As the weather starts to warm up and we now have more options available when it comes to outdoor activities, many of you might be looking towards the water to have some fun. We recently received quite a few emails asking about kayaks and what to look for when you’re thinking about buying one. We turned to Darren Cole, an avid kayaker and owner of One Shot Tactical, to ask for a few pointers on what a first time buyer should look for when purchasing a kayak.
Here is what Cole had to say …
There are four key areas you need to look at when picking out a kayak. Paying close attention to these areas will make a huge difference in if you actually use your kayak on a regular basis or if it sits in the backyard and gets covered in weeds. Before you even look at the first one, consider the following …
1. Where will you mainly be paddling?
2. How long will you be paddling each time out?
3. What water/weather conditions you will paddle in?
4. How will you transport your kayak, if you are?
Other considerations are your objectives (fishing, sightseeing, etc,) and your size and comfort in a boat. I’d put kayaks into four different categories: White Water, Recreational, Touring, and Fishing. Let’s take a closer look at each type of kayak and they’re used for …
These kayaks are 4 to 10 feet long, have rounded bottoms, and turn up at both ends for being able to negotiate rapids. They are purpose-built for this, with a few of the longer ones crossing over into what would be considered the “recreational” style. For the most part, these kayaks are hard to paddle over any distance and would not be recommended for anyone not paddling in white water. If you want to paddle on flat water and white water, a compromise would be a kayak in the 10’ size. However, it won’t do exceptional well in either category. If you’re new to kayaking, you might want to start with a “recreational” model.
These kayaks encompass a huge range of sizes and styles from “sit in” to “sit on”, one-piece to modular, and they’re generally in the 9’ to 13’ range. These kayaks are great for beginners, cottage use, short distances, photographers, kids and similar situations. They’re slower than the larger “touring” kayaks, but their easier to transport, store, and mange for those who just need to get on the water. Modular, folding, and inflatable kayaks are great for people with limited storage space and a smaller transport vehicle, but some of these tend to be more expensive and fragile than a one-piece kayak. If you’re after something for the kids to play with at the cottage, then a sit on top is a great option as these ones self drain, won’t sink, and are easy to get on and off of. There are some “recreational” kayaks that can be used as “fishing” kayaks, however many lack the extra features that a purpose-built one will have.
Touring kayaks can be 13’ to 18’ long. They’re faster and have more storage than recreational kayaks. However, they also start getting more expensive. These kayak are made for long paddles or multi-day excursions. Most have sealed bulkheads and hatches to allow for dry storage of gear. These also help with flotation of the kayak should the cockpit fill with water. On some touring kayaks you’ll also find a rudder or skeg, or sometimes both. The seats are usually better designed and more comfortable. The cockpits usually allow for the use of spray skirts as well. Touring kayaks can be made of plastic fiberglass or composite blend. These kayaks can be used in some smaller rivers, but are harder to transport, need more turning space, and have more area to catch on currents making steering harder. They are also hard to portage so keep that in mind on long trips.
Fishing kayaks are specifically made for fishing and include all the features that would be needed like rod holders, cooler storage, built-in live wells, and tackle boxes. They are a “sit on” style and tend to be very stable to allow anglers to stand up and cast.
When looking at all the different kayak options available, consider what you will be mainly doing with the kayak. Is it just for a short paddle around the lake or are you looking to get into longer, overnight trips? By thinking about your end goals and keeping the four key areas mentioned above in mind, it’ll help steer you in the right direction. Kayaking is a lot of fun, great exercise, and you’ll enjoy exploring new areas that we’re previously inaccessible on foot.