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    Blog — Kayak Buying Guide

    Recreational Kayak Buying Guide: The Final Touches

    Recreational Kayak Buying Guide: The Final Touches

    You've decided you want a recreational kayak, and you've even chosen what hull shape and outfitting you want your boat to have. You're 90% of the way to a great decision! Before you hand over your money, though, you'll want to consider a few final touches to make sure you're getting your perfect kayak. 

    Storage: Storage in kayaks comes in two main forms: hatches and tankwells. Hatches are openings into the interior of the boat, and tankwells are simply areas on the deck with rigging for gear storage. Hatch openings limit the size of the gear you can store there, and any small items should be tied in so that they don't get lost inside the boat. Remember that hatches are only water resistant--they're not truly waterproof, so anything that absolutely needs to stay dry should be in some sort of dry bag or box. Tankwells are best for large, bulky gear that doesn't need as much protection, like coolers or fishing crates. Many boats have additional tie-down points so you can run extra rope or bungee for customized storage spaces.

    Consider how much storage you will need and what type-- if you're only out for a few hours at a time, all you'll need is a small day hatch for a lunch and some sunscreen. If you're planning overnighters, you'll want to look for more storage spaces, ideally hatches for more protection of vital gear.

    Rod Holders: If you're not in need of a fully rigged fishing kayak, but plan on taking a rod or two along, look for flush-mount rod holders behind the seat. These are very easy, low maintenance solutions for casual kayak fishermen.

    Gear Attachment: If you want ultimate freedom to rig aftermarket accessories, look for a boat with easy gear attachment points. Most modern sit on top kayaks have some type of universal track system, which makes it easy to slide rod holders and other fishing accessories on and tighten them down without drilling into your boat. Sit insides often have mounting points for manufacturer-specific accessories. 

    Steering and Power: Most rec kayaks don't come with rudders, pedal drives, or motors, but some are easier to retrofit than others. If you think you might want to add any of these things later, look for rudder-ready square-stern models that can easily be rigged out with steering or power solutions.

    Recreational Kayak Buying Guide: Seats and Outfitting

    Recreational Kayak Buying Guide: Seats and Outfitting

    Once you've determined the hull type you want to look for, it's a good idea to consider what comfort features you'll want on the deck or in the cockpit of your kayak. These are usually called outfitting. Simply put, outfitting is the user interface of the kayak: the seat, foot rests, hip and thigh braces, and anything else used to connect you to your boat.

    Seats: For most rec kayakers, the seat is the most important piece of outfitting in a boat. We like to consider seats in three main categories: simple molded or padded seats, adjustable non-frame seats, and frame seats.

    • Molded Seats: The least expensive and most durable seats are simply molded into the deck of the kayak, and sometimes the manufacturer adds foam padding or an adjustable backrest to these. While they are hard to break, they don't provide a lot of support or customization. Since they usually sit right on the deck of the kayak, you may find that they don't drain water well and that you end up sitting in a wet seat more often.

    • Adjustable Non-frame: These seats are generally considered mid-range, and you can find them with a wide array of features depending on the brand and model of kayak. Most seats in this category use a raised seat pan, which drains water below the seat to keep you drier and more comfortable. They also usually feature more advanced foam and mesh padding for ventilation and moisture wicking, and you can often adjust the back height and even leg lifter straps on some models. These seats usually sit lower to the waterline than frame seats, so they are a good balance of comfort, control, and stability.

    • Frame Seats: The most comfortable kayak seats use metal frames much like stadium seats. They are removable and many offer more than one position--high or low, or even forward or backward adjustments. Many come with large amounts of padding and even lumbar support. Frame seats usually raise the price of a boat by at least $100, sometimes much more. They are easier on those who have back and knee issues, and are much easier to stand up out of. Since they are removable, always make sure to secure them before hitting the water--they don't float and they can be hard to replace. Because frame seats naturally lift the paddler higher above the water line, the center of gravity is changed and the boat will feel less stable and harder to control. Most kayaks add stability to the hull to offset this effect.

    Foot Rests: All kayaks need some type of foot rest, but they are all slightly different. The most affordable foot rests are simply a series of molded in footwells, where the paddler chooses the most comfortable one based on leg length. Mid-range and higher end kayaks feature adjustable foot pegs, which are more customizable and tend to keep your ankles at a more natural angle. 

    Hip and Thigh Braces: When sitting inside a kayak, your hips are your most powerful control point, so snug hip pads give you more direct control over the boat. Thigh braces lock your legs into the right position for ultimate control, so you usually only find these in performance day touring or rec kayaks. While these pieces aren't common, you'll want to consider them if you plan to cover long distances or are simply looking for the most efficient boat. A few sit on top boats meant for mild whitewater use also offer thigh straps as a way to achieve this control. 

    Recreational Kayak Buying Guide: Length, Width, and Hull Shape

    Recreational Kayak Buying Guide: Length, Width, and Hull Shape

    So you've decided you want a recreational kayak--a well-rounded, approachable boat for laid back days on flat water (if you haven't decided that yet, take a look at our first three Kayak Buying Guide installments here). The first factor you’ll want to look at when choosing a recreational flat water kayak is how it will move through the water. Some boats are faster or slower, more stable or less stable, easier or harder to control. These differences come down to hull shape—the length, width, and shape of the boat’s shell. Hull shape is a topic that could (and probably will eventually) get its own blog installment, but here's a quick and dirty set of four basic points to look for.

    1. Length: As a rule of thumb, longer boats are faster and shorter boats are slower. This happens because longer kayaks tend to have better tracking ability, or the ability to go in a straight line from point A to point B instead of sweeping from side to side with every paddle stroke. Most recreational kayaks fall in the 9-12 foot range. 9 or 10 foot kayaks will want to turn from side to side more easily and will consequently be slower. However, they are easier to maneuver, and you’ll be able to change direction quickly when you need to. They’re also lighter, easier to transport on land, and take less storage space. 12 foot boats are the most popular length for adults, as they hit a good balance of speed and turning ability.
    2. Width: Wider boats are usually more stable, while narrower boats can feel more tippy. The wider the kayak, the more work you will have to do to move it through the water, and the harder it will be to plant consistent, vertical paddle strokes that move the boat straight forward instead of side to side. Wider decks will offer more initial stability and room for more substantial seats. Narrow boats, on the other hand, are less stable, but usually slice through the water quite efficiently and offer the paddler a high degree of control.
    3. Hull shape: Modern hull shapes are harder to pin down than they used to be, but in a nutshell, you’ll want to look for a rounded, flat, or combination hull in most recreational kayaks. There are four main categories of hull shapes, and we’ve provided example photos of each one below for reference. The main takeaway here is that V-shaped hulls are fast and tippy, W-shaped hulls are stable and slow, and rounded or flat (planing) hulls usually find a good balance of the two for recreational kayakers. Very few kayaks have hulls that are strictly one type anymore—rather, you’ll find your best options combine two or three elements into an easy all-around shape that offers versatile performance. For example, it's very hard to find a pure V hull anymore, so the example we've provided here is is a V/round hybrid. 
    4. Rocker: The last element of hull design to pay attention to is rocker, or how much the ends of the boat swoop up from the middle. A large amount of rocker helps a boat to get up and over chop, waves, and small rapids, and makes the kayak much more maneuverable when you need to change direction fast. Little or no rocker helps a boat track fast and straight, makes turning harder, and performs best in completely flat water. Most recreational kayaks have either no rocker or a small amount that is suitable for moving current and easy rapids up to class I or II.

    With a good idea of what hull varieties to look for, we usually turn to comfort next. In the next installment of the Kayak Buying Guide, we’ll dive into seats and outfitting and how to find the right balance for you.

    Kayak Buying Guide: Sit Inside vs Sit on Top

    Kayak Buying Guide: Sit Inside vs Sit on Top

    If you've never even heard of a sit on top kayak, you're not alone. These kayaks are relatively new to the market, but they've taken it by storm over the past decade. They were originally conceived for ocean paddlers--in fact, they were once simply known as "ocean kayaks". Despite their seafaring roots, they have become incredibly popular with recreational and fishing paddlers, and in this installment of the Kayak Buying Guide, we'll walk you through the differences between sit on top designs and traditional sit inside kayaks, so you can choose which might be right for you. 

    Sit inside kayaks are the classic and iconic image of a kayak. A web search for kayak clip art or kayak stock photos brings up thousands of sit inside kayaks, and they seem to be the first thing most folks think of. Sit inside kayaks have several advantages over their top-deck counterparts:

    • Control and stability: Since the paddler sits very low to the water line in a sit inside kayak, the center of gravity is more optimized for greater control, maneuverability, and stability. The same level of stability in a sit on top kayak would require either a wider boat or a more stabilized hull shape (we will cover hull shapes in another installment of this guide). 
    • Light weight: Since sit inside boats are usually slimmer and don't require the material to make an entire top deck, a sit inside kayak will usually weigh about 10-15 pounds less than a similar sit on top model. If weight is your chief concern, look to a sit inside boat first.
    • Warm and dry: A paddler in a sit inside kayak will be less exposed to splash, drip, and wind, resulting in a dryer and warmer ride.
    • Accommodation for spray skirts: For offshore paddlers or whitewater boaters, sit inside models often allow for the addition of a spray skirt, which is a neoprene or nylon garment that is worn around the paddler's waist and extends over the entire rim of the kayak's cockpit. Skirts seal a kayak against water and allow more advanced paddlers to roll the kayak upright after a flip.

    While sit inside boats have many attributes, paddlers should think about a few considerations before choosing this style.

    • Comfort: Sit inside models can feel less comfortable to some paddlers, as they don't allow for seats that are quite as large and supportive as those on some sit on top kayaks. As the seats are lower to the water, those with knee injuries or limited mobility may find them more difficult to get in and out of. Sit inside boats also feel confining to some folks because you often cannot see your legs or where you're putting your feet. Many modern sit inside kayaks offer large, open cockpit designs that help mitigate the confinement factor that some individuals experience. 
    • Manual bailing: In the event that you flip your sit inside kayak, it will fill with water that must be removed before you can re-enter. Most folks who are close to shore just pull the kayak to the beach and drain it there, but some also carry bilge pumps or sponges. Remember that water is heavy, and it may take more than one person to drain a large sit inside boat.

    Sit on top kayaks can feel more convenient and, in some conditions, safer than their more classic sit inside counterparts. A sit on top model offers the following advantages:

    • Self bailing: Sit on top kayaks can be safer for offshore paddlers because of the inclusion of scupper holes. These holes go all the way from the top deck to the bottom of the hull and drain water off the deck. If you flip your sit on top boat, the deck will automatically drain water once you flip it back over.
    • Sun and splash: Many individuals prefer sit on tops simply because they are more open to the sun. If your main goal is to get out on nice summer days and enjoy the spray and the sun, sit on tops should be among your first choices.
    • Nicer seats: Although some sit on tops have very basic seats, many offer increasingly supportive and cushioned options. Because they don't have to fit inside a small cockpit, seats on sit on top boats tend to sit up higher and offer a lot of adjustment and back support. These are especially helpful to those who find it difficult to lower themselves into and stand up out of sit inside boats.
    • Easy exit: Sit inside kayaks are actually very easy to exit in the event of a flip, but some people still feel uncomfortable with idea that they might get stuck inside a boat. While this is actually very rare, and has more to do with improper gear and safety precautions, some folks just feel more comfortable in a sit on top kayak. Greater range of motion and the ability to see one's legs can feel very freeing to anyone who experiences a little claustrophobia in traditional kayaks. 

    It's easy to see what's made sit on top kayaks so popular, but consider these potential drawbacks before making your choice:

    • Heavy: Since sit on tops need to be wider to achieve stability and also require more material to cover the top deck, they generally weigh a little more than an equivalent sit inside model. On the other hand, they will require less strength when recovering from a flip, because you won't need to deal with the weight of water.
    • Less control: As the paddler sits higher, a loss of control is inevitable. Some paddlers find the extra effort to control direction and gain speed to be a major disadvantage in sit on top kayaks. 
    • Exposed to the elements: Sit on tops offer no protection from wind, drip, or waves. If you plan to paddle in shoulder season or chilly water, consider how you will stay dry.
    We hope this quick guide answers some of the most frequent question we get about the differences between these two types of kayaks, and as always, if you have any questions just give us a call!

    Kayak Buying Guide: Materials

    Kayak Buying Guide: Materials

    Once you’ve got some idea of what type of kayak to look for, the next big decision is what it should be made from. Every class of kayak that we've covered is offered in a variety of materials, each with a unique set of strengths and drawbacks. Here we’ll look at some of the most common materials you’ll find on the market.

    Fiberglass: Fiberglass isn’t as common today as it was in the late 20th century. When kayaks and canoes were first mass produced in the 70s, fiberglass was one of the only efficient ways to make them. It is lightweight and creates a very stiff-hulled boat, which is quite efficient in flat water. One of the biggest reasons for the wane of fiberglass’s popularity is that it isn’t the strongest material out there anymore when it comes to impact and abrasion. When you find fiberglass canoes and kayaks today, they are usually combined with a gel coat or some other material technology to make a more durable craft than pure fiberglass alone. You’ll still find a lot of older pure fiberglass boats on the used market.

    Carbon Fiber: Most of what we’ve said about fiberglass is also true for carbon fiber, except that carbon is more expensive and more brittle than fiberglass. It is the lightest material on the market, but usually is only found in specialty craft.

    Wood: It’s been a long time since Appomattox River Company has carried a wooden canoe or kayak. Wooden craft are mostly produced by specialty shops and craftsmen today because they are some of the most expensive boats on the market. Wood kayaks are usually made to order, or you can buy plans and kits and make one in your garage if you’re handy and have a few years to spare. Few boaters would argue that wood isn't still the most classically beautiful material in the industry, but it does require exhaustive maintenance and a large up-front cost, which is why it’s not easy to come by anymore.

    Inflatables: Ideal for those with limited storage space or transport options, inflatable kayaks conveniently pack down when they’re not on the water. Since their lines tend to be less precise, they are usually a little slower and less maneuverable than rigid kayaks, but they do offer an improved ride and stability in chop or whitewater due to their natural buoyancy and high volume. We don’t carry many inflatable kayaks at Appomattox River Company, but if you do think they are right for you, look for a model constructed with drop-stitch technology and reinforced rails. These will be safer and more durable than those constructed without these features.

    Thermoformed Plastic: Thermoformed plastics are used to manufacture a very wide array of kayaks. These can be some of the cheapest or the most expensive plastic boats on the market. At its simplest, the thermoforming process involves taking a sheet of thin plastic, heating it, and vacuuming it to a mold until it sets in its new shape. This process can’t make a whole boat at once, so the top and bottom of the kayak are molded separately and then joined together. This creates a seam right at the waterline, which can be one of the most vulnerable spots on the boat if not done well.

    The most budget-friendly kayaks you’ll find are made using this process. They’re often thinner, less durable, and sealed with a simple glue that is prone to leaks. These boats are great for getting a beginner out on flat water, but should never be used offshore or in swift or white water.

    On the other end of the spectrum, you’ll find some of the highest-quality lightweight plastic boats made in a similar manner, using more advanced plastics and a meticulous manufacturing process. They can last a long time if properly cared for but are similar to fiberglass in their resistance to abrasion and impact. Some of these are made for offshore paddling, but you won’t find whitewater kayaks made from thermoformed materials.  

    Rotomolded Plastic: Rotomolded boats are made by pouring plastic powder into a mold. The mold is then turned while it’s heated and pops out a whole kayak in one piece when it’s done. This creates a boat with no center seam to go bad, and can also make thicker plastic than a thermoformed sheet mold. Rotomolded boats are sturdy and durable and provide an excellent balance of price and performance. Rotomolded plastic is especially prevalent in whitewater boats, because it is extremely resistant to impact and abrasion, which makes it ideal for use in rapids. Because it is thicker, rotomolded plastic tends to be one of the heaviest choices on the market. The lightest rotomolded boat we carry weighs about 35 pounds, but they can go all the way up to 150 pounds. Rotational molding is used for all shapes, sizes, and types of kayaks, so there is a huge variety to choose from in this material. Rotomolded boats are extremely easy to care for, and last a long time when properly looked after. We sell more rotomolded kayaks at Appomattox River Company than all other materials combined.