The most important question you need to ask yourself before buying a kayak is, “How will I use my kayak?” It’s a simple and meaningful question that will help you decide each design aspect of your kayak such as weight, length, width, hull type, rocker, etc.
We used this question as the basis for creating a detailed but clear-cut buying guide that will help you determine how to buy a kayak. Whether you are a beginner, intermediate, or advanced kayaker you’ve come to the right place!
Table of Contents
- Basic Kayak Design
- Different Types of Kayaking
- Choosing the Right Price for your Kayak
Basic Kayak Design
The intention of this section is to give you an overview of kayak design so you can understand the different types of kayaks. This way, when you’re looking at two similar priced kayaks and you ask yourself, “What is the difference between these two kayaks?” you’ll be able to spot that small difference in the kayak’s design that could be the deciding factor.
Kayak Length and Width
If you’re comparing any aspect of a kayak it sometimes helps to picture an example. Let’s take kayak length and width to the extreme compare an 8ft x 2ft kayak to a 5ft x 4ft kayak with equal weight. Imagine both kayak’s moving through water and being paddled by paddlers of equal strength and weight. Which one moves faster? The 8’x2’ kayak would have less water resistance due to the narrower shape thus allowing the kayak to move quicker through water. The wider (4ft) shape would plow more water thus creating more drag and less speed.
In general, the longer your kayak is the easier it will be to move faster through the water.
Now let’s compare maneuverability. Imagine the two kayakers are attempting to turn. Would the longer or the shorter kayak turn easier? Probably the shorter kayak. As you turn the kayak there is water resistance to the sides of your vessel. The 8ft kayak must push more water than the 5ft kayak making it harder to turn.
In general, the shorter your kayak is the easier it will be to handle and maneuver through water.
The width of your kayak is directly related the stability of your kayak. Imagine the two kayakers decided to stand in their respective kayaks in flat water. The kayaker in the wider (4ft) kayak stands in a wider stance then the kayaker in the narrower (2ft) kayak. Which kayaker has an easier time standing? Probably the wider kayak.
In general, the wider your kayak is the easier it will be to balance.
Please understand that this is and example of primary stability which is the measure of how stable a kayak is in flat water. Secondary stability is the measure of how stable the kayak is when it is turned on its side (aka when it is in choppy water). Secondary stability is heavily affected by the chine, hull, and the rocker of a kayak which will be discussed in later sections.
The length and width are overarching factors when it comes to speed, maneuverability, and stability. To optimize kayak design further we must start discussing more advanced design aspects.
Kayak Hull Design
The hull refers to the shape of the bottom of your kayak and can have a significant effect on the performance of your kayak. There are dozens of different hull types online and they all stem from the four main hull types. The four hull shapes are the round shaped hull, v-shaped hull, flat hull, and pontoon hulls.
Rounded hulls have rounded sides and typically move quickly through the water because of less water resistance. One thing you will notice when first entering a rounded hull kayak is that it rolls easily because of its rounded sides. This contributes to less primary stability but more secondary stability. In addition, rounded hulls are easier to maneuver.
If you guessed that V-shape hull kayaks have a V-shape bottom, you guessed right! The V shape of the kayak allows it to slice through water easily which makes it easier to move in a straight line. In addition, it can also help slice through choppy water which makes their secondary stability good.
The best feature of a flat-water kayak is its primary stability. It’s main disadvantage ability to stabilize in choppy water. It has average quickness and solid maneuverability.
Probably the only hull that is not self-explanatory if you are new to kayaking is the pontoon hulled kayak. The hull is almost an inverted U shape which forms a tunnel down the center of the kayak. The main disadvantage of the pontoon shape is that it lacks in speed. But what it lacks in speed it makes up for in its ability to stabilize in calm or rough waters. It has average maneuverability and usually requires a larger area to turn.
The chine of a kayak refers to the sides of the column meet at the bottom of the kayak. Chine is categorized into two categories: soft or hard. Soft chines do not have edges on the sides or the bottom of the kayak and give the kayak a round look. Hard chines typical have a few edges and give the kayak a boxier look.
Soft chines typically roll easier, have better secondary stability, and are typically quicker than harder chines. Hard chines track straighter and offer better primary stability.
If you are no stranger to outdoor sports such as surfing, wakeboarding, snowboarding, etc. then rocker is no foreign concept to you. Rocker refers to the curve of the kayak from the front to the back of the kayak.
Typically, the more rocker the kayak has the easier it is to maneuver. This is due to the fact that less of the hull is in the water thus having less water resistance moving through water. A disadvantage of having more rocker is that the kayak will have less tracking ability.
Sit-On-Top vs. Sit In
There are some advantages and disadvantages of choosing one type over the other but it mainly comes down to preference. Sit in kayaks are usually a drier experience than sit on top kayaks which makes them good for dry storage. Sit on top kayaks are typically ore stable and easier to get back in if you fall out.
Different Types of Kayaking
There are many different types of kayaking you can do. For each type of kayaking there kayaks specifically designed to accommodate that type of kayaking. Feel free to check out our Kayak Type articles to see which would apply to you!
Below are a few kayaker profiles that might encapsulate what you are looking for.
Our kayak design recommendations:
- Sit on Top Kayak – A sit on top kayak allows recreational users to easily get on and off the kayak in the water. Recreational users typically don’t mind getting wet when using the kayak since they are typically swimming in the water anyways.
- Flat Hull or Pontoon Hull – Stability is the main concern over speed and maneuverability.
- Hard Chine – Easy to learn how to kayak with a hard chine and since they will most likely be in calm waters secondary stability won’t be an issue.
- Sit in Kayak – Helps to stay dry and keep any gear you bring along dry.
- Round or V Shape Hull – Solid secondary stability for rough water and speed for long periods of kayaking.
- Sit in Kayak – Helps keep dry which can be important due to cold ocean water.
- Long and narrow – To move quickly through the water.
- V shape Hull– To cut through waves easily and have solid stability
White Water Kayaking
Not much room here in terms of high level kayak design.
- Rounded Hull – Allows for great secondary stability as well as easy rolling abilities.
- Short – Maneuverability is key dealing with whitewater. Also, speed is not an issue since the river will be moving quickly.
- Sit in Kayak – Definitely do not want to sit on top of the kayak because you will fall out easily.
- Sit on top – Sit on top kayak are great for accessorizing the top with fishing gear.
- V Shape Hull – Flat or Pontoon shaped Hull for freshwater are also sufficient.
Choosing the Right Price for your Kayak
First, the price of a kayak varies depending on what type of kayaking you do. For example, a recreational kayak will probably be much cheaper then a decked out fishing kayak. Second, the design and manufacturing quality of a kayak will significantly impact the cost of the kayak. Lastly, understanding what kind of maintain you can do to your kayak will impact the kayaks price as well.
Check out our kayaking expense page to learn more around what impacts the price of a kayak.
There are many factors that impact how you should go about buying a kayak. Our best recommendation is to go out and try a few kayaks! There are plenty of places that you can rent and see how kayak design and quality will affect your kayaking experience.
If you have any questions or comments please leave a message below or contact us directly!