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How to Choose A Kayak

If your looking to get out on the water, one of the most popular and fastest growing segments in water sports is kayaking. Kayaking is a great way to enjoy the outdoors. Choosing the right kayak for you can greatly influence your experience on the water. If you are new to the sport and with all of the different kayaks out there, it is easy to get overwhelmed with all of the different options. If you ask yourself a few basic questions, you can really narrow down your options to help find your way to a perfect boat.

Sit-On-Top or Sit-In?

There are two main styles of kayaks on the market, sit-in and sit-on-top. Each serve their own purpose, but selecting the right one for you is an important decision to make. There are a few basic ideas to consider to help make this decision easier.


Sit-on-top kayaks offer a much larger and open working area. Places to strap coolers, tackle boxes, rods, and more are much abundant and easier to access on a sit-on-top kayak. Entering and exiting the boat is also much easier. This is true from the land, shallow water, and deep water. Since sit-on-top kayaks are self bailing, there is no need for a bilge pump or to empty a kayak since it cannot fill up with water. With that said, the chance of getting wet is higher in a sit-on-top, since the bottom of the kayak has drainage holes, called scupper holes. 


Sit-in kayaks are a little bit more difficult to get into, when compared to sit-on-top kayaks. Gear storage and places to strap  down equipment is more limited on the sit-in kayak. You are much more likely to stay dry in a sit-in kayak, though, with a portion of your body staying covered inside the boat and the option to add a skirt to keep water out. Sit-in style kayaks will generally be lighter in weight because they are single walled vs. a double walled sit-on-top style kayak. 

How do you plan to kayak?

How you will use your kayak most often will have great influence on the choice of kayak you will use. The main intention of use will help determine what kayak style will be most appropriate. Hull shape and length are two major aspects to consider when looking for your ideal kayak. This can be determined from your selection of a recreation or touring kayak and what type of water your plan on kayaking. 

Recreation or Touring?

Recreation kayaks will offer high stability, large cockpits, but relatively less room for storage and gear due to their hull length. Many recreation kayaks will be in the 10'-13' range in length, making them light weight and easy to transport on or in a vehicle. They will also be on the wider side when looking at all types of kayaks, giving them high stability. The high stability will come at a cost. Paddling will be slower and less efficient in these boats, but they are highly maneuverable and can turn fairly quickly. 

Touring kayaks may appear similar to recreation kayaks in appearance, but these subtle differences have drastic affects. Touring kayaks are longer in length, but narrower in width. This makes the touring kayak very efficient and quick when paddling, but less stable and will feel more "tippy." This efficiency in paddling is ideal when covering distances or looking for a bit more speed. The extra length also allows for the boat to track straighter in the water and for more storage room for gear. Many touring boats will also have a rudder or skeg, adding more tracking and maneuverability in tides or currents. 

What Kind of Water?

  • Creeks, small rivers? 
  • Open or larger rivers?
  • Lakes?
  • Seas, Great Lakes, oceans, coastal regions?
  • Any combination of the above?

Creeks and small rivers will often have small openings, downed trees, culverts and many other obstacles. Navigating a smaller boat on these types of waters is often ideal. 10'-12' are very popular options for these types of waters. On lakes and more open rivers, boats with more length will track straighter and paddle with less effort. Twelve foot boats are very popular for inland lakes and rivers.  Seas, oceans, Great Lakes, or other large bodies of water is where the longer kayaks shine and perform best. The type of water where you think you will spend most of your time should significantly help determine what length of boat to get. 

Specialty Kayaks - Fishing, Tandem, Whitewater

Some kayaks are specially designed for accomplishing certain things. Kayaks focused on fishing will often have extra storage space, straps, and holders for an angler's gear. Tandem kayaks will have extra length to accommodate an extra seat for a second paddeler. Whitewater kayaks offer extra buoyancy and high maneuverability for whitewater navigation. If any of these specific tasks are up your alley, you are well on your way to finding your ideal boat. 

Transporting Your Kayak

The easier it is for you to move and access your boat, the more you will be able to enjoy and use your boat. Whether you will be traveling often with kayak on the top of your vehicle or leaving it near the water in a boat house, how you transport and store your boat should be considered before purchasing a boat. Shorter and lighter boats are easier to maneuver when compared to long or heavy boats. Long boats can also be tricky to transport, so length should also be considered in addition to weight.  Carefully consider how you will transport, store, and access your boat when determining what type of kayak to get. 

Other Considerations

There are also many other factors to consider when choosing a kayak, but the above are some of the basics and most important. Some other options to consider are the hull material, color, seat design, special features, and construction methods.

One of the best ways to know if you are making the right decision when purchasing a kayak is to try it out. Sometimes it is better to "feel" the difference, rather than reading about kayaks, looking at specs, and analyzing hull designs. It's also more fun!