How to choose my first kayak

by | Oct 12, 2018 | Uncategorized | 0 comments


The fact that there are different types of kayaking can only mean that there are as well different types of options available to you when you want to choose your first kayak. What accounts for these differences you ask? Well, where you sit in them, how you use them, their structure and whether they are specially built for a specific purpose are just some of them. The first thing you must know about the different forms kayaks come in, is the fact that traditionally, a kayak is either a Sit-in or a Sit-on-top. A common question most people ask is whether to get the sit-in or sit-on-top kayak. It all depends on preference if you ask me, but then there are some important factors to consider.


Sit-in kayaks  

The paddler’s legs are in the kayak. Sit-in kayaks come in recreational, whitewater and touring models, they move fast, track straight and have covered cargo compartments. The sit-in kayak boast of immense comfortability and controllability which is useful for maneuvering. They are good for whitewater and cold weather. The advanced paddlers can do the Eskimo Roll, so they can easily turn on the kayak afloat in case of capsizing.

Sit in Kayak

Sit-on-top kayaks

The primarily recreational sit-on-top boats are perfect for beginners. With the SOT kayaks, you can have a wonderful experience safely. You ‘kayak’ without the feeling of getting dumped overboard. If you’re claustrophobic or in some cases – need a bigger room, then you are a sit-on topper. They are relatively easy to get on and off, easy to navigate as it builds your confidence fast. The kayaks can be used in almost every type of water. Just have in mind as they are open boats there will be some water inside, in case of cold weather you should wear a proper outfit.

Sit on Top Kayak


Whether you’re out kayaking for fun with the family or competing in the Olympics, kayaking has different styles, and each style is practiced on different types of water. So the way you want to kayak plays a vital role in where you want to kayak and the kind of kayak you need.

Recreation Kayaking 

This type of kayaking is all about the moment and is necessarily recommended when you want to choose your first kayak. This style of kayaking is the ‘chilled approach to kayaking,’ where you decide on soaking up the natural beauty and enjoying the ride. Typically, this would mean you will more often find yourself on a protected body of water with no real whitewater challenge or obstacles to deal with.  A perfect way to get started as a beginner or for a family and friends hang out where the focus is more on the memories of the moment than taking on rapids.

Recreational Kayaking

Touring Kayaking / Sea kayaking

Basically carried out on the sea or any large and unpredictable body of water. There are special kayaks adapted for long trips made for sea kayaking. As such, it is advisable to have at least a basic principle of navigation understanding. Good for use in the High Seas is the sit-in touring kayak. Super-efficient long and robust boats made for long distances. They have a rudder or skeg to tackle waves and currents, and of course designed for long wilderness trips. Touring kayaks are very stable and have a great cargo holding capacity, but because they track so well, they do not turn as well as shorter boats. They are sometimes called sea Kayaks.

Sea Kayaking – Touring

Whitewater kayaking

If you’ve ever considered what it would feel like to be a rock star or a star athlete, you should probably give this a go. Whitewater kayaking involves bouncing down rivers, taking on powerful rapids and even in some cases, waterfall drops. An adrenaline-inducing activity that would definitely guarantee you one of the biggest rushes you can get in a kayak. It is both dangerous and exciting, and as such not recommended for beginners. Paddlers need to have mastered a lot of skills to take on whitewater kayaking.

Mainly there are two types of whitewater activity:

  • River Running – Covering some distance on the river involving a different class of rapids.
  • River Creeking – Concentrating on the highest class rapids of the river.
Whitewater Kayaking

Kayak surfing

Closely related to Whitewater kayaking and yes, you can absolutely surf in a kayak. Just in case you were wondering. It is like the whitewater kayaking, dangerous as you need particular understanding and knowledge of some paddling techniques.


The emphasis in this type is on the tricks and lots of them. Often combined with other forms of kayaking like whitewater surfing and kayak surfing, you will find freestyle kayakers able to do incredible stunts in their nimble boats. Usually used short maneuverable sit-in kayaks.

Competitive kayaking

An athlete is only as good as his kayak. There are over ten forms of competitive kayaking you will find at the Olympics and slalom events. You don’t want to be caught slacking in a kayak.



You will find that it’s very helpful to start here and think about which environment you want to explore before you choose your first kayak. If you wonder where I can go kayaking near me, check our guide and map for top paddling destinations in the USA.

Lakes- Here I mean any local lakes you can find around your home or city. If the weather is beautiful and the destination is near, you can go with your traditional recreational sit-in or sit on top boat and have fun. A purely recreational boat will be overmatched though if Whitecaps appear if the lake is more like a sea better to use a touring type of kayak.

Lake Kayaking - rocks

Rivers: Floating on a river, you will want a stable firm vessel as it turns quickly. A recreational sit-in or sit-on-top or day touring sit-in boat fits well into this description. If there are rapids more than class III, a whitewater kayak should be considered. Not recommended for beginners! 

River Kayaking - Emerald water

Coastal- The winds, waves, currents, and tides have all come into play.  Having a sit-in touring boat with a skeg is wise. If you would also prefer to swim or do some surfing, a sit-on-top can still be an excellent choice.

Coastal kayaking


Length: Length in kayaks offer some advantages – usually- more stable, easier to paddle, and high cargo holding capacity without it taking its toll on performance. Longer boats also track better and move faster. Shorter boats, on the other hand, are lighter, less cumbersome, and easier to transport; and they turn more quickly. A few inches in length won’t factor in much on overall performance, but two feet or more difference would be much more significant.

Width: The width of a kayak is significant in handling the boat. Stability is the major function of the width. With handling sacrificed for that extra width, and a narrow kayak does not work well in strong current. Although not as much as length, extra width does add to a boat’s carrying capacity; but a wider kayak means more effort in paddling because the hull has to push aside a lot more water.

Different kayak lengths

Depth and weight. Depth is vital for long-legged kayakers. It provides more room plus a little more storage. Shallower hulls are less affected by wind.

You might want to consider weight if you’re going to be hauling gear for multi-day tours. An overloaded kayak will sit too low in the water and compromise your paddling efficiency. If you are concerned about the weight because when you have to move your kayak, Kayaks weigh between 35 (solo) to 60 (tandem) pounds. Also, it might come down to the material its made from. Put this in mind when you want to choose your first kayak.

Seats:  Choosing a kayak with great seats is essential. Do you want to be comfortable in your tour, sport or any other excursion activity, then be cautious on the seat.

Rudders and skegs:  Such components in a kayak assist in tracking straight even in high tides. A skeg is a drop-down fin which helps in preventing excessive side wind from blowing the kayak off course. On the inflatable models usually is mounted on the bottom and it could be removed. A rudder is also a fin that flips downwards from the back of any given kayak. This feature also prevents wind from blowing the boat, but it is not fixed.

Rudder vs Skeg - Kayak

The Cockpit size:  a small cockpit will give you excellent protection and control especially in rough conditions. A big cockpit will also allow you to get in and off the boat easily.

The Hatches:  the hatches give you the accessibility of the interior storage space. Some big touring boats have two hatches while the day touring boats with some recreational boats have only one hatch.


Finally, here comes the question of where does a kayak fit into in your life. What are you willing to spend, sacrifice to get it. Do you have the proper storage facility to house your boat or is it going to hamper your daily routine or cut too deep in your expenses?  The good news, however, is that you needn’t break the bank to get a great kayak as long as you follow the rules and identify which kayak serves your purpose.

Alternatively, if you’re worried about space, you can try looking into:

Folding kayaks- If you live in an apartment, plan to travel or hike to a remote location for a tour, this could be an option.

Inflatable kayaks- These also save space like folding kayaks. They are surprisingly firm, durable and quite versatile. There is an inflatable kayak for every type of activity and water even for whitewater enthusiasts. You can check our guide for the best inflatable kayaks.

Tandem kayaksWhy buy one when you can buy two-in-one. If you’re the family type, you and your spouse can save a few bucks and get a single tandem kayak instead of getting two solo boats. They are typically more stable and are also a great choice if you’re taking the kids along. This is great for you as a beginner as well if you feel you need an expert with you.

Inflatable Kayak on the Beach
Tandem Folding Kayak


You are going to choose your first kayak, and make a purchase, so you want to be confident doing it, and comfortable with your choice as well. This is so you can get out there seeking new adventures on the water. Once you find a style that you love, get the right paddle; and learn some basic skills like launching your kayak, and how to steer or paddle.

Now you know a lot about kayaks, do you wish to know the difference between a kayak and a canoe?