Are you having a hard time choosing the best option between an inflatable kayak vs hardshell? Check out the pros and cons of inflatable kayaks vs hardshell based on our experience. We’ve used both many times and found some misconceptions about inflatable kayaks that you’ll want to hear about.

Kayaking Hinchinbrook Island
Kayaking Hinchinbrook Island (hardshell kayak)

Are inflatable kayaks better than rigid kayaks?

There’s no straight answer to this question. It depends on how you plan to use your kayak. But in my opinion, unless you plan to use it in rough waters, I find good inflatable kayaks are generally better than most hardshell kayaks. And I insist here on the word good because not all inflatable kayaks are better than rigid kayaks.

Before making a decision on whether inflatable kayaks or rigid kayaks are the best for you, it’s crucial to think about how you will use your kayak and understand the different types of inflatable kayaks.

We tried different inflatable kayaks and decided we wanted the Strenfit X500*, a fully drop-stitch inflatable kayak. We can go almost anywhere with it except in rapids and rough waters. It’s perfect for us. We have all the pros of having an inflatable kayak and don’t ever notice the cons. Indeed, even if I love kayaking and adventures, I don’t fancy going in rough waters, and we don’t have rapids near home.

Cons of inflatable kayaks vs hardshell kayaks and misconceptions

Woman on an inflatable kayak in front of rocky cliffs in Sydney Harbour
Exploring Sydney North Harbour in an inflatable kayak (Elite Advanced Elements*)

Inflatable kayaks are known to be harder to control, take longer to pack, lack space for storage, be easier to tip and not easy to get back in. However, it’s not true for all models of inflatable kayaks and doesn’t reflect our experience with our inflatable kayaks. Indeed, the cons of inflatable kayaks will vary according to the type of inflatable kayaks you choose. Let me clear up some true cons of inflatable kayaks and some misconceptions.

Inflatable kayaks don’t go as straight as hardshell kayaks: mostly true.

Inflatable kayak on Logan River

This is mostly true, but not entirely. Most hardshell kayaks will give you better control than inflatable kayaks. But our inflatable kayak* glides well on the water and is much better than cheap hard-shell kayaks. But I know it’s not the case for the cheapest inflatable kayaks* (they act like a buoy) or the ones made to go into rapids.

One truth, however, is that inflatable kayaks are lightweight, so it can be harder to control them when there’s wind. Plus, they rarely have the option to equip a rudder, which really helps with manoeuvres.

If you like inflatable kayaks and performance is important for you, look for those with a drop stitch floor (or even better, fully drop stitch kayaks) and a v-shape bow such as the Strenfit X500*, the Sea Eagle Razorlite* or the Advanced Elements AirVolution* for example.

It takes longer to prepare and pack an inflatable kayak compared to a rigid kayak: not always true.

Man using a towel to dry an inflatable kayak on the grass.

Again, this isn’t entirely true and will depend on the model of inflatable kayak you choose.

You indeed have to inflate your inflatable kayak before going on the water. And then, when you’ve finished, you have to dry it, deflate it and put it back into its bag.

One massive difference between inflatable kayaks and hard shell kayaks is the drying process. It’s true that many inflatable kayaks take a while to dry and may develop mould, which isn’t a problem with hardshell kayaks. But if you choose a fully drop stitch inflatable kayak (see again Advanced Elements AirVolution*, Strenfit X500* and the Sea Eagle Razorlite*), they’re very easy to dry.

In regards to packing time, because our inflatable kayak is so easy to dry and carry, we’re actually faster with our inflatable drop stitch kayak* than our friends are with their rigid kayaks. Although you don’t have to wait for your rigid kayak to dry and then pack it into a bag, you cannot simply put it in your car boot. You have to consider the time to carry it back to your vehicle and secure it on the roof rack.

Inflatable kayaks are not durable compared to hardshell kayaks: mostly true.

Another one that is true, but with some nuance. Although fibreglass and plastic rigid kayaks are more resilient, once they get damaged, it is expensive to repair. But you can often fix your inflatable kayak yourself.

The durability of hardshell kayaks is mostly dependent on the material. For inflatable kayaks, it is mostly dependent on price and purpose. As long as you don’t go cheap, you can find an inflatable kayak type that is durable enough for whatever kind of paddling you want to do. But for some obvious reasons, you won’t want to drag your inflatable kayak on rocks and risk perforating it, where you’d only worry about getting scratches on your hardshell kayak.

You cannot go sea-kayaking with most inflatable kayaks: not always true.

It’s as true as you cannot go sea-kayaking with most hardshell kayaks. If you choose a recreational kayak not made for the sea, it doesn’t matter if it’s inflatable or rigid; you won’t be able to go sea-kayaking.

Our inflatable kayak has a v-shape and a fully closed deck with skirts so we can take it in the sea. We stick to the bay or along the coast, though, and I wouldn’t take it in big waves. It’s fine for me as I wouldn’t want to go kayaking in big waves anyway, no matter the type of kayak.

It is hard to climb back into an inflatable kayak: not always true.

From my experience, climbing back on an inflatable kayak indeed is a bit harder than on a rigid kayak. However, once you get the hang of it, it’s no longer an issue.

It’s not easy to climb back on a rigid kayak for the first time, but you quickly learn the technique. It’s the same with your inflatable kayak. Plus, the edges of inflatable kayaks are softer, so once you know how to get back in, you may actually prefer it!

Inflatable kayaks are unstable: not true.

It’s true that inflatable kayaks can feel unstable. Some are indeed unstable, and for many others, it’s just a sensation because they are soft. All the inflatable kayaks we tried were rather stable, and I’ve tried a few rigid kayaks that capsized easily.

If stability is primordial for you, you should look for kayaks that are wider.

There isn’t enough storage for multi-day trips on inflatable kayaks: not true.

Kayak Noosa Everglades
Noosa Everglades

Storage space depends on the model of the kayak and has nothing to do with inflatable vs hardshell kayaks. Many inflatable kayaks are made to paddle just for a few hours, so storage is indeed limited.

But if you choose a touring inflatable kayak, you’ll find some models with space for your camping equipment and food should you wish to go on a multi-day trip. Make sure you look at the weight capacity (including kayakers) when considering the size of your kayak.

What are the pros of inflatable kayaks vs hardshell kayaks

We found more pros than cons of having an inflatable kayak vs a hardshell kayak. Still, there are a few misconceptions going around, so I’ve cleared up the true pros of inflatable kayaks and the misconceptions below.

Inflatable kayaks can be cheaper than hardshell kayaks.

When researching how to choose an inflatable kayak, I quickly realised this was a misconception. You’ll find cheap kayaks and expensive kayaks, whether they’re inflatable or hardshell.

Inflatable kayaks are easier to carry than hardshell kayaks.

Man on a rocky path pulling a suitcase that contains an inflatable kayak
One person can easily pull the bag for a big two-person inflatable kayak

Portability is often the first pro that comes to mind when looking for an inflatable kayak. Hardshell kayaks are complicated to move around; it’s sometimes a two-people job, and you’ll need a roof rack to put it in your car.

On the contrary, inflatable kayaks come in small and light bags that you can take on the plane or even on a short hike. It’s great if you plan to travel with your kayak or if you want to launch it from places that can only be accessed by walking on rough terrain.

However, if you’re interested in a hardshell kayak, you’ll find some models that are more portable than others. We saw rigid kayaks with wheels built into the keel* that were easy to pull on a path. If you don’t want to invest in a roof rack, you may be interested in soft roof racks* (make sure you check the load capacity).

Inflatable kayaks have fewer risks of being stolen.

Sure, a hardshell kayak fixed on the roof of a car isn’t the easiest thing to steal. But if your kayak is expensive, you may not want to leave it overnight without keeping an eye on it. You won’t have this issue with an inflatable kayak as you can store it safely inside your car.

Inflatable kayaks are easier to store.

Inflatable kayaks also take up less space at home. We live in a small apartment where storage space is precious, so it would be a waste to have a rigid kayak taking most of it. It’s a lot easier to find a spot for a suitcase.

You have more flexibility with inflatable kayaks.

I love how you can change the setting of your inflatable kayak on some models. For example, have a look at how the Elite Advanced Elements* can be a one-person or two-person kayak according to the deck* you fix.

Inflatable kayaks are more comfortable.

Seats on inflatable kayaks are often softer than on hardshell kayaks. It’s not always the case though, as the most performant inflatable kayaks (Strenfit X500*, the Sea Eagle Razorlite* or the Advanced Elements AirVolution*, for example) are quite hard with the drop stitch technology.

You’ll save petrol with an inflatable kayak.

You’ll need roof racks on your car to transport a hardshell kayak. Roof racks cause drag which makes you use more petrol. Plus, you’ll have more weight in your car from the roof rack and the kayak itself. So for the same trip, you’ll use less petrol to go kayaking.

Did you choose an inflatable kayak or a hardshell? Share your experience in the comments below!

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