Inflatable Kayak vs Hardshell

Whether you’ve been kayaking for years or you’re new to the water activity, finding the right kind of kayak for your particular uses can be difficult. There are so many different kinds of kayaks on the market, and there are various brands, styles and features to choose from. Before you consider the specifics, you should think about the differences between an inflatable kayak vs hardshell kayak.

Both types of kayaks have benefits of their own, but they’re each specifically designed for particular purposes. This guide can help you to better understand each type and will help you in your buying process. More specifically, here you can find the advantages and disadvantages of inflatable and hardshell kayaks.

Inflatable Kayak vs. Hardshell Kayak: Which is Right for You?

Inflatable kayaks feature a design that requires them to be inflated and deflated before and after you use them. They’re usually constructed with various air chambers that can help to keep the kayak afloat at the water’s surface. On the other hand, hardshell kayaks have a design that’s constructed with either fiberglass or plastic. They can either be hollow or filled with a foam material.

Inflatable Kayak Advantages

Portability

Not only are inflatable kayaks portable with their lightweight design, but their ability to be inflated and deflated before and after use also makes them extremely easy to carry around. Inflatable kayaks are constructed with thick and durable plastic materials that give them the ability to withstand wear and tear on the water, but the light plastic construction makes them very lightweight in the water.

They usually feature a folding design that allows them to be deflated and folded up when you’re not using them. And most inflatable kayaks also come with a backpack for carrying them in. That being said, you can easily carry inflatable kayaks from one place to another. This feature makes them especially great for those that want to go on hikes without having to track around a whole hardshell kayak or canoe.

Stability

In addition to being extremely portable, inflatable kayaks also feature more stability than hardshell kayaks. Many people assume that inflatable kayaks aren’t as able to withstand being in the water with large numbers of waves or unstable currents. But you’re actually more likely to be thrown throughout the water and even more likely to capsize with hardshell kayaks.

This is because inflatable kayaks usually have a wider base. The wider base gives them the stability that you need to prevent capsizing while in more active water. The wider base construction doesn’t give inflatable kayaks the ability to travel as fast throughout the water as hardshell ones, but the overall stability is higher with inflatable kayak designs.

Durability

Contrary to popular belief, inflatable kayaks are constructed with materials and an overall structure that make them just as durable (if not more durable) than hardshell kayaks. The types of materials used among certain inflatable products differ, but the typical construction of an inflatable kayak features a durable plastic structure.

More specifically, high-end inflatable kayaks will be produced with synthetic materials as well as woven fabrics. These durable structures are able to withstand any wear and tear that the kayak may be exposed to, and they prevent the kayak from developing holes or sinking. These materials are usually also waterproof, UV-resistant and are lightweight when folded up into compact positions.

Even more, inflatable kayaks are also durable because they feature multiple different air chambers. This helps to ensure that in the case of a hole developing on the kayak, only the one air chamber that the hole is located in will deflate. The other several air chambers throughout the inflatable kayak’s construction are then able to keep the kayak afloat at least until you can get to shore.

Storage

Similar to their portability, inflatable kayaks are beneficial for those of you that don’t have many storage options. Since they can deflate completely and fold down compactly, they can more effectively fit into any size storage space. They can even stay in the trunk of your car if you plan on using it more frequently.

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Better for Calm Water

Lastly, inflatable kayaks are beneficial for those of you that plan to kayak on calmer waters such as rivers, streams, ponds and lakes. Since they have a wide base construction, they can more easily travel through water conditions that have minimal waves or currents. Inflatables don’t have high-end tracking systems, so you’ll have to be mindful of the difficulty in controlling your direction in the water. In more active water, the currents will likely control the inflatable kayak more than you.

Inflatable Kayak Disadvantages

On-Water Performance

Kayaks that have an inflatable construction do tend to have a more difficult time tracking through water than hardshell boats. Since they’re lightweight and have a wider construction, they don’t sit as low into the water’s surface as hardshell kayaks do, which can make it difficult to control the direction of the boat. And they usually don’t have a tracking system like hardshell boats do.

There are some more high-quality, expensive types of inflatable kayaks that come equipped with tracking systems and better features that can improve the on-water performance of the kayak. But most of the cheaper products don’t always have this advantage.

Pushed Easily by Wind and Currents

The lightweight design of inflatable kayaks may also come to a disadvantage on a windy day or in water that has faster-moving currents. The lightweight construction of these kayaks doesn’t let the boat sit as deep into the water’s surface and thus are easily pushed around by the wind and water currents around them.

Typically Don’t Last as Long

Although inflatable kayaks have a durable and multi-air chamber construction, they typically don’t have the ability to last as long as hardshell kayaks. The inflatable construction just isn’t enough to withstand as much wear and tear as boats with a hardshell are capable of, so they may be a more temporary option for those that use kayaks frequently.

Set-Up

Lastly, inflatable kayaks might not be the most ideal type for those that want to get on the water quickly. Depending on the specific type of kayak you have, they all have different inflation and deflation times. With all inflatables, you’ll have to spend some time inflating the boat before you set out on the water, and this can take up to 20 minutes for some if you’re never used the product before.

Hardshell Advantages

Better Tracking

Unlike inflatables that have an air-filled design, hardshell kayaks have better tracking systems that come built into the boat. Whether it’s long deviations on the boat’s bottom construction or there’s a built-in extending system, most hardshell kayaks have better tracking features that can help you to gain better control over the direction of your boat in the water.

More Varieties Available for Purchase

You also have a wider variety of kayaks to choose from when you’re looking for hardshell kayaks. There are virtually any types of designs for kayaks available in a hardshell material, ranging from sit-ins, sit-ons, ocean fishing kayaks, touring kayaks, pedal kayaks as well as folding kayaks. Because of the vinyl or PVC material of inflatable kayaks, they aren’t meant for some types of boating. So they’re not always available in every style.

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Can Handle More Types of Water Conditions

Hardshell kayaks are also capable of withstanding a wider range of water conditions than inflatables. They’re more heavy-duty and durable, so they don’t pose a risk to developing holes or catching snags as easily as inflatables. They’re also heavier, so you won’t get pushed around by the wind or the water currents.

Easy to Set Up

To set up a hardshell kayak, you only have to remove it from your vehicle and then place it onto the shoreline to then travel out into the water. This is much easier than the several minutes required of inflatables to get the kayaks filled with air before voyaging out. Once you have all of your accessories packed onto the kayak, you can simply push yourself out into the water after you place it onto the shoreline.

Hardshell Disadvantages

Need a Place for Storage

Hardshell kayaks don’t have foldable and compact designs like inflatable kayaks, so you’ll have to find a place to store it. Whether that’s in your garage or your basement, you’ll need a cool place to keep your boat when you’re not using it. This can be problematic if you don’t have a garage or other large space to keep your boat.

You should also become familiar with how to properly position the kayak when you store it away. It’ll need to be either indoors or at least protected from harsh weather conditions and the sun’s UV rays. Make sure that you place the kayak in a position where it’s completely supported as well.

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Heavier

They’re also heavier than inflatable kayaks, making them much more difficult to transport from one place to another. If you’re not experienced in carrying kayaks by yourself, then you’ll likely need more than one person to carry the boat because of its heavier structure (or a kayak cart). You’ll also need to find reliable ways to strap your heavy hardshell kayak into or onto your vehicle for transportation as well.

More Maintenance Involved

Lastly, hardshell kayaks also require more maintenance than inflatable kayaks. Not only do you have to keep them clean before and after you use them, but you’ll also spend more time and effort into repairing them if needed. Unlike inflatable kayaks that usually come with a repair patch if needed, you can’t as easily just patch a hole when your boat develops one. Instead, you’ll likely have to either pay money to purchase a repair kit yourself or you can pay a service trained in repairing kayaks.

It’s important that you keep your hardshell kayak clean so that you can avoid damaging it by having some rough debris or harsh chemicals on it. Having a dirty kayak can result in scratches over time because of the dirt and debris rubbing against the hardshell construction.

Final Thoughts

Overall, choosing between an inflatable and a hardshell kayak ultimately comes down to personal preference. Some people just prefer to have an easy-to-carry inflatable kayak for their boating voyages while others simply prefer a more durable and long-lasting hardshell kayak. Whichever you choose, it’s important that you become familiar with how to best use, care for and maintain your kayak to ensure safe and optimal performance.

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