Need advice on a first kayak

It seems that the kayaking bug has bitten me as the temperature has begun to rise and the snow has melted away here in Maryland and Pennsylvania. I’ve started to look into buying a kayak and have done a bit of reading, but I would like to get the opinions of some real people with experience.


Day trips (2-6 hours)

Weekend camping trips (2-3 days)

Possibly longer camping trips…I can pack light (1-2 weeks)


Slow rivers, lakes, possibly the Chesapeake Bay

My skill level:

I would consider myself a beginner-intermediate kayaker. I’ve had some experience with canoes and feel very competent but I have limited kayak experience. I am in good shape, athletic, and have good coordination.

My size:


160 lbs

10 1/2 shoe


I am a student on a limited budget so something below $700 would be manageable.

I would like something that has a dry storage container or two, that I will feel comfortable in but will have room for skill growth as I get more experience. I will probably be alone most of the time so it will need to be light enough to put on the roof of my Subaru. I don’t feel that I’ll be using it in conditions where a skeg or rudder will really be necessary, but I am anticipating a move to Florida in the next year or so and one might come in handy there.

I fell I might be asking for an impossible combination of price, use, and performance, so any advice is welcome!

Just FYI, I live mostly in Annapolis, MD but also spend time in Central PA and northern VA.

starting point
Based on what you want to do, I’d look for a used plastic touring or rec-touring kayak. Probably in the shorter touring length, like 15-16 feet. That’ll get you out in the widely varied areas you mentioned. Something like a Wilderness Systems Tsunami 160.

If you want to develop skills stay away from stuff that’s really wide, like more than 24 inches, and boats where the cockpit is too large for you to comfortably brace your thighs up under the deck.

An introductory seakayaking lesson is a great way to learn about what to look for in a boat, and try a few varieties.

Maybe a used Tsunami
in the 14 to 16 foot range


choosing a kayak
I would recommend a touring/sea type kayak, especially with your paddling location preferences and need for storage.

As for specific boats, it’s hard to recommend them, as it really is a personal choice. I’m 120 lbs, so what works well for me would probably be too small for you.

I agree with the person that said to stay away from wide boats. My first was a P&H Capella (plastic version), and it has been a great boat. At 16’5" it wasn’t too short, and the 22" beam was very stable, but still narrow enough for me to learn to roll easily. It is a bit “big” for me, but unfortunately I find most boats are. (the low volume version of the Sirius is the best fit, but has never been in my price range)

I still use the Capella if I’m going to be paddling around rocks or camping, as it holds more gear than my North Bay.

Above all-- paddle as many boats as you can. Paddle them multiple times. Get a feel for them and for what you need and what works best for you. Try to paddle them in different conditions if possible to see how they handle before making any final decisions.

1-2 weeks! Think…
about a tandem yak or canoe. I’m envious of your solidarity. You need a dog to go with you. So you need more room.

Go used …
Start scouting the craigslist ads for something in your price range. Tsunami 160 is good advice.

Remember you need to buy a decent paddle and PFD and spray skirt.

Come fall you will need a wetsuit …

It adds up fast.

14’ Tsunami
is more than adequate for what you’re talking about. Easier to load solo, can take it up and down the smaller rivers & creeks you find in VA/MD as well as on bigger water, and still fit a week’s worth of gear and food if you want to. Very versatile boat.

check the Baltimore Craigslist there’s someone selling a red one w/rudder for 700. I had him send me pics for a friend who’s looking for one also, needs a little cleanup but looks like it could be a good investment.

Given your budget, size, and goals, you’re looking at used or demo boats, probably poly. As the other folks said, the size range for you is roughly 14-17’long, no more than 24" wide. Since you’re fairly lean you’ll have a better fit in the cockpit of “smaller paddler” boats, but you may want more capacity for extended touring. given your budget you will have to make some compromises.

Demo, borrow, or even just test-sit as many boats as possible to get an idea of what’ll work for you.

A few boats that might work:

WS Tempest 165 or 170

Perception Shadow or Eclipse

Valley Avocet RM

Valley Aquanaut LV RM

CD Squall

and there are many others.

Necky Looksha IV, Manitou 14

Another option would be to build, with a skin-on-frame being the least expensive method.

A few thoughts.
1. Your needs will change quickly as you paddle more and develop your skills.

2. Delay you purchase by renting, borrowing and demoing different boats.

3. Try not to paddle alone, at least in exposed areas and be very mindful of water temperature, as in dress for immersion.

4. Reconsider your thoughts on the need for a skeg or rudder. Some day you may thank me for this. A short, high sided, rec boat with no directional assistance in Chesapeake Bay could be the experience of a lifetime.

5. Refer to #2.


Thanks for all the helpful suggestions. I stopped by LL Bean in Falls Church this weekend and realized how long 17 feet actually is.

They had a Tsunami 140 and 145 in there and I really like what I saw.

I’m going to stop over to a kayak store nearby this weekend and try to get some time in different makes and models before I decide what is for me.

Once again, thanks a bunch!

Since you live mostly in Annapolis
Then you should check the web site for your local “piracy” group. Nice folks and you can try most anyone’s boat during one of their regular outings.

Also, Annapolis Canoe and Kayak rents boats (on 3rd or 4th street I think) and for about $10 you can try any plastic boat in the shop for half hour.

CLC is a few blocks away too - check their wooden boats too.