Kayak buying considerations
Please remember that this site is about casual, recreational kayaking, not serious whitewater, not ocean touring, not extreme kayak fishing. Our list of considerations is offered as a starting point and is based on our current situation. We don’t live on a body of water so we have to transport our kayaks every time we use them. If you can leave your kayak on the shore at your lakefront home, you’re criteria will be different than ours.
- Kayak Weight is the most important criteria if you’ll be transporting the kayak on roof racks that are higher than your head. Don’t underestimate how much this will affect your desire to use your kayak. Wrestling a 80 – 100 pound kayak onto roof racks with you arms up over your head isn’t fun. It’s also dangerous to the kayak, the vehicle, you and innocent bystanders. My The Catch 120 NXT weighs 69 pounds. Judith’s Venus 10 is just 37 pounds. Guess which one I enjoy putting on the 4Runner’s roof more?
- I set a hard limit of 70 pounds when we were searching for kayaks. I wasn’t willing to try to put anything heavier up on the roof of the 4Runner which is taller than my 5’7″ self.
- There are various accessories you can purchase to make loading a kayak easier. Many are tricky to use on modern SUVs that have those little plastic antennas right in the middle of the back of the roof and those plastic wings over the back hatch that shouldn’t take much weight. Still, with money and ingenuity, there are ways around the weight challenge.
- Weight also matters after the kayak is off the vehicle. Where will you store it at home? How far will you have to carry it from the vehicle to the water? Do you need to add a kayak cart or hoist to your shopping list? I don’t recommend a cart that goes through the scupper holes in a Sit On Top kayak. The scupper holes are the weakest part of the hull and there’s no sense stressing them.
- Kayak Length relates to weight and is part of the trade-off equation. Longer kayaks are faster. Shorter kayaks are easier to maneuver. Longer kayaks are heavier. Shorter kayaks are lighter. There’s no absolute right or wrong choice. Go with what you’ll actually want to use and what best fits the water conditions you’ll most often encounter (see below). My The Catch 120 NXT is 11’8″ while Judith’s Venus 10 is just 9’10”.
- Your length matters too. I’m 5’7″ and Judith is 5’3″. Our kayaks are plenty big enough for us and people a fair amount taller than us. If she was 6′ tall I don’t think we would’ve made the same choice for her kayak.
- Kayak Width is also a trade-off where wider is more stable and slower and narrower is less stable and faster. If you plan to fish more than sprint around the lake, a wider kayak with a hull designed for stability is a better choice. If you will mostly be in motion enjoying the scenery while getting in a workout, go with something designed for speed and ease of tracking. Tracking refers to how easy or difficult it is to keep the kayak moving along a straight line. The person doing the paddling is the top factor in tracking followed by the hull design and the profile of the kayak in the wind. My The Catch 120 NXT is 34″ wide while Judith’s Venus 10 is 28″ wide. Keep in mind that width affects the length of paddle you need.
- You and your gear’s weight is an important consideration. Judith’s Venus 10 is rated for 160 – 175 pounds which is enough for her and quite a bit of gear. My The Catch 120 NXT is rated for 400 pounds which is enough for two of me and a lot of gear or one of me, some gear and a lot of caught fish. If I use her kayak, I’ll have more water coming up through the scupper holes. If she uses mine, I’m not sure the waterline would even change when she gets on. Make the right choice for your body weight and the amount of gear you expect to have on-board. A kayak for camping down a river is quite different than one for a quick paddle around the local pond.
- Sit On Top or Sit Inside Kayak? Live in a place where the water temperature is never warm enough to want to be wet? A SIK will probably make you happier. Live in a place where the whole point of kayaking is to get wet and beat the heat? A SOT is your best bet. Anywhere in-between it isn’t so obvious. We chose SOT kayaks because they are stable, easy to get back into if you fall or deliberately get off in the water and never need manual bilge pumping or sponging to remove water inside. I also really wanted a lawn chair style seat for comfort for long stretches of fishing or wildlife photography and the SOT’s had more seat options. I don’t know that I’ll end up doing much, or any, standup fishing but my SOT Pelican The Catch 120 NXT is stable enough for standing in calm waters if you have decent balance. Judith’s Ocean Kayak Venus 10 is not stable enough for standing but is stable enough for just about anyone to operate without tipping over. Mine is slower, hers is faster. Not a problem except when I’m trying to keep up with her on longer paddling adventures.
- Accessories and Rigging are the great temptations of kayak shopping. A fishing / angler kayak with rod holders, gear tracks and a comfy seat will tempt you if you are at all inclined to try kayak fishing. It may be your best choice but think carefully about what you’ll use the kayak for most. If fishing will be a once in a while thing and paddling the circumference of the lake for exercise and the peace of the outdoors will be a frequent thing, you’ll probably regret a full-on fishing kayak. Likewise, if fishing really will be the majority use, you will not be happy with your purchase if you go for a fast, sleek kayak with little storage and poor stability.
- Where will you use the kayak? Flat water on small to medium local lakes and ponds calls for a faster, medium length and width kayak that is truly a general purpose recreational kayak. Local creeks, a little mild whitewater and smaller ponds? A shorter, more maneuverable kayak will be a good choice unless you’re very heavy. Large lakes and ocean bays? A long, fast boat, with a spray skirt if a SIK, safety features, a bilge pump, plenty of storage and some training / practice for rolling the kayak and exiting, clearing water and re-entering in open water are called for.
- How will you transport the kayak? I mentioned that we don’t live on the water so we need to transport our kayaks every time we use them. We use two sets of Yakima JayLow Folding J-bar style kayak carriers to transport our kayaks on the roof rack of our 4Runner. The higher you’ll have to lift your kayaks, the more you’ll appreciate lighter models.
- There are days when I wish I had a step stool along but I generally just stand on the door treads and rear tires. I stage the straps in advance to make things easier. Read about our transportation approach.
- If you have a pickup, you might consider kayaks that are short enough to be strapped into the bed or a trailer hitch mounted bed extender for longer kayaks.
- If you have a car, a roof rack may still be an option or you might just use a more temporary kit with foam blocks and straps that run through the windows. For larger kayaks, we have used the foam block kit from Malone. We’ve even used a pair of those to move a Sunfish sailboat on top of the 4Runner. On small cars, the foam blocks are usually good for one kayak but carrying two will require racks that carry the kayaks on their sides. Even on larger SUVs, two kayaks are a tight fit if one or both are wider, fishing style kayaks. We needed to put at least one of them sideways to comfort fit Judith’s narrow Venus 10 next to my wider The Catch 120 NXT on the 4Runner.
- Style matters too. You want a kayak you’ll like the look of whether that is about what color it is and how it matches your car, its shape or other things that appeal to you. Just don’t let style lead you to a kayak that you won’t use much because of the more important attributes above.