Inflatable vs Hard Shell Kayak

Inflatable vs Hard Shell KayakFor some people, “Inflatable vs hard shell kayak” isn’t even worthy of consideration. Inflatable Kayaks are little more than pool toys, aren’t they? Hard shells are for “real” paddlers!

Others have gotten over their initial skepticism and enjoyed the benefits of an inflatable kayak. They’re considerably cheaper, compact and portable. You might also be wondering whether the extra money for a more “traditional” kayak is really worth it.

The truth is, there are many things to consider when coming to a decision regarding desired kayak type. It’s helpful to examine how both kinds handle in a variety of categories.

Cost Comparison

Plastic kayaks are significantly cheaper than other rigid kayaks. Still, inflatable kayaks are usually much cheaper than hard shells.

There are even solo inflatable kayaks that have decent quality for as low as sixty dollars. Inflatables often make a perfect choice for someone just getting into the hobby. They can be tried and if the buyer is no longer interested, it’s not as big of a deal financially. This is especially true with kids!


Both are very durable although a hard shell model is more likely to become a family heirloom. Generally, hard-shelled models are made either of fiberglass, wood, or plastic. Other varieties are made of Kevlar or carbon fiber.

Hard kayaks won’t require you to replace inside air compartments and valves like with inflatables which can get pricey.


Hard shells are more likely to get in your way if space is an issue for you. Not surprisingly, inflatable kayaks can fit into tighter spaces for easier storage. This also is helpful when transporting your kayak whether a short distance to the water or while on vacation.


Certain rigid kayaks are lighter than others, but they all are typically heavier than inflatables. Fiberglass, for instance, is lightweight as hard kayaks go. If carrying your kayak into a remote lake, river, or coastal area is your goal you’ll likely be better suited with an inflatable one.

Getting Tipsy

Kayaks are notorious for concerns about tipping. Capsizing can be a miserable and, in some cases, dangerous experience. Many people choose not to get into the hobby due to this concern alone. While increased expertise will lead to this being less of a likelihood, there still is always the risk.

Generally, hard-shelled kayaks are narrower than inflatable ones. For this reason, inflatables are much less likely to tip due to their width. However, you can’t Eskimo roll in an inflatable. You do need to perfect the art of “bouncing”!

Safety Concerns

Inflatables for the reason mentioned above win the prize for safety. Certainly, on long river trips in remote places, the hard bottomed varieties will likely provide more peace of mind since they will not experience air problems.

It’s true with both kinds you get what you pay for. The more expensive kayaks have better construction and safety measures.


Hard-surfaced kayaks are the top option in this category for the same reason they aren’t the best in regards to safety. Due to their thinner design there is less friction in the water. As a result, they handle better in adverse water conditions caused by current and wind. They are also considerably faster than inflatable kayaks and track better.


To date, hard shells have never developed leaks and tears that led to the loss of air. Surprised? Inflatable kayaks are another matter.

It’s important to remember that many inflatables are remarkable in their design. Still, there is always the chance of air loss. Thankfully, most inflatables come with repair kits that offer good instructions on how to fix leaks. If not provided in the purchase, they are relatively cheap to purchase.
The high end models also have as many as five air chambers meaning if you spring a leak, you can still make it back to shore.


Inflatable kayaks definitely have an advantage when it comes to swimming. An inflatable kayak is like an oversized life ring when you hold on to it. A hard-shell on the other hand is like a torpedo intent on sinking you!

Intrigue Factor

Inflatable Kayaks are fascinating. People always seem drawn to them when your out paddling. Many people are pleasantly surprised by the amount of technology and quality that goes into inflatables.

Inflatable vs Hard Shell Kayak – In Conclusion

Once you determine what factors listed above are most important to you, choosing the winner of “Inflatable vs hard shell kayak” becomes more straight-forward. Either one you choose, you’ll have a lot of fun trying them out!

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