How To Choose A Kayak: The Ultimate Guide

When I started Kayaking during my early 20s, it took no time to know that kayaking is a brilliant sport.

The thrill of getting out in the water, the fun to the exercise and excitement the sport provided was second to none.

However, when I slowly started getting in romance with kayaking, I did not have enough money to purchase the best kayaks that were available.

Experts said that the fun would endure for long and the expedition would be comfortable only when I had the right kayak.

I wanted to have fun.

In my quest, I did my research and came to know that there were several metrics that determined what kayak was the best.

After all; no two men are created equal and the same applied to kayaks.

With kayak sales going up by 21% in 2016, there are several options for you to pick from based on your needs and budget than what existed before.

And, no matter how little you spend, you can get a vessel that will make your journey worthwhile.

What will you be up to?

Any adventure seeker will have you know, the secret to a thrilling kayaking experience lies in pairing a kayak to its intended use.

Are you a deep sea sports angler hoping to catch a big one?

Or, are you more of a causal weekend go-getter bounding for bucket list locations?

Maybe you’re hoping to burn a few calories as opposed to enjoying the water. 

Kayaking is more than what you really think it is.​

Whitewater Kayak

For those hoping to rage the wild rapids, here’s your guy or girl (I’m in no way sexist).

It’s capitalized on speed by having a short physique with rounded bottoms or flat planning hulls.

Not only does it boast of tight cockpits but also has grab loops and central foam pillars. With this kind of utmost rigging for safety, be sure you’ll be secure during those arduous conditions.

You should note they come in different shapes and sizes- some mega short while others are longer.

When it comes to touring these kayaks are a bit dicey. No matter how hard you try, they simply can’t be paddled in a straight line.

Talk about being set in your own ways, eh?

Touring or Sea Kayaks

Viewing and exploring the architectural estates of the vast sea can be quite exhilarating with the right kayak.

Essentially, you need one that not only carries a big punch in maneuverability and distance but can also hold down plenty of gear.

These kayaks are designed for extended wilderness trips, open ocean paddling and cruising lakes, bays, inlets, coastal estuaries or slow moving waters. It doubles down on stability by maintaining a moderate length.

No cause for worry about capsizing while deep at sea! These babies are tourist friendly with a keyhole cockpit and good carrying capacity.

Plus, they have strong hatches for keeping packed lunch, camera, binoculars etc.

Recreational Kayaks

Recreational kayaks can be considered all-round boats designed for mild river trips and casual use on bays and ponds.

They differ from touring kayaks in that they are generally wider and shorter. The rationale behind that? Easier turning.

However, these features make it tricky for them to travel in a straight line. Inflatable and folding kayaks also fall into this category.

General Purpose Kayaks

A renaissance man dabbling in almost all kayaking needs; its best suited for beginners who are just finding their feet in the kayaking scene and are yet to specialize.

Albeit, it’s not as good as an expert kayak it still gets the job done. Well sort of anyway. It may be a jack-of-all-trades but it’s certainly a master of none.

Downriver Kayaks

Speed is downriver kayaks’ kryptonite, making them perfect for racing. Its design lingo is long, narrow and tippy for smooth cutting through the surface of the river.

They track fabulously but are difficult in turning.

Sit on Top Style Kayaks (open deck)

These are kayaks constructed from a solid piece of molded plastic with air inside for buoyancy.

The generous width accords them stability but are still lacking in speed.

They lack top part that covers the lower body of the user making them a hit in the fishing and surfing world.

Sit in Style Kayaks

The sit in models are the opposite of the sit on top version. They have a properly fitted cockpit, are more efficient and usually have more storage capacity.​

How is the kayak designed?

When it comes to kayaks, you definitely need to judge the book by its cover.

The design will determine stability, carrying capacity….basically EVERYTHING!

Some are nibble, streaking effortlessly through the flat surface of water whereas others are designed to ride along with the high waves.

For those hoping to brave strong currents, stability is a prerequisite.

The stability of a kayak is related to the width of the hull. The wider and flatter the hull, the more stable your kayak will be.

Hard chines and a greater flare is an added perk. Keep in mind extra width means more effort when paddling.

Buddy, if you’re looking to build upper body strength now you know which kayak to go for. A rounded bottom may seem less stable at first but wait till the boat is leaned; it holds its own perfectly.

This is referred to as secondary or final stability.

Want something fast?

Get a long, skinny one with a bow shaped like a narrow V.

Need a Kayak that can carry big loads and ride waves?

Get a hull that is broad in the beam.Symmetrical boats (branded by similar front and rear) are ideal for making quick turns especially when negotiating a small stream or whitewater.

I prefer a shorter symmetrical kayak for paddling narrow rivers for its forgiving edging and rolling. Asymmetrically designed ones are better suited when it comes to directional control, efficiency and speed.

There are two types of asymmetrical shapes- fish form has more volume in the front while Swede form has more volume at the back.

Then there are hulls that are paramount in combating resistance to the waves current and wind.

A hull’s effectiveness is contingent on the rocker; the upturn of the kayak's hull from one end to the other when viewing the kayak from the side.

Those with more rocker offer less resistance but fall short in speed. The opposite applies for those with less rocker.​

What is a good kayak made of?

What sets apart chaff from grain in the kayak world is the materials used in assembling it.

Is your kayak made of fiberglass, Kevlar, carbon fiber, plastic, wood, inflatable plastic or fabric with frame?

If you invest in cheap materials don’t expect to get a champion in return.

You also need to consider where you will be padding and how often.

For a regular paddler sculling in rough waters, plastic is most advisable. It’s a double edged sword that delivers both in weight and durability.

Plastic is also a great option for all you environment-friendly folks; it is recyclable.

Fiberglass may be more susceptible to damage, but I like that it's lighter, more rigid and more efficient in the water.

I would urge you to invest in this kind if you are rolling in the greens.

Kevlar and carbon are even lighter but come with a heavier price tag.

Wood boats are not common but the few I have seen look amazing.​

What is your kayaking skill level?

I would not expect a beginner to go rocking a recreational kayak. You’ll fall into the water no faster than you can shout help.

Most lack the basic safety features such as sufficient buoyancy at the ends, handles in case the kayak rolls over or a perimeter safety lines to hold on to in case the boat capsizes.

A touring or sea kayak with the proper buoyancy will suffice.

How do you know a kayak has buoyancy?

Check for front or rear bulkheads or float bags. Get a beginner's kayak or a fairly stable and easy to paddle one if your paddling skills are not as good.

The Sit on Top kayak is fantastic to learn on. I know from experience how one can get overexcited about buying a kayak that you forget it's not all about the now.

Do consider your skill level at the time of purchase but it's also important to keep in mind you won’t be a novice for long. It beats all rational reason to splurge money on a kayak you’ll use for only three or four runs before you render it useless.

Why buy a general purpose kayak when you know you want to pursue a certain discipline? Doesn't make much sense, huh?

You can, for instance, buy a recreational kayak even though you are a beginner but paddle a few feet of shore until you improve your skills.​

What kayaking activities will you be involved in?

If you are interested in getting tanned, a sit on top style kayak will work for you. The open space lets you enjoy the water and the sun when the weather is bright and warm.

For anglers you want one with accessories and features in line with your craft.

Many fishing kayaks now have goodies such as rod holder and additional cargo space for your gear.

Successful kayak camping begs for a kayak that has additional storage capacity such as a shock cord. Touring and Lengthy kayaks will be a perfect fit.

For hunting, photography and even fishing a recreational kayak is ideal. If you see yourself taking long trips often, buy one with built-in compasses and pumps.

Pro Tip: I have found that for slow motion activities such as bird watching, fishing or sunbathing, boats with initial stability are more comfortable.​

Transportation and Storage

A good kayak offers functionality but a great one matches it up with convenience. You need a kayak you will store and transport easily to set it over the edge.

Sit on Top style kayaks are usually broad eating up a large storage space. Carrying it is another struggle you would probably opt to forego.

Poor storage could lead to thousands of dollars down the drain. For instance, direct sunlight and heat will damage your plastic kayak.

For the extra long kayaks, invest in larger spaces. The cost incurred for storage is a pinch in comparison to the damage suffered otherwise.

​What can you afford?

Be financially smart, when purchasing a kayak.

There is no shame in buying a second hand one when strapped for cash. Be warned though; second-hand kayaks may be cheaper but they don't come with a manufacturer's guarantee or after-sale service.

You’ll have to lead with due diligence by thoroughly inspecting it. Check under the seat, around and under the cockpit, outfitting, bolts, bow areas, and stern areas.

A plastic canoe is tough and you shouldn't be put off by scratches from usual use. That said I wouldn't advise you to buy a second-hand boat online, it limits your options of sculpting it out.

Pro Tip: If you can get a retailer who allows you to try out the boat first, the better! It will allow you to have a firsthand feel and there are fewer chances you will err in your purchase.

How much easier does it make your life?

Kayaking is meant to be fun.

So why get a kayak that will sap out all the joy out of the sport? I have a few tips I have collected over the years that might help you.

Longer kayaks are easier to paddle, are more stable, track better, move faster and glide farther with each stroke.

How does that make life easier?

Greater efficiency with less effort. They also carry heavier loads with less loss of performance.However shorter kayaks are lighter, less cumbersome, make quicker turns and are easier to transport.

You decide what benefits you prefer.

I for one prefer the perks lengthy kayaks have to offer. Inflatable kayaks are quickly gaining popularity because you can store them in your car trunk after deflating.​

Your kayaking preference

Factors such as color come in play here. Do you want a bright color that stands out or camouflaged? If it's a gift, you might want to buy one in the person's favorite color.

Any Phobias?

There is nothing to be ashamed about.

Everyone has fears and if yours is the water, you can get a kayak that is designed to keep those fears under control.

With the Sit on top kayak theirs is little or no fear of feeling enclosed (for those who are claustrophobic).​

What's your height and weight?

I know this is obvious but you'd be surprised how many people forget to consider their weight and height.

It is easy to get carried away by a spectacular design and color and forget about comfort.

Well, let me warn you, when you out in the water (especially for hours) how cool the kayak is will be the last thing on your mind.

Pro tip: Get a boot with some sort of foot rest. It doesn’t matter if it’s an adjustable foot peg or a fixed bulkhead. A secure footrest provides a proper and comfortable posture.​


I think you are ready to do some kayak shopping.

About the paddle: get the lightest you can afford. The lighter the paddle the more efficient it works. Get going, great kayak adventures await!​

Kayak Fishing Team

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