Balancing wants with realistic needs - kayak shopping


I’ve been browsing this forum for a while now but this is my first time posting. I’m looking for some general advice that might be able to help others in the future too, as well as any input anyone can offer for my specific situation.

TLDR: Newbie trying to understand and figure out if it’s worth saving and waiting to try to get a higher-end rec kayak or if a cheaper one would actually be noticeably different. With my current lifestyle, I can’t imagine ever getting to a point of using the kayak for more than a couple hours at a time on totally flat, calm, slow water. I waffle back and forth between the “buy the best kayak you can afford” and the “any kayak that gets you on the water is best” mentalities. Trying to figure out where the balance point is between them.

The weather is cooling down a lot where I live now and the season is probably close to over. There’s a chance we’ll get snow before the end of this month. I’m watching for a good deal on a used kayak this fall/winter or debating if I should save up and try to buy in the spring instead. But buying used means I can’t try before I buy, though even if I could I’m not sure I know enough to be able to tell the difference between a good and bad kayak.

I’ve rented a kayak a number times over the last decade and I always really enjoy it and I’m finally considering buying something of my own. (A friend bought a rec kayak this year, so I finally have someone I could go with. They bought a Pelican Escape 120 rec kayak, so not a high end one by any means.) I’m the type of person that likes to do tons of research and try to learn about all the different options when I’m shopping for something so I’ve been reading forums, reviews, manufacturer websites, etc. and I’m checking local listings of used kayaks pretty much daily in hopes of maybe finding a good deal. (There’s not a lot where I live, and I think this is an extra hard year to be looking.)

I’ve looked at all kinds of kayak specs and models that look really nice but I’m struggling to figure out, as the topic suggests, the balance between my wants and what I really need for my use.

I live in Western Canada but I’m about a two-day drive from the coast, so no coastal or ocean kayaking. The only water I would ever be on are lakes (NOT any of the Great Lakes or anything huge like that) and small, not very fast-moving creeks/rivers. I have absolutely no interest in any kind of rapids or anything like that. I’m a slow, flat water person and I can’t imagine a situation where I would be out of swimming distance from shore. (And I’m adamant about wear a PFD at all times on any kind of watercraft.)

I also don’t think I’ll ever be on the water for more than 3 or 4 hours at a time at the absolute max. More realistically, probably only one or two hours at a stretch usually. No camping, or even full days gear-hauling or anything like that. Also not likely to do any fishing, though it’s possible my spouse might be interested in that.

I’ve read a lot about how longer kayaks track straighter and move faster than shorter ones for instance. There are so many “Oh, that sounds like the better thing to aim for” but most of the kayaks that I’m finding have good reviews and meet some of these specs are like $1200+ new, and don’t seem to be very common in my area, especially used.

At the end of the day, I don’t know if it makes sense for me to be that picky though, given what my actual use is likely to be. For someone that’s only going to be out for an hour or two at a time, on flat water, is a 12’ kayak really noticeably different from a 10’?

A Riot Quest 10HV was recently listed used for $300, and a 2014 Pungo 100 was $650. Both seem like reasonable prices but I didn’t even consider them because they were “only 10’ kayaks and I think I should probably get at least a 12’ " but I’m wondering if, given my realistic use, I’m being ridiculous?? (I’m about 5’7” and 180-ish lbs too by the way.)

I’ve seen a lot of people say to stay away from cheaper brands like Pelican, but are the higher end of their line of kayaks at all decent? They seem to have bought and rebranded the Elie kayaks a couple years ago. Are ALL Pelican kayaks bad? Again, given only flat, calm, slow water? Where I live they’re certainly a lot more common than the more reputable brands like Eddyline, Wilderness Systems, Old Town, Perception, Dagger, etc.

There are plenty of suitable 12- 16 foot kayaks for you to choose from. However your local market will narrow down your choices considerably. In general a longer boat will be better on the water. However you do need to consider storage and transport limitations imposed by more length. Also factor in a well fitting and comfortable PFD, right length and blade size paddle, cold water clothing, lessons, etc in your overall approach. You might get lucky and get the best boat for you on your first purchase. Or it may send you on a lifetime of pursuit of that “perfect” watercraft. Which is why many here own the fleets they do. Do you have any local paddling clubs for you to join and gather additional first-hand knowledge and experience?

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Its a gamble. You don’t want to spend a lot of money and then find out you don’t use the boat very much. I’ve done this - bought a high end ski exercise machine that ended up being a coat rack. But if you buy the world’s cheapest boat it might suck so bad that you don’t enjoy paddling it and never give paddling a real chance.

On top of that, what are the chances that you know enough right now to buy a boat that is the best fit for you and your lakes?

If there is a place nearby that rents kayaks I would start there. I’ve seen truly awful rental boats as well as decent ones. Also might sell you a used boat.

You pretty much get what you pay for but ROI diminishes rapidly toward the higher end. I would shoot for a good learning experience. Buy a cheaper boat that is a good fit, a nice paddle, a PFD, and a way to carry it. Maybe the boat would be half your total outlay. If you really like it and aren’t happy with the boat, sell it and buy the right one.

I believe many here will disagree with me on this (and that’s fine), but I think you can get a lot of enjoyment out of a 10 foot cheapie kayak - if you really only plan to be out for a couple of hours near shore on flat, calm water. I have several decent kayaks up to 17.5 feet in length, and do prefer a longer, better kayak with nicer glide. But, I regularly visit some relatives who live on a small lake and I use their 10 foot Future Beach kayak. It’s a flat-bottomed barge that waggles from side with each paddle stroke, but I still thoroughly enjoy my tours around the lake. So my advice is if you see a good deal on a low-end kayak, I wouldn’t rule it out.

It sounds like you are putting a lot of thought into various kayaks and their cost, but perhaps less thought into your objectives as far as paddling, what you would like to have as you paddle. You say you “really enjoyed” all your kayak outings with rental kayaks. What models were those? Was there anything about the various models that were better or worse?

When you go out, do you like to cover some distance and see the sights? Do you like to get a workout? Do you like to get close to wildlife? Do you like to just hang out, with your legs over the sides, enjoying life? Add some details to what you like, and that will help you ponder this.

If you need more time on the water to sort this type of questions out, then just buy whatever kayak is in your budget and give it a go. Don’t sweat the details. All you may need is something to get you out on the water, perhaps.

Fit could be an issue, and it may be important to try at least sitting inside a kayak you are considering, just to confirm you will be happy sitting in it, but most rec boats are pretty roomy, so even that may not be really needed. if you can test ride it on the water, that may help, but again, it really depends upon what you care about. Any boat will get you on the water, so if that is the criteria, you don’t need much else, right?

I would suggest putting some thought into the paddle. Having a light paddle that works well can have a larger effect on enjoyment than the boat’s performance, based on my experience with loaning paddles to newcomers.

I think it depends on how far you want to go with your paddling. Let me explain.

My wife and I started out with rec boats about 8 years ago. We thoroughly enjoyed them but realized that if we wanted to be more proficient paddlers we’d need better boats. So, after a year we traded up and the better boats inspired us to take lessons with the the result that our seating positions improved. our paddle strokes improved (and we learned more of them), we learned to edge, to do wet exits and recoveries, etc., etc. and I think if we hadn’t bought better boats we may well have become bored and given up paddling. Instead, although we’re a long way from being experts, we now enjoy it even more.

Again, there is really nothing wrong with recreational boats and at least 75% of the people we see out paddling are in big box kayaks. I just hope they all realize the limitations these boats impose, not to mention the safety concerns of using them in anything but calm and warm conditions within swimming distance to shore.

Good luck with what you decide to do.

This is the right time of the year for buying the kayak you paddled from the rental company…the one you really enjoyed.

Rental companies like to refresh their fleet and sell the used kayaks. Easy way to get something for a starter.

I would continue to read and consider a purchase until mid-spring 2021 and into mid summer. The offerings on Craigslist (e.g. Vancouver, Kelowna) are slim right now, but will pick up significantly next year. It can be worth going to the coast for the purchase, especially if you have several boats to look at.

It’s bewildering to be faced with your choice as a newbie. If you end up getting a rec kayak and enjoying it, you will almost certainly upgrade later - an unfortunate truth, many of us have needed to swallow.

Buy used if you can find anything decent; use it a while, see how you like it, then when you’re in a better position to know more what you want, re-sell and buy another, better one. If you get a reasonable deal you should be able to re-sell it for close to what (or even as much as) you paid, and you’ll end up having “rented” the boat for not much cash. Paddling is the best way to find out what works for you. I, and many others, have employed this buy used-and-flip method successfully, and the process is enjoyable.

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My general advice to anyone is to buy a cheap cheap first kayak and get ono the water. You will be amazed at how much your focus can shift after getting out there. I bought a cheap recreational kayak mostly to go fishing. Next I bought a cheap used poly 17 foot touring boat. Fast forward and I recently bout a new 18 foot long, 22" wide fast touring boat, and still haven’t got a fishing appropriate kayak! As you put hours in, what your interest is can change. Knowledge grows and skills build

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My experience was slightly different. I’ve paddled SOT kayaks in the distant past…but when we moved to a house near a good sized kettle pond, I knew I wanted a more performance oriented kayak. My best friend has a Solstice GT, and I started looking for a Solstice GTS. Found a nice used one, 20 years old, for $700, and snatched it up.

It’s been the perfect kayak for me…fits like a glove, does exactly what I want on the pond. Since then the fleet has grown to include an Impex Montauk and a Perception Eclipse, neither of which I like as much as the CD. I will probably sell the Impex in the spring, as it is too twitchy for me and just doesn’t fit… The Perception, on the other hand, is a big, stable kayak that pretty much anyone can paddle without mishap. Feels a bit like an SUV to me…We also have a couple of SOT kayaks that came with the house, but I use them only as loaners for house guests…

Yea, the CD was relatively inexpensive, and the following two boats cost me a total of $400 (a pretty good deal!). So I built a pretty nice little fleet for short money…but they are all quality boats.

For some, who don’t know what their usage patterns will be, going poly may make more sense. In my case, I’m focusing on local fitness with the CD, versus a lot of touring…

Don’t paddle a well designed and manufactured kayak and you’ll never know what you are missing. Getting on the water to relax can certainly be done in a cheap boat.
I’ve taken groups of beginners out who have borrowed whatever from 10’ bathtubs to paddles that were difficult to use. In most cases they then see people with decent rec boats and paddles and realize they are missing a lot of enjoyment.
My advice is to find a kayak that has survived the test of time. For example, WS Pungos have been made for many years and are still popular. Old Town and Dagger also have similar boats.
Find one that has a comfortable seat for you. That makes a huge difference.

I have gone through about a dozen kayaks. Six months in one and I’d get bored.

I have friends that are still on their first Hurricane Santee, Pungo, etc. after four years.

You don’t know what kind of kayaker you are until you do it. Get a four hundred dollar boat and go play. Maybe you and your friend will both upgrade in the future, that is the future and you never know.

Just get out and enjoy, maybe the boat will suit you, or maybe you will trade it and move on. It is too early to tell.

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Also been a lurker for a while, never bothered posting until now…

Some others have said similar, but I wanted to reiterate, how you desire and intend to use your prospective kayak, I think, is more important than quality per se. If you don’t intend to paddle very far and just want to enjoy being out on the water, a shorter/wider recreational kayak might suit you better. If you intend to paddle some distance, do overnight camping trips, fishing, diving, etc there’s a boat out there for that. Kayaks can be incredibly specialized, because what people do in them can be incredibly specialized. This is why people often own more than one, or even a fleet.

Also note that a 10’ x 30" wide rec kayak is actually more efficient at going slow than a longer kayak will be. It’ll be more stable and you might even enjoy it more.

A cheap kayak isn’t necessarily a bad boat. It’ll just lack some of the refinement and quality of a nicer boat that on a short, relaxed float, you might not even notice.

The guy who made this YouTube video (and several others along the same lines) works for a higher end shop so he knows what to look for in a kayak. But to help beginners he went and bought a range of cheap kayaks at big box stores and actually inspected and tested them. You can learn a lot as a beginner by watching this video on how to evaluate a rec boat – even if the exact models he reviews are not available to you he goes over details of features and performance that you can apply to buying your own, either new or used.

I agree that you should try to start with a used boat. They often come with a paddle and PFD thrown in which will save you $150 or more. And you don’t yet know what you don’t know about how you would like your boat to perform. Some extended seat time in your own boat will tell you whether you want something longer. shorter, narrower, sit on top or closed deck. And with a used boat you will be able to sell it for not much less than you paid to move to something else, if that happens. There is a Part 1 separate video, but it is him shopping for the boats, not reviewing them on the water:


A few comments from a canoe person…

First, do you know what you have rented in the past? Can you find out? If you liked what you rented that gives you an idea of how happy you’d be with something of similar length and width. Along the same line, I suggest that you quickly go test paddle your friend’s new 12 footer to see how you like it. Take a good long paddle and pretend that you bought one…are you happy? What would you change?

I agree that a 10 footer may be just fine for your planned use. I’d also suggest that a 12 footer might be a better match for paddling with your friend, plus (compared to a 10 footer) it is likely to cruise noticeably more efficiently and that can feel good plus it can be helpful when you need to deal with wind or make time to get out of the rain (I got rained on today and it was sunny when I put in).

The weight of the boat can sometimes be an important factor in ease of use and how often you use your boat. Maybe you can assess how easily you can load your friend’s boat on your vehicle so you have a reference point for how much weight you’re comfortable with.

I’ve been a big fan of inflatables for several years … currently have an Advanced Elements … great for space/storage and transporting … have used it for everything from Class III to Sea to flat lakes and slow rivers … love it …

Thank you for all of your responses. It’s very helpful.

I already have what I believe is a decent PFD. Stohlquist Escape. I bought it over 10 years ago but it’s only been used a handful of times and has always been stored inside, out of the sun, etc. so it still appears to be in new condition. I haven’t gone in the water with it to test the buoyancy, but the foam doesn’t seem to be degraded at all.

I tried checking for local clubs but it appears that they’re not running or not accepting new members this year due to the pandemic, so I’ll have to hope that things are better next year and lessons become an option again.

In terms of my paddling goals, it’s basically just to get outside and maybe get a bit of exercise but I’m not going to be tracking my heart rate or anything. Basically a mix of leisurely paddle and a bit more.

I do think a comfortable seat will have to be a priority for me. I already fit in the “middle aged” bracket and have a history of an intermittent lower back problem if I’m not careful. I hadn’t thought about that as much before this thread, but now I realize that’s probably going to be a big factor for how much I’ll end up using the kayak.

My understanding is that paddle length will at least partially depend on the beam/width of the kayak I end up with. Is that correct?

Yes, plus your height and, arm length.

Yes, plus preferred paddling style, high or low angle.