BACKPACKING BASICS

What Is a Kayak: Tips on How to Choose The Right Boat For Your Outdoor Adventures

What Is a Kayak
Sean Nelson
Written by Sean Nelson

There are many tools and equipment for water sports that can make your outdoor experience more adventurous, exciting and fascinating, and one of them is a kayak. If you have never heard about it before or you’re planning to buy one for yourself in the future but do not know which one to choose, this article is for you.

You will know exactly what is a kayak, what are different types of it, advantages and disadvantages and how to choose the best and the most appropriate boat that will diversify your outdoor experience and make it more enjoyable.

A kayak – what is it?

A kayak is a quite narrow and long boat that looks like a canoe with a deck. There are one, two or four openings on the deck called cockpits that are made for kayakers to sit in. Each of these cockpits holds only one person.  Steering and propulsion of kayaks are managed by a paddle with two blades.

Woman paddling a kayak

A kayak does not apply to new outdoor equipment because it has a long history: the first kayaks are made and used by hunters approximately 4,000 years ago. Hunters gave preference to these narrow boats because of their stability, as well as almost discrete movement during hunting.

Today of course, kayaks are not hunters’ tools any more and are mainly used for outdoor recreation.

Types of kayaks

There are several types of kayaks, each of which has its own qualities and purposes. Therefore, if you decide to get started kayaking, you need to be familiar with the differences between them and know their advantages and disadvantages. Furthermore, we would like to talk about each of them in detail.

Recreational / Touring kayaks

The first type is recreational or so-called touring kayaks that are perfect for beginners because they are used for paddling on safe and flat water on protected lakes and other bodies of water. The main advantage of such kayaks is that they are wider and more stable than other types.

Touring kayak

Their purpose are fun and entertainment, therefore they can be easily used by absolute beginners, who have never tried kayaking before. You can choose a touring kayak both for a short day trip and a longer journey lasting several days.

Since no previous experience is needed or required, a complete beginner can easily enjoy this type of kayak.  Recreational kayaks are ranging in length from 3 to 5 meters which makes them not the fastest ride but one of the most stable kayaks.

Sea kayak

Another common type is a sea kayak that is intended to be used on open waters and difficult sea conditions. They are designed for experienced kayakers and tourists who are familiar with kayaking because their primary stability is quite low. Usually, they are narrower and considered to be the longest kayaks – their length can reach up to 6 meters.

Sea kayak

You should know that a good and professional sea kayak should have aft and fore bulkheads that provide buoyancy, as well as grab ropes in case of a capsize. If you are not a very experienced kayaker and want to use a sea kayak on the high sea, it is advised to take a preparatory kayaking course.

White water kayak

If you are an adrenaline junkie and you are not afraid of rough and swirling waters of mountain rivers, then white water kayaking will be exactly what you need. There are several types of white water kayaks and they depend on the type and technique of paddling.

The first one is a kayak used for white water freestyle. Such boats with a flat hull are usually quite short and have aggressive rails, more rocker, low volume stern and bow. Each model of the boat has two or three available sizes, which allows a kayaker to choose the most appropriate boat in accordance with weight and height of the sportsman.

White water kayak

The second type of kayaks for white water is a playboat. In contrast to the previous type, payboats are slightly longer which makes them faster and more versatile in water. The reason these kayaks are called playboats is because they allow kayakers to do different stunts and play on waves, eddylines and stoppers while going downstream.

The next type of a boat for whitewater kayaking is river running and general purpose kayaks. They are quite universal kayaks because they are suitable both for beginners, who have just started practising whitewater kayaking, and more advanced kayakers, who would like to enjoy peaceful paddling down calm rivers while sitting in a maneuverable and comfortable kayak.

The last type that is usually chosen by experienced and the most adventurous kayakers is a creek boat. It was named after the American term “creeking” used for describing steeper and tighter rivers called creeks.

White water kayak

Among all the types of white water kayaks, creek boats are the longest kayaks and they have the highest volume which allows a kayaker to pop back to the surface of the river after jumping off a high cliff. You can also use a creek kayak as a playboat because it has almost similar length – around 8 to 9 feet.

Fishing kayak

If you want a kayak not for recreation but for fishing, there is a special type of boats specifically created for this activity. The design of fishing kayaks is very similar to recreational or touring kayaks discussed above but at the same time they have a number of specific features: they feature more support and wider which means more stability.

Fishing kayak

In addition, they are equipped with additional features and accessories such as fish finder mounts, bait buckets and fishing rod holders. Fishing kayaks are becoming more and more popular in recent years among fishermen because they can get to the spots where big regular boats cannot and they can be easily transported on most vehicles.

Inflatable kayak

For those adventure and outdoor lovers who have zero experience in kayaking, an inflatable type will be the best and the most preferable choice. Inflatables have several significant advantages that hard-shell boats do not have.

Inflatable kayak

They are extremely light, portable and cheap. It is possible to use inflatable kayaks for different purposes and activities because they vary in size, design and accessories. However, more commonly they are used for family recreation on the water.

Sit-on-top kayak

Another popular type of kayaks is a sit-on-top kayak. The shape and design of these kayaks are similar to previously discussed ones but instead of sitting inside a boat’s cockpit, a kayaker sits on S-shaped deck.

These boats are one of the most popular in the rental market because they are stable, safe and almost impossible to sink. Therefore, they are so often used in guided tours or for practicing paddling by beginners. Also more and more fishermen and divers favor this type of kayaks.

Sit-on-top kayak

Now that you know everything that you need to know about different types of kayaks, it is time we talked about choosing a kayak in order to buy the best one that suits your needs. Below you get several useful tips on how to shop for the right kayak that help you create unforgettable memories of water outdoor experience.

Tips on buying a kayak

Think about your purpose

If you decided that you would like to purchase a kayak, the first question that you need to answer yourself is “Why do I need a kayak?” As already noted above, there are many types of kayaks, each of which carries out certain functions: recreational, sporting, fishing, etc.

Therefore, determine first what you need your boat for and what type of paddling you prefer. Will you be paddling for entertainment and recreation with your family and friends or will you participate in multi-days kayaking trips?

Kayaks

Think also about the type of water you have and are going to use near the place you live because it will also have an impact on your choice of a kayak. By doing this, be as realistic as possible: if you live far away from mountains with swirling rivers, probably it does not make any sense to buy a playboat for example, since you will barely have enough opportunity to do whitewater kayaking.

Assess your skill level

You should also evaluate your skill level before purchasing kayak. If you are an absolute beginner, you should look for kayaks that possess excellent initial stability which is defined boat’s stability when it is just floating on the bottom. By sitting in such kayak, you will feel absolutely stable and safe.

If you are an experienced kayaker, then the secondary stability is more important for you: it provides a paddler with the feeling that the kayak will not capsize during paddling. The choice of a cockpit in your boat also depends on the skill level.

Kayaks in sunset

While experienced paddlers prefer smaller cockpits, beginners should choose kayaks with bigger openings that allow kayaker to get in and get out of the boat more easily.

Consider your ability to control

If you decide to buy a kayak, you need to pay attention to the features that have an impact on your ability to control the kayak during paddling. There are two aspects that relate to the boat control – the capacity for tracking and turning easily.

For example, a kayak with rounded hulls is able to turn smoothly, but unfortunately, such boats often cannot track very well. On the other hand, boats with less-curved hulls have a better ability to track, though they are not able turn easily.

Kayak with a rouned hull

Also, the abilities to track and turn depend on the length of a boat: shorter kayaks turn very well while most long boats have an excellent tracking ability. If it is difficult for you to evaluate your capacity to control a boat, it is recommended to opt for a kayak of a medium length that is equipped with a medium angle’s hull.

Think about storage and transportation of a kayak

When selecting a kayak, it is not enough to simply evaluate its qualities and functions – it is also very important to take into consideration the transportation and storage concerns. Thus, if you live in a small apartment or studio without a spacious storage room for your boat, then a long wide kayak is out of the question.

Transportation of a kayak

You also need to think about transportation of the boat. To move a kayak from place to place you will need a vehicle and additional special equipment such as a foam carrier system or car-top rack. You also need to make sure that the boat that you are going to buy is not too heavy for your vehicle.

Choose a material

Different kayaks are constructed from a range of materials so it might be difficult to choose the best and the most appropriate one, especially if you have never bought a kayak before. Therefore, it is necessary to provide a short overview of the most commonly used building materials.

The most popular one is polyethylene. Though it is heavier than other materials, it is chosen more often for the construction of kayaks because of its durability and low cost. Another common material is polycarbonate. It is lighter and makes boats look shiny and sleek. However, there is a significant disadvantage: the durability of polycarbonate kayaks is quite low.

Polyethylene kayak

The best choice will be a composite kayak that is constructed of multi-layers of fiberglass, resin, polyesters, kevlar, carbon fiber and some others that are glued together. Such construction technology allows for the construction of boats that quite strong and solid, therefore it will serve you for a long time.

Take the price into consideration

Kayaks vary greatly in price and that usually depends on the material that the kayak is made of, the brand, the type of the boat, etc. Therefore, it might be quite difficult not to become puzzled and get the value for money.

If you a newbie in kayaking and planning to buy your very first kayak, then it is better to buy a boat that fits within your budget. However, if you are an experienced kayaker, it might be worth spending more money on buying a high-quality boat in order to get the most out of your kayaking experience.

Final thoughts

In conclusion, it is possible to say that kayaking is a great outdoor activity to explore lakes and rivers, to get closer to nature and to spend a wonderful, adventurous time with your family and friends.

Kayaking

Thus, if you still do not have a kayak, now it is the time to think about purchasing one for yourself by following tips provided in the article. Tell us, what type of a kayak would you buy and why?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sean Nelson
Sean Nelson

Sean was backpacking since he was 7. He was born close to the RMNP and his father was a ranger, so life surrounded by mountains and wildlife is a norm for Colorado. He likes to explore, but prefers to stay in USA. In his opinion, there are too many trails and options in US to go abroad.

  • Steve Roman

    I’ve used the Sea Eagle 330 Kayak the last few years; my kids have always been a fan of inflatable kayaks like this. They all fight over who gets to use it. And I agree with the author, inflatable kayaks are a great entry point for young people.

  • Sean Nelson

    Yes and they are affordable, too, right? They’re also very versatile and can carry a reasonable amount of passengers. Since there’s a lot of different kayaks, choose one that will answer your specific need. Don’t hesitate to ask around and read great reviews, too.

  • Jean Antos

    I love the Sun Dolphin Bali SS Sit-on-Top Kayak I bought a couple months ago. The stability on this kayak is good. I bought it because I have friends who use this same kayak and it has held up well for them and I can see why. It’s really well made! Very happy with my purchase!

  • Sean Nelson

    I know what you mean about this kayak – certainly lightweight, easy to carry and great color, too. Measuring 12 feet, the kayak is comfortable to use and there’s room even if you’re quite tall or hefty. This is really a good purchase Jean!

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