Explore America's Campgrounds
While the classic image of a kayak is of a hard-shelled, one-person boat, you've probably noticed inflatable kayaks appearing in stores and magazines. These boats range in quality from cheap inflatables to high-quality, durable vessels that rival rigid kayaks in terms of performance. However, your available storage space may influence your choice as much as the performance of the boat.
Rigid kayaks are much heavier than their rubber-and-air counterparts, which can weigh as little as 16 pounds. Deflated, inflatable kayaks fold down to the size of a duffel bag and easily fit inside a car's trunk. This eliminates the need for a roof rack. Some of the more compact models fit inside a backpack or luggage, which opens up the possibilities of kayaking in the backcountry or overseas. Apartment dwellers will have an easier time storing an inflatable kayak at home, where it can fit into a closet, than they would a rigid kayak. However, inflatable kayaks have less available storage inside them than the average rigid kayak.
Basic inflatable kayaks generally cost far less than rigid kayaks. However, you can spend as much on an inflatable kayak as a rigid kayak since both have a huge price range to correspond with their wide range in quality. The lower-end inflatable kayaks are usually not as durable or maneuverable as the higher-end types. When it comes to rigid kayaks, plastic is the cheapest material available but also the heaviest.
Inflatable kayaks require inflating and deflating each time you use them, and there is always the possibility of a puncture. Buying a high-quality inflatable kayak made of tougher materials can reduce the chances of a leak. Some models are even resistant to punctures, thanks to the materials used or redundant air chambers. Some boats inflate in as little as 10 minutes; others take longer. Rigid kayaks don't require much maintenance, but wooden kayaks need more care than other types. The only maintenance required by an inflatable kayak is to dry it off before storing.
Since inflatable kayaks weigh much less than rigid kayaks, they can be difficult to control. However, an advantage of inflatable kayaks is that they are quite stable and harder to capsize than standard kayaks. In general, rigid kayaks are faster and more maneuverable, especially during high winds that will blow an inflatable kayak around. In inclement weather especially and out on the ocean, rigid kayaks are much more seaworthy.
Jen Morel has worked in the newspaper industry since 2007. An experienced backpacker, she is a contributor to "AMC Outdoors" and other hiking/environmental magazines. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in cognitive science and philosophy.