kayaking tips for beginners

What To Look For When Buying A Kayak For The First Time – Tips For Beginners

When you’re first starting out with kayaking, it can be a little overwhelming.  So many types of kayaks, and so much to choose from – how to decide?!  Kayaks aren’t what you might call cheap, so it would be a shame to buy one, and find out that it isn’t what you want or need.

In this feature article, we want to discuss what you should look out for when buying your first kayak, providing some tips for beginners in order to assist you, the aspiring kayaker, with making the right choice out of the gate.

What Are The Different Types Of Kayak?

different types of kayak

The 3 types of kayak we will be discussing today include:

  1. Recreational
  2. Touring
  3. Sit On Top

Off the top, you will need to ask yourself some questions.  Such as, where do you want to do your kayaking?  Will you be wanting a single or a tandem kayak?  Do you have any prior experience with kayaking in the past?  How will you be transporting your kayak from point A to point B?  Where will you be storing it?  If you can jot down the answers to these burning questions, your hunt for the best kayak that suits your every need will not be so difficult.

Planning Your Kayaking Trip

kayaking beginner tips
Gone fishin’ ?

Depending on where you live, you probably have a slight notion of where you would like to do some kayaking. 

For example, if you will be taking your kayak out on a local river near you, this will influence your decision somewhat.  Maybe the river in question is known to be calm and smooth-flowing, or maybe not.  If you plan on doing the majority of your kayaking on this hypothetical river, it’s good to know a thing or two about the conditions on this river.

If you plan on taking it out in the ocean, again, this is good to know and will affect your decision as well.  Some kayaks are excellent in all manner of circumstances, but the vast majority of them are geared towards a particular type of paddling. 

kayaking on a lake
Still waters…

That said, it’s true that one would not typically use the same type of kayak on a wind-swept bay or lake, as one would in a lazy type of river or a calm lake.  The nature of the water in which you’ll be kayaking is very important to think about, so exactly how turning, stability, tracking, and wave handling will be important considerations.

Here is a video showing some rougher waters.  Please note that not just any kayak will do under these conditions, as we will explain…

For example, a kayak meant for rivers, is normally shorter due to the fact that maneuvering is so crucial in a fast flowing current, where as, if you are out on a bay, the open water lends itself to a longer kayak design that can shoot like an arrow across the relatively still waters.  But what about oceans?  They too are open water, but perhaps more turbulent than a bay, generally speaking.  For this situation, it is advised to investigate a sit on top kayak for reasons of safety.

beginner kayaking tips which to buy
The scenic route…

Once again, it comes back to where you’ll be kayaking.  This is where forethought comes into play, as you will need to have an idea where you’re going, and what types of conditions to expect. 

Going blindly into a situation involving a boat such as a kayak is not advisable, similar to walking into a store and randomly buying a kayak based on, say, the colour scheme.  Sure, you want to like the look of your kayak, but you can’t ignore those other things.

Recreational Kayaks

So, after giving some thought to where you’ll be taking your very first kayaking trip, you can start to shift your focus on what you will want to be doing out on the water. 

Recreational kayaks are highly popular, because they are so versatile, stable, and basically anyone can use them. 

recreational kayaks choosing the right one

They are a great all-purpose kayak, with large open cockpits in order to give the paddler more freedom to move around, and also the ability to get in and out quickly.  Recreational style kayaks usually are a little bit smaller, so around 8 to 12 feet in length, which means that storage and transportation are both a bit easier. 

Because they are smaller in size, they also tend to be lighter in terms of weight, and this is very important to most people.  On the other hand, there are a few downsides to recreational kayaks, such as the fact that their handling isn’t the greatest, and when the winds pick up and the water gets rough, they aren’t necessarily ideal.

Touring Kayaks

Now, if you are up for a longer journey and are willing to carry a bit more gear, a touring kayak is the obvious choice.  These tend to be longer in length, measuring somewhere between 13 and 17 feet long, and they are somewhat narrower, which makes them cut through the water like hot butter.  When bigger waves come along, touring kayaks are ready for them as they crash across you. 

Touring kayaks often have more of an emphasis on storage, with a couple of compartments in the fore and the aft, which allows you to stow away your supplies, so that you can take a longer adventure if you so choose.  Not only that, but these storage compartments act as floatation devices in case your kayak capsizes. 

touring kayak review

As you might imagine, touring kayaks have larger price tags attached, but it’s hard to complain when you’re getting so much value for your money.  Although, if complaining is your thing, you will get your chance to do so, as these are larger and heavier kayaks, which are more difficult to lug around.  So, if you’re a whiny little crybaby, perhaps the touring kayak isn’t for you. 

Here’s a video showing the featuring of a good sea / touring kayak!

Sit On Top Kayaks

In terms of gaining popularity, the sit on top style of kayak is definitely gaining a lot of traction lately.  One of their big advantages is that they are fully sealed off, so that if you capsize, you do not take on water.  Because of this, it’s easy to roll this type of kayak back over ,so that you can get back on it quickly and continue paddling.  This comes in handy when you are out in the ocean, and the waves are huge and you are concerned for your safety.

best sit on top kayak

The stability of a sit on top kayak is excellent, which makes these a very versatile type of kayak, used by many fisherman who like to paddle around lakes, looking for that big catch of the day.  There are a variety of shapes and sizes of a sit on top kayak, and for that reason, people appreciate the amount of selection offered with this type of kayak. 

With sit on tops, there’s one thing that will likely happen, and that is you will most likely get very wet as you paddle it.  As such, you probably don’t want to get a sit on top, if you are thinking of using it in the colder seasons.

Here’s a video showing how to both launch and land a sit on top kayak courtesy of Top Kayaker!

At this point, we have discussed the three different types of kayaks, and when and where you might want to use them.  But there are still a few more decisions to make, so bear with us! 

Kayaking With A Rudder

Each of the above types of kayaks have their pros and cons, in terms of storage, comfort, and control.  But of course, there’s more specific things you can look into, that will enhance your kayaking experience.  For instance, you can get yourself a kayak that has the option of a rudder. 

kayaking rudder

As you probably know, a rudder gives you the ability to use your feet for steering, while your paddle can be used exclusively for propelling the kayak forward.  A rudder comes in handy when you are in need of getting somewhere quicker, and you want to use all of your energy mainly for, say, reaching the shore before a storm moves in. 

When things quiet down, you may not have a need for the rudder any longer, and, fortunately, you can simply disengage it and return to steering by paddling.  In this way, you have the flexibility to engage or disengage your rudder depending on conditions.  Not surprisingly, having access to a quality rudder means that the price is going to go up accordingly.

Here’s a great video showing how to use a kayak rudder properly if you want some tips.

Storage Hatches

These are another feature that will bump up the price of your kayak, but, as we mentioned before, storage hatches don’t come on all types of kayaks – only some have them.  They are quite necessary depending on the type of expedition you will be taking, because if you are packing away gear, having a warm & dry place to store things will be crucial. 

Often times, your hatch will include a foam interior wall known as a bulkhead that will prevent water from getting into your storage hatch from your cockpit.  As we mentioned before, having a good storage hatch can act as a safety measure, because it can provide floatation in case a wave sends you for a loop.

kayak storage hatch
Hey…that hatch has a kid in it!

There are many types of hatches, which are different sizes and in different locations as well.  For example, there are some hatches you can get which are accessible to the paddler, and may contain things like maps, or other things that may be needed while the paddler is out on the water. 

You can even install your own hatch if you’ve got the know-how.  Check out this video showing how it’s done!


Finally, we are going to discuss the matter of comfort when it comes to kayaks.  This is definitely a last-but-not-least consideration, because if you purchase a kayak, you’ll definitely want it to be comfortable.  That said, you should know that not all kayak seats are equally comfortable. 

comfortable kayak seats

When it comes to the best seats, they are usually given plenty of padding for maximum comfort.  With the right kayak, you should be able to adjust your seats according to your needs out on the water.  We just want to make sure that when you buy your kayak, you don’t forget to look at this factor, as it can get overlooked, and lead to an unfortunate situation once you realize you’ve purchased an uncomfortable kayak…one that you don’t look forward to sitting in. 

Here’s a video with some great ideas for making your kayak more comfortable… 🙂

Wrapping Up!

So, there it is!  Hopefully we have provided you with the basic know-how and information to get you started in the wonderful world of kayaking. 

One last thing – if possible, you’ll want to take your kayak for a test run before buying.  If you’re buying your kayak locally, don’t forget to investigate this.  Ask about demos, or rentals, or do whatever you need to do to ensure that the kayak you buy is the kayak you really want.  After that, you can look forward to years of fun times, and great memories!


What To Look For When Buying A Kayak For The First Time - Tips For Beginners
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What To Look For When Buying A Kayak For The First Time - Tips For Beginners
If you are just looking into kayaking, this article offers tips for the kayaking beginner, such as what you need to consider when buying a kayak, and much more!
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Beach Baby
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