Kayaking 101 – What you need to know

Kayaking is such a fun and beneficial way to get outside and get moving, but with so many options out there, how do you get started? From renting to buying, inflatable to hard shell, and sit-in versus sit-on kayaks, this Kayaking 101 guide will show you how to start kayaking and get you out on the water ASAP.

We’ve answered some of the common questions that arise about kayaking to make embarking on your next adventure fun and approachable.

What are the different types of kayaks and their uses?

Kayaks vary greatly by the function and the type of water they’re designed for. Here are a few things you need to know about the different types of kayaks:

  • Purpose: Fishing kayaks, white water kayaks designed for rapids, sea kayaks built for the waves, and racing kayaks designed purely for speed are all made for a specific function. General recreational kayaks are also quite popular, and a good choice if you just want to get out and paddle on a lake or calm river.
  • Inflatable versus Hard Shell: Hard shell kayaks can be more expensive and harder to transport, but generally have better tracking (ability to stay on course) than their inflatable counterparts. Inflatable kayaks are far more portable and a great choice if you plan to travel with your kayak or if you have limited storage space.
  • Material: While originally made of driftwood, animal skins, and bone, technology has come a long way in terms of building materials. Some kayaks are still built out of wood, with others made from fiberglass or plastic. Many recreational kayaks are made from plastic.

Should I use a sit-in or a sit-on kayak?

There is no one right answer to this question, as it depends largely on personal preference regarding comfort, as well as the conditions in which you plan to use your kayak. If possible, you may want to test out both options through renting each type before making a purchase.


Sit-in Kayak

Sit-on Kayak


Sit in kayaks are the traditional model, where your legs are covered by a deck that prevents water from getting into the boat

Sit on kayaks are a newer development where you sit on top of the kayak in an indented area with your legs uncovered


- Better for cold weather, as it’s easier to stay dry
- Provide Protection from wind

- Comfort for larger / taller paddlers
- Often cost less
- Easy recovery if you tip over
- Provide more stability
- Easy to get in and swim


- Require practice escaping in the event that you tip
- Need to bail out water if you tip
- Difficult to get in and out if you want to swim

- More likely to get wet
- Much less protection from the elements

What are the benefits of kayaking?

What are the exercise benefits?

  • Efficient: Kayaking combines both cardio and strength, targeting many different muscle groups. It also challenges your balance and coordination, making it an efficient all around workout.
  • Low impact – Kayaking is easy on your joints, making at a great choice for those suffering from injuries, or excellent cross training for runners and cyclists. It works your abs, back chest, shoulders, and arms.
  • All fitness levels – If you choose water suitable for your fitness level (e.g., a calm lake for beginners or a river with a strong current for experts), kayaking is accessible for people of almost any fitness level. In calmer waters, you are also in control of the intensity, choosing weather to paddle hard or take a more relaxed approach.

What are the other health benefits of kayaking?

  • Kayaking offers great mental health benefits as well, as being out in nature can be a meditative experience. Spending time on the water in particular has been shown to reduce stress.

What are the best kayak brands?

There is a huge variety of kayaks available and different brands focus on different types, so it is important to think about how you will use your kayak when making a selection. Still, there are trusted brands more likely to give you an outcome you’re happy with.
Some well respected brands include:

kayaking 101 best kayak brands

Advanced Elements

Sea Eagle

What other equipment do I need?

  • Paddle – Consider your size, especially the length of your torso, as well as the size of your kayak when choosing a paddle. If you are on the smaller side, a shorter paddle may be more manageable.
    You will also need a longer paddle for a wider kayak.
    Choose a narrow blade for an easier ride, but more strokes. Choose a wider blade to get more out of each stroke, but with added effort.
  • Roof Rack – This will only be necessary if you’re using a hard shell, versus an inflatable, kayak.
  • Personal Flotation Device (PFD) – PFD requirements vary by location, so make sure to check your local laws to make sure you’re compliant.
  • HelmetThis is advisable if you are kayaking in rapids or rocky areas.
  • Dry Bag – This will protect your phone and cameral from water damage. Some kayaks have built in dry storage areas as well.
  • Spray Skirt – This can be used with sit-in kayaks and will help keep you dry, especially if kayaking in rapids or sea kayaking. If you’re going out on a calm lake, this is likely unnecessary.
  • Bungee Cords –Depending on whether your kayak has storage pockets or compartments, you may need to use bungee cords to secure your belongings.

How do I get my kayak to the water?

If you’re wondering how to transport a kayak, it will largely depend on whether you’re using an inflatable or a hard shell.

Many inflatable kayaks come with a carrying case. You can either carry the bag to the water and then inflate, or inflate your kayak and then carry it to the water, as most inflatables are quite lightweight.

Most hard shell kayaks weigh between 40 and 80 pounds. You will need a roof rack if you need to transport your hard shell kayak via car.

After arriving at your destination, you can carry your kayak over your shoulder, carry it with the help of a friend, or drag it to the water if it’s made of plastic. You could also use a kayak cart if carrying it is too difficult.

How many people can a kayak hold?

Kayaks most commonly hold one (solo) or two people (tandem), but some can hold three or four. Convertible kayaks have also entered the market, allowing you to adjust the seats for either one or two paddlers.

How can I get started?

If you’re new to the sport, you will likely want to rent a kayak before making any purchases. You can either rent a kayak and go out on your own or seek out a guided group tour or private tour if you would like more instruction.

If going out on your own, you should start on calm water such as a lake. If available near you, it would be helpful to rent different types and brands of kayaks to see which suits you best.

Make sure to check local laws for launch permit requirements if you wish to kayak in a state or national park or other public land.

You could also attend a kayaking festival to meet other paddlers and learn more about the sport.

If you decide you want to buy a kayak, there are multiple options online as well as in stores.

Should you give Kayaking a try?

Our verdict: YES!

From adrenaline-inducing white water kayaking to serene paddles on a hidden lake, the variety of kayaking experiences make it an enjoyable activity for outdoor enthusiasts of all types. The fun factor coupled with the many health benefits make kayaking a great sport for your next adventure.

Hopefully, with the help of our Kayaking 101 guide, you’ll be out on the water in no time.

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