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How to Choose the Right Recreational Kayak For You!

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Choose the right kayak

Choosing a kayak is no easy feat.   It’s a big purchase, and picking the wrong kayak for your needs can put a damper on what should be a great experience.  So, how do you know which kayak is right for you?  That will depend on a variety of factors and personal choices.  Luckily we are here to help!  Below we’ll explain a few things to think about when browsing the saturated kayak market that will help you find the perfect kayak and help you fall in love with the sport!

First, you will need to decide what style of kayak you want.  Do you want a sit-inside or a sit-on-top?  To make this decision, you’ll want to take a few things into consideration.

1.      What type of weather or climate will you be paddling in?

2.      Are you comfortable having your legs enclosed or not?

3.      How wet do you want to get?

Generally, those who will be paddling in chilly water or a climate that is relatively cold will choose a sit-inside kayak.  Why?  This style of kayak is designed for you to actually sit inside of it.  This means your center of gravity is inside the side walls of the kayak and your legs are under the deck.  This keeps splashing to a minimum and, with the addition of a kayak skirt, can keep your legs fairly warm and dry.  The flip side to this is if you do tip yourself over, you will be very wet and will need to swim your kayak to shore and drain it out.  This isn’t a common problem, but it does exist.  You can also get kayaks that are extremely stable to lower your chances of tipping over (we’ll get to that in a little bit).  Warm weather paddlers often like the sit-on-tops because it is easier to get in and out.  You can hop out for a swim and then pull yourself back up.  If you flip over, you can crawl back in without swimming to shore.  However, in cold water, you will get wet, so keep that in mind as well.

Our second consideration will address how comfortable you are having your legs under the deck.  This will come down to personal comfort.  The sit-inside kayak is just as safe as the sit-on-top, but some people do not like to have their legs enclosed.  A common fear is being stuck upside down in the kayak. Fear not, you will not be stuck upside down!  When the kayak flips over, the paddler will just float out. It will not hold you or keep you underwater.  Visit your local rental establishment and try one out, see how you like it, and go from there.

Last but not least, do you like being soaking wet?  If you are on a sit-on-top kayak, you have a higher chance of being wet during your paddle.  If you hit waves, the splash will come up and land right on you!  This is great if you are a warm-blooded, splash-loving paddler. But if you tend to get chilly and don’t want to be wet, you might want to consider a sit-inside kayak.


Kayak designs include a few different attributes.  Length and width will be important as well as the actual hull design of the kayak.  What’s a Hull? The Hull is the main body of the kayak.  Take off all those features; hatches, ropes, bungees, screws, hooks, and all you’re left with is your polyethylene (plastic) hull.  Hull design aside, a long skinny kayak will be great for speed and tracking but will be a little less stable and maneuverable.  A short and wide kayak will be very stable and maneuverable but will not track as well and be a bit slower. Now to add in the hull design.  Flat bottom kayaks will be very stable but slower.  Kayaks with a V-shaped hull will be faster than a flat bottom but are generally not as stable.  These V-shaped hulls are considered a bit more advanced.  There is also a combination or partial V-hull.  These kayaks are a good blend of the two and are considered to be average at both speed and stability. 

While this does get a bit technical, just keep the basics in mind.  If you want a little bit of both, look for a mid-sized kayak with a semi-V hull/combination hull and you’ll get the best of both worlds! 


The final element in choosing a kayak is desired use.  Where are you going to use your kayak?  Will you be traversing through lakes or will you be using it in a variety of water settings?  Where you will be using your kayak should be considered when deciding on what to purchase.  If you plan on using your kayak in larger lakes and open waterways, you should consider a longer, narrower kayak.  Similarly, if you will be traveling a longer distance or are interested in fitness, you will also want a longer, narrower kayak with a more advanced hull design.  If you plan on using your kayak in slow moving, narrow water ways like rivers and small ponds, or you just want to leisurely paddle around, you would want to consider a shorter, wider kayak.  Narrow rivers and smaller bodies of water often have currents or require more maneuvering.  Having a shorter, wider kayak will make handling currents and moving around obstacles much easier than a long narrow boat that turns slowly.  

Ocean paddling is in a league of its own.  While a variety of kayaks can be paddled in the ocean, recreational kayaks (like those that Lifetime makes) are not specifically designed for long ocean paddles or intense surf.   If you do plan to do some ocean paddling, longer kayaks are better at slicing through the choppy waters and getting up and over ripples.  Shorter kayaks will be a bit slow going but can be fun if you just want to play around casually. 

If you are unsure what you will be doing with your new kayak, that is okay!  Kayaks that are around 10 feet and have a semi-V hull (like the Lifetime Tamarack) will be perfect for a variety of water conditions and settings.  These style kayaks are usually a sure bet if you aren’t 100% sure what you will be doing.

Keep in mind that even though longer, narrow kayaks are generally a little less stable than shorter, wider kayaks, they are by no means unstable.  All Lifetime kayaks are recreational kayaks, which means they are designed for stability and safety, even if they have a longer and narrower profile.

Finally, always remember to keep transport in mind.  You might really want that 14 foot kayak but think about how you will be getting it to and from the water and how you will be storing it.  Will you be paddling alone or will you have someone to help you carry it?  Do you have a roof rack or are you planning to put the kayak in your van?  This step is easily forgotten but is very important, so always consider transport before making your decision.

No matter which style of kayak you choose , you're sure to have a great time!

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