Manufacturers of inflatable canoes have improved materials and construction a lot in the past years. That’s why inflatable canoes are considered as fully adequate canoes nowadays. This article explains you in more detail what an inflatable canoe actually is, the differences to full-solid and folding canoes and the preferred uses of an inflatable canoe. No matter if hobby or enthusiastic paddler, we show the best available inflatable canoes for every need.
A canoe is boat which is driven by one or more seated or kneeing paddlers facing the direction of travel and using a single-bladed paddle. Originally, canoes were used by north American Indians as a means of transport and is known as a recreational boat all over the world today.
Inflatable canoes consist of several air chambers that are inflated with a high output air pump to obtain the right form and stiffness. Even though inflatables never reach the same stiffness as solid-hull canoes, inflatables offer other advantages due its small pack size and weight. Canoes are usually paddled by two people. The person in the front is a sort of motor and the person in the back supports with paddling and is responsible for steering the canoe. Solo canoeing is possible as well but requires more practice. Inflatable canoes consist of tear-resistant tissue material which are coated with a rubber material.
Inflatable canoes are equipped with two or more seat benches where the paddlers either sits or use it to knee on the floor of the boat. Canoes are spacious and perfect for longer trips with a lot of gear. Today canoes are especially for camping- or family excursions, expeditions or white-water adventures. Canoes mainly attract paddlers who like to paddle in company and to explore the nature on longer trips. But canoes are also well suited for adrenalin junkies willing to paddle whitewater up to level 4.
The number of manufacturers of inflatable canoes is quite small and this market is much smaller than the one for inflatable kayaks. And there are also geographical differences. Some brands are only known in Europe as well as in the UK and other brands only in the US.
In Europe long-standing manufacturers are the Czech company Gumotex (called Innova in the US) and the Austrian company Grabner, which offer various models from white water to touring canoes. Both manufacture the boats in their respective home countries and not in Asia, which we find very good. Gumotex inflatable canoes have, in our view, a very good price-performance ratio and convince with their robust boat skin. Grabner boats have at least twice the purchase price but they have a very robust boat skin and an incomparably high quality of workmanship. All Grabner boats have a 7-year warranty on the boat skin. In comparison, Gumotex boats have a warranty of 2 years.
In the US we can name AIRE and Sea Eagle as known brands for inflatable canoes. AIRE has a strong focus on inflatable whitewater boats. When producing boats for the whitewater purpose, there can’t be any compromise regarding quality and material. They make their boats in the US. Sea Eagle has a strong focus on inflatable kayaks from entry-level to high-quality. They sell a drop-stitch canoe, which is perfect for paddling tours on lakes or rivers. Thanks to the drop-stitch chambers, the canoe has pretty good driving performance on the water.
And finally, there is the brand Itiwit, which belongs to the French sporting goods retailer Decathlon. Decathlon is expanding a lot in the past year and you can find stores and their online shop nearly for every country. The Itiwit x500 Canoe is a new inflatable drop-stitch canoe from them.
Compared to inflatable kayaks, there are no inflatable canoes in the low-price segment on the market. There are inexpensive entry-level inflatable boats, such as the Intex Explorer K2 or the Sevylor Adventure, which at first glance give the impression of a canoe, but are not canoes. These are sometimes supplied with a single blade paddle. However, these inflatable boats do not have a canoe-typical design and benches, nor do they offer much space or a high payload, which is typical for a canoe.
For those who are not yet confident with the sport of paddling, such beginner inflatable boats can be a recommendation. Inflatable canoes in the true sense start only from a higher price range of over $1000. These have a high load capacity and consist of a robust material. The boats presented here are particularly suitable for longer tours on flowing water or for trips on lakes in calm conditions.
Among the air canoes, there are various areas of application for which this type of boat is particularly well suited. Basically, the areas of use for inflatable canoes can be divided as follows.
Inflatable canoes are great for white-water paddling. Due to its wide hull and thick inner tubes, canoes are very stable. Compared to hard shell canoes, the material of inflatables is more elastic and can easier pass over obstacles. For whitewater, only high-quality inflatable canoes should be used. These are characterized by a tough material. In whitewater a firm hold in the boat is required. That’s why most of these canoes feature thigh straps, best with safety clasp. The use of the thigh straps should be always practiced before using them, to make sure you can quickly get off the canoe in case of flipping over. Inflatable canoes with a raised rectangular bow and stern are made for difficult whitewater (up to whitewater class IV) and inflatable canoes with a pointed bow and stern are better for longer trips on rivers and lakes. They reach a higher speed due to its pointed hull.
The air pressure of an inflatable canoe is an important criterion for the stiffness and form stability of the boat. Personally, we find an air pressure of 0.2 bar/2.9 PSI perfectly adequate. A higher air pressure also comes with a higher purchase price of the boat, because the hoses must be processed even higher quality.
Recently you can find a few canoe models with bottom and sidewalls made of drop-stitch material. Among the inflatable kayaks there are already numerous drop-stitch models. The Drop-Stitch technology makes it possible to produce high-pressure air chambers, so that the air chambers (depending on the manufacturer) can be inflated to an operating pressure of well over 0.3 bar/4.3 PSI. In drop-stitch technology, the upper and lower inner walls of the air chamber are interwoven with textile threads. This gives the canoe very good stiffness. However, wind susceptibility still remains with drop-stitch canoes.
Compared with rigid-hull and folding canoes, inflatable canoes tend to float on the water because of the air buoyancy. With their voluminous side walls, they offer a lot of surface area for wind to attack and are difficult to paddle in windy conditions, especially on lakes. Here, folding and rigid hull canoes have a clear advantage, especially since these boats have a better formed stern and bow, and thus glide better through the water. Therefore, you should be aware that an inflatable canoe is slower and paddling in windy conditions can be very tedious. However, inflatable canoes are still good for leisurely tours on a nice day on the lake.
The situation is different for flowing water, for which air canoes are best suited in our view. Small to medium rivers are protected from the wind by their bank slopes and they offer a pleasant support for progress due to their current. Due to the air buoyancy you can pass very shallow river passages with the boat, where a folding or rigid hull boat would touch the ground. Whitewater rivers are also very suitable for inflatable canoes, as the air tubes ride over the obstacles in the water. A fixed-hull canoe would capsize faster, and a folding canoe can quickly damage the boat’s skin.
Among inflatable boats, an inflatable canoe offers plenty of space for paddlers. Inflatable canoes come in 2-, 3-, 4- or 10-person versions. Like in a rigid hull canoe, you can paddle an inflatable canoe both sitting and kneeling. If you paddle kneeling, it is much more comfortable than in a rigid hull canoe. The air bottom gives slightly and is gentler on the knees. Also, in low water temperatures, the air bottom insulates well from the cold water.
Due to the air buoyancy, inflatable canoes have a very high load limit. Some models can be loaded with up to 450 kg (e.g. Grabner Adventure or Gumotex Scout), and do not have to hide behind a hard shell canoe. However, due to the air tubes, the interior of an air canoe offers less space for luggage than fixed hull or folding canoes. If you want to go on one to two week trips, you need to stow the luggage well and prioritize what comes with you when packing.
Drop-stitch canoes offer more interior space compared to classic air canoes because the side walls are less bulky.
Everyone who buys an inflatable canoe will be impressed how extremely practical it is. An inflatable can be stored in the apartment or in the basement with no need of a huge storage areas. In case of transporting the canoe to the lake or river, you can just load it in the trunk or take it with you on public transport. Before deciding for the right canoe, you will probably wonder if a hard shell or folding canoe is not the better choice. A hard shell canoe is only the better choice if you have a car and enough storage space at home or in your backyard. In this case, a hard shell canoe is the better choice. It’s more durable and resistant. But don’t forget that you need a roof rack for your car or a trailer to transport your boat. The same with holidays abroad. You can just take an inflatable much easier on your flight to your next holiday destination and explore new areas. Folding canoes have better performances on water regarding speed. But folding boats are much more sensible to groundings. A folding boat also require more assembling and dismantling time as well as maintenance. One disadvantage of inflatables compared to folding and full-solid boat is the sensitivity to head and side winds due its lower draught and voluminous air chambers.
– High purchase price – relatively slow – sensitive to wind and waves – majority of models are pretty heavy for an inflatable
Inflatable canoes are available at higher prices only. But inflatable canoes fit 2 or 3 persons and are characterized by high quality and ruggedness. You don’t have to look for rental stations and can make your expeditions in all waters, independently of season and opening hours of the rental stations. Additionally, an inflatable canoe can be taken on holiday without any extra effort and costs. Everyone who is not sure about buying either an inflatable canoe or kayak, should read the article Canoe, Kayak or Canadier – Where is the difference?. And if you are not sure about the size of the boat you should buy, we definitively recommend you to read our article 1, 2 or 3 person canoe – What is the right boat size? which provides you some helpful tips.