Your Ultimate Kayak Buying Guide

Have you ever wanted to glide across a serene lake or navigate the bumpy waters of winding rivers? If so, you may have just found your new favorite water sport!

Kayaking is a great sport for both experienced and inexperienced thrill seekers. Kayaking can be an individual or group activity and is popular because it’s easy to get started and can remain challenging as you become more confident and change the environment you are kayaking in.

The first step to the beginning of your kayaking adventure is getting your hands on the right gear. In order to kayak successfully, you will need a kayak (a small boat), a double-bladed oar and various safety aids. In this article, we are going to explore your options to help you find the gear that’s right for you.

How Much Money Are You Willing to Spend?

Water sport equipment does not come cheap, but buying sturdy and well made equipment are more likely to provide you with years of use and safety.

Kayaks can range in price from a single seater kayak costing $40 to in the thousands! The amount of money you are going to spend is really determined by the type of kayak you need.

Touring kayaks, inflatable kayaks, foldable kayaks, sit on or sit in kayaks are all going to vary in price as they are built from different materials. In addition to choosing your kayak you also need to consider how you are going to transport your kayak. (Are you going to buy a top of the range kayak rack?) Not to mention all of the accessories such as helmets and seats.

Deciding how much you are willing to spend is the first step in buying.

What Kind of Environment Are You Wanting to Kayak In?

Not all kayaks are created equal, just as not all rivers, coasts and lakes are created equal. Different environments present unique adventures and challenges on the water.

Lakes

Lakes are usually smooth and devoid of any bigger waves. Recreational kayaks are perfect for this more laid back adventure. Recreational kayaks can carry large amounts of cargo, depending on whether you choose a sit-on-top or sit-in recreational kayak. An inflatable recreational kayak will also be much more forgiving on your wallet.

Fishing kayaks are also perfect for spending a day on the lake. Fishing kayaks come with a large amount of space for storage of fishing or other equipment and are constructed with puncture proof materials.

Ocean

The ocean is one of the more unpredictable environments to kayak in. If you are venturing into the ocean it is advisable to look at purchasing a sea kayak. Sea kayaks are much longer than other kayaks, primarily for the purpose of tracking, which is the ability to travel in a straight line for long stretches of water.

Touring kayaks are a great kayak for use in the ocean due to its length. The long touring kayaks are more stable in rough waters.

Rivers

Rivers can be individually very different and therefore may require different vessels. White water kayaks are perfect for rougher rivers and for navigating rivers that include vertical drops, shallow runs and high volume waters. White water kayaks also perform well in rivers that are incredibly rocky. These kayaks will usually come equipped with thigh braces, foot braces and specialized moulding in the seat for extra stability, they will also be well equipped with safety features due to the more dangerous nature of kayaking on extreme rivers.

Touring kayaks are good for navigating rapids due to their stability and performance. Touring kayaks also have extra storage compartments. Because of the storage capabilities of touring kayaks, they are perfect for taking longer trips along rivers. Touring kayaks are usually made from more flexible materials which can be more forgiving on the hull if it were to be dragged or dropped over rocks on the river bed.

Are You Kayaking Alone or With Friends?

Kayaks are designed to be able to seat one to three people and kayaking can be a social sport!

Remember to take the weight of whoever you are looking to kayak with into consideration when purchasing a kayak. The total weight capacity will need to also include the weight of the gear that you and your partner or partners are loading into the kayak.

Tandem kayaks are a good choice if you wish to use your time kayaking for quality bonding time with friends or family. Tandem kayaking can be difficult to master at first as you need to be in sync with your partners but kayaking with a partner can be useful in such instances as one partner not being fit or strong enough to kayak for long periods of time. Besides that, they are also fun and allow for conversation during your kayaking.

Tandem kayaks do however limit your freedom on the water. Tandem kayaks can also be much more expensive than single kayaks, in some cases, a tandem kayak can be even more expensive than two single kayaks.

If you are torn between the two, you can invest in a tandem to solo conversion kayak. These kayaks have have movable seats which allow you to essentially convert your kayak to a single or tandem using a little elbow grease. The best of both worlds for those who want to do both!

Do You Want to Sit-On-Top or Sit-In Your Kayak?

Neither a sit-in or sit-on-top kayak is better than the other, they are just different and one will surely be more tailored to your personal requirements for a kayak.

Sit-on-top kayak

If you are looking for a kayak that is easier to use and not as time consuming to set up, a sit on top kayak is perfect for you. A sit-on-top kayak is easy to get onto as you do what the name says, and just sit on top of it.

Sit-on-top kayaks are heavier than sit-in kayaks which in turn make them sturdier. They are much more difficult to flip over and even if that does happen, they are self draining or self bailing as sit-on-top kayaks are hollow inside and fashioned with holes, known as scupper holes, which work to automatically drain any water the kayak may take on. The heaviness that makes sit-on-top kayaks so stable does also mean, however, that they are much more difficult to transport and these kayaks are much more likely to be negatively affected by the wind when on the water.

If you live near and are going kayaking in warmer weather and water then a sit-on-top kayak is a good choice as you will inevitably get wet when using one. Getting wet can be a pro or con depending on what you enjoy, just remember to get a waterproof bag for your valuables and electronics when using a sit-on-top kayak!

The cargo areas in sit-on-top kayaks are very spacious and easy to access.

Sit-in kayak

If you are kayaking in a colder climate and thus colder waters, you may prefer a sit-in kayak. As the name suggests, you sit inside this kayak as opposed to on top of it. This makes getting in and out of the kayak a bit more time consuming. Sit-in kayaks are able to fit a spray skirt, or a spray deck. A spray skirt is a considerably flexible and waterproof cover that fits into your boat, covering you and keeping you dry and warm.

Sit-in kayaks are much lighter than sit-on-top kayaks and are therefore much easier to carry and transport. Sit-in kayaks do however need to be manually pumped with a handheld bilge pump if they flood. You can protect against flooding by investing in and using a spray skirt when kayaking.

You will find a sit-in kayak to be more efficient to paddle and less sensitive to strong winds. Sitting lower inside the kayak makes it more difficult for you to be blown off of your kayak. The position of your body in a sit-in kayak also allows for greater manual control in rougher waters, as well as stronger and more efficient oar strokes.

There is not much room in a sit-in kayak for storage.

Both sit-on-top kayaks and sit-in kayaks are sturdy and safe.

Ready to select a kayak? Visit our guide on the best beginner kayaks.

Last Steps Before Beginning Your Kayaking Adventure Begins!

Water sports are fun but have the potential to be dangerous and it is important to have a responsible attitude about engaging in them. Along with your kayak and oar, these are a few accessories to consider. If you haven’t already, check out our comprehensive breakdown on what to wear when kayaking.

Helmet

A helmet will protect against head injuries in the event of your kayak capsizing. Helmets should always be worn when kayaking, especially when attempting to kayak down rapid or on rough waters.

Seat

If you are going to be using a sit-in kayak, a seat can make your time in your kayak more comfortable.

RELATED: Most Comfortable Kayak Seat

Skirt

To be used with a sit-in kayak. Using a skirt can protect against low temperatures and the flooding of your kayak.

Waterproof bag

Most kayaks have adequate and dry storage space but the waterproof bag adds extra layer of protection to sensitive possessions such as cellular phones or remote entry car keys.

First Aid kit

First aid kits are an important part of your gear when heading out into any waters. Make sure your first aid kit is stored in a waterproof bag.

It is worth noting that it is possible to rent kayaks or kayaking gear to get a feel for the product for making a purchase. In order to have a safe and fun kayaking experience it is important to do the research and determine which model of boat you need.

Personal Flotation Device

Safety always comes first when we enter an unfamiliar body of water. Wearing a life vest may one day be the difference between enjoying your day or a tragic event.

RELATED: Best Life Vests

Ready to Check Out Kayaks?

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