Inflatable, folding or hard shell?

Rather than tying up the good primer that String wrote up , thought I would start a new thread.

Transporting the kayak is our basic issue. We have a van that we can gat a 10’ -11’ inside: have physical issues that limit the ability to lift arms over head and I’m not certain I want to spend (at this time) an extra 1500 - 3000(or more) for a roof rack system or a trailer for something that health issues present and future might render unused.

We will be lilly paddlers, maybe 1 time per week from whenever the ice leaves ( early May) until mid October
Both males medium to medium small in size 5/8 @ 140-145 and 5/10 @155-160

Which would you recommend

  1. 10-11 ft hard shell rec boat
  2. whatever size inflatable 12-16 ft
  3. Whatever size folding 12-16

I know the rec boat and inflatables are each within the 750-1250 and the folding maybe a tad more- but basically all 3 are in a similar price point. Each probably has its good and bad points, whether it is ease/difficulty of set-up and the ease/difficulty of use.


My advice is to forget the folders and inflatables. A trailer would be the best possible alternative for hauling the boats and that would also make it possible to move up to longer boats, which will make the whole experience even better.

There is an article made for you in an old issue of California Kayaker Magazine. Issue #9 and can be read online for free at - starts on page 6.

4th option would be take apart boat. If you are staying in protected waters (no large lakes, ocean, or rivers with rapids), this might be the best option for you. Specifically thinking of the Point65 modular kayaks (they have both sit on top and sit inside versions) -

I personally found that inflatables and folding kayaks are too intensive on the set up and take down (cleaning as part of take down) that they limited the paddling I would do. Used for longer trips where space was a serious limit, but for something you would use daily/weekly, was just too annoying. Doesn’t help that I live in a condo in the city, so don’t have great place to lave stuff out to dry (so others in more reasonably living situations may find the hassle less).

Magooch-- yeah probably the cart is the best solution. Big concern is – we are still in that entry level, think/know we enjoy it but you never know what is going to happen unknown area.

So while we are willing to spend the 2-3k on the equipment, adding another +/- 2k for the trailer-- not real comfy with that at this time. Despite being surrounded by water, there are only 3 rentals close by-- 1 in town, 1-60ish miles away and the other 45ish miles. Even worse trying to locate a place to purchase gear.

Peter-- you highlighted my concern with the inflatables/folding–if we have to do a lot of assembly, it might/would cut out that spur of the moment, lets go paddling mood. I have been curious about the break aparts. Wil have to read more.

Oops wanted to ask— read about that the shorter boats may not track well/ less speedy etc. Anybody have any guesses about how a 10’ rec would compare to an inflatable (for example) in going straight with similar effort?

Maybe you could consider buying used boats. Then use the leftover $ for a used trailer.

If you are truly “lily dippers” paddling in sheltered waters and/or slow moving water, then a hard shell recreational class kayak (10-11’) is fine. I don’t have much experience paddling inflatables, but the little exposure I have had with them, they don’t track well at all, especially in wind. There may be better inflatables out there then what I have been exposed to though. I would look at the used market for a decent name brand boat. Wilderness Systems and Dagger are but two brands that I am familiar with that make quality recreation class boats, there are other brands also. This Easy Load roof rack looks like it could be a solution to consider Yooper16

I find most people who criticize folding kayaks have little or no experience with them, or anecdotal at best. I’ve used folders for 16 years and am quite happy with them. Unlike inflatables, you don’t have to dry them off and fold them away. I just leave mine set up for the season for the most part and haul them on my roof rack. Hoisting a 20 to 30 pound kayak onto a car roof is really not difficult for anybody who is at least marginally able to paddle once they get to the water. I’m a 5’ 5" female, and will be 68 years old in 10 days – I don’t have any trouble schlepping my folders around. A basic folder like the 12’ Pakboat Puffin Saco can be set up in 20 minutes (and dismantled in 10) with little effort even if you do elect to break it down between use – set up it is only 20 pounds.

Another option (and the other one that I take for a lot of my paddling) is a hand built skin on frame kayak. My 18’ Greenland style skin on frame only weighs 31 pounds and I can easily carry it on my shoulder or lift it onto the rack. If you lack the time, tools, space and/or dexterity to build one yourself, there are a number of builders around the country and people do offer them for sale.

I bought a kayak trailer 4 years ago and have only used it once. It’s just easier and quicker to put the folders on the roof rack. Not to mention, I can pack them down and take them on an airline as checked baggage or break them down when I am traveling by car and store them in the vehicle or inside my accommodations for security.

Not to mention that folders feel great in the water, very comfortable, stable and they absorb wave action so they perform better in choppy conditions than most hardshells.

Willowleaf- when assembling is there a way that a person can screw it up and not have it “square”? I realize that that is not the correct term but I am a moderately capable interior trim and basic cabinet hobbyist so things being “square” is my frame of reference.

I have some RV friends that bought an inflatable to carry with them for that time they wanted to paddle. It’s still in the bag after three years.

If you are “lilly dippers” it doesn’t have to be perfectly “square” just not sink. Unless you have to always look at the instructions it shouldn’t be a problem. Unless of course you don’t want to paddle the boat in front of people and you keep it in the RV for three years.

Have you ever set up a backpacking tent? Same process: shock-corded aluminum poles that fit into sewn sleeves and connectors in a precisely designed and sewn fabric skin. As the frame parts snap together they align right into place. Once they are all assembled in the skin, you inflate the sponson tubes along the side and that tensions the skin perfectly.

This is a real-time video of a guy doing a leisurely assembly of one of the newer Pakboat Puffin Sacos (the 12’ solo). It looks like his boat is pretty new and he is slower than I am in putting it together – you get used to the connectors at the tops of the ribs after a few assemblies. I have an older version of this boat but it essentially identical. The deck on these is optional – you can paddle it as an open boat or with the deck as a sit inside. He’s got it set up to paddle open style within 15 minutes.

Here’s a video of the Pakboat Quest 135 - I have one of these too and the assembly is a little trickier but it still comes out perfectly lined up once all the pieces snap together. You can see how the boat handles in water.

Everything is relative. While it may take me 15 to 30 minutes to set up a folder once I get to a launch site, I don’t have to spend time lugging a heavy boat from my basement, up through the yard to the car, hefting it onto the rack and strapping it down and adding bow and stern lines. The boat in its duffel bag is already in the car so I am on my way without that prep and loading time. And if it is set up, it is quicker to load than a hardshell because it is so light, especially if I use J-racks.

Interesting thought - the Trak inflatables can be partially disassembled in a way thatwould help you with your transport They have center connection “jacks” that could be removed, then the boats could be folded in half, making the total lentgh under 10’. Maybe this would work for your situation? Note - these are not cheap boats, I think they are some $3500 new. Sold the one I had for about $1500 used.

There are also modular hardshells like the Point 65 models. They are kind of cool because you can create solo, tandem or even triple boats by adding modules. Each component is about 20 lbs and they can be stashed in the back of a van, pickup or station wagon (I refuse to call station wagons "SUV"s or “crossovers” – a car with a rear hatch is a station wagon.):

To start with, you shouldn’t have to pay two grand for a decent trailer. It doesn’t have to be a trailer dedicated to only hauling kayaks, or canoes. Mine is a flatbed utility trailer that can be converted to haul a lot of different cargoes. I have bunks that slip into the stake pockets for carrying kayaks; I have stake sides for hauling firewood and other things. I even have side boards that allow for hauling gravel, or rocks. A couple of days ago, my wife bought some new furniture and the flatbed made that a snap. The trailer has a 3500 pound capacity, so hauling boats is not going to strain it. Anyway, I paid about $1000 for this trailer–brand new and it included a spare tire.

Depending on where you live, there are probably lots of used utility trailers around. A flatbed might be harder to find than the type that have a box bed, but either can easily be rigged for hauling kayaks. Mine is a 5’ X 8’ flatbed and my longest boat is 19’-2’’. Yes, it has to be in the center of the trailer and it does have to have a red flag attached.

It shouldn’t be that hard to find a pretty good deal on a couple of used ridged kayaks and no matter what anyone tries to tell you, the hard shells are going to be better and probably cheaper. Just don’t settle for pool toys from Walmart, or Costco, or you-name-it sporting goods store. Go to a real kayak store and look at what a kayak should be, Be warned, kayak shopping can be hazardous to your wallet. You might think you can be happy in a $500 boat, but the next thing you know, you’re looking at $2500 and up.

Re: trailer. You can get a utility trailer at Harbor Freight for far less than $2K that would be perfect for a couple of 10 footers. An added bonus is they are not very high.

2 Hullivators $650.

2 nice kayaks $1900.

I guess this is too far away from you, but it might at least give you an idea of what you could find if you are patient and keep you eye out.

One proviso on Harbor Freight trailers is that they are really not designed for sustained highway travel. If your paddling is local they could be an option. But trailers can limit some of your launch access, depending on where you live. Some of the places where I paddle do not have parking areas that would accommodate a trailer. And you still have to haul the boats from the car to the put-in and take-out. If you paddle rivers and share shuttle rides they are not that helpful either unless both parties have a trailer.

It also costs around $300 to have a light duty hitch installed on most vehicles and there is the cost to register and license the trailer.

Having lighter boats solves a whole lot of transport and handling issues, something that becomes increasingly imported as we paddlers age. I got rid of every boat that I had that was over 45 pounds several years ago and have found paddling to be a lot more convenient since then.