Thoughts on Kayak purchase

Hey folks - new to forum! As an introduction, my name is Mike and I have been wanting a kayak for many, many years, but my wife did not want to spend the $$. I finally have that part together, and she is actually on board with getting into the hobby a bit, but my head is swirling with the options. We have kayaked in the Bahamas, Aruba, South Carolina (Hilton Head), Maine (lake), and other places, so we are both familiar with the hobby/sport. We have 3 kids, but right now this would be our way to spend time together. Maybe later the kids can join in. :wink: Generally speaking, we are looking for a ‘hybrid’ kayak. Nicer than recreational, not as advanced as touring.

Given all that, and through extensive research online, I’ve narrowed down what I think I want, but a little advice/feedback would be helpful. I know there are some inevitable questions that will be asked, so I’ve tried to answer those below. It might generate some interesting conversation. :smiley:

Where will you be paddling?
We will not be white-water kayaking, nor will we find ourselves in the open ocean far off the coast of anywhere. We live in Southern Indiana along the Ohio River (across from Louisville, KY). So no oceans, but plenty of water. Most paddling around here are slow moving rivers and lakes. BUT - long term, we WOULD like to be able to use whatever we purchase in what I can only call ‘mild coastal’ waters, meaning like inlet-type marshy waters around the Carolinas, etc. (I’ll stay way from the gators of Florida, thank you. lol!) We MAY use them on the Ohio River on SUPER calm days, but most likely only on inlet creeks/streams. The OH river itself is pretty fast-moving, so I’d want to be with someone experienced the few times. I just don’t have room to store 6 boats, so we’ll primarily stick with what we buy. We will likely NOT be doing any overnight camping or week-long camping trips with them - just taking them out for a few hours or half day.

What do local paddlers use/recommend?
Honestly, we don’t know many! We aren’t really looking (at this point) to join a club/society/etc. I’ve found a local website online and many are using expensive stuff I’ve never heard of. We do not really have any friends who are into this - it’s just something we would like to do to get out on the water and enjoy time together. I just want a dependable boat that’s easy to paddle and moves well - does not have to be ‘fast’, as I’m not racing or keeping up with 20 people. But I’d also rather not paddle the SS Minnow or something that will tip over every time I lean over. I DO know I do not want a sit-on-top, nor do I want a 17’ kayak with a cockpit so small I have to lay down and pull it on like a pair of pants.

Have you looked into used kayaks, rentals, etc.?
At least this time of year, there isn’t much on craigslist for our area (been watching a while). Places where I’ve found rentals generally charge like $30/half day, which adds up when talking about 2 people. They also tend to rent more low-end ‘livery’ type kayaks. One of the local stores will do a demo for you, but they only carry two brands. I’ve not identified any other ‘demo days’ around town. There is another store I’m aware of but they carry the high-end stuff.

What is your budget?
I’m looking to spend no more than @$850-900 per boat (AFTER tax/shipping/etc.). It would be a bonus if that included a paddle and (double bonus) cockpit cover.

How do you plan to store and haul them?
I’ve spent WAY too many hours looking into a kayak hoist for my garage. Currently trying to determine whether to build my own or buy a Harken Hoister and modify it. We have a 2015 Honda Odyssey to haul them - just need to get the kayak supports for our roof rack.

So, what are you considering now?
After MUCH research, I think I’ve narrowed down to 12"(ish) kayaks being the ‘sweet spot’ for what we want. I’m currently considering the following:

  • For me: I am 5’11", @255 lbs. So I’m running up against the weight limits of a lot of kayaks. I had kind of narrowed down my choice to the LL Bean Casco (a rebranded Perception Carolina) but I may need to lose a few pounds first (?). I would go with the Bean over the Perception simply due to Bean’s warranty and the fact they sell a package ( Yesterday I saw and sat in the Old Town Loon 126, which I liked more than I thought I would. I thought the ‘dashboard’ was a bit gimmicky, but removing it did make ingress/egress easier, and after seeing it in person, I could see it being a ‘nice to have’ thing.
  • For my wife: Also looking at either the LL Bean Casco, Calypso (narrower -, or perhaps the Old Town Loon 120.

Note: A local dealer carries the Old Towns, which would come with a lifetime warranty. They will do a demo. The price would likely be close to the same as the Bean kayaks, but with tax instead of shipping. They would throw in paddles, but not covers.

So given all that great info, I’d love to hear what folks here think! Personal experience with any of these boats? I know I can easily demo the Old Towns, but not the others. I also know LL Bean generally has a great reputation. Appreciate your thoughts and feedback!


There will be a “paddle palooza” in Wilmington OH June 18. LL Bean will be there along with a few other outfitters. They’d likely have shorter boats. 12’ might be good for the easy rivers and lakes, but you might want longer ones for the Carolina waters. One of my boats is an LL Bean Calyspo, and it is fine in the easier stuff.

Thanks for the info! Would be a bit of a long day (@5 hour drive round trip) but might be worth it. Wish I knew which boats they would have on hand to try. I considered shorter boats, but I think 9/10ft boats seem really short. But 14’ seems really big for lakes and streams, etc. When we kayaked in Hilton Head the outfitter had WA Pongo 120s. They handled well enough for a mild day. If we made it a habit I’d probably upgrade at that point, but I think I’ll have to retire first. haha!

Shorter than 14 ft and my 5’11" , 245 #body increases boat draft more than I like.

I’d much rather battle bashful gators in Florida than barge tows and tug boats on the Ohio.

The Casco 12 is the only one of your list I’d get. All of the others are rec boats with no forward bulkheads. You’d need, or should, add an air bag to the rec boats… The Loon cockpit is obscenely big and impossible to cover or skirt easily. Big opening does give access and ease of in/out. But it also can let a lot of water in.

@Overstreet said:
I’d much rather battle bashful gators in Florida than barge tows and tug boats on the Ohio.

Haha! I’ve heard there are some pretty massive catfish in the Ohio, too! But you’re right - you definitely have to watch out for those barges and drunken idiots on the Ohio.

The Casco 12 is the only one of your list I’d get. All of the others are rec boats with no forward bulkheads. You’d need, or should, add an air bag to the rec boats… The Loon cockpit is obscenely big and impossible to cover or skirt easily. Big opening does give access and ease of in/out. But it also can let a lot of water in.

Thanks for the thoughts on the forward bulkheads - that was one thing that appealed to me on the Casco. The Loon cockpit IS pretty big, especially once you remove that ‘dashboard’ thing, and I had wondered the ease of skirting it. Most of my usage will probably be of the sunny/calm day variety, but if there’s any chop or rain I would prefer not to have a boat full of water. I also wasn’t necessarily a fan of a boat that doubles as a fishing kayak just by screwing on some rod mounts.

BTW, I had also considered the Pungo 12/14, but the cockpit on those is every bit as big as the Old Town Loon, and the ‘dashboard’ on those seemed a bit less refined. But they do have double bulkheads…

The Tsunami 125 Kayak by Wilderness Systems has also peaked my interest… any thoughts on it? I’m not sure why I moved away from it originally… price, maybe…

Rod holder see bass pro shop for recessed rod holders.[]( Holder/product/1310040641203/ “”) Mine fit with no length adjustment.

The seat back is too high on the Tsunami. I suspect whole seat is too far forward. The keyhole thigh braces get in my way getting in and out. I cut them out of my Chesapeake 17.

The seat and cockpit on the Casco seems better.

They both have a slot at the stern for the rudder kit to sit in. The offset toggle on the Tsunami stern might be odd at first unless you always carried it to port side.(left) Both have perimeter lines, good.

@Overstreet said:
The keyhole thigh braces get in my way getting in and out. I cut them out of my Chesapeake 17.

Thanks… I think that’s what it was I didn’t like… I had read reviews where others complained about that configuration and how it cut into their knees. It seems like an odd thing to me… looks like it would be difficult to get in/out.

I paddled one of these for a few years and found them to be incredible​ kayaks. Comfortable and extremely stable. Unlike many inflatable kayaks this is not a pool toy. No need for roof racks and they can be transported on a plane. Do the research and you may find this is what you would need.

Re keyhole thigh braces - they are there for a purpose, to help turn and edge the kayak. This is not trivial. However, the person and the boat can be enough of a not-great fit that thigh braces can be more difficult.

Mike, first of all, I would recommend that you slow down and do a lot more research on boats, paddles and PFDs. I would also highly recommend that you go longer than 12 feet. You say you’re not a racer, but that has nothing to do with anything. Especially with your weight, you are not going to be happy in a half sunken, slow slogging rec boat. You might even have to add to the budget and I assure you that that will be of little consequence in a very short time, because if you wind up with the wrong boats to start with, you’re bound to spend even more in the long run.

Personally, I wouldn’t even consider anything under 14 feet. So look around on the Internet at what is out there. Even if and when you settle on a boat/boats, you’re only part way there. Under no circumstance settle for a so-so paddle thrown in the deal. You don’t have to give an arm and a leg for a decent paddle, but you probably will be looking at about $140 plus. I would highly recommend the Carlisle Expedition.

PFDs are going to be the same situation. Don’t go cheap and think you’ll be alright, You absolutely will want PFDs designed for paddling. Never buy anything you don’t get to try on and try on a lot of them, so you know how a good one should feel. Do your Internet research and you can always find some very good deals–after you’ve tried a bunch of them on. Ideally, you should probably have the boat first so you will be sure that the PFD actually is compatible with the boat’s seat and cockpit, but there are plenty of very good jackets that will work with any kayak.

Thanks! I found a Tsunami and Pungo in the 14’ range that can accommodate my weight, but many in that length start to say “for small/medium paddlers”. I’ll have to do some measuring, too, as I don’t think I have room to store much beyond a 14’. The cost does start to go up quite a bit, too. I had $2500-3000 set aside for the whole project, but when I look at also needing roof racks and storage hoists (only place to store is my garage ceiling) , it’s becoming overwhelming.

While I do not want to settle for any cheap or thrown-in paddle, it may be something I have to do to start with. I’m sure anything LL Bean includes would be of at least reasonable quality. Not sure about the local place, but they only sell Old Towns, anyhow. As for the PFD, I was factoring that to be @ $300 of the cost for both my wife and I.

Basically, my head is swimming now. (I appreciate the previous suggestion to consider the inflatable kayak, but I’m not sure that’s right for me and the rocky/sticky Indiana waterways.) I feel “stuck” in 1st gear and am getting tired of researching. Who knew that getting a couple of kayaks and getting out on the water would require agonizing decisions and a year’s worth of research!

If I had to choose (but please don’t make me), I’d rather have a paddle that’s strong, light, and a suitable length for me and my boat, than a boat that’s perfectly suited to my body and destinations. No doubt both are important, and it is also important that the two are a good match for each other and for you. You might have some idea of what this entails if you’ve done some paddling with various equipment already, but it’s something of an evolution in most paddlers’ experience to find gear that works the best for them. Any time I’ve swapped boats with someone, my paddle always stays in hand. Next time you’re out paddling, count the number of strokes you take per minute (or look it up online). Now extend that into a few hours on the water, and you’ll start to realize that this is perhaps the most critical component in your paddling gear. It’s akin to the tires on a car. You can have all the power, stability, and braking you want but if the interface between the tires and the road is compromised then you end up in the ditch just the same.

I have to give credit to you for giving this much more consideration and thought than most people seem to. Unfortunately, you may be a victim of “paralysis by over analysis” due to the very grey nature of many decisions to be made. I usually suggest trying lots of boats to someone who’s been out once or twice but otherwise clueless. In this case you’re not completely new to it, and you’re clearly good at considering the variables in the equation. If you can narrow your choices to a handful of boats that seem to fit your size and goals, you can pick one from that group using less stringent criteria - like what’s on sale, or what’s close by, or in a colour that stimulates you. Second hand availability has always been a factor in my own purchasing decisions. You’re likely to get a boat that serves you fairly well for a while. You may or may not find that you want to take things further, and need to get a different boat in a year or two. This seems par for the course in your situation and the reason why people who do this a lot have more than one boat and tend to buy and sell them more often than seems rational. A well-stored boat that can’t be found in your local big box store’s weekly flyer will also retain much of it’s resale value - especially if you’ve purchased it used in the first place.

Regarding the boat, I’d never again own anything that didn’t have sealed bulkheads front and rear. I sold a River Runner R5 a while back largely for this reason. I don’t want to mess with, or have to trust, flotation bags when I paddle beyond the shoreline. I also prefer long boats that track well, even for small waterways where I get odd looks amidst the short recreational boats. At first the length is cumbersome, but with time and skill I can maneuver my 17’8" Impex Assateague better in tight spots than many novices in short recreational boats. Clearly, there are limits though. If I could find a short boat that didn’t plow through the water, still tracked straight, held camping gear for a week plus, and floated my 225 lbs, 6’2" frame, I’d give it strong consideration. But alas, such a thing defies the laws of physics such as our current science and materials are.

Mike, you’ve budgeted more than enough for life jackets. You should be able to find some very good ones at around $79 a piece if you look around the Internet and watch for sales. Put the extra money toward paddles. And again, you won’t find a better paddle for the money than a Carlisle Expedition.

Re Pungoes - a 14 ft Pungo is a whole different critter than a 14 ft touring kayak, so don’t get too hung up in the length alone. The Pungo 14 ft is a recreational boat, not meant for dimensional challenging waters, with a load of primary stability. That can be a whole different animal than a 14 ft touring boat designed for a small paddler.

I tend to agree with some above. If you are looking at gross measurements like length and not realizing the range of types of boats in that length, you probably should not try spending money on a purchase yet. Spend it on demo days and maybe a couple of classes in basics so you have a better idea of how these things work and what will best suit your needs.

This Tsunami 145 would fit you well and would be a more pleasant kayak to paddle on big rivers like the Ohio than the Pungo 14. It’s a 14 footer made for bigger guys with more volume and will track and handle well. Good price at $700, located near Cincinnati.

Or for only $500 you could be set up with this nice inflatable tandem. Saves a lot of storage and hauling hassle. Includes what look like 2 OK PFD’s but the paddles are junk and you would need to get some decent ones.

@willowleaf said:
This Tsunami 145 would fit you well and would be a more pleasant kayak to paddle on big rivers like the Ohio than the Pungo 14. It’s a 14 footer made for bigger guys with more volume and will track and handle well. Good price at $700, located near Cincinnati.

Thanks for the link! I’ve actually been watching and reading a lot about the Tsunami 145, so I’m very interested. I’ve messaged about it!

I do get that there are differences … not really fixated on length, other than I just know I don’t have room to store much more than a 14-footer right now. As noted, when we paddled in Hilton Head they had 12-14 foot Pungos, but I really am not a fan of the “dashboards” on those boats.

As for the tandem inflatable… I’m not big on the inflatables, but especially not on tandems. My wife is enough of a backseat driver as it stands. lol!

Just a couple more thoughts/questions here…

Honestly, I DO know what I want. As @Sparky961 said, I may be experiencing ‘paralysis by over-analysis’. I have been reading up on this for a LONG time, and have paddled may types of kayaks over the years. I get the difference between recreational and touring boats, and I get that many folks are saying they would not buy anything shorter than a 14ft boat. I’m not against a boat that size, but MOST of my paddling will be done on lakes and streams, with very little ‘open water’ (such as Ohio River or coastal waters). I will likely NOT be doing any overnight camping trips, etc. Given that I am looking for a ‘balance’ between recreational purposes and light touring, it seems the 145 is a heavy/high-volume boat for paddling that will be (for the most part) small rivers, streams, and lakes. But it also looks like it would be perfect for the Ohio or rougher ‘off shore’ outings (1-2ft swells) on the ocean or great lakes.

The more I look, the more interested I am in the Tsunami line of kayaks. The 145 seems to be perhaps better for someone my size, though the 125 also says it is for ‘larger paddlers’ (up to 300lbs).

The Tsunami 125 is described as “Swift and agile, the spacious cockpit and deeper hull is the ideal day tripper for larger paddlers. Excels in tight, twisting environments”. And thinking about my wife, the 120 is described as a “Mid-range cockpit size with shorter length is versatile for day to weekend trips in streams, coastal regions, and large lakes.” On the surface, that sounds EXACTLY like what I’m looking for. BUT, the advice toward a 14-foot boat has me befuddled a bit.

If I looked at the “Light Touring” 120/125 (for my wife and I), what would I be losing over say the “Touring” 140/145 (wife/me)? Is the longer length going to primarily just lend to improved speed and handling on rougher waters? Surely the 12-foot range of boat lengths have their place in the water, so speaking specifically to this class of kayaks, please help me understand the difference. It seems to me that the 12-footers are still a bit more advanced than your typical “recreational kayak”, but perhaps maybe not quite as versatile as the 14-foot boats (which weigh 56lbs!). But do I really need the ‘volume’ of the 14-foot touring boat if my primary usage will almost always be shorter (half day) jaunts?

Thanks to all who have contributed thus far! I really appreciate the advice and am just soaking it in and learning. Unfortunately, there really just aren’t many (any) places in my vicinity to try out different boats. The only ‘demo days’ I found were through a local group (through facebook - which I’m not on) and featured one brand. I wish the nearest dealer wasn’t over 2 hours away! The demo days referenced previously in this thread is 2.5 hours from me (one way), on Father’s Day, which happens to also be the day my oldest goes away to camp. So no dice there. I did find a place to possibly take some lessons, however.