How to Choose a Kayak - Outdoor Sports Center

How to Choose a Kayak

Kayaks are a great way to get out and enjoy Connecticut's beautiful rivers, lakes, and coastlines and take in all the natural beauty and spectacular views that only being out on the water can offer. Whether you want to glide across pristine lakes, explore majestic seaways or navigate heart-pounding rapids, you'll need a kayak and gear that is well-suited to your paddling preference.

When choosing your kayak, there are many factors to take into consideration. At Outdoor Sports Center, our boat department has the years of experience necessary to guide you into the perfect kayak for your next adventure. While there is no substitute for knowledge and experience, this guide will help you figure out where to start.

Type of Kayaking

First, ask yourself some questions:

  • What types of kayaking activities will you participate in most of the time?
  • Will you paddle mostly on calm lakes and ponds, or in waves and whitewater?
  • How far do you plan on going in a day?
  • What is your skill level?
  • Will you paddle alone or with family and friends?

After you determine where you are going to kayak and what kind of kayaking you are going to be doing, you can then choose a kayak that will suit all of your needs perfectly. Kayaks are classified by use. If you are mostly paddling in the ocean, take a look at the big sea touring kayaks.If you will mostly be in ponds and slow moving rivers, recreational kayaks are what you should look for. People who like to paddle both big and small water will appreciate the versatility of a light touring kayak. Finally, whitewater kayaks are for river rapids and ocean surf.

Types of Kayaks 

Most kayaks fall into 3 categories for their intended use. Each category has the right combination of size options, outfitting, storage, and performance features for the intended uses outlined below. One of these types will fit your kayaking style and where you want to kayak better than the others.


Attributes Recreational Touring Sea Kayaking
Ideal Types of Water Ponds, small lakes, bays, slow moving rivers. Lakes, bays, moving rivers, currents, limited ocean use. Lakes, bays, moving rivers, rougher currents, ocean.
Trip Duration Day trips (less than 10 miles) Day or weekend trips (less than 20 miles) Day or weekend trips, expeditions
Skill Levels Low to intermediate Intermediate to Advanced  Intermediate to Advanced
Storage capacity Low Moderate Moderate to High


How Different Kayaks Perform

Once you've gotten a general idea of your paddling style, you are able to narrow it down more precisely by understanding the performance characteristics that are typical for each category. Below is a chart of how each performs relative to the other categories in each characteristic.


Characteristic Recreational Touring Sea Kayaking
Stability Best Better Good
Manageability Best Better Good
Speed/Glide Good Better Best
Tracking Better  Better Best
Maneuverability Good  Better Best 


What Does it Mean

  • Stability - general capability of boat's resistance to tipping over under normal conditions. 
  • Manageability - refers to ease of carrying, car topping, and storing the kayak when outside of the water. 
  • Speed and Glide - boat's efficiency moving through the water and potential for higher velocity. 
  • Tracking - boat's ability to stay in a straight line. 
  • Maneuverability - boat's ability to turn precisely.

Kayak Features

Once you've decided on a kayak model or two that fit your needs, looking at the features and outfitting can help in making your decision.

  • Cockpit: Cockpit outfitting is key to finding the best fit for comfort, safety, and control. Look for inclusion of a thigh brace or backrest, and adjustability if you will be doing longer trips or kayaking rough conditions. Pay attention to cockpit size to ensure it fits your body type.
  • Hatches and Bulkheads: Located at either end of the boat, the hatch is the opening to store gear and the bulkhead is the vertical wall that seals the compartment. Also a great safety feature providing buoyancy to the boat.
  • Deck Rigging: Deck lines, bungies, and toggles add safety in convenience for certain types of paddling. A spare paddle, compass, navigational charts, and other items can be readily available on deck.
  • Rudder: A mechanical device at the stern of the boat that is foot controlled and can aid in both steering and tracking.
  • Drop-Skeg: A mechanical device at the stern of the boat that can be deployed or retracted by hand. A skeg aids in tracking, but not steering.
  • Sprayskirts: For many sit-inside kayaks, a sprayskirt can help keep your kayak dry inside, especially for sea kayaking use. 


Kayak Materials and Construction

These affect the durability, weight and price of a boat.

Polyethylene (PE):
This is the most popular kayak material used today. It supports a variety of molding processes. Most common is rotomolding (short for rotational molding), a process in which plastic pellets are heated in a mold to melt. As it cools, it is rotated to get an even thickness. Polyethylene is inexpensive and wonderfully impact and abrasion resistant. It does have a lifespan, and years of sun eventually cause it to become brittle. Two popular types of polyethylene:

  • Linear: Also known as single-layer polyethylene, it offers good performance at an affordable price.
  • Superlinear: Also known as high-density polyethylene, it is considerably lighter, tougher, stiffer and more UV resistant than linear PE, and it costs more as a result.

PolyLink3/Triple Tough:
This material is also referred to 3-layer polyethylene or cross-linked polyethylene. All of these constructions consist of a foam core sandwiched between linear polyethylene layers. The foam core adds insulation, flotation and stiffness. A newer variation of these is called variable-layer polyethylene. This strategically places varying layers of foam-core thickness throughout the hull for improved paddling efficiency.

Thermoformed ABS:
The fabrication of acrylic over ABS plastic creates a glossy kayak similar to composites in appearance and performance. Though a bit heavier than composites, thermoformed ABS costs much less. It is lighter than polyethylene and is more resistant to gouges. If it does get a ding, it's repairable.

This high-end category includes fiberglass, synthetic and carbon blends that are extremely durable and lightweight. Composite boats are more expensive than polyethylene or thermoformed ABS boats.

PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride):
This flexible, cloth-like thermoplastic material is used to make inflatable kayaks and rafts. It comes in a variety of thicknesses. It is generally tough and resistant to punctures and abrasion.

 Nitrylon is a trademarked material used in a few inflatables. It features a tough combination of nylon and a Nitrile/natural rubber coating.

It can seem daunting at first thinking about all the different aspects there are to choosing a kayak that is right for you, but remember we're here to help. Outdoor Sports Center has the largest selection of boats and the most experience in the area. We even have our very own demo pond, so stop by and we can paddle some boats with you while you consider the options.

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