Unlike a boat that you sit or stand upon, there is no separation between you and a kayak. It is like a jacket that you wear, protecting you from the elements. And for those who spend days and days paddling, that connection can become special. Here are a few tips to getting you started in finding your kayak
DECIDE WHERE YOU WANT TO USE YOUR KAYAK
Kayaks are classified by use. If you are mostly paddling in the ocean, take a look at the big sea touring kayaks. Recreational kayaks are designed for ponds and slow moving rivers. People who like to paddle both big and small water will appreciate the versatility of a light touring kayak. Finally, whitewater kayaks are for river rapids and ocean surf.
PERFORMANCE VS. STABILITY
The narrower the kayak, the easier it cuts through the water and the less energy you expend getting from A to B. The wider the kayak is, the less tippy.
WIDE KAYAKS IMPROVE PEACE OF MIND
For those who want to minimize the risk of getting wet, choose kayaks that are 27 inches or wider. These kayaks are very stable and awfully hard to tip over. They are ideal for beginners, fishermen, and general family use.
GOING LONG? GO NARROW
Sea kayakers usually pick kayaks 25 inches wide or less. For long day trips on lakes, keep the kayak width at least under 27 inches.
MEDIUM-WIDTH KAYAKS OFFER VERSATILITY
Mid-width kayaks (between 24 and 27 inches) offer a nice combination of performance and stability. This is recommended if people of differing skill levels will be using the same kayak.
KAYAK TRACKING VS. MENEUVERABILITY
Now compare the lengths of the kayaks. If you need a boat to turn on a dime, pick a kayak that is shorter. On the flip side, longer boats can keep a straight line (tracking) in strong winds and currents.
PADDLING SMALL WATERS? LESS IS MORE.
To negotiate narrow streams and tight channels, you will want a kayak of 12 feet or less.
PADDLING BIG WATERS? GO BIG OR GO HOME.
The longer the boat the better the tracking. For big water like oceans and large lakes, choose a kayak at least 15 feet long.
NEED TO PADDLE EVERYWHERE? DON'T BE AFRAID TO TRADE.
If you need a kayak for ponds, lakes, and oceans, pick a kayak that's about 14 feet. It won't track quite as well as a sea kayak or maneuver like a ten footer, but it will deliver Jack-of-all-trades versatility.
CONSIDER KAYAK WEIGHT
For those who will be lifting their kayak on and off cars, or occasionally portaging, then the lighter the better. If transporting a heavier kayak is unavoidable (sea kayaks always weigh more), check out some of the new car racks (like the Thule® Hullavator) that allow for easier loading.
WHAT'S IT MADE OF?
The most popular kayak hull material is polyethylene plastic. This stuff can take the beating of rocks and sand. Fiberglass and Kevlar offer great performance, but they are pricey and lack durability. Duralite® polyethylene offers both high performance and durability.
KAYAK RUDDERS ARE GREAT!
A rudder adds to both maneuverability and tracking (as well as to cost and weight) because it can be easily steered by moving the foot pedals. This is a nice feature for big water paddling.
AND SO ARE SKEGS
A skeg (a fin under the keel) also improves kayak tracking (though not maneuverability). These can be easily lowered when needed, or raised back into the boat just before landing. Skegs are also slightly lighter than rudders.
STORAGE COMPARTMENTS ARE HANDY ON KAYAKS
Choose kayaks with one or two storage compartments if you are transporting a lot of gear (sleeping bag, tent, etc.). These spaces also improve the boat's flotation if you capsize.
CONSIDER A KAYAKS COCKPIT SIZE
If you are at all claustrophobic, opt for spaciousness. On the other hand, a closer fit offers better control of the kayak. For example, a 50 x 22 inch cockpit is fairly roomy, while 35 x 17 inches is more typical of a svelte sea kayak.