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The Pros and Cons of Inflatable Kayaks: Everything You Need to Know

Inflatable kayaks by a lake

Kayaking provides the freedom to explore the beauty of nature from the water.  Whether on the ocean coastline, a mountain lake, or a forested river, kayaks give you a unique perspective of the outdoors. We’ve explored why kayaking is so much fun in the past here at Outward Spaces. From the physical and mental health benefits to the adventure experience of being immersed in nature, it’s clear that kayaking is popular for good reason.

While hard-shell kayaks have dominated the kayak space for decades, inflatable kayaks are becoming increasingly popular as a way to enjoy the water. But which type of kayak is better? We take a look at the pros and cons of inflatable kayaks and share everything you need to know to purchase the right kayak for you.

What is an inflatable kayak?

kayaker kayaking through an ocean cave on an inflatable kayak
Inflatable kayaks are made of multi-layered PVC that allow the kayak to be inflated for use and deflated for storage.

An inflatable kayak is a kayak that is made of a durable fabric that can be inflated with air. Inflatable kayaks are typically made of PVC or nylon, and they come in a variety of shapes and sizes.

Like inflatable stand-up paddleboards, inflatable kayaks have multi-layered PVC with air chambers that are carefully designed to provide buoyancy even under a significant amount of weight. The design of inflatable kayaks is similar to their rigid-hull counterparts – with the only real difference being that they are inflatable.

Inflatable kayaks are a great option for people who are looking for a portable and affordable kayak. When deflated, inflatable kayaks can be stored and transported much easier than hard shell kayaks – making them a great option for those without the space or the vehicle to handle a traditional kayak. They are also a good option for people who are new to kayaking, as they are relatively easy to maneuver.

Inflatable kayaks are portable, affordable, and durable, making them a great option for people of all ages and skill levels. However, there are also some potential drawbacks to inflatable kayaks, such as their speed and maneuverability.

In this article, we will discuss the pros and cons of inflatable kayaks in more detail. We will also provide some tips for choosing the right inflatable kayak for your needs.

What are the pros of inflatable kayaks?

There are many advantages to owning an inflatable kayak. Some of the most common pros include:


Inflatable kayaks are very portable. They can be deflated and rolled up into a small package, making them easy to transport.

Imagine that you are headed out to your favorite lake to kayak.  You can strap your 10ft long hard shell kayak to the roof of your car and hope it stays put or you can simply throw your rolled-up inflatable kayak into the trunk of your car. Now imagine that once you’ve arrived at the lake, you realize that the water’s edge is further from the parking lot that you imagined. Would you rather lug a 50lb, 10ft long kayak to the shore or would you prefer to carry your 10lb inflatable kayak to the water in its carrying bag?

Inflatable kayaks also usually include a carrying bag or backpack that makes storage even easier. Finding the right storage space for hard shells kayaks 9that can be more than 10ft long) can be tricky.  Storing an inflatable kayak only requires a few feet of space and being lighter, you’ll have more options of where to put it.


Inflatable kayaks are typically more affordable than hard-shell kayaks. Entry-level hard shell kayaks start around $400 for a single kayak and more advanced versions can set you back more than $1000. Entry-level inflatable kayaks can be found for between $100-$200 and most advanced inflatable kayaks can be found in the $700-$900 range.

The quality of inflatable kayaks can vary significantly with the least expensive kayaks typically being questionable in terms of durability. When searching for the right inflatable kayak for you, try to stay away from the models that look more like toys than adventure vehicles.  Some inflatable kayaks (the lower-end Intex models for example) are better suited for your backyard pool than your local paddling water.


kayaking in an inflatable kayak
While they won’t last as long as hard-shell kayaks, inflatable kayaks are surprisingly durable.

Inflatable kayaks are made of durable materials that can surprisingly withstand a lot of wear and tear.  If properly taken care of, the PVC of inflatable kayaks can last many years without developing holes.  If you do find a leak in your inflatable kayak, small holes in your kayak’s PVC are simple and inexpensive to patch with a repair kit.

Don’t get us wrong here though, no inflatable kayak is as durable as a hard-shell kayak.  Hard shell kayaks are built to take a beating.  They are made of hard plastic materials that are difficult to break or crack no matter how hard you are on them.  Most hard shell kayaks will outlive you. Inflatable kayaks will begin to break down after some years of use – especially at the seams where the PVC glue can degrade.

While inflatable kayaks aren’t as durable as hard shell kayaks, the multi-layered PVC materials they use are tougher than you’d imagine.  Inflatable kayaks stand up well to abrasion and due to being air-filled, they respond well to hard knocks against the hull.


Built for speed and maneuverability, hard-shell kayaks are often unstable – especially when getting in and out of them. Due to the give of multiple air chambers, inflatable kayaks are usually much more stable, making them a good option for beginners. This increased stability is also welcomed by those who prefer to stay as dry as possible when kayaking.


Perhaps the biggest advantage of inflatable kayaks is that they be used for a variety of activities, including fishing, touring, and recreation. Hard shell kayaks are often more purpose-built specifically for recreational paddling or serious fishing, for example. Between the small size inflatable kayaks pack up into and the extra stability they provide, they are better suited for a wider range of activities on the water.

What are the cons of inflatable kayaks?

When exploring the pros and cons of inflatable kayaks, there are also a few disadvantages to owning an inflatable kayak. Some of the most common cons include:


Inflatable kayaks are not as fast as hard-shell kayaks. The flexible air chambers, textured PVC surface, and a variety of seams of inflatable kayaks all make for a slower boat. On top of this, inflatable kayaks are often shorter than the average hard-shell kayak – causing slower top speeds.

In contrast, the surfaces of hard-shell kayaks are typically smooth, rigid, and strong.  The hard plastic of the hull better cuts through the water and the waves.  The longer lengths of hard shell kayaks – especially found in “touring” models – are built for speed and they respond much more efficiently when paddling.

Though inflatable kayaks aren’t as fast as hard shell kayaks, they still respond well and can be quick when paddling them efficiently.  Most recreational paddlers will gladly trade a little speed for the convenience of an inflatable.


inflatable kayaking
Inflatable kayaks aren’t as fast or as maneuverable as hard-shell kayaks.

Like speed, inflatable kayaks also sacrifice maneuverability compared to hard-shell kayaks. The rigid hulls of hard-shell kayaks make them more responsive to turns or changes in direction.  The “give” of inflatable kayaks means that they flex more and less power generated by paddling directly transfers to the water.

Inflatable kayaks also don’t track as well as most hard-shell kayaks. Tracking means “how well it will stay moving in a straight line”.  Due to increased wind resistance and the fact that most inflatable kayaks sit higher in the water, tracking can be an issue on inflatables.  Many inflatable kayaks have skegs on the bottom of the hull to help the inflatable track better.  If you are concerned about tracking when paddling an inflatable kayak, look for models that have larger (or even multiple) skegs.

Most paddlers won’t have any trouble maneuvering an inflatable kayak, but advanced paddlers – especially those with hard-shell experience – may be frustrated with the lack of response from an inflatable.  If you plan on tackling a skills or slalom course on your local water or are planning to paddle highly technical rapids, it’s best to go with a hard-shell.  In all other cases, you should be able to get to your destination without any trouble on an inflatable kayak.

Can be more difficult to paddle in windy conditions

Inflatable kayaks are light with inflated air chambers that often leave a larger boat profile to be caught by the wind. This means that inflatable kayaks can be more difficult to paddle in windy conditions than hard-shell kayaks.  The loss of speed and maneuverability found in inflatables can make the feeling of being “blown by the wind” more apparent in inflatable kayaks.

Despite being blown more by the wind, in most cases, you’ll arrive at your destination just as easily as you would in a hard-shell kayak.  You may expend a few more calories by having to paddle harder than you would have had to in a hard-shell kayak, but for most kayakers, the overall convenience of an inflatable kayak is well worth it.

Won’t last as long as a hard-shell

Hard shell kayaks are designed of hard plastic and are meant to endure years of exposure to the sun and water.  Their rigid hulls are more resilient against hard bumps against rocks or punctures from sharp objects.

Most hard shell kayaks are floating tanks – they will take a beating being drug across shorelines and shallow, rocky water and will continue to do their thing.  But this durability comes at the cost of increased weight and a hull that can be folded, packed away, or stored in small spaces.

Inflatable kayaks, on the other hand, will puncture and leak when exposed to sharp objects.  While leaks do happen on inflatable kayaks, having multiple air chambers will keep the kayak afloat allowing you to return home safely. Leaks and punctures can usually be patched and repaired easily within minutes.To increase the life of an inflatable kayak, keep in out of the sun when not in use.  It’s best to deflate and pack away inflatable kayaks after each use.  This “packing away” will prevent the seams from being stressed during temperature changes, protect the PVC fabric from harmful UV rays, and keep it ready to go for your next adventure.

The Bottom Line

After weighing the pros and cons of inflatable kayaks, inflatable kayaks are a great option for people who are looking for a portable, affordable, and durable kayak. However, they are not as fast, maneuverable, or as durable as hard-shell kayaks.

When choosing an inflatable kayak, it is important to consider the type of water you will be paddling in, the size of the kayak, and the number of people who will be using it. See our recommendations below to find the inflatable kayak that best fits your needs.

Inflatable kayaks can be used for a variety of activities, including fishing, touring, and recreation. By far, the largest advantage of an inflatable kayak is convenience.  Inflatable kayaks can be deflated and packed away needing less storage space and making them easy to transport in any vehicle. While some performance is sacrificed when choosing an inflatable kayak, easier storage and transport to and from the water will have you paddling more often.

There are many shapes and sizes of inflatable kayaks available on the market. To find the right inflatable kayak for your needs, we encourage you to go beyond our list of the pros and cons of inflatable kayaks and research models for yourself.

Happy Paddling!

Inflatable Kayaks To Consider:

Why Kayaking is So Much Fun: Exploring the Joy and Thrill of Paddling on the Water

paddling in the middle of a lake
Kayaking is so much fun for a multitude of reasons.

Spending time out on the water is always a privilege.  Whether it’s ocean, lakes, or rivers, there’s something truly special about having the chance to explore bodies of water. Kayaking is one of the most popular ways people enjoy time on the water, and for good reason.  Kayaking is just plain fun.  Paddling across the water in your own personal watercraft provides a unique sense of freedom and enjoyment. It’s easier than paddleboarding and gets you closer to the water than a boat.

If you’ve never had the opportunity to get out in a kayak, you may wonder what all the fuss is about.  Why is kayaking fun?  In this article, we’ll list just a few of the many reasons why kayaking is so much fun.  Hopefully, by the end, you’ll be ready to hop into your own kayak, head off into the sunset, and experience the joy and thrills of kayaking for yourself. And to help out, at the end of this article, we have some links to kayak gear to help you get started.

So grab your paddle and let’s dive into the world of kayaking!

Why Kayaking is So Much Fun

Reason #1: Kayaking is awesome exercise

For most of us, going to the gym isn’t very much fun.  We know we need the exercise, but staring at walls while running on a treadmill isn’t exactly something we’re pining for.  Exercise is SO much more fun when we get to do something we enjoy. Throw in the outdoors and suddenly, we’re stoked to get sweaty.

Kayaking is exactly that – outdoor exploration with exercise thrown in as a bonus. Paddling to propel your kayak across the water is so much fun and it’s great exercise!  Paddling increases your heart rate making for a great cardiovascular workout that you are in complete control of.  Find yourself breathing too hard? Slow it down.  Looking to burn off those extra campfire pancakes you ate at breakfast? Paddle faster and harder. No matter how hard you choose to paddle, the human power will burn calories and improve your cardiovascular system.

And kayaking is not just great for your heart, it’s also great for your muscles, especially in your upper body and core. The physics of paddling a kayak centers on the moving of water.  Move water with your paddle and your kayak moves in response. Moving water with your paddle requires using your muscles. According to Old Town Watercraft, kayaking works out twelve major muscle groups, including your abs, biceps, triceps, lats, shoulders, thighs, and hamstrings. It truly is a whole-body workout. And due to the repetitive actions of paddling, kayaking is a great way to develop arm, back, shoulder, and overall muscles.

Reason #2: Kayaking is good for your mental health

Let’s be honest – most of us are struggling. Just trying to survive in our post-pandemic, politically chaotic, and inflation-adjusted reality is tough. We try our best to look and act like everything is ok, but inside, things are a different story. We are in desperate need of more activities that help us relax, de-stress, and reconnect with ourselves.

Kayaking fits the mental health, self-care bill pretty well.  Gliding across the surface of pristine bodies of water accompanied only by the sound of the water against our kayak is pretty great for your mental well-being. It’s amazing how the thought of all of the unread emails in our inbox fades away and is replaced by the wonder of what lies beyond the next cove when kayaking.  It’s a simple activity that helps to simplify your mind and soul.

Solo kayaking has a special way of feeling like the ultimate freedom.  You alone get to decide which way to go, where to explore, and and what speed it will be done at.  The silence and the solitude of you and your kayak can be incredibly refreshing.  Kayaking with a group of friends can be similarly rejuvenating. Working together with other kayakers to determine the agenda and to share stories along the way can be downright therapeutic.

Reason #3: Kayaking with others is always a good time

paddling out with others
Kayaking with friends and family provides opportunities for bonding and shared experiences.

If you’re like me, you’re always looking for new and fun things to do with friends and family.  Sure, we can always call the crew to grab beers at our local watering hole, but that is exactly what we always do. We can take the family on yet another trip to the movies, but sitting in silence for 2 hours isn’t exactly our idea of a great bonding opportunity.

Do you know what is a spectacular thing to do with friends or family? You guessed it – kayaking. Explore the local lake together. See where the river goes together. Paddle out through the breaking waves together – taking bets to see who is the first to dump their kayak.  All these things are better done with others.

Kayaks come in all sizes from single kayaks to double kayaks with enough room for a cooler full of drinks. When sharing a double kayak, a big part of the challenge and interaction is working together to paddle the kayak efficiently. With everyone in their own kayak, competitions are sure to break out without a word. Either way, kayaking provides opportunities for bonding and shared experiences.

Reason #4: Kayaking is full of adventure

The sense of adventure is another big reason why kayaking is fun. Most of us encounter little adventure in our everyday lives.  Pulling off a big presentation at work or finding a way to pay all of our bills can sometimes feel adventurous, but these fleeting touches of excitement pale in comparison to the true adventure that awaits us in nature. A kayak is the perfect vehicle to pursue adventure while exploring nature.

Leaving the city behind and escaping to the outdoors is an adventure in itself, but dropping your kayak in a mountain lake or flowing river is another level of excitement. No two days on the water are the same. No two bodies of water are identical. You can run a river into remote forests or explore a large mountain lake. How far can you travel in a day? Will you camp on the other side of the lake? Will you catch your own dinner from your kayak on the way?

Your kayak is your personal watercraft. Where will you go?  What will you discover? What’s just around the next bend? What’s it like to go through the rapids? The beautiful thing about kayaking is that each of these questions can be answered by you and your kayak alone. The beauty of your surroundings and the eternal question of “what lies ahead” keep things interesting and exciting.

Reason #5: Kayaking immerses you in nature

why kayaking is fun
Kayaking can provide a deep sense of connection to the natural world

No matter where you kayak, you’ll find yourself immersed in nature.  You’ll see various wildlife flocking to the water for a drink. You’ll feel the water beneath you. In most cases, your increased breathing rate from paddling will be met with fresh, clean air. On a kayak, you’re paddling with be aided by the currents of the river when paddling downstream. If you need to paddle upstream, you’ll come face to face with the power of the moving water against your efforts.

There are few better ways to experience nature than in a kayak. From the unique vantage point of the water, you’ll experience nature in its full effect surrounding you.  Gliding over the water in your kayak, you’ll feel as though you could reach down and grab a fish straight from the water. Master of your own domain, you will choose which aspects of nature to focus in on. Whatever you choose, nature will be all around you – enveloping your experience.

Kayaking allows you to experience the environment in a unique and immersive way. You can feel the water under your paddle, hear the sounds of nature, and feel the wind on your face. This can provide a deep sense of connection to the natural world.

Reason #6: Kayaking offers special access

Being in a kayak affords some unique access to bodies of water that those without a boat just can’t get to. Encountering a gorgeous glacial mountain lake is breathtaking, but being able to examine its boundaries from the water is something else. The length of a river you can travel in a day exponentially increases when aided by the current.

Kayaks allow you to reach places others can’t and provide opportunities to search less-traveled areas easily. In your kayak – your personal water vehicle – you go where you want on the water without restriction. Fishing from your kayak in the middle of a lake will usually yield a better catch. And viewing the shoreline from the water is a different experience than on land.

In a kayak, scenic views abound.  Bodies of water offer increased views of the sky and more of your surrounding can be enjoyed from the water. Being on a kayak is a privilege.  It’s a ticket to experience what others can’t and to go where others don’t. This special access is a big part of why kayaking is fun.

Reason #7: Kayaking provides unique experiences on the water

kayaking through a cave
Cave kayaking is a unique experience that creates lasting memories.

There is something uniquely satisfying about being on the water in a kayak.  The freedom and access a kayak offers can’t be beaten and the thrill of propelling yourself through the water is pretty awesome. Kayaking offers a unique way to explore shorelines, lakes, and rivers. As kayaks sit lower in the water than traditional boats, you’ll feel as though you are in the water as you paddle. Being lightweight and easy to maneuver, kayaks let you do and go where you want without too much effort.

From cave kayaking to kayak fishing, the opportunities for incredible experiences on a kayak are countless. Meander around the boats in a marina.  Paddle through surface vegetation on a crystal clear lake. Ride the whitewater of a raging river. Cruise through the surf to paddle alongside playful dolphins. Catch the big one from the depths of a glacial lake. Take a romantic kayak trip with your partner and watch the sunset from the water. Whatever your preferred water, kayaking offers a multitude of unique and enjoyable experiences.

The Bottom Line

Kayaking is so much fun for a variety of reasons, from physical fitness to access to nature and unique experiences on the water. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced paddler, kayaking offers something for everyone. As a low-impact activity, paddling a kayak is a fun way for people of all activity levels to get some exercise. It offers thrills, scenic views, adventure, and special access to remote places.

So if you’re looking for a new adventure or a way to connect with nature, consider giving kayaking a try. With its many benefits and endless opportunities for exploration and adventure, kayaking is sure to provide amazing experiences for anyone who’s willing to paddle out and explore the water.

Ready to get out on the water? Here are some kayaks to consider:

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