Can you recommend a kayak for some Outer Banks paddling?

I live near North Carolina's Outer Banks and want to purchase a kayak for island hopping. What boat would you recommend for a beginner paddler? Jie Beaufort, North Carolina

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Lots of boats would suit you, I think. Basically, what you’re after is a smallish touring boat—one that can handle day trips from island to island, and perhaps an overnighter should you choose to go that route (and I expect you will). The big decision will be whether to get a roto-molded boat (think plastic, although it’s a tough, durable material used in kayaks) or fiberglass. Molded boats sell for under $1,000, fiberglass ones for $2,000 and up. Fiberglass, though, weighs less and deforms less in the sun. In the water both materials behave similarly. Some kayak makers sell pairs of identical boats, one roto-molded, the other fiberglass.

A classic light-touring boat is the Wilderness Systems Cape Lookout 145. It’s got storage room fore and aft for your gear, a very stable hull design that tracks well, and a profile that allows for a fair amount of speed. It’s a roto-molded boat that sells for $849 without rudder, $999 with ( Dagger’s Charleston 14.0 is a similar boat; roto-molded for affordability, with a compact design that’s easy to paddle and can handle enough gear for a few days out. It’s $850 and, like the Lookout, a good buy (

If you want to upgrade to a fiberglass boat, then Perception’s Shadow 14.5 is a helluva boat, incorporating carbon fiber for even less weight. Of course, that means you’ll pay $2,800 ( But, like the Cape Lookout and Charleston, the Shadow 14.5 is a compact boat, one often better suited for female paddlers, plus it’s ideal for maneuverability in coastal waters.

Kayaks are a lot like boots and packs—fit means a lot. So I don’t recommend you simply dash out and buy a boat. Try to find several boats, perhaps renting some so you can have an extended session. Figure out what seems to fit best for you in terms of where your hips and knees slot in, and also how comfortable the boat is. This more measured approach should help you settle on a boat that’s right for you.