, allowing for much shallower exploration, which is a bonus in Christchurch, which dries out at low tide. There’s nothing worse than dragging your kit half a mile through mud at the end of a session!

No need to plan  

Being a sailor, I’d downloaded Navionics charts to my iPhone and planned a route. However, we happened to set-off alongside a raucous bunch of school kids on SUPs. They turned right, so we went left.

On the three-man kayak was Lou in her Captain hat, joined by sister Fran (First Mate), dog Suzy, and PBO features editor Laura who, like me, had decided it was far too nice a day to spend in front of a laptop. 

Captain Lou with First Mate Fran and PBO Features Editor Laura

I paddled behind Sophie in the 2-man kayak, leaving her to do most of the work (she was a very adept paddler) whilst I took photos. 

Briony, behind, was on the SUP, waving us ahead, “don’t worry, I’ll catch up,” she called, and soon did when we stopped paddling every now and then to chat.  

The freedom of kayaking

As a sailor, I’m more used to catching favourable winds, and planning tides around the 1.5m draft of our Maxi 84 yacht. This was surely too easy! It struck me what a joy of kayaking was. With a couple of inches draft, you can go anywhere, as long as you stay out of the boat channel.

For a longer trip, I’d still paddle into tide and/or wind, to get the hard bit out of the way first, but in these millpond conditions, that wasn’t necessary. It was lovely to be so free and unencumbered. 

We just pottered, drifted and chatted as we headed out past the Haven Inn, the site of a skirmish between Customs Officers and bootleggers in 1784, which resulted in the death of a Customs officer and execution of a smuggler.

The landlady Hannah Seller, who sheltered smugglers, gives her name to ‘Mother Sillers channel’ in nearby Stanpit marsh.

Coffee break

We took care crossing the buoyed channel which the tripper boats use, then – following Captain Lou – found ourselves landing at our favourite beach cafe for a very civilised coffee and toilet stop. We then swapped boats and paddled out past the lowland forest on the harbour-side of Hengistbury Head.  

One-man down. Fran walks Suzy the dog along the shoreline whilst we paddle

Now on the inflatable SUP, I was surprised by how wobbly it felt and had to concentrate on my stroke – a long stand-up sweep – trying not to bend too low, and dropping to my knees if I felt unstable. The motion soon came back to me, though, and it was good exercise trying to keep up with the kayaks. 

By now, pup Suzy had had enough so Fran got out of the 3-man kayak and walked her along the oak-fringed shore. Laura and Lou paddled just as easily without Fran, concluding that a 3-person kayak is a better investment than a 2-man one, as you have the extra seat if you need it, but can paddle easily solo or double-handed. 

Last leg

For the last leg, we swapped places again and I sat at the front of the 3-man kayak with Laura and Fran behind me. 

As Fran was holding Suzy she couldn’t paddle, but I found that paddling from the front didn’t give us the directional stability we needed. We kept spinning to port, so I’d double-up on my left-hand strokes, failing to tell Laura behind, who, naturally, clashed paddles with me. 

We soon sorted it out when Fran paddled from the back and Suzy, now looking forward to dry land, was shuffled forwards.

We glided straight onto the sandy beach without a hitch, and hopped out. The kayaks deflated with a startling ‘pssst’, making poor Suzy jump into the air, then we let the air out enough to load them into my boot, before drying them in my garden.

Kids and inflatable kayaks

Next, it was time to try out the kayaks with my family (who were fairly disgruntled I’d been out whilst they were at school!). We headed back to Mudeford and I paddled on the 2-man kayak with my 6-year-old daughter and my husband took the boys, aged 8 and 11. 

Kayaking with the kids was a whole different experience. The wide, tough sides made the inflatable kayak feel very stable

Conditions this time were a lot tougher, with 20-knot winds. Still, we made headway, albeit slowly, into the wind, and I was glad to have wide, stable sides, which made the kids feel very safe. When Fearne, my daughter, used her paddle, albeit fairly clumsily, the increase in speed was surprising.

That said, you’ve got to allow for little ones getting tired, and Fearne only managed to paddle for about half the time. When the kids stopped paddling, their paddles get in the way, so we split them in half and stowed them. Our paddles split into two, but Decathlon also sell paddles that split into four parts for easy stowage. 

The boys loved kayaking on the 3-man Decathlon kayak – especially when they got to splash each other with the paddles

My husband, having two kids onboard, found it more challenging, and it was actually easier to get the middle person to rest, and only have the paddlers either end of the kayak.

Whilst having wide sides is a benefit for stability, when it comes to ‘hard paddling’, it’s a drawback, and I kept grazing my fingers on the canvas, causing one of them to bleed. I’m sure this is also down to my technique, especially as I came home with tennis – or ‘paddlers’ – elbow! 

Paddling round nature reserves

Once we paddled with the wind behind us, we shot off at a very enjoyable pace, and explored the inlets around the nature reserves of Hengistbury Head and Stanpit Marsh.

It was fun to spot nesting birdlife, that until now, we’d only seen on foot, and to pause to look into the smart gardens that fringe the harbour.

At one point, we stopped for coffee and ice-creams at Hengistbury Head, and another time we beached ourselves on a sandbank right in the middle of the harbour to swap kayaks.

The kids were amazed that the water could be so shallow so far out, having always stuck to the deeper channels as dinghy sailors. 

three kids on decathlon inflatable kayaks

Ice cream kayaking stop at Hengistbury Head!

The following day, my husband, having caught the kayaking bug, took out our eldest son and his three friends on a kayaking adventure after school.

This time, they headed up-river and back down another river, finishing at their favourite pizza restaurant on Christchurch Quay. 

The downside of inflatable kayaks

The only downside of daily kayaking is that we never quite managed to dry out the kayaks. We did leave them in the garden, which helped, and we found as long as the seats were dry, nobody complained. 

We dried the kayaks in the garden but to dry properly you need to remove the inflatable bladder from inside the floor (right)

However, when our rental period came to an end, we needed to dry them out properly and the only way to do this was to remove the bladder from the floor. Fine, if it’s sunny and you have a garden. However, rain was forecast so we ended up draping the kayaks across the kitchen floor and dangling the bladders over our (2-storey) hallway bannister! In winter, drying inflatable kayaks could be a challenge.

Next time we’ll try out the X100 2-person kayak, the next model up, which has a drop stitch floor for better tracking, pressure release valves and no canvas material, so is quick drying. 

Conclusion – inflatable kayaks are great fun!

Decathlon’s touring inflatable kayaks are great fun. They’re sturdy, inexpensive, comfortable and steer well in light winds. With a bit of welly, they’re still pretty good in strong winds.

The kayaks easily hold the number of people they claim to, and are quick and easy to inflate. For simplicity, value, and ‘as much fun for as little hassle’ as you can get, they’re ideal.

Plus, Decathlon’s warranty for spare parts is 2 years, and they also offer an in-store repair service (which I’ve used several times on other equipment). 

In stronger winds, with children who are too tired to paddle, these beginner kayaks are harder work, but not enough to spoil the fun. 

Several of my friends said they preferred kayaks to their SUPs, feeling you could go on a longer adventure without the worry of falling in or stowing gear, and this was even more apparent with kids. 

In less than a week’s hire period, 6 adults and 6 children had enjoyed the benefit of our kayaks, several of whom had never paddled before! 

Which kayak would I choose?

At £95 for a week’s rental of the 2-man kayak and £105 for the 3-man kayak, I’d say this represents great value (£17 per head, if divided by the 12 people who used it).

Now we’ve tried them, I’m very tempted to go out and buy an inflatable kayak. Given a choice of the two Decathlon kayaks, I’d go for the larger kayak, because it’s more versatile (and paddling with friends and family is so much fun) yet I could still use it solo. 

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