Kayaks are popular among those who like water activities that can be enjoyed by people of various fitness levels. When it comes to kayaks, the conventional, hardshell type is what comes to mind. Although there are lots of kayak enthusiasts who still prefer this type of kayak, manufacturers have ventured into producing another type: inflatable kayaks. Some kayakers have made their choice between the two, but first-timers often ask themselves, “inflatable kayak versus hardshell: which one is better?”.

What Are Inflatable Kayaks?

Inflatable kayaks are the types that you can quickly inflate or deflate during a trip. These kayaks are easy to transport and store anytime, anywhere. However, in the past, people looked down upon the inflatable kayak due to concerns of safety and sturdiness. Customers were hesitant in choosing this type, but even so, things changed. You can use inflatable kayaks on whitewater, sea, and quiet water.

There are three air chambers in this type of kayak: a floor chamber and two side chambers, all of which you can inflate using a foot, hand, or electric pump. Inflatable kayak models vary, but in general, you can use them for almost any water activity and these products offer convenience in many ways.

Remember that quality is everything, so it is best not to settle for unbelievably cheap inflatable kayaks. If the price is lower than usual, this should raise questions regarding the kayak’s quality, sturdiness, and security.

Pros And Cons Of Inflatable Kayaks

Before you purchase a product, knowing about the pros and cons allows you to see and evaluate the features. Proper evaluation ensures that you will be able to select a kayak that caters to your needs and preferences.


  • It is easy to transport and store.

Inflatable kayaks are products that you can quickly inflate and deflate whenever you please. This feature means that you can quickly fold or roll the item into a small piece and place it in a bag or pouch for future use. You can easily stow the inflatable kayak onto your car or you may strap it onto a backpack using handles.

Those who love to go kayaking and hiking love the ease and convenience of carrying the inflatable kayak to places they go to. Being able to put the whole kayak inside the bag allows them to explore areas that are small or difficult to navigate.

  • It doesn’t take up a lot of storage space.

Inflatable kayaks are smaller and more compact compared to hardshell types. Preparing for a trip becomes less of a hassle because users can easily pack the inflatables along with other small items. Also, figuring out where to fit the kayak in a vehicle no longer becomes a problem.

  • It is lightweight.

Compared to hardshell kayaks, inflatable kayaks are generally more lightweight. While this feature depends on the size and weight of the inflatable kayak, most single types have a weight ranging from 8 to 40 pounds while the tandem type is at 35 to 65 pounds. Hardshell kayaks’ weight ranges from 40 to 70 pounds (solo) and 60 to 90 pounds (tandem).

  • It is unsinkable

While all kayaks are deemed as “always floating,” which is a common thing, inflatable kayaks offer a better feature. Inflatable kayaks remain floating and do not sink even in times of having leaks or bumps. If you buy a high-quality kayak, it is safe to say that the product is 100% unsinkable, given that it has many air chambers.

Even if one air chamber gets punctured by accident, the other airbags will compensate and keep the boat floating, allowing you to go back to shore safely. However, when these accidents happen, paddling can be somewhat tricky.

  • It is cheaper.

Inflatable kayak prices are mostly below $1,000 but also have excellent performance. When compared to hardshell kayaks, inflatables are cheaper because of the materials used to make these products.


  • It is more difficult to control.

When you have rough water activities, inflatable kayaks may not be the best choice. Because it is lightweight, users have a harder time trying to control the kayak. While there are newer models with improved features that allow you to control it more easily, the majority of inflatable kayaks have a slight problem in control and maneuvering.

  • It is easily affected by strong waves and winds.

Due to the lightweight nature of the inflatable kayak, it may be more susceptible to bumps and pushes by the strong winds and water. The unique shapes of most inflatable kayaks also add to the slight susceptibility. However, manufacturers have released new models that can help the user withstand strong waves and winds by adding skegs or even rudders.

  • It needs more time to dry.

Although it is easy to inflate and deflate an inflatable kayak, it may take longer when it comes to the drying process. You need to flatten out the kayak and allow it to air dry or put it under the sun before you can start folding or rolling it.

What Are Hardshell Kayaks?

Hardshell types are the rigid kayaks that have been popular among kayakers for many years. These products are usually from the following materials: composite, wood, hard plastic, or fiberglass.

Hardshell kayaks work well in any water activity compared to inflatable kayaks because of its easy maneuverability. The large frame gives users plenty of space for essentials in both the front and back cockpit.

Pros And Cons Of Hardshell Kayaks

Although hardshell kayaks are the automatic choice for some kayakers when purchasing one, it is good to evaluate its pros and cons to check if an inflatable one might be a good alternative to consider.


  • It is highly durable.

Hardshell kayaks are usually made of wood, hard plastic, fiberglass, or composite, making it a durable product, even for rough water activities. During these activities, you may encounter rocks, branches, or sharp objects. Hardshell kayaks are hard and robust and can withstand any bumps along the way.

  • It is easy to set up.

You do not need to set up a hardshell kayak because it already stands on its own. Unlike the inflatable type, users only need to place hardshell types on a vehicle and then you are good to go. There is no need to use other equipment such as an air pump when setting up or packing away.

  • It is sturdy.

Inflatable kayaks have a greater risk of capsizing in the water. Because hardshell kayaks are heavier, they sit deeper in the water and do not easily topple over compared to inflatable kayaks.

  • It has more storage space.

Hardshell kayaks are made explicitly for rough water activities and long-distance kayaking, that is why the overall design also allows the product to carry items that the user needs for the trip. You can bring containers and place them either in the front or back compartments, while still having room for other items you can put in the side compartments.

  • It is easier to control.

Depending on the model, hardshell kayaks, in general, are easier to maneuver and control compared to inflatable types. Usually, kayakers use hardshell types for open sea kayaking or rapid water activities.


  • It is heavier.

Since hardshell kayaks are made of materials such as wood, hard plastic, or fiberglass, they generally weigh more than inflatable kayaks. You might have difficulty in carrying the product to and from the water, often requiring two or more people to do it.

  • It is difficult to store and transport.

Unlike inflatable kayaks, you cannot fold or roll a hardshell kayak and place it in a bag. You have to put it on top of the vehicle and secure it using straps or ropes. You may also have a hard time storing the product because of its size and weight. That is why garage space is a factor to consider as well when you decide that you want a hardshell kayak.

  • It is hard to maintain.

Depending on the material, maintenance of the hardshell kayak also varies. If you have a wooden kayak, you are most likely going to need to regularly polish and wipe the boat. If you have a hard-plastic kayak, it may be easy to clean but you will need to store it properly to make sure it does not develop cracks. For the owners of fiberglass kayaks, repairs rarely happen, but they can be more expensive compared to other models.

While it may be challenging to decide between an inflatable kayak and a hardshell one, it is best to consider what kind of water activities you will be doing, where you plan to use your kayak, where you will store your kayak, and how you will transport it.

Beginners should start with inflatable kayaks since they are cheaper, more lightweight, and work better on calm waters. These kayaks can help you practice more. On the other hand, if you have enough experience and are willing to adjust in terms of storage area and maintenance, the traditional hardshell kayak may work better for you.