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How to Choose a Kayak - Buyer's Guide

April 14, 2016
How to Choose a Kayak - Buyer's Guide

All it takes is a quick web search to show you just how many different types of kayaks there are to choose from online. So how do you even begin to choose one? Buying a kayak doesn’t need to feel like a hopeless search for the long lost ark. Narrowing down your search for a kayak is easy when you have a better understanding of the different kayak models available online and their uses.

Questions to ask yourself when choosing a kayak

A good place to start is by asking yourself a few key questions:

  • Where do I most like to paddle?

  • What type of kayaking do I enjoy the most?

  • Who will be using the kayak?

  • How will I transport the yak to the water?

Keeping your answers to these questions is mind throughout the process will help you make the right choice.

This is where we can start to talk about the different types of sit in and sit on top kayaks defined by their most popular uses.

Different kayaks for different environments

  • Recreational kayaks are, as the name suggests, favoured by kayakers who want to explore a range of environments in their kayak. They are usually sit on top kayaks, and are a popular choice for families with kids, and weekend warriors. Many feature multiple seating positions and footrests so that paddlers of different sizes can all have a go.

Recreational kayak   Finn kayaks dolfinn
  • Sea kayaks are usually sit in, making them fast, and narrower than recreational models. They are often fitted with additional gear like spray skirts, outriggers, and rudders to aid stability and maintain course in offshore conditions.

mirage sea kayaks 520 kevlar
  • Touring kayaks are the only way to go if you plan to pack your yak with camping gear or hiking gear and need the comfort and storage space for travelling great distances. They are available in both sit in and sit on top configurations.

finn kayaks touring kayak
  • Fishing kayaks are custom built, or modified yaks, outfitted with fishing accessories, such as rod holders and mounts for electronic devices like fish finders and chart plotters, featuring plenty of internal storage space for your catch, fishing gear and accessories. Fishing kayaks are either sit in or sit on top depending on the conditions you are most likely to be experiencing while fishing.

dream kayaks dream catcher 4
  • Inflatable kayaks are made from plastic coated fabrics, most often used by campers or kayaker tourers because they are lightweight and can be inflated and deflated to fit into a backpack.

inflatable kayaks sevlor sit on top 1 person
  • Surf skis are familiar to most people because you've probably seen surf lifesavers use them at the beach. They are fast becoming a popular craft among kayakers, so you'll find them categorised under kayaks at Outdoria.

epic kayaks v7 surf ski
  • Racing kayaks are purpose built speed machines. Constructed from lightweight composite materials such as fibre glass, Kevlar and carbon fibres, these yaks are for racing in a straight line on dead calm water, as fast as possible.

canoe innovations olympic k 1 kayak 1

Should I choose a sit on top or a sit in kayak?

What’s all this talk of sit in and sit on top kayaks? What exactly is the difference?

The difference is all in the cockpit.

Sit in kayaks are traditional-style kayaks featuring an enclosed cockpit that are compatible with a spray skirt helping to keep water out, and can even enable skilled paddlers to roll their kayak without letting water in. Sit in kayaks are favoured by white water kayakers, and paddlers who spend most of their time in cold water climates. It’s unbelievable how warm a sit in kayak is when using a spray skirt.

touring kayak current designs storm gt

Sit on top kayaks are a more modern variant featuring a fully enclosed hull and an open cockpit. They are often used as recreational and fishing kayaks because they are suitable for a range of on-water activities and won’t fill up with water if they capsize. In hot climates, you’ll love having your legs open to the air.

sit on top kayak freak sports assassin

But now you might be wondering, how do I determine whether a sit in or sit on top kayak is best for me?

Understanding the capabilities and performance characteristics of sit in kayaks versus sit on top kayak models will help you decide which type is right for you and your favourite on-water activities. Sit in kayaks are typically designed to travel faster with more of a focus on performance, comfort, and being suitable in a range of environments. Sit on top kayaks are often wider than their sit in cousins, making them safer and more stable, but also slower.

It’s important to note, however, that there are kayak models out there that overlap these categories. After all, it’s this kind of innovation that leads to new types of kayaks like the fishing kayaks popular today.

Refining your search

So you’ve answered a couple of the most important questions relating to activity and cockpit style.

Let’s say you’ve decided a recreational kayak is the way to go, and a sit on top kayak is perfect because the kids can play by the beachside, and you love the idea that you won’t have to bail out water for them every time it tips over… But you’ve also noticed there are more search options available.

Choosing the number of people you want your kayak to seat will condense the number of available listings. Tandem, triple, and quad seater kayaks are always going to be much longer and potentially wider than single seater kayaks.

So how many people do I want my kayak to seat?

This decision is largely based on personal preference (of course the number of people who will use the yak at one time), and the capabilities of the vehicle you will use to transport the kayak to the water. Once you’ve chosen the number of people you want to accommodate, you can further refine your search by width, length, and weight.

Other things to consider when buying a kayak online

You’re almost there. You’ve gone for a sit on top, single-seater recreational kayak. But how do you choose between the listings now available?

It’s time to dive in and consider your future kayak’s performance capabilities.

A number of factors will affect the way your yak behaves on the water:

  • Width will affect stability and manoeuvrability. A wider kayak might be a great choice if you hope to do some kayak fishing one day, but you should take into account the fact that it will be harder to turn, and if it’s too wide, the kids might struggle at first. Narrower kayaks travel faster and feel more stable when leaned over by waves.

  • Length will affect the kayak’s stability, how well it maintains speed and tracks in the water. Longer kayaks often perform better offshore, but may need additional features like rudders to help you control and adjust course. Shorter kayaks are the easiest to manoeuvre making them the number one choice for white water paddlers.

  • Weight will obviously affect both the kayak’s speed, its manoeuvrability, and how easy it is to transport to and from the water. It's not only the weight of your yak you should be concerned about. All kayaks have a suggested carrying capacity so make sure the model you choose is going to be able to carry you and all your gear, especially if you are looking for a touring model.

  • Colour won’t affect performance (unless you believe red yaks go faster...) but it will affect how much you love your new yak. While it shouldn’t really be your first consideration, it is important that you continue to love your kayak long after you’ve purchased it, and looks pay a big part!

What about price?

Shopping for a kayak online at Outdoria by price is an excellent way to refine your search right from the beginning. Why are we only mentioning it now? Sometimes it’s hard to get serious about choosing a kayak until you know roughly how much kayak that fits your criteria can cost. Searching by price is a useful tool right at the beginning, and also helps you eliminate models that might be outside your budget or that aren't suitable to your level of ability and intended use.

The price of a kayak online will be affected by many things, but materials would have to be one of the biggest determining factors. Race kayaks constructed from expensive composites like Kevlar and carbon fibre are really only suitable for paddlers who are serious about winning races. Most recreational, fishing and touring kayaks are made from hardened plastic materials that are extremely durable and require little maintenance making them a great, all-round affordable option.


A paddle should be lightweight and of a length and width that is suitable to the specific paddler. Paddles are held in both hands, supported 100% by the paddler.

Kayak paddles have two blades, one at each end of the shaft. Kayakers use both blades equally, keeping their boat straight, enabling them to maintain a fairly constant hand position on the paddle.


Kayak paddles are sometimes feathered. This means that the blades of the paddle lie on different planes requiring the paddler to rotate the paddle slightly with each stroke. Feathering allows the blade end of the paddle that is not in the water to slice through the air experiencing less wind resistance than an unfeathered paddle. However, it all comes down to personal preference; some kayakers prefer unfeathered paddles where as others may prefer a specific degree of feathering.

One or Two-Piece Paddles?

Two piece paddles can be broken down making them smaller and more easily transported, and their feather angle can be adjusted on the fly; most paddles coming with two or three possible positions.

Some kayakers prefer single piece paddles because they are stronger being a solid length of material, they don’t need to be rinsed after use in salt water, as they don’t have a joint that can corrode, and they don’t lose strength over time at the joint because they don’t have one. The style of kayaking you are performing and the conditions you generally experience will affect the type of paddle you will choose.

Paddle Leashes

Even the most experienced paddlers sometimes drop their paddle. A rogue wave or a slip of the finger is all it takes. A paddle leash is the most effective way of making sure that if you do, you don’t lose it. A paddle leash connects your paddle to you canoe, kayak or raft, giving you the peace of mind that you’re brand spanking new full carbon paddle isn’t going to be food for the fishes.

What else do I need?

Once you’ve settled on your new yak, you might be looking for some additional gear. You’re going to need a life jacket, and maybe a couple of dry bags.

If you want to branch out and try kayak fishing, you can find fishing gear, and kayak accessories at Outdoria too.

Make sure you check out the full range of canoeing and kayaking gear at Outdoria while you’re at it.

Contact the seller with further questions

If after reading this guide you are still unsure how to choose a kayak, or you’re still unsure if the kayak you have chosen is right for you, we encourage you to send the seller an email and find out more. The most important thing is that you love your new yak. That’s why we make it easy to get in touch with the store or seller (from the product page) to ask any questions you might have.

Some kayak products have the option to enquire online before viewing the product at a store near you. Just flick the seller / store an email, let them know what product you are interested in, and pay them a visit to check out the kayak that’s piqued your interest in person. We hope this has helped you in your search for a kayak online and that you find the perfect kayak for your on-water adventures!

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