How Durable are Inflatable Kayaks?

Without a doubt, anyone who’s ever bought, ridden in or even looked at an inflatable kayak first thought this: Is that thing durable enough for me to trust it? I certainly remember thinking that and having initial doubts.

So, how durable are inflatable kayaks? Inflatable kayaks feature a multi-layer construction designed for optimal puncture and abrasion resistance. While the degree of durability varies with price and purpose, inflatable kayaks can be durable enough to handle anything from fishing hooks to rocks in the water.

While the truth is that there is a fair bit of variability in the durability of inflatable kayaks, you can be assured that you won’t be getting some glorified pool toy when you buy an inflatable kayak from a reputable brand.

How durable are inflatable kayaks?

First things first: Not all inflatable kayaks are created equal, and therefore there is some nuance when discussing just how durable any old inflatable kayak is. Many factors related to the construction of the kayak are essential to understand, and other external factors like the age or care of the kayak also make a big difference. If you are looking to buy a used inflatable kayak, it is extremely important to understand how old it is. This is because all plastics are subject to varying levels of degradation and also the glue that’s used to hold the seams together degrades over time. Cheaper materials, such as PVC (polyvinyl chloride for the chemically inclined), are likely to deteriorate quicker than more expensive materials such as Hypalon.

A close-up shot of the material from this inflatable kayak demonstrates the thickness that helps with durability.

Like everything else, inflatable kayaks that cost more usually are more durable as they can afford to use better materials and can incorporate more layers into the construction. While it’s true that all major manufacturers of inflatable kayaks use a multi-layer construction method, manufacturers of higher-end models can increase the number of layers to provide additional functionality. For example, an inflatable kayak that features an outer layer of Hypalon may offer improved resistance to chemicals and abrasion when compared to cheaper kayaks. While that may not be all that helpful for someone kayaking in peaceful lakes, the added abrasion protection will surely help those looking to do whitewater kayaking.

With that said, some of the most affordable kayaks on the market from brands such as Intex and Sea Eagle offer significantly higher durability than might be expected based on the price. I know I was a little surprised at how heavy-duty the layers were when I first took out my Sea Eagle 330 out on the lake.

What are inflatable kayaks made of?

Here are some of the most common materials used when they make inflatable kayaks:

  • PVC (polyvinyl chloride)
  • Hypalon
  • Nitrylon
  • Neoprene
  • Polyethylene
  • Textiles

While no one would fault you for thinking that’s just a long list of chemistry gobbledygook, stay with me for a second and we’ll make some sense of it. Generally speaking, most inflatable kayaks use the same type of construction: a fabric core that gives the kayak shape and a synthetic rubber layer that provides air tightness, abrasion protection, and chemical and UV resistance (if applicable). While the fabric core is essential, how manufacturers implement the synthetic rubber layer varies the most and can impact the price, performance, and maintenance of the inflatable kayak.

Though I could dust off that ol’ chemistry degree and write a few thousand words about the different properties of these materials, I think it would be much more helpful to briefly discuss what types of kayakers should each of these.

The bow of a partially inflated inflatable kayak.

Let’s start out with PVC, as that’s the most common synthetic rubber material used in inflatable kayaks. As you can probably guess, using PVC is substantially cheaper and therefore most frequently seen on entry-level inflatable kayaks that can’t afford to use the higher-end materials. The main Downfall with PVC is the increased likelihood of degradation from exposure to chemicals or UV rays. While this is worrying, the average kayaker can easily combat this by not leaving their inflatable kayak out in the sun and being careful about chemical exposure (which likely isn’t much of a problem, to begin with). As such, inflatable kayaks made with PVC synthetic rubbers are an excellent option for beginners who are just testing out the waters with inflatable kayaking or experienced kayakers who might be wary of paying substantially more for their kayak.

On the other hand, materials such as Hypalon and Nitrylon are most frequently seen used on high-end inflatable kayaks that are looking for top performance but don’t mind the added expense. When compared to PVC inflatable kayaks, these kayaks are typically substantially more expensive as these materials can run up to double the cost of PVC counterparts. In comparison to PVC, inflatable kayaks made from Hypalon are much more resistant to chemical and UV ray degradation. Therefore they can handle long days in the sun much more effectively. Inflatable kayaks made from Hypalon would be an excellent option for someone who’s looking for top performance and doesn’t mind paying the extra cost.

Do inflatable kayaks pop easily?

The truth is that most inflatable kayaks manufactured by reputable brands are at little risk of popping during normal and expected use. Obviously, I wouldn’t advise you to take out your fillet knife while fishing in your inflatable kayak, but these kayaks are designed to handle all kinds of pokes and abrasions without popping. So I wouldn’t worry too much about your inflatable kayak popping unless you’re careless. They’re certainly far more puncture resistant than inflatable pool toy you picked up at the dollar store.

An inflatable kayak supporting two adult kayakers.

While inflatable kayaks are made of heavy-duty materials, you would be wise to try to avoid contact with sharp rocks or submerged logs that could potentially puncture a chamber on your kayak.

How long do inflatable kayaks last?

With proper care and maintenance, you can expect most inflatable kayaks to last somewhere between 5 and ten years. Again, this can vary tremendously based on a wide variety of factors. Generally speaking, inflatable kayaks made with more expensive materials like Hypalon can be expected to last longer than their PVC counterparts. It’s recommended to wash your kayak off after each use gently and to properly store it in a place that isn’t subject to extreme temperatures. Properly washing your kayak will help prevent some of the degradations of the materials, but the truth is that it’s impossible to avoid degradation as all plastics degrade over time completely. If the seams of your inflatable kayak are entirely held together by glue, you can expect that the glue may experience some degradation starting around ten years after it was manufactured.

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