People often ask me what type of kayak they should buy and I think I can save you a lot of money by helping you pick right the first time! These tips are not for experienced paddlers, but for those getting into the sport. Ask yourself these questions to get started:
1. WHERE will I be paddling most? Flat water or flowing?
2. Single or Double kayak? (singles are lighter, turn easier, easier to transport) Doubles are longer, straighter tracking, heavier, harder to transport but necessary if you want to be able to paddle together with a friend or child. You can paddle a double by yourself but hard to paddle a single with two!!
3. Will I be paddling ONLY in warm water or do I want to be able to paddle year-round?
I will state right away that I always recommend sit-in kayaks instead of sit-atops UNLESS you are only going to be paddling in warm water year round. In a sit-atop you WILL GET WET every time out, so keep that in mind.
• The longer the boat, the faster it will paddle and the straighter it will track. 8' is a SHORT boat. 10' is "normal" and 12'+ is a longer boat.
• Shorter boats turn easier, get into tighter spaces easier, and will, all things being equal, paddle a little slower.
• The more "volume" a boat has, the higher it will float in the water, allowing you to paddle in shallower water. Heavier paddlers will want a higher volume boat than lighter paddlers.
• "Roto-molded" boats are much stronger than two-piece or welded-seam boats. If the boat has a different color top than bottom, it is welded or two-piece. These boats are generally thinner walled (and weaker), less expensive, and less durable than roto-molded boats. Dagger, Perception, Liquid Logic, and similar manufacturers specialize in higher-end, roto-molded kayaks. Pelican, Sun Dolphin, Emotion and similar "big box store" kayaks are thinner, cheaper and less durable, BUT they will get the job done for recreational paddling on flat water. You do not want to take them on technical or "big water" because they can snap or fold if pinned or slammed in surf.
IF you are spending $100-$300 retail for a boat, it is a recreational only, cheaper built boat which WILL suffice for easy paddling on local lakes, reservoirs, and slow moving rivers. You can save a lot of money by buying one of these boats, especially at season's end when everyone has them on sale! Pelican and Sun Dolphin fit in this category.
A boat which runs $400-$600 retail is a well made recreational boat, usually roto-molded, super tough, better performance, perhaps even a dry well. Perception boats are readily available, well made and fit in this category. Use the general guidelines above to choose a specific model.
Boats which run $600-$1000+ are specialized for white water, fishing, ocean sea kayaking, or more. These tend to be specialized boats which you will want to move into after gaining a lot of experience first. No need to spend $800 as a beginner kayaker.
Inflatables? I like inflatables and the newest models have a lot going for them in terms of stability and durability and ease of transport. HOWEVER, while lighter, inflatables are going to be slower paddling, kind of dumpy compared to a hard shell, and will be susceptible to leaks or tears. You cannot drag them across the ground! I have hard shell boats that are going strong after 20 years+. Not going to happen with an inflatable. BUT, for price, ease of transport and recreational paddling only, Sea Eagle and Sevylor are two examples of good inflatable kayaks to consider.