Buying a quality kayak is an investment of both time and money. You are going to want a boat that fits your type of kayaking and budget. One of the first questions you will need to answer is “hardshell or inflatable kayak?”
So, why buy an inflatable kayak (IK) you ask? It is a fair question. Years ago, IKs were little more than glorified inner tubes. There were a limited number of manufacturers and models, and the boats were often difficult to maneuver on the water. But those days are long past. Today, there are a several top manufacturers like Aquaglide, NRS, AIRE, Innova and Advanced Elements. Each of these vendors produce responsive, nimble boats for a variety of uses including whitewater, flatwater and fishing.
Here are a few reasons why you may want to consider an IK for your next kayak purchase.
Pack It And Go
Let’s face it, dragging a hard shell kayak to and from the water can be difficult. For smaller persons, the boats can be cumbersome to lift and maneuver. A typical trip involves hoisting the boat on top of your vehicle, strapping it down, driving to your destination, pulling the boat off your vehicle and carrying it to the water.
IKs, by contrast, are easy to transport. Usually packed in their own traveling bag, inflatables can be tossed in the back seat of your vehicle, or carried as a duffle or backpack. This is particularly handy if the water is more than just a few feet from the car.
Once unpacked, inflatables will need to be inflated, but this sounds worse than it is. Set up is largely self-explanatory and, with the assistance of a manual or motorized air pump, you should be ready to paddle in 10-20 minutes.
Performance & Handling
Over the last decade or so, IK vendors have made dramatic improvements in boat design. Many inflatables today are as fast, stable, and responsive as their hardshell cousins. A good example is AIRE’s Force IK which is designed to be quick and nimble in whitewater. Equipped with built-in float bags, the Force stays manageable when surfing waves, punching through holes and darting in and out of eddies.
If you are looking for a reliable flatwater boat, the Innova Swing EX has roomy cockpit and ample space for gear. At a length of 13′, 5″, the Swing Ex cuts through the water quickly and is not easily pushed around by the wind. The closed deck keeps out the water, but the zippered entries allow quick access to storage.
While some more experienced kayakers prefer the stiffness of a hardshell boat, IKs provide solid performance and handling that will more than suffice for most recreational boaters.
If the fact IKs are filled with air makes you nervous, there is little need to worry. The fabric used to construct inflatables is extremely durable and puncture-resistant. You will have to work hard to put a hole in today’s inflatables. With reinforced seams and air valves, and multiple air chambers, IKs will stay reliably inflated. If, you do experience a puncture, most IKs come with repair kits that will allow you to get back out of the water quickly. Note too that many IK models include a multi-year manufacturer warranty. Check the fine print for details.
Hardshell boats can take up a lot of space. And this is no less true during the off-season. Storing your hardshell kayaks will often require in a dedicated storage area, including storage racks or an overhead pulley system. IKs, by contrast, do not require a great deal of space. Each boat stores in its own bag that will fit easily in the garage, basement or on the shelf in most closets. One important maintenance reminder: prevent mold build up by thoroughly drying off your inflatable before storing it.
Years ago inflatables were generally less expensive than hardshells. But, as IK design, durability and functionality has improved, prices have increased. Today, a quality hardshell will cost about the same as quality IK — anywhere from several hundred dollars up to several thousand, depending on size and features.
As with any purchase, buying a kayak means balancing priorities and budget. If you prefer the feeling of a fiberglass or plastic cockpit, a hardshell boat may be the way to go. But if ease of transport and storage is a top consideration for you, an IK may be the best fit.