Kayak Buying Guide
At EZ Dock, we believe that there’s nothing better than a day spent on the water with family and friends. Kayaking is one of our favorite activities because it is a versatile way to explore nearly all bodies of water. To help you choose the right kayak for you, our experts have gathered the best kayak purchase advice that will help you select the right kayak for your skill level and environment.
Read the full article or jump to a specific section:
- Where Will You Use Your Kayak?
- Different Types of Kayaks and Their Uses
- Kayak Sizing – What Size Kayak Should I Buy?
- Additional Kayak Considerations – Paddles and Hulls
- Kayak Launch and Docking Considerations
Where Will You Use Your Kayak?
Before we discuss choosing a kayak, it’s necessary for you to first identify which type of environment you’ll primarily kayak in. Of course, all types of kayaks will float on any water surface. However, specific kayak models are designed for optimal use in specific environments. To put it in a different perspective, relate a kayak to a vehicle — although all types of cars can drive on a solid surface, you wouldn’t take a sports car off-road because it’s not designed to handle the terrain.
Kayaks are similar — they’re each designed to perform best within an intended environment. In a general sense, there are two types of water environments. An inland water environment includes smaller rivers, lakes, bays, inlets, ponds, canals and other smaller bodies of water. Open water refers to all other large bodies of water like oceans or seas and larger lakes or rivers. For instance, kayaking on a small lake, narrow river or open sea will each present you with a different experience:
1. Lakes and Ponds
Picture yourself paddling leisurely across a serene lake or quiet pond. Whether you’re fishing, exercising or just taking a moment to get away from the hustle and bustle back on shore, the waters of smaller lakes and ponds are likely to offer you a calm ride. However, kayaking on a larger lake does increase the chances of facing waves that could pose a danger to you and your vessel.
2. Rivers and Canals
These waterways can come in all shapes and sizes. Some rivers will offer you a peaceful ride downstream while others will give you an adrenaline-filled experience battling through whitewater rapids. Regardless of your experience level, you should be aware that these waterways could change without warning. The speed and activity level of their currents, both on and under the surface, could drastically increase or decrease in an instant.
3. Seas and Oceans
Similar to rivers, the activity level of a sea or ocean can change with the weather. Though staying close to the coastline can make navigating this body of water slightly more manageable, varying factors like wind speed, tidal fluctuations and storms can create difficulties for kayakers at any distance.
Different Types of Kayaks and Their Uses
The type of environment isn’t the only factor you should consider when deciding on which kayak to purchase. How you plan to use your kayak is just as important. One of the perks of owning a kayak is that you can take it with you almost anywhere and explore countless lakes, rivers, streams and seas. Try to envision your ideal kayaking excursion. Will you be relaxing or fishing? Do you plan on paddling great distances or racing others?
There are many different types of kayaks, and their uses range from light recreational paddling to intense whitewater rapid navigation. Before we break down these vessels into specific activity types, let’s look at kayaks in a general sense. There are two basic types of kayak styles — sit-on-top kayak and sit-in kayaks. Sit-on-top kayaks have a seat on the surface of the kayak where your feet remain uncovered. Sit-in kayaks have an enclosed cockpit that you sit inside.
Two Primary Advantages of Sit-On-Top Kayaks
- Self-Bailing: As you kayak, your vessel may take on water. If water were to get into the cockpit of your sit-in kayak, you would have to bail it out yourself. A sit-on-top kayak, however, features scupper holes that automatically allow the water to drain.
- Movement: One advantage that sit-on-top kayaks have over sit-in kayaks is that the top deck seat gives you greater mobility. Inside of the cockpit of a sit-in kayak, you’re limited in how much you can move, which means you’ll have an extra obstacle when getting in and out of the water. A sit-on-top kayak, however, enables you to get in and out of the water quickly and easily.
Two Primary Advantages of Sit-In Kayaks
- Greater Control: Though both kayaks provide stability, a sit-in kayak will give you greater control. Along with your positioning, having your rear, knees and feet in contact with the kayak will help you maneuver more acutely.
- Dryness and Warmth: Because your entire body is outside of a sit-on-top kayak, you risk getting wet. While this may be tolerable in warmer climates, those who want to kayak in colder climates or throughout the changing seasons may not want to increase their chances of getting wet. Sit-in kayaks keep the lower half of your body beneath the deck which can limit how wet you may get. The cockpit also keeps you warm by not only shielding you from water but also from wind, rain and snow.
What types of kayaks are best for beginners? In the debate of sit-in kayaks versus sit-on-top kayaks, we recommend trying a sit-on-top for your first kayak. Sit-on-tops are generally more user-friendly than sit-ins. This kayak is easier to get into and out of, which is very helpful in emergency situations. You can exit a sit-on-top easily without needing to learn how to make a wet-exit required for sit-in kayaks.
Now that we’ve covered the two basic types of kayaks, let’s look more closely at six common sub-categories.
1. Recreational Kayaks
These sit-in kayaks have a larger opening that makes it slightly easier to enter and exit compared to the compact seating of a touring kayak. Short in length, most recreational kayaks reach a maximum of 10 feet long. They aren’t built for speed, however, they do provide the stability needed for a leisurely trip and are ideal for short trips through calm waters.
A recreational kayak is an excellent sit-in kayak for beginners. Its open cockpit doesn’t feel confining, and many can also fit a small child inside with the adult. Though they don’t track as well as a touring kayak, they are easy for a novice kayaker to maneuver. If you prefer a sit-in kayak to a sit-on-top kayak, we suggest choosing a recreational kayak that is accommodating for kayakers of all ages and skill levels.
2. Touring Kayaks
Also referred to as sea kayaks, these vessels are typically sleeker than standard recreational kayaks. They are narrow and long, usually a minimum of 12 feet in length. The cockpits of these kayaks are also more compact so that the kayaker can use their hips and thighs to roll themselves over if they capsize. Touring kayaks are built for speed and distance. Kayakers often use them for racing or long journeys on the river or sea.
A touring kayak can be an exciting way to navigate large bodies of water. If you’re close to an ocean, river or lake launch point, you could get extensive use out of a touring kayak. However, beginners may have a slightly harder time learning on a sea kayak compared to other recreational variations. This is also not an ideal kayak for families or solo kayakers who want to leisurely paddle around a pond or stream. We suggest beginners look at smaller, more accommodating kayaks first.
3. Whitewater Kayaks
Whitewater kayaks are for more aggressive forms of kayaking. There are four types of whitewater kayaks — playboats, river runners, creek boats and long boats. Playboats are as short as 6 feet in length should be used on standing waves and holes in a rapid, not for traveling down one. River runners are slightly longer and can endure a trip down the river. Creek boats are longer and heavier than river runners to withstand drops. Longboats can be 12 feet long and are ideal for river runs.
Depending on the types of rapids you wish to take on, you should consider the length and durability of each of these kayaks. However, we do not recommend purchasing a whitewater kayak if you are a beginner. While all water-based activities have a risk of danger, whitewater kayaking can be more dangerous than a slow paddle in a quiet stream. We suggest that you choose and master a sit-on-top or recreational sit-in kayak before moving on to this advanced vessel.
4. Inflatable Kayaks
The number one benefit of an inflatable kayak is that it can be stored and transported much easier than any other kayak variation. This kayak is perfect for those who live in smaller areas like apartments or who will need to store their kayak conveniently when not in use. These kayaks function like all other kayaks, so they are just as susceptible to capsizing or becoming damaged while in use. Inflatable kayaks are available in both flatwater and whitewater designs, depending on where you’ll be most likely to use your kayak.
As a beginner or someone who may not use a kayak as heavily as someone who spends every weekend paddling, an inflatable kayak has numerous advantages. First and foremost, it’s convenient to store or transport which means that those who may not have constant access to a body of water or the available time to kayak frequently can easily place it on a shelf and keep it out of the way. It’s also an ideal option for families who will only use their kayak on vacations.
5. Fishing Kayaks
If you’re an avid fisherman, you may consider purchasing a fishing kayak. Some features these types of kayak may include are rod holders, pedal propulsion systems which can be motorized and extra cargo storage. Though most prefer a sit-on-top kayak, there are also fishing kayaks that are sit-ins. These kayaks can also handle more weight than some other recreational varieties, which is crucial if you plan on hauling gear and keeping your catch.
Learning how to pick the right kayak can be tricky, especially if you plan on using a kayak for fishing purposes. If you casually fish but plan on using your kayak more for leisure than for sport, we don’t recommend purchasing a fishing kayak right away. Instead, it may be better to opt for a general recreational kayak, like the kind mentioned above. However, if you are buying a kayak specifically for fishing, we recommend you look for one that will be able to carry your gear, handle your environment and provide you with the mobility you need.
6. Tandem Kayaks
There are many types of kayaks for beginners but those learning to kayak with a friend, family member or partner may opt to purchase a tandem kayak instead of a single-seater. There are a few advantages to buying a tandem kayak. For instance, a larger sized tandem kayak allows for more storage. However, one challenge is that the increased weight of a tandem kayak makes it more difficult to recover when capsizing.
The best type of kayak for beginners may be a tandem kayak if you’re planning on kayaking with a partner frequently on calm and contained waters such as quiet ponds or smaller lakes. However, we would not suggest this type of kayak if you want to paddle solo or plan on learning on rough waters like rivers or seas.
Kayak Sizing — What Size Kayak Should I Buy?
When discussing kayak dimensions, we can place each design into one of three classes — recreational class kayaks, light-touring class kayaks and touring class kayaks.
- Recreational class kayaks are less than 12 feet in length and are greater than 24 inches in width. They typically weigh less than 50 pounds and provide excellent stability.
- Light-touring class kayaks will range in length between 12 and 16 feet long. Their width will also vary, falling somewhere in the 22- to 25-inch range. Their added length and width will increase their weight. Light-touring kayaks are fitting for amateur kayakers who enjoy both sport and leisure.
- Touring class kayaks are longer than 16 feet in length and will have a width of 22 or fewer inches. Kayakers use these kayaks for more advanced excursions or weather conditions.
The length, width and weight of your kayak have a direct impact on its abilities in the water. For instance, small and wide kayaks will provide more stability while long and narrow kayaks are faster. Along with speed and maneuverability, you must also consider factors like storage capabilities, transportation concerns and sizing. Ask yourself these questions:
1. How Important Is Kayak Speed?
Instead of rating the kayak on its speed, consider what kind of kayaking experience you desire. Do you want to traverse large distances or stay in a contained spot? Is getting to your destination quickly the goal or do you prefer to enjoy the journey? If you’d prefer to leisurely paddle around your favorite fishing spot, a recreational class kayak will suffice. If you want to race downriver or make it miles down the shore, a touring or light-touring class kayak is better.
2. How Important Is Kayak Maneuverability?
Like speed, the ability to maneuver your kayak is also a factor to weigh. Consider the type of environment you’ll be primarily kayaking in. Open rivers, lakes and seas will not have as many obstacles as rivers, creeks or ponds. A recreational kayak is small enough to maneuver around in even the narrowest of waterways. Touring and light-touring kayaks are better suited to open water environments that won’t require you to make sharp turns or change direction suddenly.
3. How Does Your Size Compare to the Kayak’s Size?
No matter which features of a kayak you desire, safety is always the most vital element to consider when operating a kayak. While recreational or light-touring kayaks are better for children or smaller individuals, light-touring and touring kayaks may provide more comfort and mobility for larger individuals. It’s important that your kayak isn’t too tight that it restricts your movement or makes it difficult to exit in emergency scenarios.
4. How Will You Transport the Kayak? How Much Storage Do You Need?
A touring kayak may be challenging to store and transport while a recreational or inflatable kayak may be more accommodating. Although you may be able to transport or store a particular type of kayak, you should also consider storage on the kayak itself. Not only does your kayak need to be outfitted to store your essential items, but it must also be able to handle the additional weight these items will add.
Additional Kayak Considerations — Paddles and Hulls
Although you may have picked out your perfect kayak, you’re not quite ready to chart a course for the open water. It’s now time to talk about paddle lengths and the type of hull.
1. What Type of Kayak Paddle Should I Buy?
After identifying the things to look for when buying a kayak, the next step is to select a paddle. Without a good paddle, your kayaking experience may be less than ideal, which is why it’s important to take the time to identify the paddle size that’s right for you. Thankfully, figuring out your correct paddle size is easy.
It’s helpful to know that most people will refer to paddle sizes in centimeters, not inches. Accurate measurements are critical to ensuring that you don’t accidentally end up with a paddle that’s too short or too long. For measurements, you can quickly determine your paddle length from home by measuring your torso. These measurements will be in inches, which can then be converted to centimeters via a paddle length chart. Here’s how to do so:
- First, you’ll need a flat-surface chair and a tape measure.
- Next, you’ll want to sit evenly on a chair with your back straight.
- Then, you’ll measure from your crotch to the tip of your nose.
- Finally, measure twice to confirm the number and compare your torso height to a standard paddle length chart.
Torso Height and Equivalent Paddle Length:
- 22 inches = 180 centimeters
- 24 inches = 180 to 200 centimeters
- 26 inches = 190 to 200 centimeters
- 28 inches = 200 to 220 centimeters
- 30 inches = 210 to 230 centimeters
- 32 inches = 220 to 240 centimeters
- 34 inches = 230 to 250 centimeters
- 36 inches = 240 to 250 centimeters
There are two other ways you can determine appropriate paddle length. If you can rent a kayak or borrow one from a friend, you could test their paddle out right in the water and gauge how it feels. You should be able to tell right away whether it’s too big, too small, or just right. Alternatively, you can complete an even quicker option on land: Grab the paddle and either hold it over your head or stand it upright next to you.
- Measuring the paddle when resting vertically: The first joints of your fingers should rest over the edge of the blade when reaching to the top of the paddle.
- Measuring the paddle while holding the paddle horizontally over your head: With bent elbows, your hand should be midway between the center of the shaft and the shoulder of the blade.
There are other factors to consider when choosing a paddle. The differing sizes of each kayak could slightly skew your measurements. For instance, the depth of the seat or the width of the vessel may require that you choose a paddle that is shorter or longer depending on your comfort level.
2. What Type of Hull Should My Kayak Have?
The bottom of the kayak, also known as the hull, is an essential element in the vessel’s design. The shape of the hull impacts the performance of the kayak, each style lending advantages like stability, speed or maneuverability. Because the hull dramatically influences the kayak’s potential, it can either aid or hinder the kayaking experience. Gathering knowledge about the capabilities of each hull is crucial to learning how to buy the right kayak. There are four basic types of kayak hulls:
- Flat: The flat hull is one of the best hulls for beginner kayakers. It is easy to manage and maneuver, lending the kayaker stability in calm water conditions. A flat hull is great for those who may be learning to kayak or fishers who are transitioning from a boat to a kayak.
- Rounded: The rounded bottom will allow the kayak to tilt in either direction, making it an ideal choice for the rougher waters of a river or an ocean. It’ll also help increase your speed and maneuverability in these environments. In calmer waters like quiet lakes or streams, this hull type will actually seem less stable and is not suggested for someone looking for a leisurely kayaking experience.
- V-shaped: A V-shaped hull has a rounded point at its bottom and is often tricky for beginner kayakers to manage. It will help increase the speed of kayakers going in a straight line, however, won’t provide the same maneuverability as a rounded hull.
- Pontoon: The pontoon hull is the ideal hull for beginning kayakers. This hull provides the most stability and will be the easiest for novice kayakers to stay upright in. Although it isn’t intended for more advanced or involved kayaking, pontoon hulls are great for a leisurely kayaking experience for beginners.
Kayak Launch and Docking Considerations
Once you’ve got your kayak, paddle, lifejacket and swimwear, it’s time to hit the water. Some kayakers are fortunate enough to have direct access to a shoreline that allows them to drag their vessel into the water and paddle away. However, many waterfronts don’t always have a reliable, safe or accessible shoreline to launch your watercraft. EZ Dock wants to help you access any body of water safely and efficiently which is why we’ve created the EZ Kayak Launch that caters to kayakers of all skill levels.
Our floating kayak launch makes getting in and out of the open water a breeze. We believe that mobility issues should not prevent a kayaker from enjoying the water. Along with a surface that’s slip-resistant and splinter-proof, the EZ Kayak Launch maximizes accessibility for kayakers of every age and ability. This platform exceeds ADA requirements so any individual can easily use the side rails to lift themselves out of or lower themselves into the kayak with ease.
The EZ Kayak Launch is an innovative and inclusive floating dock that rises and falls with the water level, ensuring that you can always access the water. Its integrated paddle notches, wide format and V-shaped entry provide kayakers with the confidence and stability they need to safely, securely and independently launch the vessel. With an EZ Kayak Launch system on your waterfront, nothing will stand between you and the open water.
For more information about the EZ Dock Kayak Launch or any of EZ Dock’s innovative products, let one of our friendly team members answer all of your questions.