origami folding kayak
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The Best Foldable Kayak for Van Life

What is a Foldable Kayak?

Let’s just get right to the point and answer the most common question when we are casually talking about paddling out in the water in our foldable kayak.  What is a foldable kayak? A foldable Kayak is exactly as its name implies.  It is a kayak that folds into a tight and small case within its own shell. 

Some people refer to a folding kayak as an origami kayak.  I have even heard some people call them suitcase kayaks.  I really like the term, origami, to describe the foldable kayak.   

Some are made of ⅛-inch thick plastic that has pre-folded creases and buckles to shape the sheet of plastic into the shape of a kayak. While others, Like the Oru, are made of foldable corrugated plastic. 

When folded up, it is small, compact, and easily stored.  When put together, it looks like any other open cock-pit kayak I have ever paddled in.  

A foldable or origami-style kayak typically weighs 25 – 30 lbs and is easily carried on your back or across your shoulder for hiking to the water from your vehicle.  

Reasons to consider a foldable kayak

There are many reasons to own a foldable kayak.  We love being on the water.  Whether that is lounging in the spring, cooling off in the ocean, or having a relaxing paddle across a lake or slow river in our kayaks.  Here are some good reasons to own your own foldable kayak.

You love spending time on the water

Give us a choice between land and water and we will almost always choose the water.

Having a portable folding kayak has allowed us to experience one of our greatest pleasures while living and traveling in our van conversion.   It doesn’t matter where we are, we always have our Tucktek foldable kayaks with us and are ready for a fun, exploration, and relaxing paddle on the water.

Some of the places we are excited about paddling in are Lake Tahoe, Alaska, and Arizona.  Check out some of the pics from kayaking in, around and through some of the mangroves in Central Florida.

You don’t have much storage space

Where could we possibly store and carry a couple of kayaks with us while traveling and living in a van full time?  Our roof is covered in solar panels and fitting a traditional kayak inside of our van is just not reasonably possible.

We have a little “garage” space under our bed in the rear of the van, but that space also holds our propane tank, freshwater tank, and most of our electrical/solar set up.  

Fortunately, the Tucktek kayak folds up into a neat and compact 48” x 15” x 18”.  It is very easy and convenient to store a couple of them along with two paddles and life vests.  

It comes down to a matter of priority.  Being out on the water in kayaks is very important to us, so part of our van design was for foldable kayak storage.  

You want to be able to hike to the water to go kayaking

Unless you live right at the water’s edge or you are able to drive right up to and park on the water, you have to get yourself and your foldable kayak to the water. Hauling a traditional kayak 10-20 yards is hard enough to get to the water.  

Imagine having to hike over rocks and through trees carrying a 10-15 foot 50lb kayak 100 yards to get to the water.   Awkward, heavy, and not much fun at all.

One of the benefits of owning a foldable kayak is how easy they are to get from one spot to another.  At only 30lbs, it is very easy to carry.  With its tubular folded-up design and a comfortable shoulder strap, carry it to the water could not be much easier.  

Getting to a secluded off-the-beaten-path area is a cinch with a foldable kayak.  Increase your adventure experience and go places most people can’t get to!

Are Foldable Kayaks Any good

One of the first thoughts I had, when we considered purchasing a foldable kayak, was whether or not it would be any good.  After all, we have kayaked a lot and we know a good kayak when we paddle in or on one.  

Personally, I prefer a “sit-on-top” kayak over a “sit-in” kayak.  I like the perspective of being higher up above the water and it is easier for me to exit and enter whether I am launching, landing, or in deep water.

A foldable kayak has many benefits.  However, there are as many unknowns as there are benefits.  The fact is, folding kayaks just haven’t been around for very long, so their reputation as a viable and preferable source for water recreation has not been established.  

I would prefer not to have a kayak at all if the paddling experience was not a good one.  I have paddled in some poor excuses of a kayak before, and the experience was less than enjoyable.  

Uncomfortable seat, tracking to the left or right, or too small of a cockpit.  These are some things that concerned me prior to spending over $300 for a foldable kayak.  

Much to my delight, these folding kayaks perform and stand up to a rigid or molded kayak very well.  So far, I am very pleased with the performance and functionality of our Tucktek kayaks.  

Foldabe Kayak Brands

Being still somewhat new to the industry, origami or folding kayaks are beginning to catch on.  The choices between brands or manufacturers are still somewhat limited though.  

There are really two brands that have gained a foothold on the market.  The Oru and the Tucktek foldable kayaks.

The first foldable kayak we will mention is the Tucktec.


The Tucktek foldable kayak is manufactured and made right here in the United States.  The company is headquartered and operates out of South Carolina.  

Each kayak is hand-made and assembled.  The quality and workmanship that goes into these kayaks are impressive.  

We chose the Tucktek because of its compact size both when folded up and when assembled.  It is small enough for easy and quick paddling at just 10 feet.  When folded for storing, it is a tidy and compact 48” x 15” x 18”.

When assembled, the kayak is a comfortable 10’ feet from bow to stern.  The depth of the cockpit is 18” inches.  The width is a nice 31” inches from side to side.

  • Size: 10’ L X 31” W x 18” D
  • Folded Size: 48” x 15” x 18”
  • Carry Weight: 28 lbs
  • Maximum Load: 300 lbs

I especially like this because it gives the paddler solid stabilization while paddling in most conditions.  If you are a fan of standing up while paddling, the 31” inches berth allows you to easily stand and paddle at the same time.

For us, while living and traveling full time in a converted Sprinter van, this is the perfect size to allow us to have a full-size kayak anytime we want to paddle.  

The materials used are ⅛-inch hard plastic that will not puncture or collapse.  These kayaks can accommodate a person up to 300lbs and still track and paddle easily.  This is especially good for larger framed people or for those who want to carry a lot of gear while paddling and camping overnight.

A comfortable and adjustable seat coupled with adjustable footrests makes paddling both easy and comfortable. 

Overall, we love the Tucktec foldable kayak and are very happy with our purchase.  

Oru – Elevens Cruise Plus

Oru’s Beach LT is one of their top-selling foldable kayaks.  Like the Tucktec kayak, it is a “sit-in” kayak with a cockpit-style entry.  It is a little longer than the Tucktek but also it is more slim and narrow than the Tucktek.  

While the more narrow hull design may make for a sleeker and faster paddle, it is also less stable and more prone to tipping over.

The dimensions of the Ora are:

  • Size: 12.8′ L X 23.6″ W x 14.2″ D
  • Folded Size: 34” x 30” x 14”
  • Carry Weight: 30 lbs
  • Maximum Load: 200 lbs

The Oru kayak has a starting price of $1,199.00  While it is a quality and proven foldable kayak, the price tag makes it a significant hurdle for the casual paddler.

The plastic it is made of is a corrugated ⅛” plastic with foldable premade creases.  Stainless metal buckles hold everything into place.  

If you are a larger framed person or plan on carrying a lot of equipment for overnight paddling, then this may not be a good option.   The Oru has a maximum weight capacity of only 200lbs.  

Overall, the Oru is an excellent foldable kayak, but just be prepared to pay a premium price for it.  

Features of the Best Foldable Kayaks

When choosing which type of foldable kayak is right for you, there are 6 criteria you should consider, besides size and cost.  

Easy Set-Up

Being able to convert your foldable kayak from a folded-up block of plastic to a functional and comfortable kayak in a short time frame is important.  It may look or seem complicated, but transforming your kayak from its stored shape to a functional kayak is easier than it seems.

The fold or creases are already there.  All you have to do is put them into the position and buckle it down.  It really is all that simple.  

Setting your seat up, and affixing the footrests to a position that is comfortable to you is one of the most important steps in getting your foldable kayak ready to launch. 

You can watch a video of us setting up our Tucktek foldable kayak here.   

Compact Storage

Being able to haul a kayak around is the biggest obstacle for any van lifer.  Most RVs and skoolies don’t have the room to haul a typical kayak around either.  

foldable kayak stored inside our sprinter van conversion

The compact size and storage of a foldable kayak open all kinds of adventure, exploration, and excursions for someone traveling full time in a converted van.  One of the biggest attractions of van life is living a simple and minimalistic lifestyle.  

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t and can’t have some adventurous luxuries along the way.  In fact, the more adventures you have, the better the van life experience can be.

We have a spot in our “garage” that fits one of the Tucktek foldable kayaks perfectly.  It is relatively small while folded up, so storing is convenient.  Our second Tucktek foldable kayak is kept in the driver’s seat and floorboard area while we are parked and sits on our bed while we are traveling.

The compact size of the foldable kayak is truly its most notable feature.

Tracking well with a rudder

One of the features we love so much about our foldable kayak is the retractable rudder.  It is big enough to keep your tracking or steering in the direction you choose.  

I have paddled in many kayaks that either didn’t have a rudder and would pull or “track” to the left or right or had a very inadequate rudder that would not keep you on a straight track.

Having to constantly correct your direction from left to right can make the entire paddling experience a waste of time and energy.  I would rather not be out on the water than paddle in a kayak that will not track.

The Tucktek’s rudder allows us to paddle straight and true.  Another great feature is that it has a retractable lever that allows you to lift the rudder out of the water in the event you get into some very shallow rocky bottom water.  This prevents the rudder from being damaged.

Foot Rests

Not having somewhere to rest or support your feet from kayaking is not only uncomfortable but, is also dangerous and highly inefficient.  

The footrests built into any worthy kayak is there to allow your feet some support.  This not only allows you to sit more comfortably while paddling about, but it has a functional reason as well.

The footrests allow you to more efficiently use your core while paddling.  Most people think that kayaking or canoeing is all about upper body strength.  The bigger or stronger you are, the faster you will be able to paddle.

That simply is not true.  I have out-paddled many men that were much stronger than me because I know how to properly use my legs and core to harness the technique of efficient paddling.  

The Tucktek foldable kayak has soft cushioned tubes that allow sufficient support for your feet and legs.  Mind you, you probably aren’t going to be entering any kayak races with this kayak, but it is sufficient for a nice, relaxing paddle on the lake or pond.  

Comfortable seat

Sometimes you are going to go out paddling for a short quick excursion.  Sometimes, you may paddle for 2-3 hours.  You may even venture to do an overnight paddling trip down a lazy creek or river.  

Regardless of where and how long you will be paddling, one thing is for sure.  You want to be comfortable while kayaking.  One of the biggest factors for your level of comfortableness is the seat.  

If your foldable kayak seat is not comfortable, then your kayaking trip is not going to be enjoyable.  In fact, you may pay the price with a sore back for the rest of the day or the next couple of days.

Before you head out onto the water, be sure you adjust your seat to your comfort.  Sit in the kayak while it is sitting on solid ground and test the seat position out.  This will allow you to fine-tune your seat position without the awkwardness of doing it on the water.  

Wide Flat Bottom for Stability

The biggest worry for anyone who has ever dared to go kayaking is flipping the kayak and going swimming.  It’s doesn’t matter if the water is only four or five feet deep, flipping your kayak over is a stressor no one wants to deal with.

One of the biggest factors in flipping or turning your kayak over in the water is the lack of stability of the kayak itself.  I have guided people who have never been in a kayak and they never came close to flipping their kayak over.  

It hinges primarily on the stability of the kayak itself.  If your kayak has a solid, wide, and flat bottom, you are likely to stay seated inside of your kayak and not go swimming unexpectedly.  

One of the features we like so much about the Tucktek foldable kayak is that it has a flat bottom that is 31” inches wide.  This allows the paddler to move from side to side and even able to lean over slightly with the sudden “sploosh” of tipping over into the water.

The 31” inch bottom also allows you to stand up and paddle.  It is a very stable kayak.  Mind you, standing up in a kayak is not advisable and takes considerable balance and practice.  It is highly recommended that you stay seated while inside your foldable kayak.

Pros and Cons of a Foldable Kayak

Foldable kayaks are a means to an end for those who wish to travel full-time in a converted van but still be able to enjoy the adventure and excitement of kayaking at their leisure.  

A quick summary of the pros and cons of owning a foldable kayak.


A folding Kayak is Small and compact

A Folding Kayak is Easily carried and light

A Folding Kayak is Easy and Quick to Assemble


A Folding Kayak is rather small

Folding Kayaks are Not Good for Fast Water

A Folding Kayak Can Be Expensive

Wrap up

If you love being out on the water and want to add an element of adventure and excitement to some of your camping adventures while traveling in your van, we highly recommend the Tucktek foldable kayak or a similar one.

We have an affiliate link for Tucktek that will give you a free paddle with a foldable kayak purchase. This is a $100 value. You have to manually add the paddle to your purchase cart in order to receive it.

Add this to your essential items for van life.  In fact, we have compiled a list of 53 essential items for van life

If you have any questions about kayaking or foldable kayaks, we would love to talk with you and answer any questions. We love ours and are so glad we added them to our van life gear!

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