Are Inflatable Kayaks Any Good? What About For Beginners?

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You see them advertised all the time on Amazon and other department stores but you can’t help thinking “Are Inflatable Kayaks Any good”? 

Oftentimes when you think of anything inflatable you think of that leaky air mattress you would use for camping for 10 years, that floatie that lasted a season, the wacky waving tube men outside the car dealership. Not exactly the picture of confidence is it?

Well my friends I think it’s time to think differently about these inflatables. 

Inflatable kayaks can be some of the most durable water crafts out there. Provided that proper care and maintenance is taken and you understand what you are buying. 

We may be called Inflatable Kayak Authority but below we will not be holding back in giving you an honest overview into the world of inflatable kayaks. 

Still not sure? A hardshell paddler on Reddit who has never used an inflatable kayak asked the same question and got over 50 responses from inflatable kayak owners.

Pros and Cons of Inflatable Kayaks

Why should you and why should you not get an inflatable kayak? The most common answers you will find is that they are easy to transport, they can be stored in a smaller space and they are on the whole cheaper to buy

A lower price is all fine and dandy but if you care about on-water performance you will probably be spending more.

Inflatable kayaks on a whole will not perform as well on the water as hardshell kayaks. There are models like the Sea Eagle Razorlite 393rl, Fast Track and the Advanced Elements Advance Frame series that come close though.

Below is a full list of Inflatable Kayaks Pros And Cons taken from this article.

Pros of Inflatable Kayaks

  • Easy to stow away
  • Many models can bounce off obstacles fine
  • Amazon brand models are usually price efficient 
  • Maneuverability is a big plus with inflatable yaks
  • Activity specific models available
  • Much easier to to transport from point A to B
  • Are more beginner friendly when it comes to stability
  • Surprisingly can be good for fishing (pvc is the best material)
  • More expensive models do a good job of tracking
  • Almost always comes with accessories

Cons of Inflatable Kayaks

  • Paddling against the wind can be very challenging
  • You need to factor in preparation and disassembly time
  • More cleaning/ scrubbing involved
  • There is always the possibility of a leak or puncture
  • Still not up to speeds of a hardshell kayak

Inflatable Kayaks have their good and bad qualities. As you go up the price range to a more performance focused kayak. There will be less inherent bad qualities about The kayak. More on this below.

Types of Inflatable Kayaks

I recommend watching the above video by J Baikoff to get the full idea of the types of kayaks available. There are 3 Inflatable kayak classifications that he names. I’ve tried to come up with one of my own but honestly he nails it out of the park. There are Category I, Category II and Category III kayaks. 

As you move up the category of kayak the price and quality of the inflatable kayak increases as well. Let’s get into the classification system!

Category I Inflatable Kayaks

Intex Challenger

If you are new to kayaking and are on a budget you will most likely want to start here. Category I kayaks consist mainly of those yaks you see on Amazon or big box retail stores. 

Some Characteristics of Category I Kayaks Include:

  • They cost between $90 and $300
  • Made of a single layer vinyl material
  • They are meant for short paddling trips on the lake
  • Their on-water performance is usually subpar
  • Feature at least 2 bladders
  • Easiest kayaks to puncture
  • Last 1-5 seasons depending on how you care for the kayak. 
  • Usually come with crap accessories
  • Brands include Intex, Sea Eagle (330, 370), Sevylor, Bestway

In my above characteristics it may sound like I’m beating on Category I kayaks but I’m not. These kayaks can be perfect for the family cabin, a few hours on the lake or just playing around on. Not all of these kayaks are equal though. 

J Baikoff tested a lot of these kayaks head to head and for a dollar per kayak Intex turned out to be the best on-water performance wise.

Category II Inflatable Kayaks

advanced elements advancedframe
photo taken from

These are the mid-tier kayaks that give you more performance per paddle. These kayaks feature add-on accessories like skegs, back-bones and drop stitch floors that improve the on-water performance of your kayak. 

Some Characteristics of Category II Kayaks include:

  • They Cost Between $300 and $850
  • Made of Vinyl Material covered in fabric for extra protection
  • Meant for day to multi-day trips depending on the quality of kayak you get
  • Their on-water performance can be comparable to a budget hardshell recreational kayak
  • Usually consist of 3 bladders
  • Come with various different add-ons to aid in tracking and on-water performance
  • Less risk of a puncture when fabric is wrapped around these kayaks
  • Can last 3 to 10 seasons depending on the kayak
  • Some come with accessories some don’t
  • Used by brands such as Advanced Elements, AquaGlide, as well as Driftsun, Itiwit, and Sevylor which can be found on Amazon

These inflatable boats are for people who want to get a bit more serious in their kayaking. Some models like the Advanced Elements Advancedframe Expedition can handle longer trips in more unforgiving environments (like the arctic). Some Category II kayaks can be used in rivers, oceans and bigger lake environments. 

When looking for a kayak that can fit those conditions look for features like drop stitch floors or back bones to improve the paddling performance of the kayak. They make a pretty sizable difference

Category III Inflatable Kayaks

Sea Eagle Razorlite 393rl

If you get one of these kayaks you are serious about on-water performance! These are the highest performing kayaks that can tackle a wide range of conditions. If you want to catch up with your buddy that has a hardshell kayak these are the types of kayaks you would pick. 

Some Characteristics of Category III Kayaks include:

  • They cost $800 and up
  • Made of thick PVC material, drop stitch is becoming increasingly popular in this category
  • Meant for almost any water conditions
  • Their on-water performance is the best from the other categories, many are just as fast as hardshell kayaks or getting there
  • Usually use 3 bladders, some of them requires 8 PSI or more of air pressure
  • The accessories that come with these boats are usually good quality
  • These kayaks are tough and are very hard to puncture, sun is the worst enemy of PVC though
  • Can last up to 20 years if properly stowed away and taken care of
  • Use by brands like Sea Eagle, AquaGlide, STAR, and Bote

Chances are if you get an inflatable kayak that is a Category III you are looking for more specialised performance. Category III kayak models can be used for multi-day paddling expeditions, camping, river treks, ocean paddling and white water kayaking

Inflatable Kayaks vs Hardshell Kayaks

When should you be looking for a hardshell kayak and when should you be looking for an inflatable kayak? 

Lucky I made a digestible table from my article Inflatable Vs Hard Kayak: The Ultimate Debate

Inflatable KayaksHardshell Kayaks
Which is Less Expensive?Advantage
Paddling Environments?Slight Advantage
Oceans Advantage
LakesTie Tie
Rivers Tie Tie
Safety Tie Tie
Transportation and Storage Advantage
On-Water Perfomance Slight Advantage
Stability Advantage
Tracking Advantage
Speed Advantage
Maneuverability Advantage
DurabilityDepends* Depends*
Set-Up TimeAdvantage
Maximum Capacity Depends* Depends*
Onboard Storage Depends* Depends*
Which is Less MaintenanceAdvantage
More ComfortableAdvantage
* Depends on Manufacturer

So what is this table telling us in relation to when to choose one over the other?

  • In terms of price Inflatable kayaks are on the whole cheaper. Their starter and premium prices are less than hardshell kayaks. Solid kayaks who can range anywhere from $250 for a recreational model all the way to $4000 for a specialised Surfski kayak.  
  • When it comes to more extreme paddling environments hardshell kayaks will have more of an advantage performance wise. Their hulls can be more easily shaped to suit the environments they face.
  • When it comes to going in a straight line and going fast hardshell kayaks have the advantage here. Inflatable kayaks sit on top of the water while hardshell kayaks sit in a more submerged position. This gives them more leverage for going in a straight line. Their materials also allow them to be more streamlined and pointy.
  • Both vessels are safe to paddle although their safety and rescue techniques are different. Inflatable kayaks are easier to get back into.
  • Inflatable kayaks get a clear lead in transportation and storage because they fold up the the size of a suitcase and be stored in just about any household including apartments, houses, tiny homes, vans, RVs, cars etc. 
  • Durability is entirely dependent on the quality of the water craft you buy.
  • While Inflatable Kayaks have a distinct storage and transportation advantage their set-up time puts them back. It is much more time efficient to take your kayak off the roof rack and carry it to the water. Then it is to take your inflatable kayak out of the bag, pump it up and set up the add-ons like seats, deck combing and performance enhancing accessories. 
  • Maximum Capacity is purely dependent on the model of kayak you get from both sides. Same goes for onboard storage
  • In terms of maintenance when you get off the water, inflatable kayaks do take more time and care because you need to make sure they do not sprout mould. If that starts happening you will be paddling a kayak that smells like a hockey bag. 
  • Inflatable kayaks on a whole are usually more comfortable to paddle because they are more cushiony and softer to sit on. But this is not always the case for many kayak makes on both sides

Inflatable Kayak FAQ’s

Below are common inflatable kayak questions that I get asked about on this site.

Are Inflatable Kayaks Good for Beginners?

Inflatable Kayak Beginners

Inflatable kayaks are perfect vessels to learn how to paddle on because they are stable to paddle.  When you paddle an inflatable kayak you feel planted to the water without any of that unsteady wiggling feeling that you may initially get from a hardshell.

The biggest thing here is to be mindful of your skill level, the type of kayak you have and the environments you put yourselves in. Beginners should stick to calm water conditions

What Are the Best Inflatable Kayaks? 

Hint, there is no “Best Inflatable Kayak”. What works for one person’s needs may not work for others. So instead we break down inflatable kayaks that are good for certain people’s needs in great detail in our MEGA Best Inflatable Kayaks page.

How Long Do Inflatable Kayaks Last?

This depends on the category of kayak. Category I Single layer vinyl kayaks will last between 1-5 seasons. The later if they are properly cleaned, inspected and stored properly.  Learn more on How to Clean and Dry a Kayak Here.

Category II kayaks (vinyl in nylon) are more durable and can last 3-10 seasons. Sometimes even longer depending on the model of kayak. Proper maintenance is a must with these kayaks as want to avoid mould growing and wearing out the materials properties over time. 

Category III (PVC/ Drop Stitch) can last 20 + years! They require the least amount of maintenance of the 3 categories. But need to be properly sheltered from the sun and at the very least rinsed off after each use.

How Durable Are Inflatable Kayaks?

The durability of an inflatable kayak is dependent on two factors. The category kayak it is and it’s price range. As mentioned above, category I kayaks are the cheapest and will only last 1 to 5 seasons. As you get into higher quality materials like PVC/ Drop stitch you will be able to get more use out of your kayak and for longer. 

Sea Eagle 420x Explorer
Sea Eagle 420x Explorer

Are Inflatable Kayaks Safe to Paddle?

Paddling an inflatable kayak is as safe as the precautions you take when going into the external environment. In other words, paddle to your skill level and be wary of what the weather conditions are outside. If you do that then yes, inflatable kayaks are safe.

If you are new to kayaking and are looking to try out your Intex Challenger, it’s best to start out on calm days with little to no wind. Wind is something that is more prevalent to inflatable kayaks than hardshell kayaks. Looking at the tide tables is also a big one if you live by the ocean. 

Can You Fish From an Inflatable Kayak?

In my opinion inflatable kayaks are incredibly underrated for fishing. They have one thing that hardshell kayaks don’t. The element of surprise. 

Inflatable kayaks do not make as much noise as their hardshell counterparts. Imagine placing your paddle down on a hard shell kayak compared to an inflatable kayak. The “THUNK” noise is not as prevalent in an inflatable kayak.

“What about those sharp hooks?”

Durable enough to have a dog, plenty of hooks and a fish onboard!

It’s true some inflatable kayaks are definitely more fishing worthy than others. PVC/ Drop Stitch is the most resilient material to fish from. It won’t puncture unless you really force it. 

Almost all inflatable kayak brands have a fishing kayak in their arsenal. Maybe it’s time you try one out as well? 

So How Good Is an Inflatable Kayak?

Inflatable kayaks can be advantageous for many different paddling trips and uses. You can tackle any water environment provided you get the right one for your purpose.

If you are just starting your paddling journey, kayaks like the Intex Challenger or Explorer K2 are great for starting out in calm conditions.  

If on-water performance is important to you but you don’t want to completely break the bank then Category II kayaks like Advanced Elements Advanced Frame are great kayaks to consider.

If you are serious about your kayaking and want something that will give you years and years of use. Then look no further to Category III kayaks like the Sea Eagle 380X or the 393rl Razorlite lines.

How do you like your Inflatable kayaks? Feel free to comment or tell us on our Facebook page

Photo of author
Hey, there! My name is Derek and I have been around kayaks and canoes all my life. The last 5 years I recently turned my attention to inflatable kayaks and my world has been a lot more portable since! When I'm not kayaking I like to watch motorsports, play hockey and work on this site!

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