If you follow me on Instagram, you know I love to paddle.
Summer’s a little late coming in the Midwest, so June starts my four month season of kayaking in lakes and rivers all across Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, and Iowa. I’m pretty psyched about getting “Susie” – my budget-friendly, Lifetime® kayak – back in the water. It’s been a while since I felt the “paddle burn” in my forearms, after a long day’s trek upstream; there are few places I’d rather be than in the middle of a peaceful body of water with just my boat, my dog, and my camera.
Maybe you’re thinking about purchasing a kayak, or maybe you just enjoy an annual float and are wondering if it’d be cost effective to invest in your own. Paddling’s a great hobby with fabulous fitness benefits; plus it’s a fun new way to see familiar places or explore new destinations.
In case you’ve been bitten by the summertime paddle bug, here are five questions to ask before buying your first kayak:
SOT vs. Sit-Inside?
Kayaks come in two general types – sit-on-top (SOT) or sit inside – with both presenting a unique set of pros and cons. The SOT offer a freer range of motion (great if you like swimming off your boat), but you’re certain to get wet (not so awesome for the cooler climates. The sit inside kayaks offer a drier paddling option, but can be quite restrictive and are more difficult to recover if capsized (not the greatest for nervous paddlers). My first kayak was a SOT, primarily for my dog who loves to join me on paddle adventures; however, I plan to upgrade to a sit inside for longer paddle trips sometime this year.
What’s your price range?
There’s no real “right or wrong” price range for a decent kayak. You can find something that’ll float from $50 to several thousand, depending on how thrifty a shopper you are. I purchased my kayaks at the end of the season (fall) and saved $200 on a $400 purchase, basically getting two for the price of one. I’ve had friends score some good used kayaks on LetGo and Craigslist as well. It’s a good idea to decide what you can comfortably spend before shopping, and then look at options within your price range.
How will you transport it?
Thankfully, I have a pickup truck, so transporting my kayaks are really a challenge – just throw them up in the truck bed and go! However, a pickup truck is far from necessary (my friend crams a 10’ kayak into his Prius) as there are a variety of ways to transport almost any size kayak legally. Some paddlers like vehicle mounts, also called ”roof racks”, with kayaks strapped to the top of your car. Depending on the size and brand, your roof rack may require professional installation. If a roof rack sounds a little overkill for your weekend paddle habit, consider an inflatable or collapsible kayak that you fit into your trunk or backseat.
What length works best?
As a general rule of thumb, longer and narrow kayaks are faster than wide ones (great for the sea), yet wider kayaks are typically more stable (great for beginners). Shorter kayaks are typically easier to maneuver, making them great for river paddling. I’ve seen kayaks from 8 to 17 feet long; consider your anticipated water type (rivers vs. oceans) and be sure that you have the means to transport the kayak of your choice. Best way to decide what size kayak is right for you is to utilize an online sizing chart or test out different kayak lengths. Make sure that you can lift the kayak on your own and that you have enough room to stretch your legs and hold gear.
What additional gear do you need?
You’ll need a paddle and a lifejacket (many states require these by law) before shoving off. Additional accessories you may find helpful include a waterproof box (some of these are even floatable) to hold an emergency phone and first aid kit. Additional straps to secure your kayak when transporting and to tie gear inside when paddling could also be helpful. Some sit inside kayakers enjoy a kayak “skirt”, which is a little add on that prevents water from splashing in (great when in chilly water).