Buying advice for 1st time kayak purchas

-- Last Updated: Sep-07-09 12:15 AM EST --

Although I've done some kayaking, I'm primarily a canoeist and have never owned a kayak. I'm 6'2", 210lbs and have been researching kayaks.

I've sort of boiled it down to 3 choices that are immediately available to me...

A used 2002 Current Designs Solstice GTHV w/rudder, w/nylon cover and CD neoprene spray skirt $1650

New 2009 Current Designs Storm GT w/rudder $1400

New 2009 P&H Capella RM166 w/skeg- $1440

So, as you can see, it boils down to a "new" Poly kayak or a "used" composite kayak.

My gut is telling me that the kevlar Solstice would be the best buy and "bang for the buck", and something that would likely last me a longer period of time than the other two kayaks which are poly.

I plan to use the kayak mostly in the Finger Lakes and rivers of Central New York. Mostly day trips. Maybe a week-long trip to Algonquin one of these years.

What advice can you guys give me, a relatively ignorant first-time kayak buyer?


I would go with the…

– Last Updated: Sep-07-09 1:31 AM EST –

....composite boat, unless you are forseeing a lot of really rough usage. And if so, I would wait for a less expensive used poly boat or just touch up or repair any damage you might encounter with the composite boat. The kevlar boat would also probably be a little lighter, if that is a consideration.

Have you paddled any of these?

– Last Updated: Sep-07-09 2:02 AM EST –

I ask, because I'm wondering how you might feel about the fit and handling of each. You're tall, but I'm guessing that you're not overly wide in the hips, so I'm concerned about the two CD boats you mention. Both have wide beams; probably more than you need, and may be too wide for a decent fit no matter how you try to customize the cockpit. They're also pretty deep boats (cavernous, in fact). Perhaps too much volume overall for "mostly day trips"?

While I would love to recommend the used composite boat, I'm just not convinced it would be the right fit for you. Unless you've paddled this boat and already love the way it feels and handles, I'd be wary about such high volume for your intended usage.

Regardless of what's available to you right now, I feel that it's more important that you try as many boats as you can before making up your mind. If possible, try boats in different conditions as well. During this trial period, you'll also develop your paddling skills a bit, and this too will influence your ultimate choice.

I know how hard it is to exercise patience when you really want a boat *now*, but at least a bit of patience now, while you actually paddle several different boats, could yield a happier you when you finally do decide on a boat for all the right reasons.

Good luck!


Age of design

– Last Updated: Sep-07-09 9:00 AM EST –

None of these are spiffy new designs, but the Capella is newer than the other two. The Storm is within the Solstice line of boats.

The Solstice is a tracking fiend, great if what you want to do is go straight with a big load but not much for play unless you are a bit bigger than you are. It's a play boat for Wayne Horodowich maybe, but he's simply huge.

The Storm is a solid all around boat, will turn with less effort than the glass Solstice.

The caution on the Capella is that it might be pretty skeg-dependent when you do want to go straight. However, if you want to add a lot of maneuvering to your paddling it'd be more kindly than the other two. The plastic is likelier a bit hardier than the Storm's.

A boat that is a bit wider around the hips can be no bother or create some issues, depends on the allover hull design. The new Dagger Alchemies are for example not skinnied out in the middle, but the shorter version I tried at a demo was the most responsive and spritely boat I was in all, including trying the new CD boats. The combo of rocker and allover design left it much more reactive than boats that were narrower if all you looked at was their width in the middle.

Above is right about trying - is there a way you can get into any of these boats on the water? And are you looking for just a tripper or a build-skills boat? If the latter, you may be better off looking in the 16 ft range, where the more playful boats usually live.

Buying advice for 1st time kayak purchas

– Last Updated: Sep-07-09 1:57 PM EST –

@dogpadl - I guess my current line of thought is that weight is not the primary concern of mine. I do realize that poly is more tolerant of abuse and that appeals to me somewhat. But by saying that I don't want to imply that I plan to outright abuse my yak. It's just that if I hit a rock inadvertently, or some friends decide to "help" and drag my kayak out of the water onto the rocky shore while I"m still in it, I'd probably feel better at the end of the day knowing that I didn't crack and/or scratch my kevlar all to heck. Although a rank rookie right now, I don't want to buy a kayak that I will quickly outgrow. I don't want a tanker. I'm willing to make some compromise. I'm not going to frequently be going on long trips. Maybe one trip a year... maybe.

@watersprite - I've not paddled either of the 3 I mentioned. I've sat in them though, several times. The Storm does feel relatively spacious to me. I am not wide hipped. The thigh braces have an angle to them that result in the brace really only hitting me on the back 1/3 of the brace. Maybe that's normal? BUt for total comfort, it seems that the brace angle should be a bit more forward so that more of the pad is hitting my thigh. The Capella RM166 seems a bit tight to me. I do realize that a close fit is what ultimately makes you feel more "one with the boat" but I can't really imagine ever being able to fit in it with a wetsuit. But then again, maybe I'll never really need to be in a wetsuit. I certainly don't have any current plans to do any arctic or coastal Maine kayaking. I envision myself being more of a fair-weather, late spring through fall kayaker. Do I need such high volume? well probably it will be empty except for me, most of the time. As I said above, I don't think I"ll honestly be doing many multi-day trips. I do like to cruise though. Also like to noodle around. So I guess a compromise will have to be made here and I guess a boat less suited to long journeys and more well-suited for, dare I say, recreational use might be a better description of it's actual use. Maybe Day-Tripping would be a better description. But I'm definitely a more agressive paddler than just a recreational user might be so I do want a boat that's going to give me some performance if I ask it to go, or make a quick turn. I don't see myself getting into whitewater and if I ever do develop an interest, I'd be more inclined to get a kayak specifically for that rather than expect to compromise with a single boat to accomplish that.

@Celia - I was thinking that the rudder might provide more usefulness to me than a skeg. Someone was saying to me that in a river with current that a rudder will give me better manuverability going around a sharper bend, for instance. But another consideration is I do plan to spend quite a bit of time on our lakes here in Central New YOrk and wind can frequently be a factor. I guess a non-deployed rudder can result in weathercocking as I understand it. I've never paddled a yak with a rudder before so can't know firsthand about that.

The kayak shop that has the new StormGT and Capella, outright told me that he doesn't and wouldn't want me to try out the boats because he said I wouldn't know what qualities I really wanted since I was so inexperienced. What? Can you imagine a kayak store recommending against actually trying out the kayak you are interested in purchasing? He really wanted me to buy a Pakoat kayak, saying it was perfect for what I was describing I wanted to do. Then he kept telling me that a 14 or 15' kayak is the worst choice I could make. He also told me that in a poly boat, the Capella would be -his- first choice for me but that I wouldn't like it until I had paddled in it for a month. He said I'd like the Storm GT right away because it has better initial stability and because the seat back flips up and I'd be more comfortable when I was sitting taking photographs (which I might be doing a fair amount of but not exclusively). He also had absolutely nothing good to say about trylon, the stuff that Hurricane uses in some of its kayaks. He scoffed at it and called it just plastic. So I don't know.

There just aren't many shops around me so I'm really at a huge disadvantage in the try before buy area. I don't want this thread to turn into a thread about bad kayak shops, but just wanted to mention that little fact. When I stopped at Adirondack Outfitters store, they told me to call them when I could come up again and that they'd load a bunch of kayaks on a trailer and I could try them all. Now that's the way it ought to be right?

But each store I visit, I get vastly different advice and opinion so it's beginning to mess with my thinking.
A guy I spoke to yesterday wanted to get me into an Eddyline that was sort of like the Hurricane Trylon material... demo boat around $1900 reduced from $2500

Anyway, I'm really beginning to stress out about this. I was in a friends 14' Hurricane. I think it was the Tampico model. It didn't have thigh braces, felt really roomy in the cockpit, too roomy I think, and it did not seem to be liking the chop and 1 foot waves in the lake that day very well. Just seemed to short and wide to me.

I'm basically feeling my brain is frozen in a state of not being able to make a decision.

OK I’ll decide for you

– Last Updated: Sep-07-09 1:03 PM EST –

If the Solstice is a used boat, I suspect you could probably work out a test paddle. It is a high volume kayak, but if you are used to a canoe, it is not going to seem high volume at all.

If you are comfortable in the Solstice and it is in good condition, I would buy it. I think a composite boat of that quality is a much better deal than the two plastic boats you mentioned. An even better deal considering the addition of a skirt and especially if you are buying from a private individual and don't need to pay sales tax.

I would be a little leary of shop owners who tell you what boat you need or want.

I wouldn't worry about a non-deployed rudder causing weather-cocking. I guess it can sitting up on the rear deck acting like a little sail, but if it did you would just deploy it. Although I don't have skegs or rudders on my kayaks, they can certainly be useful in a quartering wind or side wind.

Given your height and weight, I doubt you would have much difficulty padding out the Solstice to fit if you even needed to.

The way the price of composite boats is going, if the boat is in good condition and you keep it that way, it is likely to retain much more of its purchase price than the plastic boats. If you decide it's not the right boat for you, you can probably recoup most or all of your purchase price when you sell it.

And a good-quality composite boat has plenty of strength for everything but out and out rock bashing.

The used one.
I always try to find a good deal on a used boat, especially when getting into something new. I don’t worry so much whether or not it’s the perfect boat for me, as long as it’s in the neighborhood. Actually having a boat to paddle any time (rather than borrowing or renting) will let you figure out what you do/don’t like.

Then if you decide you want something more tailored to your needs (now that you know what they are) you can probably sell the used one for nearly what you bought it for and go shopping for a specific boat.


I think I agree with the last two
opinions about going for the Solstice. I still haven’t seen it in person, but the photos the seller sent me look great. The kayak look like it’s barely been used. He said he’s only used it 3 or4 4 times in the last 3 years! I hope to look at it in the next day or two and will report my findings.

check these
Look for cracks around the cockpit coaming. Check inside and out the hull. Check the operation of the rudder. Ask the owner if he has had any problems with hatch or bulkhead leaks.

CD Solstice
I would suggest trying out the Current Designs kayaks. I personally own a Solstice GTSHV in kevlar and absolutely love it. It does have more volume than my other kevlar kayak- Impex Force 3, but in general it is a more comfortable kayak because of the extra space. The price on that used Solstice is extremely good- just check to see the condition of the kayak. The Storm is a good boat as well, but if you get the chance to test paddle them side by side, composite is almost always a better choice. A composite kayak will handle more efficiently, will have a longer life, and the savings on weight is always a plus. Your back will thank you in the future.

Don’t write off Hurricane
I have a Hurricane Tracer, bought new in April, and so far have been very impressed in its handling and speed. I’m 6’4", 185 lbs. with a 34" inseam and size 12 feet and have plenty of room. Just got in from a trip to the coast of N.C. where I bounced it of some barnacles and oyster beds, not on purpose, and one made a very grinding sound and I knew I had picked up a bad scratch. Just finished cleaning it up and didn’t find any noticeable scratches. Was very surprised. Also had a 20-25 mph headwind and outgoing tide to paddle against Sunday and had no problems paddling. This was in the ICW. Skeg was down and tracked like an arrow. Didn’t intend to write a review, but I would take a look at one if possible. For the price it is a extremely good boat.

Checked dimensions - redux

– Last Updated: Sep-08-09 8:33 AM EST –

OK - both of the CD boats are deeper than you will likely want when/if you start getting aggressive about bracing and rolling. The Solstice is 14.5" depth, the Storm is 14". The only real diff between the two is width, the Storm carrying 24" and the Solstice 22". So between the two, the Solstice is likely to fit you better. At least it'll require less padding on the side, and you can always pad down. The major diff between the two is going to be, as I mentioned above, maneuverability. The Solstice is going to be much stiffer and encourage the habit of using the rudder to turn rather than edging, the Storm will be friendlier to edging.

That said, most people start out thinking they want a kayak that tracks like crazy, and only find out as they go for skills that more maneuverability is a desirable feature. So your question is really well stated - what do you want as a first kayak so suggesting that it will be replaced at some point by another.

In that case, the one with the highest proportional resale value wins. Whether you get there by buying the Solstice or the used boat is something that you can probably best answer by scanning ads and seeing how well the used boats hold up. Around here, there is a price point where they often don't lose much value any more even with repeated sales.

As to the kayak shop guy, he was handling it badly but was not so off base as you may think. Until you have learned some basics in how a kayak is supposed to handle, it is nearly impossible to find the "right" boat. You will tend to go for more size, more stability, looser fit and harder tracking than you'll find you want down the road for day tripping etc. Most of us got there by starting out with our best guess and going thru some boats to get it right.

This guy's cut that the best boat to grow with would be the Capella, especially if you are talking winding streams as part of your mix, to me is right on the money. However, what should have come with that is an offer to give you a couple of lessons as part of a purchase, or a cut rate on a basic lesson to go out and try the boats. Either you aren't reporting something or you have one of those folks who is sincerely more interested in getting people going right in kayaking than moving boats. They do exist - we had the devil of a time getting our first composite kayaks. We were dealing with one of them, and this guy just didn't want to sell us a boat until we had spent some real time in them and he was totally convinced we had found a match.

You seem to have some concerns about the skeg - unless you are doing expedition level paddling, this is mostly a matter of what you get used to. I'm not arguing against a rudder, but your paddling is not much different from ours. We regularly paddle lakes in upstate NY including Champlain and Lake George with the whole pod in skegged boats. That's including some spring paddles where we have hit recorded wind speeds of 28 and more mph. I can't say that the into-the-wind legs were fun, but having a skeg wasn't a particular problem. We also winter paddle in a twisty creek and play among rocks when we have good motorboat wake days like this last weekend.

Solstice width

– Last Updated: Sep-08-09 8:59 AM EST –

The CD Solstice GTS is 22" wide but the Solstice GT is 24 1/4" wide. I believe the OP was looking at a Solstice GT HV (high volume).

I think a good point has been made a couple of times. It seems that a lot of folks buying a canoe or kayak for the first time agonize over the purchase trying to research and find "the perfect boat". It's reasonable to want to do so because it's a big purchase. But there is no perfect boat, and what seems perfect for someone's first boat often is no longer so after a year or less.

It is almost a given that those who stick with this sport and pursue it wholeheartedly go through at least several boats, and often wind up owning more than one. It is true that those starting out tend to prize tracking and stability and later find themselves looking for more maneuverability and speed.
But with petroleum-based products continuing to become more costly, high-quality, used composite boats in good condition are going to remain easy to sell, as long as they are in good condition.

I think the composite boat is clearly the value leader among the three listed by the OP. The Solstice GT is a roomy, comfortable and stable boat that still retains good efficiency. It may not be the most maneuverable but comfort, stability and efficiency is a pretty winning trio, and there is a reason that the Solstice design has been around for so long.

There is another factor that comes into play for some males. The OP is a fairly large male who said he is not too wide in the hips. That suggests he may be carrying a lot of his weight above the waist. Men who are rather "top-heavy" sometimes require a significantly wider boat to achieve acceptable stability, at least until they develop an instinctive ability to brace and heel. So I would definitely try to paddle whatever you are planning to buy.

So I think maybe the best way to find out what boat you want to buy is to just buy a boat and get out on the water, accepting the likelihood that you are going to be selling it in a year or so.

Different advice/different stores
"But each store I visit, I get vastly different advice and opinion so it’s beginning to mess with my thinking."

When beginners go to different stores, they don’t always state the same things that they said at the first store. If your focus at the first store was just on bird watching and then the second store was about your interest in doing white water or moving rivers you would get different advice at each store.

If you have only ever paddled a rental boat for a few hours here/there, you don’t have enough knowledge to pick out a boat and understand the nuances of each. If it was my shop though I probably wouldn’t have told you that!

It is useful though to paddle the boats you are choosing between rather than just sitting in the store. The longer time this would allow might pick up differences in fit between them. I do think if you are unskilled, you would not pick up differences in how they handle on the water. You also may be more likely to pick out a boat that is very stable for a first time boat as you haven’t had enough seat time to try out more.

Sometimes when I am helping at an event, I see someone who looks fit and flexible and I think I can recommend certain boats to them based on what they tell me about their needs and what they say they do for fun. Then they get in a boat and I find that their nervousness doesn’t allow for them to enjoy it as the boat keeps twitching underneath them. They need more time in a stable boat to get past this before they can think about what boat they should be buying.

What about paying the store to take you out for the afternoon with all three boats? Ask them to teach you some basic paddling techniques and then try all three of them to see which suits you better now?


Same as the Solstice GT Titan?
I can’t find the specific model named by the OPer, may have skipped over that too lightly. Was it repackaged as the Titan? If so, it is over 15" deep and the same basic width as the Storm, 24".

So - the Titan is a really really deep really wide boat. It may be worth asking how long this boat has been for sale. If it’s been laying around for a while, you might not have any better luck moving it on resale than the kayak shop is having.

Just might be worth checking…

This is all great dialogue and I
appreciate the combined wisdom on this topic.

The used boat I’m considering, to reiterate, is a 2002 Solstise GTHV. I guess it may also be labeled a Solstice GTSHV. But in any case, it is the high volume version of the Solstice.

I’m actually going to look at the solstice in a couple hours. I’ll check it out thoroughly and hopefully see if the seller will let me take it on the water. If all goes well, I’ll be bringing it home.

I know I can’t expect to really know what I want until I get some more experience. I’d be inclined to buy the capella, but it just seemed too tight. My feet weren’t really comfortable and around my thighs it just felt really tight. As I mentioned, maybe with more experience I"d get in the capella and espouse how well it fit like a glove. But I can’t imagine being able to fit in the capella, particularly if I were in a wet or dry suit. It’s really a bit of a squeeze getting in just normally.

It looks like the Solstice will be my first kayak and if it is, I’ll be sure to follow up with my impressions.

measure the width

– Last Updated: Sep-08-09 9:49 AM EST –

Take a tape measure. The GT and the GTS are completely different hulls. The GT is 2 1/4" wider.

I’ll trade my GTS for your Titan or HV
Mine is just under 33 inches wide but I think that for a straight line hauling freighter more room for stuff might be better for me.

I’ll also add that I think used boats are practically free. When I sell them I knock off about $100 from what I paid and they go pretty quick. So don’t feel like you are stuck with a used boat for loing if you don’t want to be.

Confirmed that it is the GT High Volume

– Last Updated: Sep-08-09 7:33 PM EST –

The boat is clearly labeled Solstice GT High Volume Kevlar.

I saw it, I put it in the water, I bought it. Done deal.

$1600 including the nylon cockpit cover, neoprene spray skirt, a brand new deck bag and an additional $85 to buy his Turtle Paddle Works, custom made, cedar, greenland style touring paddle. the hull is virtually scratch free with just the most minor scuffing and a few negligible scratches. Bulkheads and covers are watertight. the kayak has been well-cared for, obviously. I feel really good about my purchase and I thank everyone who chimed in. Your advice was most appreciated. See you on the water!

Drastically different boats
First, there is a big difference between the GT and the GTS. The HV only affects the deck. Make sure you know what you are looking at.

The Solstice is a beautiful boat. It’s especially beautiful for loading down with two weeks of food and gear and kissing the city noise Good Bye for a while. It handles beautifully, too. That is, if you are a big fan of how a VW Vanagon handles.

The Capella will be much more fun for tooling around small lakes, doing tricks, getting wet, and having day-trip kinda paddles.

Do you want to travel or play? That is the big question.

As far as value goes, I would say the Solstice is the hands down winner. I would never buy a plastic boat. Too hard to repair, to hard to strap down, etc, etc. I would rather save up for an extra year and get a composite boat.

My two pfennigs…