Active Sports

5 Tips for Buying a New Kayak

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As we look ahead to warmer months, one of the best ways to get active and stay in shape throughout the summer is kayaking. Not only is it great exercise, but also it gives you an environment to work out and stay cool. There’s nothing better than hopping out of your kayak to cool off once you’ve worked up a sweat.

If you live, or plan to vacation, close to a beautiful body of water, getting your own kayak is the way to go. With the right gear and preparation, kayaking can even become a rewarding year-round hobby. If you’re thinking about adding a kayak to your arsenal, consider these five tips for buying a new kayak before you make a purchase.

Understanding the Different Types of Kayaks

5-tips-for-buying-a-new-kayak-kayak-types Not all kayaks are created equal. There are a variety of types and each is made for a specific purpose. The four major types of kayaks are: recreational, touring, whitewater, and downriver. To aid in your decision-making process, let’s discuss a brief overview of each of the four types.

Recreational kayaks are also sometimes referred to as “sit-on-top” kayaks. A recreational kayak is a great all-around choice for mild conditions and is best used on bays, ponds, and lakes. Touring kayaks are made for extended trips and offer plenty of space to store all the gear that those trips require. They are also sometimes called “sea” kayaks or “sit-inside” kayaks. Touring kayaks also tend to be longer and narrower than recreational kayaks.

Whitewater kayaks are by far the shortest of the bunch and they typically have a rounded bottom or flat-planing hull. This design makes them exceptionally maneuverable in fast-moving water, such as river rapids, but also makes them very difficult to paddle in a straight line in calm water. Finally, downriver kayaks require extensive paddling experience and are very long and narrow. This makes them best for traveling at excellent speeds through the water, which is why professional racers often use them. The narrow design of these kayaks makes them very tippy and difficult for novice paddlers.

Checking the Kayak’s Condition

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Before you buy a new kayak, you’ll want to make sure it’s in good condition. Even new kayaks can be susceptible to damage when they are moved. In fact, the vast majority of damage that occurs to kayaks happens when they’re not being used for their intended purpose. In other words, damage happens to kayaks when they are out of the water and being moved around on land.

When you inspect a new kayak’s surfaces for damage, look closely for hairline cracks, such as those pictured above. These types of cracks will occur most often around the kayak’s scupper holes (if present), as well as in places where the plastic has been bent or angled. These cracks can be patched, but are also a sign the kayak could be more work than it’s worth. 

Identifying the Kayak’s Age

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Every kayak has a serial number imprinted somewhere on the hull. For most, this number is located towards the stern of the kayak and on the right side. Once you locate this number, take a photo or write it down. The last two digits are of the most importance. These two digits will tell you the kayak’s year of manufacture (i.e. ‘13’ for 2013).

This is important because it allows you to hop online and check for any issues that might be related to that specific model from that specific manufacturer. In some cases, kayaks made in 2017 can be susceptible to cracks in places that the 2015 models never showed any wear and tear. Check into a few online forums to see if there are any common manufacturing issues with the kayak you’re considering buying. As an added bonus, you’ll already have the serial number saved or written down if you need to submit a warranty request for your kayak in the future.

Sizing It Up

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In the process of inspecting kayaks that you might buy, make sure to check each kayak’s measurements. This means length, width, and height. A kayak’s measurements can impact its performance and usability in a variety of ways.

For starters, longer kayaks tend to offer better stability and capability to carry heavier loads without impacting performance. In other words, longer kayaks are easier to paddle when they’re weighted down. Additionally, longer kayaks tend to be more efficient because they track better and glide farther with each paddle stroke.

Shorter kayaks will be lighter and less expensive than their longer counterparts. They’ll also be less cumbersome and easier to transport, which is especially key if you’ll be loading your kayak on and off a car roof every time you go to use it. The best advantage to shorter kayaks, however, is their maneuverability. Shorter kayaks can turn much faster and are much easier for children and smaller individuals to navigate.

The major function of a kayak’s width is stability. As you might expect, wider kayaks generally offer more stability than narrower designs. What you’ll gain in stability, though, you’ll sacrifice in handling. Wider kayaks are harder to maneuver and can also require more effort to paddle, as the wider hull needs to displace more water in order to move forward.

When combined with length and width, the final consideration is the kayak’s height. This is most important when considering what you might store inside the kayak (if you’re buying a sit-inside model). Doing a little math with these measurements will help you determine how much internal storage space (or volume) your new kayak offers. 

Choosing The Right Hull Type

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The last consideration when buying a new kayak is hull type. The hull of a kayak plays a large role in its degree of stability, both as you climb in and once you’re paddling. When researching kayaks, you’ll find four general types of hulls: flat, rounded, V-shaped, and pontoon. Let’s look briefly at the pros and cons of each type.

Kayaks with a flat hull are known to be both stable and maneuverable. This hull type is used for most recreational kayaks that are designed for flat-water conditions. Kayaks with rounded hulls are made for increased speed by reducing the overall drag as the kayak moves through the water. Kayaks with this hull type are more maneuverable and better at remaining stable when tilted. For these reasons, you’ll find rounded hulls on many whitewater kayaks.

The V-shaped hull cuts through water much better than the two aforementioned hull types. This makes kayaks with this type of hull able to travel faster in a straight line. Although they can feel a bit unstable when you first climb in, kayaks with a V-shaped hull offer better stability once underway, which is why most touring kayaks use this hull type.

The pontoon hull type is a hybrid of the flat and the rounded hulls. By hybridizing those two hull types, kayaks with this design can offer greater stability both when you first climb in and once you get underway. The drawback of the pontoon hull is that it increases overall drag, which slows your kayak down.


It’s important to do your research to make sure that the kayak you ultimately buy will be the best for the type of paddling you hope to do. We hope that you’ve found these five tips for buying a new kayak helpful and we wish you the best of luck finding your new kayak for years of water-based adventures to come!

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