Are you excited about hitting the waters on a kayak? First, you need to find the right boat based on where you want to paddle, how you plan to use the kayak, and other technical specs. But, the moment you hit the market searching, you will notice many kayak choices, each designed to perform best in a particular situation.
While some are good for expert kayakers, others are designed to get you started. So, before you settle on a specific kayak, you have to be clear about your needs, intentions, preferences, and experiences.
I am here to make things easy for you. I will discuss everything you should consider to pick the right kayak that suits your needs.
What to consider when picking a kayak?
Here are some of the questions that will help you narrow down to the suitable kayak for your needs.
1. Where do you intend to use your kayak?
Ocean, large lakes, and bays: Go for touring kayaks
While the ocean, large lakes, and bays are sometimes calm, they often experience strong currents, winds, and choppy conditions. In such situations, a touring kayak, preferably sit-in, is the best option as it is more buoyant with better tracking. Sit-on-tops are also best if your place is warm or you intend to do kayak surfing.
The extra length of the touring kayak and sometimes rudder or skeg improves the tacking. More buoyancy comes from large air-tight storage compartments that make self–rescue easy when paddling solo.
Small lakes, calm rivers, and marshes: Go for fishing or recreational kayaks
Small lakes, quiet rivers, and marshes experience calm conditions that don’t call for anything fancy to paddle. Therefore, recreational and fishing kayaks will work just fine. They are easy to get in and out, stable, simple to turn, and affordable.
Consider a sit-on-top fishing kayak with extra accessories such as tackle boxes, tie-downs for coolers, and rod holders for angling.
Swift rivers and waves: Go for whitewater kayaks
It is not recommended to run rapids if you are a beginner. You should master kayaking skills on calm waters before trying it on swift rivers. All in all, whitewater kayaks are the best options for speedy waters. They are shorter for improved maneuverability and contain rockers that make them easy to ride over waves.
2. How do you intend to use the kayak?
Apart from the environment you intend to paddle in, the type of kayak activities you are interested in dictates the best vessel for you. Each boat is designed for a reason; to meet specific needs and serve in a particular way.
So, ask yourself; what is the specific purpose of your kayak? Then, check the options below:
recreational kayaks: Best for short leisure trips on calm waters
If you want to adventure on calm waters, then recreational kayaks are the best option. The vessels are short in length, mainly 10 feet long, making them more maneuverable. Therefore, kayakers of all skills can paddle the kayak with ease as they tend to be more stable and simple to turn.
Touring kayaks: Good for multi-day trip and long-distance paddling
Touring kayaks are narrow, long, and more robust, making them good for long-distance or multi-day trips. They are built for speed, and they track well, thus efficient over distances. The skegs or rudder on the touring kayaks makes it easy to deal with currents and winds.
Whitewater kayaks:Suitable for running rapids
If you want a vessel for aggressive kayaking, go for whitewater kayaks. The boats feature enhanced rocker profiles and shorter hulls for greater maneuverability on rapids.
Whitewater kayaks come in four types:
- Playboats- Shorter, mostly 6 feet long, and are the best fir standing waves and holes
- River runners– slightly longer and are best for taking a trip down the rapids
- Creek boats– Longer and heavier than playboat and river runners. They are designed to withstand drops.
- Longboats– Longer than their counterparts, usually 12 feet. They are ideal for local park waters, narrow and fast-moving water rails, and river rapids.
Fishing kayaks: Best for anglers
If you are an avid angler, consider buying a fishing kayak. The vessels feature extra accessories such as rod holders to facilitate fishing. The motorized pedal propulsion system, extra cargo storage, extra wide beam, and above-average stability make the fishing kayaks best for anglers.
Tandem kayaks: Best f you intend to paddle with a friend, partner, or family member
If you intend to tag an extra person along, consider the tandem kayak. The vessel has more extra seats and space to accommodate one additional or more persons. It is best used in calm waters as it may be difficult to recover tandem kayaks when capsizing. And, due to this, the tandem kayaks are not good if you intend to paddle solo.
Go for foldable or inflatable kayaks: Best for campers, hiker, and adventurers who intend to kayak on their trips
Whether recreational, fishing, tandem, touring, or whitewater kayaks, going for foldable or inflatable design is best if you are planning to travel with it. The kayaks function well like traditional ones, but they make it easy for you to store and transport. Foldable types can be folded to small sizes and unfolded once you get to your destination. For inflatable types, you pump in air when you need to use and deflate once you are done.
3. Which type of kayak is ideal for you? Sit-in or sit-on-top
Whether to go for sit-in or sit-on-top depend on the intended use, your preference, and the environment you intend to paddle in. So, no one type is better than the other, but it depends on what is comfortable for you, your paddling style, and the water environment.
Check the details of the two options below to know what is best for you:
Sit-in kayaks: Suitable for long-distance paddling as it gives you great control, dryness, and warmth
Sit-in kayaks feature an enclosed cockpit that lets you sit inside while you paddle. They are best in challenging conditions as they keep you protected from weather elements.
Advantages of sit-ins
- Great control as your feet, knees, and rear are in contact with the kayak for accurate maneuverability.
- It keeps you dry and warm as your lower body is beneath the deck
- More storage space
- The lower center of gravity makes it easy to paddle
Disadvantages of sit-ins
- Difficult to get in and out, making self-rescue a challenge
- No scupper hole, therefore not self-bailing
Sit-on-top kayaks: Suitable for recreational activities, fishing and are good for beginners
Sit-on-top kayaks feature an open deck with seats on top of the surface, making it easy to get in and out of the vessel. They are good for beginners as it is easy to paddle and do self-rescue in case it capsizes.
Advantages of sit-on-tops
- Use-friendly as it gives you great mobility
- Self-bailing, therefore, doesn’t fill in water
- Easy to get in and out; therefore, good for beginners
Disadvantages of sit-on-top
- Exposes you to weather elements thus not good for long-distance paddling
- Hard to access cargo space
4. What are the technical specs that matter?
Once you have an idea of the kayak that will work best for you based on the paddling environment and the intended purpose, you also need to narrow down on the important technical specs.
Check below the specs that dictate the performance of a kayak to pick wisely:
Kayak length and width
Long and narrow kayaks slice through water faster and straighter. They offer more storage space and are suitable for a long-distance trip. Shorter and wider kayaks tend to be more stable and offer great maneuverability. Smaller vessels are thus good for beginners who are more concerned about safety than speed.
The capacity of kayaks varies and is usually indicated under the specs. Note that the capacity considers bodyweight plus any other equipment and supplies you wish to carry along. Always stay below the capacity as exceeding compromises on stability and maneuverability.
How do you intend to carry your kayak to the shore? Ensure you can get the vessel without much struggle. If you can’t manage heavier kayaks, go for inflatable types or one made of light hard-shell materials. This will make transport hassle-free and give you peace of mind whenever you plan for a kayaking trip.
Hull shape affects the kayak’s stability. As such, choose one based on your kayaking ability to stay safe while paddling. The hull shapes to consider include:
- Flat: Flat hull-shaped kayaks are best for beginners as they are stable and maneuverable.
- Rounded: Rounded bottom kayaks are best for rough waters as they tilt easily in either direction. They do not perform well in calm waters as they may seem less stable and thus not good for a leisurely kayaking experience.
- V-shaped: V-shaped kayaks have better secondary stability and cut through the water with better speed and tracking. They are therefore good for long-distance and touring trips.
- Pontoon: Pontoon kayaks have better primary and secondary stability, thus very stable. They are best for beginners who want a leisurely kayaking experience. However, they are slower.
Most kayaks are made of polyethylene plastic, ABS plastic, and composite materials. The materials affect the outer appearance, durability, performance, and price.
Composite are the most expensive but with great performance and great strength-to-weight ratio.
ABS plastics are more affordable than composites with reasonable weight and good performance. They are also UV resistant, unlike polyethylene plastic kayaks.
Polyethylene plastic vessels are the most affordable with good impact resistance. However, they are heavy and are not durable.
Key Insights & Takeaway!
When picking a kayak, you should keep in mind that there is no one-fit-all kayak. What works best for me might not be right for you. Centre you search on what is right for you based on the following;
- Where you intend to use your kayak
- How do you plan to use the kayak
- Your preference: whether sit-in or sit-on-top
- Important technical specs
And, although they are other details that expert kayakers may want to consider, the one I have discussed above will help you narrow down to the best kayak that serves your needs.