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Buying Guide | Kayaks


By Steve Kopitz


This buying guide for kayaks will cover the different types of kayaks, kayak construction, paddles, and kayaking accessories. Read along and become a kayak buying expert.


Click on a Section to jump to that section: 


Types of Kayaks Kayak Construction
Paddles Accessories


Types of Kayaks



Sit-on-Top/Open TopSit On Top Kayak


Sit-On-Top kayaks or Open Top kayaks allow an individual to sit on the top of the kayak, hence their name. They are a great selection for kayakers who enjoy fishing or diving. They are also an ideal selection for beginner kayakers.


Touring/SeaTouring Kayak


Touring kayaks or Sea kayaks are perfect for individuals who enjoy kayaking long distances. The design of Touring or Sea kayaks are long and lean for better tracking (the kayak's ability to travel in a straight line), and quick travel over long distances.


The difference between a Touring Kayak and Light Touring Kayak is the length.  Light Touring Kayaks are under 14 feet and are ideal for the shorter trips with more stability than a touring kayak.  If you’re going on a day trip on an inland lake then the Light Touring is the way to go. 


WhitewaterWhitewater Kayak


Whitewater kayaks are different from the other boats that comprise kayak types. Whitewater kayaks are designed to handle moving water more efficiently. Their design is at the opposite end of the design spectrum in comparison to the aforementioned Touring/Sea kayaks. Whitewater kayaks are short and maneuverable and recommended for experienced riders.


TandemTandem Kayak


The name “Tandem” may just give away what this type of kayak is designed for. Just in case you don’t know, Tandem kayaks are two-seated boats that are perfect for families or couples. Whether you’re a beginner or experienced rider, Tandem kayaks can be used by any level kayaker.


FishingFishing Kayak


Just as the name suggests, it’s for fishing.  A Fishing Kayak is outfitted more for the angler.  They are usually wide enough and stable enough to stand in when reeling in the big fish and have features to accommodate gear buckets, tackle, fishing rods, etc.


RiverRiver Kayak


Somewhere between whitewater and flat water, you’ll find room for the River Kayak.  This type of kayak will be great for dealing with the winding river where one moment you’ll face some waves and turbulent waters and the next moment you need speed to travel on the slow moving river.  It’s ideal for narrow waterways where tracking isn’t very important as oppose to lakes or coastal areas.


InflatableInflatable Kayak


An Inflatable Kayak is one that you blow up.  You’ll want to invest in a pump to blow the kayak up quickly but, once you’re ready to go, you can hit the waters safely.  Inflatable Kayaks have a strong exterior and are quite stable.  Don’t think of them as a one-person towable tube.


WomensWomens Kayak


Yes, there are women's specific kayaks available. Women can use any kayak but women's specific kayaks will offer a lighter weight design and a smaller cockpit. These are not just pretty versions of other kayaks and will offer women a more contoured fit while being lighter making the kayaks easier to maneuver, load and unload.



Kayak Construction




• Plastic boats are more durable.


• Offer protection on rocky shorelines.


• Most kayaks are constructed of polyethylene, which is a flexible, durable plastic that offers high-impact resistance.


• Polyethylene is perfect for, and commonly found, in the construction of whitewater kayaks.


• Airalite Thermoplastic: Another plastic material commonly found in plastic constructed kayaks. Airalite is stiffer and lighter than polyethylene.


• Airalite Thermoplastic is typically used in the construction of touring kayaks.




• Fiberglass boats are lighter and faster than plastic boats.


• Can be repaired if damaged during use.


• Last a long time when stored correctly. 


• Stiffer material makes kayak more responsive



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Additional Kayak Features 




Bulkheads will prevent a kayak from flooding.  They basically are a wall that blocks the water that may enter the kayak from a sit-in kayak from filling up the kayak.  This means you’re less likely to sink and won’t have to worry about areas you can’t reach filling up with water.




Hatches are compartments where you can store gear, equipment and food.  Some offer waterproof seals so water doesn’t seep in and ruin whatever you have in there.




A Rudder will aid in tracking. There are 4 different options you’ll have available when it comes to a rudder:

Kayak with a Skeg or Rudder


1) Rudder Included – the Rudder is on the kayak


2) Rudder Sold Separately – this kayak can accommodate a rudder but you’ll have to buy one.


3) Skeg Included – a Skeg is a drop down rudder that can be positioned to help with tracking the kayak.





Kayak Paddles can be the difference between a great kayaking experience and a terrible one. It is highly recommended that you understand the differences between the two types of paddles that we discuss here. Also, make it a priority to look at a few models before you settle on one. Lastly, do not hesitate to invest in an extra paddle to take with you on every excursion, even though you may deem it unnecessary. It will often prove invaluable.


TouringTouring Kayak Paddle



• Generally very light and long.


• Have Asymmetrical blades.


• Can be constructed from a variety of materials.


• Usually made up of two pieces that can be broken down for storage and/or travel.


• Two-piece construction allows the blade position to be customized.




WhitewaterWhitewater Kayak Paddle



• Stronger, shorter, and more durable than touring paddles.


• Blades are symmetrical or asymmetrical.


• Usually built in one-piece for rapid, powerful strokes.


• One-piece construction does not offer any adjustment options.






SprayskirtsKayak Spray Skirt


Unless you’re a calm water kayaker, a sprayskirt is an essential piece of equipment that you’ll want to invest in. Sprayskirts are designed to fit snugly around your waist and stretch over the cockpit of the kayak to prevent water from seeping into the kayak. The design of the skirt is also to keep water out of the boat if it capsizes. If you need to get out of the kayak while underwater, commonly called a “wet exit”, the sprayskirt will pull away from the cockpit and allow you to surface without becoming entangled.



Dry Bags

Kayaking Dry Bag


Okay, so the name of this pretty much gives it away, but why should you invest in one? Dry bags are not essential, but rather they may simply be a preference among kayakers, particularly those who take long excursions. Dry bags will keep all of your belongings dry when you’re in the water.


Dry Bags can be found in several types, including compression and regular dry bags. Compression bags are designed to hold larger items like sleeping bags to be compressed for packing. Some feature manual or automatic air valves to expel air by compressing the bag and tightly.


Emergency Equipment


Let’s be honest here, you never know what can happen when you’re out on a trip. Keeping this point in mind, you need to be sure to pack a first aid kit with basic medical supplies and an emergency kit. The emergency kit that you pack should expand as the distance of the trip lengthens and the remoteness of the destination increases.



An emergency kit should include (dependent on the distance and venue):


• Map


• CompassNRS Medical Kit


• Drinking Water


• High-Energy Food


• Flashlight with Batteries


• Whistle


• Extra Pair of Glasses or Contact Lenses (if you wear them)


• Sunscreen


• Emergency Shelter


• Materials for Building a Fire

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