Inflatable kayaks have always been a portable, storage-friendly alternative to hardshell kayaks, but they were lacking in one department: handling and performance.
As you might know, the air bladders of traditional inflatable kayaks cause the boat to sit high on the water. Even though their performance is adequate for most paddlers, it is not on par with that of hardshell kayaks.
With the evolution of dropstitch technology, this has changed.
High-pressure drop-stitch floors and SUPs have been around for a while…
But manufacturers now make full drop-stitched inflatable kayaks (termed FDS) that resemble and thus perform as hardshell kayaks do.
Pros and cons of dropstitched air chambers in kayaks
Drop-stitch air chambers are held tightly together by tens of thousands of threads. These chambers are made to be flat, instead of round.
Using drop-stitch technology has a number of advantages compared with traditional air bladders:
- Can be inflated to rock-hard rigidity (~10 PSI as compared to 1-3 PSI), eliminating longitudinal sagging
- Less width, therefore smaller profile -> faster
- More complex body shapes can be created
- And as a result, you have an inflatable kayak that performs like a hard-shell kayak.
However, there are a number of disadvantages to dropstitch kayaks as well:
- The main drawback is that drop-stitch tech is much more expensive ($1,000+).
- Many paddlers feel that fully dropstitch kayaks are “tippy”, not as stable as traditional inflatable kayaks. I’ve found this to be somewhat true, they definitely need some getting used to, but it can be done.
- They are hard to reenter if you capsize. This is true since they are not as stable as wider inflatable kayaks. Taking a paddle float is recommended.
- Full dropstitch kayaks are heavier than comparable inflatable yaks, because of all the space yarn holding the high PSI chamber together.
This all means that advanced paddlers will get the most benefit out of these kayaks.
Best Fully Dropstitch Inflatable Kayaks in 2023
Innovative manufacturers like Sea Eagle and Advanced Elements have started making inflatable yaks with bodies made entirely of drop-stitch air chambers. This is a huge innovation in the market!
It brings all of the advantages of inflatables and adds the tracking and handling of hard-shell kayaks.
Here is a list of the fully drop stitched inflatable kayaks I know of (updated March 2023). While the list is not long yet, it is growing as more boat manufacturers enter the niche.
Sea Eagle Razorlite – 393rl & 473rl
Sea Eagle was the first company to create an FDS kayak in 2015, called Razorlite. Since then, they have improved upon the initial design to make it more stable.
The boat uses 4″ dropstitch material for the sidewalls and 3″ dropstitch material for the floor. There are 3 air chambers to inflate, which should take no more than 7-10 minutes.
This new version of the Razorlite has a built-in adjustable footrest, which makes controlling your boat easier and longer trips more comfortable.
You can see by the shape of the hull that the Razorlite is very sleek and sculpted to perform like a hardshell. The sharp, rigid bow and stern are molded, the hull is concave, and the large skeg all play together to enable the Razorlite to cut through waves and track straight. You can reach speeds of up to 6 MPH when paddling hard with this kayak.
The Razorlite comes in 2 lengths:
- Razorlite 393 – This is the single paddler version at 393 cm long and 71 cm wide.
- Razorlite 473 – This is the tandem kayak at 473 cm long and 76 cm wide.
I’ve used the shorter version and wrote a detailed review of it here. I like it so much, it made my list of the top kayaks of 2023.
You can easily go on multi-day trips with this kayak. The capacity of the 393rl is 225 kg, and that of the 473rl is 340 kg!
Sea Eagle Razorlite
Sea Eagle quality and performance
Best FDS kayak
The Razorlite was the first-ever fully dropstitched kayak. The kayak is stable and easy to paddle, you can use it as a canoe as well. It tracks just like a hardshell kayak, which is a big deal! It comes in 2 versions: one-person and 2-person.
Check today’s prices for both:
Advanced Elements Airvolution – AE3029 & AE3030
Advanced Elements is sure to be in the innovation game. They have also created a FDS kayak model called Airvolution, which comes in 2 sizes: the AE3029 at 396 cm and the A3030 at 442 cm.
The Airvolution only has 2 air chambers to inflate (hull and floor), which makes the job a little bit quicker.
This boat also has a removable skeg for hardshell-like tracking, and molded bow & aft nose caps to cut through the water.
The Airvolution is wider than the Razorlite though, at 84 cm for the shorter model, and 94 cm for the longer one. This make it the widest full dropstitch kayak in this list. This makes it stable, but also sacrifices some of the advantages of sleek, narrow design. In fact, it is wider than their popular AdvancedFrame model.
This kayak has an inflatable footbrace instead of the adjustable footpegs in the Sea Eagle Razorlite. The footpegs are way more advanced and provide more comfort.
The Airvolution was relased in 2020, and updated for the 2021 season. I have a feeling they will continue perfecting it.
Advanced Elements Airvolution
Stable touring kayak
The Airvolution is a little wider, thus stabler than the other full dropstitch inflatable yaks on this list. You could even use it as a SUP if you wanted to. The kayak is full of features that make it a great touring kayak, but it’s not as good at making the most out of the dropstitch technology as the Sea Eagle Razorlite.
Check today’s prices:
Itiwit Strenfit X500 (Decathlon)
Itiwit is a sub-brand of Decathlon, a sporting goods store. It developer the Strenfit X500 for intermediate-advanced kayakers who are looking for an inflatable sit-inside kayak that performs like a sit-inside hardshell kayak.
You have to give it to them, this is one great looking kayak!
It is a sit-inside kayak supported by inflatable arches inside. Alltogether, there are 5 chambers to inflate: the bottom, 2 sides, and 2 arches.
It has a coaming, which can be fitted with an Itiwit spray skirt in case you decide to go in whitewater.
Interestingly, the capacity of this kayak is rather low at 125 kg. Compare that to the 225 kg capacity of the Sea Eagle Razorlite.
The Strenfit X500 is a high performance kayak made for experienced paddlers. Many users comment on how “tippy” it is, which is evident by the design of its hull. The Itiwit website states that inflating the bottom air chamber to only 5 PSI will make the kayak more stable.
Itiwit Strenfit X500
Robust and light
For advanced kayakers
The Strenfit X500 is a sit-inside kayak that performs like a hard-shell would. It is not as stable a other inflatable kayaks though, which is the reason I would only recommend it to advanced kayakers.
Check today’s prices on:
Sea Eagle Razorlite vs Advanced Elements Airvolution
If you’re hung between which FDS inflatable yak to choose, here is a great video comparing 2 of the most popular models.
The results of the comparison between the Razorlite and the Airvolution are what you would expect:
- The wider Airvolution is more stable,
- The Razorlite is faster, but a bit tippier,
- The Razorlite has more room to pack your gear if you go on multi-day trips,
- The seats of the Razorlite are more comfortable.
All in all, the Razorlite wins out over the Airvolution. Here are the details of the Razorlite kayaks:
Should you get a full drop-stitch inflatable kayak?
Drop-stitch manufacturing processes are labor-intensive and complicated. This means products made using drop-stitch elements will always be more expensive.
Whether you should get a fully drop-stitch inflatable kayak depends on how you plan on using your boat. And your budget of course.
- Beginner recreational paddlers will be just fine with traditional inflatable kayaks.
- Intermediate paddlers looking to go on longer trips can start flirting with the idea of buying an FDS inflatable kayak, but even they will be OK with a high-performance kayak like the AE AdvancedFrame or the Expedition.
- Advanced kayakers with a large-enough budget will get the most benefit out of fully drop-stitch kayaks.
If you have experience with FDS kayaks or know of any good ones not on this list yet, please leave a comment below.
Can a full dropstitch kayak replace a hardshell kayak?
Yes, a quality dropstitch kayak like the Sea Eagle Razorlite is just as good as a hardshell kayak, with the added benefit of easy portability.
No more messing around with roofracks and figuring out where you are going to store the hardshell during winter.
Inflating and deflating a dropstitch kayak takes 10 minutes, and the boat is half the weight so you don’t need 2 people to carry it.
9 thoughts on “Full Dropstitch Inflatable Kayaks (Perform Like Hardshells?)”
I recently tried out a Razorlite 373 after years of paddling around in an Advanced Elements Sport inflatable. I gotta say, I did not really like it and am now planning to sell it. Your advice about it being for more advanced and serious paddlers is spot on, for my use I found the tippier nature too difficult to adjust to (especially since I like to paddle with my small dog who rarely sits still in the boat). It’s also a very straight tracking streamlined boat which makes maneuverability on it fairly poor. It seems like an amazing boat for covering large distances efficiently, but that made it a pretty poor turning boat and too thin to feel really stable on.
I think I’m just going to pick up a drop stitch floor insert for my advanced elements kayak for the time being (I’ve tried the backbone, but it hurts my tailbone for longer paddles). I think the wider airvolution might be better for my use than the razorlite however for the money I feel like the drop stitch insert will be a good compromise.
I agree, the AE Airvolution isn’t that much better than their older kayaks, but it costs almost $1000 more.
As you said, get a dropstitched floor, and you’ll have what you need.
Mice ate holes in my Aquaglide Klickitat 2, so I am looking for my next kayak for class III whitewater. I hope someone will soon make a FDS with removable floor that is self bailing and wide (for my wide bum as well as stability), but able to both track and maneuver. Do you know of any? Thanks
The AE Airvolution is quite wide at 37″. As a comparison, the SE 393rl is just 28″ wide.
Tom: Really appreciate your site. I am looking for a 2-person inflatable kayak that will be primarily used in the San Francisco bay, and other relatively flat water environments.
Top priorities are portability, safety, durability and performance (don’t want a tub that can’t go upwind, gets blown around and/ or is slow inefficent)
Price is not an issue.
Sure, definitely the Sea Eagle Razorlite 473. It’s an awesome kayak and will serve you well.
How does the KXOne slider compare to the Razorlite?
I’ve never sat in one, but they are much wider than the Razorlite, meaning that will have more primary stability, but be slightly slower. The Sea Eagle Razorlites are 71cm and 76 wide, while all of the KXOne’s are 85cm wide.
Nice video. Have you tested the Razorlite in waves? If ever you so a video, I would LOVE to see that!