What sort of kayak will be best for you?
Long, serious paddling, or shorter journeys for fun?
First, work out where and why you will be kayaking. Many people are happy to paddle around somewhere pretty, look at the birds and fish and explore a few inlets and what’s around the next corner. That’s enormous fun, and you don’t need a full-on serious kayak for that. If you want to paddle more than 10km or 6 miles in a day, or if you want to paddle in choppy water, or even waves, you’ll need to get more specialized in your choice of kayak.
A long, thin kayak is best for speed and distance and the serious paddler. A shorter fatter kayak is more stable and great for paddling around while others fish from the bank, or just for having fun.
Long narrow kayak or shorter wider kayak?
You can cover some distance in a shorter kayak, but you’ll be paddling harder than you will in a more sleek boat.
The long thin ones are harder to transport to the water, and less stable. It’s all a ‘balancing act.’ This of course depends on your method of transportation – see below. Roof racks, trailer etc – sometimes the length of your kayak will be an issue, other times it is the width. Think carefully about how you are going to transport it before you buy.
Sit-on, or sit-in?
This actually makes a huge difference. If you aren’t paddling for a long journey (like an overnight camp) or paddling in colder water, sit on might be all you need.
If you are paddling in some serious ripples, or even small waves, sit-on is great. The waves can wash over your kayak and it’s no big deal. If you are in an enclosed type kayak, you’ll need a skirt to keep out (most of) the water, and a method of removing water that gets into your kayak. We now get into the world of electric pumps, which mean extra weight, expense and hassles.
There are also hand pumps, but you might find that the water pools somewhere that you can’t reach, and your hands will be busy with your paddle, perhaps keeping your kayak stable and on course.
It’s always always a good idea to think of safety. Kayaking can be wonderful, safe fun, but you can get into scary situations in no time at all if you get too adventurous, too soon. There’s plenty of safe fun to be had and you can work up to the adventurous stuff when you are fully ready. See more safety info below.
If you’re paddling in cold water, you won’t want to be getting wet with every splash of water, so it’s ‘horses for courses.’ A sit-in kayak will be best for you and you’ll almost always need a skirt around you to keep the water out. If you think there won’t be splashes, don’t be so sure. Water seems to rise up and jump into your kayak from the glassiest of water. You’ll need to make sure the skirt fits your kayak properly, and fits you, too.
carrying gear, or staying close to base?
If you are carrying ‘stuff’ you’ll need to look at the holds on your kayak. Again if you only have a water bottle and a snack, this won’t be an issue, but if you are carrying a tent, or other overnight gear, you’ll have to look at watertight storage.
Your storage facilities at home
Storing kayaks can be an issue. Do you have room in your garage? Can you suspend kayaks from the ceiling or from wall brackets? Think of this before you get home to your studio apartment or crowded garage with two huge kayaks (trust me, I’ve done that). Buy the kayaks that you can store.
There are even wonderful blow-up kayaks. Anything they lack in speed and sleekness is made up for by ease of storage and ease of transportation.