Outdoor sport has gained even more popularity lately. We are told that any activity is safer when done outside, especially during these unusual times. This certainly has boosted interest in the various things we can do out in the open.
Kayaking is one activity that is gaining ground. I think the accessibility to water bodies like lakes, rivers, creeks, and the sea helps its popularity. The sport brings me close to nature like no other activity. I see the water, fish, and other aquatic elements as I paddle along at my own pace.
Once you have tried it, most folks are hooked. It is also relatively inexpensive, with a wide range of gear to choose from, depending on your needs and budget. It can also be a solitary activity or a fun bonding group outing. (Read Best Kayak Workout)
There are many forms of kayaking. Each one requires different boat designs depending on the water conditions. There is white water kayaking with currents moving (sometimes violently), and there is flatwater kayaking in water bodies that are still and deep.
The first thing you will have to get acquainted with is the boat. Hardshell kayaks are by far the more popular kayak, and there is a variety choose. Inflatable kayaks, on the other hand, have been improving and are rising in popularity.
The inevitable comparison is inflatable kayaks vs. hardshell kayaks. Which one is better? To answer that question, we need to look at the inflatable kayaks pros and cons and do the same for the hardshell version.
Hardshell kayaks are the original form, and they are constructed using plastic, fiberglass, composites, or traditional wood. These different materials have their own pros and cons. To compare hardshell with the best inflatable kayaks, let us consider the hardshell family collectively.
An inflatable kayak is just that. You blow it up when you use it and deflate it once done. Since it is not made of a hard material, inflatable kayaks are softer and more pliable.
Hardshell Kayaks Pros and Cons
Pros – Hardshell kayaks are rigid by nature. While being more complicated to transport, they have less downtime getting into the water since there is no inflating to do.
That same advantage applies once you are done playing in the water. Merely carry the boat back and mount it again on your vehicle.
Depending on the design and your skill as a kayaker, most consider the hardshell kayaks superior in control compared to inflatables. This is due to the hardshell rigidity.
Cons – Regardless of the material, hardshell kayaks are heavier than inflatable kayaks. Lifting requires some technique (and strength) and can even be a two-man job. These kayaks usually also have lower weight tolerance than inflatables.
Since a hardshell kayak does not change size or shape, you need special transportation and storage. Your vehicle should take a roof rack, and you need ample storage space at home, ideally indoors. Hardshells are notorious for warping if not stored properly. (Read How to Use a Kayak Cart)
Hardshell kayaks need more work from you thanks to maintenance. Depending on the material, upkeep requirements will differ. Wood requires the most maintenance, whereas fiberglass needs the least attention.
Inflatable Kayaks Pros and Cons
Pros – Inflatable kayaks are no doubt light and hence easy to carry. The newer models are also surprisingly sturdy and can take quite a beating. As I mentioned earlier, they also have a higher weight tolerance.
Since they deflate, you can pack them in a sizeable backpack or duffle bag. They are easy to store at home and a breeze to transport on almost any vehicle. Bring them on hikes if you like.
These kayaks can take bumps and rough waters as they bounce off hard surfaces if you collide with anything. The best inflatable kayaks are made of new materials that can be impervious to sharp objects and resist tears or punctures. Single or 2 person kayak inflatable models benefit from these durable, modern materials.
Depending on your model, gone are the days of inflatables being inferior in stability. The best kayak brands are designed with a broader base and, as such, are more stable. Beginners and experienced kayakers alike love this feature.
Cons – Many are drawn to inflatable kayaks since they are under the impression they cost much less than hardshell boats. Although partly true, it depends mostly on the kind of performance you expect from your kayak.
Top brands and kayaks intended for demanding situations such as rapids and rough seas will likely set you back as much as rigid kayaks. Entry-level models for novice kayakers and calm waters will perhaps come out cheaper.
Taking an inflatable kayak to and from the water is indeed far easier than carrying a heavy hardshell. However, the downside is the ritual of inflating and deflating an inflatable kayak before and after use. An electric pump can take around 10 minutes and much longer with a manual pump.
Gauging the correct amount of air can also be tricky for the best kayak performance. You will need an accurate gauge to measure this in pounds per square inch or PSI. Higher inflation ratings result in more rigid boats.
Since they weigh less than rigid kayaks, inflatables may at times be trickier to control. Hence, hardshell kayaks are usually a better choice in rough waters.
However, as improvements happen, inflatable kayaks are increasingly getting better in all kinds of water. In fact, many models already available are meant for rapids and open seas.
One must also make sure to thoroughly air and dry a boat before packing it away for storage. If not, the deflated kayak may be damp, even damaged, moldy, and with a foul odor. (Read How to Store a Kayak)
Inflatable kayaks are a great option for you if you feel the pros of that design outweigh the cons. Nevertheless, one thing is for sure. We can only expect that these inflatable rigs will get better soon and in years to come.