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Is the high price of Gore-Tex really worth it?

Guaranteed to keep you dry and looking like a Power Ranger. | Photo: Virginia Marshall
Guaranteed to keep you dry and looking like a Power Ranger. | Photo: Virginia Marshall

We’re standing at a trail junction in the October rain, stuffing our faces with trail mix. It’s a damp, cold, off-season backpacking trip sometime in my young adulthood. “Uh-oh,” my friend says. “Here comes the Gore-Tex mafia.” Four hikers are climbing the switchbacks below us, clad in red raingear with black patches on the shoulders and elbows. Three decades later, Gore-Tex and its distinctive look is still with us.

First of all, I know of no link between Gore-Tex and Vito Corleone. Second, I love Gore-Tex. I live in one of the wetter and windier places in North America. Gore-Tex keeps me dry. In the days before waterproof-breathable shells, rain gear made me wetter on the inside than the outside.

My Gore-Tex drysuit extends my paddling season from five months to 12. It improves my overall paddling experience more than skegs or carbon fiber paddles. But like all revolutionary inventions, Gore-Tex came with complications and unintended consequences—it accentuated class divides in the outdoors.

When Gore-Tex first came out in 1976, I was in high school, just venturing out on my first backpacking trips on my own. Outdoor gear consisted of olive-drab itchy wool pants, rubber rain slickers and giant fluffy wool socks. Gore-Tex was, of course, both better and more expensive.

It was the first serious “outdoor technical clothing” and it helped bring outdoor gear from army surplus stores to specialized retailers. It also had a distinctive look. That’s why my pal and I could stand atop a damp ridge and estimate the tax brackets of hikers far below, and know it was higher than ours.

As the saying goes, timing is everything. Gore-Tex arrived as class divides were coming into sharp relief elsewhere. The first Gore-Tex jacket entered the hearts and minds of the outdoors world in earnest in the ‘80s. That’s when America also plunged into the world of supply-side Reaganomics, Gordon Gekko, Ivan Boesky, and the S&L Crisis.

Class divides in the outdoors is particularly irksome, since it’s supposed to be equal ground. Stephen Mather, the first head of the U.S. National Park Service, saw campgrounds and trails as places where visitors of all backgrounds could rub elbows. There were enough things to divide us. Fabric didn’t need to be one of them.

Fast-forward three decades. Virtually every outdoor apparel company has come out with their own proprietary waterproof-breathable fabric. But Gore-Tex, a closely guarded trade secret that has gone through many iterations, remains at the top of the heap in price and prestige. Like all our gear, it has evolved—my first drysuit had no waterproof socks or relief zipper. You can imagine how well that worked after three cups of coffee. Things are much better now.

However, the economic divide Gore-Tex put on display is still with us. The Gini Coefficient, a measure of income inequality, has climbed like an ever-flooding tide in the U.S. and Canada since 1980. Yes, people spend a lot more money on golf, downhill skiing and sailing, but sea kayaking gear is still expensive for the average American household earning $56,000 a year. The average Gore-Tex drysuit costs close to two percent of that. This has a chilling effect on gear designed to keep adventurers warm and dry. According to the annual Outdoor Participation Report, the cost of gear is the second highest reason people don’t participate in outdoor recreation. More than 40 percent of the people who do are making $75,000-plus salaries, according to the same report.

Faced with the expense, most new paddlers try to save a few bucks with a more budget-friendly option. They may buy a wetsuit or a drysuit made from other materials, which, in my experience, doesn’t compare. Sooner or later, many admit defeat and plop down the big bucks. I did the same for many years until I sucked it up and paid more than twice as much for my first modern drysuit as I did for my first used kayak.

More analysis may give the lie to the expense myth. I started paddling in earnest about 30 years ago, and I’m only on my second drysuit. After getting a bit soaked on a hike recently, I finally admitted my Gore-Tex mountaineering jacket was wearing out and grimaced at the cost of replacing it. That bugged me until I looked at my refrigerator. On the fridge is a photo of me standing on the summit of a glaciated peak, wearing that same jacket. I’m waving my ice ax and smiling at the camera with a face with less grey hair and fewer wrinkles than I have now. That photo was taken 18 years ago.

Neil Schulman writes and paddles from Portland, Oregon.

Guaranteed to keep you dry and looking like a Power Ranger.
Photo: Virginia Marshall

Trips: Kayak in Kauai, Hawaii

Magnum PI approved. Photo: Tor Johnson | Photo Resource Hawaii

The most northerly of Hawaii’s eight main islands, Kauai is also the oldest geologically. More than five million years ago, a long series of eruptions built the island above a hot spot deep within the earth.

As the Pacific tectonic plate drifted northwest, the rest of the islands were each formed in turn. Today, that spot sits beneath the Big Island of Hawai’i and its active volcanoes. Millions of years of erosion have shaped Kauai’s rugged sea cliffs, deeply eroded valleys and the only navigable rivers on the islands.

For many visitors, Kauai is synonymous with the Na Pali Coast—a superlative stretch of precipitous 4,000-foot sea cliffs dominating the island’s north shore. Na Pali’s (literally, “the cliffs”) otherworldly scenery has made it Hawaii’s most popular paddling destination, and landing and camping here are heavily regulated.

Elsewhere on the garden isle, you’ll discover that kayaking, paddleboarding, outrigger canoeing and surfing are an integral facet of local culture and daily life.

In the winter months, when pounding swell closes out the north coast, surfers flock to nearby Hanalei Bay and coastal paddlers head to the island’s south shore.

Where to Go

Magnum PI approved. | Photo: Tor Johnson | Photo Resource Hawaii

If You Want to go guided

Kayak Kauai (www.kayakkauai.com) pioneered the epic, one-day tour of the Na Pali Coast—a 17-mile, 12-hour odyssey from the road-end in Ha’ena to Polihale State Park.

You’ll see spectacular sea caves, arches, tropical lagoons, plunging waterfalls, secluded beaches and astounding views of the technicolor cliffs. Be aware, however, it’s a strenuous journey for fit paddlers—surf landings, capsizes and seasickness are commonplace.

If you’re Craving waves

Early Polynesian surfers used paddles to propel their large, wooden longboards. Centuries later, SUP surfing is enjoying a modern revival at crescent-shaped Hanalei Bay, where sandbars form clean, novice-friendly waves alongside a historic pier and palm trees sway in the breeze.

If you Want to take it easy

Kauai’s short and scenic rivers make for delightful day trips. Glide beneath guava and mango trees, watch for native birds or bathe in a hidden cascade.

Paddle the Hanalei River past flowering hibiscus and vivid-green taro fields into Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge, then return to the golden sands and azure waters of Hanalei Bay to snorkel with reef fish and sea turtles.

On the eastern shore, popular Wailua River State Park packs rainforest views, a lovely fern grotto and secluded waterfall swimming hole into a shady, two-mile paddle.

Magnum PI approved.| Photo: Tor Johnson /  Photo Resource Hawaii

5 Secrets For A Successful SUP Camping Trip

Paddleboarders paddling into sunset
SUP. Sleep. Repeat. | Photo: Colin Field

SUP camping is a minimalist’s dream. Because the added weight of gear on a paddleboard can significantly reduce its speed and efficiency, paddlers likely need to lean out their go-to camping kits to be more lightweight and compact.

Aim for a kit under 40 pounds, packed into a 50-liter drybag and a medium-sized 20- to 30-liter drybag. Follow these five rules to help you become a lean, mean SUP camping machine.

1. Just the essentials

A packing list helps to prioritize items and makes it easier to spot where to cut down weight and volume. Look to remove nonessentials from your kitchen kit—a SUP camping adventure is no place for a Dutch oven. Cull your camp clothing and footwear options and leave behind binoculars and games.

Use the packing list to identify multi-use items to eliminate redundancy and create extra space for one or two creature comforts, like a beer and a book. Get creative with your multi-use items—you may have used a puffy jacket as a pillow, but how about using your inflatable board as a sleeping pad?

2. Get compact

Does size matter? With limited deck space for gear on the board, the answer is yes. Paddleboards best suited for SUP camping will be 12.5 feet or longer and at least 30 inches wide—you’ll need to optimize much of the deck space for gear. Roll clothes, use compression sacks and remove packaging in advance to reduce the volume of items.

Look for opportunities to substitute a version of an item in its smallest form, such as using tabs to purify drinking water instead of a filter. Shelters tend to be one of the bulkiest camp items, so consider choosing a more minimalistic option, like a bivy or hammock, or go without if the weather forecast is clear.

3. Nesting bags

While larger drybags keep items safe and dry, it’s important to take your organization a step further and KonMari your kit by assigning everything a home. Group items together in stuff sacks by category so they can be found quickly and easily. This ensures you know exactly where to find what you are looking for and your gear remains orderly as everything has a designated spot to go after use.

Use designated bags for toiletries and first aid items, a repair kit, kitchen kit, clothing, and sleep system. Pack safety items into a smaller dry sack for added water protection. Then pack the smaller bags into the large drybag. Tying down a single, large drybag to the board will be much more secure in chop or during an upset than a half dozen smaller bags.

4. Separate on-water essentials

Whether you want to grab your GoPro to capture a wildlife photo quickly, take a SUP selfie (#paddleforever), or need to lather on more sunscreen under the heat of the sun, ensure anticipated on-water items are packed for easy availability. This includes water, snacks, maps, hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, camera and a warm layer.

Pack these items in a 20-liter drybag, which may be opened on the water. Keeping on-water items separate ensures your large, 50-liter drybag of camp equipment, including shelter and sleeping gear, stays closed—and dry—until hitting land.

5. Achieve balance

A good SUP adventure board has tie-down and attachment points for securing gear at both the front and rear of the board to ensure even distribution of weight. Installation of additional attachment points, bungee tie-downs, straps or cargo nets onto the deck of the board is easy and doesn’t have to be permanent thanks to suction cup attachment points.

When packing gear, be mindful of the trim and avoid making the board either nose or tail heavy. Load while the board is floating in shallow water, so you can test the placement of your gear.

Generally, place heavier items toward the center handle. Weave the straps and tie-downs through the handles of the drybags where possible. Tighten all tie-down straps to secure the load and prevent it from shifting when exposed to wave chop or from going overboard. Lastly, secure a spare paddle and enjoy the adventure ahead.

Courtney Sinclair is a SUP instructor and ultramarathoner based in the Ottawa Valley, Ontario.

SUP. Sleep. Repeat. Photo: Colin Field

Kayak Buying Guide: How To Find The Right Boat For You

paddlers talking amongst several different sea kayaks
So many kayaks, so little time. | Photo: Ontario Tourism

What kayak should I buy? It’s the first question a kayaker asks, and the hardest to answer. You have to choose the best kayak for you. But that’s the trick—finding the boat perfectly suited to your specific needs.

With dozens of companies producing hundreds of different models, there’s a kayak for every style of paddling and every type of paddler. If you can’t decide, buy two. There is no better way to grow kayaking than taking a friend.

This kayak buying guide will take you through everything you’ll need to consider before making a purchase, from finding the right size boat to deciding whether you need a skeg to picking a place to buy from. The first step, though, involves doing a bit of self-reflection into what type of kayaking you enjoy doing, and even what type of kayaking you’d like to do in the future.

“Start with the 5Ws: who, what, when, where and how,” suggests Chris McDermott of Ontario-based outfitter Muskoka Paddle Shack. Once you’ve answered these, you can start narrowing the selection based on budget and boat fit.

Where and why do you kayak?

Figuring out where you want to paddle and what kinds of activities you want to do in your kayak will help determine what type of kayak you should get.

For example, if you paddle open water and big seas, look at touring kayaks, which tend to be longer, narrower kayaks with smaller keyhole cockpits. If you paddle protected lakes and quiet rivers, check out shorter, more maneuverable recreational models.

Photographers, anglers and birdwatchers will appreciate the stability of a wider hull and the easy access of a larger cockpit or sit-on-top design. Rough open water playboaters will want an ocean-play kayak with plenty of rocker. Touring and camping aficionados will benefit from a longer waterline, higher volume and two, three or even four hatches for storing gear.

What if you have disparate paddling interests? Sometimes there isn’t a satisfactory solution to this other than buying two kayaks.

“What kind of water will you be in 80 percent of the time?” Kelly McDowell, the owner of Toronto-based outfitter The Complete Paddler, asks customers. “No single boat does everything well. Get something that’s suitable most of the time, and rent for the other 20 percent.”

So what exactly is a touring kayak and a recreational kayak? Next we’ll provide explanations for the different types of kayaks you’re most likely to find online or in store.

Types of kayaks

There are many different types of kayaks designed for specific water conditions, trip lengths and activities. There are also variations within some of these categories you’ll need to consider. For example, do you want a kayak for two people? Is a sit-inside or sit-on-top kayak better for your pursuits? Should you go with a hard-shell vessel or inflatable?

Let’s learn a little more about each of these types of kayaks.

Recreational kayaks

Recreational kayaks are ideal for paddlers who spend most of their time on lakes and slow-moving rivers. They typically have a flatter hull and are wider than most touring kayaks, giving them greater stability. However, the extra width also means they will drag more in the water and wind, making them a little slower than some other types of kayaks. Recreational kayaks are usually 10 to 12 feet in length, which may translate into improved maneuverability and worse tracking and efficiency than a longer design.

Touring and sea kayaks

Touring and sea kayaks are typically 14 to 18 feet in length, making them longer than most other types of kayaks. The long waterline of these boats lends itself to superior tracking; however, the drawback is they are more difficult to turn. Their length also allows for ample storage space for overnight or multi-day trips. Touring kayaks also tend to be narrower and sit lower in the water, these features allowing for greater speed and efficiency as the kayak cuts easily through wind and water.

If you’re on the fence between buying a recreational or touring model, decide how far from shore you want to paddle. For those headed further from the safety of land, “you need two bulkheads to be able to do a self-rescue,” says McDowell. “So you might need a touring kayak even though you’re a recreational paddler.” For added safety, also look for perimeter lines and grab handles on the bow and stern.

“If you’re starting out in lakes and harbors, and then in a few years you’ll be wanting weeklong expeditions, buy a boat suitable for your end use,” advises Daniel Collins, retail manager at Ocean River Sports on Vancouver Island. “You can always use a touring boat on lakes, but a small recreational boat won’t suffice on multi-day trips.”

Fishing kayaks

Fishing kayaks are built for stability and durability, and usually not speed. They generally have lots of storage space for fishing tackle and gear, in addition to specialized features such as rod holders, mounting brackets, bottle holders and anchor lines, among others. Some have pedal-drive systems or trolling motor mounts so anglers can reach the fishing grounds faster.

Whitewater kayaks

Whitewater kayaks are typically four to 10 feet in length. They have lots of rocker (the curve of the hull from bow to stern), which allows for greater maneuverability. Most whitewater kayaks don’t offer a lot of storage space. They also don’t track very well on flatwater and are not efficient enough to paddle long distances. Whitewater kayaks are designed to do one thing really well—paddle on whitewater. The new crossover category in whitewater kayaks offers more versatility in one design.

Solo kayaks

Solo kayaks are designed to hold one paddler at a time. There are solo kayaks for a variety of purposes, from whitewater to recreation to fishing.

Tandem kayaks

Tandem kayaks are designed to hold two paddlers at a time. Some kayaks, like Advanced Elements’ AdvancedFrame Convertible Elite, have modifiable seat positions that allow for solo or tandem paddling. You can find specialized tandem kayaks for everything from fishing to touring to whitewater.

Pedal kayaks

Being able to have your hands free on the water can be of great benefit whether you are fishing or taking photos. With a pedal-drive kayak you use your feet to push on pedals that move fins or a propeller attached to the bottom of the kayak. There is also a rudder to steer the vessel. Pedal kayaks do have reduced clearance, meaning you won’t be able to get into shallow water the same way you could in a paddle kayak. However they are faster and conceivably require less work as they make use of our strongest muscle group (the legs rather than shoulders).

Sit-inside kayaks

A classic sit-inside design offers the best protection from the weather and water, especially important in colder climates and on exposed coastlines. They also tend to be lighter and offer more interior dry storage than other kayak types.

Like kayaks themselves, cockpits come in all shapes and sizes—smaller equals dryer, larger offers easier entry and exit.

Sit-on-top kayaks

Sit-on-top kayaks are self-draining and easy to scramble back aboard after a capsize or upset.

The open deck makes it simple to hop on or off, and these designs are also usually more stable than their sit-inside counterparts.

For a more detailed breakdown of the pros and cons, read our Sit-on-Top versus Sit-Inside Kayak article.

Inflatable and folding kayaks

Folding and inflatable kayaks come in a huge variety of styles, suited to everything from tame pond paddles to extreme expeditions. These boats are lightweight and easy to store and transport.

Check out our inflatable kayak buying guide if you are interested in purchasing this type of boat.

Hard-shell or rigid kayaks

If performance is what you’re after, hard-shell (rigid) kayaks are a better choice than their inflatable counterparts. They tend to be faster in the water and readily cut through windy and wavy conditions as they sit lower in the water.

Skegs and rudders

“Skeg boats are usually higher performance than rudder boats,” notes Kelly McDowell of The Complete Paddler. “The skeg and rudder themselves have nothing to do with it: it’s the manufacturers who have decided that rudders go on lower performing boats and skegs go on high performance boats.”

A skeg assists with tracking in crosswinds or currents and pairs with fixed footrests for optimum stroke efficiency. Most rough water boats feature skegs, since the fin’s placement closer to the cockpit keeps it in the water more than a stern-mounted rudder when the waves are standing up.

Rudders aid tracking and turning, making them ideal for kayak fishing, sailing and longer boats like tandems and race kayaks.

Many recreational kayaks sport neither. “If you go paddling only on nice days, you’re not paddling in wind, or your boat is shorter than 14 feet, you don’t really need a skeg or rudder,” says McDowell.

How to buy the right size kayak

“A boat is like a pair of shoes. If you want to run, you need proper fitting running shoes,” says McDowell. “Your slippers are comfy around the house but a little sloppy for sprinting. A loose-fitting boat is like a pair of slippers. The tighter the fit, the higher the performance.”

Therefore, when it comes to buying the right size kayak, the best thing you can do is actually sit in the boat.

“You can do all the research and find the perfect boat, then come into the store and sit in it and it doesn’t fit,” says Ocean River Sports staffer Julien Huard. Make sure the seat, backband or backrest and outfitting are comfortable and adjustable.

“Test paddle the boat loaded,” suggests Darren Bush, owner of Wisconsin-based paddle shop Rutabaga. It may handle well empty, but if you plan on tripping with the hatches full, “it can feel like a totally different boat.”

Here are some other guidelines for finding the right size boat.

Length and width

Choosing the best kayak for you requires sorting out the different sizes. In terms of length, longer boats are faster, track better and are able to carry more gear, whereas kayaks under 12 feet in length will provide you with better maneuverability in tight waters.

Wider hulls are more stable and roomy, but take more oomph to get going. Narrow hulls are faster and easier to roll and brace.

Still, when it comes to buying a fast boat, there’s theory and then there’s reality. “The fastest boat may not be the skinniest boat,” cautions Bush. “It’s not just boat design, it’s also you. If it’s too narrow, you may waste energy on keeping it upright that you could have used to paddle faster.”

It all comes back to the need to try a kayak out before buying. A certain kayak could look great on paper, but be a poor fit in reality. It’s not just about the length and width of the kayak—the length and width of the cockpit also matters. You should be able to comfortably get into the kayak without having to wiggle and without scraping your knees on the front of the cockpit opening.

The volume of the kayak can also be a fickle indicator of whether a boat is the right size for you. The volume will tell you how much space is in the kayak, but since every body is shaped differently and has weight distributed differently, this can greatly affect how different volume kayaks will fit.

Hull Shape

Along with width, the shape of the bottom and chines (where the sides of the kayak meet the bottom) determine primary and secondary stability. A flat-bottomed boat with excellent primary stability is initially very stable, but if it is leaned too far, it quickly capsizes.

Kayaks with shallow V and shallow arch hulls prioritize secondary stability, offering better performance and stability on edge, useful for open- and rough-water paddling. Chines can be rounded, hard or multi, and will affect how the boat feels when edging and how aggressively it carves turns.

“The most stable boats quickly become the most boring,” warns Ocean River Sports staffer Julien Huard. “Many people, especially new paddlers, pick the boat that feels most stable, not the one that suits them best for the long-term.”

A final factor—rocker—describes the upward curve of the bow and stern and determines maneuverability. Heavily rockered boats turn very easily and are ideal for playing in rough water. Kayaks with minimal rocker track well and are suitable for fitness paddling and long-distance touring.

Kayak materials

“Buy the lightest boat you can afford,” advises Bush. “If you can’t lift it, you won’t paddle it. You’re better off writing yourself a check and stapling it to your garage.”

“Learn the pros and cons of each material before buying,” suggests McDowell. Modern construction materials include rotomolded polyethylene (durable and affordable), thermoformed plastics (lighter and attractive shiny finish) and composites like fiberglass, carbon or Kevlar (stiffer, lighter still and the priciest option).

Paddlers with an eye for traditional aesthetics and feel may prefer a boat made from ultralight wood panels.

To summarize what we’ve talked about so far in regard to size and materials, check out this video from the Toronto Outdoor Adventure Show featuring James Roberts from the Ontario Sea Kayak Centre giving his best advice on buying a kayak.

 

Kayak features

Does the kayak have a place for everything you want to carry, inside or on the deck? Kayak accessories are key. If you’re planning to take overnight trips or paddle open water, make sure your boat has waterproof storage hatches and bulkheads.

For safety and convenience, look for safety lines, deck rigging and grab or carry handles on bow and stern. You’ll be spending a lot of time on your backside, so make sure the seat, back-band or backrest and outfitting are comfortable and adjustable.

Kayak brands

There are an overwhelming number of brands to choose from when kayak shopping. For a detailed breakdown including which companies specialize in which types of kayaks, check out Paddling Magazine’s guide to the best kayak brands.

The following is a basic list of trusted brands making quality boats for all experience levels and purposes on the water.

Kayak reviews

Here are a few kayaks our team at Paddling Magazine has reviewed:

Where to buy a kayak

Paddling Buyer’s Guide

If you’re looking to compare models, the best place to go is the Paddling Buyer’s Guide. You’ll be able to look at specs, read reviews and view pictures of more than 400 models from 40+ top brands like Eddyline Kayaks, Hobie and Sea Eagle. Filter between inflatable and rigid, sit-on-top and sit-inside, whitewater and touring, solo and tandem, and more to easily narrow down your search to the type of kayak you’re interested in.

When you’ve found what you’re looking for, you can buy directly from the company and your new kayak will be shipped right to your door. If you’re still unsure, you can also use the site to locate a local dealer so you can test the boats you’re interested in before you make a purchase.

REI

While REI has a more limited selection of kayaks, they still supply over 75 models from 20+ brands. The handy star-rating system will help you identify which kayaks are the favorites among customers based on on-site reviews. You can also read customer reviews for more detailed insight into each boat.

Have questions? REI offers a Live Chat feature on their website allowing you to pick the brain of a sales representative online. Once you’ve made up your mind you can ship the kayak of your choice to any REI store for free and then pick it up.

Amazon

When it comes to convenience, it’s a no-brainer to shop on Amazon—yes, even for kayaks. Besides fast shipping, the other advantage to Amazon is the hundreds of reviews, allowing you to feel more confident about the purchase you make.

You’ll be able to find a variety of kayaks from inflatable to sit-on-top to tandem. However, you do need to be careful not to be drawn in by Amazon’s “Under $300” category. A kayak should be an investment in both quality and safety, two things you are not going to get when buying a kayak for less than $300. Amazon does sell kayaks from reputable brands such as Perception, Old Town and Vibe, however, so if you are being a little more selective when shopping for a kayak on Amazon you can still find a great deal on a high-quality boat.

The other drawback to shopping on Amazon is you won’t be able to get the advice of a knowledgeable sales associate. Many paddlesport retailers at least have a live chat option on their website, allowing you to message back and forth with a sales rep before you make a purchase. This isn’t something Amazon offers, though, meaning you’ll have to turn to reviews for more information about a product. However, you also have to be wary of reviews themselves, as research has shown some products have inflated ratings. Once again, Amazon can be a great place to find a good price on a kayak—but make sure you do plenty of research on the kayak you’re looking at before making a purchase.

Walmart

While you can still find higher quality kayaks from top brands like 3 Water Kayaks and Pelican at Walmart, it’s a good idea to avoid buying a kayak from Walmart altogether. One of the issues is Walmart employees are not going to be as knowledgeable about kayaking as employees at an outdoors store or paddling retailer. For this reason, even if you are shopping for higher-quality boats, you might end up with something ill-suited to your skill level and pursuits out on the water.

Another issue is the quality of many of the boats. The lower price tag on kayaks at Walmart indicates cheap materials and poor design. These kayaks are made of thin plastic that can easily be scratched, dented or even punctured. These plastic materials are also heavier, making it more difficult for you to get your kayak to the water. And if the weight of your kayak doesn’t deter you from getting out on the water, the discomfort you experience when paddling will. The poor design of many of these kayaks can make them frustrating to paddle, not to mention the lack of padded seats or even foot pegs making for an uncomfortable experience.

As a generalization, kayaks at Walmart are not a great investment. If you want to have an enjoyable time on the water and, more importantly, maximize safety, save up until you can afford a higher quality kayak.

Local Retailer

Just because it isn’t recommended to shop for a kayak at Walmart doesn’t mean there aren’t any benefits to purchasing a kayak from a physical establishment. It just needs to be a place with knowledgeable staff. A local paddlesports retailer will be able to match your skill level and preferences to the correct kayak, ensuring you make an informed purchase.

“A knowledgeable salesperson can help navigate to your needs and simplify all the technical terminology for you,” says Daniel Collins, retail manager at Ocean River Sports.

Many retailers also let you try the kayak before you buy. As we mentioned earlier, actually getting in the kayak and going for a paddle is the best way to know whether you are going to love a boat. Buy from a shop that offers on-water test paddling and try as many models as you can before settling on the kayak of your dreams.

Best time to buy a kayak

So when is the best time of year to buy a kayak? It depends on your priorities. If you want the best selection of kayak models and colors, shop at the beginning of the season when dealers have lots of stock and companies have released their latest models. You can start your search in the spring and into the beginning of the summer.

If you want to save money, purchase a kayak at the end of the season. You might find some great deals at the end of August and into September as dealers will want to clear out their stock to make room for next year’s inventory. The trade-off is you may have fewer choices as models and colors sell out. Looking out for sales around Black Friday and Boxing Day can also yield great savings on kayaks.

Whether you’re looking to get a great deal or get the latest model, the absolute best time to buy a kayak is when you have a considerable budget saved up. While it may be tempting to buy the kayak you can afford right now, you don’t want to cheap out on a boat you won’t enjoy paddling or that is unsafe. If you can’t afford the right kayak quite yet, hold out until you’ve saved up enough. It’ll be worth it for both the enjoyment you’ll get out of the boat and safety you’ll experience on the water. Make sure to factor in the accessories you will need to purchase alongside your boat such as a PFD and paddle too.

How much should you spend on a kayak?

This is a highly individualized question that depends on what you need your kayak to be able to do. The cost of a kayak will vary greatly depending on the materials used, size and features. For example, hard-shell kayaks tend to be more expensive than inflatables. Among hard-shell kayaks, those made with carbon are more expensive than those made with polyethylene. Fishing kayaks with an integrated motor will be pricier than a regular paddle-powered boat.

Expect to pay $400 and up for a decent quality, bare bones recreational design and $1,000 and up for a more performance-oriented design. On average, whitewater kayaks tend to be around $1,000 and touring kayaks around $2,000.

Eric Jackson steps down as President of Jackson Kayak

Jackson Kayak Logo
Eric Jackson steps down as President of Jackson Kayak

On December 4, 2019, Eric Jackson announced he is stepping down from his role as president of Jackson Kayak. He founded the company in 2003 as a whitewater kayak brand, but soon expanded the business to recreational and fishing kayaks.

Eric Jackson is a three-time world-champion kayaker and spent 26 years on the USA Kayak team. He is also the captain of the USA Kayak Fishing team and competes in the professional bass-fishing tour.

While he is stepping back from his role at Jackson Kayak, he said he will still be a brand ambassador and simply wants to make more time in his life for his kayaking and fishing pursuits.

“I have put my heart and soul into this brand, and so has my family, and many of my friends,” Eric wrote in a Facebook post announcing the news. “I hope our customers (kayakers and dealers) consider themselves as part of the Jackson family. As the company grew in size and complexity, I have been looking at turning my attention to something simple again, as well as focusing more time on my kayaking and fishing.”

Jackson Kayak had just recently announced the launching of a bigger brand known as Jackson Adventures. This move created a consolidated brand to include Jackson Kayak, Orion Coolers, Orion Kennels and Blue Sky Boatworks.

The Jackson family is very active in the paddling community. Both Emily Jackson and husband Nick Troutman still race in as many whitewater events that they can. Dane Jackson recently finished first place in the Green Race and also set a new course record while he was at it.

Look for more information to come in the next Paddling Business newsletter. Click here to sign up to receive these emails.

The one type of risk assessment all boaters fail

kayaker
There may be old boaters and there may be bold boaters, but there are no old, bold boaters. | Photo: Daniel Stewart

My local river was closed this spring—a first for the Ottawa. Mega-flood conditions were responsible. The authorities made all boat travel off limits until the declared state of emergency ended. Four hundred kilometers of river was closed. This idea of river closures is not new to some jurisdictions, especially where rivers run through parks, but closure on a scale this large was something new for Canada.

When you learn only six of those 400 kilometers has whitewater, then you realize paddlers got caught in the net of a policy intended to keep motorboaters off of the swollen, debris-filled main river and reservoirs. The famous waves of the Ottawa’s Main and Middle channels were inadvertently off-limits to both kayakers and the commercial rafting companies from May 15 to May 30, 2019. The rafting companies, losing valuable early-season income, lobbied for an exemption to no avail.

Like many others, I hiked in to see what the river looked like. I didn’t need a closure to tell me not to run it—the river looked mean and surly with nowhere to go but down the class-huge middle at high speed. The river was ripping through the trees a hundred meters in from what would be its normal river banks. The main flow was barely visible so far away. You also likely wouldn’t be surprised to hear there was more than one clandestine illegal run made. For some, this was the opportunity of a lifetime.

Risk theorist Jens Rasmussen’s work on safety performance inspired the term risk creep. Rasmussen identified the inevitable trial-and-error learning that goes on as individuals build competency at a given task. Done well, the learning builds efficiency. Done poorly, this trial-and-error wanders toward the edge of what he called acceptable performance.

In paddling terms, this means we explore outward and challenge our abilities, through which we gain competency. However, we may find ourselves at some point beyond our abilities, over our heads and in trouble. Risk creep is the term to describe the inadvertent movement towards the edge of our skills, without recognizing the risk level has been slowly, perhaps imperceptibly, rising. Risk creep compounds when the individuals do not have the experience or knowledge to realize they have traveled too close to the edge, or when the risk has risen to dangerous levels.

Our brains are poorly equipped to recognize we are slowly getting too tired, too cold or too close to the edge of our abilities. We are ill-equipped to recognize risk creep.

Flood levels are a pretty good example of risk creep. Day by day, the water level rises, slowly changing the river features and slowly ratcheting up the risk level. How high is too high? For private paddlers—as opposed to commercial rafting companies, which is a wholly different story—this is an individualized question, based upon one’s competency and risk tolerance. The problem is, without a bunch of experience at this level, how does one know what one’s limits are?

Psychologists have repeatedly proven humans are terrible at recognizing slow change, or in clinical terms “gradual change awareness.” YouTube the term to prove this point to yourself. Our brains are poorly equipped to recognize we are slowly getting too tired, too cold or too close to the edge of our abilities. We are ill-equipped to recognize risk creep.

kayaker
There may be old boaters and there may be bold boaters, but there are no old, bold boaters. |
Photo: Daniel Stewart

So, what can we do about risk creep, if we know it is a trap we fall into? Create triggers, cut-offs and turn back times. We use our own or our collective knowledge to establish limits for ourselves. When spring flow hits a certain cms/cfs, we find somewhere else to go. What happens when a mega-flood presents yet-unseen water levels? In the case of this spring, the authorities’ response was to close the river. For a rogue paddler unwilling to pass up the opportunity, the closed status was a clear indication this was not just another high water run. The closed status worked as a trigger to establish that old norms don’t apply.

While the whitewater paddling and rafting community were pretty critical about who gets to decide when a river is closed and by what criteria, the closure status sent a clear message—a threshold had been crossed and we were in new territory. And it forced everyone to acknowledge it.

Jeff Jackson is a professor at Algonquin College on the banks of the Ottawa River.

There may be old boaters and there may be bold boaters, but there are no old, bold boaters. | Photo: Daniel Stewart

43 Of The Best Kayak Brands For Fishing, Sea Kayaking, Touring & More

Woman in kayak on Moraine Lake in Banff National Park.
Advanced Elements is one of the top brands for inflatable kayaks. | Photo: Advanced Elements

Whether you’re buying for someone else or treating yourself, a kayak is a gift that keeps on giving. Kayaking is a gateway to outdoor adventure, better health and community membership. And it all starts with finding the perfect boat.

We have an extensive guide on buying a kayak that will help you select the right type, size, features and more, but once you have those details sorted out the real difficulty of deciding which brand to go with begins. This guide to the best kayak brands will provide you with a brief background on each company, the types of kayaks it offers, and the technology and features unique to its boats.

Want to quickly reference the brands specializing in a particular type of kayak? Use the table of contents to jump to the type of kayak you’re most interested in to see a list of brands you should be looking into.

Get to know the brands and what they offer and soon you’ll be ready to gift the perfect kayak to the current or up-and-coming paddler in your life. Or, you know, yourself. Let’s get started.

Best Kayak Brands

3 Waters Kayaks

The mission at 3 Waters Kayaks is simple: build quality kayaks for those who want to flip a jig while standing with confidence or sitting back with ease. Their fishing kayaks are stable, comfortable and bullet-proof, yet affordable so anyone can join in the fun and catch a big fish.

  • Types of kayaks: fishing
  • Hard-shell
  • Sit-on-top
  • Features:
    • Cathedral tri-hull design: hull is comprised of three pontoons with deep channels running in between. This design means most of the boat is out of the water and only the narrowest sections are in the water, which, according to the manufacturer, allows for better tracking and efficiency than boats of the same width.
    • Big Fish seat has multiple configurations: high, low, recline and flip away, which doubles as a lean bar when standing
    • Sturdy, reinforced standing platform

[ Browse 3 Waters Kayaks ]

Woman in kayak on Moraine Lake in Banff National Park.
Advanced Elements is one of the top brands for inflatable kayaks. | Photo: Advanced Elements

Advanced Elements

The goal at Advanced Elements is to develop new and unique paddlesports products to enhance their customers’ outdoor experience. Their focus is on designing and manufacturing “inflatable kayaks with cutting edge technology” and providing excellent customer service.

  • Types of kayaks: recreational, day touring, expedition touring, fishing, whitewater and crossover
  • Inflatable
  • Sit-on-top and sit-inside
  • Features:
    • Aluminum Rib Frame Technology: An aluminum rib frame is used in their AdvancedFrame and StraitEdge kayak lines. This allows the bow to slice through the water and the stern to act like a skeg, providing improved tracking.
    • Backbone accessory: An optional multi-sectional keel beam you can install under the floor of your inflatable kayak. Weight in the kayak will press down on the beam, creating a V-shaped hull that enhances tracking and hull speed.
    • RigidForm drop-stitch floor accessory: An optional inflatable floor that can be placed within the kayak and creates a hull with chine, enhancing tracking and hull speed.

AIRE

Each AIRE boat is manufactured to live up to the standards of whitewater enthusiasts, which includes the team at AIRE. Their goals and core values haven’t changed over the 30 years they’ve been in business: AIRE says its team builds the best boats, offers the best warranty and customer service, treats their employees well, and has whitewater running through their veins.

  • Types of kayaks: whitewater, crossover, packrafts and touring
  • Inflatable
  • Features:
    • AIREcells: Internal bladder system with PVC shell
    • Thermal welded seams
    • Raft lace-in floors: Regular or sealed floor pockets
    • Repairability: Everything on an AIRE boat can be repaired or replaced

Aquaglide

Aquaglide has been developing products and sharing their passion for having fun on the water for more than 30 years. Successfully operating on six continents, their designs are carefully vetted and constantly refined based on years of feedback from their global network as well as engineered to meet the highest standards in quality and product safety.

  • Types of kayaks: touring, recreational, whitewater and fishing
  • Inflatable
  • Features:
    • X-beam Technology in the floors mimics that of hard-shell kayaks
    • Duratex hull materials blended with 600d polyester for durability and superior UV protection
    • Durable Core seats: high backrests, plentiful mesh storage pockets, integrated fishing rod holders, fore and aft seat straps, and an infinite adjustment system

Bear Mountain

Company founders Ted Moores and Joan Barrett have more than 40 years of experience building wooden boats that combine classic lines with the most advanced marine technologies. Bear Mountain sells high-quality kits and plans that allow customers to build their own kayaks, canoes and small boats.

  • Types of kayaks: recreational
  • Hard-shell
  • Sit-inside
  • Features:
    • Kit includes everything you’ll need to build your boat
    • Customizable options such as foot braces, bulkheads, bow and stern hatches, and more

Bonafide Kayaks

Founded in 2016, Bonafide Kayaks’ plans are big but their strategy is simple: they will do everything they can to produce the highest quality, most thoughtfully engineered fishing kayaks possible.

  • Types of kayaks: fishing
  • Hard-shell
  • Sit-on-top
  • Features:
    • HiRise kayak seating system allows you to sit with knees bent
    • SeatRack positioning system allows you to convert your seat to a lower position
    • PerchPads for additional standing position on top of gunwales

Dagger

Dagger’s goal is to represent everything that’s great about getting on the water, from the technical aspects of rec and touring to the pure rush of whitewater. They stand behind all their kayaks with the assurance of the highest levels of quality, from initial design to end performance.

  • Types of kayaks: whitewater, multi-water, adventure recreational and performance touring
  • Hard-shell
  • Sit-on-top and sit-inside
  • Features:
    • Precision adjustable thigh braces
    • Multi-adjustable, ConTour hip pads
    • Ratchet adjustable back band
    • All boats have Team Tested approval, which means they meet the standards of the design team and pass the punishment of Team Dagger

Delta Kayaks

Delta Kayaks builds only thermoformed touring kayaks because they believe in the technology, their kayak designs and their state-of-the-art manufacturing techniques. Delta makes kayaks for everyone, from beginner to expert, because they believe every paddler deserves a well-crafted kayak that suits their own style and ability.

  • Types of kayaks: adventure rec, light touring, touring and performance touring
  • Hard-shell
  • Sit-on-top and sit-inside
  • Features:
    • Hull and deck are composed of a proprietary blend of ABS and Acrylic, producing a lightweight material that provides protection against fading and weathering and ensures many years of virtually maintenance-free use
    • Multi-positional Contour II sliding seat system
    • Sea-Dog foot braces
    • Integrated thigh pads

[ Browse Delta Kayaks ]

Woman paddling a kayak with mountain in background
Eddyline makes durable and long-lasting kayaks. | Photo: Eddyline Kayaks

Eddyline Kayaks

Eddyline Kayaks is a manufacturer of premier kayaks and paddles. They pioneered ABS thermoformed technology within the kayak industry more than 22 years ago and continue to set standards for consistent quality, fit and finish.

  • Types of kayaks: touring, recreational and fishing
  • Hard-shell
  • Sit-on-top and sit-inside
  • Features:
    • Thermoformed Carbonlite 2000 provides their kayaks with dimensional stability, high heat distortion temperatures, hard glossy finishes, easy repairability, good UV-resistance and a lighter weight. It’s also 100% recyclable.
    • Sea-Dog performance foot braces: designed to be maintenance free, self-cleaning and strong
    • Infinity Seat: designed for maximum adjustability for a custom fit

Evoke

The Evoke Paddlesports line offers feature-rich kayaks perfect for the outdoor enthusiast looking for “all the extras.” Their vibrant colors, special attention to design and outstanding performance capabilities are sure to inspire paddlers of all ages and abilities.

  • Types of kayaks: recreational and fishing
  • Hard-shell
  • Sit-on-top and sit-inside
  • Features:
    • Trac Universal mounts for electronicsSelect kayaks have self-bailing system
    • Cutting-edge plush seat system with adjustable pull straps

Feelfree Kayaks

Feelfree Kayaks is more than just a company offering the most innovative kayak and accessory brands on the market today. The Freefree team is a close knit community of paddlers, anglers and outdoors people with decades of industry experience working hard to deliver an outdoor experience like no other.

  • Types of kayaks: fishing, recreational and touring
  • Hard-shell
  • Sit-on-top and sit-inside
  • Features:
    • Overdrive system offers pedal and power propulsion on some fishing kayak models. The unit offers forward and reverse pedal drive as well as power-driven capabilities when paired with the Motordrive add-on.
    • Wheel in the Keel feature offered on all kayaks allows you to easily transport your boat to and from the water
    • Paddle Keeper System offered on all kayak models except Move, allows you to store your paddle during transport or secure it while on the water

Hobie

Since 1950, Hobie has been in the business of shaping a unique lifestyle based around fun, water and quality products. From their headquarters in California, Hobie Cat Company and its global subsidiaries produce an impressive collection of watercraft for worldwide distribution.

  • Types of kayaks: recreational, fishing and sailing
  • Pedal and paddle
  • Inflatable and hard-shell
  • Sit-on-top
  • Features:
    • MirageDrive Classic pedal system: dual underwater fins that move the kayak forward
    • MirageDrive 180 pedal system: dual underwater fins with reverse capabilities
    • MirageDrive 360 pedal system: dual underwater fins that allow you to spin and move in any direction
    • Kick-Up Fin Technology: dual underwater fins that fold up against the hull when coming into contact with an obstacle

Hurricane Kayaks

Hurricane Kayaks began back in 1998 when a group of kayaking veterans decided it was time to put the paddler back on the proverbial pedestal and the fun back into kayaking. So when you look at a Hurricane kayak, you can be sure that every detail was designed to give the paddler a superior experience on the water.

  • Types of kayaks: recreational, day touring and fishing
  • Hard-shell
  • Sit-on-top and sit-inside
  • Features:
    • Airestream fully adjustable seat
    • Range of options like expanded cockpits and rudder packages
    • Made with lightweight Trylon

Innova Kayaks

Innova Kayaks makes inflatable boats that are lightweight, can be stored in small places, carried to remote locations, checked in on commercial aircraft, set up quickly, and be on the water in a matter of minutes.

  • Types of kayaks: recreational, fishing and touring
  • Inflatable
  • Sit-on-top and sit-inside
  • Features:
    • Three air chambers improving safety as the boat will remain afloat if two of the air chambers rupture
    • Contoured hulls and shaped inflation chambers enhance paddling performance, reduce assembly time and shorten drying time

Jackson Kayak

Jackson Kayak was founded in 2003 by Eric Jackson and Tony Lunt. Currently located in Sparta, Tennessee, near the Caney Fork River, Jackson Kayak designs, builds and manufactures leading whitewater, fishing and exploration paddlesports products.

  • Types of kayaks: whitewater, recreational and fishing
  • Hard-shell
  • Pedal and paddle
  • Sit-on-top and sit-inside
  • Features:
    • Flex Drive 3D: pedal drive system that operates in shallow water without having to lift out the entire system
    • FlexDrive-e: can be integrated with Flex Drive 3D boats. An electric drive that interchanges with the pedal drive unit offering forward and reverse propulsion.
    • Fishing outfitting including rod protectors, tackle box storage beside and under seat, tie-down points around the hull and more

Jonny Boats

The Bass 100 from Jonny Boats is for the person who likes the concept of a kayak but doesn’t want to be confined to the restrictions of human-powered propulsion. It’s designed to offer freedom of choice with the ability to outfit, with pride, your own watercraft to fit your needs and budget.

  • Types of kayaks: fishing
  • Hard-shell
  • Sit-on-top
  • Paddle or motor
  • Features:
    • Unique and stable planing hull
    • Outboard and trolling motor transom mount area
    • Open bow storage area

Kaku Kayak

The West Central Coast of Florida, where the creators of Kaku Kayak were born and raised, is an angler, spear fisherman, snorkeling, diving and kayaking paradise. This is where the idea for their fishing kayaks and fishing paddleboards was born. Where will your kayak adventures take you?

  • Types of kayaks: fishing
  • Hard-shell
  • Sit-on-top
  • Features:
    • Self-bailing
    • Standing platform
    • Multiple hatches

Kokopelli Packraft

The vision at Kokopelli Packraft is to create the opportunity for outdoor enthusiasts to explore nature in its most serene settings. They set out to accomplish this by developing a line of high-quality packrafts through extensive research and development and by listening to their customers’ wants and needs.

  • Types of kayaks: packrafts
  • Inflatable
  • Features:
    • Optional Tizip zipper add-on provides you with access to the inside of the packraft’s pontoons
    • Whitewater Series packrafts have the 3-Point Thigh-Strap System that can be used with a 3-Point Thigh-Strap Kit providing more control over the packraft
    • Adjustable and optional Backband provides back-support and increases paddling power

[ Browse Kokopelli Packraft packrafts ]

Man in green whitewater kayak going down a raoid
Liquidlogic is known for making whitewater and crossover kayaks. | Photo Credit: Liquidlogic

Liquidlogic

Liquidlogic focuses on creating the highest quality kayaks in whitewater and crossover paddling. Beginning as a dream along the banks of the Green River, Liquidlogic became reality in 2000. They now manufacture out of a state-of-the-art, energy-efficient factory that provides unparalleled consistency in molding.

  • Types of kayaks: river runners, creek boats, crossovers, race boats, playboats, beginners boats and recreational
  • Hard-shell
  • Sit-on-top and sit-inside
  • Features:
    • Airestream and Aire-Lite seat back systems on some models
    • Hand-sewn outfitting
    • Unique “Turbo Booster” design on Delta V kayak that accelerates the kayak forward when engaged after a drop

Native Watercraft

As busy and crowded as the world seems, there are still tranquil places to explore, wildlife to encounter, moments to photograph, and fish to stalk, catch and release. These places often exist in our own backyards. And there’s no better way to discover them than in a Native Watercraft.

  • Types of kayaks: fishing
  • Hard-shell
  • Sit-on-top and sit-inside
  • Pedal and paddle
  • Features:
    • First Class Seating: solar screen HiFlow mesh is suspended over an aluminum frame, cushioning and supporting the back and bottom while drying quickly and ventilating. Can be reclined and slides forward and backward.
    • Propel Pedal Drive: included on all 2020 pedal kayaks. Features non-slip pedals, streamlined pedal cranks and an integrated weed guard on the propeller. Forward and reverse.

Nigel Dennis Kayaks

Through expedition and everyday use, Nigel became aware of the limitations of the kayaks currently on the market and began creating his own Nigel Dennis Kayaks designs, which he has manufactured since 1993. Today a whole range of kayaks are available, each designed with specific needs in mind, which overall cater for a wide spectrum of kayakers.

  • Types of kayaks: sea kayaks
  • Hard-shell
  • Sit-inside
  • Features:
    • Offset day hatch: allows solo paddlers to access provisions while afloat
    • Keyhole cockpit: allows for a faster and easier entry and exit compared to the original small ocean cockpit
    • Compass recess
    • Large, round hatches for waterproof performance

Norse

Norse is a Norwegian-based paddlesport company. They are using their long experience in arranging sea kayak classes to develop to best possible kayaks.

  • Types of kayaks: sea kayaks
  • Hard-shell
  • Sit-inside
  • Features:
    • Aramid reinforcement in the keel
    • Adjustable backrest
    • Easy access day hatches

NuCanoe

NuCanoe started as an idea. Tim Niemier, founder of Ocean Kayak, wanted to put “a billion butts in boats.” This idea led to the innovative NuCanoe design that enabled people to do things on the water—fish, hunt row, dive, crab, paddle or just relax.

  • Types of kayaks: fishing and recreational
  • Hard-shell
  • Sit-on-top
  • Features:
    • Freedom Tracks that allow you to outfit your boat according to your liking
    • Superior stability
    • Lots of opportunities for customization

Ocean Kayak

In 1971, in a backyard in Malibu, California, the original owner of Ocean Kayak took an old surfboard and carved out two places—one to sit in and another for his scuba gear. That’s right—Ocean Kayak was born thanks to a passion for scuba diving. Today, tens of thousands of boats later, they’re one of the biggest manufacturers of sit-on-top kayaks.

  • Types of kayaks: fishing and recreational
  • Hard-shell
  • Sit-on-top
  • Pedal and paddle
  • Features:
    • Paddle, rod and cup holders
    • PDL Drive System reaches speeds of 5.5 miles per hour with an efficient 10.3:1 gear ratio
    • Element Beach Seat, Element Seat and ACS2 Seat: found on different kayak models. All offer ventilation, comfort, adjustability and support

Old Town Canoes and Kayaks

All boats from Old Town Canoes and Kayaks are born out of the same century-long tradition of quality craftsmanship that makes every day on the water unforgettable. Whether you’re fishing, sea kayaking, canoe tripping, or enjoying a relaxing paddle on the lake, there’s an Old Town watercraft for every type of adventurer.

  • Types of kayaks: recreational, fishing, touring and hunting
  • Hard-shell
  • Sit-on-top and sit-inside
  • Pedal, paddle and motorized
  • Features:
    • PDL Drive: has an efficient 10.3:1 gear ratio and reaches speeds of 5.5 miles per hour. Forward and reverse maneuverability.
    • Element Seating System: seating system that is breathable, quick-drying and adjustable
    • Active Comfort System 2.0: seating system that is adjustable, provides under-leg support and is ventilated

Otto Vallinga Yacht Design

Otto Vallinga Yacht Design aims to get people on the water in a boat designed by them and built either by you or for you. To make that happen they have an ever-increasing number of stock plans available for kayaks, canoes and paddleboards.

  • Types of kayaks: sea kayaking, recreational and day touring
  • Hard-shell
  • Sit-inside
  • Features:
    • Buy as a kit or have it custom built
    • Use their design services to modify existing designs or design a completely new boat

P&H

P&H Custom Sea Kayaks has been making world-class kayaks for over 40 years. In that time, they have consistently pushed the boundaries of sea kayak design and innovation, at the same time ensuring the highest quality standards are kept.

  • Types of kayaks: sea kayaks
  • Hard-shell
  • Sit-inside
  • Features:
    • Low-profile back deck for easy rolling and re-entry
    • Optional Bow Mini Hatch in front of paddler on some models
    • Highly adjustable outfitting
    • Moulded-in fittings for P&H Sail Systems on some models

Pakboats

Since 1995, Pakboats has been designing and manufacturing a wide range of folding canoes, folding kayaks and accessories. In everything they do, they strive to provide the most functional gear possible at a fair price.

  • Types of kayaks: fishing and touring
  • Folding
  • Sit-inside or sit-on-top
  • Features:
    • Optional deck for sit-on-top or sit-inside configurations
    • Expedition-ready folding designs

Pelican

For over 50 years, Pelican has leveraged their mastery of thermoforming to deliver durable, quality products at affordable prices. A commitment to innovation, investment in state-of-the-art technology and rigorous quality control standards are the cornerstones of their business philosophy.

  • Types of kayaks: recreational and fishing
  • Hard-shell
  • Sit-on-top or sit-inside
  • Features:
    • RAM-X: a multi-layer material used in Pelican boats that has high-resistance to impact, an ability to regain its initial shape after hard impacts, and has a UV-protected finish
    • Many models have removable storage compartments
    • Kayaks are made with more than 50% post-industrial recycled material

[ Browse Pelican kayaks ]

Man paddling in an orange kayak
Perception Kayaks make boats for suitable for every experience level. | Photo: Confluence Outdoor

Perception Kayaks

Perception Kayaks is a company of passionate kayakers who proudly design, mold and hand-assemble every Perception kayak in Greenville, SC. In every model and size, Perception Kayaks is known for personal touches that make kayaking fun for paddlers of all experience levels.

  • Types of kayaks: recreational, fishing, light touring and touring
  • Hard-shell
  • Sit-on-top and sit-inside
  • Pedal and paddle
  • Features:
    • Made with proprietary high-density polyethylene
    • Leak-proof one-piece construction
    • Excellent ergonomic support

Pygmy Boats

Pygmy Boats Inc. is the largest and oldest manufacturer of precision precut wood kayak kits in North America. Whether a paddler is 8 or 85, novice or advanced in technique, they have a craft to suit your needs.

  • Types of kayaks: touring, sea kayaking and recreational
  • Hard-shell
  • Sit-inside
  • Features:
    • Stitch-and-glue construction process
    • Award-winning designs
    • Kits use only the highest grade of BS-1088 marine grade okoume plywood

Pyranha

The team at Pyranha doesn’t know where their kayaks will be paddled so their boats are all built to the same high standard—to be pushed to the limit by the company’s world-class team of paddlers on the world’s toughest rivers in the Himalayas, Rockies and Andes.

  • Types of kayaks: whitewater and crossover
  • Hard-shell
  • Sit-inside
  • Features:
    • Kayaks always made using the most up-to-date polymer alloy—creating a balance between impact-resistance and stiffness for safety and hull performance
    • Variable thickness shells to optimize performance and weight, and maximize durability and safety
    • Fully adjustable and secure outfitting

Santa Cruz Kayaks

Santa Cruz Kayaks are made with compounded polymers specifically formulated to provide the right amount of stiffness, UV-resistance and durability. These are qualities that will keep your kayak safe while on the water for decades to come.

  • Types of kayaks: fishing
  • Hard-shell
  • Sit-on-top
  • Pedal and paddle
  • Features:
    • Raptor G2 has a wave-piercing bow with twin keel providing great tracking ability
    • Raptor G1 has a wave-piercing bow with wide stern for enhanced stability
    • Raptor G2 can convert to a pedal drive

Sea Eagle

Sea Eagle kayaks are light, compact, easy to carry and extremely durable. Whether you’re looking to explore nearby waterways, fish remote lakes or get away to a tropical paradise, Sea Eagle inflatables can take you there.

  • Types of kayaks: whitewater, expedition, recreational and fishing
  • Inflatable
  • Sit-on-top
  • Features:
    • RazorLite kayaks are the first inflatable kayaks to use drop-stitch throughout
    • Explorer kayaks have self-bailing valves
    • FastTrack kayaks have a sleek, curved, touring shape with state-of-the-art “NeedleKnife Keel” to provide hard-shell performance with benefits of an inflatable

Stellar Kayaks

Stellar Kayaks is a global company, striving to bring the advantages of advanced composites to paddlesports, producing some of the lightest and stiffest boats available today. Their design team hails from North America and Germany with input from paddlers worldwide.

  • Types of kayaks: touring, racing and recreational
  • Hard-shell
  • Sit-inside
  • Features:
    • Double fiberglass taped deck joints on kayaks ensures a durable bond for rough water
    • Large rubber hatches provide dry storage for cargo
    • Hardware fastened to the boat using a nut bonded and capped to the boat for a waterproof seal and durable connection
    • Imported premium materials and advanced composite construction make for some of the lightest and stiffest boats on the market

Sun Dolphin

Sun Dolphin began its adventure in 1982 as a small family-owned business that made a single two-person pedal boat. Since then they have become North America’s leading manufacturer of kayaks and outdoor recreational products.

  • Types of kayaks: recreational and fishing
  • Hard-shell
  • Sit-on-top and sit-inside
  • Features:
    • Built with durable, high-density Fortiflex material
    • Adjustable, padded seats
    • Some models are self-bailing

Tahe Outdoors

Tahe Outdoors is the top manufacturing and distribution company in the field of high-quality watersports equipment in Europe. Their mission is to change people’s lives by introducing them to one of the most relaxing ways to spend their free time—kayaking.

  • Types of kayaks: expedition, racing, touring, recreational and whitewater
  • Hard-shell
  • Sit-inside
  • Features:
    • Zegul B-series kayaks are designed with perfect ratio between speed and stability
    • Various construction layups available providing different weights and performance

TIDERACE Sea Kayaks

TIDERACE creates sea kayaks that push the boundaries of design and construction to new limits. You can tour or race or play. TICERACE Sea Kayaks are sold through Umingmaq Paddle Touring Centre who have selected their brands based on quality of construction, range of designs, utility, features and a focus on paddle touring.

  • Types of kayaks: sea kayaks
  • Hard-shell
  • Sit-inside
  • Features:
    • Available in a range of sizes
    • Thigh braces which promote comfort, precision and ease of access
    • Optimum leg/knee position for power transfer, comfort and body rotation

TRAK Kayaks

From the beginning, TRAK Kayaks was launched and developed to provide the most amazing series of adventures possible. From the investors’ dream through to entrepreneurial inspiration, and ultimately to customers and TRAK owners, the experience is the same. They all love adventure.

  • Types of kayaks: touring
  • Hard-shell
  • Folding
  • Features:
    • Control seat with adjustable back band
    • Keder storage system: closure system uses a keder solution to make it watertight and make gear accessible
    • Two standard flotation bags that act as secondary buoyancy and displacement
    • Full perimeter reflective deck line

Uncharted Watercraft

Uncharted Watercraft boats are proudly designed and manufactured in Lawrencetown, Georgia. They put a lot of effort into creating your kayak to make sure you need no effort to enjoy it.

  • Types of kayaks: fishing and recreational
  • Hard-shell
  • Sit-on-top
  • Features:
    • Molded of high molecular weight polyethylene using twin sheet thermoforming technology
    • Can be assembled and disassembled in seconds with no tools. Packs down to fit in most vehicles.

Venture

The people at Venture are paddlers just like you, with just one aim—to make kayaks that have the best combination of performance, comfort and quality so you can have the best days ever on the water and enjoy the wonderful rivers, coastlines and waterways around the world time and time again.

  • Types of kayaks: adventure touring and performance touring
  • Hard-shell
  • Sit-inside
  • Features:
    • Made of high-quality, proprietary HDPE that is UV-, scratch- and impact-resistant
    • Water-resistant storage hatches
    • Retractable skeg

[ Browse Venture kayaks ]

Red kayak sitting in shallow waters
Vibe is known for their fishing kayaks. | Photo: Vibe Kayaks

Vibe Kayaks

Since 2013, Vibe Kayaks has focused on one thing—giving paddlers of any skill level the opportunity to experience the freedom that comes with diving into what nature has to offer. The brand is built on a passion for the water, fishing and outdoor living, and their products are the perfect combination of good looks, great features and affordability.

  • Types of kayaks: fishing
  • Hard-shell
  • Sit-on-top
  • Features:
    • Made of rotomolded single piece of polyethylene
    • Gear mounts
    • Vibe Hero seat has two positions and provides comfort and support

Wilderness Systems

Innovative designs tuned for performance, premium outfitting and stunning quality have made Wilderness Systems’ boats among the most acclaimed paddling experiences in the world. From new entrants to seasoned experts, Wilderness Systems kayaks are designed to get you where you want to be, more often—on the water.

  • Types of kayaks: fishing and recreational
  • Hard-shell
  • Sit-on-top and sit-inside
  • Pedal, paddle and motor
  • Features:
    • Helix PD Pedal Drive has a 6:1 gear ratio
    • Helix MD Motor Drive can reach speeds of 6 miles per hour and features a solar-rechargeable lithium battery that lasts up to eight hours
    • Some models are self-bailing

Fishing Kayak Brands

  • 3 Waters Kayaks
  • Bonafide Kayaks
  • Evoke
  • Jonny Boats
  • Kaku Kayaks
  • Native Watercraft
  • NuCanoe
  • Ocean Kayak
  • Pakboats
  • Pelican
  • Santa Cruz Kayaks
  • Sun Dolphin
  • Uncharted Watercraft
  • Vibe Kayaks
  • Wilderness Systems

Sea Kayak Brands

  • Nigel Dennis Kayaks
  • Norse
  • P&H
  • TIDERACE Sea Kayaks

Whitewater Kayak Brands

  • AIRE
  • Liquidlogic
  • Pyranha

Touring Kayak Brands

  • Delta Kayaks
  • Pakboats
  • Perception Kayaks
  • TRAK Kayaks
  • Venture

Inflatable Kayak Brands

  • Advanced Elements
  • AIRE
  • Aquaglide
  • Hobie
  • Innova Kayaks
  • Kokopelli Packraft
  • Sea Eagle

Recreational Kayak Brands

  • Bear Mountain
  • Eddyline Kayaks
  • Evoke
  • Freelfree Kayaks
  • Hobie
  • Hurricane Kayaks
  • Innova Kayaks
  • Jackson Kayak
  • NuCanoe
  • Ocean Kayak
  • Old Town Canoes and Kayaks
  • Otto Vallinga Yacht Design
  • Pelican
  • Perception Kayaks
  • Pygmy Boats
  • Stellar Kayaks
  • Sun Dolphin
  • Uncharted Watercraft
  • Wilderness Systems

Why Open Boaters Need More Than One Paddle

Quintuplets—how does he do it? It’s tricky.| Photo: Paul Mason
Quintuplets—how does he do it? It’s tricky.| Photo: Paul Mason

The topic of the perfect paddle length is second only to the discussion of the perfect boat whenever more than two paddlers gather. From online forums to campfires, birthdays to wedding receptions, and even at natural disasters—especially floods—nowhere is off limits when it comes to talking about the perfect paddle length.

Recently, I was heading off for a week of teaching tandem canoeing with a mild injury, resulting in very limited range of motion in my shoulder. In desperation, I grabbed my daughter’s paddle, a good three inches shorter than what I usually paddle with.

I was surprised to find how well it worked. Yes, doing a rudder stroke while sitting up on the seat of a big tandem tripping canoe was a bit ineffective, but most of my other strokes weren’t much affected. I came away from the week vowing to try an even shorter paddle in my solo canoe.

Paddle length is influenced by canoe length in that a short canoe responds—or misbehaves—faster than a boat with a longer waterline, which will track more predictably. A shorter paddle equals a quicker stroke rate, therefore reducing delays in corrections.

Paddle 1 is 56 inches—the length I use when sitting on the higher seats of a tandem canoe like this Esquif Pocket Canyon. It’s a paddle I can rely on to maneuver a heavily-laden 17-foot tripping canoe through rapids, serve as a tarp pole or dig a house foundation if the backhoe doesn’t show up.

Paddle 2 is a good length at 55 inches for slalom racing in my 11-foot, eight-inch Spark, which requires digging deep into the eddy pools to catch upstream slalom gates and slicing the paddle through the water for control. Paddle 3 is my playboat length at 54.5 inches. Long enough to dig and drag on shallow slides, but short enough to make offside strokes easy in my short 9’2” L’edge.

Paddle 4 is my daughter’s canoe tripping paddle—54 inches long—but the perfect length for me when I’m in the nine-foot Esquif Extasy. The shorter shaft allows fluid transition between onside and offside strokes. Yes, it’s a little short for a decent rudder stroke, but power steering is the goal, so I shouldn’t be ruddering anyway.

And there you have it—justification for owning more than one paddle. You’re welcome.

Paul Mason teaches Paddle Canada canoe courses and offers technique tips on his Facebook page and at www.canoeinstruction.co

Quintuplets—how does he do it? It’s tricky. Photo: Paul Mason

Man saves dog and they paddle across the ocean together

When Sergi Basoli set off to kayak the Mediterranean Sea,  he believed he would be doing it alone. Little did he know, he would come across an abandoned stray dog soon before he departed for his adventure and take the pup along for the ride.

He met his dog, Nirvana, on the streets of Sardinia. After a trip to the vet to ensure the dog was healthy, the two of them set off on the adventure of a lifetime.

Basoli mentions in the video they needed to have a very strong bond and use communication throughout the trip. He had made some customizations to his kayak to protect Nirvana from the sun.

Some dogs live in condos and only get out to walk a few times a day. Nirvana got to live outdoors and see all of the amazing places Basoli was taking her. You can tell the dog is happy as it jumps in and out of the boat, running along shorelines while Basoli keeps an eye on her.

It is amazing that they were able to fit all their gear into the kayak. You can imagine the struggle of just getting your own food and gear into the boat, nevermind extra food for the dog.

Basoli got Nirvana a jacket to keep her warm from the wind. Another great option would have been getting them both a life jacket.

Many paddlers know the feeling of being stuck next to the same person for long periods of time and how frustrations can happen quite easily. We have a hunch this might not happen when your paddling partner is also your furry best friend.

[ Also read: Why The Best Canoe Tripping Pals Have Four Legs ]

Featured Photo: Courtesy of The Dodo (Youtube)

Secrets to kayaking in the Ozarks

The scenic Alley Mill is located in the Ozark National Scenic Riverways and now operates as a museum. | Photo: Courtesy VisitMO.com
The scenic Alley Mill is located in the Ozark National Scenic Riverways and now operates as a museum. | Photo: Courtesy VisitMO.com

In a little-known corner of the Midwest, in the lesser-visited state of Missouri, in the almost unheard-of Ozark Mountains, there’s a hilly region of oak and pine woodland hiding some of America’s best-kept secret rivers.

Picture plunging sinkholes, limestone caves, underground streams, and many freshwater springs bursting year-round from cliffs.

In fact, there are so many springs, they seem to have run out of names. There are multiple Boiling Springs, Round Springs, Cave Springs, Ebb and Flow Springs.

While there are several regions across the Ozarks with fantastic year-round paddling opportunities, the eastern region in Missouri is particularly suited for a first-time paddling visit.

The class I to II waters run cool and clear throughout the year, including the sweltering summers. And with two rivers protected by a national park, plus another designated as a Wild and Scenic River, you’ll find plenty to paddle, whether for a day or a week.

 SHUTTLE

Many riverside outfitters and rental companies offer shuttle services, plus maps and more info. For Ozark National Scenic Riverways, visit www.nps.gov/ozar. For the Eleven Point National Scenic River, visit www.fs.usda.gov.

DON’T MISS

There’s more than just paddling at ONSR. Two highlights include a ranger-led lantern tour of Round Spring Cave and descending the stairs into the gaping Devil’s Well, a karst window where a sinkhole swallows a creek.

DIVERSIONS

While much of the Ozark Trail is still under construction in other parts of Missouri, a completed section passes through ONSR. Specifically, shorter hikes can be found near Round Spring or in the nearby Echo Bluff State Park and Current River State Park.

LEARN MORE

For a guide to more than 40 of the Ozarks’ greatest paddling adventures, in Missouri and Arkansas, check out Paddling the Ozarks by Mike Bezemek.

If you have a half day:

The Jacks Fork in Ozark National Scenic Riverways (ONSR) offers a pair of seven-mile class I to II sections above and below Alley Spring. Shuttles are easy using MO-106.

The upper run, starting at Bay Creek access off County Road 106-425, is more remote and begins in a narrow bluff-lined valley. Typically, this run has smaller crowds and lower flows once the trees leaf out, which may require some dragging past riffles. Below Alley Spring, which boosts the flow, is the more typical summer run, with a take-out at Buttin Rock Access near the bridge in the town of Eminence, Missouri.

If you have a full day:

Head over to the Current River, also in ONSR, and focus on one of the roughly 10-mile class I to II runs above or below the river access at Pulltite Campground, reached via Highway EE off MO-19. For the upper run, start at Akers Ferry, reached via Highway KK from MO-19.

This run includes paddling past Cave Spring, unique in the Ozarks, where groundwater discharges from a river-level cave—due to White Nose Syndrome, which is fatal to bats, the cave is currently closed to entry. To extend this run, start three miles farther upstream at Welch Spring, where you can visit the ruins of a historic hospital. For the lower 10-mile run, start at Pulltite, visit the landmark logging cabin up the spring branch, and take out at Round Spring access (just off MO-19).

If you have a weekend:

Head to the Eleven Point National Scenic River, one of the original eight protected in the 1968 Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. The 19 miles from Greer Crossing to Riverton are perfect for a two- or three-day trip. Near the put-in, Greer Springs is the second-largest spring in the Ozarks, discharging an average of 360 cfs.

Along the way, enjoy the mysterious vibes of the Eleven Point, like the recurring river-level fogs, the forested bluffs of the Irish Wilderness where a whole community vanished during the Civil War, and the abandoned mill sites at Turner and Boze Springs.

If you have a full week:

You’re what Ozarkers call lucky. Combine everything above but know most runs can be extended upstream or downstream—sometimes for dozens of miles. In 1926, acclaimed naturalist Aldo Leopold floated for two weeks on the lower Current River, from Van Buren to Doniphan. Becoming so enamored with the region, he returned three years later and bought a riverside cabin.

If you want more rivers to explore, all you need to do is pick a direction and drive over rolling ridges and valleys for about an hour. Here’s a hint: North Fork White.

The scenic Alley Mill is located in the Ozark National Scenic Riverways and now operates as a museum. | Photo: Courtesy VisitMO.com