How to Choose a Kayak

With the numerous manufacturers and hundreds of kayak models available, how do you know which one to purchase? Determining what you want to do and what type of water you plan to paddle will help you narrow your choices.

Recreational Kayaks

Even the most apprehensive of paddlers find recreational kayaks simple and fun because they offer a stable, easy-to-handle, and very affordable option. They are perfect for lazy rivers, as well as smaller lakes and ponds, or along protected shorelines of larger bodies of water.

Ranging in length from around 9 ½’ to 14’, they are wider than their touring counterparts. The cockpit of a recreational kayak tends to be large, making entry and exit easier. Some have very open cockpits that provide room for the larger paddler, extra gear, a paddler plus a small child or pet, or for individuals with physical limitations. Many featurea a stern storage hatch, which provides gear storage for day use.

Recreational kayaks have greater “initial stability,” the degree to which the boat resists that feeling of tippiness when at rest upon the water. It is also a desirable characteristic for paddlers who will be sitting in their kayak for long periods of time.

Touring Kayaks

Touring kayaks, longer length (usually topping out at 18’) and narrower width (approx. 21 to 25”) yield a straighter tracking, more efficient craft that significantly reduces paddler effort when traveling greater distances or contending with stronger wind and wave conditions.

They have better “secondary stability” (resistance to capsize) than recreational models and usually have both a bow and a stern hatch which offer more gear storage for extended trips and serve as flotation chambers. An important safety feature especially in cold water, this allows paddlers to re-enter the boat on open water.

Importance of a Good Fit: A touring kayak that’s too large for the paddler can be compared to wearing the wrong size shoe: If it’s several sizes too large, it’s difficult to walk, much less tackle tougher demands. With smaller cockpits, narrower width and less volume, touring kayaks provide better physical contact between paddler and boat, which results in better control. Most touring models include thigh braces along the inside of the cockpit which further enhance control in turbulent conditions or when leaning the kayak into turns.

Construction Materials

Polyethylene (PE): A tough, resilient plastic that can withstand years of use and is of moderate weight and price.

Thermoplastics: Not as light weight as fiberglass or Kevlar composites but have a tougher exterior surface than PE and represent a mid-point between PE and composites in terms of price, weight and durability. Hurricane Kayaks are constructed with thermoplastic, under the trade name Trylon.

Composites: Fiberglass, Kevlar & Graphite are all used, often in combination, to produce the lightest weight. An exterior gel coat offers abrasion and UV protection, but is less impact resistant than PE or Thermoplastic. In addition to reducing weight, composites produce a stiffer hull and dramatically improve glide.

Rudder vs. Skeg

Many models offer a rudder system that is designed to compensate for the effects of wind and waves. Attached by cables to the foot pedals, rudders simplify course adjustments and reduce correction strokes. Greenland or British style boats offer a drop down skeg which aids with tracking but lacks the turning benefit or ability to continually alter course provided by a rudder. Responsiveness to turning in this style kayak is a function of hull design and paddler skill. Generally there is less “drag” with a skeg than a rudder, and paddlers retain their solid foot bracing.

So What to Choose?

Ultimately your selection will depend on your intended use and your priority of the topics above, but should include an element of your personality and comfort on the water as well.

We offer you the unique opportunity to test paddle several boats to make sure you select a great boat for YOU. Whether you come to one of our stores or to Paddlefest, we’ll assist you to make sure kayaking becomes as much fun for you as it is for all of us.


Old Forge Locations
Paddlesports, Outdoor Gear and Rental Store
2855 Route 28, Old Forge, NY 13420

Paddlesports Shop: (315) 369-6672 ext. 1
Moose River Trips & Boat Rentals: (315) 369-6672 ext. 2
Outdoor Gear & Apparel Shop: (315) 369-6672 ext. 3

Saratoga Springs Locations

Saratoga Outdoor Gear & Apparel Shop
490 Broadway, Saratoga Springs, NY 12866
(518) 584-3500

Saratoga Paddlesports Shop
251 Staffords Bridge Road on Fish Creek, Saratoga Springs, NY
(518) 584-0600

Copyright Mountainman Outdoor Supply Company. 2014.

Prices are subject to change with out notice. Mountainman is not responsible for typographical errors.