• Jonny Hawkins

What kayak to buy?

With lockdown restrictions lifting, lots of folk are free to head outdoors to enjoy our amazing inland waterways. This has created a surge of people wanting to buy boats, but with so many options, picking the right boat can be a little daunting. I thought I would help out by sharing some thoughts on which boat to buy and how to take your first paddle strokes safely.

I have listed the boat styles in order of water difficulty, from sheltered, inland water to white water rivers. So your first step is to think about what water you wish to paddle as well as how much you're willing to invest in developing your skill and ability to safely get out on those waters.

Sit On Tops (SOTs) – These are really accessible boats that can either be rigid or inflatable. Rigid SOTs will be more efficient when paddling any distance and perform better in the wind but inflatable ones are easier to transport and require less room for storage. SOTs are designed for sheltered water where there isn’t much wind and you are always close to shore. The real advantage of SOTs is that they are easy to climb back on to after a capsize.

Open water touring – These rigid kayaks are designed for flat rivers, lochs and sheltered parts of the sea. They are made from durable plastic and are less affected by the wind than SOTs. Most have a hatch in the back to carry camping kit. Whilst self rescues are possible due to the buoyancy in the hatch, they are difficult and require proper training if venturing far from the shore. These are the road bikes of the water. A great example of this style would be the Venture Kayaks, Islay.

White Water Crossover – Like the above style, these have a hatch in the back for storing overnight gear and their shorter length make them more manoeuvrable but slower in a straight line. These are designed for rivers from flat to grade 2. They have a sturdy footrest, and their durable design can withstand bumps and scrapes over rocks. These are the water equivalent of gravel bikes and you can even get two person options like a tandem. Pyranha Kayaks make the Fusion and Fusion Duo which are great boats for learning how to white water kayak in.


River Runners – These are the water equivalent of front suspension bikes. They can pretty much paddle anything and go anywhere but perform best on grade 2-3 rivers. They are playful, very manoeuvrable, but don’t have much space in them for carrying extra kit. They can fit a spray deck, which helps stop the boat filling up with water but can be quite unnerving to wear and capsize with so it is worth practising with an experienced paddler on hand. Pyranha Kayaks make the Ripper which is an incredibly popular boat for white water kayakers.

Freestyle (play boats) – These tiny boats are just about big enough to fit in and are designed for doing tricks. Their short length makes them very manoeuvrable in every axis and great for surfing river waves, but they are very slow in a straight line. To get the most from these boats, you must be able to eskimo roll. These are definitely the BMX of the water world.


Creek boats – The downhill mountain bike of the kayak range. These durable and chunky boats are designed to handle the hardest white water in the world. Their balance of length, volume, manoeuvrability and stability makes them perfect for up to grade 5 rivers and they have plenty of space in them to carry overnight gear required on remote expeditions. The Machno is a great example of this made by Pyranha Kayaks.

All of these boats can be bought at you local kayak shop where you can get sound advice and normally try the boat out before you make your purchase. There is also a strong second-hand market for boats with Facebook and Ebay providing lots of options.


Once you have worked out which boat suits you best, it is worth thinking about a few other bits of kit. Buoyancy aids are mandatory when kayaking and come designed to suit different environments such as the sea, lakes and rivers. Paddles vary in length and strength to suit different styles of paddling and helmets must be worn where there is a danger of hitting your head on rocks. You can get specific waterproof layers, thermals, wetsuits and shoes for kayaking and your local kayak shop can advise and let you try a range on.

Once you have your gear it is worth researching where you can paddle and weather you need a licence or not. More information can be found British Canoeing and on the gopaddling.info website. Clubs are a good way to find people to paddle with.


If you want to learn good technique, in a safe and fun manner, it is worth getting professional coaching to get you up and running. The Highland Adventure School offers high quality kayak coaching across Scotland and we are happy to offer more advice on what equipment to purchase and help get you set up to enjoy paddling as much as we do.


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