Kayak Buying Guide

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Written By Norma O'Ryan
Kayak Buying Guide

Kayaking has surged in popularity as an outdoor activity that offers both adventure and tranquility, making it accessible to thrill-seekers and nature enthusiasts alike. In this comprehensive guide, we embark on a journey to unveil the world of kayaks, assisting you in navigating the waters of kayak selection. Whether you’re a seasoned paddler or dipping your toes into kayaking for the first time, our guide is your ultimate resource for 2024, providing insights and recommendations to ensure you make a well-informed choice when buying a kayak. So, let’s embark on this aquatic adventure together, and soon you’ll be gliding effortlessly across serene lakes, challenging whitewater rapids, or exploring coastal wonders, all from the comfort of your kayak.


Kayaks And Their Various Types

Kayaks are small watercraft characterized by their narrow build and pointed ends. They’re designed for both recreational and sporting purposes, with a rich variety of types to suit different activities. Let’s dive into the world of kayaks, exploring their various types and their unique features and advantages.

  • Sit-On-Top Kayaks: Sit-on-top kayaks are known for their open cockpit design, making them user-friendly and ideal for beginners. They’re stable, easy to get in and out of, and often used for recreational paddling and fishing. Their self-draining feature ensures you won’t sit in a puddle of water.
Sit-On-Top Kayaks
  • Sit-Inside Kayaks: Sit-inside kayaks, as the name suggests, have enclosed cockpits where you sit inside the hull. They offer better protection from the elements and are favored for touring and kayaking in colder waters. They also tend to be more agile and faster than sit-on-top kayaks.
Sit-Inside Kayaks
  • Inflatable Kayaks: Perfect for those with limited storage space, inflatable kayaks are highly portable and easy to store. They are surprisingly durable and suitable for calm waters and recreational use.
Inflatable Kayaks
  • Surf Kayaks: Designed for riding ocean waves, surf kayaks have a unique shape for carving and riding waves like a pro. They provide the excitement of surfing combined with the maneuverability of a kayak.
surf kayak
  • Touring Kayaks: Designed for long-distance paddling, touring kayaks are known for their efficiency and tracking. They have a sleek, narrow profile, making them perfect for exploring lakes, rivers, and coastal waters. They often come with storage compartments for extended trips.
  • Fishing Kayaks: Fishing kayaks are tailored for anglers, featuring specialized accessories like rod holders, tackle storage, and even fish finders. They come in both sit-on-top and sit-inside models, allowing you to choose based on your fishing style and environment.
Fishing kayak
  • Whitewater kayaks : Whitewater kayaks are built for navigating challenging rapids. They are short, maneuverable, and designed to handle the turbulence of fast-flowing rivers. Whitewater kayaking demands skill and experience, so these kayaks are best suited for seasoned paddlers.
Whitewater kayak

Kayak Materials and Construction

When it comes to kayak construction, the choice of materials plays a crucial role in determining the kayak’s performance, durability, and weight. There are several common materials used in kayak manufacturing, each with its own set of characteristics:

  • Plastic (Polyethylene): Plastic kayaks, often made from high-density polyethylene (HDPE), are known for their affordability and durability. They are a popular choice for beginners and recreational paddlers. Plastic kayaks can withstand impacts and rough handling, making them suitable for river kayaking and rocky shorelines. However, they tend to be heavier compared to other materials.
  • Fiberglass: Fiberglass kayaks are favored for their lightweight construction and excellent performance on the water. They are more responsive and faster than plastic kayaks, making them ideal for touring and racing. Fiberglass kayaks are also known for their sleek appearance and smooth finish. However, they can be more expensive and may require more care to prevent damage.
  • Composite Materials (Carbon Fiber/Kevlar): High-end kayaks often feature composite materials like carbon fiber or Kevlar. These materials offer an unbeatable combination of lightweight design and strength. Composite kayaks are preferred by professional paddlers and enthusiasts who demand top-tier performance. They are incredibly agile, efficient, and capable of handling various water conditions. However, they come with a premium price tag.
  • Inflatable Kayaks: Inflatable kayaks are constructed from puncture-resistant materials and are perfect for easy storage and transport. They are lightweight and suitable for recreational use, but they may not match the performance of hard-shell kayaks in terms of speed and tracking.
carbonfiber kayak

Kayak Size and Weight Capacity

When choosing a kayak, understanding its size and ensuring it has the right weight capacity is crucial for a comfortable and safe paddling experience. Here are essential factors to consider:

1. Kayak Size:

  • Body Size: Your own body size plays a significant role in selecting the right kayak. Ensure that you have enough legroom and can comfortably fit within the kayak’s cockpit or seating area.
  • Intended Use: The type of kayaking you plan to do matters. Longer kayaks (typically 12 feet or more) are excellent for touring and covering more extensive distances on open water. In contrast, shorter kayaks (usually under 10 feet) are more maneuverable and ideal for activities like whitewater or recreational paddling.
  • Storage Space: Think about where you’ll store your kayak when it’s not in use. If storage space is limited, you might want to consider a collapsible or inflatable kayak for easier storage.

2. Weight Capacity:

  • Total Weight: Calculate the combined weight of everything you plan to put in the kayak, including your own body weight, gear, and any additional accessories. Ensure that the kayak’s weight capacity surpasses this total weight.
  • Safety: Exceeding the weight capacity of a kayak can compromise its stability and buoyancy, increasing the risk of tipping or taking on water. Staying within the specified weight limits is vital for safety.
  • Gear and Cargo: If you intend to carry substantial gear or plan on kayak camping trips, opt for a kayak with a higher weight capacity. This ensures both you and your equipment can be accommodated comfortably.

To assist you further, here’s a visual representation of kayak sizes and weight capacities for some well-known kayak brands and models:

Kayak Brand/ModelLength (feet)Weight Capacity (lbs)
Wilderness Systems Pungo 120 12.0325
Old Town Vapor 1010.0275
Hobie Mirage Outback12.9425
Perception Pescador Pro 1212.0375
Jackson Kayak Kilroy HD12.5425
Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame10.5300

Understanding Kayak Stability and Tracking

When selecting a kayak, it’s crucial to grasp the concepts of kayak stability and tracking. These factors significantly impact your kayaking experience and the kayak’s performance in various scenarios.


Kayak Stability:

  • Primary Stability: This is the initial stability of a kayak when it’s at rest or in calm water. Kayaks with high primary stability feel steady and are less likely to tip over. They are excellent for beginners and recreational paddlers.
  • Secondary Stability: Secondary stability comes into play when a kayak is leaned on its side. Kayaks with good secondary stability resist tipping even when tilted. This is beneficial for activities like fishing, where you might lean to reach for gear.
  • Initial vs. Final Stability: Initial stability refers to how a kayak feels when you first get in. Final stability is how it feels when it’s fully tilted. Understanding both aspects helps you assess how comfortable you’ll be in different conditions.

Kayak Tracking:

  • Tracking vs. Maneuverability: Tracking refers to a kayak’s ability to maintain a straight course, which is essential for long-distance paddling. Highly tracking kayaks require less effort to keep on course. In contrast, maneuverability relates to how easily a kayak can change direction, crucial for activities like whitewater kayaking.
kayak stability

Testing Kayak Stability:

Before making a purchase, it’s advisable to test a kayak’s stability:

  • Demo Days: Many kayak retailers host demo days where you can test various kayaks on the water. This hands-on experience allows you to assess stability and comfort.
  • Ask for a Demo: If a demo day isn’t available, ask if you can test the kayak on the water before buying. Even a brief paddle can provide valuable insights.
  • Online Reviews: Read reviews from experienced kayakers who share their impressions of a kayak’s stability. These insights can be informative.
  • Talk to Experts: Consult with knowledgeable salespeople or kayaking instructors. They can recommend kayaks based on your skill level and intended use.

Where to Buy a Kayak

When it comes to purchasing a kayak, you have several options to consider, each with its advantages and disadvantages:

1. Physical Stores:


  • Hands-On Experience: Physical stores like “Water Adventures Store” in Seattle, Washington, or “Paddle Pro Shop” in Miami, Florida, allow you to see, touch, and sometimes even test kayaks before buying. This hands-on experience is invaluable for assessing comfort and fit.
  • Expert Advice: Knowledgeable staff can provide guidance, answer questions, and help you choose the right kayak based on your needs and skill level.
  • Local Support: Establishing a relationship with a local store can be beneficial for future maintenance, repairs, and accessories.


  • Limited Selection: Physical stores may have a more limited selection compared to online retailers.
  • Potentially Higher Prices: Prices at physical stores can sometimes be higher due to overhead costs.
kayak store

2. Online Retailers:


  • Extensive Selection: Online retailers like “KayakDirect.com” and “OutdoorGearSuperstore.com” offer a wide variety of kayak brands, models, and accessories, giving you more options to choose from.
  • Convenience: Shopping online allows you to compare prices and products from the comfort of your home.
  • Customer Reviews: You can read reviews from other buyers to get insights into the performance and quality of kayaks.


  • Lack of Physical Inspection: You can’t physically inspect or test the kayak before purchase, which can be challenging if you’re new to kayaking.
  • Shipping Costs: Depending on the retailer and location, shipping costs can add to the overall price.
  • Assembly Required: Some kayaks purchased online may require assembly.

3. Kayak Dealers:

kayak dealer


  • Specialized Expertise: Kayak dealers like “Adventure Kayaks & Paddle Sports” in Denver, Colorado, specialize in kayaking equipment and can provide expert advice and recommendations.
  • Variety: They typically carry a range of kayak brands and models, allowing you to compare options.
  • Demo Opportunities: Some dealers offer kayak demo days or rental services, allowing you to try before you buy.


  • Location: Availability of kayak dealers may be limited in some areas.
  • Potentially Higher Prices: Similar to physical stores, prices at kayak dealers can be higher due to operating costs.

4. Secondhand Market:


  • Cost Savings: Buying a used kayak can be significantly cheaper than a new one.
  • Accessories Included: Many second hand kayaks come with paddles, life vests, and other accessories.


  • Condition: The condition of a used kayak can vary widely, and it may require maintenance or repairs.
  • Limited Selection: You may have fewer options to choose from, especially for specific models.
kayak dealers

Considerations for Kayak Storage and Transportation

Ensuring the safe and efficient storage and transportation of your kayak is essential for maintaining its longevity and performance. Here are some key considerations:

1. Storage:

Storage Racks:

  • Wall-Mounted Racks: Wall-mounted kayak racks are ideal for saving floor space. They securely hold your kayak horizontally against a wall.
  • Freestanding Racks: Freestanding racks can accommodate multiple kayaks and are suitable for garages or outdoor storage areas.
  • Ceiling Hoists: Ceiling hoists allow you to suspend your kayak from the ceiling, keeping it out of the way and safe from potential damage.

Covering: Consider covering your kayak with a protective tarp or kayak cover when storing it outdoors. This helps shield it from the sun’s UV rays and other environmental factors.

Indoor vs. Outdoor: If possible, store your kayak indoors to protect it from extreme weather conditions and direct sunlight, which can cause damage over time.

2. Transportation:

Roof Racks:

  • Crossbars and Cradles: Invest in a set of roof rack crossbars and kayak cradles. These systems securely hold your kayak on top of your vehicle.
  • Harnesses and Fasteners: Employ top-notch harnesses and fasteners to safely secure your kayak onto the roof rack. Ensure the kayak is centered and tightly fastened to prevent shifting during transportation.

Kayak Trailers:

  • Trailers: Kayak trailers are a convenient option if you frequently transport multiple kayaks or have a larger kayak that’s challenging to load on a roof rack.
  • Proper Hitch: Ensure your vehicle has the appropriate hitch for towing a kayak trailer, and follow all safety guidelines for trailer use.

Transportation Accessories:

  • Foam Blocks and Pool Noodles: These can be used as additional padding to protect your kayak during transportation.
  • Flag and Lights: Depending on your local regulations, you may need to attach a flag and lights to the rear of your kayak if it extends beyond your vehicle’s rear.

Environmental Protection:

  • UV Protection: Apply a UV protectant to your kayak to prevent sun damage to the hull and fading of colors.
  • Cleaning: Rinse your kayak with fresh water after each use, especially if it’s been in saltwater. Cleaning off salt and debris helps prevent corrosion.
  • Storage Covers: When storing your kayak outdoors, use a cover designed to protect it from the elements. These covers are UV-resistant and waterproof.
  • Locks: Consider using kayak locks or cables to secure your kayak to a stationary object when stored outdoors to prevent theft.
kayak transportation

Maintenance and Care for Your Kayak

Proper maintenance is key to extending the lifespan of your kayak and ensuring it continues to perform well. Here are some essential guidelines:

1. Cleaning:

  • Rinse After Use: After every trip, rinse your kayak thoroughly with fresh water, especially if you’ve been in saltwater. This removes salt, sand, and debris that can cause damage or corrosion.
  • Use Mild Soap: If necessary, use a mild, non-abrasive soap and water solution to clean the kayak’s exterior. Avoid harsh chemicals that can damage the kayak’s finish.
  • Interior Cleaning: For the kayak’s interior, use a sponge or cloth to clean away any dirt or residue. Be sure to rinse thoroughly.

2. Inspect for Damage:

  • Check for Cracks: Regularly inspect your kayak for cracks, scratches, or punctures. Small cracks can be repaired, but larger ones may require professional attention.
  • Inspect Fittings: Ensure that fittings, such as hatches, handles, and deck rigging, are secure and in good condition.
  • Examine Hardware: Check all hardware, including screws, bolts, and fasteners, for signs of rust or corrosion. Replace any corroded parts.

3. Repairs:

  • Minor Repairs: If you find small cracks or holes, use kayak-specific repair kits to patch them. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully.
  • Professional Repairs: For significant damage or if you’re unsure about repairs, consult a professional kayak repair service.

4. Lubrication:

  • Hinges and Moving Parts: Lubricate hinges, rudder systems, and other moving parts with silicone-based lubricant to prevent corrosion and ensure smooth operation.

5. Protect from UV Rays:

  • UV Protection: Apply a UV protectant to the kayak’s exterior to prevent fading, damage, and weakening of the hull material due to prolonged sun exposure.

6. Proper Storage:

  • Use Proper Storage: When not in use, store your kayak properly to protect it from the elements. Follow the storage guidelines discussed earlier.

7. Seasonal Maintenance:

  • End-of-Season Check: Before storing your kayak for an extended period, conduct a thorough check for any damage or issues that need addressing.

8. Transport with Care:

  • Loading and Unloading: Be careful when loading and unloading your kayak to avoid dropping or scraping it on hard surfaces.
kayak maintenance


Q: What safety gear do I need when kayaking?

A: Essential safety gear includes a life jacket, paddle leash, signaling devices (like a whistle), and navigation lights for low-light conditions. The specific requirements may vary by location and type of kayaking.

Q: How often should I inspect my kayak for damage?

A: Regularly inspect your kayak before and after each use. A more thorough inspection at the end of each season is also recommended to catch any wear and tear.

Q: Can I transport a kayak on a regular roof rack?

A: Yes, you can transport a kayak on a regular roof rack with the help of kayak saddles, cradles, or J-hooks. Ensure it’s securely strapped down to prevent damage or accidents.

Q: What’s the best way to clean the interior of a kayak?

A: Use a mild soap and water solution along with a sponge or cloth to clean the kayak’s interior. Be thorough, especially in areas where debris and water may accumulate.

Q: Are inflatable kayaks durable?

A: Yes, inflatable kayaks are designed to be durable and are often made from tough materials like PVC or Hypalon. However, they may be more prone to punctures than hard-shell kayaks.

Q: How should I store my kayak during the off-season?

A: Store your kayak indoors, if possible, in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight. If outdoor storage is the only option, consider using a kayak cover or tarp to protect it from the elements.

Q: Can I repair a kayak if it gets damaged?

A: Yes, you can repair minor damage to your kayak using kayak-specific repair kits available at outdoor stores. For major damage or if you’re unsure, consult a professional kayak repair service.

Q: What’s the lifespan of a kayak?

A: The lifespan of a kayak depends on factors like its material, usage, and maintenance. With proper care, a kayak can last anywhere from 10 to 30 years or more.

Q: Can I use a freshwater kayak in saltwater?

A: Yes, you can use a freshwater kayak in saltwater, but be sure to rinse it thoroughly with fresh water after each saltwater use to prevent corrosion.

Q: Do I need a license to kayak?

A: Kayaking regulations vary by location. In many places, you don’t need a license for recreational kayaking, but it’s essential to be aware of local laws and requirements, especially for fishing or kayaking in specific areas.

kayaking adventure


In conclusion, embarking on a kayaking adventure is an exhilarating experience, and choosing the perfect kayak is the first step to a world of aquatic exploration. We’ve navigated through the vast waters of kayak types, materials, sizes, and accessories, equipping you with the knowledge needed to make a well-informed decision. Remember, the best kayak is one that aligns with your unique preferences, whether you’re seeking a leisurely paddle on calm waters or an adrenaline-pumping ride through challenging rapids. As you embark on your kayaking journey, prioritize safety, invest in the right gear, and care for your kayak diligently to ensure many seasons of memorable adventures.

Now, armed with the insights from our comprehensive guide, you’re ready to glide through tranquil lakes, conquer rushing rivers, and explore hidden coves. So, paddle forth with confidence and immerse yourself in the breathtaking world of kayaking. Your next great adventure awaits!