Kayak-buying guide

Kayaks on rocky shore

While buying a kayak shouldn’t be the most stressful decision in your life, there are a lot of things to consider. Because a kayak isn’t the cheapest investment you can make, you’ll want to make sure you get the right model, before you fork over the cash.

Determining its purpose

You need to know what you’ll use a kayak for before you buy one. Is it for the kids? Will you be touring around Newfoundland or dropping off of 30-foot-waterfalls? There are endless variations on style and, each season, manufacturers come out with revolutionary new designs. Here are a few standard styles that are a good place to start:

Recreational kayaks: These are probably the most appropriate cottage boat. Not too long, not too narrow, recreational kayaks are almost a one-size-fits-all boat that can take a bit of abuse and won’t break the bank. They are fairly easy to manoeuvre, but won’t track a straight line without some effort.

Touring kayaks: Touring kayaks are good for more extended trips. Long and narrow, they hold a straight line and are effortless to paddle. Often called sea kayaks, they’re great on freshwater too. With compartments to pack away enough gear for overnight trips, the sky’s the limit on how much you can spend on one of these. But there are cheaper, well-built models available if you’re just getting into the sport.

Whitewater kayaks: Whitewater kayaks are short stubby looking things that are designed for instant manoeuvrability and control. They don’t track a straight line and you wouldn’t want to paddle one too far. But give it some waves and some current and if you have the skills, you’ll have a ton of fun in one of these.

Downriver kayaks: Designed to travel quickly through water, these boats are long and narrow and usually used for racing. They’re not very stable, but can track a straight line easily. Not really for the novice paddler.

Testing one out

Many manufacturers and retailers have demo days throughout the season so you can try the boats out before committing. This is your best opportunity to figure out what suits your needs. Try everything. Is it comfortable? Is it stable? How big is it? Will it fit on my car? Will it fit in my apartment? How rugged is it?

Many of the better retailers will let you try the boats you’re looking at. Do it. The more you know about the boats, the better. And don’t be afraid to ask your retailer a ton of questions. Be honest about what you need it for and if it’s a reputable dealer, they’ll point you in the right direction.

Setting a budget

Don’t get sidetracked by that beautiful $6000 carbon sea kayak if you haven’t ever paddled one. There are some high-end kayaks that really won’t benefit the beginner. Know how much you can afford before you walk into the store and if your budget is small, don’t be afraid to spend some time searching through Kijiji. Every place that rents kayaks will sell them off at some point during the year, so that’s another great option for those with a smaller budget.

Storing the kayak

Something to think about when purchasing a kayak is where you’re going to store it. If you live in a 600 square foot apartment in Toronto, you may want to rethink this purchase. Kayaks are pretty big toys so if you really don’t have the space for one, consider renting instead.