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What to Look For When Buying a Kayak

Looking to pick up a new hobby? Want to be more active? Whatever your motivation, if you are looking to dip your toes in the kayaking waters, there are a few tips to know before you buy your first kayak.

What type of kayaking are you interested in doing?

First, it is important to discern what type of kayaking you are interested in. If you are planning on shooting the rapids then you will need a very different kayak than if you want to spend time tossing a line in the water.

Some of the most common types of kayaks:

  • Recreational: all-around kayak, good for beginners
  • Freestyling: good for tricks and rapids
  • Touring Kayak: longer and slender with room to store equipment, good for longer trips
  • Sea Kayak: similar to the touring but designed for sea use
  • Fishing Kayak: wide and stable, good for providing a platform for casting
  • Inflatable: easily transportable and excellent in the summer, good for beginners, those on a budget.
  • Tandem Kayak: These kayaks allow two people in one boat. But tandem kayaks have also been known to cause bickering, good for those who want the challenge of paddling together but staying in the same boat.

Each of these types of kayaks will be designed for the tasks you need it to do. A longer, skinnier kayak will track better and pick up speed for longer trips. Wider kayaks provide excellent stability, so they are good for beginners and anglers. Shorter kayaks are excellent for maneuverability, turning, etc.

Another initial consideration is whether or not you want the traditional sit-in kayak or a sit-on-top kayak. Both options have benefits.

  • Sit-on-top are good for beginners and those who want the flexibility of movement to fish. They are usually easier to enter and exit making them better for self-rescue.
  • Sit-in kayaks provide better protection from the elements as you sit in the boat with a spray skirt. However, they can be more difficult to recover in the event of a capsize and take some practice in entering and exiting.

What is your kayak budget?

Another major consideration is the budget, of course. You will find quite a range of prices for kayaks and once you’ve determined how you want to use it, you will be better able to assess how much to spend. If you are new to the sport and think it will be a nice summer-time activity, you might be ok with the initial purchase of an inflatable. They are usually cheaper, but they also won’t last as long.

If you want to practice tricks and rapids, you will need something more specialized and durable. This is also true if you plan to use your kayak more frequently than the occasional outing.

If you want to kayak camp, you will also want to consider something more hearty with the ability to hold more weight and equipment.

Some common materials to consider when buying a kayak

  • Plastic (inflatable): probably the cheapest option and inflatable kayak has the advantage of being lightweight and portable. But they don’t last forever and degrade with sun exposure.
  • Plastic (polyethylene): This more rigid material is still cost effective, but it is heavy and also prone to sun damage.
  • Plastic (ABS): ABS plastic is slightly more durable and sun resistant in a bit lighter package, but it will cost a bit more than the previous plastics.
  • Composite: If you want a more long-lasting, lightweight kayak, you will want to look at composites. Fiberglass and carbon-fiber boats are definitely more expensive, but they weigh considerably less. Just be careful not to run them against rocks or abuse them on the shore. You will be looking at expensive repairs.


Answering these questions will put you well on your way to kayaking fun. Get ready to launch!


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