How To Choose A Recreational Kayak

The Bottom Line Decide for yourself just how you intend to use your new boat, and choose the one that will best fullfill your needs.

Kayaks and canoes come in many different styles. Since most people want only one paddleboat, some thought is required before you decide on your purchase.

What’s your pleasure?

First you must decide just how you will use the craft. Will it be on lakes, smooth rivers, white water rivers, narrow winding streams, the ocean? Will you use it for family outings, downriver racing, slalom racing, day trips, overnight camping trips, fishing, water polo? What things will you want to carry with you? Camping equipment, camera equipment, extra clothing, pets?

A lot of gear can be stowed in kayaks, but it must be secured in small bags that can be fitted into the ends of the boat. A canoe can have gear piled up high. If you bring children along, a canoe is your best choice, unless they are old enough to paddle their own kayaks. I have seen many dogs riding in kayaks, but I can’t recall too many children as passengers. One child can ride in the center of a double kayak, but there is not much room to move about, and having a passenger will rule out using a spray cover to keep out water from waves or weather.

A single kayak is just that. Room for only one person and perhaps a small dog. Our dogs loved boating with us, even if they occasionally had to remain under a kayak’s spray deck.

Stability vs Maneuverability

Some kayaks and canoes are tippier than others. They are round on the bottom and meant for slalom racing and quick maneuverability. On the other hand, once a kayak has overturned, an Eskimo kayak roll to right the boat is easy with a round bottomed kayak, but much more difficult with a touring style flat bottomed kayak. If you are planning to carry much gear with you, a flat bottomed craft is more practical.

How much weight are you willing to paddle and carry?

The weight of the boat is something to consider. A heavy boat is sturdier and will withstand a certain amount of abuse, but remember, unless you have a boathouse on a lake, that boat will have to be carried to the water, perhaps down and, later, up steep banks of a river, and lifted onto your car carrier. And don’t forget, if you are taking a trip in the northern lakes country, there might be portages, where the boat and its contents may have to be carried a considerable distance.

On the other hand, if a boat is too light and fragile, it will not stand a chance going down white water rapids. I have seen many a boat destroyed in a rapids, but I still remember (and have a movie of) a heavy fiberglass canoe going sideways down a quarter-mile long rapids, hitting each rock in turn, and coming out unscathed. There were two burly guys manning the paddles. They were beginners, but learning fast.

Where will you store it?

Over the years, I have owned a number of kayaks, and I did have my favorites. At one point in time, my husband and I had three kayaks, one canoe, and an eight-man rubber raft. We had to rent a garage in which to store them.

Store it in your closet.

Our first kayak was a Klepper Aerius, a 2-person foldboat, purchased in 1952. It was a sturdy craft, easy to assemble on the river bank, and we could store it in a closet. We had sails for it, but it was an ungainly sailboat, difficult to maneuver. This was also true on swift-flowing rivers. Because of its length, it was difficult to turn quickly to avoid rocks and other obstacles. On smooth water, it was great. It could hold a lot of camping gear and was very stable.

On our first extended trip in this kayak, we took a leisurely five-day paddle down the Suwanee River in Florida, camping on the river bank. I don’t know if I would do that today, knowing more about the insects and wildlife in Florida. We took Susie, our six-pound Chihuahua, along on that trip, not realizing that Susie would be a tasty snack for an alligator. Fortunately, she escaped that fate, although we saw several alligators along the river.

The Klepper Aerius is still sold today. The double sells for $3,391, and the single is $2,691. Sails and other accessories are extra. I would recommend a Klepper Aerius if you are not planning to do much white water paddling. It is best on lakes and slower streams. It is a very reliable craft. In 1956, Dr. Hannes Lindemann paddled a Klepper Aerius across the Atlantic Ocean. (Dr. Lindemann wrote a book about his historic 72 day voyage, “Alone at Sea.”)

Do-it-yourself boat construction.

We next decided to fabricate our own fiberglass single slalom kayaks. I don’t recommend this. We constructed a plaster mold, and then applied fiberglass and resin to the outside, sanding each layer as we went. I really don’t recommend this. Talk about itching, and fiberglass fragments in your clothing and hair. Aaugh!!! Then, on the last day of our construction project, as dusk approached, when the last coat of resin was applied, a swarm of moths were attracted to our light, and they landed on the sticky resin and became part of the infrastructure of our kayak. The effect was a sort of collage. We could have probably sold the kayak as artwork. After the insects were sanded off, the kayak looked better, but I am afraid our design was not too great. We made sure that the second kayak was built in the daylight. We used those kayaks for several years, although one of them broke in half on the Selway River in Idaho.

Got muscles? This might be your choice.

My husband replaced this wreckage with a fiberglass Klepper downriver kayak. Although it was a beautiful craft, I didn’t like this kayak at all and never paddled it except to try it out when we first got it. It was too heavy and difficult to maneuver. However, it was meant for downriver racing, and it was perfect for that. My husband happily paddled this kayak for several years.

Ooo la la, French design!

I eventually tired of my homemade fiberglass kayak, so I purchased a Chauveau single folding touring kayak, made in France. This was a wonderful sturdy kayak, easy to paddle, but much more difficult to assemble than the Klepper had been. It was more tightly constructed because it was meant for white water paddling. This kayak was easy to maneuver, weighed only about 40 pounds, and I could carry it myself. I used this kayak for thirty years. Good investment. I don’t think these are made today. At least, I couldn’t find them on the internet. Too bad.

The classic canoe.

We traded our Klepper Aerius for an Old Town canvas canoe. I loved that canoe. It was so easy to paddle. It just glided across the surface of the water with hardly any effort, and I could indulge myself in paddle-dipping without being caught. (Paddle-dipping is when the person in the front of the canoe or kayak just puts her paddle in the water and does not actually apply any effort to propelling the boat. Many of the wives in our canoe club secretly indulged in this. They said it kind of made up for being dragged out to the river on cold, wet Saturday mornings.) The Old Town, being a canvas and wood canoe, was not suitable for white water rapids, but, just as with the Klepper Aerius, it was ideal for lakes and smooth flowing rivers. It also gave our dogs a lot more room to supervise our paddling. I heartily endorse Old Town canvas canoes.

Want to recycle aluminum?

Although I never owned an aluminum canoe, many of my friends did, and these canoes were very rugged and reliable. In my canoe club, the Grumman canoe was very popular. Paddlers used to drag their aluminum canoes up on the gravelly shore at the end of a trip. Our boats would not survive that treatment. These canoes withstood a lot of abuse. However, I did see one aluminum canoe turned into a letter “Z” on the Wolf River in Wisconsin.

There are a lot of different kayaks and canoes out there: fiberglass, aluminum, wood, wood and canvas, even birch bark. Check them out, try them out, if possible, and make a selection that will be perfect for you.

Bon voyage, and happy paddling.

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