Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Guide to Buying Your First Kayak

About six years ago I bought my first kayak, or what we also call a "yak".  Since then I have had so many great experiences. From exploring caves along Lake Superior at the Apostle Islands and Pictured Rocks, spotting animals in hidden and unexplored rivers, and crossing lakes in northern Wisconsin.

There is nothing like the freedom of exploration on a kayak.

With the numerous types of kayaks for sale it can be very confusing for someone who is looking to purchase their first yak.  From the material its made out of, to size, width, different types of is sure to get overwhelming.

So I'm going to share with you the basic things you need to know when purchasing your first kayak and trying out this great new sport.

Here are the first questions you need to ask yourself:

1.  What type of water are you planning to kayak on?

Are you wanting to explore only leisurely on lakes by your cabin, or take it to larger bodies of water or ocean bays? 
There are three major types of kayaks:

Sit on top kayaks are great for leisure kayaking on calm waters.  Can also be nice for fishing out of since your not confined to a cockpit of an enclosed kayak. 

Recreational kayaks are usually around 10-12 feet in length and have a large cockpit opening that you sit in.  This allows for easy access in and out and more stability since they tend to be wider.  However they do not hold a straight course as easily and are not to be used in large bodies of water (ie. any of the great lakes, ocean bays).  They will not handle large waves well and you will often be pushed off course by wind.

Touring kayaks/ Sea kayaks range between 12-16 feet and provide stability in rough conditions and long distances.  The cockpits are alot smaller than the other types of kayaks.  They offer additional features like spray skirts, storage hatches and rudders. 

Spray skirts are coverings for the cockpit opening.  They wrap tightly around your waist and around the opening of the kayak allowing no water to come in.  This helps a great deal in windy conditions to keep you warm and dry.  

Sealed storage hatches are often found in the front and back of the kayak.  This can be used for holding supplies. 
Rudders allow you to turn with ease through choppy water.  It attaches to the back of your yak (stern) and is lowered into the water with a hand lever.  It is then controlled further in the water by pushing foot levers in the direction you want to go. While it is extremely helpful to have a rudder if kayaking on large bodies of water, it will also add a great deal of cost to your purchase.

2.  Are you wanting something for day trips or overnight?

If you are wanting to take your kayak to a destination overnight it will need to have storage capacity and a higher weight capacity.  Kayaking to a camping destination can be alot of fun, however you will need to pack your tent, sleeping bag, and food.  A Touring kayak is recommended for these types of trip since they are able to hold more weight and have storage compartments.

3.  What type of investment are you looking to make?

Touring kayaks are going to be a higher investment than a recreational kayak.  Also the more you are able to invest, the lighter and more durable the material your kayak can be made of.

Tips when purchasing:

* Color can be important.  While blue is my favorite color, it can also be more difficult for other boaters to see you.  If you are going to be using it on a busy motor boat lake, a brighter color like red or orange will make you more visible to others.

*Find a seat that you feel is comfortable and gives you enough support.  You can be sitting a long time in your kayak and your back is often the first to feel the strain. 

* Adjustable foot pegs and thigh foam pads- Adjustable foot pegs can help give you leverage while paddling.  You will also be surprised at how much you use your thighs to stabilize and foam pads can help make it more comfortable.

Other Investments for Kayaking:
1. Car rack- You will need a way to transport the kayaks either with a rack on top of your car or a trailer.  I have a Yakima rack.  If you go to their website they have a feature that easily finds the right parts to fit your specific car.

2. Spray skirt-they have spray skirts that specifically fit your kayak.  I recommend one if you are taking your kayak on large bodies of water.  I have also done late fall/winter kayaking if the lakes are not frozen and a spray skirt helps keep me warm.

3. Life jacket- there are special kayaking life jackets that allow for easier arm movement.

4. Sponge- something as simple as a car sponge, or they have specific kayaking sponges at Scheels.  Helps to soak up any water in the bottom of your kayak which can be difficult to get out.

5. Paddle- plastic or aluminum paddles will be the cheapest, but also heavier.  Fiberglass or carbon fiber will be your lightest paddles, but a little more expensive.

6. Watershoes- Keen or Vibram Five Finger shoes are great for kayaking. They are able to get wet, dry quickly, and stay on your feet if you jump in the water.
7. Waterproof Dry bags- Sold at outdoor stores as well as Walmart.  Buy one small and one medium size bag.  I store extra clothes and a towel in my medium size bag and keep it in my hatch storage.  My small bag which I keep near me while paddling holds my camera, book, and ipod.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Will I tip over? 
This is a question that I am often asked or find people worry about prior to ever trying to kayak.  You will be surprised to find out how stable you actually feel when getting in a kayak.   Often times the most difficult part is getting yourself off from shore.  

It it an expensive hobby?
The nice thing about kayaking is that once you purchase everything needed, its a one time investment.  I don't need to fill it up with gas, or buy a new one every year...

If you have any other questions regarding kayaking let me know.  It is such a fun thing to do and great exercise!


  1. I love this post. I don't kayak, but my fiance and I have looked at buying one for YEARS. This will help me choose which one is perfect for me!

  2. Hey I was hoping you could help me make up my decision about this kayak. This would be my first one and I would most likely only be going kayaking in small lakes. I was hoping you could tell me if the price tag is worth it for this product (used)

    Link provided below:

    Very much appreciated!

    Thank you,

    1. I think it's a descent deal, especially with all the stuff they've included. A paddle alone can often cost $100-200. I also like the storage compartments in front and back. I think this will be great for your first kayak if used on smaller lakes. Good luck! Have fun yakking!