The combination of too much available information, well-meaning but opposingly opinionated friends and too much choice on the market can make buying your first kayak an overwhelming job.
Most first time buyers don't know what they are looking for. This is perfectly ok! All you need to know when you come into a reputable store is the following:
- where you plan on paddling
- how often you plan on paddling
- how much money you are willing to invest.
There are a lot of different kinds of kayaks out there but the most important thing in the end is that you go home with a boat that you will enjoy paddling. This is our mission at Eb's.
First off, you need to be able to fit in a boat. If the cockpit is too small or too large or the footpegs don't extend far enough, you're not going to enjoy paddling that boat. Make sure you sit in lots of boats; compare how comfortable the seats are, how "locked in" you feel, whether the thigh braces (if any) are positioned comfortably, and how generally big or small the kayak feels when you are in it.
What construction should you look for?
Polyethylene kayaks are the most budget friendly, and highly durable. Thermoformed are a little more expensive on average but give better performance, as they are stiffer and lighter. Composite boats (fiberglass or kevlar) are usually most pricey as they are the stiffest and lightest boats and easy to repair.
Read more about kayak construction here.
How long a kayak should you get?
There are three very general groups of kayaks: recreational, transitional, and touring. (Whitewater is a separate category.)
Recreational: usually under 14 feet long with no rudder or skeg, tend to be wider, more stable, have larger cockpits, and are more maneuverable.
Transitional: these boats are usually quite stable but are often narrower with smaller cockpits so you get a more connected feel with the boat. They fall within a range of 14-16 feet in length on average and often come with a rudder and/or skeg option for tracking.
Touring: Great for people who are comfortable in a kayak and want to do longer paddles and trips, these boats are usually 16-22 feet in length and have a very connected fit. Narrower and sleeker, these are fully rigged boats with large hatches, lots of deck rigging, and rudders.
Don't forget the extras
It's easy to get caught into budgeting for the boat and nothing else. You're going to also need:
- a paddle
- a PFD with a whistle
- a pump
- a line (rope)
- a way to transport your kayak on your vehicle
First, the paddle. When budgeting, many people splurge on the boat and get a cheap paddle. You'll regret that. You sit in the boat but it's the paddle that you will be stroking with - you will lift those blades out of the water a thousand times on a single day. Do you want it to feel like weight lifting? Consider a stiffer, higher quality lightweight paddle. You get what you pay for with paddles (as with boats) so budget at least $100-$400.
PFD's should be short in torso length so you fit comfortably in your boat, and should be well cut away under the arms to free up your paddling movements. Attach a whistle that works underwater (such as a Fox 40) to it to satisfy Transport Canada's safety requirements. Budget at least $100 for a good PFD.
Pumps are part of Transport Canada's mandate for getting water out of your craft. They start at about $20 so this won't take too big a bite out of your funds.
You are supposed to carry 50 feet of floating line while boating. There are handy little throw bags that contain this amount of rope; these run around $25 and can buckle onto your boat or PFD.
Finally, how to get your kayak out of the store and down to the water? There are a lot of rack solutions but at the very least you can pick up a pair of foam supports for $16 and some rope, and you're good to go.