How to Choose a Kayak

Man kayaking in a sit-in-top kayak

Kayaking lets you explore the great outdoors and get closer to nature. Whether you’re looking for a workout on the water or you just want to relax and take in the scenery, having the right kayak opens new opportunities for unforgettable adventures. With so many ways to use a kayak, you might be wondering how to choose a kayak that fits your needs. This guide will help you learn what to take into consideration when buying a kayak such as the different types of kayaks available and which accessories to buy so you can have a great experience on the lake.

Sit-On-Top vs. Sit-In Kayaks

Kayaks typically fall into one of two categories: sit-on-top and sit-in kayaks. Each type offers specific features that will make your kayaking trip easier depending on your activity.

Sit-on-Top Kayaks

woman sitting on a sit-on-top kayak

Sit-on-top kayaks, also known as SOT kayaks, are well-suited for short day trips, recreation, and fishing. These kayaks are more versatile than their counterparts, making them a good option for beginners to learn the ropes. Sit-on-top kayaks are generally better for warmer environments since paddlers won’t be as protected from cold water splashing onto them. Another important feature of sit-on-top kayaks is that they are self-draining so you won’t have to bring your boat ashore to empty it.

Sit-In Kayaks

man sitting in a sit-in kayak

Sit-in kayaks provide a little extra protection to the paddler from water and wind. This, along with their low center of gravity, makes them easier to control and navigate in more challenging waters. Sit-in kayaks also offer more cargo space than sit-on-top varieties, so they are a great kayak for longer trips.

What Kind of Kayak Should I Buy?

man in a fishing kayak

There are many different types of kayaks that can be used for a variety of activities. With so many styles, it can be overwhelming to decide how to choose a kayak that’s right for you. You’ll need to consider factors like how you will sit in the kayak, where you will use it, what size it needs to be, and how you will transport and store it. To help focus your search, start by asking yourself where you will be paddling and if you will be using your kayak for recreation or sport.

Recreational Kayaks

Recreational kayaks come in both sit-in and sit-on-top options, and are a versatile choice for paddlers of all skill levels. If you’re primarily paddling in calm lakes and calm rivers, recreational kayaks are an affordable option and are easy to transport. These aren’t the best boats for long journeys, but they will offer the comfort and stability you need to easily navigate during day trips.

Day-Touring Kayaks

These sit-in kayaks offer a sleek design that helps you navigate waters more efficiently. Because of their shorter design, day-touring kayaks are easy to transport and handle. Their streamlined design makes them easier to control, and they track straighter than their counterparts making them well-suited for rough waters.

Touring Kayaks

Touring kayaks are another sit-in option designed for making long-distance trips easier. These boats offer plenty of cargo space and feature a rudder or skeg that keeps them on track even in strong currents. Touring kayaks typically come in at a higher price but will save you money in the long run if you know you’ll primarily be kayaking long distances.

Fishing Kayaks

Kayak fishing is a relatively new sport and gives you the opportunity to explore new waters in a vessel that’s maneuverable and versatile. With a sit-on-top fishing kayak, you can add mounts and electronics so you can have easy access to everything you need. Sit-on-top fishing kayaks also allow anglers to stand up while fishing and easily get in and out. On the other hand, sit-in fishing kayaks have a lightweight design and offer greater agility and speed on the water. Sit-in fishing kayaks also have more waterproof storage and offer excellent seasonal versatility with protection from wind, water, and other weather conditions. 

Inflatable Kayaks

Inflatable kayaks are a great option for paddlers wanting the freedom of adventure without the constraints of storage or transportation space. Inflatable kayaks save space in apartments and smaller vehicles and easily inflate to a rugged, full-size kayak. Inflatable kayaks even come in a variety of designs so you can find inflatable kayaks for close-to-shore recreation or you can find inflatable kayaks equipped for rougher waters.

Tandem Kayaks

Tandem kayaks give you the opportunity to share your ride with a friend or family member. Tandem kayaks are often more stable than single-person kayaks which makes them a great option for kayaking with kids. Keep in mind that tandem kayaks are best suited for paddlers who always have a partner since they don’t offer the flexibility of optional solo trips or easy solo transport.

Kayak Speed & Stability

two people kayaking on sit-on-top kayaks with a dog

There are other things to take into account when choosing a kayak besides where you’ll be using it and what types of activities you’ll primarily use it for. Your own size and strength are important factors to consider because the shape, material, and capacity of the kayak will need to accommodate your stature and ability. Keeping these factors in mind makes it easy for you to control and stay safe in your kayak. Depending on your size and the waters you’re paddling in, you’ll want to look for a kayak with the right stability, speed, and maneuverability.

Stability: Wide or Narrow Design?

Choosing a stable kayak may seem like a no-brainer, and stability is important in certain waters for safety and ease of entry and exit. Although wide kayaks have a more stable design, they also require more energy and effort to paddle in certain water conditions. Because of this, If you get hit by a steep wave in rough waters, having a less stable, narrow kayak will make it easier to lean into the wave, decreasing your chances of capsizing. 

So how stable should your kayak be? In general, the more experience you have kayaking, the less stability you’ll need. However, taller paddlers have a higher center of gravity and will feel less stable in a kayak, so make sure to factor in your height when choosing how wide or narrow your kayak should be.

Speed: Kayak Material

As mentioned in the stability section, wider kayaks require more effort to paddle which makes it hard to gain and maintain speed. Kayak material will also have a great effect on the kayak’s ability to gain speed. Lightweight fiberglass or carbon fiber kayaks will be easier to glide across the water at higher speeds, but they come in at a higher price than kayaks made with plastic materials. Polyethylene plastic kayaks will be one of the most affordable options, but paying a little more for lighter ABS plastic is an affordable option for paddlers needing speed.

Kayak Accessories

people getting kayaks off a yakima rack

Once you’ve chosen the right kayak, you can start finding a variety of kayak accessories, like paddles, that will make your trips better. With the right kayak accessories, you can customize your kayak so every trip is hassle-free. There are tons of different add-ons that can improve comfort, maximize convenience, and make transporting your kayak easier. 

If you’re getting into kayak fishing, accessories are just as crucial as the kayak itself. We recommend checking out our Must-Have Kayak Fishing Accessories blog to make sure you have everything you need for your trip!