Inflatables? Are they O.K.?

-- Last Updated: Dec-16-05 11:46 AM EST --

I'm looking for pro's and con's about inflatable kayaks. I have a family of three. I'm looking for easy hauling, and inflatables look like a good idea. I'm wondering how difficult it is to set up and tear them down for storing? Is mold a problem? How long to set up?
I'm looking at doing day trips on slow wter, lakes, intercoastal waterway areas near the beach, but not in the surf. Maybe rivers with 1-3 class rapids.

Appreciate any advice.


You need to talk to the newly …
retired doctor who was camping in the site next to us at John Pennekamp state park last winter.

Each day we would head out in our hard shell kayaks and have a ball all day long, while each day he would try to head out but have to sit the day out due to the wind not allowing him to go where he wanted.

We also had our canoe with us and on about the fifth day I invited him to join me for a paddle in it.

He vowed that as soon as he got home he was going to get rid of the inflateable and start looking into a hard shell.

If you are talking about a high end inflateable it might be a different story, but don’t buy the el-cheapos

Also you mentioned Class I-II-III rapids.

Do you know what a class III rapid is like??



Fun! … Make sure you buy quality ones!
Been kayakin’ for 10+ years and I just bought my first inflatable …Cheap inflatables (such as Sevylor Tahiti or anything in that price range or below) might be too mushy for rapids over Class II, too flimsy to last very long, and are usually short, fat, and slow. Glorified pool/pond toys, fun but fairly flimsy.

BUT, nicer/tougher inflatables can be a blast and very fun … the absolute cheapest I’d (almost) recommend would be the Sevylor Orange Torpedoes like this K79SB:

It’s still kind of a mushy and flimsy thing that you wouldn’t want to do much flat water or distance in, but they are best deal for the low money if you want MILD whitewater capability, mainly for solo paddlers. I bet they are slow for flatwater, though, and not fun in wind.

The next step up will probably last YEARS longer and be higher performace, stiffer, more versatile, and definitely better performing (especially for Class II to short Class IV’s) – the Sevylor River X series, I just got a surprisingly tough XK1:

The truly high quality inflatables are made by Aire/Tributary, Innova, NRS, Hyside, etc. and cost $500-$1000+ usually, and there are sleeker sea versions but this could be a good deal:

If I had the money (note low weight 17lbs, but these things are tough and perform well):

(or the tandem version)

Stability on WW/ Maintenance hassle …
I do prefer hardshells, both for flatwater and whitewater – beacause it is SO convenient to have a durable plastic boat that is always ready and can almost never be punctured. BUT, I got a decent quality inflatable for whitewater because they are so buoyant and stable compared to hardshell WW kayaks and I want to be able to take friends and family down significant rapids without them flipping, panicking and swimming and having a bad experience. The Sevylor XK1 and nicer solo WW inflatables are great for taking people down Class II-III with only occasional flips/swims – so much more forgiving than ANY harshell could ever be, yet still very fun and maneuverable. Tandem models would be more stable but less agile and would take better skill, practice, and attention in substantial WW. I also got it so I could take it on an airplane in luggage with a 4-pc paddle, etc. and still be under the 50lb limit for a second bag :slight_smile:

I’m not looking forward to the recommended unzipping of the inflatable after use (there are PVC air bladders zipped inside tough exteriors on quality ones, usually) to slowly dry them out, but supposedly they need this to avoid mold/mildew/stains that can be smelly and unattractive but not really harm much otherwise. Good to be sure you have room somewhere to dry and then store partly inlated and not folded up.

Wind Danger
Inflatables are open boats. One danger to be very aware of is that if you fall out the wind can carry them away much faster than you can swim.

Consider a paddle leash.

Folding kayaks
Perhaps I’m wrong (me?), but it seems to me that your interest in inflatable kayaks is the folding attribute. At any rate, for touring inflatables, you might be interested in this URL.

But there are some rather nice non-inflatable folding kayaks. Feathercraft (Canada) makes some very good ones; the Khatsalano-S is a good example. Take a look at And Ralph Diaz has said that he considers the ALLY 560 by Bergans (Norway) to be the quintessential open water kayak.

But not for swift/whitewater or surf …
… entrapment/entanglement dangers there. For river running, many IK users have cam straps or floating ropes hanging off each end of the kayak so they can grab that from 10+’ feet away and keep their kayak from floating away (cam straps supposedly catch much less on rocks). I’ve heard them called “painters” and I think some folks have them just trailing in the river while they paddle.

PS: The folks at The Boat People mentioned by someone are great.

Great for rivers!!
If you want to paddle on lakes and bays, I’d stay away from inflatables. They are just too influenced by wind and don’t track well. As for rivers, they are great…a much shorter learning curve than hardshells. Just don’t forget your PFD and helmet because you will probably swim at least a few times in anything bigger than Class II. And as far as rapids go, you can take an inflatable in anything that you’re willing to swim. A friend of mine paddled then entire Grand Canyon in an old Hyside inflatable kayak with leg braces installed.

Hyside Paddilacs are SO stable …
… 40" wide, super buoyant, and can probably carry quite a bit. Kind of barge-like and not as agile as other quality IKs, but if you’re looking for a stable, cushy, more raft-like experience, they are the ticket. On the other side, for a more hardshell kayak-like experience, I’ve heard the nimble Aire Force XL is the way to go, or a Sevylor XK1 if you’re on a smaller budget and don’t mind slow bailing.

Good, Cheap, Fast
Pick any two.

given your
criteria, look hard at the upper price level inflatables. The aire line offers some good stuff, but I think they are really too pricey given other parts of what you suggested. I like IK’s for mild whitewater. I took my son, his buddy and my wife down the lower Kennebec, a nice class 1 to class 3 run in Maine. They all had IKs designed for W/W. For what you suggested I’d look more to a hard shell rec kayak. something like the EMS/Perception Swifty or OT otter or loon. Wilderness System Pungo or Rascal. Lots of choices and if you are willing to look around you should find something used fairly inexpensive. Try the kayak shops and see if they have taken any rec boats in in trade. A Swifty, (formerly Keowee) is only about 8 feet long and for what you said you wanted to do it should be fine as an entry level kayak.

I have an Airframe and I like it a lot. It’s very stable, easy to transport and set up. It was pretty inexpensive also. I’m planning on buying two more for my daughters or the two seater (convertable) version this summer.

On the negative side, I do think that they are slower than a hardshell, it can be a struggle keeping up with experienced kayakers in hardshell boats. And the wind does blow them around a bit, although I think less than other inflatables. All things considered, however, these are minor problems.

chris in napa