Inflatable Kayaks vs. Packrafts: Which one is right for me?

Inflatable Kayaks and Packrafts are often confused for one another. Our team of gear experts have broken down the similarities and differences between inflatable kayaks and packrafts and can help you decide which vessel is right for you.

Purpose

Inflatable kayaks are often treated as mini-rafts. They are great additions for multi-day trips and easy cruises – allowing for a variety of paddlers to hop in and out of them with ease. 

Packrafts are great on expedition trips where there is the potential (or actuality) of hiking and floating. These are the perfect use-case scenarios for packrafts thanks to their light weight, plus gear hauling capabilities. 

Weight

Inflatable kayaks are significantly heavier than packrafts. For example, an AIRE Lynx IK weighs about 33 pounds compared to Kokopelli's packrafts, which on average weigh between 6 and 19 pounds.

 
AIRE Lynx - 33lbs
Kokopelli Nirvana - 9lbs

Kokopelli offers two materials that impact the overall packraft weight:

  • Thermoplastic Polyurethane (TPU) - Packrafts made from TPU are extremely light and can pack down small.
  • PVC - A heavier plastic that most paddlers are familiar with; most rafts are constructed using PVC.
Kokopelli TPU Packraft
Kokopelli PVC Packraft

Size

Kokopelli's packrafts are smaller when inflated, and pack down much smaller, than a traditional inflatable kayak.

The Kokopelli Nirvana packraft can pack down to a size just slightly larger than a Nalgene bottle, which is exceptional. 

Inflated Nirvana Packraft
Deflated Nirvana Packraft

Inflatable kayaks are larger than packrafts, and therefore do not pack down as small as packrafts.

Durability

Inflatable kayaks are heavier than packrafts – not only because they are larger, but because they are constructed with PVC, which is an ultra-durable material. 

AIRE's IKs, constructed with PVC, are known for being high-quality, ultra-tough boats that can hold up to any abuse thrown their way. Because they are constructed with the same material, Kokopelli's PVC Packrafts are just as durable as other PVC inflatables. 

AIRE Inflatable Kayak Kokopelli PVC
PVC Inflatable Kayaks
PVC Packrafts

Kokopelli's TPU packrafts are less durable and abrasion-resistant compared to inflatables made out of PVC or Hypalon.

On the whole, you could argue that inflatable kayaks are more durable than packrafts, unless you're purchasing a Kokopelli PVC packrafts. The benefit of a PVC packraft over an PVC inflatable kayak is that you are getting just about the same durability in a much smaller package.

Portability

If you are considering a long hike in to your paddle, we recommend choosing a packraft over an inflatable kayak. The TPU packrafts from Kokopelli are ultra-portable and make the most sense for those looking for more wild, off-grid adventures.

Packraft

If you are considering paddling something like Brown's Canyon on the Arkansas River in Colorado, where you are starting at the designated put-in and ending at the constructed take-out, with little to no portaging, you might value a more durable inflatable kayak

Gear Hauling

Kokopelli packrafts offer T-Zip zipper storage, which is a bonus feature that Inflatable Kayaks do not offer. 

The T-Zip is a zipper on the side of a Kokopelli's packraft that lets you store gear in the baffles (or, tubes). 

If you're considering a vessel for an overnight river trip, we recommend a packraft because you can carry your gear downriver and trust that the T-Zip will keep your items waterproof and air-tight in the baffles.

T-Zip Kokopelli Packraft

The downside to the T-Zip is that you must deflate your packraft entirely to access your hauled gear.

All of the Kokopelli packrafts offered at CKS Online have the option to come with a T-Zip. Consider it an optional add-on; you can pay a little bit more to get a really cool feature that may come in handy one day.

Inflatable kayaks, on the other hand, offer no options for waterproof gear hauling within the boat. You may purchase a reliable dry bag and cam straps to rig your inflatable kayak. The upsides to this is better access to your gear and the ability to keep your vessel fully inflated the entire trip. 

Self-Bailing

Self-bailing means an inflatable has holes along the floor of the vessel to drain water. 

Self Bailing IKs

All Inflatable kayaks sold at CKS Online are self-bailing. There are several self-bailing packrafts available, including the Nirvana and Recon. We recommend that all whitewater packrafters choose a self-bailing packraft option. 

The Nirvana and Recon packrafts can also come with spray decks. Spray decks are similar to a sprayskirt on a hardshell whitewater kayak. The biggest difference is that the entire skirt is inflatable, and has a hard or plastic nylon piece in there that makes the skirt mesh up nicely. 

Nirvana Self-Bailing Pack Raft
Nirvana Spray Deck Packraft

Kokopelli also designs bucket boats, including the XPD and Twain packrafts. These are the non-self bailing packraft models that do not come with spray decks. A packraft bucket boat is best for flatwater paddling. 

Kokopelli XPD Bucket Packraft
Kokopelli Twain Bucket Packraft

Speed

Inflatable kayaks are longer than packrafts. The longer waterline on a ducky often makes them faster than most packrafts. 

Comfort

The length and shape of Inflatable kayaks allow you the freedom to stretch your legs out, sit cross-legged or even straddle the tube or sit on your knees. This is a freedom not awarded with a packraft. 

Inflatable Kayak Comfort

Upgrades + Accessories 

All PVC Kokopelli packrafts come with a floor pump (called a Nanopump). All TPU packrafts come with an inflation bag.  

Each packraft also come with compression straps, which can be thrown around the boat to wrap the packraft up small and tightly for transport or storage.

All Kokopelli packrafts also come with a seat floor back band that can store a small accessory like a phone, and an inflatable repair kit.

Kokopelli Accessories
Included Kokopelli Packraft Accessories

Kokopelli packrafts do not come with paddles. If you're considering river paddling, we recommend you purchase a durable, whitewater-grade paddle from Aquabound or Werner.

Kokopelli packrafts do not include thigh straps, but we highly recommend those who paddle the self-bailing packrafts in whitewater to invest in this necessary accessory. The thigh straps will lock you in a bit better and give you more control of your boat – allowing you to edge the boat from side to side and ultimately have greater control.

If you do not have the thigh straps, you won't have much to brace off of and you will just be sitting loose in the boat. The thigh strap is borderline essential for anyone paddling whitewater. 

Kokopelli 3-Point Thigh-Strap Set

Spray skirts and other upgrades are not included in Kokopelli packraft packages. The Alpine Spray Skirt is a solid, whitewater focused skirt and can fit most people's needs. 

Kokopelli Alpine Ultralight Spray Skirt

Kokopelli offers a feather pump - it is a small range lightweight inflator pump the size of a small box that can be charged with a USB. The feather pump will only inflate to about a half PSI, so it's great for getting the boat to shape and then it allows you to top off the boat with the Nano Pump. 

We love the Kokopelli Feather Pump because it's small and easy to deal with. It's also not exclusive to packrafts and would be a great addition to any gear garage. 

Kokopelli Feather Electric Pump

Inflatable kayaks do not come with pumps, but they do come with the appropriate amounts of inflatable seats and repair kits.

Cost

Obviously, cost plays a huge factor in any major gear purchase. 

Kokopelli PVC packrafts are significantly less expensive than most of our Inflatable Kayak offerings, with the only exception being the AIRE Spud, which is $499.

The Kokopelli TPU Packrafts can get expensive, upwards of $1500, making them more comparable to inflatable kayaks.

Comparing Kokopelli Packraft Models

The Nirvana

The Nirvana is Kokopelli's most well-known boat. Some could argue that it is the model that really launched packrafting as a serious whitewater endeavor.

It is a high-quality, lightweight, whitewater specific packraft. 

The Nirvana is a one-chamber packraft constructed from TPU, so it packs down extremely small where it is the size of two or three Nalgenes. As such, it is Kokopelli's lightest-weight option.

This packraft is ideal for someone who is doing a long hike to their put in or anyone who wants to have a very lightweight, high-performance set up that has the potential to be used paddling through rapids on a river. 

The Nirvana comes in two options: the self-bailing or spray deck models

The Recon

The Recon is the same design as the Nirvana, only it is constructed from PVC. Therefore, this boat is heavier but also more durable.

It is a great bread-and-butter packraft for the everyday user. 

It does not pack down as small as the Nirvana but it is still a great package and the ideal choice for the average boater running class II-III rivers. If you're about to purchase an IK, we highly recommend adding the Recon to your consideration list.

You may choose to upgrade to a Recon that offers T-Zip technology, allowing you to store gear within your boat. 

The Recon comes in two options: the self-bailing or spray deck models

The Twain

The Twain is a bucket boat made from TPU construction. It features two chambers. 

This is a tandem packraft, but you can also adjust the seat a little bit and just paddle it as a single-user if you'd like.

The Twain is a great packraft for the family looking to have fun on a lake. It's also ideal for the paddler who wants to bring their dog with them. It's lightweight enough to pack up for a hike, if you're wanting to hit a more secluded flatwater spot. 

For more park and play inflatable options, we recommend an inflatable stand up paddleboard from Hala. Their models are a bit larger and a bit heavier than Kokopelli's packrafts, but are great for easy carry and inflation to that lake you've always wanted to paddle. 

You may choose to upgrade to a Twain that offers T-Zip technology, allowing you to store gear within your boat.

The Twain features an American Standard Fin Box, allowing you to throw on a fin for better tracking on longer flatwater paddles. 

Why Get a Packraft Over an IK?

One word: convenience.

Pack is in the name, and they quite literally pack small. With packrafts, the advantage is the size and weight.

Both packrafts and inflatable kayaks do extremely well on the water. 

At the end of the day, inflatable kayaks and packrafts are extremely similar and we doubt you'd be unhappy with either choice, but understand that they are different boats best suited for different purposes.

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