How to Buy a Kayak

How to buy a kayak–sounds like a simple proposition, right?  After all, even Walmart sells kayaks.  But, before you hop in the car and drive down to the champion of cheap (yes, I’m still talking about Walmart), take a few minutes to consider some of the following questions:

Do you know what size kayak you need?

Have you considered purchasing a used kayak?

Do you know what makes some kayaks more expensive than others?

When and where can you get the best deal on a kayak?

In this article, we’ll address these questions and help you make sure the kayak you buy is a kayak you’ll use and love for years to come.

Kayak Styles and Size

There are several articles that provide in-depth information about the various kinds of kayaks (see REI’s excellent article on how to choose a kayak for details) but we’re going to give a brief summary and focus more on how, when and where to purchase.

Which flavor of kayak you want to buy depends heavily upon what activities you do most frequently when kayaking.  The following table outlines various activities and how well each type of kayak is suited to the activity.

Kayak Type Creek Fishing Touring Whitewater Saltwater Fishing Swimming/Playing
9-12′ Sit-in Good Moderate Excellent Poor Good
12-17′ Sit-in Poor Excellent Moderate Good Moderate
10-15′ Sit-on-top Good Excellent Poor Good Excellent

There are, of course, additional types of kayaks (inflatables, foldables, Old Towne even sells a kayak with a built-in trolling motor). But, the table above outlines the most common kayak styles.

When purchasing, don’t forget to consider the material used to form the Kayak’s hull.  Many inexpensive kayaks are made from a type of polyethylene.  For beginners or situations where the kayak may scrape or hit bottom, polyethylene may be the best best.

On the other end, if there is no chance of collision or scraping and you want a fast, smooth ride and a very strong, long-lasting kayak,  you may want to consider fiberglass.  Fiberglass kayaks are typically much more expensive.

New or Used

Once you’ve decided upon a basic style of kayak, the next decision will heavily impact how you go about purchasing one. If you are willing to be flexible with respect to features, color and brand, you can save up to 80% by purchasing used.  Additionally, sellers are often willing to throw in life jackets, paddles or other equipment for little or no cost.

If you want very specific features (rod-holders for fishing, anchors, rudders, significant storage, etc.) it may be more difficult to purchase used.  If you are patient you may find the perfect deal but you may want to consider purchasing new at a discount.  Most sporting goods stores heavily discount their water-sports gear (including kayaks) towards the end of the season.  Sometimes deals can be found in spring at the beginning of the season as well.

Purchasing Used

If you decide to purchase a used kayak, be certain you carefully assess the kayak’s condition before purchasing.  Luckily, accurately assessing a used kayak’s condition is not difficult nor time consuming.  Be sure to carefully investigate the bottom of the hull to ensure there are no punctures.  A few scrapes and scratches are normal wear and tear but there should not be any holes or extremely deep gouges.

Inspect the seat, any buckles, snaps, rivets or bolts used to secure the seat to the kayak.  Many models have the seat molded into the kayak.  In these kayaks, be sure to look closely around the seat for cracks as people may have stepped on the seat while getting into the boat, causing stress fractures.

When and Where to Purchase

If purchasing used, consider looking at sites like: craigslist and ebay.  Many locations also have locally specific sites similar to craigslist.  Often these are associated with the local newspaper or can be found via the local newspaper’s website.  Be careful when looking for used kayaks online as some people highly over-value their used kayak.

Frequently the best deals can be found at garage sales (especially multi-family garage sales) as people are selling numerous items and the kayaks are frequently available at steep discounts.  Garage sales can be found via many of the same sites listed above (craigslist, etc.)

Lastly, you may be able to find a government surplus kayak at  The merchandise from govliquidation is hit-or-miss.  You can get some great deals but you have to check frequently as you never know what will be listed and sometimes items are in poor shape.


Before purchasing a kayak, make sure you consider all where and how you are most likely to use your kayak.  Consider purchasing a used kayak, especially if this is your first kayak.  And, lastly, don’t forget to find local garage sales where you can negotiate for a killer deal!

Are there any other sites you’ve found that have great deals on kayaks?  Please share in the comments.



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