You love kayaking and feel right at home on the water. But transporting your kayak to water bodies may pose a challenge. It may be that you simply do not have the space or means to transport or store your kayak. So do you give up kayaking? Not on my watch and certainly not when there are several quality inflatable kayaks on the market. Yes, you read it right!
Kayaking beginners are always surprised when they learn that there are inflatable kayaks. And those who are already aware of inflatable kayaks are wary of potential problems like rips, punctures, or tears and imagine themselves on a sinking kayak in the middle of the water. And that’s a thought best left to the imagination. No one wants to be on a sinking kayak!
But you see, there are a lot of quality kayaks on the market, many of which are made with military-grade materials and offer unparalleled durability. So rest easy as you’ll not be sinking in the middle of the water because these kayaks do not puncture or tear. Also, these kayaks are portable, easy to transport and take up very little space. I must also mention that they generally cost less than standard hard-shell kayaks. I know, it feels like Santa came early.
All inflatable kayaks are not made equal. Let’s take a look at the factors you should consider before buying an inflatable kayak as this will help you make an informed decision and ultimately select the kayak that best meets your needs. But before I proceed, I’d first like to make a comparison between inflatable kayaks and hard-shell kayaks.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Inflatable Kayaks vs. Hard Shell Kayaks
The most apparent advantage that inflatable kayaks have over hard-shell kayaks is increased compactness and portability. You can easily fold inflatable kayaks into carrying bags and carry them. In fact, you can even take them on a plane. This is in contrast to hard-shell kayaks which are cumbersome to transport and usually require you to install expensive roof racks on your car or even attach a trailer to it. And trailers aren’t exactly cheap.
Let’s leave the talk of portability aside. Hard-shell kayaks are also more difficult to store if you don’t have a garage or sufficient space in your house. An inflatable kayak on the other hand is packed in its carry bag which takes up very little space. You can just toss your inflatable kayak in the back of your closet. Storage accomplished!
Now you’ve somehow managed to get your hard-shell kayak to a kayaking location. Bravo! Now there’s the problem of lifting the kayak into the water. Without a good cart, you’ll struggle. You won’t experience this with inflatable kayaks as you inflate them near the water and pull them out on the water when you are done. The ease of transportation and storage that inflatable kayaks offer is unparalleled.
There’s also the matter of money. Inflatable kayaks generally cost less than hard-shell kayaks so you get to save some precious dollars. Price is even one of the main reasons why more and more people are adopting inflatable kayaks. It may be difficult to believe but inflatable kayaks offer some kind of durability you won’t get from a hard-shell kayak.
The major disadvantage of an inflatable kayak is that it is more easily affected by current flow, strong winds, and other natural elements than hard-shell kayaks. Also, hard shell-kayaks do not need time to inflate so that’s another point in their favor. But most inflatable kayaks inflate in a matter of minutes so this isn’t really an issue.
Inflatable kayaks will also require more maintenance than hard-shell kayaks. You’ll need to wash/rinse and air your inflatable kayaks after use to prevent algae growth and foul smell.
Types of Inflatable Kayaks
Different types of inflatable kayaks are emerging on the market as more kayaking enthusiasts continue to use them. The different types of inflatable kayaks are:
Self-Bailing Kayaks: An inflatable kayak is considered to be self-bailing if there are holes or ports on the bottom that allow any water inside the kayak to drain out. This type of inflatable kayak is usually used for whitewater rafting and is better equipped to handle river rapids.
Sit-On-Top Kayaks: As the name implies, you sit on a molded-in depression on top instead of inside the kayak. This type of inflatable kayak is ideal for fishing as it gives you better access to gear and casting,
Sit-Inside Kayak: This is the conventional type of kayak and what comes to the mind of most people when they are thinking of a kayak. There’s an enclosed cockpit in this type of kayak and you get to sit inside the kayak. This design protects you from splashing water and keeps you mostly dry.
Canoe Type: From the name, you can already tell that this type of kayak looks like a canoe. It’s commonly used for fishing as the canoe design offers more space to move around.
Standup Paddle Board: While this isn’t a ‘true’ kayak, you can attach a seat to a paddleboard and enjoy the best of both worlds of kayaking and paddleboarding.
How to Choose Your Inflatable Kayak
Let me start with the elephant in the room. The immediate concern most people have about inflatable kayaks is their durability. There’s even the myth that inflatable kayaks are overgrown pool toys. Well, this is not so.
The real reason why most people buy inflatable kayaks is because of their portability, ease-of-storage-and-transport, and not because of their durability. But this doesn’t mean inflatable kayaks aren’t tough and durable.
Thanks to robust materials, quality construction, multiple air chambers, and air-tight valves, inflatable kayaks are rugged and stronger than ever. They can withstand scrapes, abrasions from rocks, pokes from branches, and so on. In fact, inflatable kayaks sometimes shrug off impacts that may damage a hard-shell kayak.
How durable an inflatable kayak is will depend on the type and quality of materials used.
Most inflatable kayaks in the market are made from PVC because the material is very durable, water-resistant, affordable, and lightweight. It’s common to see manufacturers combining PVC with nylon for increased durability.
Nitrylon™ is another material used to manufacture inflatable kayaks. It is a combination of nitrile synthetic rubber. It has the advantage of increased resistance to puncture and abrasion over PVC. It is also more eco-friendly. However, it’s mostly used only for the underneath of kayaks because it is heavy.
Inflatable kayaks made from hypalon tend to be more expensive as it’s not easy to work with the material. Hypalon resists UV better than PVC. Also, it withstands abrasion better than either Nitrylon™ or PVC.
Where and What Will You Use it For
The water conditions of your kayaking destination must be put into consideration. Most kayaks are designed to perform well in a certain type of water condition. If you intend to kayak on white water, then you’ll need self-bailing kayaks. If you want to be an ocean paddler, then you’ll need a longer/larger kayak that will provide extra support and stability as you navigate large movements of ocean water.
There are also kayaks designed for flat water conditions like lakes. Kayaks for this type of water condition are usually recreational kayaks, as stability and safety aren’t a concern due to the nature of the water. There will be tons of storage for the kayaker to store gear.
An inflatable kayak can be any of the following: recreational kayaks, whitewater kayaks, sea kayaks, and fishing kayaks. You use a sea kayak on ocean water, a whitewater kayak on river rapids, a recreational kayak on a lake, while a fishing kayak can be used in a river or lake. The most important thing about a fishing kayak is to have extra features like rod holders and lots of storage space.
Weight and Portability
Most of the talk about inflatable kayaks is based on the fact they are very portable. Depending on size and material, some inflatable kayaks will be heavier than others. But all inflatable kayaks can be folded and put into carrying bags which will be included in the package. Transportation will be easier if the carry bags have shoulder straps.
It is when you are traveling over long distances (via train, bus, car, or even a plane) that you’ll appreciate the foldable design of inflatable kayaks. You don’t have to worry much about portability when choosing an inflatable kayak, as it’ll always be compact enough to be carried about with ease.
This buying guide won’t be complete if I don’t mention kayak length. Consider the following as a rule of thumb. Kayaks between 72 to 164 inches are short kayaks and while being more agile are also slower and more difficult to paddle straight. Short kayaks are more suited for whitewater applications.
On the other hand, kayaks that are between 144 to 180 inches in length are faster, more efficient, and easier to paddle in a straight line. These kayaks have better stability and are suited for long-distance paddling. They also have more storage space, something anglers will appreciate.
Stability and Safety
Inflatable kayaks generally have multiple air-filled chambers that make them more buoyant and, consequently, more stable. This means that your kayak will not burst or sink if a layer is punctured or compromised. And this is a life-saving feature, as it allows you to return to shore without your kayak sinking.
Most inflatable kayaks are good for most beginners but experienced kayakers who want more speed, efficiency, and maneuverability will have to take a look at longer kayaks.
You’ll be totally fine as long as you kayak in sheltered bays and calm waters. And you shouldn’t venture into high waters unless you have a very stable kayak and are confident in your kayaking abilities. We don’t want you being blown away from shore now, do we?
Ease of Setup
You’ll probably be very eager to get on the water as soon as you arrive at your kayaking destination. And this is where the ease of setup comes in. The faster you are able to inflate your vessel, the sooner you can start kayaking.
You might take a bit longer than the usual time when setting up your kayak for the first time but you’ll quickly get the hang of this and set up faster in subsequent kayaking adventures.
Inflatable kayaks have revolutionized the kayaking industry with the phenomenal portability, durability, and performance they offer. This has led to the popularity of inflatable kayaks but with popularity comes several options making it difficult for one to narrow the options down to the very best inflatable kayaks.
The purpose of the reviews and buying guide is to reveal the best of the best inflatable kayaks available on the market today and give you all the information you need to select the right one. Get a kayak today and start ruling the waters!