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What are Inflatable Kayaks?

Diana Bocco
Updated Mar 06, 2024
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Inflatable kayaks are the perfect solution for any sportsman who lacks the storage space for a traditional hardshell kayak. Light, safe, and stable, inflatable kayaks combine the durability of a traditional kayak with the portability of an inflatable boat. Coast guard rescue missions and many military agencies now consider inflatable kayaks and boats to be standard equipment, which speaks of their reliability.

One of the main advantages of inflatable kayaks is price. While hardshell kayaks can run into the thousands of US dollars (USD), you can find good-quality inflatable kayaks for as little as 150 USD. Although many factors, such as size and brand name, affect the price of an inflatable kayak, it's still possible to find something that is both affordable and long-lasting. Portability is another advantage of inflatable kayaks. They can be folded to the size of a suitcase and stored almost anywhere, as long as there are no extremes of temperature and humidity in the area.

Older inflatable kayaks were made of Neoprene or Hypalon, but new models are usually constructed of PVC or another strong plastic material. Quality construction is essential when choosing an inflatable kayak. Cheaply made models tend to come apart at the seams and get punctures regularly. They may be a good option for kids to paddle around, but serious kayakers should look for something more reliable.

Good-quality inflatable kayaks have multiple air chambers, as opposed to a single chamber in the cheaper models. This guarantees the raft will stay afloat even when punctured. The most important sign of quality in an inflatable boat, however, is the quality of workmanship. Strong, firm seams are the sign of an inflatable kayak that can stand the abuse of both long voyages and Class IV whitewater. Good quality can also be recognized by the presence of accessories, such as fabric floors and carrying cases. While not necessary, they add to the user's comfort and can help extend the life of the kayak.

Contrary to what people may think, inflatable kayaks will not "pop". They may, however, tear or puncture, in which case you can get all tools necessary for repairs, including glue and fabrics, at any outdoor store. Most inflatable kayaks come with a pump, although it may be a good idea to shell out for a high-quality pump. Pumping an inflatable kayak is hard work, and a good pump can make all the difference.

When in doubt, it's best to visit a dealer. A qualified seller can help any buyer find the perfect raft.

Sports&Hobbies is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Diana Bocco
By Diana Bocco , Former Writer
Diana Bocco, a versatile writer with a distinct voice, creates compelling long-form and short-form content for various businesses. With a data-focused approach and a talent for sharing engaging stories, Diana’s written work gets noticed and drives results.

Discussion Comments

By bluespirit — On Sep 12, 2011

I am not sure if I would ever buy an inflatable kayak or canoe but I am definitely intrigued! I loved my hard-shell kayak. There is nothing like paddling through the water between the sounds of the water swishing through the paddles to the serenity of the soft flow of the water.

My friends and I have a variety of kayaks between us and I know that even with hard-shell kayaks, there is quite a difference in performance so you want to be careful when you are shelling out a couple hundred bucks for a kayak even if it is a hard-shell and I quite agree with the article when it says to talk to an experienced dealer.

For example, one of my friends bought a kayak that seemed like you were traveling in a bathtub it was so difficult to paddle!

By wavy58 — On Sep 11, 2011

I frequently go to a lake that has old tree trunks protruding from the water. I am afraid to use an inflatable kayak in this area, because unlike the rocks that these kayaks are supposed to resist getting torn on, the trunks and branches are sharp. I can just imagine a scraping noise followed by the quiet sound of a little air escaping.

I’m not afraid of drowning, because I know that the air chambers would give me time to paddle to shore. I’m just afraid of losing a lot of money. I intend to invest in a hard kayak so that I won’t have to worry if I hit one of these underwater trees.

By seag47 — On Sep 10, 2011

I had no idea you could buy replacement fabric for inflatable kayaks. The main reason I never purchased one was because I thought that once it got punctured, that was the end of the kayak, and they are too expensive to risk that happening.

Now, I would consider getting one. I also did not know that they came with carrying cases. That would definitely help it last longer! I would most likely be carrying it in the back of a pickup truck, and there are items back there that could poke a hole in one, so a case would be ideal.

By matthewc23 — On Sep 10, 2011

@kentuckycat - I understand your concerns and am sorry that happened, but your raft seemed like it was just for wading through ponds and not for the rapids. inflatable kayaks are designed for the rapids, thus they are made stronger.

I understand that there are probably some very cheaply made inflatable kayaks out there but the best inflatable kayaks will be able to withstand the rigors of the rapids and there is usually a guarantee attached to the reliability of it.

I can see there being discount inflatable kayaks that people should probably stay away from if they are planning on going into some very serious rapids, but they need to do some shopping around and make a choice. If they know they are not going into serious rapids they can spend on a discounted inflatable kayak and probably not have any troubles. However, if they are going into some serious rapids they may want to invest in a more expensive and sturdier inflatable kayak.

By kentuckycat — On Sep 09, 2011

@matthewc23 - Although this was not a kayak I bought I once bought a one person inflatable raft that was marketed as being near impossible to puncture. Sure enough the raft punctured very quickly and there was nothing I could do about it because it punctured while I was inflating it on the ground, not on the water.

Because of where I inflated the raft the said they could do nothing about it and that a rock may have punctured it on the ground, despite the fact that they said that a rock would not puncture it if it were in the water.

I understand what you mean about companies being held liable but there is always a catch to everything and I am *very* suspicious of anything inflatable that I would use in the water. When they say a kayak is safe for rapids I find that hard to believe.

By matthewc23 — On Sep 08, 2011

@Izzy78 - I understand your concerns but the manufacturers of the inflatable rafts know this concern people have and their product has to pass rigorous safety standards.

Say this kayak was marketed as being safe for the rapids and it pops very easily and someone dies that company could be held liable for the tragedy. Because of this fact the companies that make these inflatable kayaks makes sure that their product is safe to use and if a puncture hole were to occur that the people in the kayak would still be able to float safely ashore.

By Izzy78 — On Sep 08, 2011

I understand that inflatable kayaks come in all different forms and there are well made and cheaply made ones but I am still suspicious of using an inflatable kayak in any type of rapids.

I have never rafted before but I have always heard stories and watched shows and people will be going through tough rapids. My thoughts about this are that one little puncture could sink the kayak and I know that there are multiple air chambers in the well made kayaks, but if you were to smack into a sharp rock there is no guarantee that it will not create a large gash in the kayak. This is the last thing I would want if I were going through fast moving water.

Diana Bocco

Diana Bocco

Former Writer

Diana Bocco, a versatile writer with a distinct voice, creates compelling long-form and short-form content for various...
Learn more
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