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Choosing a Kayak - Part 1 - Plastic, Fiberglass, or Kevlar

One of the most frequent questions that I get asked is "I'm lookinChoosing a Kayakg to buy a kayak, but i don't know which one should i get?" This is one of those questions that doesn't always have a simple answer.

So, here are some tips to get you started, and to help narrow your search.

  • 1) Plastic, Fiberglass, and Kevlar 

  • 2) Decide what type of paddling you are most likely to do

  • 3) Price range and buying tips 

Part 1: Plastic, Fiberglass, or Kevlar:

This is one of the more simple decisions to make when looking at kayaks. Here is the general idea.

Plastic kayaks cost less, and are more durable. You can drop your plastic kayak off of the car roofrack or drag it up a rocky beach without too much concern.

The downside is that they don't preform as well in the water. They seem to be slower, they don't hold their momentum as well. And, in my mind, they don't look as nice as a fiberglass boat.

Fiberglass kayaks cost more then the same design done in plastic. For a new Expedition kayak your looking at a difference of about $500 -1000.

The benefits are that fiberglass is lighter then plastic, so it's easier if you are going to transport your kayak on your own. They preform much better in the water then a plastic boat will.

Another benefit is that you can always repair them. Once you learn how to work with fiberglass you can fix scratches and patch holes, where as once a plastic kayak gets a hole it's more difficult to make a permanent repair.

The downsides are: They scratch and dent easier, and take more time and effort to maintain. If you actually manage make a dent or hole in it, it has to be patched, and nobody likes working w/ fiberglass.

Kevlar kayaks are very similar to the characteristics of a Fiberglass kayak, but weigh much less. They preform equally well, scratch just as easily, and look just as nice. They have the same downsides, in that they will scratch and need more TLC to keep them maintained.

The major benefit is that they are lighter. For an expedition kayak, a design will be 10-20 lbs. Lights then the fiberglass equivalent.

The major downside is that an expedition kayak will coast about $1000 more then the same design in Fiberglass. What it comes down to is when and how you will use your kayak.

For me, as I usually do long trips with lots of gear with large groups of friends, when you have 100 pounds of gear and another 160 pounds of me, what difference 10-20 pounds of kayak make. But the other side is that if you kayak on your own and have to load you kayak on and off of your car/truck every time, then the difference in weight might be well worth the extra cost.


The one other type of kayaks are Folding Kayaks. There are a few good, Canadian Made Folding Kayaks like: Feathercraft Folding Kayaks, or Track Kayaks. Folding kayaks are good if you have limited storage space, or like to travel to exotic places with you kayak. The downside is that if you use it regularly, it takes about 30 minutes to put it together and take it apart each time you use it.

The best advice I can give, is to get out on the water and try as many different types of kayak as you can before you buy.

Choosing a Kayak - Part 2 - Kayak Styles and Designs

One of the most frequent questions that I get asked is "I'm looking to buy a kayak, but i don't know which one should i get?" This is one of those questions that doesn't always have a simple answer.

So, here are some tips to get you started, and to help narrow your search.

  • 1) Plastic, Fiberglass, or Kevlar

  • 2) Decide what type of paddling you are most likely to do

  • 3) Price range and buying tips  

Part 2: Decide what type of paddling you are likely to do

There are many different types and styles of kayaks. All the different styles of kayak come in Single person, Double, and sometimes even Triples, usually this decision is one of the easiest ones to make.

The hard part is to decide what style you want. Each design is good at a different type of paddling and costs a different amount. There are four main styles of kayak: Recreational, Whitewater, Expedition, and Greenland.

Here is a brief description of each:

Recreational kayaks are the ones you commonly see at resorts and on yachts. They are small, simple, light, easy to paddle, and relatively low-cost. They generally don't have rudders or skegs. If you think that you are only going to do short day trips in calm conditions, or have young kids or grand kids, then a recreational kayak is a good choice. The downside is that a recreational kayak will limit your options. If you like kayaking and decide you want to improve your skills and do longer trips in more varied conditions you will need to upgrade to another style.

Whitewater and River kayaks can be very fun. For ocean surfing or river paddling they work wonderful. They are small, light weight, and cost less then a touring or Greenland style boat. Generally don't come with rudders or skegs. The downside is that they are not as well suited for paddling greater distances, they will be harder to steer, and slower then most other styles. Also, for a beginner going into Whitewater situations can be very dangerous when you are untrained or unprepared.

Expedition or Touring Kayaks are very versatile. They very is design, from easy and safe, to tippy and maneuverable. The average touring kayak will be easy for a beginner to get into and have fun, it will also allow you lots of room to expand you skills and grow as a paddler. Almost always come with a rudder or skeg, to help the kayak track through wind, waves, and current. Once you reach a proficient skill level you can even take one into Whitewater conditions and have some fun surfing. The ability to safely store food and camping gear is also a huge benefit. From a picnic for the day, to: food, water, and gear for a 10-day expedition, it's super easy. The downside is that they can sometimes be heavy for one person to lift on their own, they are generally more expensive then Recreational and Whitewater kayaks, and can eventually limit you skill development if you decide that you want to get into high-level skills and rolls.

Greenland (sometimes called British style) kayaks are very fun and versatile. It is possible to go on expeditions, although there will be less storage space then a touring kayak. They are great for someone who is already a intermediate level paddler and wants to become an expert. In fact, this style of kayak can quickly become addicting when you become familiar with the increased amount of playfulness and maneuverability. These generally come with a skeg, if anything at all, but almost never a rudder. The downsides are that they may be more difficult for a beginner to get started and feel comfortable. Also, the price is usually similar to a expedition kayak, even though there is no rudder and less carrying capacity.

The best advice I can give, is to get out there and try as many different kayaks as you can.

Choosing a Kayak - Part 3 - Price Range and Buying Tips

One of the most frequent questions that I get asked is "I'm looking to buy a kayak, but i don't know which one I should get?" This is one of those questions that doesn't always have a simple answer.

So, here is some info to get you started, and to help narrow your search.

  • 1) Plastic, Fiberglass, and Kevlar

  • 2) Decide what type of paddling you are most likely to do

  • 3) Price range and buying tips

Part 3: Price range and buying tip

Once you settle on a style of kayak, you then need to decide how much you will spend. Prices range depending on the style, age, and material of your kayak.

Some people, may be willing to spends almost any amount to get the new kayak they want. But usually, beginners are more hesitant to drop a lot of money on a sport they are still new at. Buying second hand boat is usually the route new paddlers go.

Checking the local Buy-and-Sell or Craigs List is a good start. If you decided that a Recreational kayak is what you want, then the prices and such that you may be able to get one new one for the same price as a second-hand expedition kayak. If you decide that you want an Expedition or Whitewater kayak and don't want to buy new, a good option is to go to your local kayak rental / tour outfitter and ask if they sell off old stock at the end of their season.

Buying from an outfitter can be a good way to get a cheep kayak. The benefits of this are that if you tell them that you want to buy, they will most likely let you try a few out first for free or at a discounted rental rate, just like test driving a car. One of the downsides may be that a kayak used by a rental shop may have been well-used and in need of some repair. If you know how to do kayak repair, this may not be an issue. But, if you don't, it will be an extra cost in getting you new kayak on the water.

If your a handy person, there is always the option to build a kayak. There are three popular types of do-it-yourself kayaks: Stitch and Glue, Cedar Strip, and Skin on Frame. There are many books available show how to do these,usually along with the designs and a list of materials needed. You can also purchase kits that come with pre-cut materials that you only need to glue/epoxy together. Deciding what style of kayak to build is the same as deciding what style to buy: Whitewater, Expedition, Recreational, or Greenland.

Approximate prices:

Second Hand: Recreational = $100 – 1000, Whitewater = $200 – 1500, Expedition / Greenland = $800 – 2000

New: Recreational = $500 – 2000, Whitewater = $800-3000, Expedition / Greenland = $1800 - 7000

Another Common Question I get asked is "what is your favorite kayak?" It's a hard question for me to answer. My usual answer is:

My favorite Guiding boat is the Telkwa, by Nimbus Kayaks. It has a huge storage volume.   I can fit all my camping gear, along with my professional guiding gear, plus a two-burner propane stove, gas tank, and the pots and pans inside this kayak. For a kayak of this size, it's surprisingly fast and maneuverable.

My favorite Personal Kayak is the Legend, by Seaward Kayaks. It has enough room to do a reasonable expedition paddle, but has some of the Maneuverability of a Greenland style kayak.

My favorite play boat is Romany, by Nigel Dennis Kayaks. This is more of a British or Greenland style kayak. It can be paddle on longer trips, and is very maneuverable, fast, and fun. It's a kayak that works well on flat days, battling winds, or surfing on the west coast.  But not suited as a guiding boat as it has less storage then the others.

The best advice I can give when looking for a kayak is to go out and try as many as you can. Going to the manufacturers themselves you may be able to test-paddle many different styles of kayaks for free. In the BC area my favorites are: Seaward Kayaks from Chemainus, Nimbus Kayaks from Maple Ridge, Feathercraft Folding Kayaks From Granville Island.

Good luck looking for your new favorite kayak. Go get out on the water and go have fun! 

BC's Gulf Islands

The Gulf Islands are the gems of the BC coast! With their calm waters, picturesque shorelines, incredible sandstone formations and tranquil harbour communities, exploring the Gulf Islands is an experience of a lifetime. Whether it's camping on a remote island, relaxing in one of our private cottages, or exploring a farmer's market in one of the busy town centres, there is something for everyone!

Gabriola Island is a convenient gateway to BC's Gulf Island. Easily accessible in 20 minutes by ferry from Nanaimo, or seaplane from Vancouver, it's the perfect place to start your adventure. Silva Bay, at the south end of Gabriola, is surrounded by the amazing Flat Top Islands which offer endless options for exploratory day trips and wildlife viewing. Gabriola is also an excellent entry point for a week-long expedition into the Gulf Island National Park. Our office is located next to the general store above the dock at the Silva Bay Inn.

Our family has been operating Silva Bay Kayak Adventures on Gabriola Island for 4 years. We continue with the same philosophy and commitment to participatory group experience and quality adventures as Gabriola Cycle and Kayak, the company that pioneered the kayaking industry over 25 years ago. We have the boats, gear and experience to ensure that your next adventure will be a fun and enriching one. Email or call us directly, we'll do whatever we can to get you on the water!

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