The debate on inflatable vs traditional hardshell is a hot one. On one corner, there are the traditional hardliners who say inflatable kayaks are weaker and do not allow the user more control over the boat, but equally large is the group that believes that due to advancement in technology, inflatable kayaks are now capable of the same performance stellar as traditional hardshells.
Therefore, as is the case with many things in life, the decision on whether to get inflatable kayaks is personal. If you want affordable, lighter, and easier to transport kayaks, the inflatable model is the best option for you.
Inflatable kayaks are exactly what the name suggests, kayaks that can be inflated before use and deflated after use. These types of kayaks have become increasingly popular over the years thanks to advancements in inflatable technology.
Prior to making its way into the hands of recreational watercrafts manufacturers, inflatable technology was only used in military and commercial operations. But the recreational companies figured it out and let's just say that inflatable kayaks are far from the alligator floatie pool toys of your childhood memories.
Inflatable kayaks are lightweight, yet durable, high-quality and stable watercraft. They are designed for hassle-free transportation, you just deflate the kayak, stuff it inside a duffle bag for transportation inside the trunk of your car or airplane cargo. Then, when you arrive at your kayaking spot, you simply have to inflate it and get on the waters for some fun and when you are done, deflate the kayak for easier transportation and storage. Such a simple routine means you can take the kayak anywhere be it on your vacation or hiking spot.
Are inflatable kayaks durable and stable?
There are rumors that just because inflatable kayaks are weaker because they are lightweight. But surely, you shouldn't believe such rumors. Inflatable kayaks are rugged and sturdy too. In fact, some have a higher weight threshold than your average hardshell kayaks.
Inflatable kayaks are built to withstand bumps and bumps. Thanks to drop-stitch's construction, you can get an inflatable kayak model in which small fibers interlock during inflation to create a tough surface. The outer layer, too, is built to last from strong rubber and PVC material.
Meanwhile, stability is ensured by the wider base. Largely, therefore, inflatable kayaks are even more durable and stable than traditional hardshell kayaks making them perfect for both experienced and beginner kayakers alike.
Remember, though, that all small watercraft have a tipping point and also for standing up during fishing activities etc, some inflatable kayak floors may not handle the pressure well.
Can you stand up in an inflatable kayak?
For standing up, during fishing activities etc, you want to get kayaks with hard floors to handle the pressure. Inflatable kayak brands come in varying degrees of floor hardness.' If you look thoroughly, you can get your mitts on a suitable kayak.
Alternatively, you can just buy additional hard floor inserts or make one from plywood or other materials following DIY videos on YouTube. If you decide to buy a hard floor insert, consider an easy-to-inflate model built with drop-stitch technology to inflate to high, strong pressure units.
Some inflatable kayaks are hard to control in rough waters because they are lighter. But again, thanks to technological advancements, with inflatable kayaks, you get what you pay for.
Cheap vs Expensive inflatable kayaks
If you want something for use around a lakeside dock, you can get $200 inflatable kayaks online and elsewhere and if you want something for use in choppy waters, you can get kayaks with more than one layer of fabric, airtight valves, separate inflation chambers and so on to guarantee safety.
More than one layer of the fabric guarantees an extra layer of protection against puncture or tear when you come in contact with sharp rocks or a stray stick. But if the rock/stick manages to penetrate the fabric, there's the separate inflation chamber design so that if one chamber is affected, you still have 2 or 3 others to keep you afloat long enough till you find help.
Airtight valves ensure that once air goes in, it won't come out. So, you can kayak knowing that the boat won't deflate on its own. The expensive inflatable kayaks with multi-layered fabric, separate inflation chambers, and airtight valves are therefore just as tough and durable as regular hard shells.
What to keep in mind therefore when shopping around for inflatable kayak?
Uses for an inflatable Kayak
All types of kayaking, be it cruising down a slow-moving river, taking on choppy seas, exploring the lakeside dock, etc are possible in an inflatable kayak.
For use in gentle lakes and ponds, the inexpensive $200 kayaks from will just do but if you are looking to put some miles on your kayak, such cheap inflatables won't do - consider their solid built, expensive counterparts.
Materials, too, determines success. You want a fabric that is durable enough to withstand knocks and bumps and light enough for easy folding for transportation and storage.
The most common fabric types include Hypalon, PVC, and Nylon. Hypalon, while not as abrasion-resistant as PVC, is strong, durable, and resistant to chemicals, UV rays, and horrible weather elements. PVC on the other hand while super resistant to abrasion is not eco-friendly. Nylon is like PVC but without a heavy impact on the environment.
The best inflatable kayaks can accommodate more than 3 peddlers. Keep in mind, though, that size determines the type of kayaking, for example, fishing and overnight camping trips, require kayaks with good internal storage space.
But while looking at size, don't forget portability. You want a decent-sized kayak with a carry bag, shoulder straps and a handle for easy transportation. The weight too, shouldn't be too much.
PSI RatingThe PSI rating is an indication of how durable and string the board construction is. The higher the pressure unit rating, the more rigid the kayak can become to deliver the performance you want.
StabilityFor beginners, if you want more stability, go for inflatables with wider bases. For experienced kayakers who desire maneuverability and speed, consider the narrow and long models. Keep in mind though that for stability, the length and width can't be too big.
ComfortWhat determines the level of comfort are the seats and the internal space. You want inflatables with adjustable seats so you can move back and forth to find a suitable sitting position. Backrest and padding too help sit more naturally increasing comfort.
Meanwhile, for peddlers, you need enough leg room because cramping your knees can get uncomfortable so fast. Consider kayaks with adjustable seats and footrest so you can make more room for your legs. Lastly, consider getting a larger kayak than the intended number of users.
Examples of the best inflatable kayak brands
Are you looking for the best single inflatable kayak? Consider the AdvancedFrame model, the Seylor Quikpak, or the Itiwit Strenfir X500 1-person. All these are stable, durable construction for use in calm, slow-moving waters.
For tandem kayaks, consider the Sea Eagle 330. It is built for Whitewater activities. It has ample cargo space, and can handle up to 500 pounds. The material is K-80 polymyer, extra thick and durable and the kayak weighs only 26 pounds for easy transportation inside a drawstring bag.
For a really good deal on a cheaper kayak that will give you your money's worth check out the the Intex Explorer K2.
If you are looking for a kayak that will last for years and be totally reliable on big lakes and long river trips look into the AIRE Lynx II. These are all designed with fast-speed hulls, self-bailing drain holes, and 2-layer fabric for all-round use in slow-moving rivers, whitewater, and distance paddling.
Some inflatable kayaks we suggest.
A great tandem kayak and a reasonable price. This lightweight kayak is durably built with PVC and has a polyester core. This kayak offers a super comfy ride with the dual inflatable seats complimented with footrests for both paddlers.
How are the kayaks inflated and deflated?
Although inflatable kayaks are damn easier to transport than traditional hardshell kayaks, the inflating and deflating routine can take a significant part of your time if you don't have the right tool.
With an air pump, it can take up to 10 minutes but a lot longer if you don't have one. You can go with either an electric air pump, a foot pump or a hand pump based on your personal preference, time and location. Electric air pumps hold the advantage of being faster and do not require much effort from the user.
Keep in mind the type of valves on your kayak to ensure you get the correct valve adapter. You will find this information on the manufacturer's instruction manual.
Step-by-step guide to inflating your kayak
- Take the kayak out of the duffel bag, unfold and lay it out flat.
- Inflate the floor chamber first: Most kayaks have 3 chambers - floor and 2 on the side walls. Inflate the floor chamber first to set the base for the other chambers.
- Partially fill each wall to 60-70 percent
- Ensure the floor stays at the center, slightly move the walls if you have to.
- Pump the side walls to 100%
- Next, fill and position the seats if you have inflatable seats then insert the skeg if your kayak has one.
Be it cruising down a slow-moving river, exploring calm lakes and bays or taking on choppy seas, and so on, there's an inflatable kayak model just for you thanks to advancements in inflatables technology. Inflatable kayaks are lightweight yet durable and stable watercraft you can easily transport in your duffel bag to your kayaking spot.
Just remember to keep yours clean after use: Wash and air the board out to dry lest it gets damp, smelly, and even damaged in the worst case.