Inflatable Kayak vs. Hardshell: What is the Difference?

If you are on the market for a kayak, then one problem that quickly becomes apparent is what type of kayak to choose.

Indeed, kayaks usually come in 2 types; the inflatable kayak and the hardshell kayak.

Each has its own advantages and disadvantages but to a beginner, it can be very confusing and a hard choice to make.

In order to help you make that choice easier, we made this comprehensive comparison guide that will provide you with information that will eventually help you choose between the inflatable kayak and the hardshell kayak in a more informed manner.

Let’s find out which one is better suited for you!

Table of Contents

Inflatable Kayaks

As their name suggests, the inflatable kayak can be inflated or deflated with air. This type of kayak usually comes with a foot pump that will allow you to quickly and easily inflate the kayak.

Additionally, the inflatable kayak also generally has a double valve system that will prevent air from escaping, thus allowing the inflatable kayak to stay inflated for a longer period of time.

When the time comes for deflating, the double valve will let out a lot of air very quickly by simply pressing the valve with your fingers.

Despite being inflatable, the inflatable kayak is still a heavy-duty kayak that will not puncture easily. The reason is quite simple. The inflatable kayak is made from a high-grade PVC material that is extremely tough and resistant to impacts.

However, as with anything, the inflatable kayak has its own advantages and disadvantages. Here is a brief overview of what you can expect from the inflatable kayak.


  • Very affordable. The main advantage of the inflatable kayak remains its price. Indeed, this type of kayak is extremely cost-effective and a great way to get started kayaking on a small budget.
  • Ease-Of-Use. This floatation boat is extremely easy to use and you do not need any experience to do so. Moreover, inflating the kayak is equally easy and most inflatable kayaks actually come with both a paddle and a heavy duty air pump that will allow you to quickly start inflating the kayak.
  • Highly durable. Despite being inflatable, the inflatable kayak is still made from very tough and long-lasting material like PVC. PVC has excellent properties and will not puncture easily as well as offers exceptional resistance to sunlight, thus preventing it from degrading over time.
  • Contains lots of technologies. You can be forgiven for thinking that the inflatable kayak is an extremely simple kayak that does not have many technologies working inside. It cannot be further from the truth. Manufacturers incorporate a lot of technologies inside the inflatable kayak that makes it very performing as well as a safer floatation boat despite being inflatable.  One of the most popular technologies you will find in an inflatable kayak is the presence of a multi-chamber layer that will prevent the kayak from sinking in case one side or one part of the inflatable kayak gets punctured. This is a very important safety technology that can literally save your life.
  • Stability: The inflatable kayak is more stable than the hardshell kayak. The reason is quite simple. This kayak usually has a larger surface area that comes in contact with water, as well as has a flat bottom that provided with great stability.
  • Weight: Since most inflatable kayaks are made from PVC, it does not weigh a lot and can easily be carried to the kayaking location by one person. Best of all, the inflatable kayak can be folded and tucked inside a carry bag for better portability.


  • Inflating and Deflating: Since the inflatable kayak requires you to inflate before every use and deflate after every use, it is not as convenient when compared to a hardshell kayak that does not require those actions. Additionally, it is not easy to get the right amount of air pressure inside your inflatable kayak and if you’re not careful, you can easily damage it by exceeding the PSI rating of the inflatable kayak.
  • Lacks control: One of the clear disadvantages of the inflatable kayak is its lack of efficiency, maneuverability, and control. A hardshell kayak will always offer better buoyancy on water as it glides easier on the water. However, with modern technological advancements, the gap between efficiency and control between the inflatable kayak and the hardshell kayak is getting smaller and smaller.

Hardshell Kayaks

Photo: Canoe

The hardshell kayak is usually made out of hard material like plastic or a fiberglass composite.One of the best things about the hardshell kayak is that it is very durable, stable, and extremely efficient over the water.

Because of the flat bottom and hardshell, many people use the hardshell kayak as a stand-up kayak as well, something that is simply not possible with an inflatable kayak.

Therefore, the hardshell kayak can be used as a heavy-duty and a high-performance kayak that is intended for recreational, fishing or even sports activities.


  • More efficient and more performing. Due to the streamlined form factor, the hardshell kayak is more efficient and more performing when compared to the inflatable kayak. The outer hard shell material easily glides over the water and provides little points of resistance and friction.
  • Enjoy better maneuverability. Indeed, one of the main characteristics of the hardshell kayak is its exceptional control and excellent maneuverability. Since the hardshell kayak usually has a lower profile, which brings the paddler closer to the water, you enjoy better efficiency, performance, as well as more control over your paddling. Therefore, the hardshell kayak is an ideal choice for those looking forward to an intense kayaking experience or when navigating rapid waters like whitewater.
  • Take and use. There is no inflation or deflation necessary with the hardshell kayak. Simply drop it in the water and start using it right away. This is a big advantage for those who do not have a lot of time or patience to inflate or deflate a kayak.
  • Easily converts to a stand-up kayak. Since the hardshell kayak has a hard surface inside the cockpit and a stable flat bottom, it can easily be used as a stand-up kayak where the user stands on the kayaks and perform complex fishing maneuvers like baitcasting or fly casting that needs a stable base.


  • Heavier than the inflatable kayak. Despite being relatively lightweight, the hardshell kayak is still significantly heavier than the inflatable kayak. While an inflatable kayak will typically weight around 20 lbs, an equivalent hardshell kayak will be in the range of 40 lbs to 50 lbs.
  • More difficult to transport. Since it weighs more, the hardshell kayak is more difficult to transport, store, and carry. Most of the time, you will need a dedicated transportation tool like a kayak roof rack or a kayak trailer to transport the hardshell kayak to the kayaking location.
  • Frequent maintenance necessary. It might not look like it, but the hardshell kayak requires more maintenance than the inflatable kayak. That’s because the hardshell kayak is more prone to scratches, bumps or cracks than the inflatable kayak. Especially if the hardshell kayak is made out of plastic and not a fiberglass composite.
  • The price. Due to a better and more solid build construction, the hardshell kayak is generally more expensive than the inflatable kayak.


As we have seen, there are some major differences between the inflatable kayak and the hardshell kayak. However, your choice between the 2 will depend mostly on the way you want to use your kayak.

For recreational purposes, we recommend the inflatable kayak as it is much more affordable and gets the job done. It is also very beginner friendly and you do not need any experience to start operating this type of kayak.

On the other hand, if you are planning a day out fishing or you want more versatility and performance out of your kayak, then we recommend that you go with a hardshell kayak.

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