How To Choose The Right Recreational Kayak


Spring is here, the weather is warming up and many of you are probably out shopping for a new kayak!   There are so many options out there that it can feel overwhelming and difficult to make the right decision. I’ve put together this article to assist you in choosing the perfect kayak so that you can comfortably get out, enjoy the water and have fun!

The Difference between Recreational and Touring Kayaks
recboat-tech-a-020Recreational kayaks and touring kayaks are the most common types of kayaks.  Sometimes it can be confusing to tell them apart.  They’re very similar as they’re both sit-inside kayaks that have hard shell decks that cover your legs, and they both can have skegs or rudders that help you better control the kayak and travel in a straight line.

In general recreational kayaks are wider, shorter, and have larger cockpits compared with touring/sea kayaks. The larger width and shorter length of the recreational kayak makes it more stable, slower, more maneuverable and lighter than a touring kayak.  And recreational kayaks, especially entry-level ones, are much cheaper than touring kayaks.   Recreational kayaks are ideal for outings of a few hours on calm lakes or easy-going rivers.

Touring kayaks are longer and narrower and have smaller cockpits. These boats are designed to be fast, to track straight and to deal with a wide range of conditions including open ocean waters.  The narrow cockpit with thigh braces allows the paddler to grip the boat with her legs.  This gives her a lot more control over the kayak and the ability to learn to roll the kayak back upright if it flips over.

Touring kayaks are less stable and the small cockpits can feel confining to people, even though they’re very easy to get out of if you end up flipping over.  Touring kayaks are also more expensive than recreational kayaks, but they are more versatile and high performing.

Touring and recreational kayaks can both be used on flatwater, in protected shoreline areas and on easy-flowing rivers.  If you’re planning to explore open waters then you’ll want to get a pure touring/sea kayak and sign up for sea kayak instruction before venturing out. Knowing this, your choice of kayak for recreation comes down to personal preferences such as stability, speed, weight, comfort, and durability.

The longer a kayak is the faster it goes and the better it tracks straight.  If you like to get out on the water, go long distances and go fast then you want a longer boat.  If you’re not that interested in speed or if you’re planning on paddling in narrow lakes and streams then a kayak that’s shorter and more maneuverable is best.  Recreational kayaks vary in length from 9 ft to 14 ft.  Touring kayaks and sea kayaks usually start at 12 ft. and go longer.

Durability and Weight
recboat-f-452The weight of a kayak is a big concern for women who are looking to be able to lift and carry their own boat.  There are techniques for lifting and carrying kayaks that make it easier, and having said that, if the kayak is more than 55 pounds it’s going to be tough to lift.  The more you practice lifting and carrying your kayak the easier it’ll become, and there are some great rack systems out there that pretty much do all of the work for you.  Here’s some information on how weight and durability are linked and what to look for when choosing a kayak.

Most kayaks have a hard shell made from durable plastic that will last for years, and require virtually no maintenance.  Kayaks made from composite materials like fiberglass and Kevlar are a lot lighter, but not as durable unless properly maintained.  Composite kayaks are more expensive and fragile and should not be dragged on the ground, dropped, nor should they hit any rocks.

Plastic kayaks on the other hand are much more durable even under abrasive circumstances.  If you don’t want to have to worry about a high maintenance kayak and you don’t need the extra lightness then a plastic boat is the way to go.  The lightest plastic recreational and touring kayaks you’ll find right now are 38 pounds. Kayaks can range in weight from 38 to over 75 pounds.

If you want a bit of both – durability and extra lightness – then you can get a kayak made of materials like Airalight used by Perception. Kayaks made of this material are not as fragile as composite kayaks, yet they are much lighter than kayaks made of plastic.  Some kayaks made in this material can weigh 9 pounds lighter than the same kayak made in regular plastic.  The weight difference depends on the model and the materials.  Different manufacturers have different names for this ‘hybrid’ material.  These kayaks are less expensive than Kevlar kayaks and more expensive than regular plastic boats.

What type of kayaking?
To help in choosing your kayak it’s important to know what kind of water you want to kayak on and what kind of kayaker you want to be.

recboat-c-315If you’re a beginner kayaker and you plan on paddling for short distances on a lake to enjoy and relax, then a cheaper, plastic recreational kayak will do the trick.  If you want to paddle mostly on lakes and on easy-going rivers, but you want a bit more speed and comfort then a mid-range recreational kayak with storage hatches will be more appealing.

If you’re planning on paddling for long distances and doing overnight trips then a touring kayak that goes fast and tracks straight is a good choice.  In this case you’ll also be looking for more storage hatches and deck rigging, and additional features like skegs or rudders. High performance outfitting for better fit and comfort will also be important.

For narrow, windy rivers a shorter kayak will be easier to maneuver.  And if you’re headed to open ocean waters and you want a kayak that you can roll then you’re probably looking for a high performance touring/sea kayak.  Being honest about your expectations and needs and researching the products will help you choose the right boat and save money.

Be sure that you sit in or even paddle the kayak before you buy.  Comfort is important because you want to enjoy your outings and not be focused on pressure points, aches or pains.

Kayaks Designed Specifically for Women
If you’re a smaller woman you’ll want to look into kayaks, like the Perception Tribute (recreation) or the small Dagger Alchemy (touring), that were made with women and smaller paddlers in mind.  They’re lighter (about 38 pounds), have smaller cockpits and lower decks for comfort and ease of lifting, carrying and paddling.

If you’re a larger woman or a woman who has substantial thighs and hips these kayaks, even though they come in a few different sizes, will probably be too small.  Just because a kayak says it’s made specifically for women doesn’t mean that it will fit every woman.  That’s why it’s important to sit in a kayak and even paddle it before purchasing.

Here are a few other kayak options other than the recreational and touring that you may be interested in checking out:

Sit-on-Top Kayaks
If you feel that a sit-inside kayak is too constrictive because of the hard shell deck then you may want to try a sit-on-top kayak. Plastic sit-on-top kayaks are easy to use, very durable and versatile.  You can use them in whitewater, flatwater and in ocean waves and protected shorelines.  Sit-on-tops are very stable.  They will be slower than a touring kayak, but they’re easy to climb back on if you flip over in the water.  The down side is that sit-on-tops can be heavier than sit-inside kayaks, but the versatility and stability make up for that.  Plus, there are now sit-on-tops specifically designed for women that are much lighter than the traditional generic sit-on-tops.

Inflatable Kayaks
Inflatable kayaks are made with durable, coated fabrics and have the same versatility as sit-on-tops. They’re very stable, are not restrictive and you can take them on whitewater, in ocean surf and on flatwater.  The downside is that they can be awkward to carry when they’re not inflated and you have to have a pump to inflate them if you deflate them between uses.

Tandem Kayaks
Tandem kayaks are a great choice if two people want to paddle the same kayak.  They’re economical since you only have to buy one boat, but keep in mind that you’re stuck with the other person for the entire outing.  Some people do really well together paddling tandem boats, but they’ve also been nicknamed ‘divorce kayaks” so be careful when choosing a tandem kayak!  The nice thing about a tandem kayak is that you can fit the entire family in one boat since they usually come with an extra seat in the cockpit for children.