Inflatable Kayak vs Inflatable Boat: The Ultimate Showdown!

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Kayak vs Inflatable Boat, which is best for what use, and what are the advantages of each?

To make things even more confusing, oftentimes inflatable boats can be used in the same terminology as inflatable kayaks. 

But in reality, there are some key differences between the two. Inflatable boats are wider, more spacious, and best used with outboard motors. Inflatable kayaks have a thinner profiled design which allows them to glide easier in the water when paddled. 

We go through all of this in detail below. 

Wondering about some other inflatable kayak differences? We have a few listed below.

Shape Difference 

There is no denying that both these watercraft have different shapes. But as we deep dive more into these differences we will see that their materials and construction can differ vastly. 

Inflatable Kayak Anatomy

infltable kayak anatomy

Inflatable kayaks have a thinner profile which allows them to track (go in a straight line) easier. If you were to do a test between a $200 kayak and a $200 inflatable boat you would feel the difference instantly. 

Inflatable kayaks can be categorized as: 

  • Class I (Cheaper Kayaks with Vinyl Material) 
  • Class II (Bladders enclosed in protective chambers)
  • Class III (PVC, Hypalon, or Drop Stitch kayaks)

As you get further up in class number you usually will end up paying more for the better materials used. 

As we go on in time we are seeing a further shift of inflatable kayaks moving to PVC and drop stitch materials. Materials like Hypalon are more prevalent in inflatable boats these days as opposed to inflatable kayaks.

Most inflatable kayaks consist of 3 air chambers although sometimes depending on the kayak there may be more. The 3 air chambers are usually found on the floor of the kayak and on the two sides. 

Should one happen to give out you will usually have the backup chambers to rely on. But this sort of phenomenon is not very common these days. The more money you drop on an inflatable kayak the higher quality materials go into it which makes this scenario way less likely. 

Inflatable kayaks can have a lifespan of about 2-5 for Class I kayaks all the way to 20 years for Class III Kayaks.

Class I Kayak Examples:

Class II Kayak Examples:

Class III Kayak Examples:

Inflatable Boat Anatomy

Inflatable boats are rounder in shape than inflatable kayaks but they can be used for more things. Their price ranges can also greatly vary between boats.  

Inflatable boats come in 4 different varieties that range widely in use.

  • Roll Up Floor Boat (floor comprises of slants and gaps between)
  • Hardfloor Boat (hard floor usually made of aluminum or wood)
  • Air Floor Boat (Made of wither I-Beam floor construction or dropstitch)
  • RIB (Rigid Inflatable Boat comprises of a sharp V hull made of fiberglass material)

Inflatable boats can be used for a wide variety of things including the bigger ones that are used to guide and accompany yachts. For the sake of this article, we will be comparing inflatable boats that have comparable price ranges to inflatable kayaks

The materials with these boats range from the ultra-tough Zodiac style boats used by the Coast guard to the Vinyl/PVC style Intex boats that range from $20 all the way to $380. 

Because Inflatable Boats have a rounder shape you tend to be able to fit more people inside of them. This means they may be a better pick for bigger families who want to roam around and cover greater distances. 

Inflatable Boats are best used with something to propel them forward. Usually, a gas-powered or electric trolling motor.

While you can paddle them with oars they will not have the same level of on-water performance as kayaks in that respect. More on this below

What Are the Differences Between Inflatable Kayaks Vs Inflatable Boats?

Below will be a showdown between kayak vs inflatable boats as to what to pick for what kind of circumstance.

On-Water Performance 

This category will ultimately depend on what you are being propelled by! When you attach a motor to a boat or a kayak the game has changed.

There is no doubt that a motor or trolling motor will be quicker and more effortless than paddling. Where things start to get murky here as it will be very dependent on what kind of kayak or inflatable boat hull you use with what kind of motor.  

For easy peasy comparison sake, we will mostly be looking into pure paddling performance.

Advantage Inflatable Kayaks

While Inflatable boats are usually more compatible with motors. They are pretty clumsy when it comes to being paddled. 

Inflatable kayaks win out in paddling performance in terms of speed and tracking while inflatable boats tend to maneuver better and be more stable because of their wide width. 

In fact as a kid, I remember my family getting a cheap inflatable boat to use for the summer. I remember being disappointed when we were trying to get it to go anywhere by oar. Compared to the usual canoe we would use this thing was slow, twitchy and sluggish. 

 Any paddling movement in the water would fishtail the vessel which made it hard to go anywhere fast.

– Editors Note

Inflatable kayaks have the benefit of having narrow hulls, with some of them even rivaling hardshell kayaks! As a result, per stroke, the vessel will have a better straight line which means you can get to your destination in a shorter amount of time.  

Price Comparison

In terms of the pure range of price Inflatable boats have a much broader range. Cheap inflatable boats can start at $20 while the more refined hulls of Rigid Inflatable Boats can run into the $30,000 + price range

Intex Challenger

Inflatable kayaks can start at about $80 and go up to about $2000. Inflatable kayaks that are higher in price are usually made of PVC or drop stitch material that has a specialized shape to fit its environment perfectly.

Advantage Inflatable Kayaks

While inflatable boats can be cheaper than inflatable kayaks they are less useful on the water when paddling. If anything, cheap inflatable boats that are $80 and under are more like pool toys. Also the price range of inflatable boats is much larger. 

As mentioned above, inflatable kayaks have less of a range but can be considered more useful to the paddler, even at the lower price ranges that they have. The Intex Challenger K1 and K2 series are a great introduction for paddlers looking to try paddling for the first time. 

The Portability and Storage Factor

Because inflatable boats come in a wide range of sizes, models, and materials their storage and portability will be different. Many higher-end boats have to be hauled by a trailer and stored in a garage or specialty marine storage. 

Inflatable kayaks are a bit simpler in terms of their portability and storage. Most inflatable kayaks can fit into the trunk of any car and can fit in most indoor storage areas like a closet. 

Advantage Inflatable Kayaks

Sea Eagle Portability

The fact of the matter is that inflatable kayaks take up less surface area so therefore they are more portable and easier to store. 

Even if you were to compare a kayak and a boat with a similar price range the inflatable kayak would be more portable due to the simple fact that its hull is not as wide as the inflatable boat.

And as mentioned above inflatable boats with hard flooring require their own indoor storage space such as a garage.

Creature Comforts

As you go up in price point in terms of both inflatable kayaks and boats the more comfort you will have available to you. 

The comfort of an inflatable kayak is largely due to its seat. I won’t lie here, some inflatable kayak seats that come with the cheaper brands tend to be pretty terrible. But as you put down more money you get better quality seats which are made of better materials. 

Having said that, because inflatable boats have a wider birth, they tend to be more comfortable as you are not compacted into a narrower hull. This is an important consideration, especially for taller guys like myself!

The vast majority of inflatable kayak seats are made up of air. While with inflatable boats you can get a wide array of different seating which allows you to sit higher up. Some are plank benches that run the width of the boat while others can come with actual chairs. 

Advantage Inflatable Boat

Because boats have more varieties and have a wider deck, they are generally more comfortable. As you go up in price you can have proper chairs to sit and navigate the boat. 

So from a pure customization standpoint, there is a lot more you can do with an inflatable boat. 

Capacity (How Many Can You Fit)

Inflatable boats can range almost anywhere from 7’ all the way to 23’ long depending on the type of vessel you get. Their wide width gives you more room. Oftentimes you can even fit 2 or 3 people side by side depending on the size and type of vessel. 

Inflatable kayaks can range from 6’ all the way to 15’ long. The maximum amount of people that you can fit in these kayaks are usually 3 full-sized adults seated along the length of the kayak. It’s pretty much impossible to have 2 full-sized adults sitting side by side in a kayak. 

Advantage Inflatable Boat

Inflatable boats are not only roomier but they also come with higher capacity limits. Their maximum capacity can range all the way to 1272 lbs. The maximum capacity range will be even higher on inflatable boats with hard floors or are RIB style. 

A real-life example of this would be the Sea Eagle 14sr having a 2000 lb capacity while the Sea Eagle 420x has a 745 Lb maximum capacity. 


Below are some common FAQs we get with inflatable kayaks vs inflatable boats. 

What’s Best for Fishing?

This will be down to personal preference but if you want a vessel that can sneak up on fish without making any noise I would recommend an inflatable kayak. 

Inflatable boats’ on-water performance are only as good as their motors which means that while you will get to your destination faster, there will be more noise. 

In terms of fishing accessories and attachments, both can be rigged up to the tee. But if deck room, space, and capacity are important to you then an inflatable boat may be your only option!

What’s Best for Families? 

This will depend on how big your family is and what you are using the vessel for. 

If your family consists of 2 adults and 1 kid then most tandem inflatable kayaks will work out well. If your family is bigger than 2 adults and 2 children, then an inflatable boat with some sort of motor would do best. 

When considering whats best for families you need to consider:

  • How big your family is
  • What you will be using the vessel for
  • Do You want to paddle or go by motor?

Which Requires Less Maintenance?

In this case, it would be the inflatable kayak. Inflatable kayaks not only have a smaller surface area but most of the time there is no motor attached to them making it one less step. The motor itself requires regular maintenance and cleaning to make sure it runs well for years. 

Inflatable kayaks that are Class II (bladder in protective nylon) will be more maintenance because you have to take the bladders out almost every outing and have to properly clean and dry them. So keep this in mind if that’s the kind of kayak you are looking for. 

When Should You Use an Inflatable Kayak vs Inflatable Boat?

To make this short, sweet, and simple. You should use an inflatable kayak if:

  • You want to paddle anywhere
  • You want more exercise
  • You have a small family
  • You want to sneak up on fish
  • You want a more budget-friendly way of getting on the water
  • You want better portability and storage
  • You want something with less maintenance

You should get an inflatable boat if:

  • You want to mount a motor 
  • You have a bigger family coming with you
  • You want more room to move
  • You want a higher weight capacity
  • You have a garage or large storage space

If you are looking for the best inflatable kayaks for YOU take a look at our guide! It helps you choose what vessel is best for you and your needs as well as walks you through what things you should look for in a good inflatable kayak.

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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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