Buying a Kayak: Beginner's Guide for Choosing The Best One

Buying a Kayak: Beginner's Guide for Choosing The Best One

Paddling a kayak brings you exhilarating experiences that no other sport can. It can be a calm day on a still lake or a thrilling expedition on a quick-moving river. Every paddling trip reminds you of why you’re into this sport. And it can’t lack the most crucial companion—your kayak.

You can see that abundant kayak designs and types exist in the market now. This makes a beginner’s kayak selection, like yours, even more daunting. The good news is that it shouldn’t be a struggle. Following is a comprehensive guide covering the most crucial factors to consider when buying a kayak for your requirements.

This ultimate guide can help you touch the fundamental key points when buying a kayak:

  • Location you want to paddle: in a lake, a river, or a seacoast
  • Kayak designs: traditional sit-inside kayak or a sit-on-top one
  • Kinds of kayak that suit your paddling purposes
  • Major factors to consider before choosing a kayak
  • Useful tips for easier launching

Where Are You Mostly Going to Be Paddling?

Buying a kayak requires careful consideration of the water conditions you plan to explore. Certain kayak designs are made especially for specific situations.

1. Lakes

Lakes offer tranquility, with a very small impact of wind and boat traffic near the shore. This environment is perfect for a relaxing day on recreational kayaks and day-touring kayaks.

Where Are You Mostly Going to Be Paddling?

 

2. Coasts

Unlike lakes, when paddling along seacoasts, you’ll get more contact with wind, waves, currents, and tides. For this purpose, when buying a kayak, keep your eyes on longer sit-inside kayaks or sit-on-top kayaks—they are suitable for calm coastal waters. However, if you’d like to paddle in open waters, such as navigating waters or waves, day touring kayaks with skegs or rudders are good ideas.

Where Are You Mostly Going to Be Paddling?

 

3. Rivers

A day-tour sit-inside one can also be a great choice if you’d like to float stably and sturdily on a slow-moving river. When buying a kayak, consider a short and stable recreational sit-in or sit-on-top kayak.

Where Are You Mostly Going to Be Paddling?

 

4. Rivers and Lakes

Don’t skip this versatile option of longer recreational or day-touring kayaks if you plan to paddle both calm and moving waters. Several kayaks are designed with longer lengths for both still and slow-moving creeks and rivers. You can choose a sit-on-top or a sit-in kayak with a skeg or rudder for a higher maneuverability degree.

Where Are You Mostly Going to Be Paddling?

 

General Kayak Designs

Some kayaks are made to be sat on, while you can sit inside the others. This fundamental difference has a huge impact on your paddling experience.

The distinction between sit-on-top kayaks and sit-inside kayaks is a fundamental notation that can remarkably impact how your paddling experience will be.

Sit-on-Top Kayaks

Sit-on-top kayaks have an open cockpit structure, allowing you to sit on top of the hull. Therefore, this is primary for beginners like you who are afraid of getting stuck in the kayak flips. As a result, buying a kayak like a sit-on-top one is a realistic choice for leisure water activities like recreational paddling and fishing on ponds, lakes, or slow rivers.

General Kayak Designs

 

Advantages:

  • The open design makes it easy to get in and get out. You won’t feel trapped if it capsizes—you just need to climb back on.
  • They’re stable in calm waters because of their wide width.
  • These kayaks are extremely adaptable, too—you can use them to paddle in different water environments like lakes, rivers, and even the ocean.
  • You can easily keep water out and let it drain naturally by self-bailing with bilges.

Disadvantages:

  • The open cockpit will expose you to the sun, wind, and various water conditions. This can be uncomfortable in colder weather or rough conditions.
  • The width and high gravity center of sit-on-top kayaks make them less stable in waves or rough seas.
  • They’re slower, thus requiring more effort to paddle.
  • They’re less efficient for long journeys.
  • It might be tricky to control and turn without the support of pressure on the footpegs. Navigating through tight spaces can be challenging for you.
  • Sit-on-top kayaks offer less dry storage space compared to sit-inside models.
  • Their significant weight also complicates the process of transportation and launching.

Sit-Inside Kayaks

Sit-inside kayaks are versatile vessels for various water environments, including lakes, rivers, and coastal waters. These kayaks are characterized by their enclosed cockpits covered by a spray skirt or a removable hatch.

General Kayak Designs

 

Advantages:

  • The cockpit design enhances protection from wind, waves, spray, and cold water.
  • Sit-inside kayaks are renowned for providing enhanced stability and balance owing to their lower seating position. It means you’ll move faster and need less energy to propel. And it’s more efficient for long paddling trips.
  • In rough water, sit-inside kayaks are easier to control and navigate due to the multiple points of contact inside them.
  • There’s plenty of dry storage space for extra gear and supplies on longer or overnight trips.
  • Sit-inside kayaks are easier to transport as they’re lighter than the sit-on-top models.

Disadvantages:

  • Getting into and out of the cockpit can be quite complicated.
  • Water can accumulate inside if it enters the kayak.
  • They don’t have self-draining scupper holes. When water enters, you need to manually empty the kayak by using a bilge pump or bailing techniques.
  • They require more skills to remain upright because of their more narrow beams.

All in all, it's important to assess the strengths and weaknesses of each design and compare them to your intended use, the environmental conditions, and your comfort level. This will help you in buying a kayak that best suits your needs.

Types of Kayaks

Kayaks nowadays have become various types, each designed for specific activities and water conditions. Here are the most well-known kayak types.

1. Recreational Kayaks

Recreational kayaks are awesome to paddle around on lakes, slow-moving rivers, and seacoasts. They have sit-on-top designs with open cockpits for easy entry and exit. Plus, they’re pretty affordable. That’s why they’re a popular choice for most beginners when buying a kayak.

Types of Kayaks

 

The short length and wide body mean they’re really stable and easy to steer. They often measure between 10 and 14 feet in length, with beams being 28 to 32 inches wide. The only downside is recreational kayaks are a bit slow, so you'll need to put in more effort to make them move on water.

2. Day Touring Kayak

If you care about speed when buying a kayak, day touring alternatives are ideal options. Unlike recreational alternatives, day touring kayaks feature sit-inside designs, smaller cockpits, sleeker bodies, and longer frames—perfect for adventurous paddlers. Specifically, they’re 14 to 16 feet long and usually feature beams that are 22 to 25 inches wide.

Types of Kayaks

 

Despite requiring more skill to handle, they provide you with a higher control degree when paddling in windy conditions. Additionally, they're easy to transport and have ample dry storage space.

3. Expedition Kayaks

The sit-inside expedition kayaks are specifically designed to be longer (17-20 feet long) and to accommodate larger loads with their generous storage areas. Additionally, they’re equipped with a retractable skeg or rudder—this device maintains stability and maneuverability.

Types of Kayaks

 

When buying a kayak, expedition kayaks are practical for those seeking adventurous and fast-paced paddling journeys.

4. Specialty Kayaks

Apart from common types of kayaks, there are also some specially designed to solve your headache of buying a kayak, like tight space problems or to fit a whole family going paddling or even extreme paddling activities. Those are tandem kayaks, fishing kayaks, pedal kayaks, whitewater kayaks, folding and inflatable kayaks.

5. Tandem Kayaks

Like its name, tandem kayaks have an extra large cockpit or two distinctive cockpits and accommodate two paddlers. Tandem kayaks are ideal for families or a group of friends when buying a kayak to paddle together.

Types of Kayaks

 

Because there are two paddlers to propel them, you don't have to spend much energy while the kayaks move fast forward. They're suitable for quiet ponds, small lakes, or still rivers. So, if you plan for a kayaking day with your partner or family, tandem models are perfect for you when buying a kayak.

6. Fishing Kayaks

These kayaks are usually sit-on-top designs that bring you pleasant feelings when fishing. They're also equipped with rod holders, paddle holders, electronics consoles, and tank wells for gear storage. And don't worry about your catches, as these kayaks can carry more weight than the above types. This helps you haul gear.

Types of Kayaks

 

It's one kind of recreational kayak, so no matter whether you use a fishing kayak on small to large lakes or calm rivers, it will satisfy your fishing pleasure.

7. Pedal Kayaks

Yes, it's a combination of a kayak and a "pedal". If you're on a paddling trip and would like to take some photos or use binoculars to watch birds but want to keep track, then aim for a pedal kayak when buying a kayak.

Types of Kayaks

 

They are steered by a rudder controlled from the cockpit and propelled by fins operated by bike-like pedals. Pedal kayaks require less effort to propel; however, they are heavier and more expensive than average sit-on-top kayaks.

It explains why most paddlers choose to haul them on a trailer for easier transportation. Moreover, you have to switch to using paddles when paddling in shallow water so that it won't damage the fins.

8. Folding Kayaks

Folding kayaks are easy to assemble and disassemble, offering you a great solution for your worries about lack of storage space.

Although they are usually slower, pretty expensive compared to other kayaks, and require more effort to propel, folding kayaks still stand out for their unique features.

Folding Kayaks

10' Tucktec Foldable Kayak by iRocker

Their collapsible aluminum frame and foldable waterproof skin allow you to fold them inside two separate bags to transport. Plus, it doesn’t take you long to unfold a kayak. To demonstrate this interesting feature, iROCKER's Tucktec Foldable Kayak only takes you 15 minutes for the first assembling attempt and just under 2 minutes after you become familiar with it.

Besides, iROCKER's folding kayak's flexible frames and sturdy plastic function like a hard shell that is resistant to tearing or punctures suitable when padding in lakes, ponds, bays, and inlets. You may rest easy knowing that the kayak won't leak since every fold is a Z pattern that folds in on itself, and there are no exposed seams beneath the upper level.

9. Whitewater Kayaks

This aggressive type of kayak is built to withstand big rapids, drops, and hard bumps with high-durable materials. Designed with a shorter length, they’re greatly maneuverable for quick response to obstacles and hazards.

Types of Kayaks

 

The sit-inside design allows you to have more control and shift the kayak with your body weight. And the kayak will become a part of your body. This will bring you adrenaline-high experiences when paddling over tight spaces and obstacles.

However, if you’re a beginner, buying a kayak like a whitewater one might not be ideal for your first purchase.

10. Inflatable Kayaks

Another excellent solution worth considering when buying a kayak for space shortage is inflatable kayaks. It’s easy to assemble and disassemble them just by rolling them up and fitting them into a bag. You’ll transport them to any lakes, rivers, or seacoasts with no sweat.

Inflatable Kayaks

Photo by iROCKER

Nowadays, there is a diverse selection of inflatable kayaks to suit your needs. They’re famous for being sturdy, durable, and able to withstand various water conditions since they’re made from strong and long-lasting plastic.

Whether you’re buying a kayak for recreational paddling or an exciting expedition, you can buy an inflatable kayak perfectly tailored to your chosen activities.

For your outdoor activities, the inflatable Kayak from iROCKER is a robust and versatile option. It’s designed with a pleasant sitting paddling experience and is stable but simple to use. With 26 D-rings and several mounting locations, the kayak’s modular design lets you personalize it with a range of extras, including coolers, speakers, and fishing gear. If you want to have a company, you can add a second seat to turn it into a tandem kayak.

Its lightweight and small size makes it incredibly portable. You just need to deflate it when not in use and store it in the wheeled bag. Now, prepare to go on an amazing adventure!

Factors to Consider When Choosing a Kayak

You should carefully take into account these essential elements when buying a kayak to ensure your kayak model best fits your paddling preferences.

  • Length

Longer kayaks offer higher speed and stability for longer-distance paddling. When using a longer kayak, mastering the edging technique is a must-have as tilting the kayak onto its side increases maneuverability.

Factors to Consider When Choosing a Kayak

 

On the other hand, shorter kayaks provide greater versatility and are exceptionally well-suited for recreational use in calmer waters.

  • Width

Remember, the narrower the kayak is, the faster it moves. Thus, narrower kayaks are better for rougher waters, while wider kayaks are good choices for calmer and stiller rivers.

Keep in mind that your kayak shouldn’t be too tight. You need enough space to move and exit in case of a capsize. The appropriate kayak width depends on your skill level and the types of water conditions you plan to paddle in.

  • Seats

You should look for adjustable and comfortable seats that provide good back support so that you can stay relaxed even on long paddling journeys.

  • Cockpit Size

If you want more control and connection to the kayak, aim for smaller cockpits. But pay attention, they can be harder to enter and exit. In contrast, larger cockpits are easier to access, but you’re more exposed to the sun, wind, splashes, and other natural elements.

Factors to Consider When Choosing a Kayak

 

When buying a kayak, we recommend you ensure the cockpit fits your height and body size. You should also consider your intended use when choosing the right cockpit size.

  • Skegs and Rudders

Skegs and rudders are devices that can enhance directional stability and maneuverability when you go paddling.

There are two types of skegs: fixed and retractable. They’re fins installed on the underside of the hull. Fixed skegs are featured on recreational and inflatable kayaks, while retractable skegs are usually more suitable for day touring and expedition kayaks.

A rudder is also a fin below the water line and helps you maintain the course. Whereas skegs can’t rotate, rudders can rotate from side to side to street the kayak.

  • Load Capacity

Ideally, you should choose a kayak that can safely support your weight and all your gear and belongings, including food and water.

  • Materials

Kayaks are by and large made from three primary materials: composites, ABS plastic, and polyethylene plastic. Composite materials, including fiberglass or carbon fiber offer lightweight and high-speed performance, but they come at a premium cost. ABS plastic kayaks provide solidness and durability against ultraviolet light exposure and have a longer lifespan compared to polyethylene plastic kayaks.

Factors to Consider When Choosing a Kayak

 

The foremost budget-friendly choice is polyethylene plastic kayak models. The problem is that they’re the heaviest among the three, hence requiring more effort to paddle and transport. Having said that, for recreational paddling trips, polyethylene kayaks can be a viable choice.

  • Weight

When buying a kayak, it’s important to factor in the calculation of the vessel weight. It will significantly influence how you transport and store your kayak. Lighter kayaks are much easier to transport and store. On the other hand, you may need assistance when stacking and unloading heavier kayaks.

  • Gear Storage

When arranging a longer or overnight trip, one of the primary considerations should be sufficient storage capacity to accommodate the fundamental gear and supplies.

Kayaks constructed with bulkheads, hatches, and bungee rigging are a down-to-earth solution for storing, securing, and organizing your gear. This kind of equipment keeps your assets dry and accessible.

  • Price

Kayak costs may vary strikingly, from budget-friendly alternatives to high-end sporty models. It’s significant to build a reasonable budget based on your monetary condition and intended usage. Making a thorough evaluation of kayak types, materials, sizes, and features will smoothen the process of buying a kayak for your experiences on the water.

Tips for Making Launch Easier

Taking advantage of launch sites and using the right techniques can unravel the process of getting on the water. Following are six tips to elevate your launching experiences:

  • Choose a suitable launch site (drive-through launches, ADA launches, or one-way launches) with easy access to water.
  • Have your gear ready before you arrive at the launch site.
  • Use a cart to transport your kayak to the water's edge. Remember to position it properly.
  • Opt for a kayak with a carrying handle or attachment points for trouble-free lifting and unloading.
  • Ask a friend to assist you with carrying and launching your kayak.
  • Practice proper launching techniques and be mindful of others. This is to give everyone a great experience and avoid creating unnecessary disturbances.
Factors to Consider When Choosing a Kayak

 

Buying a Kayak Making Your Experiences Unforgettable!

As a beginner, it can take you more time to make a decision when buying a kayak. But don’t rush. Instead, take your time to assess the key points above (the location where you want to paddle, your intended use, kayak styles, and other crucial factors), you can narrow down your options and find a kayak that’s meant for you.

After this guide, you’ll be able to make a sound decision, find your way to get the perfect kayak, and make the most of your time on the water.

If you still need help with your decision, consult iROCKER’s kayaks to ease your decision process.

FAQs

Now let's move on to some common questions beginners have about buying a kayak, transporting it, how long it usually lasts, and converting from tandem to solo kayaking.

1. What size of kayak should beginners buy?

A wider alternative is the perfect choice for beginners when buying a kayak. It provides more stability and is less demanding to control and balance.

When it comes to leisure paddling activities, we suggest kayaks around 10 feet long and 26-32 inches wide. On the other hand, if you intend to go day touring paddling, a sleeker kayak that is 13-14 feet long and 24-26 inches wide is recommended for achieving higher speeds.

2. What is the lifespan of a kayak?

A kayak’s ordinary lifespan potentially endures for 6–12 years. Yet, it’s also subject to how you use and maintain your kayak and how much it gets exposed to sunlight, wind, and different water conditions. If your kayak is well reserved, it can last much longer.

3. How will you transport and store the kayak?

When transporting a kayak, you can use common straps like cinch straps. They’re a great solution and are easy to use. Another option is ratcheting straps, but it can damage your kayak when pulled too tight. Kanulocks are also a good option if you’re traveling.

To effectively store multiple kayaks, we recommend building a wooden rack to hold or store them. But if your space is limited, vertically attach the sterns to the ceiling and place them flat on the bow.

4. Can 1 person go in a 2-person kayak?

The answer is yes. Many tandem kayaks offer the option to remove the second seat if you don’t need it. However, paddling in a tandem kayak alone might be a bit harder. And it’s also less efficient compared to paddling with 2-3 people. Another better solution for you is using iROCKER’s inflatable kayak. The kayak is designed for you to enjoy your lonesome adventure or easily share it with a friend by adding a second seat.