Inflatable Kayak vs Hard Shell Kayaks

Inflatable Kayak vs Hard Shell Kayaks

If you are a beginner and looking for the perfect kayak for your first kayaking trip, you might find yourself inundated with information overload. Since so many kayakers are spouting out so much conflicting information about different kayak types and their seemingly endless benefits, you might feel totally lost at the end.

If you finally managed to overcome the information overload, you will end up realizing the obvious truth that Hard Shell and Inflatable Kayaks are the two most popular kayaks available in the market and thankfully, they are both beginners’ friendly (Yeah, you can take a sigh of relief!).

Now, both these kayak types have their share of advantages and disadvantages and you need to take a cold and hard look at them before making the final call.

Inflatable Kayaks

As the name suggests, inflatable kayaks are those kayaks that can be inflated and deflated easily. Now previously, people used to look down upon these kayaks because of safety related issues. But thanks to technological advancement, Inflatable kayaks are no longer treated with contempt. They are now being made from superior quality materials and can give Hard Shell kayaks a run the for their money on the performance front.

Pros of inflatable kayaks

1. Cost

Inflatable kayaks don’t cost you an arm and a leg. They cost way less than a good quality HardShell Kayak but just because they are available for the cheap, it does not mean that they offer unimpressive performance. Quite the contrary instead! Moreover, you don’t have to shell out money every now and then to keep the kayak in its pristine condition. So, if you have a tight budget, just put your trust on Inflatable kayaks without any hesitation.

2. Performance

The main benefits of an Inflatable kayak is that it offers more stability. If you are going to paddle for the first time, stability is what you should be looking for in a kayak. With less rocker motion, Inflatable kayak is ideal for recreational paddling. However, the performance level of individual Inflatable kayak can vary depending on the brand and the material used.

3. Transportation

Loading a heavy kayak onto the roof of a car takes a lot of muscle power and more often than, you will require an extra pair of hands while doing so. This is the reason why some solo kayakers prefer Inflatable Kayaks because they are very easy to transport. Extremely lightweight, Inflatable Kayaks can be moved around easily. Deflate them first and then tuck them in the trunk of your car. It is that easy!

4. Easy to Store

Inflatable kayaks are known for their easy storability. Just deflate them and you can easily fit them inside storage bags. If you are travelling long distances, Inflatable kayaks can make your trip super easy and relaxing.

5. Durable 

Contrary to what most people perceive, Inflatable kayaks are extremely long-lasting. The biggest fears of all kayakers are –

  • What will happen if my inflatable kayak hit a rock?
  • Will the impact create a hole in it?

Nope, inflatable kayaks can easily withstand impacts and bumps. Just make sure that the inflatable kayak that you have chosen is made with the latest drop-stitch technology. This technology adds the required level of toughness to the kayak so that it can easily withstand small impacts. Moreover, the outer layer of inflatable kayaks is made from strong and durable PVC.

6. Comfort

If you have a bad back, you must always choose an inflatable kayak over a Hard Shell Kayak. Sitting on a hard surface for hours is challenging even for those who don’t have any such back issues; therefore you can imagine how uncomfortable it could be for you. Inflatable kayaks have soft floor and that means, you can paddle it for hours without feeling numbness in your feet. The reclinable seats are great for a comfortable and relaxing paddling.

Cons of Inflatable Kayaks

1. Don’t Expect Too much from a Cheaper Model

Remember the old saying – ‘If you pay peanuts, you will get monkeys’. That means, if you have purchased a $200 inflatable kayak, you should not expect it to serve you for 5 years.  You can use it for 2 summers at max depending on its condition after being used for the very first time. So, don’t go for the cheap one when you are planning to purchase an Inflatable kayak.

2. Can’t Protect Against Sharpe Objects

Good quality inflatable kayaks can withstand impacts but that does not mean that you should intentionally hit the kayak against sharp objects because impact with sharp objects can always punch a hole in the kayak. Try to avoid all sharp objects and debris that are often found on rivers as much as possible. However, it is unlikely that an inflatable kayak can get damaged easily by one or two collisions but repeated impacts can cause serious damage. For the same reason, dragging them across gravel is not a good idea at all.

3. Inflating Takes a Lot of Time

For the first few times, inflating and deflating a kayak may not seem that much of an inconvenience but this is bound to make you feel impatience later on. Inflating a kayak with a pump can take as much as 10 minutes and now imagine inflating it without a pump. That would take even more time.

There are other issues too. You need to know the correct air pressure level that you have to maintain in the kayak to get the optimal performance. If you pump too much air, it might make your kayak too rigid and difficult to maneuver.

Moreover, you should not forget to clean the kayak inside out every now and then otherwise it will gain dirt and can become smelly.

4. Control

Controlling an inflatable kayak can sometimes become a nightmare. Since they are very lightweight, it is extremely hard to gain control over them. They are ideal for rough water but they are definitely not a good choice for Stillwater. However, things have changed recently and it has changed for good. Modern inflatable kayaks are made from durable and sturdy materials and thus making them ideal for all kinds of kayaking excursions.

Hard Shell Kayaks

Hard Shell kayaks are basically traditional kayaks that made from strong materials like fiberglass, plastic or wood. Sometimes, they are made from composite materials too to give them strength and add to their durability. Just like an inflatable kayak, Hard Shell Kayak has its share of advantages and disadvantages. Here we are going to analyze the pros and cons of Hard Shell Kayaks so that you can make a better decision at the end –

Pros of Hard Shell Kayaks

1. Durable

No matter what model of Hard Shell Kayak you choose at the end, you can be certain of one thing and that is, it is going to serve you for a long time to come. The longevity of a Hard Shell Kayak depends on the material.

2. Setting It Up Easy

Hard Shell Kayaks don’t require any setup. There is no need to pump air in it like in the case with inflatable kayaks. They are all ready to hit the water. All you have to do is to unload it from a truck and there you go.

3. Performance

Performance wise, Hard Shell kayaks are easy to maneuver. They are really fast on water. If you are making a plan for whitewater kayaking, Hard Shell kayaks are your best bet. They are known for their formidable performance.

Cons of Hard Shell Kayaks

1. Maintenance

Contrary to what most people believe, Hard Shell kayaks need more maintenance. Since their exterior don’t have any rubber padding, impacts with debris or submerged objects can leave scratch marks on its surface. Moreover, the durability and the performance of hard shell kayaks vary based on the material used to manufacture the kayak. Wide range of materials is used to manufacture Hard Shell kayaks but the most popular of them are – Fibreglass, plastic and wood. Plastic seems to offer more elasticity and it does not get damaged easily. But on the flipside, if a Plastic Hard Shell kayak gets damaged somehow, you will have to shell out more money to get it repaired properly.

Hard Shell Kayaks made from fiberglass offers robust performance. This material adds strength to the structure and at the same time, repairing would not cost you a fortune. But on the flipside, fiberglass Hard Shell kayaks are extremely costly.

2. Uncomfortable

The lack of comfort is certainly one of the biggest drawbacks of hard shell kayaks. Most hard shell kayaks offer little to nothing to keep you comfortable in the entire journey. There is almost zero support for your back. Its edges are hard and that means, chances are quite high that Hard Shell Kayaks may not be ideal for people with bad backs.

3. Storage and Transportation

As you can understand, you can’t change the shape or size of a hard shell kayaks. There is little room for keeping all your gears. Transportation is also a major issue with Hard Shell kayaks. They are heavy and can’t be folded like an inflatable kayak. Dragging them across gravel will need muscle power.

So, these are the main advantages and disadvantages of Inflatable and Hard Shell Kayaks. We have analyzed both these kayak types in detail. Now it is up to you to make the final decision.

Posted by
Arthur G. Moore

Arthur G. Moore is a veteran paddler. He has over 10 years of whitewater kayaking experience in his kitty. When he was young, he used to love kayaking in rapid III and rapid IV but as time went on, he decided to concentrate mainly on covering long distances on a standard touring kayak. He is currently working as a senior editor for Kayak Manual.

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