Need Buying Advice!!

Hi everyone,

I backpack, camp and climb very regularly in my area (I live in BC, so the locations and are ample… the ocean, Whistler and the Okanagan are just short drives away, with many lakes within an hour) and I’ve been looking into purchasing a kayak to get me to some locations I haven’t been able to access by land. I’m going to be using my kayak for both day trips (within a few hours of paddling), and longer weekend camping trips on both small and large lakes, calm bays and coastline. I’d like some advice on what kind of kayak I should be looking at. I know I want a solo touring kayak with ample space for hiking packs, and I would like to sit in the boat and have a cockpit opening with some room, but not overly large. I have paddled before with rented kayaks on choppy lakes, as well as canoed and fished boats on open water, so I would say I’m in between a beginner and intermediate paddler. I’m not looking for anything crazy technical or performance based, and the important thing to me is that it will fit my gear and be stable for me. I’m a female, 5’5", and around 120 lbs, so I need a smaller (10-12 ft) boat that I can lift onto the roof of my jeep (I do rock climb and weight train, so I can lift a bit of weight). Any advice really would be helpful on style/shape/useful features, as well as specific recommendations. If there are any specific recommendations, I’m looking to stay at around $600-$900 as I’m a university student. However, I do get an employee discount at Atmosphere and I have a good friend who works at another outdoors store in my area, so I may be able to swing a little higher than that price if I can buy the boat there. Thank you all for reading and helping me!


10’ is a little tight for camping
it can be done but you will need to be thinking ultra lite & small. Probably need a frameless pack if you plan to hike as well. My tastes run to canoes when there is walking involved. They are much easier to load & unload and you can carry some packs. Some of the cross-over kayaks may do what you need although new may be a little above your price range. Others with more experience with those will need to chime in as I don’t paddle them.

Another option that might be worth considering if you can find a workspace (and time) is to build. Pygmy has great kits although the price may seem a bit high for your budget. On the other hand you will have a great kayak. Skin-on-frame is another option and cam be in your price range. Kudzucraft will sell you a kit for ~$400 US and the fabric for ~$100 US. You would need to find/cut/have cut the stringers. Where you are you should be able to find some nice Western Red Cedar boards.

Everything made sense…
Until you got to “10-12ft”.

A solo touring kayak that will carry gear and do coastlines and you’re looking at 15-16ft.


– Last Updated: Jan-03-16 10:42 PM EST –

My pack isn't that large, as I normally go with another person to share the load. My dad actually has offered to build me a kayak, he has a nice workspace and has built fishing boats before with kits. My concern with that would be the dimensions as when we looked at kits we realized I am bordering on child and adult. Also, the price for the material is a little steep for me. We looked at the Chesapeake 14 kit from clc boats, which is a really nice option but I am bordering on too large for it, and the next size up is the 16LT which is 15 1/2 ft long (hard to carry?). Length isn't really a main concern so much as weight, stability and space though.

Length vs Weight
I don’t mind a longer kayak (with more research I realize that recreational is shorter and touring is 13+), so long as the boat is light enough for me to wrangle onto the roof of my jeep.

Don’t let the fact that you need to get it on your car trick you into getting an inferior product. I’m a female and do solo paddling often. I’m not in remarkable shape and paddle a 17’, 59 pound Tempest 170 and I can get that up and down by myself. I have a roller rack so as long as I can get the front on, the rest goes up like cake.

Longer boat and NO lifting
You slide the boat up to the roof of your car unless you want to destroy your back. Cart to get it moved to and from the car. Get a longer boat and do the sliding thing. Or a folder. But a used entry-level touring kayak 12 to 14 ft will be cheaper.

Intermediate in most kayak skill ratings means you have a pretty good brace and have started towards learning a roll. That is ACA and BCU/PNA. And that you have practiced capsizing and getting back in from the water.

you need a sea kayak

– Last Updated: Jan-03-16 11:50 PM EST –

For the region and waters you live in and your intended usage, you need a sea kayak -- at least 14' at minimum, perhaps even 15' or 16'. Don't fret about weight -- you will be able to load the average touring kayak for your size yourself. I'm a 5' 5" woman (though 30 lbs heavier than you) but also 65 years old and I manage to load and carry kayaks up to 50 lbs. Longer kayaks are actually easier to load on cars because you can tilt them onto the rear rack and shove them forward. And longer boats are narrower so they are often close to the weight of shorter and wider boats, but they are easier to paddle and more stable in rough water.

If you notice the weights on wooden kayaks (if your dad can build you one) they are generally lighter than plastic or fiberglass boats. Your dad could also build you a skin on frame, which are super light (they have a wooden skeleton with a stretched nylon fabric skin reinforced with urethane coating. One of my kayaks is an 18' long skin on frame that only weighs 31 lbs.

Considering where you live, used boats are plentiful and that is what we usually recommend for people starting out in the sport. You can get a much better boat within your budget if you get a used one. For your size, there are many low volume touring kayaks that would be safe and enjoyable for you.

Actually, there is an ad just posted on Seattle Craigslist from somebody who bought a kit for a wooden Arctic Tern kayak by Pygmy boats and has not completed it and is selling it for $470 (the kit new is $1000). That model would be perfect for you, designed for the smaller paddler and only 32 pounds. Would be worth the drive south so you might want to look into that.

If your day will build

– Last Updated: Jan-03-16 11:22 PM EST –

Edit I meant "if your dad will build"

If your dad will build get either a CLC or Pygmy kit. Most of the pygmy kits even ones 17 feet long are under 40 pounds. that's light. You buy a plastic kayak it will be way heavier than that. Wood kit boats are very light weight. Only way to get a production kayak that light in weight is getting high end composite boats, meaning Kevlar or carbon fiber. I would pick a low volume sometimes called LV say a 16 foot one.

This is easy.
Go to and see what’s on sale. They have a nice 17’-2" and a 15’-8"; both are on sale at a very nice price. These boats are built in Tacoma, Washington, USA and they are and do exactly what the manufacturer says.

I realize that it’s a bit more money than you were thinking, but they’re worth it and these are not just starter boats that you will get tired of after a short while. These boats are for a lifetime of paddling.

Give Doug Searls a call at 888-441-8582.


– Last Updated: Jan-04-16 12:34 PM EST –

I'd look at the Pygmy Tern 14, Selkie, and Ronan. Same hull but different deck configurations to give you more volume if needed for gear.

The Selkie(lowest volume)will be easiest to manage in wind & waves.

At your size, it'll be very stable.

nice pun!
From your description it sounds as though you shouldn’t worry about boat length, you’ll be able to get a 16’ or 17’ boat on the roof.

different thougth
If the focus is a way to get around and carry your gear for land activities, rather than a focus on paddling as an activity in itself, you may want to consider a sit on top. You could easily carry whatever packs you have on top (but would want to get some sort of waterproofing for them - such as large dry bags to put packs or pieces of disassembled pack in to). And you’d want better clothing to keep yourself warm. The boat would get you around and do what you want, but not be as efficient (or as many would say here, fun) as a true touring boat.

I am with the other comments - you’ll need longer than what you had said, but could be closer to that length with a SOT.

Weight of boat can also be adjusted with materials. For a touring boat, the wood option mentioned would greatly lower the weight. Or you could get fiberglass or other composite. For SOT, the only real option is thermoformed plastic, like what delta (a BC-based company) and Eddyline (WA based) make.

not really a good fit
Considering where she lives, I don’t think a sit on top is a very practical option, honestly. Coastal BC is cold Pacific water. And hatches are always preferable for camping gear storage. Sit on tops also tend to be heavier per unit of length (and wider) than SINK’s. They pretty much miss most of her preferences.

good info farther down
Pygmy is fairly close to you & it might be a fun cross border trip to swing down to Port Townsend and visit and maybe get a chance to try one. For you I’d lean towards the Selkie especially as you say that you pack light. The Terns can carry a load. I paddle the 17’ Arcitc Tern and it is a big kayak. In our club I paddle with a woman in your size range who paddles a Tern 14’ and is thinking about a Selkie. I don’t know much about the CLC kits however the Pygmy’s are pretty easy to build. the two I built were able to be paddled in 2 months and finished in three. that’s with working, gardening, family and some vacation along the way.

another Pygmy Arctic Tern 17 for $450
in Standwood, Craigslist ad.

The boats are out there, one just has to look and be willing to pull the trigger.

either one

– Last Updated: Jan-05-16 11:17 AM EST –

I thought at first that the Tern 17 would be a bit large for someone 5' 5" and only 120 #. But seeing the dimensions and low Greenland profile, it would probably also work for her, although the Tern 14 would be a little lighter and perhaps sufficient for the usage she predicts.

BCBW: Maybe your dad could build BOTH kits and the two of you could go out together!

At 5’9, 155lbs, I thought the Tern 17 I demoed was big for me. The 14 was snug. The OP would be better off with the 14 – or something of similar volume – unless she’s going to carry a ton of gear.


– Last Updated: Jan-05-16 8:17 PM EST –

Be realistic about how much time you'll spend paddlinig with overnight gear vs. day paddling. A boat with enough volume to be happy when full of gear may be cranky in wind and waves when paddled empty. If you can, demo boats with and without ballast. Drybags full of water are a quick and safe way to add ballast.

At your size, boat length is not the first thing you should be looking at. Width, depth, cockpit fit and overall volume are probably more important. A boat that's too wide or too deep will be inefficient and uncomfortable to paddle. You should be looking at "smaller paddler" boats.

Used boats can be great deals.

At your size and weight, most touring kayaks will be very stable. Kayaks become even more stable when properly loaded with gear.

If you're interested in kit boats, the manufacturer should be able to give you contact information for builders/owners in your area.

I recommend taking a class that uses sea kayaks that will teach self-rescue techniques and paddling skills. You'll be a safer, better paddler and be better prepared to make good buying decisions.

When you first try a boat that's narrower than what you're used to, it will feel unstable. That feeling will quickly diminish with more butt-in-boat time.

I second…
…the Pygmy recommendation. If you want to pack gear, the AT14 is a better choice than the Selkie. The latter is pretty low volume

I have an Arctic Tern 14 & 17. I built the 14 to surf in, and so my girlfriend would have a nice boat. We paddle-camped Clayoquot Sound this past summer and though the 14 is a small boat for camping, it worked fine with a second boat. My girlfriend is small (and also a climber) and loves the 14.

Stitch and glue boats are very strong and light – you’ll be hard-pressed to find a comparable production boat that comes even close in terms of weight, and there’s nothing like paddling a wood boat assembled by your own hands (or your Dad’s).