2014 Kayak Buyers’ Guide

Ideas & Advice / Paddling

This post is for first-time (maybe second time) kayak buyers who want to know what their options are before they walk into one of our stores or start browsing the many different choices on ems.com. Our online Kayak Finder is an excellent tool for helping you drill down to boats that suit your paddling intentions but before you go there, I want to help you understand the basic types of kayaks we sell so you can figure out which is right for you.

The Perception 100 is a terrific first boat that can take you places you can't get to without getting wet.
Recreational Kayaks

At Eastern Mountain Sports, the recreational kayaks we carry are for people who are looking for a quality boat at a reasonable price they can comfortably paddle around in for a few hours. Are there cheaper recreational kayaks available elsewhere? Absolutely. We don’t sell those because they don’t meet our standards for comfort and performance. Even our least expensive kayak, the $399 Perception Sport Sunrise 100 comes equipped with foot braces, an adjustable back rest and a cup holder that make your time on the water much more enjoyable.

No matter which recreational kayak, you choose, you’ll be able to cruise along the edges of lakes, marshes and slow moving rivers to spot turtles and approach birds from a respectful distance. Because recreational kayaks are less than 12′ in length, they are not intended for open water or lakes where wind and waves can wash over the bow and into the cockpit.

If you have more aggressive adventures in mind, a recreational kayak is not for you.

The Skimmer 128 has a cargo area with straps for storing provisions – just be sure to pack them in a dry bag!

The Skimmer 128 has a cargo area with straps for storing provisions – just be sure to pack them in a dry bag!

Sit On Top Kayaks

Our selection of sit on top kayaks ranges from $269 Perception Sport Aloha 8.5 that’s perfect for a day at the beach to the $1,149 Hurricane Skimmer 128 that can be taken out beyond the shore on both large lakes and coastal waters. The beauty of sit on top kayaks is they’re ideal for playing in the surf since you can jump off easily and accumulated water slides right out when you tilt the boat to one side. It goes without saying, but sit on top kayaks aren’t much fun in cold water but they’re tough to beat for laid back fun on fresh water or as a lightweight alternative to a boogie board or air mattress at the beach.

kayak tsunami 120

Versatility and an attractive price make the Tsunami 120 the perfect boat for long days on the lake and your first sea kayaking runs.

Light Touring Kayaks

When you’re ready to leave the predictability of flat water and start spending more time in your kayak than you do on land, it’s time to invest in a light touring kayak that will improve your experience in every way possible. Light touring kayaks have the length and streamlined designed to cut through water more efficiently and better withstand the impact of wind and waves. Climb inside a light touring kayak like our popular Tsunami 120 from Wilderness Systems and you’ll discover an infinitely more comfortable seat and ergonomic features that enable you to comfortably spend hours paddling without shifting or stopping to stretch your cramped legs or sore bottom.

Since they aren’t as wide as recreational kayaks, light touring kayaks are less stable but significantly faster and more efficient to paddle. They’re perfect for exploring lakes and oceans and they have the extra storage capacity to handle your camping gear for multi-day excursions so you can connect with your inner Huck Finn. You can get into the aforementioned Tsunami 120 for $1,019 or indulge yourself in the $2,799 Eddyline Raven that’s made of state-of-the-art Carbonlite 2000 so you can perform more aggressive maneuvers like surfing, rolling, and edging.

In between these two price thresholds, you’ll find several other options. Depending on how aggressive your goals are and how long you plan to be on the water, our Kayak Finder or an in-store associate can help you determine which boat has the features you’re looking for at the most comfortable price.

A sea kayak like the Eddyline Raven will help you power through waves while efficiently maintaining a straight line.

A sea kayak like the Eddyline will help you power through waves while efficiently maintaining a straight line.

Sea Kayaks

If you’re paddling ambitions lie in the rock gardens, pounding waves and moving currents of the ocean, then sea kayaks are the only hulls you should be thinking about. Simply put, these boats are made for fast, efficient paddling in open water conditions. Once you’re in the sea kayak category, the comfort features are relatively similar. Deciding which sea kayak is right for you primarily comes down to how much gear you plan on carrying and how much time you plan on being out on the water. The more you plan on doing in your boat, the more a Carbonlite hull makes sense over polyethylene. Carbonite is stronger so you can carry up to 340 pounds of gear (yourself included). It’s also lighter for easier handling on dry land.

Whichever boat you choose, it’s always good to brush up on kayak safety and take advantage of some of the great online paddling resources out there for trip planning and current conditions. If you have any questions, please give one of our customer service reps a call at 888-463-6367.

Jim Darroch


Jim's love for the outdoors began with family camping trips in "Brady Bunch" style canvas tents and progressed to backpacking adventures with the Boy Scouts. In 2007, he fulfilled his teenage dream by joining Eastern Mountain Sports as Brand Communications Manager. When he's not in the office, you'll find Jim kayaking, hiking, and mountain biking around the Monadnock Region and throughout New England with his wife Brenda and his dog Brewski. Follow Jim Darroch on !