Choosing Between a Hardshell and an Inflatable Kayak

Last Updated on January 20, 2021 by KayakPro

You’ve been on a couple of kayaking trips and now want to buy your own kayak. But, how do you decide between hardshell vs. inflatable kayaks?

choose between inflatable kayaks and hardshell kayaks

First, you need to ask yourself a few questions; are you a beginner or a seasoned kayaker? Do you prefer to go on calm water or a rough river? Do you plan on using your kayak for fishing?

Not to be left up a creek without a paddle, we’re here to lay out all the reviews to help you compare between an inflatable kayak vs. hardshell.

Inflatable Kayaks

An inflatable kayak, just as the name suggests, is a kayak that you inflate to use, then deflate after you’re done. This inflating and deflating mechanism is similar to that of an air mattress.

why choose inflatable kayak

Inflatable kayaks are made of synthetic rubber materials such as PVC, Hypalon, Nitrylon, Neoprene, and Polyethylene.

Their hull usually consists of three air chambers, and they normally also have separate chambers for the sides and bottom parts.

These chambers are filled with air to inflate the kayak. This can usually be done either manually or by using a bilge pump.


1: Portable, Small-Sized, and Easy to Store

One major advantage of inflatable kayaks is they’re relatively lightweight. This makes them perfect if you’re going on a hiking trip for example, as they can fit in a large backpack and want to kayak down a river.

In addition to being light-weight, they are also compact, so perfect in case you lack storage space. Moreover, their small-size is advantageous when it comes to traveling. Inflatable kayaks can easily be folded, packed, and stashed in the trunk of your car for transport. They can also fit inside a suitcase or even a backpack!

Do note that you need to take into consideration room for a hand pump if you’re planning on using one for inflating your kayak.

2: Durable and Safe

Inflatables may have a reputation for being unsafe and not durable. But, that’s not the case when it comes to inflatable kayaks!

So, how tough are inflatable kayaks? This largely depends on the quality of the kayak. However, there are excellent options available that are both durable and safe.

One way to know if an inflatable kayak is of high quality is if it uses drop-stitch technology. What this technology does is that it allows the kayak to be super firm and rigid when you inflate it.

Additionally, the outer parts are made of PVC and rubber, which can be designed to withstand accidental abrasions, making them resistant to rock damage and unlikely to pop. This can make inflatable kayaks even more durable than traditional kayaks!


1: Inflating and Deflating Process

Getting an inflatable kayak can be a double-edged sword. Despite having fantastic advantages, the inflating and deflating procedure can be tiresome.

Inflating your kayak may take a significant amount of time, especially if you don’t have a pump handy. On average, it should take you about 10 minutes to inflate it using a pump.

So, if you’re planning on choosing the inflatable kayak option then we recommend you always take into consideration the extra time needed for inflating the kayak.

The same goes for deflating it. There’s even one more step that you need to take after deflating your kayak. To avoid damage and down-right smelliness you need to properly air it out to ensure the kayak is completely dry before you pack it up for transportation or storage.

2: Difficult to Maneuver

Inflatable kayaks are relatively lighter than traditional ones, making them harder to control at times. This is especially true in cases of rough waters, or if you’re inexperienced in kayaking then you might face difficulty in steering an inflatable kayak.

Hardshell Kayaks

Hardshell kayaks look like the image you probably get in your head when you hear the word kayak. These are the more traditional version. They’re usually made of solid or composite materials and are rigid and intact in shape and size.

Why Choose Hardshell Kayaks

Classic hardshell kayaks are traditionally made of wood. Alternatively, you’ll find some of the more modern hardshell boat options made using fiberglass or plastic.

Pro 1: Doesn’t Require Assembly

Once you successfully transport your hardshell kayak to the desired spot, getting it from land to water is a breeze.

There is no extra time needed for any prep or assembly, you just slide it onto the water and are ready to go!

Pro 2: Easy to Maneuver

Hardshell kayaks allow you more control since they are heavier than inflatable ones. This gives you the ability to steer and maneuver the kayak with more confidence making it a relatively better boat on particularly rough waters.

Pro 3: Stable

Planning on using your kayak for fishing? If the answer is yes, then stability needs to be high on your list of things to consider. Generally, hardshell yaks serve better if you’re on a fishing trip, especially when you’re moving or standing as they are more stable.

Moreover, any tugging won’t easily tip over your hardshell kayak. That’s not to say that inflatable kayaks are designed to capsize.

New technology has rendered some models to be nearly as stable as a hardshell model. However, you need to pay attention to this when deciding which model and brand to buy.

Con 1: Difficult to Store and Transport

Hardshells need a place to properly store them, so if you have a garage, basement, or shed then stowing your hardshell kayak should be easy.

If you don’t though, then storing a hardshell can be tricky. You need to make sure to keep it in a place where it won’t be exposed to the elements, to avoid weather damage. You should also ensure that your kayak won’t be accessible to wildlife.

There are solutions if you have your heart set on a hard shell, but lack the space to stow it. For example, renting a storage unit can be a good idea, you can keep your hardshell yak there between trips. Usually, a 10 x 10 sized unit should be enough.

Apart from storage, portability can also be an issue with people owning a hardshell kayak. When it comes to transportation, moving a hardshell can be a bit of a hassle. To begin with, it’s heavy compared to the inflatable alternatives.

It also requires you to have a roof rack or pick up truck to load the kayak onto. You will then need to load it and strap it safely for transport and unload it when you arrive at your kayaking destination.

Con 2: Requires Heavy Maintenance

Hardshell boats are considered demanding compared to the inflatable kayak options. This is mainly because they lack the rubber exterior that the inflatable option has. This makes them more susceptible to damage, and so require more frequent maintenance to perform well.

The kayak’s manufacturing materials determine the amount of maintenance it may need. Wood needs the most maintenance, followed by plastic. Then you have the fiberglass option which is the most durable of the three materials.

Do note that despite needing less maintenance both the plastic and fiberglass options are more expensive to repair than wood.


These are a few of the common questions we get that can help you in choosing between inflatable vs hardshell kayaks.

Are inflatable kayaks worth it?

The short answer is yes, they are. Inflatable kayaks are increasingly becoming as durable and reliable as their rigid counterparts, if not more so.

Add to this the inflatable kayak’s unique advantages including the portability factor, and you’ll find that inflatable kayaks score remarkably well as a boat.

An inflatable kayak is also ideal if you go kayaking solo since the transport of inflatable kayaks requires minimal tools, all you need is the air pump. It’s also easy to transport on your own since it’s light and compact.

Do inflatable kayaks last?

How long you can use an inflatable kayak depends mostly on the materials used to make the boat. The most common in inflatable kayaks is PVC, but it’s also the least durable material. Yet, it still has an average lifespan of 10 years taking into consideration normal use.

Alternatively, an inflatable kayak can be made of other composite materials that can be considered more durable. These include Hypalon and Nitrylon, which are more resistant to UV ray damage than PVC making them last longer.

How much weight capacity do I need in a kayak?

Weight capacity helps you determine how many people the type of kayak can accommodate. Additionally, you can also plan how much equipment you can carry with you on the kayak.

This is particularly beneficial if you’ll be taking a friend along. It’s also a good way to determine how much fishing equipment you can carry.

The kayak’s weight threshold also impacts your safety and the kayak’s performance. To ensure your safety in the weight limit zone, deduct 25% of the announced weight capacity of the kayak.

If you’re looking for optimum performance from your kayak, then subtracting 50% of the announced kayak weight capacity should help you achieve that.

What’s Better Inflatable or Hard Kayak?

The comparison between an inflatable kayak vs. a hardshell kayak is a longstanding one. Each of these kayak types has both its benefits and limitations, so opting for one over the other depends mostly on your needs.

Ideally, an inflatable kayak would be the choice for a beginner or a kayaker who won’t be going into extremely rough rivers and other water bodies. An inflatable kayak would be perfect if you lack storage space and might need to transport your kayak frequently.

On the other hand, hardshells are your ideal kayak choice if you have a place to store them. They’re also a fitting option if you’re a more advanced kayaker and want to have more maneuverability room when kayaking.

Whether you opt for an inflatable kayak or a hard shell kayak make sure you always follow proper safety procedures to ensure your well-being when kayaking!

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