How to Choose the Right Kayak

Man kayaking

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 up all new opportunities for unforgettable adventures. With so many ways to use a kayak, it can be hard to know which kayak is right for you. This guide will help you learn what to take into consideration when buying a kayak so you can have the best possible experience on the lake.

men fishing from kayaks

There are many different types of kayaks that can be used for a variety of activities. With so many styles, it can be overwhelming knowing which kayak is right for you. You’ll need to consider many 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.

Choosing your kayak based on paddling location and activity will not only make your kayaking experience more enjoyable, but it will also be safer. While some kayaks can perform well in calmer waters than those for which they were designed, it is always the best rule of thumb to only use your kayak in its intended waters and opt to rent or demo the appropriate kayak when exploring new environments beyond your kayak’s capabilities.

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. 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 kayak for fishing, you can even add mounts and electronics so you can have easy access to everything you need from rods and tackle to navigation and tools.

Inflatable Kayaks

Inflatable kayaks are a great option for paddlers wanting the freedom of adventure but who are working with the constraints of storage or transportation space. Inflatable kayaks save space in apartments and smaller vehicles but inflate to a rugged, full-size kayak. They even come in a variety of designs so you can find inflatable kayaks for close-to-shore recreation or 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 great 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.

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

women sitting on kayak

Sit-On-Top Kayaks

Sit-on-top kayaks are well-suited for short day trips, recreation, and fishing. These kayaks are more versatile than sit-in varieties and are a good option for beginners learning the ropes. Sit-on-top kayaks are generally better for warmer environments since paddlers won’t be as protected from splashes as they would be in a sit-in kayak. Another important feature of sit-on-top kayaks is that they are self-draining so you won’t have to bring your boat ashore for draining. 

man sitting in kayak

Sit-In Kayaks

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 boat for longer trips.

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 as the shape, material, and capacity of the kayak will need to accommodate your stature and ability in a way that 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.


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. However, you can have too much stability — wider kayaks are more stable than narrower kayaks, but they require more energy and effort to paddle. Additionally, if you get hit by a steep wave in rough waters, having a more stable (wider) kayak will make it harder to lean into the wave, increasing 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 it’s usually harder for taller kayakers to handle less stable kayaks.


As mentioned previously, 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.


The ability to control and maneuver your kayak goes hand-in-hand with its stability and ability to gain speed. While both sit-in and sit-on-top kayaks can vary in terms of stability, sit-in kayaks are generally easier to maneuver because they allow you to use more of your lower body as leverage to control the kayak.

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. Whether you start with a few key essentials or fully personalize your boat with mounts and electronics, kayak accessories can make all the difference..

If you're interested in customizing your fishing kayak set up, check out our Kayak Fishing Accessories guide.