Inflatable Kayak vs Hardshell: Which Is Better?

If you’re considering buying a kayak then its very easy to feel overwhelmed with the sheer amount of choice! There are so many different types of kayak and knowing which one you should get can be quite confusing.

In this post we’re going to break down the differences between inflatable and hardshell kayaks to help you better understand the pros and cons and help you know which one is right for you and your needs.

Pros and cons of inflatable kayaks

Inflatable kayaks have been around for a little while now after manufacturers started using plastic to make kayaks out of in the 1980s it wasn’t long before we had inflatables on the market.

Since then they’ve come a long way in terms of their quality and durability and so now they really do rival hardshell kayaks in a number of different ways.

The price

The first and noticeable pro of inflatable kayaks is the price tag. They are significantly lower in cost than their hardshell counterparts. This makes them very popular with beginners or people just trying out kayaking to see if they like it before making a more significant cash investment.

They are easier to store

When they’re fully blown up inflatable kayaks can get pretty big but a huge advantage of them is that they pack down so small. This makes them very easy to store and fit in a cupboard. Not having to mount them on walls or messing around with roof racks on your car.

Lighter and more portable

Inflatables are very light and easy to carry. If you don’t have a car to transport your kayak then it’s no problem. Just pop it in one of the many different backpacks or bags which most of them come with and carry it down to your nearest water spot. If you’re a solo kayaker then this could be a huge pro.

It also means you can carry your kayak to more remote locations that would be very difficult to reach with a hardshell kayak.

Strong and durable

Inflatable kayaks are surprisingly durable. They’re made out of strong materials like rubber and PVC that means they’re a lot tougher than you’d think and able to withstand the reasonable knocks and bumps that are to be expected on a kayaking trip.

That being said they aren’t indestructible and will eventually succumb to some sort of leak or puncture. They are very easy to repair though and with proper care will last a good amount of use.

Safe and reliable

Inflatable kayaks are very safe and have multiple air chambers so that if you did suffer a puncture or leak you wouldn’t completely sink. They have a surprisingly high weight capacity and most of the time are able to carry more weight than their hardshell counterparts. Each inflatable kayak is different though so best to check the specifications first.

On flat and calm water inflatable kayaks are a lot more stable and less likely to capsize and so can be a very good option for children and those not wanting to risk going for a dip. But, once the water gets a bit more choppy that can change and hardshells become more stable as they sit lower in the water.

Pros and cons of hardshell kayaks

Hardshell is the term that’s used for any kayak that isn’t inflatable. Quite often they’re made out of plastic PVC but you can also get them made out of wood, fibreglass, carbon fibre or even kevlar.

Each material has it’s pros and cons as you can imagine but compared to inflatable kayaks they share a lot of commonalities.

Better handling and maneuverability

The main advantage of hardshell kayaks over inflatable ones is their better handling and maneuverability. They tend to sit lower in the water and so have a lot better tracking (being able to go in a straight line) than inflatable kayaks. Most inflatables will need to have a skeg or rudder added to them to get better handling.

Larger and so can carry more gear

Hardshell kayaks, on the whole, are larger than inflatables and so have a lot more storage to carry supplies and gear for longer trips. Obviously the small playboats don’t but most touring kayaks will have storage compartments in front and behind the cockpit allowing you to take a lot more with you.

But the longer the kayak the more difficult they can be to turn. For this reason if you’re a beginner aim for shorter length kayaks.

Very strong materials

Hardshell kayaks as the name suggest are very tough and can take quite a beating. The strongest kayaks tend to be the re-molded ones which are made out of polyethylene. But the downside of having these tough kayaks is they will weigh a lot more.

Thermoform kayaks are another option that are still tough but a bit lighter than the remolded ones. You can also get kayaks made out of fibreglass, carbon fibre and even kevlar.

Weight

Hardshell kayaks can get pretty large with some being over 15ft. They can be very unwieldy to carry as one person. You’ll definitely need two people or a kayak cart for a lot of them.

They can also be very difficult to transport to different locations. You’ll need to get a roof rack and have a dedicated place to store it in your garage.

Conclusion

So as you can see there are lots of pros and cons to both inflatable and hard shell kayaks. Which one is right for you depends on your own circumstances like if you have a garage and transport to store a hardshell and what sort of paddling you want to use it for. Lakes and calm rivers maybe an inflatable kayak will suffice but if you’re going out in the ocean you might want the extra stability and control of a hardshell.

Either way there are lots of different options and the right kayak is out there for you. Let us know in the comments which kayak you have and the reasons you bought it.