So, you want to get a kayak? Excellent! Should you go out and buy the first one you see without realizing what you're getting? NO! Why not, aren't they all the same? Great question! There are a few things to consider before pulling the trigger on your new kayak. Let's explore the questions to ask and the options available!
Before you run out to the store and start looking at kayaks, you should ask and answer these questions for yourself:
Where do you want to paddle? Is it a lake, a seacoast, or a river?
Sit-in or sit-on-top? Do you prefer the protection of a traditional sit-in, or the openness of a sit-on-top?
Kayak build materials and construction: Materials, which directly impact the price, are the biggest factor in the weight and durability of your kayak.
Shape and size considerations: These affect handling, cargo space, and again, price.
Let's go into detail why these questions are important to ask and more important to answer before running out to get a kayak. You future kayak may depend on it!
Where do you want to paddle?
Believe it or not, this is a very important question to answer when determining what type of kayak to purchase. Where you see yourself paddling most will determine what length of kayak you might need. If you are interested in kayaking whitewater or narrow streams and rivers, a shorter kayak capable of making tight turns would be your best bet. If you see yourself out on a larger body of water, a longer kayak would be a better option as it will be easier to hold straight and less susceptible to waves which are more common on larger bodies of water, like lakes and oceans. Of course, there are no strict rules about what length of kayak works where. I have a 12 foot kayak myself and take it out on rivers as well as lakes. My choice was based largely on having the space to store the kayak and space for any gear I may one day want to bring on a potential overnight float trip!
Sit-in or Sit-on-top?
This is really a matter of preference though it can have an impact on budget as well. A sit-in kayak will offer a more enclosed cockpit which, when paired with a spray skirt, can keep you and your gear dry even in the most unforgiving waters. A sit-on-top kayak, on the other hand, leaves you and your gear open to the elements. For this reason, a sit-on-top is more of a fair weather kayak so plan accordingly. If there is one benefit to the sit-on-top kayaks it's that you don't have to worry about learning to Eskimo Roll! It's important to note that I have a sit-in kayak and have never felt worried about tipping over and finding myself upside-down and under water. I have yet to learn to Eskimo Roll but would like to even though I haven't found myself in any truly rough waters.
Kayak build materials and construction
As far as build materials are concerned, you have a few different options here and all of them affect your budget. You can go with plastic which is typical for modern, low-cost kayaks, you could go with a higher cost, lightweight fiberglass kayak, or if it's your thing, you could go with a really expensive, fancy wooden kayak. It all depends on your budget and how much you're comfortable spending as prices definitely spread across a large range.
Construction of the kayak is also a big factor in price and preference. If you don't have a large budget, don't want something super heavy, or don't have a lot of space, you might consider an inflatable kayak. Should you want something a bit more durable, have a larger budget, and still want to save space, you could go for a collapsible kayak like the PAKAYAK (no, I don't get any kickbacks here, just really fascinated with the idea). Of course, you could go with the traditional single piece construction that does take up space and carries quite a bit of weight which is the option I went with as well.
Shape and size
I've touched on this just a bit with regards to the length of kayaks and why that's important. Also important to consider in shape and size would be the width of the kayak itself. A wider boat is harder to paddle in still water, like lakes, because of the added resistance it provides when cutting through the water. A narrow kayak won't have as much of a problem with resistance but would lack gear capacity and stability. I also suspect a narrow kayak would come with a higher price as well as they are "more engineered" for efficiency.
By now you should feel pretty overwhelmed with all the choices and considerations to make before purchasing your kayak. It really shouldn't be all that bad though given you will essentially be purchasing a kayak based on what works with your preferences. After that, as long as your kayak floats, you should be in pretty good shape as there really is no entirely wrong answer to purchasing a kayak! Unless of course you buy it and never use it. That would be the entirely wrong answer. For the best possible experience though, there is more to consider through the questions above. Give them some thought and you can't go wrong!