Inflatable Kayaks vs Hardshell Kayaks: Which is Best?
Maybe you’ve been kayaking a few times and now you’ve really been licking blood? Or have you already explored your home waters dozens of times with a rental kayak and would now like to buy your own kayak?
If you just have these or similar thoughts, until you are right here. Those who are considering buying their own kayak will sooner or later come to the decisive point: Should it be an inflatable or a solid kayak?
Kayaks differ in many ways. Different measures, different designs, the accessories included in the scope of delivery, the material used and many more details distinguish the individual kayaks. But the question whether it should be an inflatable or a fixed kayak is much more important.
However, there is no general answer to this question. Both types of kayak have their advantages and disadvantages. For this reason, we will highlight the differences between the two types below. Then you can be better informed and choose one of the two types.
Inflatable Kayaks vs. Hardshell Kayaks
Solid kayaks are what most people imagine when they think of a “kayak”. This type of kayak is made of a rigid material such as GRP or polyethylene.
Inflatable kayaks, on the other hand, are just multi-chambered shells that need to be inflated with a hand or electric pump before you can go on tour with this type of kayak.
The different rigid kayaks
The division of the kayaks into the two types is one thing. The material used to build the kayak is the other. In fact, the material has an influence on the robustness, durability, performance and also the price. For this reason, we present below the different materials from which most solid kayaks are made.
Polyethylene is an extremely robust and long-lasting material, which is used in the construction of fixed kayaks due to its favourable price.
The higher weight of the kayaks made of this plastic, however, makes transport more complicated and makes them less manoeuvrable. Polyethylene kayaks are also more susceptible to UV radiation.
Conclusion: Polyethylene kayaks are the right choice for beginners (among the fixed kayaks).
Glass fibre and carbon
A large number of solid kayaks are made of fibreglass, carbon or a mixture of these two materials.
The extremely robust and lightweight material allows for rapid turns without the water slowing you down. Furthermore, fiberglass and carbon kayaks are easier to carry and can be repaired with minimal material and time.
The disadvantage is the high price of these kayaks. This type of kayak also tends to quickly suffer damage in collisions.
Conclusion: For advanced kayakers and real veterans, kayaks made of a material such as fibreglass or carbon are the right choice. Beginners will probably be deterred by the price tag.
The different inflatable kayaks
Inflatable kayaks, also known as inflatables, are usually made of PVC or polyurethane.
Polyvinyl chloride (PVC)
PVC is a multilayer structure which is particularly robust due to this structure. A crack or hole in the kayak can be easily and quickly repaired with a PVC patch. Furthermore, PVC is a cheap material, which makes the kayaks cheap to buy.
A disadvantage of PVC kayaks is that they are susceptible to UV radiation.
Polyurethane is a fairly new material that has not been used for a long time in the construction of water sports equipment. Polyurethane is an extremely robust and durable material that is particularly resistant to punctual loads and abrasion.
However, polyurethane is much more expensive to purchase than the other materials used in the construction of inflatables. Polyurethane kayaks are also more difficult to repair than PVC, for example.
Inflatable Kayaks vs. Hardshell Kayaks
Up to this point it should have become clear that the materials used have an influence on the characteristics of a kayak.
Now it’s time to take a general look at inflatable and solid kayaks. We focus on five categories: durability, manoeuvrability, price, storage and transport.
For buyers of a kayak, durability is often the decisive criterion. After all, you want something from this purchase for a long time.
High quality polyethylene kayaks are the most durable. This type of kayak can easily withstand (lighter) collisions with rocks. Of course this does not mean that these kayaks are indestructible. At some point, polyethylene kayaks also give way.
Many outsiders think that inflatable kayaks are not durable. Sometimes the comparison is made to an air mattress. However, drastic advances in production methods have led to extremely strong and robust kayaks. High-quality polyurethane or PVC kayaks withstand collisions, withstand punctual loads and can even withstand sharp-edged objects such as dog claws.
Inflatable kayaks specially produced for whitewater use are additionally reinforced and can withstand even more. Inflatable kayaks built for kayak fishing, on the other hand, are particularly protected against sharp-edged objects such as fishhooks or knives.
Conclusion: Polyethylene kayaks are still the champions when it comes to durability. But: The bad reputation doesn’t (anymore) do Inflatables justice. High-quality inflatable kayaks are extremely robust, tearproof and resistant. Even if you invest money for a good inflatable, you will get something from this purchase for a long time.
In the discussion of inflatable kayaks vs. fixed kayaks, it is often stated that fixed kayaks are more agile. One reason for this is that solid kayaks sit deeper in the water because of their higher weight. Furthermore, the narrower construction contributes to better manoeuvrability. With fixed kayaks it is easier to lean on one side and then turn the kayak with a few paddle strokes.
Paddling and steering an inflatable kayak is no problem in calm lakes or canals. With waves, strong winds and turbulent water the situation is quite different.
The influence of the ever improving production processes cannot be neglected here either. The progress can already be seen in the inflatable whitewater kayaks, which are also controllable in wild waters.
Conclusion: Fixed kayaks are still ahead when it comes to manoeuvrability. But the lead is getting scarcer from season to season.
The price difference between fixed and inflatable kayaks is high. While inflatable kayaks are available for $150 or less, hardhsell kayaks can cost four digits. On average, fixed kayaks cost double to triple their inflatable counterparts. Most inflatable kayaks are even cheaper than polyethylene kayaks (the cheapest solid kayaks).
Conclusion: In general inflatable kayaks are way cheaper in price.
Due to the materials used, solid kayaks are much heavier than inflatable kayaks. Often even solid kayaks built from lightweight materials are heavier than the average inflatable.
In addition, fixed kayaks often have to be hoisted on roof racks for transport. Given the high weight, this is simply not possible with at least one other helper.
Inflatable kayaks win on two fronts. On the one hand they are lighter and on the other hand they can be stowed in a backpack. Transportation is therefore no problem. All it takes is a little space in the trunk or a free seat on the back seat. There is no need for time-consuming preparations or the annoying assembly of roof racks.
Conclusion: The comfort of transporting inflatable kayaks is not comparable to the effort of transporting fixed kayaks. The low weight and small footprint of the inflatables make spontaneous trips possible – without any complicated preparations.
The storage of a solid kayak can be challenging. The sports equipment is large and bulky. It is best to store kayaks in a garage, a large storeroom or a garden shed. When choosing a storage location, make sure that it protects the kayak from moisture, cold and sunlight.
Those who do not have so much space for the Lixis can use one of the more creative variants. A special belt system can be used to fix the kayak to a wall or ceiling, for example.
When storing inflatables you don’t have to ponder a lot and you won’t get a lumbago when balancing a 4 meter long and heavy monster. When the kayak is empty of air, it is simply rolled up and stowed in a bag. Everyone will find enough space for an object the size of a backpack – no matter if it’s a small apartment or a student residence.
Conclusion: The compact pack size of the Inflatables makes storage child’s play.
Who should buy an inflatable kayak?
Anyone looking for a robust and durable kayak should choose a polyethylene kayak. If the waters you’re planning to sail in are lined with rocks, a solid polyethylene kayak is just the thing.
Experienced touring paddlers who like to go on trips of several days in their kayak and cover a lot of distance should also opt for a fixed kayak. In the bow and stern of fixed kayaks there is additional storage space, which is bitterly needed for camping equipment, change of clothes, drinking water and additional provisions.
Who should buy a hardshell kayak?
The location of the kayak is crucial in determining which type of kayak is best for you. If you are looking for a kayak for leisurely trips or smaller tours, an inflatable is the best choice. The low price is especially interesting for beginners in kayaking. In this way, anyone can try kayaking without investing a small fortune in sports equipment.
For athletes who spend most of the year doing other things and only take the kayak out to sea a few times a year, inflatable kayaks are also just the thing.
The comfort of storage and transport, which also makes spontaneous trips possible, also suits everyone who does not have so much space.
Although there has been massive progress in the manufacturing process, inflatable kayaks are susceptible to sharp-edged objects such as stones, knives or fishhooks.
Kayak anglers should use a kayak with reinforced material.
This topic has been discussed for years. The truth is: Different paddlers have different opinions.
There is no better type of kayak. Both types have their own advantages and disadvantages. The choice must therefore always depend on the area of use and the personal circumstances. Get involved in the topic, for example. On these you can make a better purchase decision and reduce the risk of a mistake enormously. A look at the kayak bestseller list, which shows the most sold kayaks, is a good start.