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Inflatable Kayak vs Hardshell – Which is the best to buy? is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to As an Amazon Associate this site earns from qualifying purchases.

Kayak Guide

Kayaking is a fun sport. And if you venture out often there will inevitably come a time that you will begin to consider buying your own gear.

When it comes to the actual kayak you will have two main choices: opt for the hard-sided, rigid kayak known as the hard-shell or the more portable inflatable kayak.

So which should you buy? Well, that’s exactly what this article will cover.

Let’s first take a closer look at each.

The Hard-Shell Kayak

Hard-sided kayaks in their traditional form were made of wood. You can still find wooden kayaks on the market today, however, they are generally handcrafted (either by the owner or made to order) and are more expensive as a result. They are also more difficult to maintain.

The majority of kayak enthusiasts will look towards buying plastic or fiber-glass hard-sided kayak.

Plastic vessels are cheaper to buy than fiber-glass models however they are also heavier. On the plus side, a robust plastic kayak will take its fair share of knocks and bumps without becoming excessively damaged beyond use.

On the flip side, once a plastic kayak has been compromised the damage is more expensive to repair.

Fiber-glass kayaks on the other hand are relatively easy to patch up, (a Youtube video or two will certainly aid the more practically minded owner to be able to do some DIY repairs when the time comes).

The initial financial outlay on a fiber-glass vessel is greater, however.

The Inflatable Kayak

The inflatable kayak is exactly as you would imagine; you add air inside the shell in order to inflate the kayak for buoyancy.

The plus side to the inflatable kayak is immediately obvious; they are extremely portable.  They are also lightweight.

They are cost-effective too, as they can be purchased for a cheaper price than a good plastic or fiberglass kayak.

Of course, durability is a key factor. Despite the fact inflatable kayaks are becoming tougher and more resistant to damage, they are still filled with air – if a part of the vessel is penetrated, you could end up in trouble.

There is also the issue of having to inflate the kayak before use.

Hard-Sided Kayak Vs Inflatable

So which is better? This is a question that many kayakers have naturally asked. The answer is quite simple, it really does come down to your needs.

But before we look into how you can decide which is the best kayak for you, let’s at least try to pit the pros and cons of both against each other.

Hopefully, this will help you in your own decision-making process.

1. Durability

Before experiencing use with an inflatable kayak, many wrongly assume that they cannot be used in tough rapid-like conditions.

This is actually a falsehood. As we mentioned above, the materials used to manufacture inflatable kayaks are advancing all the time,  in fact, you can now buy a full range of inflatables that are designed especially for white water rapids use.

Plastic and fiberglass kayaks have long been able to withstand some brutal white water conditions.

However, drawbacks on plastic models such as heat distortion and the cost of repairing damage once it occurs do give food for thought.

Likewise, a fiberglass hull can and will crack or split on high impact after time. Most damage is easily repairable mind you.

2. Weight & Load Capacity

The average lightweight inflatable does score highly on the weight and load capacity test. They are easier to lug around (especially when you are required to portage in remote areas) and can take a surprising amount of weight once in the water.

By way of example; a medium-sized inflatable kayak could weigh as little as 25 pounds, yet still, be able to carry a load up to 500 pounds. This is enough for two paddlers with paddles and gear.

A hard-sided boat large enough to carry the same load will not be light enough for just one person to carry to the water. An issue that really should be considered when you decide which is the best for you.

3. Comfort

The winner on comfort will generally be the hard shell kayak. The seat is more comfortable and the spray skirt fitted nicely to protect the paddler will keep you warm and dry.

This can be in stark contrast to the inflatable cockpit that will be wetter with a standard seat at best.

4. Ease of use

One of the reasons inflatable kayaks are recommended for beginners is that they are more stable with less rocker motion.

On the flip side, for a more advanced user, the hard-shell offers more maneuverability and is easier to paddle, (they are also faster).

A hardshell kayak will require that you learn kayaking skills such as strokes, edging, bracing, and the Eskimo roll – however, this is no bad thing as all competent kayakers should develop these skills anyway.

5. Cost (purchase price and maintenance)

Finally, there is the all-important issue of price.

A good hard-sided kayak is generally a lot more expensive to buy than an inflatable counterpart. Depending on your skillset, the hard shell will also cost you more to keep well maintained.

Again this makes the inflatable a good choice for beginners, with the less initial outlay and fewer demands during ownership.

So which is the best Kayak for you?

As we stated above, your personal requirements (i.e skill set and the types of water you wish to explore) will help answer the question on which kayak to buy.

For a beginner, there is an inflatable kayak out there suited to all types of water; and at good price points.

An experienced user may wish to hone in on a quality hard-shell designed specifically for the conditions they wish to paddle in.

Once you begin to consider what it is you want to get out of your kayaking, you will be able to make the correct choice for you.

Image Credits: Pixabay

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