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How do I select a kayak?

When it comes to kayaking, choosing a boat is the most important decision you’ll make. Finding a boat that is comfortable, proportional, and matches the style of paddling you plan to do will lay the foundation for the journeys that lie ahead. All boats are a compromise of design features that give the boat its desired performance characteristics. While it is impossible to have a boat that does everything perfectly, it is possible to find one that has a blend of characteristics that are important to YOU, the paddler.

Three steps to consider when selecting a kayak: paddler, environment, and gear.


Your physical size, condition and aspirations are all going to affect which boat is right for you. Paddlesport lessons from a certified instructor are highly recommended and can help show you the way to more enjoyment and safety. Initially, take time to educate yourself on the terms associated with paddling and the necessary skills and gear that will be needed.


Where are you going to paddle? The type of environment you aspire to paddle will greatly influence the type of boat that will work well. Conditions on the water can change quickly and while many boats are versatile and can be paddled in rough conditions many are limited to relatively calm waters. You should take time to learn about the conditions you’re going to be paddling in so that you can choose a boat with features that are suited to those conditions. You will also want to learn the paddling and rescue skills that suit the style of paddling you plan on doing.


After putting some effort towards learning about YOU and the WATER it’s time to choose some gear. The gear required for a leisurely summer day on a calm pond is going to be quite different from a multi-day trip on the sea or a trip down your local whitewater river. Along with some basic paddling skills, a boat, paddle and PFD (personal floatation device) will get you on that calm pond but a few accessories are going to make that trip safer and more comfortable.

There are four basic categories of kayaks: Whitewater, Recreation, Touring and Sea Kayaks. There are two distinct types of kayaks - traditional sit-inside called "decked” or “S-I-N-K" kayaks, and sit-on-top or “S-O-T“ kayaks Whitewater - typically short (6-10 feet), tighter-fitting cockpits designed to turn very quickly on fast moving rivers and rapids. See other Confluence Watersports companies Dagger and Wave Sport for models geared towards whitewater.

  • Recreational – typically short to moderate length (9-14 feet), wide, very stable, and usually feature large, open cockpits. Designed to track well and turn fairly easily on calm lakes, bays and gentle rivers
  • Touring – Typically moderate length (12-15 feet) and width, include ample storage space, and can often be equipped with a rudder or skeg for directional control. Designed for more challenging conditions and more efficient travel.
  • Sea Kayaks – typically quite long (16 feet or more), fairly narrow, with lots of storage space, designed to move efficiently, track and maneuver well in rough conditions and may be equipped with a rudder or skeg.
  • Sit-on-top – A good choice for those who don’t want to be confined inside the cockpit of a decked kayak. . Sit-on-top kayaks vary in design, depending on its intended purpose. A very stable platform for most conditions. Excellent for fishing.

Your best option is to find a Wilderness Systems retailer and try out some different styles of kayaks. They can help answer many of your questions and help you decide which boat is right for you. Use our Kayak Selector to figure out what kayak might be right for you, then head to our Dealer Locator to help find your nearest dealer.