Are Inflatable Kayaks Good? Weighing Up The Pros And Cons

Inflatable kayaks have surged in popularity for their portability and easy storage compared to hard shells. But does convenience come at the cost of performance and durability? We put inflatable kayaks to the ultimate test, assessing speed, stability, longevity and more to determine if they truly blow traditional kayaks out of the water or leave paddlers deflated. Discover if inflatables will float your boat or sink your kayaking dreams!
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Nessa Hopkins

Senior Writer & Kayaking Instructor

Vanessa is a certified kayaking instructor, has taught over 500 people how to kayak, and is a senior member of the American Canoe Association. By combining her deep understanding of the sport and a background in journalism, she offers a wealth of experience and expertise to our growing water sports community, promising to educate and inspire paddlers of all levels.

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Sam OBrien

Founder, Kayaking & Paddle Boarding Expert

Sam is the founder and editor of WaterSportsWhiz. With over 20 years of experience across various water sports, he provides trusted reviews and expert advice to help others pursue their passion for getting out on the water. When not working, you can find him kayaking, paddle boarding, or planning his next water-based adventure with family and friends.

Are you considering an inflatable kayak but wondering if they’re actually any good? 

Inflatable kayaks have come a long way in recent years, offering a convenient and portable alternative to traditional hard-shell kayaks. 

But are they worth the investment?

The short answer is yes, inflatable kayaks can be an excellent choice for many paddlers, depending on their specific needs and preferences. Modern inflatable kayaks are made with durable, high-quality materials and advanced construction techniques, ensuring they provide a reliable and enjoyable paddling experience.

Inflatable kayaks offer several advantages over their hard-shell counterparts, including easy storage, transportation, and setup. They’re also generally more affordable, with prices ranging from around $100 for a basic, entry-level model to over $1,000 for a top-of-the-line, feature-rich inflatable kayak.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore the benefits and drawbacks of inflatable kayaks, discuss their durability and performance, and help you determine whether an inflatable kayak is the right choice for your paddling adventures.

Key Takeaways

  • What are inflatable kayaks? Inflatable kayaks are a type of recreational watercraft constructed out of strong, flexible, durable materials, like PVC, that feature multiple air chambers which require inflation before each use. They are designed to be lightweight, portable and easy to store – unlike their hardshell counterparts.
  • Advantages of inflatable kayaks: They’re known for being lightweight and compact, which, in turn, makes them highly portable and storage-friendly. Moreover, they’re stable, practically impossible to capsize, and suitable for a wide range of activities. Plus, they generally cost less than hard-shell kayaks.
  • Disadvantages of inflatable kayaks: They must be inflated and deflated before and after each outing. Furthermore, they don’t handle strong winds and extremely rough conditions, and they’re not the most performance-oriented type of kayak out there. Plus, there’s always a risk of leaks and punctures.

What Are Inflatable Kayaks?

Different color inflatable yaks on the beach at sunset

It’s right there in the name: 

An inflatable kayak is – drumroll, please – a kayak that requires inflation. 

Well, duh. 

Of course, that’s the overly simplified way to put it. 

If you’d like to dig a little deeper, I could go on to define them as multi-layered inflatable boats constructed out of strong, durable and puncture-resistant materials – such as PVC, Hypalon, and Nitrylon – and made up of several air chambers that need to be inflated before use. Unlike traditional kayaks, inflatable ones can be deflated for compact storage and easy transportation.  

That gives you a pretty good idea of what to expect. 

It might not sound very confidence-inspiring at first, but rest assured that modern-day inflatables are, indeed, proper, fully functional watercraft – far from their humble beginnings. 

We’re not here to talk about flimsy pool toys. These kayaks are well-made, durable, and capable of tackling various water conditions and intended uses – from whitewater kayaking to fishing and beyond. 

Let’s Examine The Question: Are Inflatable Kayaks Any Good?

Inflatable tandem kayak with twin inflatable seats on river

Are inflatable kayaks good?” 

It seems like a straightforward question that warrants a simple “Yes” or “No.” But it’s actually an umbrella of sorts – one that covers a long list of other concerns: 

Are they safe? How well do they perform? Are they expensive? Should I buy one? 

You get the idea. 

And those concerns are exactly what I’d like to tackle right now in the hopes of helping you get some much-needed answers. 

Are Inflatable Kayaks Safe? 

When trying to determine how safe a kayak is, most people are actually interested in how stable it feels on the water – and how hard it would be to flip it over. That goes for both hard-shells and inflatables. 

And when it comes to inflatable kayaks, I’ve got some great news for you: 

Their wider-than-average beam means that inflatables typically boast a high degree of primary stability. In other words, they’re practically impossible to tip over. And even if you do manage to capsize, the inherent buoyancy of the air-filled chambers will prevent the ‘yak from sinking. 

Speaking of sinking, another major safety-related concern people have is the risk of punctures and leaks. 

While that’s always a possibility, you’ll be glad to know that most modern-day inflatables feature more than one air chamber – with many inflatable kayak manufacturers incorporating three or more into their designs as standard. So, even if one of them develops a leak, the remaining air chambers will be unaffected, keeping the kayak afloat. 

Are Inflatable Kayaks Durable? 

Be honest: 

What you really want to know here is whether your inflatable kayak can be trusted not to pop like an oversized balloon the moment you steer a bit too close to a sharp rock, branches, or any sort of underwater obstacle. 

Am I right – or am I right? 

I get where those concerns are coming from – and punctures are a real possibility with inflatable kayaks; there’s no point in denying that. 

But here’s the thing: 

These kayaks are designed to withstand a lot more than you’d assume. 

Inflatable Kayak torture test -

They are made from durable synthetic materials – the go-to choices being PVC, Hypalon, and Nitrylon – and are perfectly capable of handling the wear and tear that comes with everyday use. 

And, as I said earlier, even when punctures do happen, there is a fail-safe of sorts; most modern inflatables have more than one air chamber and won’t sink immediately. Plus, the leaks can be easily patched up; all you need is a kayak repair kit. 

So, rest assured that, with proper care and adequate storage, an inflatable kayak can last you for many years. 

Are Inflatable Kayaks Expensive? 

Generally speaking, inflatables tend to fall on the more budget-friendly end of the market – but that’s not always the case. They can cost as little as $100 – and as much as $1000 for inflatable kayaks designed for high performance purposes. So, I guess the actual answer here is more along the lines of, “It depends.” 

There are many different factors that contribute to an inflatable kayak’s price tag – from the size and construction materials to the intended use and additional gear and accessories. And, of course, the brand’s name plays a role in this, too. 

Fair warning, though: 

Not all inflatable kayaks are created equal, and you do get what you paid for; a pool-toy-like inflatable ‘yak may be dirt-cheap, but it also means it’ll be of questionable quality. So, it’s worth spending a bit more. Nothing too crazy – just enough to get out of the low-end portion of the market – so around $400 to $500 will 

Think of it like this: 

Even with the maintenance and repair costs factored in, it still beats the expenses of owning a hard-shell ‘yak. I mean, at least you won’t have to buy a kayak trailer, invest in expensive roof racks and rent out a storage space for it. 

How Do They Perform And Handle? 

So far, the focus has been on the durability, puncture resistance, and overall safety of inflatable kayaks – mainly because that’s what most people are concerned with when deciding whether or not to get one. 

The one thing we haven’t discussed yet – even though it’s arguably the most important aspect of any kayak – is performance. And when I say “performance,” I mean maneuverability, tracking, speed, and handling. 

So, how do inflatables hold up in that regard? 

Well, I wouldn’t label their performance as “poor;” inflatables have a wide range of applications – from kayak fishing to tackling whitewater rapids

However, they can’t compete with hardshell kayaks. 

They can feel sluggish at times and generally lack the responsiveness and efficiency of rigid ‘yaks, especially over longer distances. If you look at the way they’re designed, these sacrifices in performance are pretty self-explanatory: 

Inflatables have a wider, lighter, and more flexible hull that sits higher on the water, which makes for a slower, less responsive kayak; it’s as simple as that. 

But on the plus side, this design also makes them incredibly stable and “user-friendly.” And to be honest, giving up a bit of speed and maneuverability for unmatched convenience makes perfect sense for most recreational paddlers. 

Head shot of the editor, Sam O'Brien Editor’s Note

While many inflatable kayaks may not possess the speed and agility of a hardshell, recent advancements in inflatable design are narrowing this performance gap. Taking design cues from paddle boards and commercial inflatable watercraft construction, the emergence of drop-stitch technology and foldable kayaks with rigid frames has revolutionized the industry.

Top inflatable brands like Advanced Elements and Sea Eagle are leading the way, offering kayaks with significant improvements to their on-the-water handling. Be warned though, these cutting features come with a hefty price tag which might lead you to question the value of an inflatable kayak over a rigid one.

– Sam O’Brien

Are Inflatable Kayaks Easy To Maintain? 

And here’s something that isn’t often addressed – the care and maintenance that go hand in hand with owning an inflatable kayak. 

Yes, inflatables are praised for their overall convenience, but I’m afraid that it involves a bit more work than simply deflating your ‘yak and stuffing it back into a bag for storage. 

For one, you’ll need to clean, drain, and dry your ‘yak after each use – which may take a few hours. 

How to Clean an Inflatable Kayak

Regular “inspections” are also part of the deal. You should take the time to inspect it for signs of wear and tear. You’ll be able to repair minor leaks at home – but if the damage is extensive, you may have to seek professional help or replace the kayak altogether. 

I mean, the same could be said about hard-shell kayaks. They’re not maintenance-free, either – but I’d argue that inflatables require a bit more effort on your part. 

Advantages Of Inflatable Kayaks

Lady in bobble hat paddles a rigid frame inflatable kayak on a lake surrounded by mountains

There’s a lot to love about inflatable kayaks – and, as I pointed out many times throughout this guide, most of it comes down to their highly convenient, portable, and storage-friendly nature. 

On that note, if you get an inflatable kayak, you can look forward to the following advantages

  • They are generally lightweight. Most inflatable kayaks tend to weigh around 25 to 30 pounds, depending on their size. 
  • They boast a much higher weight capacity compared to similarly sized hard-shell kayaks. In fact, an inflatable kayak can typically support upwards of 400 pounds of load, with the weight limit of higher-end models going up to 1000 pounds. 
  • These kayaks are highly portable. Since they don’t weigh much (especially compared to similarly-sized hard-shells) and can fit into a small bag when deflated, they’re easy to carry around. 
  • They are storage-friendly. When deflated, an inflatable kayak can be stored practically anywhere – under the bed, in the closet, or on a shelf – making them ideal for people who live in an apartment or lack storage space for a full-size hard-shell kayak.
  • They typically have a wider beam – and, in turn, are more stable. You won’t have to worry about capsizing; it’s practically impossible to flip an inflatable kayak over.
  • They are highly versatile. An inflatable can be your go-anywhere, do-anything kayak in the sense that you can bring them along on your outdoor adventures and reach spots that would’ve been inaccessible with a hard-shell. 
  • They are an excellent choice for beginners. They are stable, inherently buoyant, and easy to transport and store, which makes them a suitable choice for newbie paddlers.

Disadvantages Of Inflatable Kayaks

Man in red hat pumping up inflatable whitewater kayak

Now, for the disadvantages… 

One thing that should be clear by now is that as convenient as they are, inflatable kayaks aren’t without their issues. So, before you decide to get one, I’d like you to consider some of the potential downsides of owning an inflatable kayak

  • It takes time to set them up. Granted, the process of inflating the kayak usually takes no more than a couple of minutes, but the point is that you can’t just hop in as soon as you get to the put-in spot. 
  • They have to be properly cleaned and dried after each use. That’s not to say that a rigid kayak doesn’t require maintenance; it does. However, with inflatables, you have to rinse and thoroughly dry them before packing them up. 
  • They can’t be transported inflated. You can’t just strap an inflatable kayak to the roof of your car and hit the road. It needs to be cleaned, dried and deflated before transportation. 
  • They can’t compete with the speed and performance of hard-shell kayaks. There are some impressive high-end inflatable kayaks out there – but still, you won’t be winning any races in them. 
  • They don’t perform particularly well in windy conditions. Since inflatables sit higher on the water and have a higher profile, they tend to catch wind more easily. 
  • They’re not the best choice for rough, open waters. You should stick to calm and sheltered bays.
  • They usually have limited onboard storage. You’ll get tie-down spots, mesh pockets, and bungee cords – but one thing you won’t find on an inflatable kayak is a dry storage hatch. 
  • They don’t have self-bailing ports. Unless you plan on bailing out the excess water manually – using a bilge pump or a sponge – get used to the fact that there will always be a layer of water on deck.
  • There’s always a risk of the kayak developing a puncture or a leak. That’s just the reality of owning an inflatable kayak. 
  • They’re not necessarily budget-friendly. Sure, they’re usually cheaper than hard-shell kayaks – but a higher-quality inflatable is going to cost you. 

Is An Inflatable Kayak Right For You?

Women landing a fish from her bright yellow fishing kayaks

Let’s get one thing straight: 

Getting an inflatable kayak makes sense only if you need the convenience and portability that you wouldn’t get from a typical hard-shell. 

Their biggest advantage is that they’re lightweight, compact, and easy to store – and if that’s what you need, then yes, an inflatable kayak is worth it. 

Otherwise, you might as well stick with a hard-shell ‘yak. 

So, before you make that decision, take a moment to think about what you need as a paddler – and whether getting an inflatable kayak would make sense in your specific case: 

  • Consider your kayaking goals. In other words, think about where and how you intend to use the inflatable kayak. Do you need a single-seater, a tandem – or perhaps a kayak that will accommodate up to three people? Are you getting one for recreational, casual outings on calm lakes, or are you more interested in running whitewater or heading out on long-distance excursions? While inflatable kayaks come in a range of models, they are generally better suited for calm to moderate conditions.
  • Think about the storage space and transportation options you have available. One of the main reasons to get an inflatable kayak is to avoid the hassles of transporting and storing a large – and, not to mention, heavy – hard-shell kayak. If you do not have the means to transport or store a traditional ‘yak, then yes, an inflatable makes perfect sense for you.
  • Take the time to weigh the pros and cons of inflatable kayaks. Again, they’re compact and lightweight – and, in turn, highly portable and storage-friendly – and are a great choice for beginners. But even the best inflatable kayaks lag behind hard-shell kayaks in terms of performance – namely, speed and maneuverability. Plus, they’re not as durable long-term and require more effort maintenance-wise. 

As you can see, there’s no “universal” right or wrong choice here. 

Inflatable kayaks are great – but they’re not the best choice for everyone. It all comes down to your needs, preferences, and circumstances. 

Frequently Asked Questions on Inflatable Kayaks

Are inflatable kayaks suitable for beginners?

Yes, inflatable kayaks are suitable for beginners! They’re stable, inherently buoyant, lightweight, compact, and easy to use; what more could someone new to kayaking ask for, really? Plus, they tend to be budget-friendly. Some even include a paddle, a pump, and a repair kit – so that’s one less thing to worry about. 

Can inflatable kayaks handle rough waters?

Generally speaking, yes, inflatable kayaks can handle rough waters – to a degree, that is. If the conditions are particularly harsh, with choppy waters and strong winds, an inflatable kayak won’t be the best choice for the occasion. 

What is the lifespan of an inflatable kayak?

The average lifespan of an inflatable kayak is 5 to 10 years. That said, how long your inflatable will last depends on how well you take care of it. Fail to look after it properly, and your kayak’s lifespan may drop to no more than a couple of years. 

Can I use an inflatable kayak for fishing?

Yes, you can use an inflatable kayak for fishing! In fact, some inflatable kayaks come equipped with fishing-specific features, including rod holders and mounting points for fish finders and other gadgets. Some may even feature a trolling motor mount. 

Why not to buy an inflatable kayak?

One of the main reasons not to buy an inflatable kayak would have to be the sacrifice of speed and maneuverability. Even the best inflatable kayaks cannot compete with hard-shells in this regard – and they won’t last as long, either. 

Summary – How Good Are Inflatable Kayaks?

So, are inflatable kayaks good

The short answer would be “Yes.” But it’s not that simple. Your choice comes down to personal preferences and circumstances. 

Here’s a quick summary of the inflatable kayak pros and cons to help you decide: 

  • They’re among the lightest kayaks out there; they are compact, easy to pack away and store, and don’t require a kayak trailer or a roof rack to transport.
  • They’re wide and buoyant by design, which also means they’re more stable and harder to capsize – a huge plus for beginners. 
  • They’re generally more affordable than their hard-shell counterparts, costing as little as $100. 
  • The inflation and deflation process takes time, and the kayak needs to be cleaned and dried after each outing. 
  • They don’t handle strong winds and extremely rough waters particularly well, and they’re not built for speed. 
  • They are susceptible to tears and punctures and won’t last as long as hard-shell kayaks.
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Nessa Hopkins

Vanessa is a certified kayaking instructor, has taught over 500 people how to kayak, and is a senior member of the American Canoe Association. By combining her deep understanding of the sport and a background in journalism, she offers a wealth of experience and expertise to our growing water sports community, promising to educate and inspire paddlers of all levels.

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