Choosing the Right Kayak
BackcountryStore.com is Proud to Present Paddle Sportsby Jim Wingerden
Defining the experience
To choose the right kayak, think about what you want your kayaking experiences to be like. Let your dreams run wild, and then temper them with the reality of your abilities, commitment, and nearby water. To help you zero in on your ideal boat, we divided our kayaks into three groups: sit-on-tops, recreational, and multi-day. Tandem, or two-person, kayaks are also included in these groups.
For carefree fun in the sun nothing beats sit-on-tops. Here are some of the qualities that define them: Stable, easy to get in and out of, simple to paddle, and great for surfing at the beach or down a river. They're great as warm water workout boats, good for traveling to snorkel and dive spots, and less expensive than sit-insides. On a sit-on-top, you are exposed to weather and will get wet. (This can be good or bad, depending on water temperature and weather.) Sit-on-tops are generally not as comfortable as sit-insides for long trips, and the high stability and user friendliness come at the expense of speed and maneuverability.
The Islander Makai
Shorter sit-on-tops, such as the Islander Hula, are better for surfing, while hard-tracking sit-on-tops, like the Islander Makai, are easier to paddle longer distances. The Makai also has room to store dive gear and a change of dry clothes.
Multi-day Kayaks Also known as sea kayaks, these boats are designed for fast paddling across long distances of open water. These boats are fully decked and usually paddled with a spray skirt cinched around the boater’s waist to keep water from entering the cockpit. Multi-day kayaks are usually designed for speed – they are long and narrow – and novices may find them too tippy for comfort.
Harmony Edge Touring Spray Skirt
Accomplished paddlers embarking on trips that last a week or more prefer kayaks such as the Halifax, Kodiak, and Eclipse. The long, narrow shape of these boats favors fast passage over long distances providing plenty of storage. They are also designed to handle challenging conditions on open seas.
Boaters with shorter torsos – Ladies, this means most of you – should consider kayaks with lower decks near the cockpit, such as the Shadow. A lower deck will allow you to paddle with a less fatiguing paddling angle, so you can keep up with your taller companions.
If you are interested in exploring the fascinating world of rock gardens, tidal pools, and ocean surf during your expeditions, the agile Avatar is the boat for you. If you are a big river adventurer, consider the aptly named Yukon, which trades a little speed for improved handling in a river current.
This segment of boats is a continuum of designs that range from more relaxed forms of multi-day sea kayaks to drier versions of sit-on-tops.
Casual paddlers looking for overnight capacity often choose kayaks that are shorter and wider than our multi-day kayaks. These boats are easier to handle and feel less tippy, but retain good hull speed, glide, and rough water handling. Perception’s Carolina Series come in a range of sizes to fit different paddlers. Prijon’s Calabria is more specific for flat-water trips in bays and lakes.
Perception's Carolina Series
Continuing through the possibilities, we find that kayaks get shorter and wider. Generally, shorter boats are easier to maneuver and are less affected by wind, but they are slower. Wider boats are more stable, but require more paddling effort. For the pleasure of movement across water, lean toward long and narrow boats such as Sonoma 13.5. For fishing or hunting, look for highly maneuverable boats that offer a stable platform, such as Dagger’s Blackwater series or the Prijon Capri.
Kayaks like the Sundance and the Swifty have small decks for a dry ride, and the large cockpits are easy to get in and out of and allow for freedom of movement. Both have high stability for relaxing floating and mellow paddling.
Tandem Kayaks Not many activities are as fun as tandem kayaking. Tandems go faster with less effort and less expense. And partners get to be together the whole time. (That may be good or bad!) The Acadia II is great for half day paddles in warm weather, the Capri II is a fully decked kayak for day tripping in any weather, and the Excursion is a full-on, open water, expedition tandem kayak.
Some kayaks are especially well suited to quickly go from your garage to your car and then into the water. If you want to add paddling to your training mix, this is a prime concern. Look for smaller, lightweight boats like the Sonoma 10. Also, remember that you need to store your kayak when you are not paddling. Ultra-long boats may not fit easily into your garage.
The boat is just one of several kayaking essentials. You will also need a paddle and a life jacket, and for some types of kayaking, a spray skirt