3 Things You Need to Know When Shopping for a Kayak

On a sunny summer day, do you:

  • Find yourself daydreaming out your office window about paddling on clear blue waters?
  • Look longingly at the colorful kayaks strapped to peoples’ cars as they head off for an adventure?
  • Surfing the internet looking at photos of other people kayaking in stunning locations?
  • All of the above?

If you responded to any of these answers, maybe it’s time for you to purchase a kayak of your very own?

Shopping for a new kayak can be overwhelming. But you don’t have to be an expert paddler to find the right kayak that will give you years of enjoyment. Here are three things for you to consider.

1.) Sit-On-Top or Sit-In Kayak

Before you start shopping around, you need to determine if you want a sit-in or a sit-on-top kayak. Both styles have pros and cons, depending on what you are using it for.

Sit-On-Top Kayak

Pros: Sit-on-tops are a great option if the kayak is being used by a wide variety of people and abilities. The wide width makes them stable – so much so, that many fisherman have sit-on-top kayaks where they can stand and fish. Since there is no hull for water to enter, sit-on-top kayaks are self-rescuing. They can also be used as a swim platform on hot days. This is a great option if you have kids using the kayak.

Cons: Sit-on-tops are not known for their performance. They are wider and clunkier than a sit-in kayak, and are also much heavier. You have a shorter season with sit-on-tops, as the user gets wet.

Sit-In Kayak

Pros: If you are looking for ease of paddling and a smooth excursion, a sit-in kayak is for you. They are lighter for their length than a sit-on-top. Its low center of gravity and positive flotation (the kayak is lighter than the water it displaces) make sit-ins more maneuverable than sit-on-tops. Because you are sitting inside the kayak, you have a longer season of paddling.

Cons: If your kayak tips, it will fill with water. Self-rescue is harder as you have to empty out the water and climb back into the boat.


2.) Price

Once you determine which type of kayak best fits your needs, you can start looking at price. With kayaks, you get what you pay for. Many discount retailers are selling kayaks at very affordable prices, but you are giving up both performance and safety. Many inexpensive kayaks lack hull integrity – meaning they are missing what keeps more expensive kayaks safe – the bulkhead – floatation material installed in the front and back of the kayak that keeps water from filling the hull if the boat tips over. Too many people have lost their kayaks because they sunk to the bottom after filling up with water. Look for a kayak with at least a rear bulkhead. Ideally you want a kayak with two bulkheads – one in the front and one in the back – which means less water fills the cockpit making the kayak easier to right.

Brand names are important – we carry Wilderness, Perception, and Dagger – to name a few. As you go up in the price scale you get more comfort, with better adjustable seating and foot pedals. You also get better rigging that serves for both function and safety.


3.) Recreational, Light Touring, or Touring?

Kayaks fall into three categories – recreational, light touring and touring. How you use the kayak and your ability will determine which category you should be exploring.


Length: 10’-12’

If you’re looking to take short paddles in good weather, recreational is the perfect kayak for you. This category is the most stable and encompasses sit-ins and sit-on-top kayaks. Look for front and back hatches – the sign of a double bulkhead.

Light Touring

Length: 12’, 14’, 16’

The longer length of light touring kayaks means they paddle faster and straighter than their recreational cousins. Light touring kayaks do have a rock or tippiness – but there is a stopping point. A 12’ light touring is perfect for small lakes and rivers. We found a 14’ light touring kayak is perfect for Door County waters. If you are looking to go kayak camping, a 16’ light touring kayak will give you plenty of storage and will get you further, faster. However, the longer the kayak, the harder it is to turn.

As you are upgrading to a light touring kayak, consider your:

  • Storage – does it fit in my garage?
  • Ability to transport it – can I put it on top of my car or can I pull a trailer?
  • Weight – can I carry it alone or do I need help?


Length: 16’ -18’

One of our owners, Rick Wylie, stated sitting in a touring kayak is like being on a bike. If you are stationary, you will tip. If you are moving, you are fine. Touring kayaks are great for camping and long distances. They are fast and can handle waves and choppy water.

We hope these tips help make your kayak shopping easier. If you’re in Door County, feel free to stop in our Sturgeon Bay store or Sister Bay store and ask questions. On Saturday, June 22, 2019 we will be holding Paddlefest at Sister Bay Beach from 9:30 a.m.-1:00 p.m. Test drive all our kayaks, and feel the difference between a recreational sit-on-top, recreational sit-in, light touring and touring kayak. Our experts will be available to answer questions and help you find the right boat for you.