How to Choose a Kayak

Choosing the right kayak that will best suit your needs will require you to ask yourself a few questions.

There are several different types of kayaks to choose from. The questions you will need to ask yourself when buying an inflatable kayak are not that different from when buying a hard-shell kayak.

5 Questions to Ask

1. What type of water will you kayak on?

This is the best starting point. The type of water you plan to paddle on most will determine the type of kayak you need. Although it is possible to get a boat that paddles well on several types of water, the majority of them will cater to one specific type.

For example, will you paddle mostly on flat-water lakes, calm rivers, whitewater rapids, ocean bays, or open water sea kayaking? Knowing which type of water you will predominantly be on will determine what category to begin your search.

2. Will you paddle solo or tandem or like the option of doing both?

There are solo, tandem, convertible and family sized inflatable kayaks to choose from.

The solo models tend to be shorter, lighter and easier for one person to transport. The tandem models will seat two people and typically have more room for gear. The convertibles offer the convenience of moving the seats around to suit one or two people. The family sized models provide far more space for kids, dogs, and gear.

There is truly a choice to suit every persons needs and the lighter materials that are being used these days in the construction of the kayaks means that you don’t always have to be burdened with a really heavy boat if you want a bigger size.

3. Will you be doing day trips or long hauls?

Determining how long your paddle trips will be will help to figure out how much weight you need the kayak to hold as well as how much storage space is necessary.

Those who want to do longer hauls may need more storage space and a higher weight capacity. However those who plan to do shorter day trips may not need the extra space or weight.

Think about how much gear you will need to bring with you as well as if you plan to do any fishing, camping or even bring your dog along with you for the ride. All these considerations will factor into the type of model you choose.

4. What is your skill level?

Inflatable kayaks can differ greatly in performance. In general inflatables tend to be extremely stable and therefore are ideal for beginner to novice kayakers. However there are definitely models that are geared for the experienced paddler as well.

Your skill level will determine how much stability you want, how responsive you would like the kayak to be as well as how much you are likely willing to spend.

If you are a beginner but plan to make kayaking a regular part of your life then I would suggest looking at a model that provides stability but still paddles quite well. Some of the real cheaper models are easy to grow out of pretty fast.

5. Do you plan to travel with your inflatable kayak?

If you plan to travel with your kayak then weight will be one of the most important factors to consider. The lighter the model the easier it will be to bring with you anywhere.

A good number of IK’s are easily light enough to check on an airplane without having to pay any extra fees. Some are so light that they can be carried in a backpack. Sometimes you have to compromise size in order to get a really lightweight model. Take that into consideration as you are doing your research.

If you can answer these five questions then you will be able to narrow down your search results and zone in on the models best suited for your needs.

When doing your research look at the size, weight, load capacity, warranty and of course the price.

Check out our detailed comparison charts. They are a great reference for easily comparing the important specs of the different inflatable kayak models.

Comments

  1. Consuelo says:

    I need advice there are so many inflatable kayaks that I am finding difficult to make a choice.
    I am 65 yrs old, in fairly good shape. My condo is right on a man made lake, is not too big, and
    deepest will be like 14 feet, and I know how to swim, at times might be windy, but is not that that bad.
    I live on a condo, so space and storage are my restrictions, mainly when it comes to storate for the winter time. Weight want something not that heavy as I will have to carry the kayak from my condo to the lake
    which is about 1 block. Price willing to spend up to $500.00. I heard that inflatable kayaks
    could make you feel cold as your protection as to water temperature is not as good as a
    non inflatable kayak. The lake has no deck, so I will be get in and getting out of the kayak
    from shore, where there is some gravel. Also I heard that after each use you will need to
    drain the water that accumulate inside the kayak, the only place I can think will be for me
    to use will be the condo balcony. During spring an summer I will just keep the kayak inflated
    and place in on my hall.
    Will appreciate any feedback, retiring at the end of the month, and I want to enjoy the lake.

    • Hi Consuelo, There are a few I would recommend that would suit your needs. The Innova Twist is a great little kayak. It’s not very big (8’7″) but it only weighs 16 lbs. and is good quality. I also really like the Infinity Orbit. I had this one myself for awhile. It is 8′ long and weighs only 19 lbs. It’s not the fastest kayak but it is a lot of fun to paddle and ideal for lakes. Both those models are under $500 and easy to carry. For a slightly longer kayak the weight goes up by roughly 10 lbs. The Advanced Elements Sport or the Sea Eagle 330 are two others that would work well for your needs… however both of those are around the 26 lbs. range so a little heavier for carrying the block down the road… but they will track and perform a little better than the first two mentioned.

      It’s true that an inflatable kayak doesn’t offer the same protection from the elements as a closed-in hard-shell kayak. However I’ve never really felt any colder using them especially in the Spring and Summer. As far as emptying out the water, I normally just dump out any water that has gathered inside on the beach/gravel, then a quick towel dry when you get home is all you need to do. Hope that helps. Congrats on your retirement, I hope you get to really enjoy the lake!

  2. Consuelo says:

    Allison thanks so much for your response to my e-mail, re inflatable kayaks.
    I like the innova kayak that weights 10lbs.. Can you tell me why the other
    kayaks the weight goes up almost 20 lbs., is that because of a heavier materials?.
    If possible would like your opinion on two other kayaks I have been looking, mainly because
    there is a store that have them in stock, which means I do not have to order directly from
    a store on the web, then if it doesn’t work, etc., I have to arrange for mainling it back etc., which
    makes a difference if I buy one that the store is close to me., but not necessarily this is a must
    choice for me.
    The two other ones I have been looking are: scout advanced frame inflatable kayak, this one the
    reviews are good, though weight is 32lbs. The other one is Scamper I, inflatable kayak, some of the
    reviews says that the front end of the kayak tends to be elevated. I weight 175 lbs and also would
    like to know for my weight if I should go with an specific type, and avoid the front of the kayak to
    elevate.
    Thank you.

    • Innova uses a certain type of material that is very lightweight but strong. The Twist is also quite small and basic which keeps the weight down. The other kayaks are using a different type of material and are bigger resulting in the heavier weight. The AE Scout is basically the same as the AE Sport and the AE Scamper is essentially the same as the AE Lagoon. Both good entry level kayaks, both would suit your needs. I wouldn’t worry about the front end being slightly elevated. I don’t think it will be an issue for you. If you really find it elevated too much, you can always add a bit of weight to the front of the kayak. Although the heavier weight can make it a little harder to carry it’s not such a bad thing in the water as it provides a bit more stability in winds.

  3. James Bebee says:

    My wife and I have a condo in florida and were considering a tandem kayak. Since storage space is a real concern I thought an inflatable could be a viable option. I’m just concerned about durability when encountering barnacles or other sharp shells in ocean waters. I can just picture the kayak being sliced stem to stern and us having to swim home. Can you comment on this and make recommendations . Weight is also a concern as my back isn’t so great anymore. Thanks, Jim

    • A good inflatable kayak is quite tough. It can handle a fair amount of abuse with little more than a few scratches. Tears or rips are rare but they can happen. The kayak has three separate air chambers which makes them practically unsinkable. If a leak occurs in one area, the other two air chambers will keep you afloat and easily get you back to shore. Each kayak comes with a repair kit so if you did get a tear you can easily patch it. In the five or six years that I’ve been paddling inflatable kayaks I have never once had a leak. I’ve paddled in all types of water in all types of conditions and there’s never been an issue. So the best advice I can give is to be conscious of not dragging it over really sharp objects but it’s designed to be able to withstand bumping up against all kinds of debris. Take a look at the Sea Eagle kayaks, Innova, NRS or Aire… all are known to be tough, well made and fairly light weight. Hope that helps!

  4. Allison, Thank you for the great site and for taking the time to answer everyone’s questions. My family is boatless for the first time in memory, and I need to rectify that! But despite all my reading, or because of it, I’m overwhelmed. We had a gorgeous canoe that seldom got used. ( It was bark with a fiberglass coating, and though it was light, it was way too heavy for me to move and even challenging with help because it was delicate.) I much prefer something I can easily transport on my own, and I actually prefer kayaking to canoeing. Plus, my daughters are growing (7 & 10 years old), and they are now adept at using the hard shell kayaks at the house we rent on a lake in NH every year. I’d prefer not to have to haul my kids in a coast. In fact, I prefer to go solo when given the choice.

    I’m not sure what the right mix is for our family. My husband seldom joins us, so it’s usually just me (5’1″ woman) and my two girls We live near lakes and slow moving rivers. I don’t see us in rapids. Of course, that could change if we get good. I’ve never boated in the ocean, and it’s a pricey day trip, so I don’t think sea kayaking is where we want to focus. Is there any reason not to start them out with one SE 330? They can go tandem or go solo if the other isn’t around. (I’m sure they’ll want to go solo, but I’m not sure how many boats to invest in off the bat.). I did see a Helios 2 used that I may be able to get. Should I grab that if I can get it?

    And for me? I’ve been looking at the SE300 or the smallest fast track, but I’m not sure if I should just be jumping in at a 330 myself and seeing how much I use it. It’ll drive me nuts to use a lousy boost. I want one that will go where I direct it with decent though not any sort of exceptional speed. I also saw a few Helios 1s, but I’d be looking at driving 5+ hours to pick that up.

    We will only be kayaking during spring-fall during the day. We aren’t overnight people. (We need a duffle for an overnight at a hotel. Lol). Thanks so much!!!

    • Oh, and to add to the mix, I now found a gently used Razorlite for me that would only be two hours of driving. Still quite pricey, but I could swing it. I grew up kayaking daily at two months of overnight camp, but I guess I still count as a beginner because I don’t know what any of the terms mean. Plus, it’s been YEARS since I’ve done more than a few days a summer on borrowed boats.

      • Yes go for the RazorLite! It’s a fabulous kayak and if you have found a slightly used one at a good price, I’d grab it. It’s not quite as stable as many others but I found I got used to it really fast. I’ve had beginners out in mine with no problems. It is a lot of fun to paddle and very portable.

        • The girls’ 330 arrives tomorrow! I’ll have to go out in first to make sure it’s safe. πŸ˜‰

          Re the used RL: Ugh, he wants to keep the bag and patch kit and replace the paddle/pump with ones from another boat (presumably of lower quality). Suddenly my deal isn’t sounding so hot. But that’s for me to to figure out/negotiate…

          My question is that I’d love to consider adding a sailing rig down the line… maybe next summer. (I’ve owned a mini fish… smaller than a Sunfish… Which also got little use because of weight issues. Transporting it even a short distance was hard, but I loved sailing it once I was on the water.) Would you still say go for the RL? Or would I be better off with the FT if I also want to sail it? Or am I going to be disappointed trying to sail a kayak?

          • Hmmm keeping the bag, patch kit and pump does kind of ruin the deal. I’d probably pass on it personally. Not sure how much cheaper they were offering but the nice thing about buying from Sea Eagle is they include a 3-year warranty and 180-day trial… which basically just means if you are unhappy with the kayak at any time within 180 days you can return it for a full refund – as long as it is in good condition. It’s a nice safety net.

            I’m not much of a sailing person so I don’t have much to compare it to, but in my experience sailing a kayak can be a lot of fun. Sea Eagle has a Quick Sail (in the accessory section) that can be added to just about any inflatable kayak, including the FT and the RL. I actually have one being delivered this week or early next week so I can do a full proper review on it. There are more expensive sails out there – Sea Eagle actually carries a really good one called the Boomless Sail Rig but it’s designed for their Paddleski kayak – but the QuickSail is super portable and I know it has been a very popular product.

            It’s a tough choice between the FT and the RL. I paddled the FT solo for years and loved it. It was my favorite kayak for a long time. However the RL is now the one I take out most often. It paddles really well and is easier to carry and set up. However I can’t compare the sailing experience yet. My thoughts are that the FT will be a lot more stable for sailing.

    • Hi Joy, your old canoe sounds absolutely beautiful! For your daughters the SE 330 would be fine. For the price it’s a great deal. It’s solid and durable. It paddles fairly well but just keep in mind that it is a base model and there are others that are far more durable and will perform much better. However it is super popular, I imagine because you get so much for the price. I see them all the time lately when I am out kayaking myself and everyone I know who has one loves it.

      The Tandem Helios is a higher end model and also a great kayak. The only problem with the Helios is that it is harder to paddle solo because you can’t switch the seats around as you can with the SE 330. When paddling solo, the person would have to sit at the back and add a bit of weight up front to balance it out.

      For yourself if you are used to paddling, I think you’d outgrow the SE 330 quickly. It wouldn’t be my personal kayak of choice but as a starter it’s great. I would recommend the FastTrack over the SE 300 as the FT will paddle much better on flat water. If you’d like an even better performing kayak the Sea Eagle 393 RazorLite is awesome. It is lightweight, easy to manage and extremely fun to paddle. It is perfect for lakes and sets up in half the time as most other IK’s I’ve tried. The price difference is about $100 between the FT solo and the 393 RazorLite.

      Hopefully that helps, let me know if you have any other questions.

      • I’ve started to refer to the back of my minivan “The Fleet.” Since I last checked in, my daughters now have a 330 and an 370, and I did go ahead and get that Razorlite. My girls took to the boats immediately. I ended up picking up the second secondhand boat only two days after the first arrived because they were smitten and wanted to go solo. Thank you so much for encouraging me to go with the Razorlite! I love it. It is a fantastic boat. My only challenge is getting it pumped up to a full 10 psi. I think I’m going to need to get an electric pump. It’s just really challenging to get it up the last bit with my foot or my hand pump. I also need to get myself up a paddle that I really like. It’s very easy to keep spending money isn’t it? πŸ˜‰

        • Oh yes, it is definitely easy to keep spending money :)
          I am so glad you like the Razorlite, I really love that kayak. An electric pump definitely makes things easier. I find that the electric pump does the job super fast because the sides of the kayak aren’t actually that big. It took me quite a few years before I invested in a really good paddle, but I have to say now that I have it, I love it. I find a nice paddle makes a big difference in the overall experience and of course your paddling efficiency. So glad everything has worked out. Happy Paddling!!

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