Buying a Versatile Kayak
July 19, 2007 12:18 PM   Subscribe

Can anyone suggest a kayak that's light, sturdy, AND handles decently in lakes, whitewater, and ocean?

I mostly have kayaked rivers and streams, but just moved to western CT, where there's not much of that. Most local kayaking is on ocean, which I've never done. I'm not thrilled with the idea of battling big waves, but there are local clubs for this, so I'll join and try to acquire a taste for it.

The problem is that sea kayaks should be longer and heavier, e.g. fiberglass. But fiberglass kayaks get badly dinged up as they scrape over rocks in the sorts of streams I like to paddle....and plastic kayaks (sturdier for streams) handle like crap on the sea.

Also, I'm going to be loading the kayak by myself onto my car's roof rack, and if doing this is a major ordeal, I'm not going to want to kayak much!

So is there anything fairly light, farily rock-scrape-resistent, and yet decent enough handling that it could imaginably be used in the ocean? I don't mind paying extra to get this rare combination of qualities.

Also, I'm not real least not yet. So I wouldn't mind buying a more specialized kayak later if I really get into sea kayaking.
posted by jimmyjimjim to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (18 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Why not a sit-on-top like a long Tarpon, or a small sit-inside like a Pungo? Those would be my top two picks. The Tarpon's versatile, and the Pungo's fast.
posted by atchafalaya at 12:59 PM on July 19, 2007

I owned a Wilderness Systems fiber-glass sea kayak, and it was great to me. I can't recommend that company enough.

I don't think you're going to find something that will work in white-water and lake/ocean. That's why they make different types.

My advice to you is this: buy a smaller kayak that will be good in white-water/streams. Don't by a sea kayak. As you point out, they're heavy and a pain in the butt to load and unload by yourself. The reason I sold my sea kayak is because everywhere I went, there was someone renting kayaks when I got there. Since good sea kayaks are $2000 and up, it just isn't worth the cost. Join a club that gives you access to shared kayaks.

If you do decide to buy a sea kayak, I highly recommend buying a used one. They hold their value and if you negotiate well, you might even come out ahead. I got mine used for $1300 and sold it on craigslist two years later for $1500.
posted by jeffamaphone at 1:21 PM on July 19, 2007

The do make "touring" kayaks which are a sort of hybrid thingamajigger. The inherent problem is you are not going to get something that handles great in either situation, but will have something that can handle ok in both. They also are not really designed for extended trips despite the "touring" name. Unless there are extenuating circumstances you should be able to load any single cockpit kayak on your car by yourself.
I've a Sirocco from Current Designs that I've been very happy with for sea kayaking/big lakes, and a cheap ass Old Town boat I use for mild whitewater/river/small lake jaunts.

Honestly, the best thing to do is hunt around for kayak demos and try out a bunch of stuff. To me, and many other people, how you fit inside can be a very personal taste and dependant on body size, weight, stability etc you could end up with any number of options.

Yeah what jeffamaphone said. Look at used boats. I got my Sirocco for 1/2 of what it costs new for a 1 year old model, had some sand scratches on the bottom.
posted by edgeways at 1:58 PM on July 19, 2007

It's not just hull materials and weights that makes the difference; it's shape. River kayaks have a round bottom so you can roll them around with your hips; sea kayaks have a distinct keel so they'll track a straighter line. Trouble with compromise shapes is that the maneuverability is going to degrade before the keel advantage really kicks in, and then you've got the worst of both worlds.

As to the loading problem, Hully rollers help enormously. Their schtick says you can load and unload just about any size of kayak single-handed ... and it's pretty much true. I can get a two-seater sea kayak on and off of a minivan myself with 'em, and I am pretty much the King of Scrawny Ectomorphs.
posted by eritain at 3:29 PM on July 19, 2007

My husband says dagger crossover. Good up to class 3 rapids and any open water.
posted by monicaabc at 4:16 PM on July 19, 2007

Pygmy Boat Kayak Kits might be your ticket! I've been meaning to build this model for a while now. It's a smaller model, but so am I :-) and my townhouse's one-car garage can't handle anything larger anyway.
posted by Araucaria at 4:17 PM on July 19, 2007

Our last kayak was a Manitou by Necky. Excellent stability and speed in the environments you describe.

Necky got excellent exposure during the All-Star game. Just about every kayak on TV was one of theirs.
posted by megatherium at 6:01 PM on July 19, 2007

If you're not doing mega long trips in open water you don't need a full-on sea kayak. Look for something called a "hybrid" or "day/ light touring". These are typically designed to handle coastal water, lakes and up to Class II-III whitewater and run around 12-14' depending on the design. has some good advice and reviews (check the age of the review tho).

When I demoed a bunch of these baots last year my favourites were the Wilderness System Tsunami, which comes in 6 sizes, and the Hurricane models. The Hurricane kayaks are made of some kind of plastic that weighs very little but is very strong. They are pretty cool.

Basically get the shortest, lightest boat you can for what you plan to do. If you have no sea kayaking experience then off-shore trips with folks in 19' glass boats are not in your immediate future anyway and a small boat is just as good for paddling around in bays. You DO want a seaworthy craft though: good secondary stability, chined hull, twin bulkheads, attachment point for a skeg or rudder etc but there's no reason you can't go down the river in that too. A flat bottomed rec boat like a Pungo is entirely unsuitable for ocean kayaking, our club won't even let you come on trips in them.
posted by fshgrl at 6:17 PM on July 19, 2007

Necky's are good too. I've rented plenty of them.

What edgeways says about the hull shape is quite important too.
posted by jeffamaphone at 8:14 PM on July 19, 2007

I saw a couple of Dagger boats on a rack today with what looked to be after market skegs/rudders fitted. Might be a compromise that works for you?
posted by arcticseal at 9:00 PM on July 19, 2007

Response by poster: Wow.....lots of very contradictory replies. I'm not really competent enough to sort out what's right.....

Thanks, though...lots of info.....
posted by jimmyjimjim at 8:05 AM on July 20, 2007

You're not going to find a kayak that's good at everything. You can find something that will work for lake boating and ocean boating, but whitewater kayaking is a completely different beast. You won't have any fun in class III water in a dagger crossover. It may work, but it won't be fun. If you really want to run whitewater, get a whitewater boat (which can be a lot of fun to surf in the ocean, if that's your bag).
posted by craven_morhead at 8:27 AM on July 20, 2007

I agree with what Craven said - a hybrid is fine for a downriver trip with smaller rapids and the occasional Class III but not good for continuous whitewater. People do it but I don't know why.

I have a whitewater boat and a hybrid. I doubt I'll ever buy a full on sea kayak because it's such a specalized beast. When I need one I just rent from the local store.
posted by fshgrl at 8:54 AM on July 20, 2007

Response by poster: Ok, lots of research considering these two, both under 50 pounds:

Necky Manitou 14.......
(reviews), very versatile and well recommended, but not real comfortable and can't roll in whitewater (no thigh braces...though, wait, you can add on aftermarket braces)

Wilderness Tsunami 145 duralite ..........(reviews), which is sluggish and not very maneuverable, but is reported to do lots of things reasonably well - and is real comfortable (especially seat).

I found this great tutorial on buying kayaks (slanted more toward open water kayaking, though)
posted by jimmyjimjim at 9:22 AM on July 20, 2007

Response by poster: also:
Dagger Catalyst

monicaabc. Dagger Crossover is no longer made

fshgrl, I'm slowly decoding this, thanks for the info: "You DO want a seaworthy craft though: good secondary stability, chined hull, twin bulkheads, attachment point for a skeg or rudder etc but there's no reason you can't go down the river in that too. "
posted by jimmyjimjim at 9:35 AM on July 20, 2007

Do note that the Arctic Tern 14' Pygmy kayak I referenced above is less than $1000 (due to your labor and time in constructing it) and 32 lbs. More for open water though ...
posted by Araucaria at 10:03 AM on July 20, 2007

yeah sorry: good secondary stability just means that it won't flip over unexpectedly when a wave hits you (instead it will roll them stabilise on it's side) chined hull means not a flat bottomed boat (and is related to secondary stability, the "chines" are like little ridges that help to pevent the kayak from rolling evenly like a log would.) Twin bulkheads are a Very Good Thing imho, lots of people out there with only a single bulkhead but if you fall out in the ocean and your boat gets 100lbs of water in it it will suck I can't roll a big kayak reliably so it's a biggie for me, if you're good at rolling and won't have to bail out when you tip over then it's a different deal. Rudders and skegs are a personal decision: most open water kayakers want one or the other especially in a plastic boat.

Your best bet is to go to a demo day or join a club and ask to paddle other people's boats. Things like stability and handling are COMPLETELY tied to your weight and how you fit in the boat and it's nearly impossible to get a good comparison from reviews typed by different paddlers.
posted by fshgrl at 4:55 PM on July 20, 2007

I love my Pungo, as recommended upthread. I take it everywhere from gently breaking waves on the ocean, up into harbors and bays, and into headwater streams and brooks. It's comfortable, and I even do research out of it.

That said, I wouldn't trust it in whitewater...
posted by nekton at 6:53 PM on July 20, 2007

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