Inflatable Kayaks Vs. Hardshell Kayaks

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Kayaking is becoming more popular internationally, which has led kayak manufacturers to produce kayaks that are more accessible for everyone. One example of this is the inflatable kayak. There are several inflatable kayaks available on the market now, but how do they compare to standard hardshell kayaks?

Inflatable kayaks are easy to store and lightweight, and transport as they deflate to a small size. Hardshell kayaks are versatile, durable, and offer more performance. Inflatables are best for those who cannot move or store hardshells. Hardshells are better for serious paddlers and multi-day trips.

Inflatable kayaks are getting better and better, and they are not as unreliable or poor-quality as they used to be. However, most paddlers still prefer hardshell kayaks for several reasons. Let’s explore the differences between inflatable and hardshell kayaks, their pros and cons, and compare them directly to help you determine which is best for you.

Modern Inflatable Kayaks

The world of kayaks is ever-expanding. There are new kayak models released almost every day now, and every kayak brand claims to have developed the best kayak on the market. This is especially true for inflatable kayak models, but what are inflatable kayaks actually like to use?

The truth is that modern inflatable kayaks can be very good. Inflatable kayaks can also be terrible, but it all depends on what you buy. High-end inflatable kayaks are of very good quality and do not compromise on performance, useability, comfort, or durability.

There are three basic types of inflatable kayaks available on the market now. The most basic form of inflatable kayaks are made from a single thin layer of waterproof material, and they are very cheap to buy. These kayaks are typically very bad are barely more than pool toys.

The next level up is dual-layered kayaks that have the same single-wall construction, but they are then wrapped in a protective material layer designed to protect the boat from the sun and from punctures. These kayaks are a little better, but they are still not very good vessels.

The top tier of modern inflatable kayaks, however, are ultra well made, constructed from the best possible materials by the best technology available, and they are very close in performance, quality, durability, and comfort to hardshell kayaks.

The major advantage of inflatable kayaks I that they are easy to transport and very simple to store. The fact that these boats deflate and fold away means they do not require a large vehicle, roof racks, or a trailer to transport them.

This aspect of inflatable kayaks also allows them to be stored very easily, as they fold away neatly into relatively small bags and can even be stored in a regular closet.

This means that inflatable kayaks can be owned by paddlers who have very little storage space available and those who do not own large vehicles for transporting hardshell kayaks.

Modern inflatable kayaks are well-made, stable, and durable. They perform well, they are comfortable, and they are made to last for a very long time. High-quality inflatable kayaks are expensive, but so are high-quality hardshell kayaks, so the cost is not a deciding factor between the two.

However, low-quality inflatable kayaks are not worthwhile buying, while some cheaper hardshell kayaks can be very good.

Inflatable kayaks are not what they used to be; they are now far better. Modern inflatables are very good boats and can perform well in even very challenging circumstances. With that being said, let’s identify some of the important pros and cons of inflatable kayaks, to better compare them to hardshell kayaks.

The Pros And Cons Of Inflatable Kayaks

Modern inflatable kayaks are very good if you buy a high-end model, and there is very little compromise that comes along with owning such a kayak. While these kayaks have some impressive features, there are a few drawbacks to using them as well. 

The pros of modern inflatable kayaks include:

  • Inflatable kayaks deflate and fold away very easily.
  • Inflatable kayaks are very easy to transport.
  • Inflatable kayaks are simple to store and do not require much storage space.
  • Modern inflatable kayaks are well made.
  • High-end inflatable kayaks perform well in almost all weather conditions.
  • Inflatable kayaks are more durable and made to last for a long time.

The cons of modern inflatable kayaks include:

  • Good inflatable kayaks are very expensive.
  • Inflatable kayaks are less durable than hardshell kayaks.
  • Inflatable kayaks come with fewer standard features.
  • Inflatable kayaks are less versatile than hardshell kayaks.
  • Many inflatable kayaks do not have a rudder, which compromises stability.
  • Inflatable kayaks are susceptible to wind.
  • Inflatable kayaks are prone to punctures.
  • Inflatable kayaks deteriorate in the sun.

Inflatable kayaks are interesting, and the good ones are very good, but there is some strong competition in the form of standard hardshell kayaks. Let’s take a look at hardshell kayaks to make a better comparison between the two.

Modern Hardshell Kayaks

Inflatable kayaks are sweeping the kayak world with convenience and portability, but most paddlers still attest that hardshell kayaks are a better option. What makes hardshell kayaks so good, and why are they considered to be better than inflatable kayaks?

Modern hardshell kayaks are the ideal small boat. There is nothing that glides through the water like a hardshell kayak, and all of these vessels are packed with usable and convenient features that no inflatable kayak is equipped with.

Hardshell kayaks are cumbersome, they are a challenge to transport, and they do not store away easily, but the tradeoffs of these inconveniences are superior stability, performance, durability, and features.

Modern kayaks are very well made and very well thought out. Every modern kayak that falls in a price range high enough to compete with good quality inflatable kayaks is a very good boat. These kayaks perform well in every type of water and in all weather conditions.

Hardshell kayaks are not very susceptible to wind, they are not damaged or tarnished by UV rays, they do not get punctures, and they do not need to be inflated before use. 

These vessels are also packed with features such as dry storage compartments, deck bungees to store various items, and even gear racks that allow the paddler to easily attach various gear and tech items that are very useful on the water.

This type of kayak is also very stable, and almost all hardshell kayaks are equipped with a rudder for added stability in rough water. Hardshell kayaks are ideal for fishing, camping, racing, and simply just enjoying a day on the water.

Modern kayaks are made from very lightweight and durable materials, which means that while they are cumbersome to move, they are not heavy to carry. Even the most expensive hardshell kayaks are not particularly heavy, despite all of the extra features these boats are equipped with.

Spending more on a hardshell kayak gets you more boats, but cheaper models of hardshell kayaks are often very good vessels and are ideal for beginners. Even the least expensive hardshell kayak can be used on the water for extended periods without much trouble.

Hardshell kayaks are also faster on the water, and the added stability means that the paddler feels more confident and secure while moving quickly. 

While this type of kaya has many favorable features, there are some features of hardshell kayaks that are less desirable. Let’s explore some of the most important pros and cons of hardshell kayaks to better compare them to inflatable versions.

The Pros And Cons Of Hardshell Kayaks

Hardshell kayaks are often seen to be superior, but there are some aspects of these kayaks that can be poorly made or thought out. Let’s identify some of the features that make hardshell kayaks good and some that make them a little frustrating.

The important pros of modern hardshell kayaks include:

  • Hardshell kayaks are very durable.
  • Hardshell kayaks are less susceptible to weather conditions.
  • Hardshell kayaks are stable on the water.
  • Hardshell kayaks last much longer than inflatable kayaks.
  • Hardshell kayaks have dry storage compartments.
  • Hardshell kayaks feature a rudder.
  • Hardshell kayaks are often equipped with gear racks and mounts.
  • Hardshell kayaks can be bought for less money and still be very good.

The important cons of modern hardshell kayaks include:

  • Hardshell kayaks are cumbersome to move.
  • Hardshell kayaks require large vehicles, roof racks, or trailers to transport.
  • Hardshell kayaks require a large space for storage.
  • Hardshell kayaks can be very expensive.
  • It is very easy to buy the wrong hardshell kayak for your purposes.

Hardshell and inflatable kayaks are both viable options if you are looking for a new kayak, but it is important to make direct comparisons when considering which to buy. Let’s directly compare inflatable and hardshell kayaks to determine which is best for you.

How To Inflatable And Hardshell Kayaks Compare?

Comparing inflatable and hardshell kayaks is a challenge, but it is an important comparison to make. Both of these types of modern kayaks are excellent for multi-functional use, and there are several good models to choose from for both types of boats.

The true comparison of inflatable and hardshell kayaks lies on the water. Ultimately, if a kayak is not good on the water, it is not a good vessel, regardless of how well it stores away.

Modern inflatable kayaks are very good. They are well made, and they are well balanced on the water while also providing good performance and durability overall.

However, hardshell kayaks offer more performance, more stability, better balance, better durability, and they come standard with more features than those inflatable kayaks. 

Inflatable kayaks that are built with modern materials and techniques hold themselves very well on the water. The high-end version features footrests for extra power in stokes, and they are sturdy enough to handle almost all weather conditions.

Hardshell kayaks are difficult to move, but once they are in the water, they are faster, smoother, easier to use, and more well-balanced than inflatable kayaks. This means that hardshell kayaks are the better option overall. However, modern inflatables are not far off, and any compromises made by owning such a craft are minimal at most.

The greatest advantage of inflatables is the convenience of moving, transporting, and storing these kayaks. This is the major and most significant advantage that inflatable kayaks have over hardshell kayaks and is the best reason to buy one.

Overall, hardshell kayaks are the better vessels when compared to the kayaks of the same price range, and they offer more value for money than inflatable kayaks. 

Which Type Of Kayak Is Best For You?

We have thoroughly covered the major features, pros, cons, and frustrations of both inflatable and hardshell kayaks, but which type of kayak is best for you? All of the information in the world is useless without identifying the best option for you and your requirements, as well as your own personal preferences.

When comparing which type of kayak is best for you, it is important to consider what you will be using the boat for, how you will get the kayak to your favorite kayaking spots, and where you will store the kayak when you return home.

Hardshell kayaks are the better option for more serious paddlers, especially those who enjoy multi-day trips, camping, or fishing from their kayak. This is simply because hardshell kayaks are more comfortable, they can cover greater distances more quickly, and they have more space for storage and carrying gear.

Inflatable kayaks are less comfortable and slightly slower, but they are ideal for the paddler who enjoys day trips and does not prefer to traverse rough waters. These kayaks are lightweight and simple, which means they are ideal for short trips and leisurely kayak excursions.

With all of this being said, if you have limited space for storing your kaya or if you do not have a large enough vehicle, roof racks, or a trailer for transporting a kayak, then the decision for you is clear. An inflatable kayak is the best answer to these solutions. 

If you are a serious paddler who cares about kayak performance and who will use the boat frequently or for longer trips, then a hardshell is the way to go for you, so long as you do not mind the inconvenience of storing, transporting, and moving the kayak.


Inflatable kayaks and hardshell kayaks are the two major kayak types on the market right now, and both kayak types have their own pros and cons, and they both have their own ideal use scenarios.

Hardshell kayaks are better overall and offer more value for money, but inflatable kayaks are far easier to store, transport, and move. 

At the end of it all, which kayak is best for you is determined by your own preferences, what you will use the vessel for, how big your budget is, and how much space you have to transport and store the boat.