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How to Choose a Kayak?

How To Choose A Kayak?

Getting onboard a kayak provides you with an amazing experience beyond the view from the shore. You can reach further to offshore locations with breathtaking scenic views while enjoying the beauty of an aquatic environment.

Do you know that there are many kayak options you can select from? The one that suits you best would depend on several factors. Let’s take a look at some of them to get a better grasp on how to choose a kayak:

1. Where do you intend to paddle?

You can narrow down the available options by determining where you want to use your kayak. Perhaps a river, lake, or seacoast.

2. Sit-in vs. sit-on-top kayaks?

You can choose the sit-in design, which gives you a feeling of protection sitting inside the kayak. The sit-on-top design one the other hand is more open which also has its advantages.

It all depends on your choice.

3. The weight and budget 

The material used in constructing the boat is the most important element that influences weight, durability, and price.

4. The shape and size factors

The shape and size of the kayak will determine the amount of space you can use for storage.

Where do you intend to paddle?

Although the type of water is not used in classifying kayaks, knowing the type of aquatic body you intend to explore will help you streamline your choice. Here are the possible options:

Lakes: First of all, we are not referring to big-time lakes here. If you have a local lake near you and the weather is fair, you can simply go there, sit on your kayak, and have fun. Purely recreational boats can be used in such locations comfortably.

Coast water: If you plan kayaking on coast water, you will have to deal with wind, current, waves, and tides. That is why it is advisable to have extra accessories on your boat to enhance stability. For instance, you’ll need a rudder and a fixed tracking fin. A sit-on-top will be an excellent choice if the water is great and you hope to swim or do some kayak surfing.

Rivers: Kindly note that we’re not referring to technical rapids here. This article does not intend to cover whitewater kayaks. The short and sturdy recreational sit-in, sit-on, or day touring kayak is an excellent choice for slow-moving rivers. They are strong, stable, and can turn very quickly.

Rivers and Lakes: People who intend to row their kayak on both still and flowing waters should choose a short recreational sit-in or sit-on-top kayak. Most of these crossover boats have integrated skeg.

This type of boat allows you to turn spontaneously when the skeg goes up and also tracks efficiently when it is down. You may also choose a short kayak that has a rudder, but rudders are mostly used on longer boats.

Types of Kayaks

There are several criteria for classifying kayaks. Some of the factors used in the classification include the position of the seat, the way the boat is used, the boat structure, and whether it is purpose-built.

Comparing Sit-on-top and Traditional Sit-in Kayaks


The kayaks designed with the seat above the boat are basically for recreation in lakes and slow-flowing waters. Most of the owners of such boats row them in slow-moving coastal waters. Some of the longer ones have larger storage to carry enough equipment for an overnight trip.

People who feel stifled inside a cockpit and do not fancy taking a “wet exit” when the boat capsizes should go for a sit-on-top kayak. Here are some other factors to consider.

  • It is easy to get on board of a light sit-on-top – even if you are rowing on deep waters. That is why it’s an excellent option for casual users chilling beside the beach or as a rowing boat for kids.
  • They are quite comfortable when the air and water are warm because you will definitely get wet.
  • The presence of scupper holes allows them to be self-draining, so you don’t have to pump out the water that overflowed aboard.
  • They are equipped with deck stash spots and also a cargo space within the hollow hull.
  • Sit-on-top models are usually heavier than a sit-in kayak model of the same size.
  • Many of the sit-on-top models have fishing rod holders or provide the option to add them. So, this is a plus for those interested in fishing.

Sit-in kayaks:

These kayaks are designed as recreational boats and for touring purposes. Sit-inside kayaks move fast; they track straight and have ample cargo compartments that are secured. That is why sit-ins are excellent for paddling to farther destinations. Other features that might interest you include:

  • You’ll find them comfortable when both the air and water is cool.
  • Sit-ins allow you to add a spray skirt. However, you will need a bilge pump if you get completely swamped. You’ll have to learn how to do a “wet exit” if you are using a traditional narrow sit-in kayak.
  • You have greater control over the boat because your body is positioned to have multiple contacts with the boat through the butt, knees, and feet. This makes sit-ins fun to control and an excellent choice when paddling in rough waters.
  • You can paddle sit-ins more efficiently than sit-on-tops.

Kayak Categories

Kayak enthusiasts need to be aware of the boat categories. However, bear in mind that not all kayak makers use the same terms. Also, a brand that is described as recreational by one maker might be similar to a day-touring boat from another manufacturer. The following is a general standard used in classifying kayaks.

Recreational kayaks (sit-ins and sit-on-tops):

This type is affordable, stable, and easy to control. One can easily get on board and alight without hassles as well. They are good for flatwater or winding rivers.

It’s not advisable to use them for a longer trip, or on water with waves and rapid. Recreational kayaks have limited storage space that can only contain a few essential items.

Day touring kayaks (sit-ins):

These types are more versatile, costlier, and move more efficiently than the recreational types. These models can stay on course (straight tracking) better than the recreational models and also allow for better control when paddling on turbulent waters.

They usually have a shorter length, making these models easier to handle and transport compared to sea kayaks. They have a decent space for cargo.

Touring kayaks (sit-in sea kayaks):

These models have a longer size, stronger and efficient for paddling longer distances. Besides having an excellent tracking feature, they are often equipped with a rudder or skeg that helps cope with strong winds and fast currents.

Those who intend to do coastal kayaking or would want to go on a long trip would be better off buying a sea kayak right from the onset. An alternative would be a day touring boat that has intermediate-level features, making it easy to develop your paddling skills.

Specialty Kayaks

The options listed below are unique models for specific scenarios. Some of these designs are great for people who want to paddle with a partner or would like to use the kayak for specific purposes such as fishing.

Folding kayaks:

A folding kayak would be excellent for a person who has small space or plans to travel along with the boat to a remote location. Although these models are not as rugged as the solid ones, they are easy to handle and also have modest storage like the touring boats.

Inflatable kayaks:

Just like the name implies, these types of kayaks can be inflated when going to be used and deflated for storage after using it. Despite their mobility, these models are durable and versatile.

This type of kayak is purely recreational, so make sure you don’t venture too far from the river bank when paddling on one. Inflatables are great for flowing rivers because they bounce off obstacles. A few of them are designed as full-fledged touring boats.

Tandem kayaks:

Do you like paddling with a partner? Instead of buying two boats, you can opt for one tandem kayak and save loads of cash. Tandems are great for people looking for kayaks with extra stability or those who want to take their kids along for a paddle.

However, bear in mind that you can’t go solo on a tandem, and it can’t be used as a rescue boat. If you are sure that you’ll always be kayaking with a partner, then getting a tandem will be a wise choice.

Pedal-powered kayaks:

Do you want to perform additional tasks on your kayak? In that case, you will need to free your hands. Perhaps you want to take pictures, watch wildlife with your binocular or take samples of aquatic flora or fauna?

Then the pedal-powered kayaks will be an excellent option for you. This type of boat can either have pedals that turn a prop or push pedals that propel a pair of integrated fin-like paddles. You can stair the ship through a rudder that is controlled with the hand. Such boats have their sits installed higher to give room for the paddling motion.

Pedal kayaks are wide, which increases its stability in calm waters. Since you will be paddling with your legs, you can cover a longer distance with this kayak without feeling fatigued. Well, the downside is that this model of kayaks are quite pricey and requires consistent maintenance to keep it in good shape.

Also, solid objects in shallow waters can possibly damage the props and fins beneath the kayak. With this type of kayak, it would be more tricky to handle quick turns and navigate rough streams. Finally, pedal kayaks are quite heavy, you may have to transport it in a trailer to and from your destination.

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select a kayak

Kayak Materials, Weight and Price

Lightweight kayaks are easier to carry, you can even load the boat on the overhead storage of your car all by yourself. Another benefit of a lighter boat is that it allows you to carry more gears with your onboard. However, kayaks made from lightweight materials are costlier.

Polyethylene plastic:

This model is resistant to scratch and quite inexpensive, but it is the heaviest among all the available options. It is best to store polythene plastic kayaks in indoor locations because it degrades after extensive exposure to the UV rays of sunlight.

ABS plastic:

Kayaks made with ABS plastics are slightly pricier than the polythene models but have about the same quality. However, it is slightly lighter and features reasonable resistance to UV. This type of kayaks are thermoformed; the deck and hull are designed separately and later fused together. That is why they often have a signature 2-tone appearance.


You will get top-notch performance with this kayak made from ultralight carbon-fiber and lightweight fiberglass. However, it costs more to own this fabulous boat. Although this model is resistant to UV rays, it could face significant damage due to the impact on rocks.

Additional Kayak Considerations

Similar boat models would likely have the same weight and storage space. However, you should pay close attention to the weight capacity and the length of the kayak because they do vary significantly.

Weight Capacity:

This refers to the maximum weight that the kayak can carry. Essentially, it refers to the weight of the kayak, your weight, and that of your gear. This feature is crucial for those who usually go on a paddling tour for several days. If the density of overloaded boats becomes too high, it can undermine your ability to paddle efficiently.

The Length:

With a longer boat, people can cruise more efficiently, plus this provides ample storage space to keep your gears for an overnight tour. Although shorter hulls turn faster than the longer ones, the difference in performance can only be noticeable if it increases above two feet.

The Depth:

The deeper hulls provide more room for tall kayakers to relax their long legs. It also provides more room for storage. However, the shallow hulls are more resistant to wind.

The Width:

Although the kayaks with narrow hulls can move faster, wider hulls provide more initial stability.

Skegs, tracking fins and rudders:

All these kayak accessories help the boat to track straight and to keep its course despite wind.

  • A skeg takes the form of a fin located under the kayak that stops a sidewind from derailing the boat from its course.
  • A tracking fin serves the same function as a skeg, except that it can be withdrawn while you are paddling. Tracking fins are common with inflatable kayaks. You may also decide to remove the tracking fin if you prefer to give priority to faster turning than staying on course while paddling.
  • The rudder takes the shape of a fin installed at the back of the boat. It serves the same purpose as the skeg and tracking fin, but it is not stationary like the other two. The user can readjust the angle using a foot pedal. This makes it more valuable for mitigating sailing conditions while you are out paddling.


An excellent seat can add $100 or more to the cost of a boat. Since you will be spending lots of hours on the seat, taking the time to buy a superior one will be a smart choice.

The high-end seats have an extra adjustment and ergonomic shape that enhances your comfort. They are worth the extra cash you have to pay.

The Cockpit Size:

When the cockpit is small and snuggly fit, you’ll have more control and protection in turbulent waters. However, with a large cockpit, you can get onboard and alight from the boat easily.


These are openings on the deck of a boat that leads to the cargo area. Touring and recreational boats usually have one, while larger boats can have two.

Robert Johnson

I'm Robert Johnson the guy behind I went to my first kayaking trips with my father as a little boy and immediately fell in love with it. It is still my favorite hobby today. I love to go on kayaking trips with friends and family and I wanted to share my passion and knowledge around this wonderful outdoor activity with this website.

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