by Kevin

November 7, 2021

How to Choose a Kayak

Buying a kayak is exciting, especially if you are an outdoorsy person, is the best feeling ever. However, finding the best kayak that fits your needs can be a little bit tricky since there are lots of options to choose from. This article provides you with lots of information on how to choose a kayak that perfectly suits your needs.

If you want the best kayak, then you’ll have to consider where and how often you paddle, whether you’ll be in calm waters or rough ocean waves. Your choice could also depend on whether you’re looking to spend your time enjoying a relaxed experience surrounded by nature or even going for an adventurous trip.

Your kayak could allow you to access scenic beach campgrounds, enjoy breathtaking views, explore estuaries, enjoy your morning workout in the lake, or have fun with the kids. Some key ideas could help you decide on the best kayak choice.

They include:

  • Sit-on-top sit-in kayaks
  • Locations that you frequent
  • Kayak and paddler weight
  • Size and shape
  • Hull type
  • Solo vs. tandem
Where Will You Use Your Kayak

Where Will You Use Your Kayak?

Kayaks aren’t categorized depending on paddle locations. However, researching this category could help you make a more informed decision regarding the kayak type you want to purchase. Also, you should consider learning how to launch the kayak you buy.

Lakes

You could go for a sit-on-top kayak if you want to paddle on lakes. However, you have to keep in mind that by “lakes,” we don’t mean big lakes. Rather, small lakes with calm waters that you could sit in and have a relaxing experience.

Rivers

If you plan to kayak on a river (and we aren’t talking about rivers with rapids), then you could go for a stable and sturdy craft with quick turning ability. You could go for a sit-on-top, sit-in, or a day touring sit-in kayak.

Coasts

Coasts have more turbulent waters with winds, waves, tides, and currents. As such, it would be good to have a sit-in touring boat fixed with a rudder and a tracking fin (or a skeg). You could also use such sit-in kayaks if you live in a warm environment (where you wouldn’t mind going for a swim) or if you plan on doing some kayak surfing.

Rivers and lakes

If you plan to paddle on rivers and lakes, you could go for short, recreational, sit-on-to,p, or sit-in kayaks. The crossover boats often have a skeg that could help you steer the kayak.

What are the Type of Kayaks?

Kayaks often come in two types: sit-on-top (SOT) and sit-in (SI). In addition to this, they are also available in doubles and singles and could come as inflatables or hard shells.

While there are some significant differences between these two kayaks, they also have a few similarities. For instance, most of them have seats, some form of footrest (or pedals). Foot pedals are great since they are very convenient, especially if you plan to spend a lo time in the water.

You could also go for kayaks with in-built backrests to give you a more comfortable experience, especially if you plan to spend a lot more time in the water. Note that there isn’t much difference between these two types of kayaks.

What are the Type of Kayaks
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Sit-on-top kayaks

Sit-in kayaks are often used for recreational purposes. They are more user-friendly, stable, and easy to get into or out of. They don’t make users feel confined, and they have small holes that help drain any excess water from the surface.

They are the best option for nervous kayakers, warm environments, and people who love kayaking with kids that can (and love to) swim. Sit on top kayaks are virtually unsinkable due to their enclosed design. They are also more stable because of their wider design.

One major downside with sit-on-top kayaks is that they are a bit unstable, especially if they are exposed to strong winds. They also tend to expose users to the elements, especially when compared to a sit-in kayak.

Sit-in (traditional) kayaks

Sit-in kayaks have excellent secondary stability since their design allows for a lower center of gravity. They enable the paddler to lean on to the side promoting better turning capability and helping them stay more upright, especially when paddling in rough seas.

As mentioned earlier, their low center of gravity allows for a more streamlined design that will enable them to go faster compared to seat-on-top kayaks. Paddlers require less effort and shorter paddles to propel the kayak forwards. As such, they are best suited for long-range paddling expeditions.

They are less affected by wind, protect paddlers from the harsh environment, and are less affected by winds. Plus, they help keep paddlers dry since they lack scupper holes typical to sit-on-top kayaks.

One of the biggest cons of sit-in kayaks is that they have a cockpit, making paddlers feel confined, especially if the kayak capsizes. In addition to this, their design also makes it hard for paddlers to get in if the kayak does capsize.

What are the Different Kayak Categories?

Touring kayaks (sit-in sea kayaks)

Touring kayaks (sit-in sea kayaks)
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Touring kayaks tend to have snug cockpits and a narrower design. They are also longer, which makes them go faster. Touring kayaks have high knee-cups that provide you with more edging control of the kayak. They are a bit costlier, track well, and have a rudder that helps with wind and currents. They have ample cargo space.

Day touring (sit-in) kayaks

Day touring (sit-in) kayaks
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These kayaks are more streamlined and efficient compared to recreational kayaks. They are often costlier but provide more control when paddling in rough water and track straighter. They are shorter than sea kayaks making it easier to transport them. They also have a moderate amount of cargo space.

Recreational kayaks

Recreational kayaks
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Sit-in kayaks can further be divided into recreational and day touring kayaks. Recreational kayaks have a wider design with a less confined cockpit. They are stable, affordable, and easy to get in or out of. They are great for flat water and meandering rivers and not so great for longer trips, rapids, or waves. They have limited stash spots.

Specialty Kayaks

Inflatable kayaks

Inflatable kayaks

You could also go for some inflatable kayaks if you want something more portable. Kayaks made from inflatable materials are easier to paddle, can be rolled up and moved quickly, plus, they are made from relatively durable fabrics. They are also quite fast and versatile in comparison to those made from more generic materials.

Folding kayaks

Folding kayaks

Folding kayaks are great for individuals that live in apartments. They are great for individuals that travel to remote locations for fun trips; however, they aren’t as efficient as generic kayaks. However, they are great for handling and storage.

Pedal-powered kayaks

You could choose peddle-powered kayaks if you plan on going for lots of fishing expeditions, photography sessions, or wildlife watching. You could propel the kayak with bike-like pedals and steer it with a hand-controlled rudder. 

However, it would be good to note that these fishing kayaks cost more, require more maintenance, and aren’t great for rapid or shallow waters. They are also heavier than traditional kayaks.

Tandem kayaks

Tandem kayaks

You could purchase a solo kayak if you often kayak by yourself. However, if you have a significant other, a friend, or a child, that you enjoy kayaking with, then it would be a good idea to go for a tandem kayak.

Some tandem kayaks also allow you to turn the seats to face each other, making for smoother conversations. Choosing this type of kayak could be a great way for you to spend some time with your kayaking partner.

However, you could also opt for a tandem kayak regardless of whether or not you have a kayaking partner. Just in case you want to invite your friend or partner.

How to Choose a Kayak: Materials Weight and Price?

There are also many reasons why it would be good to check your kayak’s weight before making a purchase. Most kayak hulls are designed with a hard shell made of durable plastic. Such hulls require minimal maintenance; however, they could prove more challenging, especially when loading them onto your truck.

  • Polyethylene plastic: This material is abrasion-resistant and inexpensive; however, it is still the heaviest option. Please keep it in a cool area away from direct sunlight.
  • ABS plastic: Kayaks made from this material are more expensive than polyethylene, but they offer similar durability. However, they are lighter, which makes them slightly more costly.
  • Composites: Kayaks made from materials like Kevlar, carbon, and fiberglass are lighter. However, keep in mind that such materials aren’t as durable, and it would be a great idea to take care of them correctly. In addition to that, they tend to cost significantly more.

What Additional Kayak Considerations You May Have?

Kayak width

Similar to length, narrower kayaks tend to go faster compared to wider kayaks. However, broader kayaks tend to be more stable, albeit slower. If you want a narrower kayak, then it would be better to go for sit-in kayaks; however, if you want a more stable kayak for leisurely cruises, then it would be a better idea to purchase a sit-on-top kayak.

Kayak length

An average kayak is about 10ft long. However, a wide range of lengths is available, ranging from about 6ft to 16ft. However, the general rule is that longer kayaks go faster, while shorter kayaks are more stable and maneuverable.

Thus, if you want to explore some rapids, it would be good to go for a shorter kayak. However, if you plan to purchase a kayak for more recreational activities, it would be a good idea to go for longer kayaks.

Kayak depth

The ultimate consideration when selecting the perfect kayak is how comfortable your experience will be. It will be a great idea to purchase relatively long kayaks with more depth if you are tall.

This is an essential factor, especially if you plan on kayaking for extended periods. Longer kayaks tend to provide you with more leg groom allowing you to move and adjust your legs to get more comfortable. This could also help you control the kayak better.

However, if you don’t adjust well to confined spaces, it would be good to go for a sit-on-top kayak. They have a molded section where paddlers can rest their legs while kayaking. This could be a more comfortable and versatile option for individuals with differing leg lengths.

Tracking fins, skegs, and rudders

These additional kayak accessories help your kayak track straighter in the wind. 

  • A skeg refers to a drop-down fin that helps your kayak stay on course when blown against by the wind.
  • A tracking fin: It’s commonly found in inflatable kayaks and works similarly to the skeg; however, it cannot be retracted when paddling. You could remove it before paddling if you wish to turn quickly as opposed to staying on course.
  • A rudder is a fin that flips down from your kayak’s back and can be readjusted using foot pedals.

Seats

A great seat could cost you $100 more; however, this could be worth it, especially if you spend a lot of time kayaking. Great seats are good for your back since they ensure that your spine and muscles get the support they need.

Hatches

Hatches provide access to interior storage areas. Recreational and day touring boats have one hatch, while bigger touring boats have two. Choosing a kayak with bigger hatches is great if you plan on going for long kayaking sessions.

Cockpit size

As mentioned before, you could choose your cockpit based on your preferences. Wider cockpits make it easier for you to enter or exit the kayak, while narrower cockpits provide you with better control and protection from the elements.

How to Choose a Kayak: Conclusion

Choosing the best kayak that fits your needs isn’t a spur-of-the-moment decision. Please take your time and choose a kayak that perfectly suits you and fits your needs. 

Always paddle in waters that your kayak is designed for. Exposing your kayak to conditions with which it wasn’t intended could affect its integrity, which can be unsafe. It would also be a great idea to purchase additional accessories like a personal flotation device, dry bags, a spray skirt, a whistle, and some kayak safety gear kit.

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About the author 

Kevin

Kevin loves bouldering. Mainly because he can practice it alone without considering other people. Although he rediscovered this hobby in the last three years, the boulders turned out to be his most visited landmarks.

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