How to Choose the Right Kayak

Kayaking is much the same as any water sport in that you need the right equipment for the type of kayaking you want to do. When choosing a kayak, there are many “kayak categories” to consider that will play a pivotal role in how enjoyable, and safe, your time out on the water will be. 

Taking some time to get the ideal kayak is time well spent; however, there are so many types of kayaks out there, it’s difficult to choose the perfect kayak.

You can choose from tandem kayaks, folding kayaks, sit-on-top kayaks and sit-inside kayaks, touring kayaks, pedal kayaks, and the list goes on! 

The considerations for choosing the right vessel would include the type of water it will be used on. 

For example, consider whether you’ll use it in warm coastal waters, deep water, or in rivers or small lakes; the paddling style you have; whether it’s your first kayak; whether you’ll be going on longer trips or short excursions; your height, weight, and skill level; and the kayak weight; etc.

Your preference of sitting position will determine whether you prefer sit-on-tops or rather a recreational sit-in boat.

The types of kayaks available are pretty diverse. Choosing the right one can be fraught with uncertainty, especially if you are new to the activity. 

Our guide to choosing your own kayak will help you navigate these waters and get the best one for the job!  

How to Choose a Kayak

The right kayak for your adventure will make all the difference between an enjoyable pursuit or a complete nightmare of a trip! If you don’t enjoy being out on the boat, you are unlikely to continue using it.

Like all cars are not the same, kayaks also have specific design features based on their intended use and the environment they will be used in.

The first part of your decision-making process should be based on the activity you want to do. Then you can determine what size kayak you need, the cargo space you require, the weight capacity needed and, finally, your personal preferences.

What Will You Use the Kayak for?

Kayaks are used for many different activities. The various types of kayaks are

  • Fishing kayaks. These kayaks are designed with a wider hull to promote stability and carry additional gear. They often include extras, such as pedal systems to propel the kayak so that the kayaker’s hands are free to fish, and rod holders.

A pedal kayak can also be used if you want to take photos or watch birds, etc. 

This recreational kayak generally has more cargo space to store all the gear you need.

  • Racing kayaks. If you’re interested in competitive kayaking, you will need narrow kayaks with pointed noses and sterns. These boats are very unstable and take some time to get used to, but once you become familiar with the balance aspect, you cannot beat these kayaks for speed on the water. 

They are often made from lightweight fiberglass, for better performance, and have a rounded hull, for increased speed and maneuverability. 

  • Endurance or touring kayaks. If you enjoy adventure kayaking where you will be traveling for several days, you’ll need a touring kayak. Your touring kayak must include space to store supplies, preferably in watertight compartments. 

Light touring kayaks are longer and narrower than most recreational kayaks, making them fairly unstable and more difficult to master.

  • Whitewater kayaks. Whitewater kayaking is an extreme sport and requires a specialized kayak to handle the rough, turbulent waters and the possibility of hitting rocks in the water. 

These kayaks are short and wide to handle rough water and negotiate tight turns and gaps.

  • Recreational kayaks. If you simply enjoy a day out on the water, then you need a kayak that promotes stability and safety and one that is not difficult to master. These are usually average length.
  • Inflatable kayaks. These are a good option as a recreational kayak for beginners as they are lightweight and quite durable.  An inflatable kayak is also easier to transport than a hard-shell kayak as it can simply be deflated.

Where Will You Use the Kayak?

The type of water you will be using the boat in plays a big role in the choice of the kayak. The design of the hull and material the boat is made from will be influenced by this.

When it comes to how the kayak is made, the hull shape is also important. A flat hull makes the boat more stable, so flat hulls are great for recreational kayaking in calm waters.

A round hull makes the boat travel faster; plus, it provides better maneuverability. Pontoon hulls have primary and secondary stability but they make the boat slower.

  • Sea kayaks. Sea kayaks are built to deal with surf and swells, which will affect your selection. A sit-on-top kayak is often a favored choice for surf kayakers because the waves cannot fill the boat and cause it to sink. 

A touring or sea kayak is also roomier inside, giving the kayakers more space to stretch their legs on long trips.

Another alternative is a sit-in kayak with a splash cover (spray skirt) that seals the kayaker in the cockpit and prevents water from flooding the boat more than a sit-on-top kayak. 

Most kayaks are made from polyethylene plastic, which is designed to resist impact and rough sea conditions.

  • River kayaks. Fiberglass, carbon fiber, composite, and plastic are the common material choices for river kayaks, with fiberglass, carbon fiber, and composite being preferred for a river kayak and plastic for a whitewater kayak.
  • Dam, pond, and lake kayaks. These bodies of water are often called flat water, but the conditions out on larger lakes and dams can become surprisingly rough when the wind kicks up. 

Any type of kayak can be used on flat water. Generally, the only kayak that is not used in these waters is whitewater kayaks.

How To Choose Kayak Length

Kayaks will vary in length within the category they are designed for. Longer kayaks are often used for racing as they slice through the water, and shorter kayaks are best for narrow waters because they’re easier to maneuver.

Generally, the longer and narrower a kayak, the faster it will be and the more unstable it will be on the water. Conversely, the shorter and wider a kayak is, the slower it will be on the water, but it will be more stable.

Recreational kayaks are generally 8-feet long, going up to 13-feet long.

Once you have determined the activity you will be doing with your kayak, the kayak length within that category will be determined by a few criteria.

  • Your kayaking skills. If you are a beginner, a shorter, wider kayak would be better for you to learn how to paddle. A more experienced kayaker could select a narrower, longer boat. Sit-on-tops are recommended for children.
  • Transport limitations. Many beginner kayakers fail to take this point into consideration when buying a boat. How will you be transporting your kayak to and from the water? 

Can your vehicle handle a longer kayak, or should you opt for a shorter model, or an inflatable kayak that you can transport more easily? Obviously, a lightweight kayak is the better option for a child.

Personal Preference in Kayak Choice

The final aspect of choosing a boat is based on your personal preference.

  • Sit-in kayaks. This kayak can come in various styles and materials. A stable recreational sit-in kayak will give you better protection from the elements. 

If you paddle in all weather, including cold weather and long distances, you may want to consider a sit-in kayak for additional protection. A boat with a fixed tracking fin will also help navigate choppy water (you can take out the tracking fin prior to paddling).

A sit-in touring boat tends to be more stable than a sit-on-top kayak due to the lower center of gravity in the sitting position.

They come in different models, including recreational boats, day-touring kayaks, and touring models. They also conveniently have covered cargo compartments, so you can use them as long-journey touring boats and single-day touring boats.

  • Sit-on-top kayaks. Sit-on kayaks leave you exposed to the elements, which is okay if you do most of your kayaking in the summer. 

These kayaks are less likely to capsize if water splashes on top of the boat. They have scupper holes, which ensures any water drains through the boat.

Sit-on-top kayaks are generally wider than sit-in kayaks to improve their stability and are thus generally slower than sit-in kayaks. They have better initial stability (stability when you first get on) than sit-in kayaks. 

They are often used for kayak surfing, sea kayaking, and paddling on rivers and lakes.

  • The number of people in the boat. Some kayaks are made for single kayakers and others can take more people. If your intention is to take more than two people out for a fun day on the water, your choice should be a purely recreational boat. 

Some inflatable kayaks work well for this option, but the rigid hull boats are generally for single kayakers or a maximum of two.

Conclusion

Once you have settled on the type of kayaking you will be doing, it is best to consult a professional for a last piece of advice.

There are many choices, add-ons, and features that could influence your final choice, so it’s crucial to speak to someone who can advise you on the best selection.

Whether you prefer to paddle solo or with friends, kayaking is a rewarding, peaceful, and enjoyable way to spend a day out on the water.