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When inflatable kayaks first came on the market, they got a lot of scorn for being sub-par, inferior products.
And rightly so! Many of the early inflatable kayaks were little better than kayak-shaped floaties—cheap, flimsy, and far from effective.
But over the last few years, the inflatable kayak industry has taken some impressive leaps. Now, some are actually pretty close to being “on par” with hardshell kayaks. They also offer a number of benefits (such as portability, affordability, high weight capacity, and user-friendly design) that make them desirable.
Now, there’s another upgrade that’s changing the game for inflatable kayaks: drop-stitching.
This one addition to the construction of inflatable kayaks has made them not only sturdier, but more reliable, more versatile, and harder-wearing.
In this article, we’re going to talk about drop-stitching and drop-stitch kayaks, looking at what exactly drop-stitching is, the pros and cons of this design element, and what drop-stitching options are on the market.
By the end of this page, you’ll know exactly what a drop-stitch kayak can do for you and when it’s in your best interest to consider it!
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Quick Answer: Best Drop-Stitch Kayaks
- Sea Eagle 393rl
- Itiwit x500
- Sea Eagle 420X Explorer
- AQUAGLIDE Navarro 110
- Advanced Elements AIRVOLUTION2™
- Aquaglide Chelan
- Elkton Outdoors Steelhead Inflatable Fishing Kayak
- Sea Eagle 385fta
- ADVANCED ELEMENTS AdvancedFrame Convertible Elite
Comparison table: Best Drop-Stitch Kayaks
|Model||Specs||Where To Buy|
Sea Eagle 393rl
|Length: 12′ 10”|
Weight: 35 lbs.
Load Capacity: 500 lbs
|Length: 12′ 6” |
Weight: 39.7 lbs
Load Capacity: 275 lbs.
Sea Eagle 420X Explorer
|Length: 14′ |
Weight: 44 lbs.
Load Capacity: 855 lbs.
AQUAGLIDE Navarro 110
|Length: 11’ 4” |
Weight: 28 lbs.
Load Capacity: 250 lbs.
Advanced Elements AIRVOLUTION2™
|Length: 14′ 6”. |
Weight: 52 lbs.
Load Capacity: 550 lbs.
|Length: 15’ 1” |
Weight: 38 lbs.
Load Capacity: 600 lbs.
Elkton Outdoors Steelhead Inflatable Fishing Kayak
|Length: 10’ 10”|
Weight: 44 lbs
Load Capacity: 600 lbs.
Sea Eagle 385fta
|Length: 12’ 6” |
Weight: 45 lbs.
Load Capacity: 635 lbs.
ADVANCED ELEMENTS AdvancedFrame Convertible Elite
Weight: 52 lbs.
Load Capacity: 550 lbs.
Best Drop-Stitch Kayaks
Sea Eagle 393rl
Length: 12′ 10”. (391 cm)
Weight: 35 lbs. (16 kg)
Load Capacity: 500 lbs (227 kg)
Sea Eagle was actually the first brand to use drop-stitching technology in the construction of their inflatable kayaks, and the 393rl was the model that started it all! No surprise, then, that we include it at the head of this list.
As I mentioned above, it’s significantly heavier than your standard inflatable (a whopping 35 pounds), but once you climb in, you’ll find it feels almost exactly like your favorite hard-shell. It’s beautifully designed—sharp, tapering curves and a hard-nose bow and stern—and offers performance superior to your standard inflatable. It also handles much better, letting you reach speeds up to 6 MPH with some hard paddling. Thanks to the FlexBrace footrest, you can drive your feet against the kayak to really push into those strokes.
It’s made using 1000-denier reinforced nylon, so it’s hyper-tough and puncture/abrasion/impact-resistant. Inflation time is just 7 minutes (on par with any regular inflatable) and you’ll find it’s wonderfully easy to attach the large removable back skeg so you can hit the water in style.
On the downsides, users aren’t thrilled with the seats (claiming they’re less-than-comfortable) and that the design of the kayaks make them hard to both fold down and wash clean after regular use.
Note: The Sea Eagle 473rl is a tandem version of the 393rl, the perfect choice if you want to go kayaking with a partner! 15 ½ feet long and weighing 45 pounds, it has a load capacity of 750 pounds and is incredibly sturdy for long-haul/multi-day paddling trips as a couple.
- Sturdy and solid
- Good primary stability, won’t rock or tip easily
- Excellent performance; handles almost like a hard-shell kayak
- Never worry about scratches or punctures
- Difficult to fold down and clean after use
Length: 12′ 6” (381 cm)
Weight: 39.7 lbs (18 kg)
Load Capacity: 275 lbs. (124,7 kg)
Designed with the input from a naval architect, the Itiwit x500 is a beauty of nautical engineering and drop-stitch technology. It comes with two built-in cargo compartments that allow you to transport up to 275 lbs. (including the paddler), but because it’s so portable and (fairly) lightweight, it makes for the perfect addition to your camping gear.
Inflation/assembly takes just 10 minutes. Once you get it on the water and start paddling, you’ll find it performs nearly on par with a hard-shell kayak. The V-shaped hull slices through the water and offers decent secondary stability when the wind kicks up and the river/ocean/lake turns choppy. The hull and its components are all reinforced to be extra-sturdy and friction-resistant, and you’ll love how easy it is to adapt the cockpit configuration to your height/leg length.
Best of all, when the time comes to pack it up, all you need to do is wipe it down with a towel. The quick-drying top-coating will help to speed up drying times even if the sun isn’t shining bright.
On the downside, the lack of rudder/skeg means it doesn’t track quite straight, the seat is hard, the back support is stiff, and there is nowhere to brace your knees for hardcore paddling. They also sell out quickly and aren’t always in stock.
- Easy and quick inflation
- Adaptable cockpit configuration
- Reinforced hull and sides
- Quick-drying coating
- Tracking/handling suffer from a lack of a skeg
- Often sold out/out of stock
Sea Eagle 420X Explorer
Length: 14′ (427 cm)
Weight: 44 lbs. (20 kg)
Load Capacity: 855 lbs. (388 kg)
This Sea Eagle inflatable kayak is a floor-only drop-stitch model, meaning the sidewalls are the standard inflatable design but the (removable) floor is made using ultra-tough 1000 denier nylon that forms a rock-hard platform when fully inflated.
This is a three-person kayak capable of carrying up to 855 pounds (388 kg), making it perfect for group/family trips or a couple planning to haul a lot of gear. However, it’s not excessively long (just 14 feet), so it’s still fully steerable even with just two paddlers. It’s also rated for Class 4 whitewater, complete with 16 built-in self-bailing floor drains that will keep the boat from filling if the water turns choppy. However, if you want to stay high and dry on calm, flat water, the drains can be easily closed.
The boat comes with a removable skeg, and can even be used with a mounted trolling motor (up to 34 lbs. of thrust). Whatever you’re doing, this kayak can handle it!
Users have complained, however, that the foot pump connector is poorly designed and prone to disconnecting, and there are few options for mounting the trolling motor.
- Suitable for up to 3 people or A LOT of gear
- Maneuverable; good tracking/handling
- Not overly long or heavy, ideal for 2-person paddling
- Compatible with trolling motor
- Foot pump connector is prone to disconnecting/letting out the air
Length: 11’ 4” (345 cm)
Weight: 28 lbs. (12.7 kg)
Load Capacity: 250 lbs. (113 kg)
Keep it lean and mean with this 1-person drop-stitch kayak by AquaGlide! Weighing just 28 pounds, it’s light and compact enough that you can take it camping or to the beach. It’s easily inflated and ready to hit the water in under 10 minutes.
The kayak has a lot of useful features: a quick-release skeg, zip-open dry compartments, Velcro seat, built-in drain plugs for self-bailing, a footrest adjustment system (great for people with shorter- or longer-than-average legs), a built-in paddle keeper, and a convenient D-ring for strapping/clipping on accessories. It handles as well as you’d expect, tracks fairly straight, and can withstand choppy waters and high winds.
Some users had trouble inflating the special valve on the drop-stitch floor, finding it difficult to release the pump without letting all the air out. Seat comfort/back support was another common complaint, and a few users received the kayak without a pump, instruction manual, fin, or other components (a quality-control issue).
However, the durability and versatility of this drop-stitch kayak make it a winner for the vast majority of satisfied customers!
- Versatile and well-performing kayak
- Feels almost like a hard-shell
- Good speed and handling
- Feature-rich; built for your convenience and comfort
- Unintuitive design of floor valve, not easy to figure out
- Quality control issues (shipped with components missing)
Advanced Elements AIRVOLUTION2™
Length: 14′ 6”. (426,7 cm)
Weight: 52 lbs. (23,6 kg)
Load Capacity: 550 lbs. (249,5 kg)
If you’re planning on paddling calm rivers, lakes, or inlets, you’ll love every moment you spend inside this delightful drop-stitch kayak! Built for tandem paddling, it’s got ample storage space for small items below-deck, and includes on-deck storage (in the form of D-rings and bungee lacing) so you can carry all your important gear close at hand.
The kayak is steady enough that one of you can stand up without risking tipping over or capsizing, and the seats are far more comfortable than most of its competitors. Thanks to the built-in drain well, most of the kayak will stay dry, but any water that splashes over the sides or gets past the cockpit splash guard will be easy to pump/bail out.
You’ll love how easy it is to haul to and from the water using the heavy-duty grab handles, and the 2-air chamber design makes it a breeze to inflate and launch in record time. It’s definitely on the heavier side and a bit unwieldy to handle solo, though, so you’re better off kayaking as a pair/couple.
- Easily inflated; will never lose rigidity/stiffness
- Heavy-duty materials used in its construction
- Good performance and handling
- Excellent storage space both on and below deck
- Too long/wide to paddle solo
Length: 15’ 1” (472 cm)
Weight: 38 lbs. (15.9 kg)
Load Capacity: 600 lbs. (272 kg)
This kayak is built specifically for touring, meaning it’s comfortable enough to keep you going for hours or even days at a time. Though it’s designed for tandem paddling, it’s surprisingly versatile even when there’s just one paddler (solo adult or adult + child/pet) doing all the work. There’s more than enough space for your gear, too, and an above-average weight capacity even for an inflatable.
The Duratex tube construction of the side chambers prevents excess weight, making it easily maneuverable, but the sturdy drop-stitch flooring offers a solid platform to brace against/push off of as you paddle. It’s lighter than your average tandem kayak though a bit on the longer side. It also doesn’t include the pump, paddles, or the specific valve adaptor required to properly inflate the drop-stitch floor. Price-wise, it’s slightly more expensive than some of the competing models on our list.
However, considering how well it handles and how much speed it can manage, it’s a great option to consider for anyone who wants to go on an ocean voyage or up/downriver expedition!
- Sleek, responsive, and easily handled
- Sized for two paddlers, manageable for one
- Good customer service
- Performance design, great for touring and multi-day trips
- Doesn’t include a pump, paddles, or Halkey-Roberts Style Valve adaptor
Elkton Outdoors Steelhead
Length: 10’ 10” (304.8 cm)
Weight: 44 lbs (20 kg)
Load Capacity: 600 lbs. (272 kg)
If you’re an angler looking for a budget-friendly solution to get out on the water, give this floor-only drop-stitch kayak a second glance. The lightweight standard inflatable sides ensures good versatility and buoyancy, but thanks to the drop-stitch floor, it’s as solid and stable a fishing platform as you could ask for. You’ll have no trouble standing up to cast your line, without a wobble or waver (on flat water).
It’s a fishing-specific kayak, complete with front bungee storage and multiple hard-mounting points compatible with most tackle boxes and kayak fishing accessories. The padded seat keeps you comfortable for those long hours you spend sitting and waiting for a nibble, and you’ve got more than enough room to stretch out your legs.
The self-bailing floor will keep you from capsizing even if the wind is kicking up the water around you. Thanks to the 1000 denier nylon used for the hull, your kayak can withstand bumps, impacts, and sharp objects without sustaining damage. Included in the package is a paddle, carry handle, removable skeg, seat, carrying bag, and pump—everything you need at lower-than-average price.
Some users complained that the product arrived defective/damaged, a sign of quality control issues (common with inflatables). The lack of instruction on how to use the hard-mounting points means you might end up with a damaged kayak (one user actually put a screw through the hull!), so make sure to customize with caution.
- Excellent weight capacity—more than enough to carry you and all your fishing gear
- Sized for speed, but incredibly stable
- Comfortable even after long hours of fishing
- Can handle fast-flowing rivers and rapids
- Quality control issues (kayak may arrive defective, damaged, or missing components)
Sea Eagle 385fta
Length: 12’ 6” (381 cm)
Weight: 45 lbs. (20 kg)
Load Capacity: 635 lbs. (288 kg)
Yes, we know that this is a third Sea Eagle kayak included in this list, but that’s because A) Sea Eagle makes the best drop-stitch kayaks, and B) this was our absolutely favorite inflatable fishing kayak.
It’s a tandem kayak, perfect for those fishing days with your spouse or buddy, and has an impressive 635-pound weight capacity that can more than handle both of you and all your fishing gear. It’s of average length and width, but incredibly stable (enough you can stand up) and, at just 45 pounds, lightweight enough you can take it anywhere you go.
The construction is designed to be “bomb-proof” and, having tested it out, I can say with full confidence that it’s tough enough to warrant the claim. The 1000-denier nylon hull is built with double-layered tubes that not even sharp rocks or tree branches will be able to damage. The underside can grind on rocks or coral and still survive to paddle another day.
The low profile makes it easy to maneuver even in heavy winds, highly steerable, and great for even newbies to handle. It’s definitely on the pricier side, but well worth every penny if you’re an angler looking to take your fishing out on the water.
- Incredibly sturdy, built to last
- Stable, serves as a reliable fishing platform to sit and stand
- Good gear storage and weight capacity
- Low-profile, easily maneuverable
- Pricier than most of its competitors
ADVANCED ELEMENTS AdvancedFrame Convertible Elite
Length: 15’ (457.2 cm)
Weight: 52 lbs. (23.6 kg)
Load Capacity: 550 lbs. (249.5 kg)
This is quite an amazing kayak! Not only does it come with a drop-stitch floor (reinforced to give it greater durability and stability), but it also features an aluminum hull with chines that improve tracking/handling. That’s a rarity for inflatable kayaks, and makes this one of the most versatile and performance-friendly ‘yaks on our list.
The rip-stop fabric is double-coated to maximize waterproofing, airtight seal, and durability, so you’ll never have to worry about it leaking or getting damaged as you zip around the lakes, rivers, and beaches near you. It’s also got great storage space thanks to the bungee deck lacing, is compatible with spray skirts (for those windy, choppy-surf days), and comfortable seats that will offer better-than-average back support and keep your legs from going numb.
It comes in both single and tandem designs, and the deck can be easily customized to turn the tandem model into a solo kayak. The fact that it’s pre-assembled at the factory makes set-up a breeze—just unfold it, inflate it, and launch!
On the downside, weight capacity isn’t the best (you can’t carry a ton of gear, especially if you’re tandem kayaking), and there is concern that the single-layered drop-stitch cockpit floor may not be the sturdiest. Some users have also complained that customer service was “horrible”, so be prepared for a slight hassle if you’ve got to contact them about replacing/repairing any components.
- Designed for tandem kayaking, convertible to solo paddling (allows for up to 3 seat locations)
- Sturdy built-in aluminum hull with chine improves tracking
- Puncture-resistant hull
- Comfortable, good back support
- Poor customer support
- Cockpit floor isn’t reinforced/may be prone to damage
What is a Drop Stitch Kayak?
I had the exact same question when I first heard mention of “drop-stitching”.
Drop-stitching was first used for paddleboards (and other similar inflatables), which are designed to be inflated to a “rock-hard” rigidity. Most floaties are designed to be soft and have some “give”, but inflatable paddleboards need to be entirely firm/rigid to provide a solid surface for you to stand on. For this purpose, drop-stitching worked perfectly.
To explain it simply: two (or more) sheets of a synthetic fabric like nylon or polyester are joined together using hundreds of needle threads. And I mean hundreds—up to 400! These needle heads sew a continuous, evenly-spaced pattern back and forth across the sheets of fabric. As a result, they’re locked together so thoroughly that it would take an immense amount of strain to sever the threads. When joined, they are incredibly strong and resistant.
The cool thing about drop-stitching is that once the joined sheets of fabric are inflated, the threads actually hold them together. Think about it like thousands of tiny strings that are keeping the two sheets from tearing apart, but keep them inflated to perfection and provide sturdy resistance to make them ultra-tough. Drop-stitch kayaks and paddleboards can handle up to 20 PSI of inflation—that’s nearly as much as a tire!
But the drop-stitching is just the beginning of the process. Once the fabric sheets are drop-stitched together, they’re finished with some sort of waterproof/airtight coating (like polyethylene, rubber, or PVC) that keeps the air trapped inside and water outside. Sidewalls (made out of polyester base fabric) are also added to reinforce the frame/structure, and wide seam tape is applied over every seam.
When that’s all done, the result is a fully airtight and waterproof structure that can be inflated to rock-hard rigidity, and is strong enough to withstand years of regular inflation/deflation and daily use.
This is how the latest-and-greatest inflatable paddleboards are made, and how a number of the new inflatable kayaks are being made as well!
Full Drop Stitch vs. Floor-Only Drop Stitch Kayaks
Drop-stitch kayaks come in two basic designs:
1) Full drop-stitch – What this means is that both the floor of the kayak and the side chambers that form the gunwales are made using drop-stitched fabric. Typically, there will be three separate drop-stitched air chambers used—one for the floor, and one for each of the sidewalls—and are joined at the seams and reinforced with seam tape to maintain waterproofing and hull integrity.
2) Floor-only drop-stitch – These kayaks use drop-stitched chambers for the floor only and feature the standard (not drop-stitched) inflatable side chambers.
The question is: which of the two is better? Or do you even want to use a drop-stitched kayak in place of an inflatable kayak?
To answer that, we’ve got to take a look at some of the pros and cons of drop-stitched kayaks.
Pros of Drop Stitch Kayaks
Let’s start off with all the good things about this new-and-improved method of constructing kayaks:
- Higher air pressure – The standard inflatable kayak is not designed to handle high-pressure inflation. Typically, you’ll inflate the main tubes to between 1 and 3.5 PSI, which is enough to form the structure and maintain its shape while still offering the flexibility of the inflatable design. With drop-stitched kayaks, you can inflate up to 20 PSI—significantly higher air pressure, which is less likely to lose its structure/shape after hours of use (a common problem with inflatable kayaks).
- Feels similar to a hardshell kayak – Ask any experienced paddleboarder, and they’ll agree that the modern inflatable SUPs feel very similar to the standard hardshell SUP. Because of the rock-hard rigidity offered by the drop-stitched inflatable frame, there’s not a significant difference between the two (one reason inflatable SUPs have become so much more popular). The same is true with drop-stitched kayaks. While it’s not exactly the same—nothing can truly replace the rigidity, durability, and performance of a solid kayak hull, drop-stitched kayaks handle far more like a hard-shell kayak than your standard inflatable kayak.
- Better performance – If you’re looking for an inflatable kayak to use for racing, speed-paddling, whitewater paddling, or ocean expeditions, drop-stitched kayaks are the way to go. Because they handle a lot like a hard-shell kayak, their performance in terms of tracking and handling is significantly better than that of standard inflatables.
- More versatility in design – Thanks to the rigidity of the high-pressure frame, far less width is needed to keep you afloat. This means that drop-stitch kayaks are often sleeker and narrower than your standard inflatable. Designers also have more shape options available because they can use the rock-hard drop-stitch chambers to form a sturdier frame with higher buoyancy. As a result, you get performance that comes pretty darned close to being on par with a hard-shell kayak.
- Higher buoyancy – Because the kayak is inflated with air, it’s got a much higher rate of buoyant force than a hard-shell kayak. This means that they’re excellent for heavier users or anyone hauling a lot of gear.
Cons of Drop Stitch Kayaks
- Higher buoyancy – Say what? How can this be both a pro and a con? Simple: because you’re floating on top of the water (rather than slicing through it like with a hard-shell kayak), you are A) more likely to capsize with rough, choppy waters (lower secondary stability) and B) more prone to being pushed about by the wind. You’ll find handling and tracking in high-wind conditions is as hard with a drop-stitch kayak as with any standard inflatable because of its high buoyancy.
- Hard to re-enter – Users of drop-stitch kayaks have complained that they are much harder to re-enter than standard inflatable or hard-shell kayaks. Because of the ultra-rigid sidewalls and floor, there is no flex (like with inflatables) to allow you to easily remount. The narrower design also makes it more prone to tipping/flipping again in the process. And because it’s not a solid hull (like hard-shell kayaks), it’s not as stable when you’re trying to climb back on.
- Weight – There is a significant increase in material used to create drop-stitch kayaks (all those thousands of threads holding the two layers of fabric together), which of course adds a significant amount of weight. Drop-stitch kayaks will weigh easily 2-3 times as much as a standard inflatable.
- Price – And this is the real reason more people don’t buy drop-stitch kayaks! The increased complexity/intricacies of building a solid drop-stitch kayak means they cost exponentially more than your standard inflatable. In fact, while you can find decent inflatable kayaks for around $100 ($200 at the absolute max!), a drop-stitch kayak will easily run you well over $1,000. That’s as much as you’d spend on a mid- to high-end hard-shell kayak!
As you can see, there are a lot of reasons to love drop-stitch kayaks, “pros” that make them a great investment. However, it’s important that you’re also aware of the “cons” so you know what you’re getting yourself into with these new-and-improved inflatable kayaks.
Are drop-stitch kayaks as good as hardshell kayaks?
Let’s be honest: one of the main reasons that more people aren’t buying inflatable kayaks in place of hard-shell kayaks is that inflatables just don’t perform as well.
Oh, sure, they have a higher weight capacity, are more portable, and cost notably less, but they just can’t match the speed, stability, tracking/handling, and durability of a hard-shell kayak.
But now with this newcomer on the scene, we’ve got to ask: are drop-stitch kayaks as good as hard-shell kayaks? Do they meet the high standard set by hard-shell kayaks, or are they just a pricier version of the simple inflatables?
The answer is…maybe.
As you saw above, drop-stitch kayaks are a pretty good match for hard-shell kayaks in terms of:
- Versatility of design
- Weight and portability (they are the clear winners in this one!)
However, they’re not quite up to snuff with hard-shell kayaks in terms of:
- Secondary stability
When it comes to performance, drop-stitch kayaks can almost handle as well as a standard hard-shell kayak. Because of the sturdy, rigid-walled design, your paddling efforts yield far more speed and mobility than a tubby, slow-moving inflatable kayak.
So while drop-stitch kayaks aren’t quite as good (overall) as hardshell kayaks, they certainly come fairly close. Any paddler that wants to go the inflatable route should definitely consider drop-stitch kayaks as a suitably well-performing, ultra-tough option!