help me pick boat length and material

I am somewhat confused about what type of kayak to buy for an upgrade. So I will present some facts about myself and my paddling and take recommendations.

I am male, very fit, 5 ft 10 and weigh 145 pounds. I paddle on the wide, shallow, slow Susquehanna River, in Harrisburg, PA, which is mostly Class I with the occasional Class II section. I also paddle on the wide, shallow, slow Conodoguinet Creek and faster, deeper, narrow Yellow Breeches Creek and a few other narrow, faster creeks. I enjoy overnight kayak camping. I am an ultralight backpacker and my overnight gear including food and water weighs well under 20 pounds and fits into what most people consider a day pack, or easily into one or two small dry bags. I never intend to paddle white water, the ocean, or multiple days in flat water. I live right on the river and kayak three or four days a week from about April through end of September, with about 5 to 10 overnight paddles. My day trips are about 15 miles, downstream. Overnight trips are about 30 to 40 miles, downstream. I currently paddle a $200 Dick’s Sporting Goods Potomac ES100 10ft plastic sit-inside recreational boat and it has been pretty enjoyable for three years of very regular use. I kayak a lot, but I haven’t taken classes and I don’t consider myself a skilled paddler. I just do a lot of it in my cheapo boat and with my cheapo paddle. But now it’s time to upgrade.

Now, suppose money is not an object. Please suggest an ideal boat length for the streams and river that I paddle. Remember, I pack very light and I weigh only 145, and storage space isn’t a really big issue for me. Next, suggest a construction material – plastic, fiberglass, composite, Kevlar, or carbon. Remember, price isn’t important. I’m willing to pay for quality. Are my creeks and river too dangerous for anything but tough, thick plastic? If not, which fiber material do you suggest?

Is portability weight an issue? Yes, somewhat. Although I can carry my boat out my front door and down the river bank in only about 50 yards, at age 47 I don’t want to buy a heavy boat that might over-tax my back over the years. My current cheapo boat is 39 pounds. I would love to have something lighter. I transport it on my car sometimes, so lift on/off the car weight is a consideration, since I’m paddling solo without somebody to help carry the boat. I would love to get the lightest boat possible without making the wrong compromises for the types of water I’m paddling.

I know, I know, I should get out there and paddle every brand and type on the market. I know that’s true. But please fire away with suggestions in the meantime. Length & materials suggestions. Brands/models, too. Thanks.

time for a real boat
How about a solo canoe?

Class II
How technical are your typical stretches of Class II ww? Aka how turny or twisty is the maneuvering required?

See you on the water,


The River Connection, Inc.

Hyde Park, NY

some twisty/turny required
I’m not a highly trained paddler and my technique is probably poor, so with that in mind and mentioning that some of the water will require some fast twisting and turning, please factor that into the equation. Another poster mentioned solo canoe. For whatever reason I’ve never felt comfortable in a canoe but feel very much at home in a kayak. I know, I know, lessons might make me good in a canoe, but I like the idea of sticking with a kayak.

Some Ideas

– Last Updated: Jan-17-11 2:32 PM EST –

I spent about 15 years in Central Pa and am very familiar with all of the bodies of water you mentioned. Its an amazing area with lots of paddling opportunities but it also presents a relatively unique set situations to overcome.

The biggest issue in that area is rocks ... lots and lots of rocks. This is great news in that you’ll rarely have to deal with powerboats but also is somewhat limiting as far as boat materials go. Without a doubt the longest lasting and most practical material for the area is plastic. The thicker the stronger the better. The downfall to plastic is that its much heavier than the composites. I had a number of Kevlar boats when I lived in PA but I was only able to paddle them on high water days or if I was only staying in the deep pools. A Kevlar boat would not last long on the Breeches or Upper Susq at summer levels. In the end I’d personally rather have a heavy plastic boat that can go anywhere rather than a light composite that you’d have to limit your paddling in. Have you thought about a small cart to transport your boat? I have a set for my heavy fishing yak that easily store in the boat once I’m at the landing.

As far as length goes I would recommend something between 12’-14’. You want something short enough to maneuver in the tight creeks while still having enough hull speed and tracking to handle the open Susq (on windy days it can get epic out there).

My best piece of advice is to go up and talk to the good folks at Blue Mountain Outfitters in Marysville. They are the absolute experts when it comes to Central PA Paddling and will have a huge selection of boats to check out. They also have a rental towards purchase offer that allows you to spend some time testing boats out before making your decision.

if you must
have a kayak. How about the dagger axis 10.5 or Jackson rogue 10. Both are down river boats under 50lbs with enough room for ultralight camping. I would personally go longer. Tsunami 14 has good volume for getting through rougher water of a river. I always feel better bouncing a rotomold boat of rocks over any other material. You could consider sit on top boats or a canoe kayak blend like the commander 14 from wilderness systems.

With your criteria and lack of ambition for improvement you are still going to be looking a rec boat that is only marginally better than what you have now.

Ryan L.

Push your limits …try something new
Instead of paddling the same old same old … take a whitewater class and get some skills, a whole new world will open up to you.

Seadarts point of developing better technique helps with everything in just the kayak suggestion realm I would put the Pyrahna Fusion on the list.

See you on the water,


The River Connection, Inc

Hyde Park, NY

You’d do well to follow Topher’s advice

Go see the good folks at BMO. They will hook you up.

plastic is rarely light
I paddle the Susquehanna and it’s branches farther north so I know the conditions of which you speak. I agree that a plastic boat is the way to go for you, but weight does become an issue with rotomold boats. It’s hard to find one under 50 #.

I am on my 7th kayak and have paddled (via rentals or borrowing) many other models besides the ones I own. I still have 4 boats, and even though I have longer and fancier kayaks, my “go to” boat for the type of paddling you describe is a rotomold Easky 15LV touring kayak by Venture (a division of P & H). It’s just shy of 15’ long but is low volume – good for your size – has hatches for gear, thigh hooks (if you have not had them before you will learn to love them quickly), a great seat and it weighs a bit less than most plastic boats in the size range at 46 #.

That may sound heavy, but I think you will find that a narrower 15’ boat at 46# is actually easier to balance carry and car-top than your wider, shorter 39 pounder. I have no trouble handling and loading the Easky by myself(and I’m a 60 year old woman.) Best of all it is a great-handling boat that gets good speed with nice tracking while still being stable enough not to freak out someone used to a rec boat. And I find that 15’ length a handy compromise for both touring and light whitewater. I just think it’s a really fun boat and nicely outfitted for the money.

Price wise, the list is around $1100, but I got mine for 30% off (in fact the Pittsburgh dealer where I bought it still has a few in stock at that price.)

If you can hold out until Spring there will be lots more chances to test boats on the water and see what you like. The advice to visit your local independent kayak dealer is a good one. But seek out an Easky 15LV if you have a chance – I think you might like it.

Current Designs Kestrel
I live in Eastern PA and am very familiar with rocky creeks and rivers. You might want to consider the rotomolded Current Designs Kestrel 120. We recently added this to our fleet for just the kind of paddling you’re interested in. No, it is not ultralight, but it still comes in under 50 pounds. With a small kayak cart and proper loading technique I can handle if off the water just fine, and I’m a short, 62 year old woman.

My old Carolina 13.5 just felt too long sometimes.

The Kestrel is a pretty neat little boat - check the pnet reviews. The suggestion to check BMO is a good one. I see they may still have a left-over 2010 for sale.


145 pounds puts you in the “smaller paddler” category. A boat that fits you properly will be much easier to maneuver because you can lean and edge to help you turn. It’s worth test-sitting boats even if you can’t test-paddle.

If your streams are full of rocks, plastic is probably your best bet.

If you want speed, the Pyranha Speeder might be interesting:

If you want more whitewater capability, at the expense of some speed, maybe something like the Pyranha Fusion S:

The Perception Tribute 12.0 is a simple boat that’d be a nice step up. Reasonably maneuverable with a good lean. You’d want a good bow airbag.

The Dagger Alchemy 14S might be fun, but it’s heavy.


Something different
Think outside the plastic box. Cape Falcon F-1

14 feet. Around 30 pounds with the extra heavy duty skin. Fits with your ultralight backpacking.

Custom built, so can be made to fit your body.

Just a thought.

Light weight and about 14 ft long is good. A bad rudder is worse thsan no rudder.

what to buy
Hi there,

I notice from your list of kayaks that you don’t mention inflatables at all. Some of them are amazingly sturdy - e.g. Innova Seaker - (said to be virtually impossible to puncture)

Emotion, Future Beach, Hurricane and Old Town are some manufacturers you could look at. Then there is also Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame - a combination of inflatable and solid hull folding kayak. Foldlite also do one which may be worth a glance for yourself.