Is It Worth Buying An Inflatable Kayak?

Reading Time: 19 minutes

As opposed to a hard shell kayak, inflatable kayaks are, you guessed it! Filled with air!

Inflatable kayaks are typically made from PVC, Hypalon, or Polyester material and have several air chambers.

An inflatable kayak can be inflated easily by a hand pump, foot pump, or an electric pump – though you need to be mindful when using electrical pumps so as not to overinflate.

When setting up you reach the appropriate pressure, just seal the valve and you’re pretty much good to go!

Lightweight, easier to transport, and often more affordable, they are also less expensive to repair when damaged.

Easily stored in the trunk of the car or carried in a backpack, they are a way easier and quicker way to get out paddling.

For me, an inflatable kayak is a good investment and especially for people who want to enjoy the outdoors more, but don’t have the space or money for a hard shell kayak.

And inflatables don’t necessarily get outperformed by hardshell kayaks either-  they are often built for performance, durability, and speed.

I own my own inflatable with a semi-rigid frame which I’ll cover later.

Inflatables are light, portable, and can be taken anywhere, making them an excellent choice for those that want to go on a casual paddle every once in a while without having to install roof racks or lug around heavy gear alone if paddling a single-seater.

They are easy to portage too – in the event, you’re off on a more arduous outdoor adventure!

If you are considering purchasing an inflatable, do some more of your own research before going out there and splurging out – have a search online and on youtube for some of the best inflatable kayaks.

There are plenty of choices BUT…

They are some truly awful inflatables on the market.

Buy cheap and you’ll buy twice!

Before purchasing, just ask yourself: What type of kayak do you want?

  • What kind of paddling do you intend to do?
  • Leisurely, on the off occasion? or is this a more sporty endeavor?
  • What kind of conditions, flat water, moving or deep water?
  • Do you intend to Kayak Alone or are you interested in a Tandem Kayak

Many inflatable kayaks are more of a raft-like shape with a rounded bow, making them hard to steer, less responsive, and slower.

I’ve tested a few, and in all honestly, even the stability on these is a bit poor!

Many new designs incorporate durable materials and drop-stitch technology, allowing them to be inflated more, enhancing the rigidity of the kayak’s floor.

This is what my Kayak has, a dropped stitch, a more rigid hull, and honestly feels so much more secure, stable, and agile in the water – well especially compared to some of the cheaper entry-level inflatables.

My advanced elements inflatable actually has a host of accessories including a floor upgrade to add more rigidity and tracking – although I don’t really feel the need to use it all that often.

My own Kayak glides more smoothly through the water faster and straighter with better tracking as a result of its materials

Less rigid models can cause more fatigue if you push your way through the water instead of gliding above it is so be mindful when researching your options

Also, consider who and where you’re buying your kayak from.   I.e. does this company represent some kind of fast-moving business enterprise just to import pre-made kayaks?

Ahem ..these cheap imports from wholesale sites that tend to clog up certain amazon listings – AVOID!

For me It is very important for me to go with a brand that has been in this business for a long time and is passionate about the sport.

Chris Watson carrying Inflatable Kayak
A sunny day paddling on Loch Lomond

Do experienced kayakers use them regularly or are they simply glorified pool toys?

Over-engineering and attention to detail tend to be a hallmark of higher-end companies and brands and it’s evident that invest in their own talent and develop expertise.

The end result is a higher quality product line.

It, therefore, makes sense to go with a brand invested in paddling, watersports, and the outdoors – not someone that also creates inflatable unicorns for your pool party.

Lastly, of course, consider online reviews. Including youtube reviews.  and not just mines – have an open mind and be wary of people jus trying to snipe your click to earn some cash!

The kayaking community is a friendly, outspoken bunch and will be happy to share their take on the various inflatables.

So have a dig around forums and Facebook groups

By reading in-depth reviews, you can get a general idea of what type of kayak you’d want to paddle and shortlist some of the best choices for you.

and if you get stuck then why not drop me a message?

Is an inflatable kayak a good idea?

is an inflatable kayak a good idea
Getting my inflatable kayak ready for another trip on Loch Ard

As I’ve said, they are lightweight, easy to transport, durable, and a breeze to set up, inflatable kayaks also have built-in seats and storage for comfort.

Inflatables are a no-brainer for those that want a quick and affordable way to get on the water without the hassle of lugging a hard shell kayak around as a beginner.

It’s how I started, and I honestly and predominantly use my inflatable.

If you want a more in-depth guide on whether Kayaking Is Difficult for beginners – check out my ultimate guide with supporting infographics.

Best purchase ever.

Inflatable doesn’t mean fragile, either.

I have paddled my own Advanced Elements Advanced Frame inflatable numerous times in rivers and moving choppy waters, getting knocked around the strainers and sweepers without busting it open.

I’ve dragged the bottom over rocks in shallow waters, and it still holds up well.

More than my paddles in such circumstances though haha… nothing worse than trying to un-wedge yourself in shallow rocky waters.

Inflatables are typically made with top-quality materials, durable PVC, polyvinyl chloride, or PU, or polyurethane.

Some are made of a combination of several durable materials.

The advantages of inflatable kayaks are that they are lightweight and easy to transport, can be easily deflated and packed into a carry bag, and are relatively inexpensive compared to other types of kayaks.

Inflatable kayaks also provide good stability and tracking in the water, making them a good choice for beginner kayakers.

Inflatable kayaks are available in both solo and tandem models, and they come in a variety of shapes and sizes.

Some are designed for whitewater rafting and others are designed for touring or fishing with room to store supplies and fishing gear.

Inflatable kayaks can be used for recreational paddling, whitewater rafting, fishing, and camping expeditions too.

They are also a very good choice for people who want to get into kayaking but do not have the storage space to store a traditional kayak and who haven’t fully committed to this sport or leisurely endeavor.

Entry-level cheap kayaks can be used in a variety of water conditions, but they are not a good idea for use in rough seas, moving waters, or long distances.

Especially not over larger open water stretches where the wind can fetch up.

They are best suited for calm waters such as lakes and slow-moving rivers.

Why are Inflatable kayaks great options for beginners?

Comparing 2 inflatable kayaks
Comparing my Advanced Elements Kayak to the Intex Explorer K2 Tandem Inflatable

Inflatable kayaks are also a great option for those who want to paddle but don’t have the storage space for hard-shell kayaks.

When deflated, they can be rolled up and fit easily into a carry bag or in the trunk of your car.

One of the possible disadvantages of inflatable kayaks is that cheaper models can be punctured depending on the material.

Bringing a kayak repair kit is vital in ensuring you’re able to deal with any unexpected tears or punctures due to dings.

Most respectable brands include these repair kits so do research what’s included in your package when you buy.

Another advantage is that inflatable kayaks typically carry more weight than hard-shell kayaks.

  • A 25 lb inflatable could bear up to 500 lbs!

Good news for say an overnight camping trip where you’re hauling a tent and other goodies AND is an important consideration for the larger folks and those that want to paddle as doubles.

Why would you buy an inflatable kayak?

Why would you buy an inflatable kayak
My Wife Nadeen after her first ever kayak paddle!

An inflatable kayak is an excellent purchase for anyone who wants to enjoy the water without breaking the bank.

They allow inexperienced paddlers and beginners to get on the water quickly and frictionless.

They are easy to store, lightweight, and can be set up and inflated in minutes.

Inflatable kayaks are perfect for beginners who want to try out kayaking without being intimidated by or over-commitment to buying a much more expensive hard shell kayak.

They are also a good option for people who live in apartments or don’t have much storage space.

Inflatables can easily be deflated and stored away in a small space when not in use.

I can get mine ready to be on the water in 10 minutes from unpacking, pumping and paddling!

Inflatable kayaks are great for traveling or camping because they don’t weigh much and can be carried in a backpack and brought to your campsite which hopefully, is by a flat water loch (or lake if you’re over the pond from the UK)!

Inflatables are much easier to transport and store than hard-shell kayaks.

They don’t require a separate roof rack and can fit easily into the trunk of your car.

Whether you are a seasoned paddler that wants to enjoy kayaking without the hassle of transporting or storing a hard shell kayak, or a beginner that wants to get into the sport at an affordable price range, inflatables are the perfect combination of durability, performance, convenience, and affordability.

How long does an inflatable kayak last?

How long does an inflatable kayak last
Take proper care of your kayak BEFORE & AFTER each trip – increase their longevity

It varies depending on the brand and kayak manufacturer, but any manufacturer worth their salt is going to give you at least five years, if not ten, of guarantee.

Just send whatever you have back, and they will fix it.

That said, with proper care, an inflatable kayak can last years, if not decades.

It is important to remember that this can vary greatly depending on a number of factors that come into play.

It’s safe to assume that inflatable kayaks that are made from more expensive materials, such as Hypalon, will last longer than those that are made from PVC.

The material is usually an airtight and watertight fabric or vinyl coated fabric.

Some inflatable kayaks are made of PVC or other plastics.

An inflatable kayak is usually less expensive than a hard-shelled kayak because it doesn’t require the additional expense of fiberglass or Kevlar reinforcements.

After every use of your kayak, you should wash it gently and store it in a location away from extreme temperatures.

The proper handling of your kayak will help prevent some degradation of the materials, but in reality, no matter what you do, all plastics degrade with the passage of time.

In general, you can expect the glue holding the seams on your inflatable kayak to degrade around ten years after it has been manufactured.

This degrading process is referred to as rot and ferment.

As there has been a rise in the popularity and demand in recent years for inflatable kayaks as well as their durability the quality has improved considerably

The materials used today are much stronger and last longer than those used decades ago.

For example, fabrics designed to resist high pressures are much more durable.

For high-pressure applications, these materials are available in the thickness range of 1000 to 1100 denier.

In this instance, denier refers to the thickness of the individual threads used to create the threads of the fabric utilized along with a PVC coating that creates a waterproof seal, without any ambient air entering the fabric.

As well as being tear-resistant and puncture-resistant, this omnidirectional material is also excellent at preventing seepage.

In addition to its high-performance attributes, this material has been added with special additives whose combined effects guarantee long-term resistance to colors, chemicals, and ultraviolet rays.

Kayaks that have been made using this material will remain durable for several decades.

Proper care of the kayak will prolong its lifespan.

Here are some tips to care for your precious inflatable.

  • Always inspect your kayak for damage before using it.
    • Make sure that all seams, especially around the air chambers, and valves are intact and free of leaks.
  • If your kayak has a removable skeg, store it separately.
  • Inflate your kayak to the correct pressure.
    • Consult the manufacturer’s instructions for the recommended PSI.
    • Too much or too little air pressure can damage the kayak.
  • Do not drag or scratch your kayak on the ground.
    • This can damage the fabric and shorten the life of your kayak.
  • Store your kayak in a dry place when not in use.
    • Exposure to the sun and rain can damage the fabric and shorten the life of your kayak.
  • If you do experience a leak, repair the kayak immediately.
    • Do not continue to use a kayak with a leak.

Are inflatable kayaks as good as solid?

Chris Watson on Hardshell Kayak
Testing a hard-shell Kayak on Loch Tay

Inflatable kayaks are known to track less responsively than hard-shell kayaks.

Of all the inflatables I’ve tried personally, I would say my advanced elements (advanced frame) kayak track’s the best – partly due to the molded-on skeg.

In addition, being inflatable, they are more likely to gain punctures and leaks – but again the quality of your model will determine how probable that is. 

Buy cheap – then yes, buy higher-end then punctures and so on are unlikely but also not unheard of.

It’s important you always have a personal floatation device wherever you go on the water.

I dont care how experienced you are you should never take risks.

Respect the water at all times and put a life vest on.

Of course, a hard shell plastic kayak is going to be way more durable than an inflatable.

Inflatable kayaks are made with a thin rubberized fabric with air chambers that are meant to be filled with air.

The fabric is more susceptible to damage from rocks and other hard objects, which can lead to holes in the boat.

This can cause the boat to deflate and sink, which could be dangerous for someone who is on the water.

Inflatable kayaks also do not offer as much stability for someone on it, so they may tip over if a large wave hits or if someone falls out of them.

However, there are many advantages to using an inflatable kayak.

The most obvious one is that they are much lighter and compact than a hard-shell kayak, so it is easier to carry them around or launch alone.

This also makes them easier to transport, which is a major plus if you plan on going on long trips or backpacking with your kayak.

In addition, storing an inflatable kayak takes up way less storage space than a hard shell kayak would.

Solid kayaks are often more expensive than inflatable ones, but they offer better performance and last longer.

Inflatable kayaks are cheaper, lighter, and easier to transport when deflated.

You don’t even need a roof rack!

They also offer a more comfortable ride and can be used in shallow waters where solid ones cannot go.

However, some inflatable kayaks do not perform well in choppy water, can puncture easily if not stored properly, and have a shorter lifespan than solid kayaks.

Another advantage of inflatable kayaks is that they are less expensive than solid ones.

They are more lightweight and easier to store as well. Whether you want to go fishing, exploring, or just a quick paddle, inflatables are versatile and can be used in any water condition.

However, inflatable kayaks do have their drawbacks.

What you gain in convenience, cost, and portability, you sacrifice in durability.

Also, while the best inflatable kayaks can keep up with the average hard shell, inflatables are known to be significantly slower.

Are inflatable kayaks more stable?

No issue with stability on the loch even in choppy water

Inflatable kayaks are typically more stable than hard-shell kayaks. But let me explain

The stability of inflatable kayaks is due to the fact that they are wider and tend to have much flatter bottoms and have a lower center of gravity.

This makes them less likely to tip over in the water.

It is harder to capsize an inflatable kayak, even intentionally!

Inflatable kayaks are more stable than traditional hardshell kayaks, making them a good option for beginner paddlers that may be concerned.

Also, a more viable option for those beginners may have tried the smaller hardshell models (on the loch, lake, or camping trip) and been unable to stop them spinning or make them to go in a straight line !

They are also much easier to transport and store, which makes them a good choice for people who don’t have a lot of space to store a kayak.

Inflatable kayaks are also less expensive than traditional kayaks, so they are a good option for people who are on a budget.

You can typically get a beginner’s pack including a paddle and personal flotation device for a few hundred pounds or dollars.

A cost-effective way to get out on the water and have some fun.

Back to Saftey, though and again my own recommendations:

When it comes to inflatable kayaks, stability is of utmost concern, whether you are buying one yourself or designing and selling them.

Keeping you afloat should be the highest priority on any watercraft, and that certainly applies to kayaks.

Having a tippy kayak might unnerve all but the most experienced paddlers.

I paddle an Advanced Elements Advanced Frame inflatable and of course, it doesn’t feel as firm as a hard shell, but it doesn’t feel insecure or flimsy either.

It is stable in most conditions and tracks beautifully on calm waters. moving water or choppy seas.

It maneuvers great and turns easily for a 10-foot kayak, which is actually pretty short for a touring kayak.

The main difference between inflatable kayaks and other types of watercraft can be found in the inflatable kayaks’ size, level, and materials.

The range of paddling watercraft available today would be much less if stability were the only issue and priority.

This would leave us with little choice more than inflatable or conventional boats.

There are several things you should consider before deciding to take the plunge (pun intended by the way:)

  • Stability
  • Ability of the watercraft to operate in various waters
  • Amount of storage space you need inside the craft,
  • Ease of storing and handling the kayak.

Do inflatable kayaks flip easily?

No, they dont.  In fact, Some inflatable kayaks are designed to be more stable than others and hence why many have a wider flatter hull.

For example, they might have a higher volume and weight capacity or a wider beam, or width to limit the possibility of flipping or capsizing.

A wider beam makes it less likely that the kayak will flip because it provides more stability in the water.

There are also inflatable kayaks that are specifically designed to be more easily flipped, such as those with a low volume and weight capacity.

These kayaks are usually made for personal use on calm waters and not for use in rough water conditions.

There are some factors that make an inflatable kayak more likely to flip:

  • Weight – The weight of the person in the boat.
    • Weight distribution also has an effect on stability.
    • When the weight is evenly distributed, it will be less likely to tip over than if it is concentrated in one area.

A wider beam makes for a more stable boat than a narrow one because there are more points at which the boat can balance itself against the water pressure.

If you weigh over 200 pounds, you should be careful not to lean too far to each side which might increase the risk that the boat will tip over.

  • Stability – Inflatable kayaks can be just as stable as rigid ones.

I paddle an Advanced Elements Advanced Frame inflatable and have taken it out in most water conditions without having the boat feel insecure or tippy.

Are inflatable kayaks hard to inflate?

Easy to Inflate my kayak in 10 mins. No hassles

Not at all.  I can inflate my kayak by hand or foot pump in as little as 1o minutes without any fatigue whatsoever

Most inflatable kayaks come with an air pump, which makes inflating the kayak simple and easy.

You can use a hand pump, foot pump, or electric air pump.

Kayak Pumps Options ;

  • A hand pump works by using a piston to create a vacuum. This vacuum is created by the user’s motion, which then pulls the air out of the pump and into the object being inflated.
  • A foot pump works by using the power of your foot to compress air.
    • This compressed air is then released into the kayak. Foot pumps are relatively inexpensive and easy to use.
  • You’ll be using more body weight than strength to inflate your kayak.
  • Electric pumps are the fastest and easiest way to inflate your kayak. It has to be powered by an electric source such as an outlet, or your car’s battery.

How to inflate an inflatable kayak

To inflate your kayak, first, remove it from the backpack or any other carrying bag and lay it flat on the ground.

Unfold it thoroughly and if you want, do a visual inspection for any leftover debris, or dirt.

Then, identify the numbered chambers (typically 1,4 or 1-6) and then hook it up to whichever pump you have, whether a hand, foot, or electric pump for easy inflation.

Now inflate your kayak chambers in the orders printed.

Make sure you fill all the chambers with air.

Now you’re ready to take your kayak and go for that paddle!

Inflatable Air Chambers

Typically, the air chambers in an inflatable kayak consist of three chambers: floor, sidewalls, and one or more inner chambers.

There are certain kayaks that have only two chambers: a floor chamber and a tube that connects the two sides.

Remember that you always need to inflate the air chamber located on the bottom of the kayak first before working on the upper part of the kayak. The air chamber is located under the floor of the kayak.

In order for the walls of the kayak to be inflated properly, it is important to pump the floor first, which creates the base for what will follow.

It is essential to locate the air valve and you will either find a Boston valve or a Halkey Roberts valve depending on where it can be found.

Now that your air pump is attached with the right valve adapter, inflate the floor chamber all the way according to the manufacturer’s guidelines for the appropriate pressure.

As soon as your floor chamber has been pumped, do your walls and any other air chambers that aren’t connected. Always work from the bottom up.

That said the air chambers should be numbered and easy to follow.

After you’re done, remove your pump, finish the setup by placing any removable parts like the seat and skeg on your kayak and you’re good to go!

Make sure each chamber of the wall is filled to a height of 60-70% for new kayaks

The first time you get a new kayak, you should only inflate it to a certain level, say 60-70% all around before inflating the kayak fully.

This will help the walls to settle into their new position.

Inflating a side chamber to its full capacity immediately might cause it to warp.

You may find that after using your kayak for some time, everything will be in the right place, and you can then inflate each air chamber fully.

Be sure that the floor chamber is properly positioned

You should make sure that the floor stays in the center as soon as the walls are partially filled.

To make sure that the walls are all aligned correctly, you may have to move them a little bit.

Ensure that each wall is 100% filled

In order to complete the inflation of every wall, you’ll need to fill it to 100%.

When you are using an electric pump that is weaker, it may be necessary to top off the air pressure manually to achieve a suitable pressure.

Check your air valves to make sure they are closed tightly after you have disconnected the power.

Fill the seats with air

Don’t forget the seats! Like all inflatable boats, kayaks often have inflatable seats.

Your manufacturer’s manual will give you accurate instructions on how to fix the seat to the boat.

What pump is best for an inflatable kayak?

Not all pumps are created equal! Most kayaks come with an appropriate pump that you may or may not like.

You can inflate your kayak with a hand, foot, or electric pump but I would say the best is a hand pump.

I’ll continue to use my hand pump over a foot and electric every day of the week.

While each one has its pros and cons, ultimately, you’ll have to decide which one works for you.

Let me give you a more objective view and breakdown of each of the types of pumps available.

Hand pumps

With the hand pump, you must stoop or kneel down, unlike the foot pump. As a result, inflating the kayak using a hand pump can be quite tiring and time-consuming.

Some hand pumps have a mode with a high-pressure setting and a mode with a high-volume setting.

If you use the wrong setting, the pump will not work correctly.

It should take approximately 10 minutes to fully inflate your kayak, depending on how fast you pump.

These are also great for deflating your kayak too – mine has a deflate option to allow you to quickly deflate the kayak to make it easier for storage (no lumpy air pockets making it difficult to pack away).

Foot pumps

If your foot tires, you can easily switch to the other foot to get quick relief.

A foot pump will help you to pump up your kayak without having to bend your back too much.

However, there are some disadvantages to using a foot pump.

Foot pumps are often jammed with sand and rapidly lose efficiency after being used for a long period of time.

They’re also susceptible to damage if they’re used too hard.

Foot pumps will have your kayak inflated in minutes with minimal effort.

Electric air pumps

Using an electric pump to pump air into your kayak is the most convenient and fastest way to get it fully inflated.

While hand and foot pumps use your body weight and strength, electric pumps are the lazy person’s way to go!

With only minimal physical effort, an inflatable kayak can be up and running in no time.

Let the pump’s motor do the heavy lifting!

However, electric pumps aren’t always as portable and lightweight.

You’ll also need a power source such as an electrical outlet or car battery.

AND be aware that you RISK over-inflating with an electrical air pump – so id recommend a manual option

Best inflatable kayak for 1 person

Best inflatable kayak for 1 person
You may be spotting a theme here… sunny day on Loch Ard

I’ve been often asked what is the best inflatable kayak for a single person?

Well, I am totally in love with my Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame! and I think this is the best model I’ve tested

And I’ve tried a lot of the others – such as the Intex range (just as an example)

My advanced frame is still lightweight, easy to use, stable, and tracks like a dream due to its molded skeg.

It’s a 10-foot touring kayak with good storage inside and out and can handle most water conditions.

It looks great too!

I’m not the only one who thinks so, this kayak has glowing reviews all over the internet.

Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame  

  • Reasonably priced
  • Comfortable, stable, and not at all tippy
  • Tracks very well and turns easily
  • Lightweight and easy to use
  • Suitable for paddlers of all experience levels

In comparison to other kayaks that have been reviewed so far, this kayak seems to have a good reputation overall and it seems like most customers who have purchased them are extremely happy with it!

It is very easy to store this model since it is so small in size.

In addition, its compact, deflated package can be rolled and stored into a neat little package with its own carrying bag.

In terms of storage space, there is not a lot, but let’s not forget you are going for a smaller kayak, so it won’t have as much as some other models like the Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame Convertible.

Airis Sport

The inflatable kayaks made by Airis are among the best in the world.

With the Sport model, you’ll be able to paddle with confidence on flat water, pack up super light and be extremely portable.

It is a very sturdy kayak that will likely last a lifetime if taken care of properly.

  • Sturdy and rigid durable materials
  • Easy and fast to inflate
  • Sable color
  • Good tracking
  • Good speed
  • Glides through the water nicely
  • Easy to maneuver
  • Lightweight and compact
  • Storage bungee cords at the back
  • Convenient D-ring for attaching accessories

There are four carrying handles on the front, back, and each side, for easy launching.

This kayak comes with a deluxe backpack to easily transport this kayak on your back.

With outstanding construction quality in materials and stitching, the rigidity of this inflatable makes it feel super stable yet doesn’t sacrifice trackability.

Made from heavy-duty, seven-layer polymer-coated fabric that is joined by thousands of drop-stitch fibers, this kayak is extremely durable and resistant to tears, wear, and abrasions.

Being an extremely well constructed and solid product, the Sport will probably pleasantly surprise you as to how rigid it is once it’s inflated.

Its 10-foot 10 inches length allows it to excel while remaining exceptionally lightweight at 20 lbs, which makes it a great boat on the water.

It has a capacity of 250 lbs and is easily set up in under 10 minutes.

It comes with an adjustable seat, footrest, spray guard, and bungee deck lacing with D-rings.

This kayak is easy to carry out on your own when it is inflated with only one arm which makes it an ideal solo kayak.

This would be the kayak to get if you’re looking for an ultra-lightweight, super portable kayak that you can easily handle on your own.

Well, this has been a bit of a monster post and hopefully answered many of your questions!

Why dont you join my newsletter below and get first access to some of my trip reports?

Chris Watson Paddling Loch Lomond
Another Trip Paddling Loch Lomond on my Advanced Elements Inflatable

Happy Paddling!

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