Are Inflatable Kayaks Worth It?: What to know before you buy

YES, Inflatable kayaks are worth it. They’re safe, lightweight, versatile, easy to carry, easy to store, and easy to haul to the water. There are many models and styles suitable for all activities.

Sea Eagle BoatsInflatables are safe, lightweight, and easy to carry.

What should I look for in an inflatable kayak?

The first thing I look for when making any purchase is the strength of the company that makes the inflatable kayak. How long have they been around? Do they make many models? Are they some quickie put together company put together for the sake of importing pre-manufactured kayaks? I look for a company that been at it for years. Someone that researches their own designs based on years of experience.

Second, are there kayaks used by professionals or are they glorified pool toys? Companies that build and design based on their own personal and professional prowess, tend to over-engineer their products, increasing the quality and that’s a better product.

Third, look at the hull design. Many inflatable kayaks are more raft-like, causing them to be squatty when sitting in the water, making them slow and more work to paddle. New designs include drop-stitch technology which makes them sleeker with better tracking, allowing them to glide through the water faster and straighter. A drop-stitch floor, for example, makes it easy to stand up in and also gives it a more of a hard shell-like surface. This really does help prevent fatigue allowing for better overall control, enabling you to glide through the water rather than pushing through the water.

Cheap kayaks made of a single layer of thin vinyl, think of cheap inflatable mattresses, that’s the same material that these ones are made of. This material is cheap and easy to manufacture therefore these kayaks will be by far the cheapest ones. Many of them cost less than $100 with a pump and a crappy paddle and you might find a used one for $60 or even fewer dollars.

 

Perfect Day

Next are the kayaks that are made of the same cheap vinyl but now it’s encased in protective fabric. This makes them much more protected from puncturing and UV light exposure. This category is quite populous but has one major disadvantage that first-time buyers usually don’t think about.

If the kayak looks like it has some fabric on the outside and has zippers, don’t be fooled. If you open that zipper you’ll find the same cheap vinyl chambers inside these kayaks are generally quite a bit more expensive, ranging probably between $350 to $800 dollars.

What you want are the kayaks made of thick single-layer materials like PVC and rubbers. These are the most durable materials and can withstand quite a bit of abuse. These kayaks would be hard to puncture and would be more likely to have leaks around seams if anything. I’ve taken boats of this type on white water and after rubbing against the rocks quite hard I could barely see any scratches on the bottom. They are also more likely to last significantly longer than the other cheaper boats. I’d say these boats would most likely last 20 years or so. Of course, these boats come at a premium. Prices for most of these vary from $800 to well over a thousand. The brand that dominates in this category would be Sea Eagle. Out of everything we’ve talked about I’d say the brand to stay away from would be Sevylor.

Probably the most important topic that novice paddlers don’t think about drying your kayak. I often get asked how long it takes me to inflate and set up a kayak? The answer is five to seven minutes max and it’s quite easy.  What nobody asks about, and they really should, is how long it takes to dry and pack away a kayak. I will tell you that this part of the process is much more critical than the setup. When you’re getting the kayak ready you’re enjoying the thought that you’re about to be on the water. When you come back all tired from paddling the last thing you want to do is deal with your kayak, but you have to. It has to be thoroughly dried before putting away.

Don’t buy a kayak if it does not have a skeg, that is a tracking fin of some sort. The disadvantage of these boats is they’re usually quite slow many of them don’t track well. That means they have a hard time going straight so with every paddle stroke you rotate the kayak and waste your energy spinning rather than moving forward.

Sea Eagle Boats
Sea Eagle’s Patented NeedleKnife™ Rigid Inflatable Keel

Are inflatable kayaks good for beginners?

Inflatables tend to be wider and more stable, relieving you from the fear of tipping over. Hard-shell kayaks are sleek and great performers but they are prone to tipping.

Hard-shell kayaks tend to be enclosed so if you do capsize you could feel trapped. Novice kayakers usually seem to be more comfortable in open kayaks, their openness is more like a canoe, it feels safer and in the case of a capsize you won’t get trapped. If you do capsize inflatables are a lot easier to get back in.

Do inflatable kayaks puncture easily? Will an inflatable kayak pop?

The cheaper/pool toy kayaks don’t hold air pressure well and they’re made of material like an air mattress, so they can fail. When the last time you woke up to a fully inflated air mattress/ enough said. Now the really good inflatable Kayas, like the Sea Eagle, is made of really durable material, that unless you run into a knife, you’ll be fine. The good ones are strong against rocks and other materials and they have several air chambers so if one does deflate you’ll still be afloat.

inexpensive kayak

Are inflatable kayaks hard to paddle?

Again the cheaper ones are hard because they are basically a rubber raft. Fine for just letting the current float you down the river, but if you want to paddle around a lake, for example, they’re more work. A well made kayak will track straight and take you were you want to go. Unless you spend all your time in a hardshell kayak I don’t think you feel much difference. It’s all about getting an inflatable kayak that tracks straight. It needs a keel and a skeg.

How long do inflatable kayaks last?

This is a good question especially if you’re looking a buying a used one. First, it needs to be well maintained. Now that isn’t hard if you have a good boat. The boats with the pontoons zipped in some kind of rugged fabric are really difficult to dry properly and are prone to mildew and rot. The really well-made boats just need to be wiped down (rinsed if saltwater), dried, and kept in a dry place, will last as many as 20 years. UV ray exposure can shorten the life of an inflatable so don’t leave it in the sun for days, weeks, all summer, etc.

How big of an inflatable kayak should I get?

Tall people, over six foot should start looking 12 ft. kayaks. More importantly you need to look at what you’re going to be using it for.

Kayak Categories

  • Recreational Kayaks (9-12 feet)
  • Whitewater Kayaks (9-12 feet)
  • Advanced Recreational Kayaks: (12-14 feet)
  • Touring Kayaks (15-18 feet)
  • Sea Kayaks (15-18 feet)

What size kayak do I need for my weight?

First, you need a weight capacity of 125 lbs. more than your weight plus gear, (ice chest, fishing gear, camping gear), etc. If you go over that amount you’ll start losing stability, maneuverability, and it will be harder to paddle. So make sure you have plenty of capacity left over. It’s mostly common sense here folks.

Stable and Fun

Are Inflatable Kayaks Safe?

The bottom line is they are safe. They’re more stable, less prone to tipping, and made of durable material. Good inflatables are made of multiple layers of high-pressure, reinforced material with a PVC coating on both sides. These boats bounce off rocks, when on the river, unlike their fiberglass counterparts. If you do capsize in an inflatable it’s still buoyant and floating. A hardshell kayak has to be emptied of water before you can get back in. To be safe in any boat avoid severe conditions and wear an appropriate PFD.

What is the best inflatable kayak to buy?

For me the answer was clear. The best performing kayak and the safest inflatable kayak is the Sea Eagle 385 FastTrack. This boat has features not found in many inflatable kayaks. These come with a state of the art “NeedleKnife Keel”. This feature alone is worth every penny. Along with the drop stitch rigid floor, this kayaks hull performs like a rigid fiberglass hull. It tracks very straight and smooth. A truly rigid kayak experience. This thing folds up to a 35 lbs. package that’s easy to carry, from the car to the water.

Sea Eagle Boats
SEA EAGLE 385FT FASTTRACK

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