Inflatable Whitewater Kayaks – Pros and Cons

Inflatable Kayaks catch ainflatable whitewater kayaks lot of heat (especially online) at the best of times. When they discover your interest in taking one out in whitewater? Well, you better be prepared for stock jibes around “pool toys” and blow-up dolls.

The truth is, many people are using  inflatable whitewater kayaks on Class III rapids without any problems. There are some disadvantages to be made aware of, but you should find the advantages can make it very worthwhile.

Take a look at the following pros and and cons and decide for yourself!

Pros of Inflatable Whitewater Kayaks

Tough & Durable

All quality inflatable kayaks whether for placid recreational use, sea, fishing, or for whitewater trips are very durable. Not surprisingly, though, inflatable whitewater kayaks have take an unrivaled beating. Constant pressure from surging water, jagged rocks, and downed trees make extra armor in their design an absolute necessity.

The best inflatable kayaks use a rubber coating over low-stretch fabric. You can typically see this design on whitewater rafts and the “Zodiac” inflatable boats used by rescue services and the military.

Cheaper Than Hard-Shells

If you shop around, you can pick up a decent inflatable whitewater kayak for around half-the-price of their hard-shells cousins. True, the “Entry-level” end of the market won’t be able to handle class III or class IV type rapids.  Advanced Element’s “Attack” kayak certainly can. And it’s priced several hundred dollars less than something like the Dagger Mambo 7.6 Hard-Shell.

Not only is the initial purchase price cheaper, but you won’t need to spend a lot of money on extras like a roof-rack and ties.

The cheaper price makes inflatable kayaks a much more viable purchase for occasional paddlers and those new to the pursuit.

Easy To Transport

One of the much-touted benefits of inflatable kayaks is they are compact and portable. Many IKs come with their own bag and will fit into a hockey-sized duffel bag or backpack. This means you can easily combine hiking and kayaking.

You can also take them on planes and even on a motorbike or MTB.  Best of all you can always have them in the trunk of your car. Never let a good river pass you by again (providing you have the time!).


An apartment, condo or anywhere without a lot of space makes having a hard-shell kayak a challenge. Once deflated, inflatable kayaks are incredibly compact and easy-to-store. They can fit in small closets or even under your bed!

Easier To Get In & Out

It’s much easier to get in and out of an inflatable kayak on a river. Their wider and sit on top of the water so that makes them more stable. This is a great advantage when you’re doing a lot of scouting on an unfamiliar river.

They Are Safer

Whitewater enthusiasts recognize there is an above-average level of risk associated with their passion. Despite the risk of venturing down thrilling, inhospitable rapids it becomes much safer with the use of an inflatable kayak.

Hobbyists love the fact IKs do a great job of staying upright. In the case of taking a swim, generally they do not roll. They go on their side and can typically be righted while in the water.

The increased width of some inflatable kayaks (which can go up to 38″) means you end up with a more stable boat.

Inflatable Kayaks Are Greener

The rubber-coated fabrics that inflatable kayaks use greener that the more-traditional PVC-type plastics. PVC off-gases dioxins and a lot of other toxic, nasty stuff. You can read more about

PVC – The Poison Plastic”.

They Can Go In Shallower Water

Inflatable Kayaks sit on top of the water, rather than in it. This means you can take them in shallower water and not worry about beaching or banging off rocks.

A lot of rivers in America were first explored with inflatable kayaks and ELF ( Extreme Low Floating) style is still popular today and something you can do in an inflatable kayak.

So there’s a number of advantages of inflatable kayaks to consider. However, in the interest of fairness, we’d be remiss not to discuss the “Cons” as well.

Cons of Whitewater Inflatable Kayaks

They Don’t Track Well

This is perhaps the single-biggest complaint that inflatable kayaks get. The reason for this is the soft and spongy contact they make with the water. However, companies like Advanced Elements have aluminum ribs with their “Advanced Frame” kayak and tracking has said to improved.

They Are Slower

Inflatable Kayaks are slower than rigid kayaks. There’s no two-ways about it. They do sacrifice speed for stability, though.

They go “Pop”

The risk of a puncture is quite rightly a major concern. If you buy a cheap inflatable kayak, there’s certainly more risk. If you’re prepared to pay more than $250, this risk is mitigated by having a number of primary air-chambers and a seriously reinforced bottom.

Many kayakers report pulling their inflatables over rocks and abrasions with no problem at all. And companies such as NRI provide 3-year warranties on their kayaks.

The Sun Can Pop Them

Air is a gas an it expands with heat. Many people tend to forget this. If you do over-pump your inflatable in cold-weather, it could possibly burst should it get hot and sunny.

However, some of the best whitewater inflatable kayaks have up to 5 air chambers. Even if this unlikely scenario did happen you’d hopefully have enough buoyancy to make it back to shore.

They Get Moldy

This is also true. People who don’t adequately dry out their inflatable kayak before storing report mold appearing.

Ideally, the kayak should be left to dry out in the sun. If not, take a few towels along and give it a thorough wipe-down before storing.

Pumping Is A Hassle

Some people find pumping up an inflatable a hassle. Instead of ten minutes to get it off the car and 2 minutes to launch, it might take 2 minutes to get off the car and ten minutes to pump and go! Also, an electric pump makes things go a lot quicker.

I’m sure the arguments will continue on (certainly online). The real proof is in the pudding, or in the rapids as the case may be. Whatever you take out, stay safe and have a lot of fun!


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