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Are Inflatable Kayaks Durable?

Are Inflatable Kayaks Durable

It was during a tour of Alaska that we decided to explore the Kenai Fjords on Kayak. It was an impromptu decision and one that we will never regret for the rest of our lives.

The fact that we struggled throughout the two-hour paddle in the icy waters didn’t deter us from embracing Kayaking as a getaway hobby.

It’s been four years and we have kayaked in some of the best destinations around the world. Many a time, we meet newbie Kayakers on the waters and most of them are renting equipment to try out, which is exactly the way we started off.

A lot of them have one common question in their minds before investing in a kayak.

Are Inflatable kayaks as good as hard shell ones? Are they durable? Do they rip open the moment they brush against a rock?

That’s a very valid question.

But the answer to it, depends on multiple factors to be fair.

We have used inflatables for more than two years and still own a few that we use occasionally. None of them have ever torn or ripped in the water.

So, here are our two cents on the evergreen inflatable vs. hard shell debate.

The Perks of an Inflatable Kayak

There are many reasons why an inflatable kayak is more appealing than a rigid one.

You can inflate it when needed, deflate it after use and tuck it into a duffel bag before stowing it away.

It is light weight. Not as expensive as a hard shell one. It is easier to store, to carry.

But if it’s going to tear the moment you encounter some rapids, then it’s clearly not worth the $300 or whatever the average price is.

The fact is that just like a rigid kayak or any other boat, there are both, good and bad quality inflatables.

It all boils down to what you are willing to spend and what your kayaking goals are.

Most beginners are looking to get a hang of things. Maybe gain some core strength as they learn to track and control the boat in different conditions.

Others just want to head out to the lake, staying close to the shore and fish. Both these scenarios are common with beginners.

A mid-level inflatable kayak that is wider and has sides that resemble a pontoon, is just perfect for beginners. It is extremely stable, rarely tips and will not rip while beaching.

The materials used in the construction and the multiple air pockets that are created due to the design allow the kayak to bounce off any rocks or other sharp obje

How to Pick a Durable Inflatable Kayak

To be able to pick a durable inflatable, you need to know a little about its construction.

Typically, there is an inner layer of woven fabric (Nylon or Polyester) that is coated with either PVC or DuPont’s Hypalon or a newer type of rigid material called Nitrylon.

The inner fabric tube may either have an inflated outer layer surrounding it, somewhat like the tube in a tire or, it can be multiple layers of the fabrics closely glued together, like a tubeless tyre.

Each material used for the final outer layer has its own pros and cons.

PVC

Inflatables with PVC coated Nylon are typically entry level models. These are cheap, excellent for recreational use and can last for years with basic aftercare. If you are a beginner, this is most likely the combination of materials that you are looking at.

Pros

  • Cheap, tried and tested material
  • Has been around for decades
  • Lightweight, easy to patch
  • Available in a wide range of colors

Cons

  • Not UV resistant. If you wish to extend the lifespan of your PVC inflatable, you treating it with a UV resistant spray (303) before heading out into the sun.
  • Also, PVC is not chemical resistant.

 

Hypalon

Hypalon is the slightly expensive PVC alternative. It is a type of rubber manufactured by DuPont and has been used widely in the construction of inflatable boats, roofing solutions and the likes. A Hypalon inflatable kayak is more flexible in the water and usually carries a 10 to 15-year manufacturer warranty due to the durability of the material. Brands like AIRE and Tributary have a range of Hypalon kayaks on offer.

Pros

  • Excellent UV, chemical and mold resistance
  • Expands and contracts when exposed to varying temperatures
  • Is softer and lighter than PVC
  • Easy to patch
  • Used by the US coastguard

Cons

  • Almost 100% more expensive than PVC
  • Not as rigid as some types of PVC and hence, may not be the best option in a whitewater scenario

 

Nitrylon

Nitrylon is the newest kid on the block. It was first introduced by Innova Kayaks as part of their endeavor to phase out the use of PVC which has been getting some battering off late due to its less-than-desirable environmental credentials.

It is touted as being more abrasion, puncture and chemical resistant than PVC.

Pros

  • Hard, puncture resistant material
  • Tougher than PVC
  • Easier to patch
  • Better performance in extreme weather conditions

Cons

  • Heavier
  • More expensive
  • Very recent entrant into the market and only a few manufacturers offering it

To sum it up, PVC is the ideal inflatable kayak material for beginners and recreational kayakers. Some manufacturers even offer high end semi-rigid PVC models that can also be used for whitewater and rapids. So, you have a whole range of products in a variety of price points (and colors) to choose from in PVC.

If you are looking at professional use or for competitive sporting events, we would recommend Hypalon. It is more expensive but completely worth every dime you spend on it.

Other Factors to Consider

The durability of course is just one of the factors that you must consider before deciding on a model or a brand. Your height, weight, the room that you need for yourself and your gear, tandem vs. solo, the type of waters you will be paddling in, your budget, the weight of the kayak and the type of kayak (all enclosed, canoe, sit on top, sit-in, stand-up or self-bailing) are some of the other variables that come into play during the selection.

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