Inflatable Kayak Pros and Cons
Kayakers tend to have polarized opinions about inflatable kayaks. They either love them or they hate them. There’s no middle ground.
Having started off with kayaking exclusively in hard shell kayaks, we know where a lot of the negativity emanates from.
That’s plain, old misinformation folks.
Most people who dislike inflatable kayaks have never used one themselves.
We have. And we are not going back to hard shells. Ever.
What most people feel that they know is just based on hearsay or something that they read somewhere.
Like inflatable kayaks are not durable enough or inflatable kayaks cannot track well.
None of these are true.
Having said that, your choice of a kayak is a very personal decision that must take into account both pros and cons of inflatable kayaks.
Deflates for storage: Inflatable kayaks be deflated after use and tucked away into a tote, in your car or even under the bed. They are perfect for apartments or urban dwellers where space is a premium.
Portable: Ever hauled a hard shell kayak on to a roof rack? Or on to a trailer? That’s back breaking work. Now think about repeating the whole exercise after you have rowed or paddled for four to five hours. That’s a hard shell kayak for you. An inflatable kayak on the other hand can be stored in your car and inflated in less than 10 minutes near the lake itself. If you are headed to international waters, inflatables are part of your luggage allowance. You don’t need to pay anything additional.
Durable: The inflatable kayaks of today rival their hard shell siblings in terms of durability. Materials like Hypalon coated Neoprene have changed the way these recreational boats withstand wear and tear. Even if you cannot afford a Hypalon kayak, modern PVC kayaks are pretty durable as well. They are usually coated with multiple UV protectants that prevent premature aging. With regular maintenance, there is no reason why an inflatable kayak can last as long as a hard shell one would.
Cheap: Inflatable kayaks have always been cheaper than hard shell ones. However, it is only recently that the gap in performance was bridged by the introduction of newer materials like Hypalon and Nitrylon. Today, it is quite possible to get a great inflatable kayak for almost 50% of the cost of a hard shell one. Please be aware that the quality of the kayak itself depends greatly on the price.
Reliable: Inflatable kayaks are easy to maneuver, track perfectly and offer you great control in all types of waters. Contrary to what’s often said about them, they don’t rupture or puncture that easily. The quality of the kayak is what maters the most. If you are looking to use the kayak in waters with plenty of underwater obstacles, then you cannot be looking at cheap kayaks in the sub-$200 price bracket. Spend at least $1000 and you can get an inflatable that performs as well as a hard shell.
Lightweight: Even when inflated, one person can easily carry an inflatable kayak to the water and back to the car. Deflate it and it weighs as much as a folded blanket. And they have maximum load bearing capacities as high as 650 pounds, which is amazing.
Versatile: There’s an inflatable kayak for everyone. They are available in different sizes, shapes and specifications. There are sit-on models, sit-in models, open-styled ones, solo kayaks, canoes, family kayaks, stand up paddle boards and self-bailing ones. These are versatile and can be used for everything from paddling, rowing, white waters and fishing.
It wouldn’t be fair if we didn’t list out some of the potential problems that you might encounter in the water with inflatable kayaks. We have used them around the world and these are the niggles that we feel limit their ability somewhat.
Speed: This might be partially true. In some scenarios, some inflatable kayaks cannot match a hard shell one in terms of speed. That’s partially due to the slightly wider base that these kayaks have. The wider base makes them more stable. The tradeoff is the speed.
But speed is not the most important variable that determines performance.
The conditions, the water, the wind and your skills, everything matters when it comes to how much distance you can cover in a specific time frame.
In great conditions, you can cover almost 10-15 miles a day in an inflatable, unless you have tons of gear on board which can slow you down. Otherwise, on an average, you can cover 6-8 miles a day and work your way upwards as you gain upper body strength and some kayaking expertise. Also, there are some hard shell kayaks as well which are overly bulky and sluggish.
If you are looking for an inflatable kayak purely for speed, you might want to check out the Sea Eagle Razorlite with its tough hull and sleek design.
They might pop: The chance of your kayak popping after hitting a sharp object is rare. Especially with good quality kayaks made of Hypalon, nylon or even PVC. They have a tough outer shell that bounces off sharp surfaces. But at times, you might encounter sharp rocks which can rupture even hard shell kayak hulls. If your inflatable pops after hitting one of these, use the patching kit that allows you to patch the tear easily on-the-fly. To reduce the risk of this happening, be aware of the route you plan to take and always maneuver around underground obstacles.
You can’t do the eskimo roll: True. You can’t do the eskimo roll with an inflatable kayak in normal circumstances. But with some additions, it’s achievable. You will need thigh straps, a narrower kayak and days of practice. We don’t recommend that you try this on the water though. Just practice in your pool to get an idea of how easy or how difficult this is. If you are taking your kayak in white water rapids, then you don’t really need to do the eskimo roll. If your kayak topples or you are thrown into the water, you can very easily get right back in.
We feel that none of the cons mentioned here are deal breakers. In fact, the pros far outweigh the cons.
What is your experience with inflatable kayaks? We would love to hear about them. And if you are still on the fence about buying one, go ahead and give it a try. We are sure that you won’t be disappointed with it.