How Comfortable is Paddling an Inflatable Kayak?

Comfort is always a high priority for people. We wouldn’t pay what we do for quality furniture and beds if this weren’t the case. And whether you are new to the paddling world or you are curious how inflatable kayaks compare to what you are more experienced and familiar with (hard shell kayaks or canoes likely), this question is going to come up. And yes, there are differences in comfort across inflatable kayaks and in comparison to other paddling watercraft.

So, the obvious area to look at for comfort while paddling is the inflatable kayak itself, but that is just one element. There is also your body’s positioning in the inflatable kayak, the technique to your paddling strokes and grip used, and this physical fitness condition of your body.

How an inflatable kayak compares…

Let’s look at some key areas of comfort as compared with a hard shell kayak, canoe, and paddle boat.

Surface- It has a softer, air filled material than the hard plastic, wood, fiberglass, etc. used in the other three watercraft, making it softer on your buttocks, but an added seat cushion easily does the trick too. The give to the air filled material also makes shifting positions more of a struggle.

paddler in an inflatable kayak on a lake

Seat- Variations occur, but it most likely is air filled material that shapes into a seat and possibly has a backrest to it. It’s not going to give you that stern support that some hard shell kayaks and most paddle boats will. The seat isn’t going to dig into you in uncomfortable ways, but like with laying on an air filled blow up mattress, you can still get sore from it.

close up shot of the seat of the Sea Eagle 330 inflatable kayak

Body position- The openness to an inflatable kayak is similar to that of the canoe and paddle boat. Your legs are not typically enclosed and limited in positions like with many hard shell kayaks. Although you are still riding low, basically sitting on the water surface in an upright position with your legs stretched out before you. Sitting in a canoe or paddle boat is like sitting in a chair, where you can more easily adjust your legs, core, and upper body. Pick your preference.

paddler in an inflatable kayak on a lake demonstrating how to position your body

Spacing- A paddle boat offers side to side spacing, while an inflatable and hard shell kayak and canoe offer forward and backward spacing. A canoe is typically going to be more spacious, but there are only a few seating options if you intend to paddle. Spacing to a hard shell and inflatable kayak is just going to depend on the type, as some are made for one person and others for two or three. One difference is an inflatable kayaks having adjustable seat positions.

paddler in an inflatable kayak on a lake tandem paddling

How will my body feel and respond?

There are several factors at hand here. Water and weather conditions combined with a person’s physical fitness and paddling experience play a role. Shorter time out there, less paddling resistance with calmer water and weather, and more recent experiences or muscle memory will leave a person feeling best. But, whether it’s a brief trip around a calm lake or several hours of paddling into the wind and rough waters, a person is likely to experience some amounts of fatigue, tightness, and soreness in different areas of their body.

On the water and in your inflatable kayak, your body isn’t going to feel quite the same level of comfort as it does when laying in bed or sitting that lazy-boy chair. And this is because of the position that it is in inside the inflatable kayak. The same goes for the task of paddling. These aren’t exactly natural positions and movements for us for hours on end so there’s going to be some discomfort. Let’s start from the bottom and move on up for the human body.

Feet: no real concern (you’re paddling, not hiking or running)

Legs: likely some tightness in your knees and hips (difficult sitting position to maintain)

Core: some lower back tightness and upper back fatigue (because of your positioning, a somewhat lacking back rest, and repetitive paddling strokes)

Arms: shoulder fatigue, deltoid (upper, outer arm muscles) soreness, forearm tightness (all of those paddling strokes add up)

Hands: grip fatigue and palm soreness (holding onto the paddle all that time)

Following your paddling experience, you are likely to experience soreness from later that day or next morning to a few days to a week later depending on how much you pushed it. But that isn’t a newsflash, as that occurs for people with anything physically strenuous. From paddling you may experience some soreness in your overall core, from your lower to upper back, as well as your shoulders from all that paddling.

How to maximize your comfort in your inflatable kayak:

This brings us back to the four previously mentioned comfort elements (the kayak itself, your positioning in it, your paddling strokes and grips used, and your body functioning). You can change the course of your comfort in different ways. Additional products can be bought, adjustments can be made out on the water, and body functioning concerns can turn into strengths in time.

1. What products out there will help?

There is only so much that can be changed about an inflatable kayak to provide better comfort. Adding some height to the seat, like a canoe, makes sense but then you’re not getting that kayak experience, not to mention losing a backrest and throwing off your inflatable kayaks balance and stability. So it really is all in the seat.

Alternative, actual seats in purchase: Sea Eagle 435ps PaddleSki.

A separate inflatable seat designed for better back support: Advanced Elements Lumbar Seat-Advanced Frame Model.

2. What should I do about my body positioning?

The best thing a person can do is find comfortable and functional body positions that work for them. Find more than one though. Altering between positions that allow you to last and excel out there is key. There are specific areas of your body and positioning to consider:

Legs: Stretched out and feet inside, stretched out (some knee bend) and feet outside (on or past edges), knees bent and feet apart, feet in and knees out (lesser butterfly stretch).

paddler in an inflatable kayak on a lake demonstrating an alternative position for legs

Posture: Anything between a slight lean forward to a 45 degree lean back. Contact with the seat is the other big factor – how much of your back is supported and where on your back. Take breaks to stretch out your core and back.

paddler in an inflatable kayak on a lake taking a break to stretch out his core

3.How should I approach paddling technique and grips?

Work smarter, not harder. Use efficient technique instead of trying to muscle your way through paddling. Altering your strokes and grips will keep you physically fresh. But, it’s not all about the paddling strokes. Your out of the water paddle movements, both between strokes and when switching sides, is the portion that gets overlooked. It’s a cycle of strokes and open movements, so you don’t want to stay tight and tense or loose and extended throughout. Mix in a little bit of both, just as you would alter your core and leg positioning to keep your those areas balanced.

Paddle technique

paddler in an inflatable kayak on a lake demonstrating the proper depth for the paddle blade

Paddle blade- Putting too much of the paddle blade in the water creates more and inefficient resistance, while not enough paddle blade leaves you paddling too often to get anywhere. Either way your upper body is going to fatigue quicker, so find a happy medium here. Make sure the paddle blade isn’t angled when entering the water as well.

Stroke- Don’t overextend in your strokes because you are more likely to lose balance and your strength is in your body’s core. Alter your stroke angles to work your arms differently with muscles used and flexion and extension in mind.

paddler in an inflatable kayak on a lake demonstrating the proper stroke extension

Open movements

Same side- No need to raise the paddle blade out of the water too much. It’s about efficiency in movements. But efficiency with one functioning or area of your body only gets you so far, so get in some flexion and extension. Your pace and the number of strokes before switching over factors in too.

paddler in an inflatable kayak on a lake showing how far to raise the paddle out of the water on a stroke

Switching sides- This can serve as an active break. If you have been tight and tense in your strokes, exaggerating your transfer over and extending your arms can break things up. The same goes for the opposite scenario of loose and extended strokes, to have more of a tight and flexed transfer.  

paddler in an inflatable kayak on a lake showing technique

Grips

Your forearms and hands will tell you if you haven’t been switching up your grip types and intensities enough. You don’t want to grip for your dear life, unless you have the arms of Popeye of course. And maintaining the same grip throughout can lead to blisters eventually. Using gloves can take some of the soreness off of your hands and all you to grip with less effort. If you don’t have gloves, getting your hands wet every now and then can also help break things up.

paddler in an inflatable kayak on a lake showing proper grip of the kayak paddle


4.How do I better prepare my body?

The condition your body is in, is equally as important to the condition of your inflatable kayak. You don’t have to be the fittest person in the world to be well off as a paddler, but there are key areas to your body that shouldn’t be overlooked. If you’ve paddled before, you’ve likely experienced soreness later that night or the next morning and even out on the water. Since paddling is generated through movements of the upper body and we are all so used to using our legs to get around, of course there is going to be soreness there. But this can be mitigated through exercises focusing on specific areas of the body for different outcomes.

1. Strengthen muscles

Areas- core, obliques, upper back, arms, hands.

Exercises- low weight-high reps weightlifting, yoga, push ups, pull ups, sit ups (other variations).

2. Increase range of motion and flexibility in joints

Areas- hips, waist/lower back, shoulders.

Exercises- Pilates, yoga, range of motion movements, stretching.

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