What to look for on a test paddle

So I’m in the market for a new kayak (2 actually) and either this weekend or next I’ll be making a trip to Minneapolis to try some out. I’ve been paddling an OT Loon 138 up until now and it’s time for something longer, faster, and more “fitting” that I can grow my skills with. Something for mainly day trips when I just want to cover some water as well as some 3-4 day camping trips. Mostly flat water but who knows where I’ll end up taking it on vacations.

Anyway, my question is just what should I be looking for when I test paddle these kayaks (Capella RM 160 and 166 and WS Tempest 165 and 170). I don’t really have any experience with anything other then a rec boat and I’m a little worried I won’t notice something that will later really bother me.

Such as, and I know it’s a subjective thing, how should it fit? I’m looking for a tighter fit but not constricting (I’m 6’ 1" and 165). If I find a good fitting kayak should I have room to move my legs about in the cockpit yet still hold snugly in the braces when needed? If my legs are always on the braces without much room to move will I likely find that tiring after a few hours?

Anything I should pay careful attention to when it comes to paddling and handling? I know this all seems very basic and the obvious answer would be to tell me just to paddle them and see how I like them; but with no frame of reference any tips on what to look for would be much appreciated. I’m sure after paddling a touring kayak for a couple months I’d have a totally different outlook on what I was looking for, but now I’m afraid I’ll miss something that might bother me later.

Oh yeah, I mentioned I’m getting two kayaks. The other will be a little CD Kestrel in TCS for fishing, smaller rivers/ponds, and easy car topping.



Some Experience

– Last Updated: Aug-30-06 4:30 PM EST –

I own a 165 and used to own a 170. I liked the 170 and love the 165. I'm significantly shorter than you (5'9") but weigh the same.

If you are mostly day tripping, by all means get the 165. You'll get less of the 'bobber' feel from all that extra volume and handling in quartering winds will be much, much better. Try testing out the boats on a windy day. Paddle in various directions... with the wind, away from the wind... this angle, that angle. If you can, paddle your 'maybe' boats on the same day.

Like I said, if you are mostly day tripping get yourself a lower volume boat and when you want to camp just rent something with more space.

Yeah... fit. For comfort I put a small foam block under my calves / ankles. It takes the pressure off my heels. Very comfortable in just about any boat.

Handling... Are you familiar with a skeg?

Of Your List…

– Last Updated: Aug-30-06 8:23 PM EST –

the only boat, I wouldn't recommend based on your size/weight would be the T170. Too much volume, especially when you're talking about an occaisonal 3-4 day overnighter. Sounds like you're mostly day tripping. Get the right size boat (lower volume) for that. It'll fit better and allow you to work on skills development easier.

One of the mistakes of moving into long boats, are folks going for the "expedition" boat when, in fact, they may only do an occaisonal weekend trip balanced with a whole mess of day trips. It's akin to buying a four wheeler for snow but you only get snow maybe once or twice a year. Expedition boats are great when they are fully loaded. However, on day paddles with just the paddler weight, these offer more windage and don't respond as readily to edging and leans for boat control.

Test/rent a boat for a bit. Take lessons and get some basic skills. Then take a boat out into a bit of wind and small waves. This is really when you begin to get a better feel whether the boat is right for you. Some wind and waves wo;; create the situation which the (puppy) "love" you develop on flat water will be tested. Will seemingly perfect "match" endure and grow in something a little more adverse...


What you want
The thing is, a lot of what you want in a sea kayak does require some time with skills to be able to tell if the boat has it. If you can possibly get a class…

What I’d say -

Comfort with the boat’s stability - is it maybe just a little alarming on flat water, and when you take on edge do you find a comfortable point where the boat tends to support your weight.

A good balance between tracking and manuverability, something that tracks straight enough that you wouldn’t mind paddling it all day but still carves a satisfactory turn.

A fundamental touchy-feely sense of confidence in the boat, but you are looking all at decent boats so I doubt there’ll be a bright line for you.

Fit that gets enough leg under the thigh braces that if you flipped over they’d land under them with good contact, without having to reach into some uncomfortable position that you couldn’t stand for a long paddle. It’s hard to relax in a boat in conditions if you are constantly having to force yourself into a “safe” position to capsize in.

Dry enough hatches, skeg box and bulkheads that you won’t wish you hadn’t bought the boat. To check for this the boat needs to spend some time upside down as well as right side up.

Probably other things, but these are the first ones I think of.

Thanks for the suggestions so far, all good ones.

A kayaking class would be great, but unfortunately I don’t think I’m going to find anything around here. I live in NW Iowa and Minneapolis is about the closest place I’d find anything of the sort and that’s about 3 hours away. I will keep my ears open as I’d be up for the trip to go to a good class. I’ll ask around and perhaps I’ll find someone semi-local too.

Renting kayaks locally is tough too. There’s one shop about 20 minutes away that does rentals but all they have is Prijon (mainly smaller rec boats for rent from what I saw). It seems like it’s mainly a bicycle shop that also carries some kayaks.

I know the place I’ll be checking out the kayaks at (Midwest Mountaineering) has demo boats and are close to a lake so hopefully I’ll be able to check them all out under similar conditions. I was looking at the CD Sirocco, even found a reasonable used one in the cities I might test paddle. I kinda ruled it out though for being a little high volume for what I’m looking for. I’ll at least take a look at one in person though and sit in it to see how I like the fit and size, I get the impression it’s a little more then I need right now though.

I intentionally am looking at boats with skegs instead of rudders though I have no experience with either. I’m open to any suggestions here as well (yes, I know it’s a can of worms). My reasoning is that I’ll mainly be paddling in water with little/no current and mainly fair weather so hopefully I won’t need either most of the time. The skeg will be more out of the way when not in use and I think I’d just as soon not have sliding pedals connected to a rudder.

Thanks again,


this isn’t going to help
As your skills develop, what you are looking for in a tet paddle will change drastically.

I went through a complete change from wanting a very tight fit to a no fit looseness to a comfortable loose touch all around that I can instantly brace into if needed…of course this depends on the boat too.

the T 165 is a great boat…and no I don’t have one.


As on another post, I find operating a rudder to be generally uncomfortable, at least unless you rip out the original equipment and put in an alternative. And the newer hulls out there mostly have skegs anyway, so it might make things more complicated to look for a ruddered boat with all that you want. Since you aren’t planning on racing, there’s no point in dealing with any added complication to find a boat.

to drive with. Most every motorized vevicle we see out there’s a 4-wheeler, excepting scooters and motorcycles.

I’d hate to think of what would happen if we converted our 2 4-wheelers into 2-wheelers… I fear we basically then become either 2-footers, even tho’ I’m a 6-footer, and Sally’s a 5±footer, or 2-wheeler bicyclists.

But maybe the worst is we’d be in dire straits if we wanted to tote our boats to


-Frank in Miami

You’re ruling out the wrong stuff, mainl

– Last Updated: Aug-31-06 2:25 PM EST –

Test paddles are usually short and usually done on fairly calm days. As such, you are mostly ruling out the wrong kayaks rather than honing in on the right one(s), at least initially.

You'll know early on if the fit is outright uncomfortable or even painful. But it takes a much longer paddle, at least several hours, to know if the kayak truly is comfortable. Numb spots or chafe areas might not reveal themselves on a short jaunt.

You'll know early on if something really bugs you, such as the rudder mechanism or the adjusters for seat, thigh braces, foot pegs, etc. But it takes more extensive testing to find the more subtle things, such as *can* you adjust these things to exactly where you want them, or *can* you modify the stock set-up?

I'm not saying test paddles are useless. It's just better if you can rent for a day. I realize that might be difficult or even impossible. It is, where I live, so I know the situation you're in.

BTW, I take exception to the "don't buy an expedition boat" philosophy. Your first sea kayak is a bit of a tester, anyway. I bought an overly-deep kayak (CD Squall) for my first real sea kayak and did mostly day trips and a few short camping trips in it. Yet, suddenly, an opportunity came up to go on a month-long camping trip in AK and I said, "Carpe Diem!"

You just don't know what you will end up doing! While it would have been *better* for me to get a better-fitting kayak that could still carry the same volume of gear (I now own one, a Tempest 165), the Squall was my mule on a trip that I will never forget. And that first long trip got into my blood in such a way that I'm very glad indeed I had a boat that allowed me to try such a trip.

Also, what is one person's day boat is another person's expedition boat. That might be the case with the T165 for you vs. for me.

Furthermore, while I bought the T165 as a tripping kayak, it has turned out to be so enjoyable to paddle that I also use it for day trips. Just because something has enough volume to serve as a camping boat doesn't mean it's a boring slug when unloaded.

You might be in the minority that does do long trips...you never know.

Fit should not be shoehorn-tight. You need a little wiggle room while still maintaining good contact with the kayak. You also want to be able to enter and exit very quickly if water at shoreline is rough.

Skeg and Wind
When your boat starts turning into the wind, drop your skeg some. If it starts turning away from the wind, raise your skeg some.

All good boats to try …
but also check out the Valley RM boats while you’re there - maybe the Aquanaut RM.

As far as fit, you will likely know if the boat is too tight (possibly the RM 160 will be a little snug). The others will likely be looser, but can be padded out. I’m shorter and heavier, but find the 170 too big for my likings as a day boat or weekender. The 165 and 166 are both nice fits for me for the majority of the paddling that I do. I have paddled all four of these boats for short test paddles, maybe 20-30 minutes each. Have not paddled the Valley Aquanaut RM, but own an Avocet RM.

Ask if any of the demos are for sale of if they have any used or former rentals for sale. As mentioned above, once you start to develop some skills and spend some seat time in the boat, you may find you like something else better. It is easier to justify trading up later on if you find the used boat is not quite what you expected.

Good luck!


Test one done with
So I made the trip up to Minneapolis yesterday fully expecting to come home with a new kayak. I didn’t realize it but when I got to Midwest Mountaineering they were having a demo days, so I drove on down to check out some of the boats. Unfortunately they didn’t have any that I was looking at down at the lake for demos. The weather was pretty much flat calm too.

I did get to paddle a CD Kestrel 140 (I’m looking at the 120 in TCS) and found it a comfortable ride, enough to be pretty sure I’d be happy with the 120 for fishing/small lakes and rivers. I’m more concerned with the bigger boats though.

I paddled a Prijon Kodiak and it felt way too roomy and too high volume. I paddled a Carolina 14.5 and felt like I was swimming in it also. The only boat I tried that I like the way I fit was a P&H Quest LV. It was fun to paddle and felt good but the budget just isn’t there for a glass boat now, especially considering I’m not exactly sure what I want yet. They did say though that if I wanted I could self demo a couple boats off the show room if I was interested in them and I’ll probably take them up on that later this year.

I was kinda bummed I didn’t even get to sit in the boats I was interested in (they were busy and most of the boat guys were down at the lake so I didn’t want to make them start dragging down kayaks for me to sit in). I decided to swing by REI just to look around at some stuff and noticed they had a Tempest 165 Demo on sale. I tried it out on the show room floor and found it was a VERY tight fit for me from the length stand point.

With the peddles all the way forward I was really jammed in. If I pulled the pedals back so my legs could get past them I felt quite comfortable sitting in it. The cockpit opening still seemed a little small and I couldn’t get a knee up without sitting on the back deck. I think if I moved the seat back it would make for a pretty comfortable fit; it seems I remember reading a few other people doing the same thing.

By now new kayak fever was running wild and I told them I’d buy it if they’d knock off another $100; figuring even if I turned out not to be crazy about it I wouldn’t lose much money and it would give me a much better idea of what I wanted. But they said they couldn’t. Oh well, it was still a fun trip and the fever seems to be breaking now. Now that I made it through the first stage without buying a kayak I think I can relax a little more and take my time. I’ll defintely be buying the Kestrel this year though as I’ve got a couple trips lined up I want it for (and because I sold my kayak last weekend). But the long one may just have to wait until spring.

Thanks for all the advice so far and I’d welcome any more. Along with thoughts on modifying the Tempest 165. If they still have it after the big Labor Day sale maybe they’d be willing to knock off that $100 then.


165 Seat
I moved mine back about 2 inches. Much better.

good to know…
If you don’t mind me asking, what is your height and weight? I’m 6’ 1" 165-170lbs with a 33-34 inseam.

I forgot to mention in my follow up that I sat in a 170 as well. I easliy fit and it was comfortable, but maybe a little too roomy. I’m sure I could pad it out to fit. Wonder if the volume might not be a bit much for my needs too.




– Last Updated: Sep-03-06 11:48 AM EST –

I'm 160 - 165 pounds. 5'9". My inseam is 30". My legs are probably a little heavier and thicker than most folks' because I bike quite a bit.

I think you'd find the 165 a much better boat to be in when the wind and waves pick up. You'll appreciate the snug fit if you start bracing and rolling.

A gentleman named Steve Scherrer designed the Tempests and you can pester him right here on this message board. Are you reading this, Mr. Flatpick? Adjustable thigh support is great. The next step is easily adjustable fore and aft seat positions for us leggy folks who like to enter butt-leg-leg. Maybe just set 'em back further at the factory and let those short-legged folks find a way to move their seats forward?

Just an update to the search. I ended up buying a used CD Sirocco that I got a good deal on semi-locally and picked it up Tuesday night. I got it out for a while last night and I think it will be a good boat for me. It’s a little wider then what I was looking for and maybe a little high volume but I fit in it better then I thought I would and enjoyed paddling it around last night. It was flat calm conditions though so it wasn’t much of a test; though it was gorgeous weather to be on the water in.

I figured even if it doesn’t end up working out for me it will help me develop some skills and give me a better idea of what I like/dislike in a touring kayak so that I’ll be able to make a little more informed decision next time. I also shouldn’t lose much if any if I decide to resell it so it seemed like a winner of an idea.

Thanks again for the advice,


oh yeah…
… in the original post I mentioned I was in the market for 2 kayaks. A couple weekends ago I went camping in northern Minnesota for a few days and on the way up I stopped in Crosby, MN to buy myself a nice new CD Kestrel in TCS.

Been very happy with it and it will make a great little boat for poking around.