Kayaks Explained

Ride the tide or hit the holes—the right boat, with the right options, will triple your fun.

Jun 1, 2004
Outside Magazine


 •  When considering length, ask yourself two questions: How many days, and what kind of water? If you're planning on weekends at the lake, a 14-footer with one storage hatch will suffice. But if you'll be in open ocean, or paddling ten days through the Sea of Cortez, you'll want a 16- to 18-foot expedition boat.

 •  Whether you pick a boat made from composite materials (usually fiberglass or Kevlar) or plastic depends on how much you're willing to pay for performance and weight. Composite boats are lighter and faster, but if you're looking for a stable entry into the sport, plastic is an affordable option.

 •  Most plastic boats are rotomolded: Manufacturers pour plastic pellets into a kayak-shaped mold, then apply heat while spinning the whole affair. Though the resulting product is strong, relatively light, and fairly inexpensive, Perception is now using a technique known as thermomolding. This involves heating a sheet of plastic before forming it around a mold, which yields an even lighter craft—with the kind of high-gloss finish you'd find on an acrylic hot tub.

 •  A skeg, built into the hull, helps with tracking (paddling a straight line). A rudder, attached to the back and operated with foot controls, allows easier turns.
 •  If you're a beginner or a less aggressive paddler who wants to run rivers and surf the occasional wave, look for a longer boat (eight to nine feet) with more volume (50 to 60 gallons) than playboats offer.

 •  Design innovations—inflatable hip pads, ratcheting systems to adjust thigh braces and backbands, and footbraces that can be tweaked on the fly—continue to take place inside the kayak.

 •  Are you looking for stability or maneuverability? Generally speaking, the sharper the edges, the tippier the boat. But sharp edges also provide precision and performance when you're carving your way downstream.

 •  Rocker refers to the curvature of the hull, both bow and stern. A high rocker helps a boat turn quickly and prevents the bow from pearling, or diving under the surface.

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