The Ultimate Guide to Choosing the Best Kayak

What are kayaks (history) and what is kayaking?

There isn’t a speck of a doubt that kayaking is one of the richest sports out there. Rich in defining moments, kayaking is a global history which has been evolving for the last 4000 years.  In their earliest forms, Kayaks were mainly made from seal skins coating a frame of whale bones.

As rudimentary as it may sound, these vessels were actually one of the most effective means of transportation for civilizations to follow. But that was that; these small vessels that we call kayaks today only served our survival as a species and then more.

Nowadays, kayaking has become more of a recreational activity with an outstanding reputation. Seriously, ask anyone who has ever tried any kind of kayaking and they will tell you that it is one of the most exciting experiences you can ever have.

Why should I get a Kayak?

If you have already tried dirt bike racing, ice skating or diving then try to forget about it because nothing can compete with kayaking.

As one sided as it may sound, you still cannot disagree with me until you try for yourself but believe me, if you do it the right way then I know for sure that you will agree with me.

Unlike other empowering sports, kayaking is more or less the safest for many reasons. First, you do not have to go beyond your limitations as a beginner. Also, water, unlike concrete, is more flexible and consequently it can absorb most of the damage that could’ve been the result of a strong impact. Safety measures for kayakers are a lot more sophisticated and maximal which can only influence your experience for the better.

Beyond safety, kayaking is still a sport but not just any sport. In fact, this leisure activity is considered to be one of the best upper body workouts you can ever get. So, not only is kayaking a refreshing endeavor but also a regenerating practice.

How to get started?

Now, to the fun part!

Getting initiated into kayaking is not as complicated as you might think. Actually, there is an abundance of spaces where you can go kayaking and that applies to almost every country in the world. In the U.S, for example, you will be able to find a kayaking community in every state that has access to a body of water. That means, you will necessarily meet people who can show you around the ropes and at least teach you the basics.

Note: Kayaking might look difficult but once you get the hang of it, you can pretty much acquire more skills intuitively.

If you want to take an easier approach then you can easily find schools that offer group kayak courses where you can learn to kayak in a variety of environments and at the same time remain within a small group of people which makes the experience even more enjoyable.

Link of kayaking schools in U.S / U.K / AU

Types of kayaking

Now that we got the basics crossed off the chart, it is time to look at the different types of kayaking out there and most importantly, determine which one is for you.

  • Sea kayaking : First, there’s sea kayaking which is just as cool as it sounds. Sea kayaking is your chance to discover the secret part of the most interesting coastlines and perhaps even make friends with dolphins, whales and other creatures while at it.This type of kayaking often targets remote or isolated coasts such as some Scottish coastlines which are famous for this sport. Last but not least, you’ll also get to ride some waves when heading for the coast and that’s never boring.
  • White water kayaking : Perhaps, you won’t be able to figure this one out just by reading its name but it does sound intimidating. If you felt that way too then you’re pretty much right because whiter water kayaking is the extreme bit of this sport. In this genre, you’ll have to take on powerful rivers, strong overwhelming rapids and even some occasional waterfalls. Obviously, this kind of kayaking is not for everybody but that’s what makes it more thrilling. So, you think you can handle it?
  • Touring : From one extreme to the other, this type of kayaking is the complete opposite of the previous one. Kayak touring adopts a more relaxed approach to this sport, making it all about absorbing the peace and sanctity of the natural beauty surrounding you. This type of kayaking normally takes place on smoother rivers, lakes, or canals with minimal to no white water. This one is more appropriate for beginners.
  • Free-styling : This right here is some next level kayaking as it mainly incorporates tricks and a lot of them. This type of kayaking is often based on another type such as white water or surf kayaking except that this time, it’s all about putting up a show. If you think you can do a back flip with a kayak then this right here is your kind of kayaking.
  • Competitive kayaking : Last but not least, there’s the more official bit of every sport and that is the competitive isle. As from now, you can find 10 different forms of kayaking competitions in the Olympic Games where world class white water kayakers compete to harvest the gold. You think you can make it this far?

Types of Kayaks

To start off, I would like you to forget everything you think you know about kayaks because this right here is going be a rich list.

Touring Kayaks – Wild / open water :

Touring KayakThis type of kayaks is easily one of the best you can get. Touring kayaks are performance beasts, making them extremely reliable but most importantly they are slightly more expensive than most other kayaks in the market.

These vessels are huge (from 12 to 17ft long) which translates into more stability and subsequently more storage space for long distance touring.

Note: The cockpits are often built to guarantee maximum paddling efficiency which means they are equipped with a spray skirt to make sure you remain stable and safe for the most part.

Sit on top Kayaks – Recreational :

sit on top kayakThese kayaks are a lot of fun for children, beginners and most importantly swimmers.

The thing about these kayaks is that they provide you with a lot more space to move around in the cockpit, making it very easy to get on and off the vessel.

These kayaks range from 10 to 15 ft in length which makes them great for other activities such as diving, paddle boarding and even fishing. This kayak is very sufficient and convenient for most people looking for a less overwhelming experience.

P.S: it’s very important to get your thigh straps on before you ride this kayak as it’ll make it a lot easier for you to control it. Other than that, it’s granted that you’ll get the best out of this kind of kayaks under most conditions.

Modular Kayaks – Lightweight / practical :

modular kayakThese are some really intriguing kayaks, considering the fact that they are very light and sturdy but most significantly, they can snap into two. No, they do not break but they are made that way to make it easier for you to store and transport them.

They might not be the best for most conditions but modular kayaks would certainly get the job done 80% of the time.Performance wise, although these boats might not be the best, they are so much fun to ride and they can get the job done, which is all you’d need as a beginner.

P.S: you can actually add more sections to this kayak in order to cater for more riders (3 segments). Thus, their length will depend on how many segments you’re going with.

Recreational Kayaks – flat water champion :

Recreational KayakThe thing about these kayaks is that although they are far less expensive than touring kayaks, they are actually more fun.I know, how can it be more fun and less expensive? Well, these kayaks are wider thus they are much more stable, enabling you to access more potential for ‘extra-curricular’ activities.

Actually, recreational kayaks are mostly purchased by photographers, travelers and even adventurers because of the stability and reliability they can offer.

However, these kayaks are known for not having the largest storage spaces which would’ve been great. Also, these vessels are usually 10 to 12 ft long and they do not have tracking systems, meaning they can’t maintain a straight course without your help.

Nevertheless, these kayaks are still very reliable and if you’re into relaxed kayaking then you’ve found your match.

Inflatable Kayaks – chameleons : 

inflatable kayakHearing the word inflatable makes these kayaks sound like children toys while in fact they are a lot sturdier and practical than most kayaks on this list.

These vessels have proven to be extremely reliable quite a few times already with quite a few products. From Stand up paddle boards to surfing, the ‘Inflatables’ are taking over water sports. The thing about these Kayaks is that they can be easily inflated, using a hand, foot or electric pump (Insider tip: Just get the electric pump).

These vessels are usually made of military grade PVC but, surprisingly when deflated, they can fit inside a carry back pack. Also, they come in a variety of shapes and forms, usually ranging between 10 to 15 feet, but they are slightly harder to paddle when compared to stiff kayaks.

Other than that, inflatable kayaks are still a very smart choice as they are solid performers in most conditions, especially for less extreme activities.

Other types of Kayaks

  • Fishing Kayaks : These kayaks are made strictly for fishing fanatics. They are equipped with rod holders and mostly all a fisherman would need on a kayak.
  • Folding Kayaks : These are collapsible kayaks that can fit inside a bag but these have been recognized for collapsing under continuous stress.
  • White water Kayaks : These are mainly made for adrenaline enthusiasts. They are extremely dangerous and can only be manned by professionals who are never too safe anyway. If you want to get a white water kayak, you better make sure to join a kayaking school and take it easy before you do something reckless.

Kayak Hull Shapes

Before delving into the most obvious dimensions, let us take a look at a less reviewed but not necessarily less important aspect of kayaks in general and that is the hull shape.

A kayak’s hull or body can come in different shapes and different measures but that’s never random because the hull’s shape will affect the vessel’s performance and practicality to a great extent.

Kayak Hull Shapes

  • Take for example the flat bottom hulls. These hulls are almost standard for recreational kayaks as they guarantee maximal stability on flat water but if you’re thinking wild then you should probably consider the following hull.
  • V-shaped hulls are known for being more edgy and fun. These hulls are V shaped for a lot of good reasons but mainly because it makes it a lot easier to flip the kayak back up once it capsizes. As mentioned earlier, this hull type is more suitable for rather edgy paddlers who wish to push the envelope a little bit further. Long story short, V shaped hulls are great at manoeuvres and crash landings and that’s what makes them special.
  • Last but not least are rounded hulls and these are great for touring. If you’re a big fan of long steady rides be it with your friends or on your own then you’ll appreciate the rounded hull a lot more. These hulls are known for their enhanced stability and improved tracking and these are the two pillars of touring.

P.S: A hull rocker is the degree of sharpness or curvature of the kayak’s bottom. Thus, the curvier it is the easier it’ll be to manoeuvre your kayak but also the harder it will be to track in a straight line.

Kayak dimensions

  • Length : Just like Stand up paddle boards or surf boards for that matter, shorter kayaks are easier to navigate whereas longer ones are better at cover long distances, tracking straight and handling more weight. Transportation and storage are two of your biggest concerns when it comes to the length of your boat. So, make sure that you get a kayak you can manage or even better, get an inflatable one.
  • Width : Again, if you’re familiar with water sports then it is no surprise that width affects performance to a great extent. Wider kayaks are naturally more stable, which is suitable for beginners, but they are not the fastest.
  • Depth : This dimension is more of a priority for taller / larger users as it can make the difference between a fun experience and a pain in the back. Thus, before you get your hands on a kayak, make sure that the depth of the cockpit is enough to host you comfortably. Don’t make sacrifices when it comes to this as you’ll regret it later.
  • Weight limit or capacity : For every kayak there’s a weight limit and obviously, the more voluminous the boat is, the more weight it can handle. That means, bigger kayaks can support larger / taller riders without affecting performance greatly and vice versa.PS: When you’re doing the math, don’t forget to include your cargo.

Kayak Features

  • Cockpit: Just like large cockpits are great for taller / larger paddlers, small ones are more appropriate for younger riders. That however is but one way to look at it. See, smaller cockpits also mean a tighter grip and improved navigation but if you’re a beginner, I would advise you to commit to larger cockpits for now as they are easier to access and exit, especially in the case of an emergency.
  • Coaming: This might sound misleading but coaming actually refers to the inner edge or rim of the cockpit and it’s mainly there to serve as a platform to install a spray skirt if you’re planning to get one. Spray skirts are meant to prevent water from getting inside the cockpit and keep your cargo dry.
  • Skeg: A skeg is a triangular metal plate that is meant to improve tracking in crosswinds and cross current. This rig can be raised or lowered depending on the given circumstances and it is controlled manually. This might take some time for beginners to master but it’s very important to know how to manipulate your skeg.
  • Rudder: the rudder is typically an integrated paddle that can be lowered and raised from the water using a hand lever. This feature is controlled via foot levers inside the cockpit and its purpose is to basically help you determine the direction of your kayak.

Kayak Material

Now, you might think that you already know a little more about this area from what you’ve read already and you are right. There are very limited choices of materials when it comes to making a kayak but even within such small range, some materials are significantly better than others.

Kayaks are not strictly made for solo riders, which is why they can be based on different types of materials depending on their purpose and cargo.

  • Plastic (Polyethylene) is the cheapest which makes it the most common amongst kayaks. Vessels made of this material are very reliable and can range from $200 to $1000 if not more depending on the quality of the plastic and features.
  • Kevlar is known to be lighter yet stronger than most kayak materials out there, making it one of the most expensive materials with a price tag that can reach up to $4000.
  • Composite is a highly recommended type as it includes fiberglass, carbon and Kevlar. This might just be the most expensive type of kayaks in the market because it’s very light and very responsive. However, this body armour is vulnerable to damage which is a little bit of a downfall considering its cost.
  • Soft shells are very special kayaks that are made from cloth like material which makes them very flexible and practical. These kayaks are a lot sturdier than you might think. However, they are nowhere as tough as the previously mentioned ones. PS: they come with a repair kit.

Safety Equipment

It is of paramount importance to be aware of all safety measures and equipment for kayaking before you get initiated in the sport.

You may find an abundance of information and recommendations on how to be safe on a kayak online but I will try to make out the best of it in a few bullet points.

  • Life Vest : first things first, you will need a personal flotation device, also known as a life vest, at all times. This item is a must even in calm waters. Try to find a type 3 military life vest as they are known to be the best for kayakers.
  • Helmet : a helmet goes without saying. You should not move without a helmet on because it can and will protect you from bumping into rocks and perhaps losing consciousness and that can be fatal.

  • Spray Skirt : to stay dry and comfortable from waist down, it is advisable to purchase a cockpit spray skirt. This item will prevent most of the water from going inside the cock pit which will keep your legs and cargo dry. This is especially useful for people who might bring along electronic devices (cameras, phones…) PS: Make sure to learn how to detach it quickly in case of capsizing.

Other things you will need :

  • Paddles : Paddles are your engine and navigating system on a kayak so don’t go cheap on them. Make sure that you get a good paddle that would last for as long as you need it. Great paddles are often made of aluminium; they are collapsible and very sturdy. Nevertheless, don’t buy a random paddle; instead, make sure you get an appropriate kayaking paddle.
  • Car racks : Car racks are essential if you’re planning to get anything beside an inflatable kayak because most kayaks are a lot harder to transport. This is one of the main reasons which make inflatable kayaks a great choice for beginners.
  • A bilge pump or sponge : These are two very helpful items which will make it a lot easier for you to remove water that got to the inside of your kayak.

 

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