How to Choose a Kayak

Kayaking is one of the most versatile water-based pastimes because it allows you to travel over nearly all bodies of water. From exploring scenic estuaries to reaching beachside campgrounds, kayaking is just a complete bundle of limitless voyaging and fun for you and your family. 

In order to ensure a smooth kayaking expedition, you have to choose a kayak that’s appropriate for your skill level and the environment you’re planning on kayaking in. This brief article will help shed light on how to choose a kayak that meets your needs and skill level, so stick around. 

1. Type of Environment

Selecting the right kayak begins with identifying the environment you’ll be kayaking in. We’re not saying that kayaks float on certain bodies of water and sink in others, but specific kayaks tend to offer optimal performance in the environments which they’re primarily designed to float on. 

Think of kayaks as if they’re cars. Just because all cars can move on a solid surface means that you’re free to take a motorsport car off-road because such cars aren’t designed to drive on such terrain. It’s the same with kayaks. Each type is designed to tackle a different environment. 

There are two main types of water environments that you can encounter. The first type is inland water environments, which include smaller entities of water such as rivers, lakes, ponds, canals, bays, and inlets. The other type is open water environments, which include seas and oceans.

Water Environments:

  • Lakes: If you’re going kayaking in a local lake where the weather is moderate and your destination isn’t far, you can use just about any recreational sit-on-top or sit-in kayak. It’s important to watch out for whitecaps, as they might endanger a recreational vessel. 
  • Rivers: In order for you to go kayaking in a river, you need a sturdy vessel that features ideal stability, and that can make quick turns. You can go for a recreational sit-on-top or sit-in kayak, or even a day touring sit-in kayak. Just make sure it’s short and stable.
  • Coasts: Coasts aren’t the easiest bodies of water to kayak, as factors such as currents, tides, waves, and wind all come into play. A sit-in touring kayak with a rudder is great for this body of water. Sit-on-top models are also efficient if you plan on going for a swim. 

If you don’t want to be restricted to a certain body of water and you’d like a kayak that’s ideal for kayaking in flowing and still waters, we highly recommend choosing a short recreational sit-in or sit-on-top kayak. Just make sure the kayak you’re about to buy features a skeg or a rudder. 

2. Main Categories of Kayaks

Now that you’ve taken into consideration the type of environment you’re going to be kayaking in, it’s time to take a look at your kayak options. There’s a broad range of kayaks out there, but in a general sense, all kayak types fall under two categories: sit-on-top kayaks and sit-in kayaks. 

Sit-on-top kayaks have their seats on the surface where you can sit with your feet uncovered. In contrast, sit-in kayaks boast enclosed cockpits that cover the lower section of your body. Picking one over the other depends on what you’re trying to achieve and what works best for you.

Sit-On-Top Kayaks

They are self-bailing, which is one of its strongest positives. With a sit-in kayak, it’s going to be your responsibility to bail it out if the water gets into the cockpit. A sit-on-top boat will have scupper holes that serve as drain holes that allow the water to leak outside of the vessel. 

Another reason why you should consider sit-on-top kayaks over sit-in boasts is that they provide remarkable mobility, thanks to the structure of the top deck. When inside of the cockpit of a sit-in kayak, your motion is quite restricted, so getting in and out of the water will be quite difficult. 

Sit-In-Kayaks

They aren’t inferior to sit-on-top kayaks at all, as they also flaunt some distinct attributes that sit-on-top kayaks lack, including greater control. Considering how your rear knees and feet are in contact with a sit-in kayak, you’ll be able to maneuver the vessel with immense grace. 

Sit-in kayaks are also more preferred in cold climates because they limit your chances of getting wet since half of your body is inside of the cockpit. Sit-on-top boats, on the other hand, will have your entire body exposed to water and climate, so they’re not ideal for colder climates. 

3. Subcategories of Kayaks

Now that we’ve shed light on the two basic categories of kayaks, it’s time to consider the various sub-categories available at the market and discuss the activities they’re most appropriate for. 

Recreational Kayaks

Most recreational kayaks tend to be sit-in kayaks that feature larger openings that allow for ease of entry and exit. Recreational kayaks are short in length compared to others, with the lengthiest of them spanning about 10 feet long. They offer ideal stability and control but aren’t very fast. 

Recreational kayaks tend to make excellent models for beginner kayakers. Their cockpits aren’t as restricting as other types of sit-in kayaks. In fact, they’re so commodious that a small kid can be accommodated as well as the adult controlling the kayak. They’re great for all skill levels. 

Recreational kayaks tend to be some of the most affordable models on the market. However, it’s not the best type of kayaks when it comes to storage, as they’re usually limited to stash spots. A recreational kayak is ideal for flatwater fun and closer destinations, not for waves and rapids. 

Touring Kayaks

Touring kayaks are some of the sleekest-looking models on the market. They’re rather long and narrow compared to standard recreational kayaks, with a minimum span of 12 feet. Whenever a touring kayak capsizes, the kayaker can use their thighs and hips to readjust the kayak easily. 

Touring kayaks, also known as sea kayaks, are built for speed, which makes them an ideal pick for racing as well as far-destination kayaking treks. Touring kayaks are optimal for tackling large bodies of water, including oceans and rivers. This type of kayak isn’t ideal for novice kayakers. 

If you’re a novice kayaker, it’s best that you look at smaller kayaks that aren’t made for speed. In addition, we wouldn’t recommend touring kayaks for solo kayakers or families that are looking to enjoy some scenery while paddling around a lake or pond. This type requires some experience. 

Fishing Kayaks

As you can tell from the name, fishing kayaks are designed primarily for the avid fisherman. This class of kayak features rod holders, large cargo storage, and a pedal propulsion system. Fishing kayaks are available in sit-on-top and sit-in models, but the former is the most popular. 

Fishing kayaks have marvelous weight-handling capacities, even more so than their recreational counterparts, which makes perfect sense considering they’re intended to withstand the weight of the fisherman, fishing gear, and the catch without any danger of imbalance or capsizing. 

Whitewater Kayaks

If you’re looking for a vessel that’s intended for aggressive types of kayaking, whitewater kayaks are the way to go. Whitewater models are featured in four categories: river runners, creek boats, long boats, and playboats, with the latter being the shortest, spanning around 6 feet in length. 

Playboats are typically used on standing waves. River runners tend to be longer and are able to withstand long trips down the river. Creek boats are even longer and heavier, which allows them to withstand drops. Longboats are the longest of the bunch, and they’re most ideal for river runs. 

Tandem Kayaks

If you’re a beginner kayaker and you’re looking to learn how to kayak with a companion, tandem kayaks are the way to go. Larger tandem kayaks tend to offer the most storage, but the problem with these models is that their excess weight can make them difficult to recover if they capsize. 

Like we’ve just mentioned, tandem kayaks are ideal if you’re planning on kayaking with a buddy of yours, especially in calm and contained bodies of water. However, when it comes to kayaking solo or in rough waters such as in seas and rivers, tandem kayaks aren’t recommended at all. 

Inflatable Kayaks

The strongest selling point that sets inflatable kayaks apart from the rest of their counterparts is their extremely compact size. These kayaks are the easiest to store and transport, making them an ideal option for people who would have issues storing other types of kayaks when not in use.

Inflatable kayaks are available in whitewater and flatwater designs, so pick the model that works best for you. Keep in mind that inflatable vessels aren’t very different from other types of kayaks in the sense that they’re not invincible to capsizing or damage, so handle them carefully.

4. Kayak Construction

When shopping for a kayak, you want to make sure you end up buying a lightweight unit so that it’s easier to carry around and load into your car. Also, a lightweight kayak will allow you to carry more gear. However, the lighter the kayak, the more expensive it’s going to be. 

Kayak Materials:

  • Polyethylene: Vessels that are constructed from polyethylene tend to be affordable and highly resistant to abrasion. However, such kayaks tend to be quite heavy and aren’t that resistant to UV sun rays, so they’ll degrade over long periods of time under the sun. 
  • ABS Plastic: This type of kayak tends to be lighter than polyethylene kayaks, but as we just mentioned, lighter kayaks tend to be more expensive, which is exactly the case here compared to polyethylene kayaks. ABS plastic tends to offer greater UV resistance too. 
  • Composite: There’s an extensive range of composite materials out there, with the most popular being carbon-fiber and fiberglass, with the former being the most lightweight. It’s true that both materials are highly resistant to UV, but can be very vulnerable to impact. 

5. Kayak Sizing

There are various sizing classifications that you can go by in order to select the right size kayak for you. We’ll use one that classifies kayaks into three main sizing categories: recreational class kayaks, light-touring kayaks, and touring kayaks. Let’s take a look at each of these categories. 

Kayak Sizing Categories:

  • Recreational Kayaks: This kayak class tends to measure at less than 12 feet in length and greater than 24-inches in width. In terms of weight, these kayaks tend to weigh in at 50 pounds. Recreational kayaks tend to offer great stability and control. 
  • Light-Touring Kayaks: This class of kayaks is about 12-16 feet long and has a width of 22-25-inches. Light-touring kayaks are heavier than recreational kayaks. This category is perfect for kayakers who are looking to strike a balance between leisure and sport. 
  • Touring Kayaks: Kayaks that are designed for long treks tend to be longer than 16 feet and have a width that’s around 22-inches. This class of kayaks is strongly recommended for professionals who are looking to take on challenging trips and weather conditions. 

Final Thoughts

With the aid of the information shared in this article, you should be able to pinpoint the right type of kayak for you. We strongly recommend gauging your skill level properly if you want to end up with a reliable kayak. If you have any questions, please feel free to let us know.