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Choosing and Buying a Kayak
Choosing a kayak? We know it’s tough buying your first kayak.
There are lots of questions: Are you buying the right style? Are you
paying too much? What if you get the wrong one? Our intent here is
to help you make a good choice when you are shopping for and
buying a kayak, so, if you’re sitting comfortably, lets begin….

There are three structural classifications of kayaks:
1. Rigid (or hardshell) boats, made up of either plastic,
fiberglass, kevlar, carbon fiber or wood.
2. Folding boats
3. Inflatable boats.

The rigid kayak is the type that most people think of when they
think of a kayak. Of the rigid models, a plastic boat will be the least
expensive. It will also be the heaviest. Plastic boats are usually
tough and can take a lot of abuse, but once damaged are difficult to

A fiberglass boat will be more expensive than a plastic model,
but will be significantly lighter. Fiberglass may be easier to damage,
but will also be easier to repair.

Composites such as kevlar, graphite and carbon fiber kayaks will
be even more expensive and lighter still.

Wood boats are a somewhat different breed. They can possess
a nostalgic hand-made quality as well as an aesthetic beauty. A
smooth, warm wood kayak can be a beautiful thing. Some people like
to buy a wood boat in kit form and assemble it themselves. The
prices on wood boats vary considerably. They are easy to repair but
do require routine maintenance.

Folding boats have the advantage of easy portability and
storage. A folding kayak is a collapsible boat made of fabric
stretched over either a wood or aluminum frame. Their initial price is
usually on the expensive end of the spectrum, but they tend to last
longer than a typical hardshell and their resale price usually remains

Foldables are remarkably tough, flexible, stable and seaworthy,
but the general consensus is that they lack a bit of the speed and
performance of a hardshell. Like wood boats, folding kayaks bring a
sense of nostalgia with them, as they carry on the traditional
construction of past North American native cultures.

Inflatable boats offer terrific portability and ease of storage.
They can generally be the least expensive kayaking option. I’ve been
using an inflatable for years and I appreciate how easy it is to get it
to the water and back. After it dries off, I just store it in the

But, as important as the structural makeup of the boat is,
kayaks are typically classified as to the type of boating they are
designed to do. Boats built for long distance touring are radically
different from boats built for whitewater activity. There isn’t any
single kayak that will excel in every type of paddling situation. As a
kayak shopper, you need to anticipate your future paddling
situations and then select a boat that should perform well in those
situations. We recommend that you take the following factors into
consideration when looking for a kayak.

The kind of boating you will be doing
You want to get a kayak that is well-suited for the type of
boating you will be doing. This is probably the single most important
factor you need to consider. You want to determine what kind of
paddling you will be doing and how often you will be doing it.

Your experience as a paddler
When an experienced paddler is shopping for a kayak, he will
generally look for different qualities in a boat than a beginning
paddler would look for. An experienced paddler will usually look for a
boat with good final stability, while a beginner will probably value
good initial stability. The “tippiness” that accompanies a boat with
low initial stability makes many beginners uncomfortable. That
tippiness, however, will generally indicate a boat has greater final
stability, a characteristic advanced boaters value when they’re in
bigger waves.

An experienced paddler may prefer a tight cockpit, while a
beginner may prefer a bigger one that is easier to get in and out of.
Some beginners worry greatly about either escaping from a
tipped-over cockpit or being forced to successfully perform an
Eskimo roll in order to get back above the surface. If this is an issue,
then a sit-on-top model with a recessed seat and footwells may be a
great choice.

Portability and weight
Unfortunately, your kayak is going to be out of the water more
than its going to be in the water, so you need to think about how
you are going to store it, transport it, and physically get it in and out
of the water. If this is a paramount concern, then a portable or
good-quality inflatable boat may be a terrific option. Another option
would be to purchase the lightest hardshell you can afford.

Passenger/Cargo capacity and comfort
There are single-passenger kayaks and there are
double-passenger kayaks. They both have their advantages. A
double can be perfect for couples and families. Paddlers of different
skill levels and ages can be paired up so that nobody is left behind. It
can be a fun family adventure. Doubles are fast and stable, but lack
some of the maneuverability of a single. Also, purchasing one is a
little more risky than buying a single. Make sure that your future
paddling partner is as enthused and motivated as you are. A dusty,
neglected double hanging in the back of a lonesome garage is not a
pretty sight.

If you decide on a single, make sure that it has enough storage
capacity for whatever stuff you wanna bring along. For most
afternoon kayakers, space usually isn’t that much of an issue, but if
you’re going to take long trips, adequate cargo capacity must be

With either a single or a double, the seats need to be
comfortable and supportive. Most paddlers prefer a snug fit for a
whitewater kayak, but for a touring kayak they prefer something with
more room, allowing them to stretch and change positions on longer

Initial and final stability
We discussed stability earlier when we mentioned how beginners
typically like a boat with good initial stability while experienced
paddlers favor a boat with good secondary stability. Initial stability is
the tendency of the boat to lean or shift away from a perfectly
upright position. Final stability is the tendency of the boat to
actually tip over. A boat with good final stability that seems tippy will
be more forgiving by staying in a leaning position instead of tipping
over. A boat can’t have both good initial stability and final stability —
it’s pretty much one or the other. The hull shape will determine what
kind of stability the boat has.

A second issue with stability is its relationship to speed. A highly
stable boat will not be the fastest boat on the water. Typically, the
stable boat will be wider and slower than the narrower faster boat.

Another issue is the controllability of the boat — how well it turns
and tracks. A kayak can either turn easily or track dead straight, but
its a rare boat that can do both well. One of the deciding factors for
this is the length of the kayak. A shorter boat will be more
maneuverable; a longer boat will track better.

Another factor is the curvature of the keel line along the bottom
of the hull. The points where the hull meets the bow and the hull
meets the stern are out of the water higher than the middle area of
the hull (picture a rocking chair). This degree of upward curvature
varies from boat to boat. A boat with a high degree of curvature will
turn easy but track less accurately, while a boat with low curvature
will do the opposite. Many paddlers find a boat with a medium
curvature (some call it rocker) a good compromise.

Available Options
A sprayskirt, accessible hatches, deck fittings, cockpit cover,
flotation bags and a handy holder for your water bottle are all
options that will probably be of interest to you. Having the right
options can really make a difference in your paddling enjoyment.

Another option to consider is a rudder. Many boaters will argue
about the usefulness or necessity of having a rudder. Some will say
that a good kayaker doesn’t need one and a beginner shouldn’t learn
to rely on one. Others counter with the argument that if a rudder
helps, then use it. Most would agree, though, that in certain
conditions, such as when strong winds and waves are consistent and
unrelenting, that a rudder may provide just the right amount of
course correction necessary to allow the paddler to focus more on
their stroke or the scenery instead of their tracking. Rudders are
usually standard on doubles.

After a person has decided what style of kayak to purchase, price
may be a big factor in determining exactly which model to buy. An
entry-level plastic kayak can be as low as $250. Other plastic models
can run as high as $1500. Fiberglass boats will cost from about
$1000 to $3000. Other more exotic composite boats will cost as
much or possibly even more. Inflatable boats can start at about
$250 and go up to $2000. Folding boats will set you back $1300 for
an entry-level boat and up to $4500 for a topnotch double.

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