Inflatable Vs Rigid Kayak: Key Differences With PROs and CONs

Fact Checked By James A Rockey | Updated on

The Key differences between Inflatable Kayaks and Rigid (Hardshell) Kayaks are- Inflatable Kayaks are known for their portability, pocket friendly, easy to transport, and durability, among other advantages. And Hard shell Kayaks are made of different materials such as wood, fiberglass, plastic, and sometimes composite materials like Kevlar. Generally, hard-shell kayaks are considered heavyweight as its minimum weigh 55 pounds.

For decades, inflatable kayak and rigid kayak debate have been a hot topic for both beginners, seasoned and professional kayakers. Each of them tries to justify why they prefer a specific type of yak over the other.  Whatever their reasons might be, we cannot overlook them because their needs and personal preference will be the determining factor. The emerging points in this debate have been the cost, storage, portability, comfort, stability, safety, materials, and durability, just to name a few.

Yes! It is a great topic, but without a doubt, kayaking is a very adventurous and fulfilling activity that you can enjoy with your loved one or solo. The wild animals and the natural beauty will mesmerize your mind, and the urge to try different locations will be uncontrollable. Now, you will find yourself kayaking in different waters a few times and want to invest in your yak for more adventures. Buying a kayak seems like an easy task until you find yourself torn between an inflatable and a rigid yak. Worry not! We are here to help you; just go through our article and clear up your mind.

Should you buy an Inflatable or Rigid Kayak?

Each kayak available out there has its advantages and disadvantages, but most importantly, each is designed for a specific purpose. The first thing you ask yourself before the purchase is how you are planning to use your yak plus the budget set aside. Your personal preference is another factor, but that one should be the last thing on your list. You need to understand the pros and cons of each type before making a decision.

These are discussed below:

Inflatable Kayaks

With technology advancement, this kind of offhad evolved over a couple of years to be the most admirable modern boats. Unlike in the past, when people used to look down upon these yaks while having doubt its capabilities and safety, nowadays, everyone wants to own one.  

Various companies specializing in this sector have put their money and efforts into high-quality inflatable boats using superior quality material. They are hence providing fierce competition to the rigid yaks regarding performance and demand.

As the name suggests, this kind of yaks is inflated and deflated before and after use. They are known for their portability, pocket friendly, easy to transport, and durability, among other advantages. Here are the pros and cons of inflatable boats.

Pros of Inflatable Kayaks

Cost

While making a comparison between the rigid and inflatable yaks, you find most inflatable kayaks are more pocket-friendly. The quality is on the high ends, and just because it’s cheaper, it doesn’t mean they cannot deliver up to the yak set standards. They do and even exceed their expectation. If you are on a tight budget and want something that is durable and works perfectly well for you, go for this model.

The most outstanding thing is that you don’t have to be dashing in money now and then for the maintenance. The materials used are of high quality, and they are made in such a way that it bounces back when you encounter an obstacle while kayaking.

Portability

Ease of transport is the main factor that makes inflatable boats stand out and is the reason why many people are in love with them. Most of these boats weigh between thirty to forty pounds while other inflatable yaks weigh less than thirty. What you need to do is deflate them first, and then you can fit it into a backpack or tuck it in the trunk of the car.

This further explains why solo kayakers prefer inflatable boats over the rigid types. There is no need for a roof rack or an extra hand to carry the yak like the case scenario of a rigid one.

Durability

Inflatable kayaks are exceptionally long-lasting thanks to the quality of the material used. Also, they are designed in a way they can be able to withstand knocks and bumps by bouncing off the rocks or hard surface just in case there is a collision.

There are many inflatable yaks made of different materials and can cost you a certain amount depending on the boat’s durability. Apart from that, they are inflatable yaks designed to take a beating from the whitewater or the ones specifically for fishing with everything from the handle, knives, fins, etc.

Storage

Many people are concerned about the storage of their kayaks since some are seasoned kayakers who like to spend their leisure time kayaking. To them, they want something that can be stored easily and doesn’t take up much space in their houses. Inflatable yaks have become their solution as they can deflate the boat and fit them inside a large backpack then place it in their closet. The ease of storage makes it easy to travel with to various locations.

Performance

You can always count on inflatable boats’ performance as it can offer you more stability on the water while paddling. These kinds of yaks are also perfect for beginners whose priority is stability when paddling. If you like recreational paddling this boat is ideal for you too. But remember, each inflatable kayak’s performance level varies depending on the manufacturing company and the materials used.

Comfort

Inflatable kayak offers comfort when kayaking, especially if you have a bad back. Kayakers can spend a lot of time on the water, and if one has back issues sitting on a hard surface, it becomes uncomfortable and tiring. In such a case, one should consider these yaks as they have a soft floor and can enable one paddle for a more extended period without feeling numbness on the legs. The clip seat on this yak is very supportive, and you can comfortably paddle while relaxing and enjoying the serene environment.

Safety

If you are using your inflatable kayak on the waters meant by the manufacturer, you are safe. Unlike the rigid yaks that can easily give you marks when one gets knocked on the head, inflatable are soft and less likely to cause huge injury impact. Safety should be your priority when making the purchase, so check these measures.

Cons of Inflatable Kayaks

Control

Unless you are an experienced kayaker who has been using inflatable yaks for years, controlling can sometimes be challenging. Its light nature makes it hard to control, especially if you are using it in still water. This type is suitable for rough or flowing water, but not calm water. However, nowadays, there are advanced inflatable yaks made with sturdy and durable materials that can withstand all sorts of kayaking excursions and class II and IV water.

Inflating and deflating

Yes, it can sometimes be limiting, especially when you have limited time to spend, and that short time has to incorporate inflating and deflating your yak. Raising your boats takes a lot of time approximately ten minutes when you have your pump; without a pump, it will take even more time.

Apart from that, there are other issues, too, like the correct air pressure level, which you have to maintain for kayak maximum performance. Too much air pressure will make your kayak rigid, making it difficult to maneuver. Ensure you wash your boat regularly to remove dirt, which might create a smell on your kayak.

Can’t give enough protection against sharp objects

Inflatable yaks of excellent quality can withstand specific impacts. Make an effort to avoid hitting a sharp object which can easily punch a hole in your boat as much as possible. Yes, they are made of sturdy material, and two or three collisions will not damage your yak, but the repeated impact can cause severe damages. For this reason, it’s advisable to avoid dragging your yak across gravel. This might limit you in your adventure.

You get what you pay for

Inflatable boats are pocket-friendly compared to rigid ones. However, these yaks have priced differently per the materials used and capabilities. The fabric will determine its durability, so if you go for a very cheaper model, just know it will not last you long, probably not above two summers. For durable and lasting kayak, one has to dig dip inside their pocket.  Since everything has its price, and it’s up to you to stretch your budget if you need something that will serve longer.

Rigid or Hardshell Kayaks

These are also known as hard-shell kayaks and the traditional yaks. These yaks are made of different materials such as wood, fiberglass, plastic, and sometimes composite materials like Kevlar. Generally, hard-shell kayaks are considered heavyweight as its minimum weigh fifty-five pounds, thanks to the hard materials used.

When it comes to cost, they cost more than any quality inflatable yaks would cost. Just as fate holds, these kayaks have their share of advantages and disadvantages, just like inflatable ones. We will analyze both the pros and cons of rigid yaks below for better decision making.

Pros of Rigid Kayaks

Durable

The specific and most significant thing about rigid yaks is its durability; it doesn’t matter the model you are interested in. Each material used determines its longevity to a certain level independently, but all the same, all the elements for rigid yaks are long-lasting.

They cost higher than the inflatable ones, but you can be sure it will serve you for a long time. If the storage and transportation are not a big issue, consider buying this type if you don’t want to be back to the sports shop after a short while.

Easy setup

This kind of yak doesn’t require any kind setup; unlike the inflatable ones, you have to pump in pressure first. As long as you have reached your location, you are good to go. You just unload it and hit the water, and when you are done, you load it back into your track and head back home.

Performance

With rigid yak, maneuverability is a lot more comfortable, even when kayaking in whitewater. On still waters, you can move fast since you have control over your boat, and you can turn around quickly to a specific direction without difficulties. So, performance-wise this kind of kayaks will make your time worthwhile.

Cons of Rigid Kayaks

Maintenance

Maintaining a hard shell boat in good condition can be a bit of a hustle plus the cost required. It’s not easy to believe that on top of the high amount one spends on purchasing the yak, more money will be spent on maintenance. Lack of rubber padding on their exterior makes them vulnerable to debris and various objects impacts, leaving their surfaces with scratch marks.

Materials used in their construction also matters, and as you know, these yaks are generally made of plastic, fiberglass, and wood. The plastic boat is right since they don’t get damaged easily due to its elasticity, but if it happens, be ready to dash out more money for it to be repaired back to its form.

Hardshell yaks made of woods get easily damaged when hit by different objects. So with this one, you will have to spend a lot on repairs. On the other hand, the ones made from fiberglass offers outstanding performance. The material itself adds up as the strength to the yak, and the good thing is that its repair doesn’t cost a lot. But buying a fiberglass yak might cost you a fortune though it’s worth your money as it will offer you long term services.

Uncomfortable

Contrary to their counterpart, i.e., inflatable boats that are more comfortable and supportive due to their soft surface hard-shell kayak are not. As the name suggests, they have a hard surface, which makes kayakers so uncomfortable, especially the ones with back issues. Someone who likes spending much of his time on the water and has terrible back should avoid this yak and consider the other options available. Uncomfortable experience in this kind of yaks has discouraged beginners in pursuing the sport.

Storage and transportation

This is yet another major drawback of rigid boats. As you know, one cannot change the size or the shape of these yaks. The yak will not fit inside your car, not unless you have a track. Their weight makes it hard also to transport, and you will always need a helping hand to load and offload your yak.

Dragging it across gravel will need more muscle power than you can offer. Before clicking the purchase button, think clearly on how you plan to transport and store your boat. Storing needs more space, which many people lack, forcing them to consider the inflatable options.

Are inflatable kayaks worth it?

Yes, they are! This is thanks to technological advancements, which have seen these yaks evolved over a long time to become the most preferred yaks. The immense popularity inflatable kayaks have gained is undeniable; many people on different platforms search for them. What more can you ask for from the boat that costs less and perform its tasks perfectly?

Various companies have come up with quality inflatable yaks that are sturdy and durable. More so, the yaks that can withstand the class II and III water with much easy. Inflatable kayaks are your best bet, place that order and make your money and time worthwhile today and in the long run. However, there are numerous yaks of this kind sold at different prices based on its capabilities. Be willing to dash out money for a quality boat.

How tough are inflatable kayaks?

Despite these yaks being made from rubber and plastic polymers materials, they are adamant, durable, and can even withstand class II to III water. Other features include puncture-resistant, dual chambers, double or triple layer fabric, weatherproof, and airtight valves, amongst other things that offer safety in case of a puncture. All these things mentioned here plays a significant role in ensuring the kayak safety and durability.

The multiple layers of fabric in those yaks provide extra protection against puncture, tear, and wear. Meaning if the outer layer got a leak, the second one could be able to stop it from penetrating to the other layers while ensuring sport continuity. Separate inflation chamber also protects you from the puncture by ensuring you stay afloat long enough for you to get help or get to the shore.

Airtight valves are another feature that ensures the air pumped in stay put, and you don’t need to worry about the kayak deflating.  If you inflate the required PSI properly, your boat will remain robust and durable, just like any other regular yak.

But if you go for those boats which are incredibly cheap, i.e., below two hundred dollars, they can’t offer you the same service that costly inflatable yak would. Simply because the materials used and capabilities differ based on the purpose.  Cheaper ones are meant for ponds and putzing around the lakeside. If you plan to travel mile away from the shore, be willing to spend more money, and look for a reliable inflatable boat that is safe and durable.

What is the best brand of the inflatable kayak?

Most of the inflatable kayak out there does their task perfectly well as per the manufacturer’s design and purpose. As time goes by, this kind of yak’s gains more popularity and the competition between different companies is stiffer each day. However, Sea Eagle, Advance Element, Sevylor, Intex, and Coleman remain the top brands in the market.

 Are inflatable kayaks slower than the rigid ones?

Inflatable kayaks are usually slower compared to the rigid ones. Their speed depends on the kayak you are using plus the waters you are on. Your skills as a kayaker play a significant role also in determining how fast a yak can go. We know that the best inflatable kayak is fast on the water unless you compare it with the rigid yaks or are using a model not meant for the purpose.

Are inflatable kayaks safe for fishing?

Yes, they are safe. But as we said earlier, there are numerous types of inflatable kayaks out there designed to suit various activities. Look for a kayak meant for fishing to ensure your safety on the water while having quality time.

How long does an inflatable kayak last?

The one constructed with military-grade materials are very durable and can last you more than five years. However, some of these yaks are made using different materials, and their quality determines the durability. Durable ones cost higher than the usual one, and now it’s up to you and your budget.

Are inflatable kayaks good for Rivers?

Yes, inflatable boats are suitable for rivers like white waters than you can imagine. Since they are majorly made of rubber, withstanding various obstacles in water is pretty straightforward. Plus, in case of a puncture, you will have amble time floating until you get help or get to the shore. For much fun in the river, inflatable kayaks are recommendable.

Final Short

Generally, it’s hard to choose one among the other, especially in a case where both of them offer quality service. As you have seen, we have listed all the features, pros, and cons for both kayaks. From this point, you will now be guided by your needs and personal preference to make a final decision. 

But as a beginner who wants to polish their paddling skills and is on a limited budget, we recommend the inflatable yaks. Moreover, they are easy to transport, store, ride, and cost-friendly, plus it doesn’t require much effort.

For the skilled and experienced kayakers, rigid kayaks will be of much help to them. Apart from being strict, they are durable and gives you control over water while paddling. It downside being their heavyweight and the space required to store them, not to mention transportation challenges you might experience.

After making your decision, remember you have another task ahead of choosing the inflatable or rigid yaks from the plenty of options available.  We are very hopeful you will find your right kayak at the end.

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