How to Choose the Best Kayak
Finding the right balance of performance is the key.
To maximize your paddling experience, you'll need to choose the best kayak for your needs. Many people find this intimidating. First you must decide what "best" means, and then find a kayak that delivers it. This is a very personal decision. Said simply, the ideal kayak for you is the one that performs well in the way(s) you need most.
A good kayak can have many virtues, or performance aspects, but not all in high measure. You often must sacrifice some virtues in order to gain others.
The main aspects of performance are efficiency, tracking, maneuvering, capacity, and stability. To decide which kayak is best for you, you must rank the importance of the performance aspects before you begin to look at different models.
When you begin looking, you will find more kayaks than you ever imagined. We alone make over two dozen designs, and there are hundreds counting each model from every builder. But you need to pick the one kayak that's best for you, and without spending half of your life doing it.
Occasionally this is easy. But more often, features of various kayaks are measured against each other to see how they compare to your envisioned use. We pride ourselves in building a diverse line of touring kayaks -- and many are great at multi-tasking -- but they can be grouped into categories that, while not always strict, will help you find the kayak best suited to you.
We group our kayaks by category and style to help explain their intended use. Some other manufacturers do this too. But, if not, you can usually tell what category a kayak is in by its size, shape, and features. Finding the right category and style eliminates the kayaks that won't serve you as well, so you can concentrate on a few that are close matches to your needs.
Recreational kayaks are perfect for small lakes and slow rivers where nimble handling wins over speed and load carrying capacity. Our recreational kayaks are designed for first time paddlers to experience the magic of kayaking and for more seasoned outdoor enthusiasts who like to combine their on water pleasures with other pursuits such as bird watching, fishing and photography. These kayaks are stable, maneuverable, user friendly and have easy entry cockpits that fit almost anybody comfortably.
These don't fit neatly in the recreational or touring category -- they have elements from both -- and have their own appeal.
Like recreational designs, our Breeze, Pachena DX and Whistler are quite short and wide. They favor stability on calm waters and easy turning over speed. And while their cockpits are narrower, they are still quite roomy for easy access. But like our touring models, they have an upturned bow to help cut through and deflect waves should rough conditions arise. They also include thigh braces for more efficient paddling and control.
This is a large category, and the majority of paddlers will be well served by a design that falls within it. These kayaks are designed to handle the wide variety of conditions they may encounter, and for efficient paddling. They are longer and narrower than recreational and transitional designs for fast efficient travel and have more capacity for gear. We build a large range to provide varying degrees of speed, capacity, maneuverability and stability, with each model designed to fill the individual paddler's needs while providing a comfortable fit. The varying hull shapes and rudder versus skeg options give the paddler a full range of choices.
Designed for highly specific uses, these designs are less versatile but are ideal for paddlers with specialized needs.
The Stratus 18 is built foremost for speed, but with tripping abilities not common in purely racing designs. This is not a beginner's boat. This is a go-fast kayak for experienced paddlers who also want light tripping capability.
Our Altura SOT is built with the needs of open-kayak anglers in mind. This is a popular "get me to my favorite fishing spot" model, with all of the design add-ons fisherman look for.
The Raven is a performance oriented design for the younger generation. Its length-to-width ratio delivers touring kayak efficiency to youths up to 110 lb. While many recreational designs will work for kids, this one will excel.
The kayak's design style will further narrow the field.
Kayaks are often described by the geographical origin of their design. The birthplace of the modern kayak was the coastal regions of the northern Arctic. When these kayaks were introduced into other areas, the designs were modified and refined to better suit the uses and water conditions found in the new locations. While there is crossover and the different styles are often blended, knowing a kayak's basic design style will give you an indication of the performance you can expect. While the different styles will perform well in most waters, some are particularly suited for certain uses.
Greenland Style: First developed for water-based big game hunting.
These maintain the distinctive features that emulate the traditional bone and skin kayaks developed in Greenland. They have very low profile decks, both bow and stern. They are quite narrow for their length and have a flatter hull that makes a sharp transition -- a hard chine -- where it meets the sides of the hull. The cockpit opening is very small.
The flatter bottom gives these high initial stability and is conducive to riding surf, while the hard chine acts as a second keel when leaned to carve a turn. The low decks are little affected by wind and aid in rolling by allowing you to bend back over the edge of the cockpit easier. The small cockpit catches very little water preventing a spray skirt collapse when in tumultuous conditions. Greenland style kayaks are highly capable in rough waters, quite maneuverable, and well suited for special paddling techniques. The trade-off is that the small cockpit and low, narrow hull may be too snug for larger paddlers and also limits their capacity for gear.
We outfit our Greenland style kayaks with skegs, medium sized hatches, and a snug cockpit with thigh and foot braces, in addition to our signature deck rigging.
British Style: Developed to conquer high-winds and confused seas.
British style kayaks are similar to Greenland style in a more moderate form. They are slightly wider in relation to their length, and while they are low profile, they have a higher foredeck. The cross-section is more moderate as well. They have a slightly more rounded bottom, often include a shallow 'V' keel line and fairly pronounced rocker. The transition between the bottom and sides is softened to a medium chine. Their cockpits are a bit larger, but still snug. They generally have a skeg.
While they are still very well suited to highly windy conditions, the higher bow deck gives the paddler a bit more leg room and storage capacity. The cross section improves secondary stability and tracking in rough waters. British designs are good for back-rolls and surfing, and are confident in confused seas. The hull's rocker aids in turning. While British style kayaks are a more moderate than the Greenland type, many of them still favor a more experienced paddler, have limited capacity and may be too small for larger people. And, since they are narrow, they may feel tippy to new paddlers.
Our British style designs are outfitted with medium sized hatches and cockpit with a backband, thigh and foot braces, a day hatch and our signature deck rigging.
North American Style: Originally designed for open ocean coastal regions.
North American style kayaks have additional height ahead of the cockpit and have a higher profile deck overall. They are wider in relation to their length, but also have less rocker for a longer waterline. The bottom profile is similar to british, with a shallow 'V" keel line but the chines have been further softened. Cockpits are roomier. These generally include a rudder.
These kayaks are more forgiving than both the Greenland and British styles. Their added width and depth improves storage capacity and makes them more comfortable for larger paddlers. The larger cockpits are easy to enter and exit. Their cross section gives them superior final stability while their additional width makes them feel less tippy. New paddlers will find these easier to become accustomed to. The trade-off is that because these kayaks favor straight-tracking, they are less maneuverable and the higher profile will be more affected by wind. Performing rolls, carving a turn and surfing will require more skill. Some paddlers prefer a snugger fit than these provide.
We outfit our North American kayaks with rudders, large hatches and cockpit with seat back, and thigh and foot braces, plus our signature deck rigging.
A good "fit" improves performance and comfort.
When choosing a kayak, a common reminder you'll hear is "you don't sit in a kayak, you wear it." Larger people will benefit from a wider and deeper kayak with a roomier cockpit. Smaller paddlers should gravitate towards a more narrow, shallow kayak. Comparing dimensions will help you choose the one that will give you the most comfort and control.
To help you determine which kayaks might be best for you, we've listed the recommended range of the paddler's weight, and maximum capacity. Remember that it's a guide only. Due to differences in physical proportions and paddling experience, some people might fall outside the recommended range and yet still have a very positive paddling experience. Also remember that nothing beats training from a qualified instructor to increase your understanding of safe kayaking.