Inflatable Kayak Materials & Boat Fabrics Explained

The different types of inflatable kayak materials might affect which brand and type of boat you select. Your decision will also depend on where you live and how you will use your kayak.

If you need only an economical IK that will see limited use of perhaps a few times a year, you can go with a less expensive PVC boat. On the other hand, a Hypalon kayak is a better choice in any type of extreme climate or if you plan to use it frequently. Let’s take a closer look at the various types of inflatable kayak materials.

Hypalon® & Pennel Orca®

Manufactured since 1940, Hypalon, a registered trademark of DuPont, is a rugged and durable synthetic rubber material that is also known as chlorosulfonated polyethylene (CP). Used in high quality boats, the fabric is resistant to weather extremes, the sun’s harsh UV rays, chemicals, mildew, and fungus.

Inflatable boats and kayaks that have Hypalon as the exterior coating over a polyester or nylon base weave use neoprene on the interior side of the hull fabric. Neoprene is a synthetic rubber with excellent properties for air retention.

The few drawbacks to inflatable kayak materials such as Hypalon are that it is not as abrasion resistant as PVC material, and it is expensive. Hypalon IKs must be also be hand-glued with either overlapped or butted seams, a labor-intensive task that adds to the price of the boat, but also makes them so durable and reliable that they are usually backed by 10-year warranties.

DuPont closed the USA plant that made Hypalon in April 2010 due to low demand, so NRS and other boats manufacturers now use Pennel Orca®, an elastomer compound very similar to Hypalon. The Pennel & Flipo Orca Hypalon fabric is made in France.

PVC

PVC is a vinyl polymer (specifically: PolyVinyl Chloride) plastic that is not as resistant to temperature extremes, sunlight, chemicals and abrasions as Hypalon-coated boats, but the inflatable kayak materials used and modern manufacturing techniques make it more affordable than Hypalon for most kayak and boating enthusiasts. A PVC boat is made of a close-mesh weave base fabric that is sandwiched on both sides with PVC coating.

The thickness of the polyester or nylon base fabric is measured in denier. When shopping for a kayak, remember that the higher the denier or decitex number, the thicker and stronger the fabric. For example — 1000 denier = 1100 decitex = 0.9 mm.

The seam construction on this type of boat is joined by one of three ways: high-pressure heat, radio frequency, or electronic welding. The last type is a thermobonding technique that literally fuses or “welds” the fabric together, making the seams stronger than the fabric itself. Since this makes inflatable kayaks and boats easy to mass-produce, PVC boats with thermobonded seams are a more economical choice over hand-built Hypalon boats.

Another advantage to PVC-coated boats is that the fabric comes in more colors choices than Hypalon boats. The only drawback to this material is the durability; since it is not as resistant to harsh sunlight, it is strongly advised that a PVC boat be stored out of the sun and coated with a UV protectant spray.

Nitrylon™

A new type of coating introduced by Innova kayaks is Nitrylon, a lamination of nitrile synthetic rubber and natural rubber over a denier polyester base. Nitrylon is stronger and easier to patch than PVC, performs better in cold weather, and is very puncture and abrasion resistant. Nitrylon is also touted as being eco-friendly, or green, among inflatable kayak materials since it can be recycled, whereas PVC fabric boats cannot. The only drawback to Nitrylon is that it is heavier, which is why it is only used as a coating on the outer hull.

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