There a lot of questions you should ask before you buy a kayak. When it comes to performance, longer kayaks are typically faster, while shorter kayaks boast better maneuverability. Along with width, hull shape affects stability and how well a boat edges, turns and tracks. “There are so many factors aside from feet and inches,” warns Kelly McDowell, owner of The Complete Paddler, “two boats with very similar dimensions can paddle completely differently.”
Why do you want to buy a kayak?
Why do you kayak?
“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.
Reader Tip: “Take a good hard look at the type of kayaking you enjoy doing,” offers Adventure Kayak fan, Bill Mart. Reader Kevin Storm of San Mateo, California, agrees, “Decide up front what you want your boat to do: tour, freestyle, whitewater, fish, all of the above?”
Where do you kayak?
“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.”
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 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.”
Be informed about the kayak you buy
Talk to the experts. “A knowledgeable salesperson can help navigate to your needs and simplify all the technical terminology for you,” says Collins.
“Don’t buy what your friend has, just because your friend has it,” says Darren Bush, owner of Wisconsin-based paddle shop Rutabaga.
Reader Tip: “Research and read articles. It’s worth the time,” recommends Adventure Kayak fan Doreen Pimentel.
“The best accessory to buy is a lesson,” says Bush. It’s also the most economical. “Spend $80–$100 for a half-day class and you’ll come out with a boat that performs better than when you showed up.”
Kayak Buying Tips Part I. Feature Photo: Gary McGuffin / Courtesy Ontario Tourism