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So you’ve been kayaking a few times and want to invest in your own kayak but suddenly you find yourself torn between an inflatable kayak and a hardshell. Hardshell vs inflatable – that’s the battle.
With so many models of hard shell kayak and inflatable kayak available and with the rising popularity of inflatable kayaks made from durable materials, it is hard to know where to start.
Don’t worry. The inflatable vs hardshell debate is a hot topic amongst even the most experienced kayakers so we’re here to help clarify things before you get started. We’ll look at hard shells and inflatable yaks to see if one is better for you than the other.
Inflatable Kayaks Explained
Inflatable kayaks are exactly what you imagine – kayaks that are inflated and deflated before and after use. But are inflatable kayaks worth it? Looking at hardshell vs inflatable kayaks, the winner probably depends on your lifestyle.
The inflatable kayak has become increasingly popular over recent years, particularly as advancements in technology have allowed them to become progressively similar to hardshells in terms of performance.
As with most things in life, there are pros and cons to weigh up with an inflatable kayak so we’ve broken them down for you with a quick overview, so you can analyze the hardshell vs inflatable kayak argument for yourself.
Weight & Size
Inflatable kayaks are generally lighter and easier to carry than hardshell kayaks. Don’t be fooled into thinking that because an inflatable kayak is lighter, they’re weaker. In fact, an inflatable kayak can actually have a higher weight capacity than some traditional kayaks.
Inflatable kayaks also pack down to fit inside a duffle bag or large backpack. This means an inflatable kayak is easier to store at home and a lot easier to transport (no roof rack required). You can take an inflatable kayak hiking or even fit them in a suitcase on vacation.
An inflatable kayak’s weight is also something worth considering, as some of them may not be as light as you’d expect for an inflatable kayak, and can often weigh close to some hard shells.
Some inflatable yaks are more portable than others. But if you lack storage space at home inflatable yaks can be a no brainer.
Durability & Stability
Inflatable kayaks are designed specifically to withstand knocks and bumps. They bounce off rocks and hard surfaces in the event of a collision, which makes sense for beginners and river paddling.
Similar to Inflatable Stand Up Paddle Boards, the best inflatable kayaks will be made with “drop-stitch technology” meaning that small fibers inside the board interlock whilst the board is inflated in order to create a tough surface.
Similar to Inflatable Stand Up Paddle Boards, the best inflatable kayaks will be made with high pressure “drop-stitch technology” meaning that small fibers inside the board interlock whilst the board is inflated in order to create a tough surface.
Meanwhile, the outer layer of an inflatable kayak is made from durable rubber and PVC (imagine life boats and whitewater rafts). Inflatable kayaks are therefore generally more durable than hardshell kayaks.
Video: Inflatable Kayak Torture Test
Don’t believe the rumors about inflatable kayaks being less stable than hardshell kayaks. Usually, inflatable kayaks are made with a wider base, so they’re actually more stable. This makes them perfect for beginners and experienced kayakers.
Fishing kayaks can also be found in both the hardshell kayak and inflatable kayak market and often benefit from heavy duty synthetic rubber materials for durability. Inflatable yaks made for fishing can be useful as they can easily fit in a small space, unlike their large hard shell counterparts.
On the other hand, if you have the space and want to use your kayak everyday, a hardshell kayak could be the way to go.
You Get What You Pay For…
Many people are attracted to inflatable kayaks because they think they will have a lower price tag than hardshells. This can be true that hardshells can cost more money. But it does depend on what kind of performance you require from your hardshell vs inflatable kayak and what models and brands you are interested in.
High-end brands and inflatable kayaks designed for high performance in rapids and rough seas will probably cost just as much as a hard shell kayak whereas a basic inflatable kayak designed for beginners and calm waters will probably work out cheaper.
Inflating & Deflating
Although transporting an inflatable kayak to the water will be far easier than dragging the heavy hard shell counterparts, you will need to inflate and deflate an inflatable kayak before and after use. This can take up to ten minutes with a pump but a lot longer without. You may also have inflatable seats to think about with an inflatable kayak, something hard shells probably won’t have.
It can also be tricky to get the correct level of air into your inflatable kayak for optimum performance. Again, something you won’t have to think about with hard shells because of the rigid frame. This is measured in PSI (pounds per square inch).
The higher the PSI rating, the more rigid your inflatable kayak is able to become. In order to ensure your inflatable kayak performs to the level you want, you need to pay close attention to this before heading out on the water. Hard shells, on the other hand, are ready to launch.
You also need to make sure that you wash, air and completely dry your inflatable kayak thoroughly before packing it away as otherwise it will become damp, damaged (develop mold) and downright smelly, unlike their hard shell counterparts.
Video: How Long Does It Tak To Inflate An Inflatable Kayak?
Because they are lighter than hard shells, an inflatable kayak can sometimes be harder to control. Generally speaking, rigid kayaks perform better in rough waters for this reason.
However, as technological advancements are made, inflatable kayaks are becoming increasingly effective in all sorts of water and there are several models of inflatable kayak on the market today that cater for rapids and open seas.
You just need to bear this in mind when selecting your inflatable kayak, especially if you’re a beginner.
Hardshell Kayaks Explained
Hardshell kayaks are the traditional types of kayak. These hard shell kayaks are made from wood, plastic, fiberglass or other composite materials, with a rigid frame. This is unlike an inflatable kayak, which tends to feature synthetic rubber or PVC and plastic polymers, but sometimes they can be of a similar quality.
Each of these durable materials have their advantages and disadvantages, but for the purpose of comparing hardshell with inflatable kayaks, let’s consider them one big hardshell family for now.
Ready To Go
Despite being heavier and bulkier in transit than an inflatable kayak, hardshell kayaks make for a swifter transition to the water. There is no need to inflate the kayak, so you can set off without delay, thanks to the rigid frame and durable materials.
Likewise, once you’re done you only need to transport the kayak back to the car. This is not only energy-saving and more convenient but also allows for more time enjoying the water.
This depends on the model you are using and your own capability as a kayaker, but many find that hardshell kayaks give you better control than an inflatable kayak.
If you’re keen on open sea kayaking or fancy yourself as a rapid kayaker, a hardshell kayak is well worth considering.
Not Particularly Light
Wood, plastic or fiberglass all differ in weight, but hardshell kayaks are all heavier than inflatable kayaks regardless. Carrying them to and from the water (as well as from the house to the car) can sometimes be a two-man job. They are not as easy or convenient as inflatable kayaks in that respect.
Hardshell kayaks usually have a lower weight capacity than inflatable kayaks so you need to be aware of this when picking gear to take with you. Based on comparable size, inflatable yaks will tend to have the highest weight capacity because of their heavy duty construction and increased buoyancy.
Unlike an inflatable kayak, hardshell kayaks cannot and will not change shape or size. You therefore need to take storage and transportation into account. Do you have space for a hard shell kayak in your apartment, garage or storage space? Can you fit a roof rack on your car? Hardshell kayaks cost more in storage and transportation costs, such as the cost of a roof rack or a trailer.
If you have the means (and are committed enough to kayaking) to make this work, a hardshell kayak is by no means a deal breaker. But it is something to take into account.
Remember that a hard shell kayak will mean more weight to carry to and from the water, which could be difficult for one person, which could mean hardshell kayaks cost more in energy too.
Maintenance & Durability
Generally speaking, hardshell kayaks require more maintenance and upkeep than inflatable kayaks. Without the rubber exterior and flexible, durable materials of inflatable kayaks, a hardshell kayak is more susceptible to bumps, knocks and scrapes without the proper care.
Once again, wood, plastic and fiberglass vary in durability and maintenance requirements. Wood requires more maintenance in general whereas plastic is more resilient and less likely to get damaged. However, when a plastic hard shell kayak does get damaged, it is more expensive to repair.
Fiberglass is the most resilient of the three durable materials and is less likely to require repairs but what you save in maintenance and repairs, you will pay for upfront when purchasing this hardshell kayak.
Hardshell vs Inflatable Kayaks: Which Is Best?
As you can see, there are pros and cons to both the inflatable kayak and the hard kayak and both can provide a fun and safe time on various types of water. So the winner of the inflatable kayak vs hardshell kayak battle is down to personal choice. Maybe you like the portability of the inflatable kayak or perhaps you prefer the rigid frame of the hard kayak.
An inflatable kayak can pack down small and can be taken anywhere any time, whilst hardshells require more thought and preparation (roof racks etc). Inflatable kayaks can be harder to control than a hard kayak (especially in rough waters) but an inflatable kayak can offer more stability than hardshells.
For a beginner looking for an all-round kayak for predominantly calm waters, perhaps an inflatable kayak is best for you. If you’re a seasoned kayaker with access to a garage and don’t want to spend time inflating and deflating your boat, you may want to stick to a hardshell kayak.
Once you’ve decided between an inflatable kayak and a hard shell kayak, there are plenty of fantastic, high-performing models to choose from in both categories. So don’t panic – the right kayak is out there just waiting for you.
What type of kayak do you have, and why do you prefer it? Tell us about it below…