How to Choose the Best Kayak for You

Purchasing a kayak is exciting, but the process can be complex. This buying guide breaks down all the features to consider.

August 01, 2019

The prospect of owning your own kayak can be exciting. But with so many choices out there, it can also be overwhelming.


You’ll want to consider how you’ll be using the kayak, such as where you’ll be paddling and how often. Will you be out on a lake in calm waters or in rougher ocean waves? Are you looking for a more relaxed experience with nature or an adventurous day touring?


Let’s break down some tips to help you find the ideal kayak for you and the type of experience you’re looking for.




There are generally two categories of kayaks: sit-on-top or sit-in. Deciding which of these will work best for you is the first step in narrowing your choices.


Sit-on-top kayaks are user-friendly and viewed as well suited for a recreational day on the water or for fishing.

  • They are versatile and are usually a good option for beginner kayakers.
  • These are better suited for warm environments because you will get splashed.
  • Sit-on-top kayaks can be easy to get on and off of while providing a good level of stability.
  • These kayaks are self-bailing. They have scupper holes that allow water to drain right through.

Sit-in kayaks are more “traditional” and designed with a cockpit.

  • They give you some shelter from the wind and water. You can add extra coverage with a spray skirt. A spray skirt is a flexible waterproof cover with a hole for your waist. They can help prevent water from entering the kayak as you paddle.
  • These models tend to offer more storage space.
  • Sit-in kayaks are usually constructed with foot braces.
  • Contrary to what some may think at first glance, sit-in kayaks are actually pretty roomy. So, don’t worry about feeling confined in a small space.
  • The sit-in kayak can be more efficient to paddle than the sit-on-top variety due to its lower center of gravity.

A third option to consider are inflatable kayaks. This type of kayak is durable, lightweight and easy to transport. Once your day on the water is over, you will just deflate the kayak so it fits in the trunk of your car. Inflatable kayaks can be a good choice for beginners looking for their first kayak.


Once you’ve determined whether a sit-in or sit-on-top style is right for you, you can look into the various types of kayaks to choose from. You will find touring kayaks, fishing kayaks, modular kayaks and more.



You’ll also want to consider a kayak’s hull design. The hull is the shape of the bottom of the boat. It can make a difference in performance and stability on the water. There are two types of stability to understand:

  • Primary stability (also known as initial stability) refers to how stable the kayak is when you’re first getting into the boat. This means you’re less likely to flip when you step into your kayak and sit down.
  • Secondary stability refers to how stable it is once you start paddling. This means you’re less likely to roll over as you start moving through the water.

Now, let’s key in on the types of hulls to consider.

  • Flat Hull: These hulls can be stable and maneuverable. They offer great primary stability. The flatter the hull, the more stable your kayak will be. Flat hulls are ideal for recreational kayakers in flat water conditions. These can be good choices for beginners.
  • Rounded Hull: The rounded edges of this hull can increase speed and allow for easier travel through the water compared to a flat hull. This hull makes the kayak more maneuverable and offers more secondary stability.
  • V-Shaped: These hulls cut through the water and help the kayak travel in a straight line. They are good for recreational paddling and ideal for touring or long-distance trips. They may feel a bit unstable at first since they provide the least amount of primary stability. However, v-shaped hulls offer better secondary stability.
  • Pontoon: Known to be very stable because they combine the primary stability of flat hulls and secondary stability of rounded hulls. But they do tend to be slower.
  • Chine: Chine is the description of the way the bottom of the boat meets the sides in either a rounded “soft” chine or with more angles and a “harder” chine. Most boats fall somewhere in between and have a multi-chine hull. The softer the chine, the more secondary stability the boat will have.


It’s important to keep in mind the capacity of each kayak varies. This should be clearly listed when purchasing your kayak. The capacity includes the paddler’s body weight, as well as additional items in the kayak. This can include coolers, fishing tackles and gear.



Generally, the longer and narrower the kayak, the faster and straighter it will go. A kayak is more stable and easier to turn if it’s wider and shorter, but it may sacrifice speed. If you are new to kayaking, then a wider kayak can be a good beginner’s choice as you grow accustomed to being on the water.


Recreational kayaks are about 8 feet to 13 feet long and made for small lakes, rivers, creeks and other calm waters. They can navigate narrow inlets or passageways efficiently. Touring kayaks are longer, about 14 feet to 18 feet, and built to handle large waves, bigger rivers or lakes.


Also take into account your height when considering a kayak’s length. This can be particularly important with a sit-in kayak. In order to have a pleasant experience on the water, you’ll want to make sure you fit inside your kayak well. For example, if you are 6 feet tall and 225 pounds, a 12-foot-long boat may be more comfortable than a boat that is 10 feet long. Adjustable footrests can help accommodate your height in your kayak. It can help taller people in smaller kayaks and shorter people in longer kayaks.


You are making a big purchase, so you want to feel confident and comfortable with your choice. Once you find the right style, you should find the right paddle. You should also take time to learn some kayaking basics, including how to launch a kayak, how to paddle and how to steer.