Inflatable kayaks are one of the great innovations brought to the sport of kayaking because they have shattered constraints like storage or transportation and allowed so many kayakers more options for their craft. While the concept of inflatable kayaks was commercially available for some time (think rafting guides), it has been the last few decades that the technology, design, and innovation has really progressed.
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For many, the inflatable kayak overcomes the conversation-stoppers that can be faced when it comes to owning a boat. Whether you’re limited to 600 sq ft of apartment or, if you’re lucky, your storage shed is already one kayak over capacity, many of us encounter that “I really want one, I just don’t know where I’d keep it” at one time or another.
Suppose we have the space, what about transporting a kayak from that space to the trailhead or boat launch? Or maybe we’ve wrestled one too many hardshells up onto the roof of the family minivan. Inflatable kayaks pack down to the size of a large suitcase, so you can bring a fleet for the group in the back of your four-door sedan.
One complaint often thrown around is that inflating the kayak itself can be sweaty, laborious work. Let’s just hope these folks don’t get splashed too much out on the water. Yes, there are the few minutes it takes to get inflated, but that’s a small price to pay for a kayak that you can fit in a closet. This simply points back to knowing what type of kayaker you are, the types of water you plan to take on, and what your experience level is. You can always invest in a heavy-duty pump to minimize that time as well.
The beauty of the technology is that many inflatable kayaks are drop-stitch construction and made from strong poly-based fabric to provide structural integrity, higher inflation pressures, shape and rigidity. When shopping or investigating, always look carefully at the seams as this is where the stress occurs and the money is made (or lost). If you find yourself doubting the strength and durability, just remember that many of our outfitter friends rely on inflatable rafts to guide groups of inexperienced paddlers down some pretty gnarly whitewater rivers. Like any vessel, they are not immune from capsizing or getting pinned, so you’ll want to make sure you have a repair kit and you know how to use it!
Inflatable kayaks are popular among paddlers who are limited on storage space, like to carry their kayak with them when they travel, don’t like to deal with transportation systems, or find times that a hardshell kayak doesn’t suit them right. After all, outfitters take rafts down some of the world's hairiest whitewater rivers. They capsize from time to time, of course, and they can get pinned, just like hardshell boats, but they don't often develop catastrophic leaks, even when subjected to the wear and tear of daily commercial use.
While seldom experienced, punctures are critically serious. Again, just like you (hopefully) drive with a spare tire or a gallon of coolant in your car trunk, you don’t want to be on the losing end of a kayak vs. razor-sharp-tree-limb jousting battle and wonder how much a repair kit would’ve cost you. Always be prepared.
Speaking of being prepared, regardless of what type of kayak or vessel you are in, you are not prepared unless you are wearing a life jacket.