How to Choose a Kayak: Top 5 Factors to Consider

Many people enjoy kayaking for recreational purposes and to experience nature. So it’s no surprise that kayaking is not only a sports activity, but also a social one to escape the hectic urban lifestyle.

There’s a lot to consider when choosing a kayak; including maneuverability, strength, bow flexibility, stability, and rock design. All these performance factors build the foundation of a kayak. They will also help you determine your ideal fit in half the time! So, are you ready to choose the right kayak, at a cost-effective price?

Choosing the Ideal Kayak Type

As with any large purchase, picking the right type before finalizing any purchase is essential. In the case of kayaks, there are a few common types you should be aware of.

Knowing each depends on your kayaking conditions and portability. So choose wisely.

Sit-on-top kayak:

sit-on-top kayak, as the name suggests, is good for beginners as well as children. If you’d like to indulge in some fun kayaking time, with the added effort of assembly and maintenance, buying a sit-on-top kayak is suitable for you.

Weather wise, a sit-on-top kayak works well in warmer climates. You can try a fishing kayak too, which offers taller and wider seats.

Inflatable kayak: 

An inflatable kayak comes with a manual or electric pump.

It’s the only incomparable kayak on the market due to its distinct portability and ease of use.

They are usually 15 feet long, of PVC-coated polyester and rigid frames.

Whitewater kayak: 

A whitewater kayak comes with a rounded bottom, minimal shines, and up to 10 feet long design.

It’s engineered to roll easily, making minimal contact with the water surrounding it.

Because of its design, a whitewater kayak is not as maneuverable as traditional kayaks. This makes them powerful for white water, which is a comparatively fast flowing environment.

Surf kayak: 

Just like a whitewater kayak, a surf kayak is specifically designed for surfing. It does the best job of catching and gliding on waves, unlike most kayaks on the market. Features like a longer board, sturdier rocker, and flat bottom mark the make of a surf kayak.

Touring kayak:

If you plan on exploring new, calm waters or coastlines, buying a touring kayak is more apt for you. They feature a longer and narrower design with stable paddles to increase effectiveness and speed. Also, they provide solitary stability, the kind to handle various kinds of water.

Folding kayak: 

A folding kayak is easy to use, very similar to using an inflatable kayak. It’s portable, convenient, and space-friendly. Once disassembled, a folding kayak can fit in a backpack-sized bag.

Modular kayak: 

A modular kayak consists of a basic, but extremely durable frame. They are divided into 3 parts, each boasting of stability and efficiency for long transport. You won’t find a hard-shell boat this powerful and balanced, that’s for sure. (1)

Determining the Right Kayak Size

Choosing the right kayak size is essential for sitting comfortably. Anything too cramped or wide will make entry and exit difficult. And it can culminate into a bigger problem if you find yourself stuck inside in the middle of nowhere!

The first thing you need to consider is paddle length. Whether you’re paddling by yourself or with someone else, finding the right size paddle is always difficult. You need an efficient paddle length to be able to maneuver in a variety of motions. This affects your paddling angle, contact with water, and face contact in case the paddle is too long.

The second thing to look for is whether the kayak is longer than usual. It’s obvious that a longer kayak requires a longer paddle for comfortable usability. For example, if you buy a wider kayak, and you’re a relatively short person, you need the same paddle length as a tall person using a longer and narrower kayak. It’s all about being accurate with your measurements. (2,3)

Most of you will immediately know which size to look for based on these parameters. Then it is much simpler to focus on body posture, stroke angle, and paddling efficiency when you’re kayaking.

Choose a Durable Kayak Body

Since kayaking is becoming a significant part of people’s lives, the demand for more durable kayaks has drastically increased. For the kayak to be incredibly durable, it needs to be made of the right materials. This affects the kayak’s weight, price, and efficiency on water. (4)

Plastic: You might have seen many plastic kayaks in local shops. It is the most popular and rugged material used on the market. Polyethylene, which is plastic, comes with a longer shelf life, better resistance against water and impact, and is easy to lift.

Composite: Second to plastic, composite is yet another common kayak material. It includes other materials including fiberglass, which is lightweight, expensive, and rugged. Generally, higher-priced kayaks are made up of composite. They are less likely to damage, but can also be repaired in case of accidents.

Soft shell: Soft shell kayaks aren’t as popular as plastic or composite materials. They feature cloth-like materials to resist punctures and abrasions. Using a soft shell kayak is good for beginners and children as it feels light and is easy to maneuver.

Is The Cockpit Comfortable?

A cockpit is what keeps you inside the kayak. A good cockpit allows better maneuverability and space, even during rough conditions. Considering a snug cockpit, based on your body size, is a good way to start. If a cockpit doesn’t allow easy entry or exit, it’s a waste of both money and effort.

There are different types of kayak cockpits you should know about.

Ocean cockpit: An ocean cockpit has many shapes ranging from oval, round, or elliptical. It’s generally 20 inches wide and 26 inches long. The best part about sitting in an ocean cockpit is the compact and snug space. Your knees and thighs touch the kayak’s deck, so you quickly take turns on fast-flowing streams.

Keyhole cockpit: A keyhole cockpit is as wide as an ocean cockpit, but the only difference is that it’s 32 inches long. It even comes with thicker braces and an adjustable seating arrangement. The fact that keyhole cockpits are more adjustable, they allow comfortable sitting. You can stretch your legs and move them around inside, especially when out fishing or kayaking for a couple of hours.

Recreational cockpit: A recreational cockpit is exactly how a recreational kayak is. It’s is usually in an oval or square shape. And it’s more than 20 inches wide and 36 inches long. It offers plenty of space for comfortable entry and exit.

Most cockpits, especially those designed for competitive purposes, come with thick padding and weather-proofing qualities. Some even offer smart adjustability features. At the end of it all, considering the right cockpit shape and size sets the tone of how well you use your kayak.

It also affects the distance between your legs and the kayak’s deck for better control. So choose wisely.

Choosing the Right Kayak Paddles

A correct paddle choice can make a big difference for a kayak. You need to be able to distinguish the best paddle based on its build material, size, and comfort level. (6,7)

Standard kayak paddles vary from 210 cm to 260 cm, in length. But this standard can vary depending upon your body size, height, and comfort level. There are 2 common types of paddling styles you should know about.

Low-angle paddling: Low-angle padding describes a slower cadence and a flatter angle than other models. It comes with slim blades that turn in water for better navigation and stability.

High-angle paddling: Professionals use high-angle paddles for faster performance. It features a more aggressive paddling style for acceleration and precise navigation. High-angle paddling requires more physical effort for each paddling stroke than low-angle paddling.

The next thing to consider when choosing the right paddles is blade material. Kayak paddles are mostly made up of fiberglass or carbon fiber or nylon aluminum materials. Depending upon your budget and kayaking skills can you find the correct paddle material.

Fiberglass: Fiberglass paddles are good for touring and recreational kayaks. They offer sufficient durability and are lightweight to handle. The best part about using fiberglass material is that they’re available in a wide range of colors.

Carbon fiber: Carbon fiber has a more distinctive look and feel than fiberglass. It’s a good choice when you want a rugged kayak for high-performance paddling.

Nylon Aluminum: Nylon aluminum paddles are relatively lightweight with less maintenance. They’re good for beginners and recreational kayakers. Due to the aluminum build, they don’t get too hot or cold in specific climates.

Editor’s Note: Thanks to our friends at Jen Reviews for this great piece. Want more? Here’s the complete guide on how to choose a kayak.