Inflatable Kayak Materials | What are They Made Of?



Modern-day kayaks are almost all exclusively made of commercial products. These products are intended for sales instead of for the builder’s personal use. Inflatable rafts are a specialty kayak that often looks little like the traditional kayaks used by indigenous people. Inflatable kayak material types can vary. There are two common and well-known materials used, which are PVC and Hypalon. There is also a newer material being used called Nitrylon. All these have pros and cons attached. All of them are known for extreme durability and ruggedness, some more than others. See our top-rated inflatable kayaks right here


PVC Pros

PVC stands for Polyvinyl Chloride and comes in two forms. It is either flexible or rigid. The pros of using PVC are many. To begin, it is a multi-layer fabric that is tougher than any single-layer plastic that is often used in pool toys. PVC is significantly cheaper and more economical than Hypalon. It is also lighter and much more portable than the competition.

The seams in PVC can be glued or thermo-bonded, and the material is standard in air floors. PVC is easy to repair and can be fixed by welding or gluing new sheets of PVC. This is often the best choice when looking for boats that need to be rolled up to be stored.


PVC Cons

The cons of PVC begin with the fact that it has a shorter life expectancy than its competitor, Hypalon. It is also not nearly as UV resistant. PVC can’t hold up to prolonged exposure to direct sunlight, especially when left unprotected.

PVC is also not known to hold up as well to extreme temperatures as Hypalon does. This material is also not as resistant to gas, oil, chemicals, and abrasion as its Hypalon counterparts. PVC also with no abrasion resistance when it is dry and over time can become fragile and brittle. One of the most common disappointments for those who buy kayaks made of PVC is that the kayak has under inflation problems.

PVC has also had much controversy over the harmful effects if poses to the environment. In order to make PVC water ready, chemicals must be added, such as plasticizers, UV stabilizers, heat stabilizers, and pigments. This is what is so harmful to the environment, as the chemicals leach out into the water.


Polyurethane Pros

More and more boat manufacturers are starting to use this material for inflatables. It is often said that it can withstand much more abuse than PVC or Hypalon. This type of material is the most abrasion-resistant on the market. Polyurethane also is the most puncture resistant of all the materials used for inflatables.


Polyurethane Cons

This material is the most expensive on the market and is much harder to find online than any of the other materials discussed. Polyurethane is also much harder to repair, making maintenance on it much tougher.


Hypalon Pros

Hypalon is made up of a synthetic rubber material. CSM and Neoprene is the combination of materials used to make up Hypalon. CSM is a rubber called chlorosulfonated polyethylene. On its own, it doesn’t work well, which is why it is joined with Neoprene. This combination is often called the ultimate inflatable boat material.

The advantage of using Hypalon begins with the fact that it will last longer than any other inflatable kayak material. It holds air like no other material on the market and is extremely airtight. It also has a much better UV resistance than other kayak inflatables. Hypalon is extremely resistant to many environmental factors including mildew and fungus. Hypalon is used by many boat manufacturers as an exterior coating, often with an interior coating of neoprene. This makes for very good air holding and oil resistance. Hypalon is often used by the military and the coast guard.


Hypalon Cons

There are not many cons to using this type of material. The very few on the list include the fact that Hypalon is much more expensive than most other materials. Hypalon is more expensive because of its labor-intensive construction. This construction consists of a requirement that all seams be scuffed and glued by hand. It is also glued instead of welded.

Hypalon also gets dirty much more quickly because the material is very porous. The color of the coating is known to fade over time.


Nitrylon Pros

Nitrylon is a much more environmentally friendly material and is often used by manufacturers in lieu of PVC. This material is a lamination of natural rubber and nitrile synthetic rubber. Nitrylon is extremely abrasion and puncture resistant and is much stronger than PVC. It is also much easier to patch than PVC material and performs better in colder temperatures.


Nitrylon Cons

There are not many cons when looking to use this material for inflatable kayaks. In fact, the only real downside is that Nitrylon is heavy and is typically only used on the outer part of the boat where the most wear and tear occur.


Inflatable Base Fabrics

This is typically the material that the coatings listed above are placed on. These base fabrics are typically nylon or polyester. These particular fabrics give rip strength and allow for a shape to be made with air. Nylon is usually stronger than polyether and is more stretchable. Nylon absorbs more moisture, making it more susceptible to mildew.


Wrap Up

There is often a fair amount of controversy over the different types of materials used for inflatable kayaks. The concern over environmentally friendly materials is a hot-button topic for many. Many consumers latch on to the idea of using resources that don’t pose a threat to the world or health of the population.

The recommendation by most manufacturers is that when not using the kayak, that it should be stored in a shaded, well-ventilated area. Also important to remember is that humidity and heat take its toll on the boat, especially on the glue. Never store an inflatable in a closed container or box, or anywhere where it might get direct sunlight. Most kayak manufacturers, no matter what material is used, offer similar warranties.