There is no one kayak that is going to fit all of your needs all of the time. Unfortunately, you’re going to have to do the math and decide what you’re going to use the boat for, and what you want to accomplish while in it.
Are you going to pursue the lazy days of summer in a nice warm place? Are you going to solo paddle around a calm lake just for the fun of it? Is your plan to picnic and just chill with the grandkids? Or, are you going to brave waves and whitewater? You’ll have to give serious consideration to these questions before making an investment.
There are two main types of canoes: sit on top or sit inside. In general, a sit on top kayak is going to be wider and more stable. It’s quite easy to get in and out of, even when you’re in the water. This boat is a good choice if you’re not in a hurry to get anywhere, and you don’t mind getting wet. It’s quite suitable if you’re going to be kayaking in warm, calm water and is also a good boat to have if you and your passenger(s) like to slide out to swim or snorkel and then climb back in. Another great feature is they are self-bailing because water drains through small scupper holes and flows out of the boat.
The open seating means that every time you paddle, you will be getting drops of water on you, so know that going in. The wider hull will be stable, but it isn’t sleek and it isn’t fast. It’s a good choice if you plan on taking children or pets along for the ride. If you’re planning on spending a good deal of time puttering around, you might want to consider a model with a removable seat back. Once installed, it will make paddling for long stretches easier on the lower back. Most have either multiple molded foot wells for folks with different leg lengths, or adjustable inserts that accomplish the same thing.
If you’re going to be in colder waters, especially those with wind and waves, you’ll probably want to choose the sit inside kayak. From the waist down, you’ll actually be inside the cockpit of the boat. These usually come with a waterproof “skirt” that hugs your waist, and snaps over the opening so you won’t get wet. This type has the added protection of keeping your lower body out of the wind. The shorter, wider recreational versions of these kayaks are stable and generally have a nice, wide cockpit entrance which leaves room for comfortable leg placement and even the storage of some gear.
If you want something sleeker and faster, you’re probably going to be looking at a long, narrow sea kayak. The narrow profile helps them drive through waves and the shape provides little water resistance, so the result is a kayak that doesn’t wallow, and stays on track.
A touring kayak is a good compromise between a recreational kayak and a sea kayak. They’re generally between 12 and 15 feet long, and allow you to get some of the best of both worlds.
Whichever kayak you choose, know that you are going to have a lot of fun for years to come!