How to Choose a Kayak – Tips on Picking the Right One!

Though most kayakers start out with some sort of recreational kayak, as time goes on they often realize they want a specific style of kayak. Many kayakers enjoy lake kayaking, fishing from their kayak, whitewater kayaking, or ocean kayaking.

When you are purchasing a kayak, whether it is your first or fifth, you must consider where you will use your kayak and what you will use your kayak for. We wrote this guide to help new and seasoned paddlers figure out just how to choose a kayak.

Where Will You Take Your Kayak?

If you kayak on calm water, such as lakes or ponds, you want to choose a kayak with a wide beam.

This also means choosing a kayak of an average length, typically between 10 and 14 feet.

These kayaks are excellent for calm water, as they are stable and track with ease.

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For rivers, you often want a shorter kayak with a more narrow beam. This narrow beam allows you to kayak with the knowledge that you will not tip as easily and you can still handle tough turns and choppy waves.

Also, make sure you choose a lightweight kayak. This way, if you tip, you can flip the boat easily. Flipping kayaks is a very difficult activity.

If you are choosing to kayak in a river, keep in mind the currents and rapids often change very quickly. Even if you believe your river to be calm, a sudden downpour can completely change the environment.

Meanwhile, for oceans, kayakers should choose a very long, narrow kayak. The length helps you to stay stable on the intense waves which can come up.

However, the width makes it slightly easier for kayakers to keep the boat on a straight path. This ability to steer your kayak is often referred to as tracking. Since you do not need to take sharp turns on the ocean as much as you do on rivers, the length is vastly different.

What Kinds of Kayaking Trips will You Be Enjoying?

If you are planning on using your kayak for long distances or for camping trips, you have several considerations. First, you must think about the amount of gear you will be bringing. Often this means making sure the kayak you purchase has a high weight capacity.

You must also think about how you will carry your gear. Some kayaks have enough room to store your gear inside the cockpit. However, the best kayaks are sit on top kayaks. Sit on top kayaks allow you to carry all of your gear right on top of the kayak.

Make sure you have adequate bungee storage, though! If you do not have adequate bungee storage, all of your gear can easily spill if your sit on top kayak tips.

Alternatively, if you are planning shorter trips, you should only need a kayak with enough weight for day supplies. Typically this is a very low weight capacity. Kayaks for shorter trips do not need much storage, either.

How Much Have You Kayaked?

If you have not kayaked much and do not feel comfortable kayaking, you must purchase a kayak which is safe for you. Typically this means purchasing a recreational kayak.

Again, recreational kayaks are kayaks which are wide and under 12 feet. These kayaks are very stable in the water and are adequate for most kayaking activities. These are safe and comfortable kayaks for all kayakers.​

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These kayaks are also very easy to steer. Steering is often referred to as tracking in the kayak world. Recreational kayaks are often very easy to move where you want them to go.

If you are a more advanced kayaker, purchase a kayak which is designed for your preferred activity. This often means a long and skinny kayak.

Keep in mind, these long and skinny yaks are truly designed for the advanced. They are often more difficult to paddle and take experienced finesse.

On occasion, you may need a short and skinny yak. This kayaks are also difficult to steer.

Any narrow kayak is going to tip much more easily, but can also handle the back and forth motion of difficult waters. Be cautious purchasing a narrow kayak if you do not know how to get out of your kayak.

Are You Kayaking Alone or with a Friend?

If you are kayaking solo, you need a kayak with only one seat. This is standard for most kayaks, as they allow you to feel comfortable and sit alone.

However, tandem kayaks are a different option. Tandem kayaks are made for two or more people.

This does not mean that they can only be used by two people. Tandem kayaks can be used by solo kayakers as well.​

This allows for great diversity in how you travel. This also allows for extra storage room in your kayak and for extra comfort for all passengers.

Keep in mind as well, if you purchase a tandem kayak and you have a large dog, you can bring the dog with you in the extra seat. Tandem kayaks are the best kayaks for dogs to come with their owners.

Whether you are kayaking solo or tandem, however, there are many seats to consider. These seat styles afford different levels of comfort and different difficulties of use.

The most basic option is the molded in kayak seat. This seat is literally just part of the kayak and often has no additional features. This seat is often unable to be adjusted and it not considered very comfortable.

Molded in seats are often hard to get in and out of, as they are a slippery piece of plastic. When the water hits them, you may find it difficult to get out. Molded in seats are not recommended for older or unbalanced kayakers.

A second option is the fabric seat. It is oven a padded seat covered with mesh, which sits right on the floor of the kayak. This is a fairly comfortable seat and is often adjustable. These seats are fairly standard for most kayaks.

For kayaks which are sit on top or fishing kayaks, or both, there is a third type of seat. This seat is raised off of the floor of the kayak, much like a fishing boat seat. This allows for more comfort for those who struggle to get in and out of a kayak.

Have You Considered Inflatable Kayaks?

Inflatable kayaks are often considered an entirely different breed of kayak. Many traditional paddlers are very nervous when purchasing or considering purchasing an inflatable.

The reason these kayakers are nervous about inflatables is because they tend to be easy to puncture. However, over the last few years the materials for these kayaks have become much more durable.​

Additionally, the kayaks often have multiple chambers. This means that if there is a puncture, only a section of the kayak will deflate, keeping you afloat.

However, inflatable kayaks are beneficial when you have very little storage area. Inflatable kayaks are the best kayaks for small apartments. They are also the best kayaks for small vehicles. Inflatable kayaks deflate into very small bags.

Types of Kayaks

There are many types of kayaks, but here we will touch on six of the main types of kayaks. If you are looking for one of these kayaks, this is simply a brief description--considering checking out our longer articles for more information

Recreational Kayaks

As stated, recreational kayaks are under 12 feet and wide. This means that they are difficult to tip and provide stability for new kayakers.

If you are looking for a kayak for a specific activity, these are often not the kayaks you want to purchase.

However, these kayaks are excellent for basic day trips or touring. Due to their stability and ease of tracking, you should have no issue paddling these kayaks around a calm lake, river or pond.

Sit on Top Kayaks

Sit on top kayaks are kayaks which have the seats installed on top. These kayaks are important for many reasons.

First, they tend to afford much more storage than other kayaks. This is because of the open cockpit on top of the kayak.​

They also have the ability to allow extra safety for the kayaker. If a standard kayak tips over, the kayaker has to perform an eskimo roll to escape. This can be dangerous and difficult and often requires training in order to escape.

However, with a sit on top kayak, the eskimo roll is not required. This is because the kayaker is not trapped in the cockpit of the kayak, as there is no internal cockpit.

River Kayaks

River kayaks tend to be shorter and more thin. This allows them to handle difficult currents and waves of rivers.

If you know that your river is calm and does not have whitewater, then a standard whitewater kayak will handle just fine for you.

However, for those looking for the thrill of rapids, you must purchase a river kayak.​

Ocean Kayaks

Ocean kayaks are a completely different breed of kayak. These kayaks must be long in length and extremely thin.

This sizing allows the kayak to handle intense waves and changing currents of the ocean.

However, the kayaks also must be made of fiberglass or a composite material. This allows the kayak to be even more durable. 

Durability is important, as obstacles in the ocean can be much more difficult than obstacles in other bodies of water.​

Fishing Kayaks

Fishing kayaks have many requirements to allow for ease of kayaking while fishing. There are many features to look for in a fishing kayak.

The best fishing kayaks on the market are Hobie kayaks. Hobie kayaks allow for the kayaker to fish while pedaling their feet to move the yak. They can move the kayak forward and in reverse with the pedals.​

A fishing kayak should also have fishing rod holders. There are mounted fishing rod holders, which are stiff and mounted in the kayak.

There are also deck mount rod holders. These rod holders can be stiff or they can rotate. They are not molded into the kayak, but sit on top of the kayak’s plastic surface.

Additional features which may be preferred for fishing kayaks are sonar containers, large tackle box storage compartment, live wells, utility tables, and paddles with hooks on the end.

All of these features allow for more time spent fishing and less time worrying about maneuvering your kayak.

Tandem Kayaks

Again, tandem kayaks allow you to kayak with a partner or two. Some kayaks are designed specifically for three people.

Most tandem kayaks allow two people and a small child or pet. These kayaks often have high weight capacities and lots of storage area.

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If you will not kayak with a partner, but you know you need a kayak with the most storage, these tandem kayaks are ideal.

Things to Consider When Buying a Kayak

There are many features to consider when you are looking for a kayak to purchase. The biggest question is what activity will you use the boat for?

Remember, if you do not have a specific activity you will be using the kayak for, choosing a recreational kayak may be your best bet. This ensures your safety as well as your comfort.

However, if you enjoy fishing, purchase a fishing kayak. Likewise, there are kayaks designed for river kayaking, ocean kayaking, and tandem kayaking. Each of these kayaks allow you maximum features for your chosen activity.

You must also consider the location for your kayaking experience. If you are choosing from lakes, oceans, and rivers, you absolutely must purchase a kayak for that body of water.

This is especially true when it comes to oceans and white water rivers. If you purchase a kayak that is not designed for your territory, you can put yourself in danger.

However, if you are choosing a lake or a calm river, most kayaks will fit the bill. They will keep you safe and allow you to enjoy your kayaking experience.

KayakBest is among the largest and most dedicated kayak review sites. We aim to help enthusiasts discover the best tips and products for an enjoyable paddling experience.

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