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Polyurethane Inflatable Kayak: The Missing Link!

The Polyurethane Inflatable Kayak Is The Missing Piece

The Polyurethane Inflatable Kayak Is The Missing Piece

Updated on 7/10/2024
Abigail ScottBy Abigail Scott
Hi, I'm Abigail đź‘‹ Since embarking on my kayaking and boarding adventures in 2010, I've navigated rivers and lakes across North America and beyond. With over a decade of experience and countless waterways explored, I'm here to help enthusiasts like you embark on unforgettable water adventures!
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These days, the hull and the bladders of a polyurethane inflatable kayak are made out of PVC since it is employed in producing practically every aspect of the kayak. Only three of the most well-known IK brands—Gumotex (CZ), Grabner (AT), and NRS—continue to utilize the conventional kind of synthetic rubber in their products (US). PVC can be recycled and manufactured almost everywhere; as a result, it can be bought off the roll at a low price and is easy to heat weld. PVC is also a thermoplastic material. But I want to know whether I'm the only one who finds something uncomfortably "plastic" about PVC, such as its hardness, texture, aroma, and eco-stigma. I want to know if anybody else feels the same way.



My only experience with a PVC IK was that even the slightest thorns readily pierced it, and it went on to do the same thing with the owner who purchased it after me. According to the claims, the PVC used was of superior quality and had been imported from Germany (to be fair, a mate with an older K40 had no puncture problems whatsoever). It is incomprehensible to me that any Gumotex or Grabner I have ever had could have been capable of doing something of the same. Because of this, even though synthetic rubber is fast becoming an expensive dinosaur fabric, I continue to work with IKs manufactured out of the material even though it is a dinosaur fabric.

The first iteration of DuPont's Hypalon was the basis for creating subsequent synthetic rubber coatings such as Nitrilon and EDPM. The fact that boats have to be completely put together by hand contributes to the increased cost of the product. On the other hand, synthetic rubber continues to outperform PVC in terms of durability, resistance to UV radiation, lightness, flexibility, ease of adhesion, and the ability to be folded up into smaller areas. In the same manner that nothing has been made has been able to equal the characteristics of leather for crashing fast motorbikes, this is true. Leather is the only material that can compete. Other than the typical wear and tear that comes with paddling for over a decade and a half, there was no noticeable deterioration in the condition of my Sunny (below) after 15 years of use. If you compare the lifespan of an IK made of PVC to one made of synthetic rubber, you may expect the latter to be far longer.

best inflatable kayak

best inflatable kayak

On the other hand, thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) and polyvinyl chloride are used to construct most packrafts (PVC). TPU is a different kind of polymer coating. Still, it possesses many benefits associated with synthetic rubber, such as being odorless, smooth texture, light, resistant to ultraviolet light, supple (crease-free), and not being environmentally toxic. These benefits include odorlessness, smooth surface, lightness, resistance to ultraviolet light, crease-free flexibility, and suppleness. On the other hand, it is likewise possible to be heat welded in a manner analogous to PVC. Because Alpacka was the company that got the ball rolling, many other manufacturers are now creating TPU packrafts left, right, and center. During this period, the fabric and seam technology has proved that they are capable of the same levels of durability as PVC or rubber, in addition to running at higher pressures. That is a significant advancement in the field. Someone commented on the internet that thermoplastic polyurethane, more commonly known as TPU, is the substance that bridges the gap between rubber and plastic. TPU is also referred to by its more formal name, thermoplastic polyurethane.
When it comes to inflatables, thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) is unequivocally superior to polyvinyl chloride (PVC) in every regard, except price and stiffness (but this works both ways). "It exhibits properties that lay between plastic and rubber," the author writes. "It is a hybrid material." Therefore, it is flexible even when no plasticizers are present. This flexibility does not damage the product's design or compromise the product's capacity to endure wear and tear or its strength.

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Because it was constructed out of thermoplastic polyurethane and was three meters long, my MRS Nomad packayak served double duty as both a packrat and a thermoplastic polyurethane kayak. Even though the decked version is now about 1,400 euros more expensive, it can still maintain its form with as little as two pounds per square inch of strain.

The only PU (or TPU; I'm not sure which) IK I'm aware of was the NRS Bandit series, but it's no longer being manufactured. Even though they made it in China, the business had opted not to continue making it for an unspecified reason, most likely due to the exorbitant expenses connected with doing so before they began creating many more models utilizing PVC. Following that publication, Advanced Elements came up with the AirFusion Evo, which comes with a housing made of polyurethane (PU).

Zelgear TPU IK

I was researching the Zelgear Spark 450 preview when I came upon a catalog for the 2018 ZelGear range. I was pretty excited to go over it. It states that their 5.2-meter PVC Igla IK, which they no longer produce, may be obtained in TPU if desired (or the similar and much stronger Vectran Alpacka uses for their top-of-the-range packrafts). This location provides access to further details and information. It has been reported that the overall weight of this long vessel is merely 15 kg. Where can I find the price tag? Who said that the sum was 2,000 dollars?

Zelgear TPU IK

Zelgear TPU IK

You may be asking whether or not a packraft made of TPU, which is relatively thin and flexible, could withstand an IK of 5 meters. This is a reasonable question to ask. That is an understandable point to inquire about. TPU coating has the potential to have a higher degree of elasticity than PVC; nonetheless, it is impossible for TPU coating to have a higher degree of elasticity than rubber. It is believed that TPU coating possesses greater flexibility than PVC coating. A stretch-free scrim (woven core) takes care of it, and the coating's primary function is to prevent permeability.

Compared to a packraft that is relatively short and flexible, an inflatable kayak (IK) needs to have a significantly higher level of torsional stiffness. In addition to the psi, the cloth is accountable for its sizeable percentage. One of the numerous benefits of using expanded PVC is that the material keeps its rigidity even after it has been extended. You may assume that for a TPY IK to be able to hold a boat of that length, it would need to function at high pressures, which would require the usage of bombproof seams. Put another way; the tubed sides would be subjected to far less stress if you installed a drop-stitch floor constructed out of TPU to support the strain. who made this statement in a blog post published on Zelgear in 2018, and it mentioned that "some technical difficulties are being resolved." Zelgear is now working on it, bringing it to my attention.In 2018, Marcin S. attended a boat expo, and the photographs that followed were taken by him there.

Product tested by Board and Kayak
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Things we like:

  • There are two primary reasons why the Steelhead fishing kayak is one of the best inflatable kayaks for fishing. They can either be purchased as solo kayaks or tandem kayaks. A rigid drop-stitch floor is also included with the Steelhead. When fishing, it's essential to have a solid platform to stand on and cast, and the Steelhead lets you release from a sturdy, stable platform.  
  • Furthermore, the Steelhead comes with a self-bailing drain on the floor so the water won't leak. Self-bailing can come in handy if you're fishing in rough waters or moving in a lot of fish which causes the kayak to leak water. The accessories and features are included: 5-7 hard mounting points for rod holders, spray shield, locking valves, drop-in adjustable footrests, lightweight paddle, carry bag, pump, and much more.

Things we don't like:

  • At this point, there isn't much to report on the con side. The reason for having no cons is that the Elkton Steelhead kayak is a relatively new product. Because it is not as well known as other kayaks, there is not as much information available. But I would say the packaging and the instruction manual are the only things I have noticed that I don't find particularly important. Let's see what happens! If more information becomes available about this kayak, I will update this post as soon as possible.
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The proliferation of TPU packrafts manufactured in Asia, some of which make use of locally sourced fabric whose quality, in my experience, is on par with that of the Alpacka stuff, may cause the price of TPU fabric to drop to a level where it is comparable to the few "Hypalon" IKs that are still available. That is a result of the fact that there are still a few "Hypalon" IKs available. That is because of the proliferation of TPU packrafts manufactured in Asia, some of which use locally sourced fabric.

Several years ago, when I was speculating about the future, one of my hypotheses was that full drop-stitch IKs would soon gain widespread acceptance. That has resulted in substantial new heights being reached by both the design of IK items and the sales of those products. PVC isn't the only thing that puts me off FD-S IKs, either; their boxy profiles and packed heaviness also put me off. In the meantime, unless FD-S forms can develop (as the Itiwit X500 has proved), I feel that drop-stitch floors (D-SF) are probably the way to go if an IK is to remain undecked, unlike the X500. That is because D-SF floors are more stable than FD-S forms.

family kayaking

family kayaking

There will always be a market for inexpensive IKs made of vinyl or PVC. Still, I believe the next big thing in high-end IKs will be a thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) featuring detachable D-S flooring made of TPU. This prediction is based on the fact that there will be a market for inexpensive IKs made of vinyl or PVC in the foreseeable future. TPU has seen considerable application in the production of pack rafts because it combines the beneficial heat-welding qualities of PVC with practically all of the valuable characteristics of materials referred to collectively as "hyperons."

My only experience with a polyurethane inflatable kayak was that even the smallest thorns quickly punctured it, and it did the same thing to the owner who bought it after I did. According to the assertions, the PVC utilized was of a higher quality than standard and had been imported from Germany (to be fair, a mate with an older K40 had no puncture problems whatsoever). It is inconceivable to me how any Gumotex or Grabner I have ever had could have been capable of such an action. For this reason, even though synthetic rubber is rapidly evolving into a costly dinosaur fabric, I continue to work with IKs created out of the material even though it is a dinosaur fabric.


Frequently Asked Questions

What is the benefit of polyethylene for kayaks?

Rotomolded polyethylene is the material of choice for most whitewater kayaks, fishing kayaks, and recreational kayaks because of its exceptional durability. Additionally, it is popular for kayaks designed for surfing and ocean play, including entry-level touring and sea kayaks.

What is the lifespan of polyethylene kayaks?

Inflatable kayaks have an average lifespan of 2-3 years. By taking good care of it and storing it properly, you can easily get this number for up to 8-10 years.

HDPE is used in the manufacture of Hobie kayaks.

Hobie and Native Watercraft kayaks are rotomolded plastic kayaks. A mold and powdered polyethylene plastic are used to make these kayaks. It is first necessary to place any graphics directly on the mold.

What is the advantage of fiberglass kayaks over plastic kayaks?

It is more cost-effective and easier to access plastic kayaks, which makes them a better choice for beginners who will most likely use them in calm waters. Their fiberglass construction makes composite kayaks more level in paddling, making them perfect for long trips.

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