Choosing the Best Kayak For Your Adventures

The most common question I am asked in my line of work is “What type of kayak fits my needs?”. Hopefully this article can shed some light on that subject, by looking at kayak length and hull design.

Now more than ever people are choosing to spend their free time in a kayak, getting close to mother nature and the serenity of the water. Some people may have a bad first experience on the water. This could be because they were not fitted with the correct kayak for their needs. That one bad experience will forever effect the way they feel about kayaks.

The first question I ask kayak shoppers is: Where do you plan on using your kayak the most?

  • Fast moving rivers
  • Slow moving rivers
  • Small lakes
  • Oceans or large lakes

This article is going to go over kayak lengths and hull design and how those factors play a role on the waterways you wish to travel.

Fast Moving Rivers:

Whitewater class I-III, kayaks for this type of water would be between 9 and 11 ft in length. These boats will have a more rounded hull design (more "rocker") that enables them to be highly maneuverable. Most Crossover kayaks can handle up to a class III, but can still be paddled on smaller lakes and slow moving rivers. Notice the drop-skeg in the picture below. Because this type of kayak lacks a prominent keel for tracking, it makes up for it with the drop-skeg.
Click here to see Dagger's Crossover kayaks.

Slow Moving Rivers:

 A recreation kayak between the length of 9 and 12 ft is what you should be looking for here. You should still be looking for a more rounded hull in the bow and a slight "V" shape towards the stern. That little bit of "V" shape (keel) will help keep you from spinning in circles where the current slows. The rounded hull in front, will give you the maneuverability to quickly get around obstacles in a river. A kayak that has a keel in the bow and stern, but still has a wide, rounded center would work well also.
Check out the Twister from Old Town


Ponds, Smaller Lakes: 

An 11 to 14 ft recreation kayak would perform best on small inland lakes, and even very wide, slow rivers. Look for a kayak with a more pronounced keel, and low side profile. The keel will aid in tracking and keeping your kayak straight. The lower side profile will decrease wind interference. If you know where the water line is on a kayak, that will determine how much of the kayak is vulnerable to the wind.
Click here to check out the Pungo 120 from Wilderness Systems


Large Lakes and Open Ocean:

I wouldn't recommend anything shorter than 14 feet in open water. Touring and Expedition type kayaks are generally 14 to 18 ft. Since these kayaks are very narrow, they will feel unstable compared to a typical recreation kayak. Many Touring kayaks will also have a drop-skeg or a rudder to furthermore help with tracking in high wind situations. These kayaks are made for speed and to travel long distances in a straight line. They take a lot more energy to change direction, but they cut through the water with ease.
Click here for more information on the Manitou 14 from Necky Kayaks 


When it comes to kayak performance, the general rules are: what you gain in stability, you lose in speed. And what you gain in maneuverability, you lose in tracking ability. Maneuverability is important when navigating rivers, and tracking is essential to reducing wasted energy by keeping a straight path while paddling open waters.

*Keep in mind your body weight and the surface area of the kayak. Even if the max capacity of the kayak you are interested in is, lets say, 230 lbs. if your weight is close to that, it may be better for you to look at something a little bigger (longer) for stability purposes.