Inflatable Kayaks vs. Packrafts: Which One is Right for Me?

Inflatable Kayaks and Packrafts are often confused with each  other. Our gear experts have broken down the similarities and differences between inflatable kayaks and packrafts that 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 since they allow 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. Packrafts are perfect for these adventures thanks to their light weight and 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.

Kokopelli XPD Packraft in Red at CKS Online
AIRE Lynx - 33 lbs
Kokopelli XPD - 14 lbs

Kokopelli offers two materials that impact the overall packraft weight:

  • Thermoplastic Polyurethane (TPU) - Packrafts made from TPU are extremely light and can pack down almost as small as a Nalgene water bottle.
  • Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) - A heavier plastic that most paddlers are familiar with (the majority of whitewater rafts are constructed using PVC).
Kokopelli Twain - A TPU Packraft
Kokopelli XPD - A PVC Packraft

Size

Kokopelli's packrafts are smaller when inflated, and pack down much smaller, than a traditional inflatable kayak. For reference, the Kokopelli XPD packs down to roughly 24" x 10" while an AIRE Tributary Spud, one of the smallest PVC IKs on the market, packs down to about 24" x 20" when tightly rolled.

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. 

The IKs we carry at CKS are constructed with PVC and are known for being high-quality, ultra-tough duckies that can hold up to any abuse thrown their way. Because they are made from the same materials, Kokopelli's PVC Packrafts are regarded to be just as durable as the other PVC inflatables we stock. 

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, but are significantly lighter and more packable.

On the whole, you could argue that inflatable kayaks are more durable than packrafts, unless you are purchasing a PVC packraft. The benefit of a PVC packraft over a 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 that is designed for whitewater use. 

Gear Hauling

Both inflatable kayaks and packrafts come stock with D-rings that allow you to use cam straps to attach waterproof dry bags to the deck. If you are going on an overnight trip, taking an inflatable kayak will likely be your better bet since they have higher weight capacities and more room to sprawl out even when loaded down.

Self-Bailing

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

Self Bailing IKs

All inflatable kayaks sold at CKS Online are self-bailing, however, we do not currently carry a self-bailing packraft. If you are going to paddling whitewater at all, we highly recommend that a self-bailing craft. 

Kokopelli's "bucket boats," like the XPD and Twain models, have sealed floors and are best for flatwater paddling.

Kokopelli XPD Bucket Packraft
Kokopelli Twain Bucket Packraft

Speed

Inflatable kayaks are longer than packrafts, and this longer waterline 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 that's not awarded with a packraft. 

Inflatable Kayak Comfort

Upgrades + Accessories 

All of Kokopelli's PVC packrafts come with a floor pump called a Nanopump. All TPU packrafts come with an inflation bag.  

Each packraft also comes with compression straps, which can be thrown around the boat to wrap it 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.

 

Inflatable kayaks do not come with pumps or paddles, 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 exception of the AIRE Spud, which only costs $539.

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

Why Get a Packraft Over an IK?

One word: convenience.

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

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

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

2 comments

J.R.

J.R.

I own both packrafts and kayaks, but my favourite is my Kokopelli Rogue Lite, a TPU kayak. I’ve had ot for four years and it still looks like new. Being quite short, it’s slower than many inflatable kayaks, but it’s really seaworthy and it tracks well… and, after paddling, once deflated, I put it into my backpack, walk home and put oit back into the locker… I love it.

Jesse Dean

Jesse Dean

Tell about performance attributes.
- How do they handle on the water?
- Do you need a longer paddle than you would use for kayaking
How well do they track?

Thanks

What do you think? Leave a comment

All comments are moderated before being published

About Us

We're a group of whitewater kayak, raft, and stand up paddleboard enthusiasts committed to stocking the highest-quality gear and deliver it to you as quickly as possible.

Learn more about us

Don't Forget About These

What else are we up to?

View all
Whitewater Kayak Paddle Buying Guide

Whitewater Kayak Paddle Buying Guide

Jonny Ortiz
Choosing the right paddle for whitewater kayaking can be daunting with all the available paddle options to consider. We are here to help! ...
All Aboard the Love Boat!

All Aboard the Love Boat!

Benjamin Thornton

Have you ever had a tough time convincing your family that your black eye isn't that big of a deal? Or spent an hour explaining to your Tinder date the difference between "homeless" and "houseless," just so they would understand why you brought them back to a tent in the woods? 

If you answered yes to either of these things, hopefully this blog can help avoid some of those awkward conversations! 

In Case You Missed It: Liquidlogic Hot Whip and Pyranha Firecracker sales dominate Jackson Kayak Antix 2

In Case You Missed It: Liquidlogic Hot Whip and Pyranha Firecracker sales dominate Jackson Kayak Antix 2

Jonny Ortiz
In this blog, we'll explore how the Firecracker takes the lead in performance, while the Hot Whip stands out as a top-value choice. Additionally, we'll throw the ol' Jackson Kayak Antix 2 into the mix for a comprehensive comparison of the top players in this dynamic niche!