Inflatable Sports Guide
Your Ultimate Guide to the Best Inflatable Paddle Boards, Kayaks and Boats.
Find the best inflatable kayak for your fishing and recreational adventures. Whether you are kayaking in the ocean or freshwater our guides will help you find the right inflatable kayak for you.
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When you come to the Inflatable Sports Guide, you know you will get practical, well researched and useful information so you can find the most suitable product for you. We aim to cover all the big brands plus the ones you may not have heard of but are definitely worth mentioning.
We are a bunch of water sport enthusiasts that love the flexibility and the fun that inflatable water sports products bring. Whether we are having a relaxing paddle on a stand up paddle board, kayaking with friends or jumping on an inflatable pontoon boat with friends – it is all great fun to have and you should be part of it too!
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Our Buyers Guide to Finding the Best Inflatable Paddle Boards, Kayaks and Boats
Expert knowledge to help you buy smart
Whether you’re a water sport enthusiast or casually enjoy getting out on the water, choosing the best inflatable kayaks, inflatable stand up paddle board or inflatable boat can be a challenging task. Especially for newcomers, the world of water sports can be daunting! There are various types of boats, brands, and accessories that can be rather overwhelming to browse through if you don’t know exactly what you are looking for.
Inflatable Sports Guide is the perfect option for you learn all the fundamentals that you need to know about the how-to on buying the best inflatable paddleboards, kayaks and boats on the market.
Inflatable vs Non-Inflatable - Which is Best?
While regular hard-shell watercraft are durable, they are more challenging to store and transport. Inflatable boats, kayaks, and stand-up paddleboards are far more portable and take much less storage space.
You can fold most modern models of inflatable watercraft and store them in a box, which means you can easily fit them anywhere in the house or garage and pack them into the back of your car anytime you want.
Many models of inflatable stand-up paddleboards, kayaks, and boats are made from plastic (PVC) and rubber (Hypalon & nitrylon) – which means they are a great deal lighter compared to hard shell watercraft.
A considerable drawback of picking an inflatable watercraft over hard-shell ones is that they require you to carry around an air pump to – well…inflate them! It’s also worth noting that as much as the quality of inflatable watercraft has improved in the last few years, they are still behind hard-shell watercraft in terms of performance.
In short, inflatable watercraft is a much better choice for casual kayaking and paddle boarding. They are more portable, affordable, and easier to store compared to hard-shell ones. However, if it’s the performance you’re looking for, you should choose regular hard-shell watercraft.
Finding the Best Inflatable Stand Up Paddle Board
Types of Inflatable Stand Up Paddle Boards
There are three standard models of inflatable SUP and each type caters to different watercraft needs.
Surf Inflatable Paddle Boards
Surf-type inflatable SUP is generally shorter and has a narrower tip and rounder tail than other models. Surf inflatable paddle boards are the perfect choice for navigating rough bodies of water and rapids that have a lot of waves. However, surf-type SUP is generally less stable compared to other models. Surf inflatable SUPs are also typically slower when used to navigate in a straight line or on flat water.
All-round Paddle Boards
All-round SUP is much thicker, longer, and broader compared to surf-specific models. Like its name, all-round stand-up paddle boards are multi-purpose and versatile, which makes them a perfect paddle board for beginners. The versatility of all-round boards allows you to explore all aspects of watercraft sports with just one board. Since all-round boards have a vast body, they are very stable in various conditions.
Flat-water Paddle Boards
Flat-water models are specifically designed to navigate calm bodies of water with zero to minimum surf. This model is longer and thinner than All-round boards and has a narrower tip to help it glide through the water smoothly. The regular flat-water board models are typically wide enough to increase their stability, which means even beginners can use them. However, there are also race models which feature a much narrower body to increase the boards’ speed.
Are Inflatable Paddle Boards Good for Beginners?
Inflatable SUP is an excellent choice for beginners due to its durability and safety due to its rubber or plastic material. When navigating shallow waters with pebbles and rocks, inflatable SUPs allow you to bump onto hard surfaces without worrying about damaging the board. In the same scenario, inflatable boards are also more forgiving when you fall off since you won’t bump your body parts onto solid surfaces like you would with a hard-shell board.
The portability is a great addition that makes inflatable stand-up paddle boards an excellent choice for beginners. Since you can just deflate, pack, and carry around your SUP, you can start trying out different spots to explore which one you like the best.
What to Look For When Buying an Inflatable Stand up Paddle Board
The number of inflatable SUP choices in the market is overwhelming – especially for beginners. There are dozens of cheap paddle boards from new brands, which can be very tempting but often not recommended.
If you want to navigate the oceans of SUP choices out there, there are several factors to look for in your new inflatable paddle boards.
Choose a board design that suits your needs. All-around models are great for beginners since you can use them in various scenarios. If you live close to the beach or wavy bodies of water, choose a surf SUP model.
In the watercraft industry, brands often specialize in a specific category of inflatable SUP. By knowing which type of inflatable SUP you want, you can narrow down your brand selection quite quickly – which will help you escape from the plethora of choices in the market.
Inflatable SUPs are typically made from two layers of polyester fabric containing thousands of polyester threads. If you want to use your board for a more extended period, choose dual-layered ones which have a layer of reinforced PVC fabric embedded in the primary layer. Dual-layered boards are less preferred because they are a little bit heavier compared to single-layered boards, but the extra layer adds to the board’s durability.
Are Inflatable Paddle Boards Any Good?
Inflatable stand up paddle boards have plenty of pros, which make them an excellent option for beginners and experts alike. Here are the reasons you should buy an inflatable stand up paddle boards:
Inflatable SUP can be deflated and folded up to the size of a regular travel backpack. Aside from being more portable, inflatable SUPs require smaller storage space in your house.
Softer Surface for Safety
Whether you’re a pro or a newbie, falling off your paddle board will happen eventually! Although inflatable stand-up paddle boards are often sturdy and rigid, they have a soft surface that is more forgiving when you inevitably fall off your board during one of your adventures.
In theory, inflatable stand-up paddle boards have less structural integrity compared to hard-shell ones. But in the case of bumping onto rocks, corals, and other hard surfaces, inflatable SUPs are much more durable compared to hard-shell boards – which scratch and crack much more quickly.
Lighter for Travel
Inflatable paddle boards are lighter, which makes them easier to bring along on your travels and holidays. The lighter your board is, the more likely for you to use it. If you’re the type to travel far and wide for your adventures, inflatable paddle boards can be checked in on an airplane as well.
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Finding the Best Inflatable Kayak
Types of Inflatable Kayaks
There are various types of inflatable kayaks, and each type has its own specialty. Some types are capable of handling rough waters but are much slower on flat water. Some types are great all-rounder kayaks that can take pretty much any type of water surface.
To help you narrow down your choice, here are some of the most common types of inflatable kayaks.
Inflatable Kayaks for Recreation
Recreational inflatable kayaks are short watercraft (under 12 feet in length) that focus on stability by increasing the width. This type of inflatable kayak is the best choice to navigate friendly environments and flat waters, which makes it a great entry-level boat.
Inflatable Kayaks for Fishing
As the name implies, inflatable fishing kayaks offer all the benefits of a fishing boat in a smaller package. Inflatable fishing kayaks are typically made of super-durable materials to withstand the scratches from sharp fishing hooks. Fishing kayaks often have slip-resistant floors to help you stand better while casting and reeling.
Inflatable whitewater kayaks are shorter and have a limited weight capacity compared to other types. Since they are intended to navigate rapids, one of the most crucial aspects of choosing a whitewater kayak is the ability to self-bail. Self-bailing kayaks have several strategically positioned holes to allow water inside the kayak to drain back out.
Inflatable Tandem Kayaks
Inflatable tandem kayaks are great for leisurely adventures through calm waters with a friend, a partner, or whomever you feel like taking on a trip. Some tandem kayaks are convertible between single-seater and two-seater configurations – so you can use the spare seat to store some equipment.
What to Look For When Buying an Inflatable Kayak
While there are plenty of reasons why you might decide to buy a particular model of inflatable kayak, there are essential aspects that you should take into account before taking it home.
Materials and Quality
A cheaper inflatable kayak often features single-layer vinyl material, which means you’ll get very minimal durability that’s probably enough for recreational use in a calm body of water. But if you’re hoping your kayak will last you some time, multi-layer inflatable kayaks often feature an extra protection layer that can prevent punctures, abrasion, and UV lights.
Cheaper inflatable kayaks often sport single-layer vinyl materials and sit higher above the water surface, making them more susceptible to the wind current. If you want to explore a more open body of water with your inflatable kayaks, an investment in higher-quality kayaks is recommended.
Even though inflatable kayaks are much more comfortable than hard-shell ones, some cheaper models have poorly designed seats that are more irritating and uncomfortable. Finding the model that supports your bum and back from the get-go is highly recommended, but you can also replace the seating with more robust aftermarket ones.
Paddle and Pump Quality
There are tempting deals in stores that offer pump and paddle as a bundle with the inflatable kayak. But the freebies are often very low in quality and therefore unusable after a short period. Since a paddle is an essential tool when you’re out and about in the water, it’s highly recommended to invest in a higher quality one from the start.
Are Inflatable Kayaks Any Good?
Inflatable kayaks are an excellent watercraft option for anyone looking to get started in the sport. While hard-shell kayaks certainly have their own strength, their inflatable counterparts also possess some qualities that you shouldn’t overlook.
These are several reasons why you should buy inflatable kayaks over hard-shell kayaks.
Durability is what most beginners in watercraft should be concerned about when it comes to inflatable kayaks – some would even think that hard-shell kayaks are more rigid. While the durability of hard-shell kayaks highly depends on their materials, inflatable kayaks are most honest to the price-to-performance ratio.
The more you invest in an inflatable kayak, the higher its durability will be (in most cases). Two of the most common inflatable kayak materials are PVC which is quite durable but not really environmentally friendly, and Hypalon, which has the most extended durability but costs a bit more.
When it comes to portability, inflatable kayaks are better compared to hard-shell kayaks. You can deflate the boat and fold it up nicely into a storage box, so you can easily travel with it. Unlike hard-shell kayaks that require a rooftop rack, you can just toss an inflatable kayak to the backseat of your car.
More Comfortable to Use
Since the materials are all solid, hard-shell kayaks often cause discomfort in a relatively short period. Inflatable kayaks, on the other hand, have a soft floor where you can sit comfortably for hours on end. Most inflatable kayak models also support a clip-in seat that can support your back during your paddling sessions.
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Finding the Best Inflatable Boats
Types of Inflatable Boats
There are sport-oriented types of inflatable watercraft like kayak and paddle board, but there are three main types of purpose-oriented inflatable boats.
There are three main categories of inflatable dinghies based on the flooring model: rigid bottom, air floor, and hybrid.
Air floor dinghies are an excellent option for their better portability and smaller storage space requirement. It’s basically a bigger version of an inflatable kayak, you just need an air pump, and it’s good to go.
Rigid bottom inflatable dinghies have a much higher carrying capacity and better stability on the water – but weighs and cost significantly more. However, rigid bottom dinghies also require a foredeck space to store them.
Hybrid inflatable dinghies are in the middle ground between the air floor and rigid bottom dinghies. Hybrid inflatable dinghies often feature fiberglass bottoms made from aluminum or wood and wood.
An inflatable pontoon boat features two air bladders that are connected using a metal frame. Pontoons are great options for fishing since you can bring various equipment on the water with you.
The metal frame is often detachable, and the air bladders are inflatable – so storage and portability are definitely great with inflatable pontoons. It also requires a relatively short time (10-15 minutes) to set up. Inflatable pontoons also float higher on the water, giving you excellent visibility into the water.
While people often confuse raft and dinghies, they are two entirely different types of boats. While inflatable dinghies have a ‘U’ shaped air tube wrapping the passenger surface, inflatable rafts are wholly surrounded by a circular air tube.
Inflatable rafts offer a lot of space and better comfort in exchange for slower speed, making them an excellent option for extended fishing trips on the lake or calm waters.
Most inflatable rafts don’t have solid parts except for the plastic seats and slat floors, which makes it impossible to use with motors – paddles only.
What to Look For When Buying an Inflatable Boat
Inflatable boats offer a combination of the convenience of multi-purpose water vehicles and the freedom of a small watercraft that can run on elbow grease alone.
But how do you differentiate between a good inflatable boat and a worse one? These are the things to look out for when buying an inflatable boat.
Material Choice: PVC or Hypalon?
Inflatable boats are mostly made of PVC or Hypalon. The difference between the two materials? Price and durability.
PVC is the more popular material because it is affordable, lightweight, and reasonably durable. But Hypalon is a heavier material that costs more and has better durability compared to PVC.
Inflatable boats made from PVC are suitable for casual water activity in sheltered bodies of water with zero to minimum waves. But if you want to explore further into open water, a Hypalon-based inflatable boat is the better investment.
Flooring Option: Air Deck or Rigid Slats?
Inflatable boats often come with two flooring options: air deck and rigid slats made from aluminum or plywood.
The air deck option offers better comfort and a more straightforward assembly/preparation process. A rigid floor is better if you want a more structurally sound watercraft that can move faster on the water with less flex and higher stability.
The essential accessories you’d need when using an inflatable like oars, an air pump, a carry bag, and a repair kit are often included in the package. However, the included accessories often have lower quality compared to aftermarket items. It is highly recommended that you invest in higher quality essential accessories like oars and air pumps since you’ll always need them when on the water.
Are Inflatable Boats Any Good?
Inflatable boats have a niche market and application, but they are still an excellent option for casual recreation water activities like fishing or just paddling around the river. There are several reasons why you should choose inflatable boats over hard-shell ones.
Flexibility and Portability
You can inflate and deflate these boats quite quickly, 10-20 minutes at most. While you need a car and a trailer to carry hard-shell boats, you can often fit inflatable boats in the back of your truck or strapped to the roof rack.
You also don’t need massive storage space to have inflatable boats since you can just deflate them when you don’t plan on going out in the water anytime soon.
Stability and Comfort
Since inflatable boats float by using air tubes, they have a very high level of buoyancy that can provide better comfort compared to hard-shell boats. The bouncy tubes also provide additional absorption to waves and ripples when you’re on the water, giving your experience another level of protection. Inflatable boats also have a very low center of gravity, helping you to cut through the water easier and smoother.
Even though the structural integrity of hardshell boats is better, inflatable boats have better resistance to low-impact collision since the air chambers can negate the turbulence. Most modern models of inflatable boats also have a pressure release valve, which prevents punctures from a drastic change in air pressure.