If you’re short on space in your home or apartment, don’t have a garage, or lack a vehicle large enough to transport anything bulky or big, you may think that owning a kayak is out of reach. Not so. “Inflatable kayaks are generally lighter-weight, more compact, and easier to store and transport,” says Eric Stern, manager of Casual Adventure in Arlington, Here he shares the basics about shopping for and setting up one of these fun vessels for the pond, lake, river, or bay:
What exactly is an inflatable kayak?
An inflatable kayak is exactly what you think it is: a kayak that is inflated via an included or separate pump before use, and then deflated to make it easier to transport and fit into small vehicles or apartment closets. As technology and design have increased in recent years, they have become a popular alternative to hard-shell kayaks
What should you look for when shopping for an inflatable kayak?
“Like any other piece of outdoor equipment, look for features that suit your needs: durability, size, and stability,” Stern says. “If you’re a beginner, think shorter and wider for better stability; otherwise a longer and narrower kayak is generally faster and easier to row in a straight path.” He also recommends picking up a PFD (personal flotation device), helmet, proper paddles, and a roof rack for easier transportation.
High-quality models will be constructed with what’s called “drop-stitch technology,” which means that when the kayak is inflated, small fibers located inside the board will interlock to cause a durable surface. If you are concerned that the exterior will “pop” if it bumps into something hard like a rock or sharp like a jagged branch, know that the outer layer is made with PVC and rubber—the same material as whitewater rafts and lifeboats. Nonetheless, they are generally not quite as durable, especially in water with lots of debris or rocky elements, Stern believes.
What are the pros and cons of an inflatable kayak?
Obviously, one major upside is the ability to transport it and store it much more easily than you can a hard shelled kayak. Some come with their own bag, while others can easily fit inside a duffel bag, suitcase or even some backpacks. Far from being unstable or tipping easily, they have a wide base which makes them surprisingly stable, even for beginner kayakers. As far as the downsides, first of all, depending on the brand and model, the price can be comparable to a hard-shelled version—so if you’re buying one in the hopes of saving money, you might be disappointed by the quality if you go for one of the low-end, wallet-friendly models out there. You also have to factor in time to inflate and deflate the kayak, which can be tedious and also requires you to confirm the correct air pressure (measured in PSI, or pounds per square inch) before launch. Finally, you won’t be able to deflate the kayak, wrap it up, and throw it back into the depths of your closet: If you don’t allow it to dry properly, it can develop smelly, hard-to-clean mold or mildew.
What brands are out there and how much can you expect to spend?
BOTE makes a line of inflatable kayaks starting at $1,100 that come equipped with a custom travel bag so they can be stored in the smallest spaces. More affordable are models from Intex, which makes one-person and two-person kayaks that are both under $200 and are highly reviewed on Amazon, include a pump, and are designed for smaller bodies of water. In the middle is the Driftsun Voyager 2 Person Kayak at $729 which inflates in five minutes, and the Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame Inflatable Kayak at $399, which sports a large cockpit for easy entry and exit.
Where can you use an inflatable kayak?
In general, kayaks are better in calm waters like ponds or smaller lakes. Beginners especially may find that on larger lakes, rivers, or the Bay, the current may make them a bit trickier to navigate. In Northern Virginia, there are a lot of great spots for kayaking, including Lake Fairfax, Mason Neck State Park, Fountainhead Regional Park, Occoquan Regional Park, and Burke Lake Park.
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