Kayaks are remarkable vessels in that they allow you to quietly explore bodies of water that most other boats can’t access. They also provide a means of getting exercise, fishing, playing and exploring. If you are considering your first kayak purchase, you are probably doing a lot of research before making a decision…and you are to be commended for that.
The fact is, there’s a lot to take into consideration when choosing your first boat. For some, the first purchase comes down to picking between an inflatable or a traditional. But that’s only the beginning. Both inflatable and traditional kayaks have many options to choose from as well. Each has their own unique advantages and their drawbacks. In this post, I will explain the pros and cons of inflatable kayaks and traditional ones in hopes that I can help you make the right decision.
Before we get into choosing the right kayak for you, you should first consider these questions:
- Where will you be taking your kayak? Will you spend most of your time on calm waters or rough? Will there be wind, waves or currents?
- Will you be paddling with a partner or in a kayak to yourself?
- How fat will you be paddling? Are you looking to cruise around and explore areas within easy paddling reach or will you be taking extended journeys and bringing camping gear, etc?
- Where will you store your kayak when not in use?
- How will you transport your kayak?
- What is your paddling skill level?
Recreational kayaks are primarily designed to be used on calm bodies of water under optimal weather conditions. They are usually a bit more heavy and wide which makes them more stable than other kayaks. If you are new to paddling and looking to spend most of your time on small lakes or ponds, these make a good choice. If you spend time in windy areas, these are not ideal because their size makes them more susceptible to catching gusts. Keep in mind also that because of their size and weight, they will be more difficult to maneuver than other lighter and more narrow vessels.
Because of their stability, recreational kayaks are often used by photographers and anglers. Their size, in contrast to the other kayaks we will discuss, are a bit smaller (usually 10-12 feet in length). Because of their smaller size, they offer less storage space.
Considering the above, recreational kayaks are relatively inexpensive. This is normally due to the fact that the material they are normally composed of (polyethylene) is cheaper than than lighter materials. But. polyethylene is very strong. These kayaks can be pulled up on rocky beaches without worry. I spend a lot of time on the Colorado River and many of the places I explore are quite rocky. With this type of kayak, you will have few worries about holes or damage when learning to paddle.
Touring kayaks are known as sea kayaks and they can best be identified by the long, “skinny” look that they possess. These are designed to travel long distances and remain stable in rough conditions. And while they are stable in rough conditions, many people live to use them on calm waters as well due to their sleek design and speed as their hulls are designed to increase lift to keep them on top of the water. Also, touring kayaks are typically equipped with rudders or skeggs to make maneuvering a snap.
The extended length of touring kayaks (12-16 feet) allows for dry storage and sealed hatches which allow you to carry more gear and supplies. The cockpits are usually quite small and confining and can make some people feel a bit claustrophobic.
The touring kayak is divided into two subcategories which are single-day touring and multi-day touring. The difference in these will be the amount of space they have which will determine the amount of gear you can take with you.
These are normally much lighter than recreational kayaks but they can be equally heavy as you increase in length.
Sit-on-tops are typically the heaviest and most stable of all kayaks. These are the ones you normally see at kayak rental shops because of their versatility. This is a great choice for beginners and kids because of the ease in getting in and out of them (no cockpit). They are also very durable and can be taken anywhere without fear of rocks or sharp bottom waters causing any structural damage.
One great thing about sit-on-top kayaks is the fact that they are extremely difficult to capsize. And, if you are even able to tip it over, they are very simple to right and they don’t hold any water once you get ti right side up. Because of their stability, these sit on tops are the #1 choice of anglers and divers as they provide a very stable platform to work from. Because there is no cockpit, these are normally found in warmer climates where the occasional splash won’t cause you to freeze.
While these are a bit heavier than most kayaks foot per foot, they are usually a bit smaller in length (10-12 feet) making them manageable.
Over the past few years, there have been remarkable strides in the construction of inflatable kayaks. What used to be considered toys, these kayaks are now extremely sturdy and very capable in the water under both good and bad conditions. Make no mistake. These are not the inflatable boats that you grew up with. Their construction is usually composed of a hard shell which resists rips, tears and holes. Also, even though they are inflated with a hand or foot pump, many have high pressure floors that keep the kayak perfectly stable as you stand up and walk the length of the kayak, making them as sturdy as the biggest and heaviest polyethylene ones.
Inflatable kayaks are the perfect choice for those who lack space in their home to store a traditional kayak or for those who don’t want to buy or own an expensive roof rack to transport. Inflatable kayaks traditionally comes with a large duffel bag that holds the kayak. Most of these can be stored under a bed at home and transported in the trunk of a small car. Inflatable kayaks are the lightest of all kayaks and can easily be handled and transported by virtually any adult.
The only drawbacks of the inflatable kayak is that they take a few minutes to inflate once you get to the water (usually 5-10 minutes) and that they are not as resilient as a hard-sided kayak. If you want to see inflatable kayak reviews, feel free to explore this website as we have something for everyone.
A Final Word
While these are the main kayak categories, there are also kayaks made just for whitewater rapids and some designed specifically for fishing.
I hope this post will help you make a wise decision that will get you in the water and enjoying your paddling experience!