Choosing the right kayak is much easier than you think.

Buying a kayak can be a bit daunting for someone who has never set foot in one of our stores or visited our website. Upon visitation, you are already facing dozens of kayaks of all makes, models, sizes, styles and materials. As you make your way in, it gets even more overwhelming turning mature adults into giddy kids as if they just walked into a candy store for the first time in their lives. In this issue’s feature article, we’ll focus on helping you narrow your choices down to a few select kayaks, getting you closer to making your final decision.

The two factors that will play the most important part of making your first kayak purchase are what you plan to do with it and where you plan to use it. What can complicate matters is when what you want to do with it and where you plan to use it is all over the board. To help you find the kayak that best aligns your wants, we’ve designed an infographic (scroll down) that identifies all the most popular kayak types we sell and how they compare with each other on page two of this publication. However, before you jump right in, here are a few things you’ll want to educate yourself with first.

Sit In or On?
Determining this will narrow your choices down. Sit-inside kayaks are just as they are referred to with an enclosed cockpit where you sit inside instead of on top of the boat. A sit-on-top kayak is just the opposite where a paddler sits on top of the boat on what is typically referred to as a deck. Another major differentiator are the scupper holes on sit-on-top kayaks, which allow water to enter and exit the boat making them more versatile than sit-insides.

Both styles are popular for recreational use but sit-insides are typically used for whitewater paddling and touring while sit-on-tops are mainly used for fishing and diving. Sit-inside kayaks are typically known to be faster, easier to maneuver and tend to keep paddlers dryer than their counterparts. Sit-on-top kayaks on the other hand are usually more stable and offer more capacity, rigging options and accessible cargo areas. Don’t be fooled though, these days, manufactures are making sit-on-top kayaks that are just as fast as some sit-insides and sit-insides just as stable as sit-on-tops.

Tandem or Single?
Choosing between a tandem and single sometimes involves outside influence — that is, a significant other or family members. Depending on the majority of use, we typically recommend singles for the simple reason that they give you the most flexibility regardless of your activities. However, for those with young children, tandems can be the ideal option especially when buying one that gives you the ability to move seats around for solo paddling. Another thing to keep in mind is that when weather and environmental conditions are ideal, kids as young as 5 or 6 years old can paddle kayaks on their own too!

Plastic or That Other Stuff?
Most kayaks today are made of plastic (polyethylene) while others are made of composite materials or thermoformed ABS. Rather than get into a scientific discussion regarding materials, we’ll simplify it for you. Polyethylene is tough, can take quite a beating and is more affordable but tends to be heavier and more difficult to repair if punctured. Boats made of composite materials or thermoformed ABS tend to be lighter, prettier, and easier to repair but are typically more expensive and in some cases more delicate. It’s a topic of debate but composites and thermoformed ABS are usually associated with having more “glide” on water thus making them an ideal choice for long distance paddlers and competition paddlers. What it really comes down to is weight and budget — for most, good ‘ol plastic will be the select choice.

Rounded, V-Shape, Flat or Pontoon Hull?
Trying to explain hull design can get a bit complicated but we’ll simplify it for you based on advantages:

  • Rounded hulls – greater speed and maneuverability
  • V-shaped hulls – greater speed and straight line paddling
  • Flat hulls – greater stability
  • Pontoon hulls – greatest stability

While talking about hulls, we’ll also mention “rocker”. Rocker is the tapering of each point on each end on the bottom of the kayak’s hull if you were looking at it from the side. Kayaks with more rocker have a better turning point but may not track as well as those with less rocker. If you plan to paddle long distances in a straight line, you’ll want to choose a kayak with less rocker while those who plan to play in whitewater or water with many obstructions will want more.

What Length and Width?
Probably the most commonly asked question is what length of kayak should I buy. While different activities and preference of paddling location (lake, river, etc.) can play a big role in size selection you can identify shorter boats as a tad bit slower but easier to maneuver while longer kayaks can be considered faster but a bit more difficult to maneuver. While longer kayaks do tend to track better than shorter boats, rudders can make a significant difference on any boat. In terms of width, wider typically means more stable but can also mean that your kayak may be a bit slower too.

To Rudder or Not?
We don’t want to turn this into an accessory article but feel that this is worth mentioning. Rudders can make a difference in the performance of your boat. While many believe they are steering mechanisms, they are actually designed to help correct the direction of your kayak when dealing with strong currents or windy conditions. It’s not necessary but we can guarantee that if you use a kayak with a rudder, you’ll never want to go back to using one without it.

Try before You Buy?
Each one of our stores offers the opportunity for our customers to try a kayak before you buy one at anytime. For those of you out of state or too far from any one of our demo day locations, one of our experienced customer service representatives can offer some insight regarding how each kayak model operates and valuable advice on making your purchase.

Buying a kayak is an exciting experience for anyone and choosing the right one will only make the long-term experience even better. If you haven’t already seen it, we also have a nifty kayak selector tool on our website — give it a whirl. Still don’t know which kayak is the right one for you or have you already made a decision but have questions about accessories? Ask away below, I’ll more than happy to assist you anyway I can!


  1. What a great resource. I’ll definitely be linking to this post from my blog; it’s a far more comprehensive list than I could put together.

    Say, here’s an idea: How about you give me one kayak of each type and I’ll let you know how it goes?

    1. You are welcomed, glad you got something out of it. We look forward to seeing you there! BTW, if interested, we have printed copies of this article along with other valuable information in our store. Feel free to drop by sometime to get your copy. – RJ