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Inflatable kayaks can be convenient boats if you’re looking for something portable and easy to store. But you probably want to know if they have anything else going for them aside from portability.
Are inflatable kayaks good? We have put together this quick guide with some of the pros and cons of inflatable kayaks to help you make up your own mind.
An inflatable kayak can be an excellent vessel if you want to explore remote waters that are off the beaten track.
You can hike to a secluded launch site and discover hidden beauty spots and deserted beaches that you can enjoy all to yourself.
Many inflatable kayaks can be carried in a backpack so it can be easier to launch from backcountry locations for a quieter and more relaxing experience.
Inflatable kayaks tend to have higher load capacities than hardshell equivalents. This can make them ideal for loading up with overnight gear and heading off on a kayak camping adventure.
Because these types of kayaks can handle a variety of water conditions, they can be ideal for multi-day river trips where you might encounter mild to moderate rapids as well as flatwater.
While you might not think so, most inflatable kayaks are very safe and extremely durable. Because of the flexibility of the materials, inflatable kayaks can easily bounce off of rocks and logs without any problems.
The high level of durability makes them ideal for beginners and families who might be prone to the occasional bump or scrape.
Most inflatable kayaks are made with more than one air chamber. This can give them an added layer of security when it comes to safety.
If one air chamber fails or suffers a puncture, the remaining air chambers should be unaffected. This means you’ll stay afloat and can get yourself to shore to fix the punctured chamber.
Another benefit of these durable boats is that they can usually be easily repaired using a patch kit. While punctures in inflatable kayaks are rare, the good news is you can usually fix most punctures by yourself, with no professional skills required.
Inflatable kayaks are very stable, thanks to their design. Because they are filled with air, inflatable kayaks are incredibly buoyant. This can make them ideal for families with children or dogs.
Inflatable kayaks can also be great for larger paddlers, combining stability, buoyancy, and high load capacity.
Most inflatable kayaks are wider than comparable hardshell kayaks. This adds to their stability and makes them more difficult to tip over.
However, there are different types of inflatable kayaks, with hulls designed for different types of water, just like hardshell kayaks.
For example, some kayaks have flat bottoms that can offer a high level of stability on flatwater. You may find others with more V-shaped hulls for increased speed or some with more rounded hulls to handle rougher water.
One of the best features of an inflatable kayak is that it is easy to carry. This is probably one of the main selling features of inflatable kayaks. They are also lightweight so you can usually carry them to and from the water on your own.
Being lightweight makes inflatable kayaks much more portable than traditional boats. And it means you can load and unload your kayak by yourself, which you might not be able to do with a traditional full-size boat.
Another fantastic benefit of inflatable kayaks is that they can be deflated and packed up into a compact size. Most inflatable kayaks can pack down to the size of a suitcase. Some can be carried in backpack-style bags.
These compact boats are convenient for storage and transportation. They can fit in the trunk of a small car or on the back seats. You can even store them in a closet at home. This makes inflatable kayaks ideal if you live in a condo or apartment and don’t have a garage.
When deflated and packed, inflatable kayaks can even be carried on public transportation, which can be perfect if you live downtown in a large city.
Or if you want to travel to far-off lands, or across the country, you can usually check an inflatable kayak as luggage on an aircraft (airline policies vary).
A great advantage of inflatable kayaks is that they are extremely versatile. Most inflatable kayaks can handle a wide range of waters, from flatwater to whitewater.
Some will excel on flatwater and others will excel on whitewater. However, you probably won’t find one that excels on every type of water – it will generally be better at one activity than the other. Good inflatable whitewater kayaks will generally perform best on rapids.
Because of the versatility of these kayaks, they can be ideal if you like to paddle in different locations and different types of water.
Inflatable kayaks can usually be at home on rivers, bays, lakes, ponds, and creeks. Some of them can also handle oceans, surf, and big whitewater.
Another string to their versatility bow is that they can be used for various activities. As well as recreational paddling, inflatable kayaks can be great for fishing. There are many inflatable kayaks out there that are designed specifically for fishing, with plenty of fishing features to keep the most avid angler happy.
We have a guide to some of the best inflatable fishing kayaks.
Inflatable kayaks can also be used for (as we’ve mentioned) kayak camping. And they can be great for running rapids, as long as the kayak is specifically designed to handle rapids).
Because of the wide (and generally shorter) hulls, inflatable kayaks are not known for being very fast on the water. They can be a lot slower than hardshell equivalents.
As well as being extra wide, the materials can also play a part in slowing down their speed. The flexible nature of the fabric that helps to make them tough and durable is what can cause reduced speed. The materials generally don’t offer much glide.
However, there are some inflatable kayaks that are designed for increased speeds. These tend to feature drop-stitch construction in the floor.
The drop-stitch technology helps to provide a more rigid surface, similar to a hardshell boat, which can improve speed and glide. But you may still notice that drop-stitch kayaks are still not as speedy as comparable hardshell kayaks.
In strong winds and currents, being lightweight can be a hindrance. Inflatable kayaks tend to be affected by wind and currents because of their lightweight, air-filled nature.
This can make it more difficult to stay on course. It can also require more effort from you to paddle straight and counter the effects of the wind or current.
Most inflatable kayaks come with removable skegs or fins that are designed to help with tracking performance by anchoring the stern of the kayak in the water. But in strong winds, you might find this doesn’t help as well as you would like.
A downside of inflatable kayaks is that they take time to set up. After you’ve unloaded and unpacked your inflatable kayak you will sometimes have to spend about 15 minutes inflating it.
As well as the inflation time, you will also have to spend time deflating it before you can pack it up to go home. However, in addition to the deflation, you will also have to wait for the kayak to dry.
Inflatable kayaks should be completely dry before you pack them away for storage. It can often take several hours for an inflatable kayak to dry completely. If you don’t spend time drying your kayak before you store it, it can lead to mold and mildew building up on the material, which can damage your kayak.
Inflatable kayaks can be difficult to control in some conditions, especially if you’re a new paddler.
Coastal winds, ocean currents, and river currents can sometimes affect the performance of inflatable kayaks, particularly the tracking performance.
Because of the shape of the hulls on most inflatable kayaks, they are generally not known for having great tracking performance, even in the best conditions.
Some narrower inflatable kayaks that have V-shaped hulls may offer better tracking and be easier to control than some of the wider inflatable kayaks that have flat bottoms.
Many inflatable kayaks have upturned bows and rocker in the hull to help with performance in rough water. This can be a disadvantage on flatwater, as there is less of the hull in the water which can make paddling in a straight line more difficult.
Despite being wider than most comparable traditional kayaks, the amount of usable space on the deck can be significantly less. This is usually due to the side walls of inflatable kayaks being much wider, which minimizes the floor space.
For example, the bottom of the hull can be significantly wider than the width of the floor when the boat is inflated.
This can be particularly noticeable when it comes to storage space on deck. It can also be noticeable on some tandem inflatable kayaks, as these can often have limited room for legs and feet, especially for two taller paddlers.
If you plan to go camping and take a lot of gear, you might find it more comfortable to paddle a tandem kayak on your own to give you more space for your legs and equipment.
Another feature most inflatable kayaks lack is dry storage. Yes, some of the sit-inside inflatable kayaks have storage hatches, but these are not always watertight. Many inflatable sit-on-top kayaks have covered storage areas at the bow and stern, provided by small spray covers.
Dry bags can be an essential accessory for touring in an inflatable kayak, especially if you want to keep any of your gear dry.
Inflatable kayaks are generally not going to last as long as other types of kayaks. Despite having incredible durability (and being easy to repair), an inflatable kayak will probably have a lifespan of around five to 10 years on average. A hardshell boat of any kind will probably last longer than that.
An inflatable kayak can be susceptible to UV damage from the sun if it does not have a UV-protective coating on the exterior fabric. The sun can cause the materials to weaken, which can lead to tears and punctures.
As well as damage from UV light, the heat from the sun can also cause problems for inflatable kayaks. When left inflated in the sun, the heat can cause the air in the chambers to expand. This can lead to overinflation, causing the materials to stretch and potentially burst from the buildup of pressure.
Inflatable kayaks can be great boats. They offer convenience and can let you get out on the water when other types of boats may not be suitable for your lifestyle.
They offer versatility, allowing you to kayak camp and run whitewater in the same boat. Not many hardshell whitewater kayaks have room for camping gear (or any gear).
But inflatable kayaks are not for everyone. If it’s speed and efficiency you’re after, an inflatable kayak is not be the best choice.
Inflatable kayaks can be perfect for beginners. They are very stable in a range of conditions, which can make them convenient for exploring new waterways.
As well as stability, inflatable kayaks also have a high level of durability thanks to the flexible materials used in their construction. This helps them to withstand the bumps and knocks that can be inevitable when learning to paddle.
The compact size that makes inflatable kayaks easy to transport and store is also beneficial for beginners.
Inflatable kayaks can give you a taste of paddling and if you love it, you can invest in a hardshell kayak and all the storage and transportation accessories you’ll need. If you don’t love it, you won’t have a kayak rack and a large kayak taking up space in your garage.
There are many inflatable fishing kayaks on the market. And this is because they can be great for kayak fishing. Compared to a bass boat or heavy fishing kayak, an inflatable fishing kayak can be much easier to carry and launch on your own.
While the thought of an inflatable kayak and a sharp fishing hook together might give you chills, inflatable fishing kayaks are incredibly durable. Most inflatable fishing kayaks are built to handle dropped hooks and tools, sharp fins, and your four-legged buddy’s claws.
Inflatable fishing kayaks are wide, stable, and usually have plenty of features that you would normally find on similar fishing boats, such as mounts for rod holders and other accessories. Some inflatable fishing kayaks are even stable enough for you to stand up on, allowing you to cast more easily.
Another feature that you will often find on inflatable fishing kayaks is non-slip deck pads. As well as providing traction for your feet when you’re standing, they can also help to reduce noise, just as they would on hardshell fishing kayaks. And on inflatable kayaks, the deck pads act as an additional layer of durability.