First Purchase Advice

Hi folks,

I am hoping you may be able to offer me some advice on purchasing a kayak.

I returned this past weekend from a canoe trip on the Rappahannock & while the canoe was OK, we did have a couple issues. I certainly noticed how much more maneuverable the kayakers appeared to be.

I came across this site while searching for kayak lessons & after looking around a bit thought ya’ll may be just the people to also offer me buying advice.

Basically I am looking at a kayak I can use for occasional river trips with up to class III rapids (Rappahannock, Shenandoah, & Potomac). Most of these trips would also be overnights, so I would need to be able to pack a day or twos worth of gear. Primarily I think I would be using the kayak for fishing on local lakes and streams, again this may involve some camping.

I would be transporting the kayak on a Jeep Wrangler, I don’t know if that is important or not.

Finally I will say my experience level is definite beginner & I don’t think I would enjoy being inside a kayak eskimo style but, the hybrid types interest me a bit.

Thanks in advance

"up to class III rapids "
Of what you describe the most demanding is your desire to run class III. Look for a boat designed to handle such water which also has the carrying capacity for camping - such as a Liquid Logic Remix XP or another ‘crossover’ boat designed by ww folk.

I strongly urge you take lessons before attempting running rapids. Class III water is not to be taken lightly.

kayak advice
First off, if you are going to be paddling Class III whitewater you will need to be inside the boat (what you call “Eskimo-style”). Whitewater kayaking requires a sprayskirt and sealed bulkheads or flotation bags under the deck to keep the waves and spray from swamping the hull. A kayak designed to handle rapids will NOT have an oversized cockpit or be a “sit on top.” I think once you actually sit in a standard keyhole cockpit kayak you will realize it is not as claustrophobic as you expect. Novices are often afraid they will get “stuck” if the boat flips but the real problem when your boat capsizes is trying to stay in it – gravity will tend to cause you to fall out and you have to brace your legs to stay in so you can Eskimo roll back up.

Second, your best bet as a novice to the sport would be to visit a quality local outfitter and talk to them about your ambitions. Kayaks need to be fitted to your expected use, your body size and shape(you pretty much “wear” a kayak and control it with your body so fit is critical)and to your budget. You really need to sit inside a few boats, ideally on the water, to get a feel for what works. Good outfitters will usually specialize in paddle and wilderness outdoor sports. Avoid big box sporting goods stores like D1ck’s, Dunhams, Cabelas, BassPro, etc. Their kayaks are generally clunky and low quality and their staffs are ill-trained to offer informative advice and proper fit. The larger outdoor retailers like REI and LL Bean are OK if there is not independent retailer avaialable, but you will get the best deal and the best advice from your local hometown dealers. Most offer rentals and classes on local rivers as well as Spring “demo days” on the water where you can test paddle a range of boats. You really will benefit from some introductory instruction, in fact I would call that mandatory before you attempt a Class III stream for serious safety reasons. Kayak paddling may look intuitive, but it is not, and there are real safety issues with any paddling, more so with white water.

Be aware that “hybrid” boats often require performance compromises at both ends of the spectrum. Boats best for touring have the opposite characteristics (longer, narrower, vee-bottomed) than those best for rapids (shorter, wider, flat or rounded bottom). There have been more decent hybrids come out in recent years, but Class III is pretty much the limit on those – you would not be able push beyond that safely in one of them. Good hybrids are a little pricey – it might be just as economical to buy 2 kayaks, one for touring and one for whitewater. Used whitewater boats are often available for under $400. But this is something to consider down the road – for now you need to do some “test driving” at a local dealer to get familiar with the characteristics of various models and how they fit you.

willowleaf, all your points are good,
but the Remix XP 9 and XP 10, and the Pyranha Fusion, can be run on any water except extremely technical steep creeks. I would add a front wall if one isn’t there already.

Thanks for the advice folks. I did the Class II & III’s this past weekend in a canoe. While it was a little hairy we managed them well (I think technically they are listed as Class II/III whatever that means). I do indeed plan on taking lessons at an Outfitter by Harpers Ferry WV. If nothing else to learn to read the water, which I so far have pretty much guessed at.

I have been eyeballing the Liquid Logic XPs and hope to try one out.

I will say the ability to carry gear is pretty much mandatory because the rivers near me don’t have put ins close to each other (I think the last run I did the put ins were 25 miles apart)

Thanks again for the input so far, please keep the boat suggestions coming it at least gives me an idea what to look for. And trust me I do plan on taking lessons before making any purchase. I just liek to plan things out over a long period of time :slight_smile:

Canoes v kayaks in WW
In general a larger boat - canoe, raft etc - can handle bigger rapids with a decent safety margin than a kayak can. Your ability to make it thru a guided situation of class 3 in a canoe does not predict that you can do the same in a small, much more maneuverable (and capsizable) WW-appropriate kayak. Figure on limiting yourself to class 2 for a while, spending a lot more time in lessons, or going with a more general purpose kayak that can handle gear for overnights and doing more portaging around rapids.

That aside, you should be able to hook up with a decent lot of kayaks used (erto cheaper) in that area once you sort out your kayaking goals.

I can’t agree with that, Celia. When I
watch newbies run Pattons Run and Lesser Wesser, the kayakers do about as well as the open boaters. Probably one reason is that the open boaters don’t know how to avoid taking water, so they swamp and roll over.

ww open boating easier than ww kayak?

Never heard that before. I remember getting beat up pretty good in the beginning while seeing kayakers with less than 1/4 the seat time all smiles. But I certainly can’t rule out me just being dopey and slow either.

excuse my skepticism…
…but I’ve paddled enough of a variety of kayaks to find it hard to believe that just adding a skeg to one of those short, fat, round-bottomed XP’s or Fusions is going to make those boats anything resembling “fast on the flats” as claimed.

If I see one on the waters this summer I will politely ask to try it out and will be happy to admit if I’m wrong. I had a 14’6" x 24" sea kayak with a similar hull profile and waterline that certainly tracked better once I added a skeg but it was still a dog to cover any distance with.

These “hybrid” boats run close to $1000 – for that kind of money I could pick up both a used 15’ touring kayak and a used ww boat and have a better craft for each purpose.

But, if the primary purpose is to run primarily fast whitewater rivers while being able to haul some camping gear, one of the named models would seem to make sense, as long as the buyer understands the limitations on slower water.

Depends on what used ww boat you
find. The XPs and the Fusion aren’t particularly fast, and the skeg, in my opinion, is just wasted equipment. I never have a problem getting a ww kayak to go straight on a lake. But my fastest ww kayak isn’t as fast as my 14’ 6" Necky. My point is that a paddler who can run the Stikine gorge can do it in an XP-10, carrying gear.

I don’t think you’ll ever see XPs and Fusions crossing lakes or bumping along the seacoast. They’ll be used for river camping, and on the smaller, more interesting rivers, crossover kayaks have an advantage over touring/sea kayaks.

Ok - bad wording
Try this again. In times I have gotten Ww instruction, the canoes have stayed on the planned stretch and kayak went to safer waters when conditions made it a close call. This is not to say that the canoes don’t capsize or that the new paddles in them stay particularly dry, just that there seems to be less concern about a very bad outcome if they do end up out of control.

I may be all wet. But the point is still that class 3 is more challenging than it looks. Sorry to the oc folks about the error.

Now that makes sense!
“just that there seems to be less concern about a very bad outcome if they do end up out of control”

Yea. That’s 'cause they’re STUPID!

what section did you run?
most of the Rappahannock is Class I-II with some II+ at higher water; the only real Class III is in the fall line below the I-95 bridge. It’s actually a more difficult river at lower water with its numerous rock gardens.


– Last Updated: May-18-11 7:42 PM EST –

I have to disagree with your 1st paragraph entirely... I run class II & III in a LL Coupe, a SOT designed for moderate whitewater. And several state of the art creekboats are made with larger cockpits now. The Remix XP although called a "hybrid" by some, is really a high-volume river runner with the bonus of a dry compartment, and a size 2.2 cockpit which is huge by traditional standards; really it's almost a creekboat that can handle just about any whitewater you can throw at it. LL's niche is whitewater and doesn't currently make any boats geared for flatwater touring.

For the OP, I paddle the same rivers and others in the area... the ideal boat depends on what you want to emphasize most (touring/camping, fishing, whitewater); you might find as I have that you want more than one style of boat. A recommendation I have made in other similar threads is that I find my Tsunami 120 to be my most versatile boat for river tripping. It can easily handle the long stretches of slackwater and dam impoundments (where the "hybrids" and ww-oriented boats can be quite slow - ask me how I know :) ), has enough room in its two compartments for overnight gear, and is quite maneuverable for zipping around rocks and twisties or through some straightforward rapids. Just one example; there are a number of kayaks in the 10-14 ft range (not a size set in stone) that may suit you similarly.

Celia, the instructors may have been
worried that green newbie kayakers may wrench a knee wet-exiting under battle conditions. Open canoeists just fall out.

I’ve occasionally gotten banged up and wrenched around wet-exiting even after years of paddling. This happens especially if the current pushes the boat up against an obstacle, or into rough shallows.

You do realize that…
A “put in/take out” is where ever you want it to be? Right?

If you can get your vehical to the waters edge buy any trail/road/two track - that IS a put in/take out. You don’t need to be at a designated, paved with signs spot.

25 miles from ANY water access sounds like my cup of tea! I could handle a river like that around here!!

Paddle easy,


That was my thought

– Last Updated: May-19-11 7:03 AM EST –

But I obviously said it badly.

Given that I have yet to encounter someone trying to learn WW in any craft who isn't a confident swimmer, it seems to me that an open cockpit boat that more easily dumps them in the water reduces some risks. I know there are still straps mounted inside, but it's not the same as being under a skirt.

That is especially so since, in many of the WW boats, the skirts are much larger and so less likely to be ones that a panicked person can just push off. The smaller cockpit in sea kayaks make it more possible that a good adrenaline-rush knee up will pull even a neo skirt beyond its ability to stretch.

As much said above, there is a problem with mixing up class 3 and a kayak that can handle even light camping gear, or a kayak that can handle class 3 well and still be pleasantly quick for doing flat water distances. The situation is not all that different for a canoe given the rocker that a good WW canoe has, but the equivalent to a hybrid situation may be better than in kayaks. I don’t know.

Your desire to do all three is very much the norm for people who haven’t had time to learn all the intricacies that can complicate sticking a paddle in the water and making a boat go somewhere. Keeping it simple is a good thing, except that you are talking about spending money on a boat and you’d probably like to feel satisfied with the return.

There is one other thing that I noticed in your post - you seemed to really like what you saw the kayaks doing. Was it just their apparent level of control, or was it also things like going out to play in the features, like park on standing waves etc.? If it was the latter, the really cheating solution is to get a WW boat tuned for that - much easier than nailing it in a rounder hull in terms of your own skill. But these will be quite flat-bottom boats that really will not do the rest of what you want. They won’t have storage and are desperately slow on the flats.

If you separate class 3, you could do what willowleaf suggests. Spend your resources mostly on a boat that’ll do some distance and barrel you thru up to a class 2 stretch, and pick up a used WW boat for learning to deal with WW well. These get turned over a lot so it isn’t difficult to find a great boat for reduced prices. It means two skirts and probably two paddles (WW paddles tend to run shorter), but these are also often available used at WW gatherings.

Good point!
Celia makes a good point about zeroing in on exactly what attracts the OP to wanting a kayak. That may be the real key here.

I’ve sometimes attracted some flak in these forums for my skepticism on “one size fits all” boat solutions. I worked for some time in the outdoor recreational outfitting business so I think I have more exposure than most people to the phenomenon of “buyer remorse” in terms of gear disappointment. I learned a sporting equipment salesperson has to be part detective, part psychologist and part nagging nanny to match up eager buyers with stuff that is really going to work for them.

Sports newbies tend to arrive at a shop with as much baggage as enthusiasm: advice from friends (some good, some not), prejudices formed by experiences with inappropriate equipment and the influence of advertising and a lot of confusion about what they hope to accomplish in their new sport and what “value” means in terms of buying their first set of gear. An outfitter salesperson worth their salt will ask LOTS of questions and try to get a feel for the expectations of the customer to avoid having them make a costly mistake. Steering a novice through “gear lust” can be tricky.

Unfortunately, many people can’t be persuaded to consider all their options realistically – a result of that is that every shop I worked at had a very active bulletin board with ads posted by people selling their near-new equipment (climbing, backpacking, ski touring, paddling) that they had quickly realized was not as effective as they had hoped for what they were doing. In most cases it was either overkill (gear beyond the person’s abilities or actual needs) or underperformance. I heard sheepish “I should have listened to what you told me to buy” comments often enough that I came to wish I could collect a fee for them.

So, if I come off like a buzz-killing gadfly at times, it’s only because I hate to see people waste hard-earned money on stuff that is not going to meet their expectations.

Not that I didn’t get some great “used gear” deals for myself off those bulletin boards at times…

yes on tsunami-like for first one

– Last Updated: May-19-11 4:15 PM EST –

I like the suggestion for possibly two boats at some time, and I like the suggestion to start with a boat something like the Tsunami 12. While boats like that have a cockpit (eskimo style?), most folks are okay with that pretty quickly -- the cockpits are relatively large in that type of boat, so less of a trapped feeling; easy to exit upon capsize; also pretty easy to get in and out in general. To be a bit clearer, that type of boat has a cockpit, preferrably 2 bulkheads/hatches; perhaps 25" wide; 12 to maybe 14' long. These are not whitewater boats and not full on sea kayaks, but would work in a lot of the situations you describe, except class III. After being in a cockpit, you might find that you are fine with it and think you would even be fine in whitewater like that (I think there is typically more fear of capsizing in whitewater than flatter water). If okay with cockpit, then there are many WW boats to pick from. If not, an inflatable WW kayak is a great way to get WW experience -- though you might not develop WW paddling/edging skills, because inflatables can be so forgiving! The other (non-eskimo WW) possibility is a Sit-On-Top plastic WW boat like the Liquid Logic Coupe or the Torrent.
Oh yeah, since you have time to plan ahead -- plan to demo some different types of boats -- it is undoubtedly the best way to go!