Entry Level Kayak - Your Advice Please

-- Last Updated: Jul-09-11 10:26 AM EST --

Hi folks, I'm a beginner paddler and am looking to buy an entry level kayak, mostly for river paddling (flat water, no rapids).

I'd like to find something in the $500 range, sit-in, with a larger cockpit. I'm 135 lbs, 5'6" and drive a Jetta Sportwagen. I have some concerns about getting the kayak on top of the car by myself, so hope to find something 50 lbs or less. I also have an '83 Land Cruiser, so I suppose I could throw it in the back of that, but the LC is a gas hog and would prefer using the Jetta for transport.

Any recommendations? I've been looking at the Old Town Vapor, and the Ascend that Bass Pro sells. I've read here that the Pelican's aren't the best quality, so have ruled out that brand. REI, Dick's, Gander, Bass Pro, and Appomattox River Co. are all pretty nearby.

Thanks in advance for your help!


– Last Updated: Jul-09-11 12:04 PM EST –

At your weight you should be looking at "smaller paddler" boats. A kayak designed for a typical(larger)adult will be harder for you to paddle, especially in wind and waves.

Something like the Perception Tribute 10 might be a good fit for your needs.

Make sure that your paddle is also sized for you instead of an "average" adult paddler.

I'd start at Appomattox.

Second that motion
Yes, go to Appomatix first! Go to the pros. Skip Dick’s entirely. REI is probably okay - at the one near me, the paddling section is staffed by experienced paddlers. Don’t know about Gander. But do yourself a favor and only deal with salespeople who know paddling. How can you make an informed decision without being informed?

Oh yeah…
and also read through the threads here because there are lots and lots of “beginner kayak” questions. There should be a sticky on this subject, really.

Most newbies are advised to take kayaking classes and/or rent for a while to get a thorough understanding of what you really need/want in a kayak. And don’t forget to budet for all the outfitting you’ll need, which at the very least would include a paddle, a good quality PFD, and some sort of cartopping solution. Have fun!

Entry level?
But only for a really short time. Chances are you will quickly outgrow your first kayak, so consider a used one. Lots of choices here, and minimize the depreciation. Also a chance to try before you buy. Get some good advice in choosing a paddle. Many beginners get one too long. Have fun!

appomattox river company

– Last Updated: Jul-09-11 3:09 PM EST –

Out of your choices, ARC is by far the best. I have dealt with the folks at the ARC Farmville Store many times.They have good prices as well. They have a wide selection of kayaks and are very helpful. They are owned and run by paddlers, not sales people who have no clue about the products they are selling. They will let you try the boats as well. Go to ARC and forget the rest. I have dealt with local REI sales staffs in the past. The local one is typically staffed with sales people who may have paddled, but are not paddlers. Dicks,Bass Pro & Gander are a waste of time. There sales people are clueless in reguards to paddling.

Still interested in your opinions
Everyone, thanks for the info thus far! I’ll take a ride out to Farmville next weekend (the Farmville ARC is closed tomorrow).

I’m still interested in your opinions about brands. Since I just plan to be a weekend paddler, I really can’t justify paying too much, plus I still need to get a carrier. I already have some stuff, like a vest, pelican boxes, dry bags, etc.

Speaking of carriers, I have Thule cross bars on the Jetta, and am thinking of the Thule Roll or Slipstream rack. Guess which one will depend on the weight of the yak. I don’t think I can manage J bars. Think I could get away with a roll rack, or should I spend the extra $100 bucks to ward off dinging my car? I have a Wilderness rack on my LC, but there’s no way I could get a kayak up there by myself.

As far the kayak, I will mostly be on a flat river, and probably with my camera, so I really want an open cockpit. I want to scout out some eagle’s nests in cooler weather, hence the sit-in preference.

Since I have a week before I’ll get to ARC, I would love to continue reading your feedback. Figured you folks are the experts.

Thanks tons, and I’m looking forward to being one amongst the paddlers!

I have the…
…Thule Slipstream 887xt rack and it makes loading/unloading easy. I’m 5’6" @ 145lb and lug a 17 plus foot kayak on a Mazda 3 sedan.

Prior to that I had J cradles and a car of similar height. Getting the boat up high enough to drop it in the J cradles was a pain.

I know the 887xt’s aren’t cheap but ya gotta pay to play. Good hunting to ya :slight_smile:

Byron, thanks! Since you have the Slipstream, is there enough room to put another rack to the side? Guess that’ll depend on the width of the primary kayak. I do have 58" bars, so maybe I shouldn’t be too concerned.

So glad to hear that it really does make it easier to load. One less decision to make, but will be eating in for the next couple of weeks. :wink:


– Last Updated: Jul-09-11 7:32 PM EST –

We all have vastly different ideas about what's comfortable. I've been at demo days swapping boats with other paddlers, comparing notes, and having exactly opposite opinions. Only you know what works for you.

Larger boats may initially feel more roomy and stable, but a boat that's too wide and/or too deep for you will be uncomfortable and inefficient to paddle. Most folks find that their kayak feels much more stable after logging some time on the water.

Start by "test-sitting" every kayak that's even remotely close to matching your needs. Keep notes. Demo/rent/borrow if you can, and don't shy away from used kayaks.

Weight is important. If you dread having to put your boat on your car, you won't use it. The Hurricane boats are nice and light -- out of your price range new, but you might find one used.

Entry level kayak
My wife did a bit of kayaking last year. I decided I’d buy her one for Christmas. Went to a few shops and talked with folks and was initially thinking real entry level. Ran into a woman at an EMS who patiently responded to my questions, never really tried to sell me a boat, and eventually showed me pictures of her entire family on kayaks. She said she thought the Wilderness Systems Pungo 120 was a very good overall recreational boat. I went online, read some reviews, and while it was more $ than I’d intended to spend that’s what I bought. Of course if my wife had one I was doomed. Went to a demo day, tried a few recreational boats, and ended up with the Pungo 120 as well. We’ve been out about 5 times so I’m a real newbie and probably should not be commenting. But we’re real happy with the boats. Pretty stable, relatively large cockpit with a functional dashboard storage area, it has an extended keel and tracks very well compared to other boats I tried. It doesn’t turn as quick. It’s not a white water boat and it’s not a sea kayak, though we’ve been out in Narragansett bay (close to shore) and it seems to handle small swells an boats wakes comfortably. The other boat I liked quite a bit when I demoed was a Hurricane Santee 11.6. But I thought the Pungo met my newbie needs better. I’d at least take a look at reviews on this site. More $ than you may want to spend but I think it would be worth a look. I’d also say go to reputable stores where folks have some knowledge of what they sell. Good luck and have fun.

I was also going to say
My wife bought a slider rack made by Thule. She’s about 5’4" and of average strength. She just sets it up on a pad and then slides it right onto the rack. She seems to have no problem handling it alone with that rack. I don’t recall the specific name of the rack she bought.

I bought mine with the same things in mind, though I’m taller and heavier than you. I settled on an Emotion Glide, a good all around rec boat, sit inside, stable with big cockpit. It’s really a good boat and it can be found at REI and also online from Cabellas, plus probably from Emotion Kayaks directly. Cost me $350 on sale, about $400 MSRP or so.

And it weighs only 32 pounds! Easy to move or throw around.

FWIW, I did finally take a basic sea kayaking lesson and found that it was easier to handle the larger, narrower sea kayaks than I’d expected. This did make me wish I had waited and sprung for a more advanced boat.

But that’s until I looked at the difference in prices! 14’ boats are more like $800 to $1000 more than I paid for the Glide! So I couldn’t have swung that anyway.

I’m happy with my rec “starter” boat and you might want to try one out. Emotion makes a good line of kayaks at very good prices, BTW, and they’re usually reviewed well.

Don’t pay much attention to reviews unless they’re bad. Everything gets good reviews. Take a look at what owners say about the worst piece of junk you have ever seen and it will have almost all positive reviews. There are several reasons for this, one is that these advice sites are here to sell products. Any products, good as well as bad.

The Glide may be a good model, I’m not singling it out as one of the poorly designed models with great reviews. Just be careful and don’t rely on reviews. They are of little value to new buyers that don’t know any better.

Amen to that.
You really have to read between the lines on those reviews. Even the bad reviews are often for stupid reasons, like things that completely changable (“the seat was too low”) or betray the reviewers’ own lack of skill (“boat is too tippy”; “boat doesn’t turn well”)

I really only pay attention to the reviews where the reviewers can compare the boat to other boats they are familiar with or if they are discussing a particular aspect of a boat that I want to know more about.

With my Mazda…
…there’s only room for one on top. I would imagine that your Jetta would be of similar width. If you want I can measure my setup.