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10 (More) Sea Kayaks to Try Before You Buy

Posted Apr 28 2011 6:27am
The problem with selecting 10 kayaks for folks to try is that you inherently leave out 400 others.  Some readers will think that when you leave something off, it’s a personal slight or that you are being limited or intentionally “bias”. Of course you’re not.  The limit is simply in your personal goal and how long you want your list to be.  It’s fair to say every paddler in the world will have a different list… With that in mind, here’s another “10 sea kayaks you should try” list from fellow paddle blogger Bryan Hansel. He writes about canoeing and kayaking at Paddlinglight.com .  Take it away Bryan!


Recently, Derrick wrote a post about the 10 Sea Kayaks You Should Paddle Before You Buy . I liked the list, but I also thought that it ignored a lot of sea kayaks in favor of British-style boats. While I’m a fan of British-style boats I own two I don’t think that they are the only kayaks that you should try before you buy. I think that you should try as many different styles of boats as possible before making a buying choice. Chance are that if you’ve been paddling for awhile, you already know what you like, but if you haven’t, you need to try a bunch of different styles. In that theme, here are my top 10 sea kayak picks to try.

Before you read on, just note that I’m a 5’10″ tall male who weighs 200 lbs. Although, I do longer trips most of my paddling is day trips. I paddle Lake Superior usually five days a week during the paddling season and a few days a month in winter. I’d rather paddle right up against the shore, while weaving through rocks than paddle a straight line between two points. I don’t go fast. Even in my expedition boat, I cruise along at about 4 miles per hour (I think paddlers overestimate their actual speed when they post online). If you look at my choices and they seem like they’re sized for a 200-pound paddler, they are. I’ve paddled these and really like all of them (well, except that one). If you weigh less, try the smaller version.

2. Necky Looksha Elite – A fast full-on touring boat that reflects the traditional west-coast designs. The Looksha kayaks have been around for a while, and I debated pretty hard about buying one in the past, because they’re really fun to paddle and feel fast, stable and carry a load. Unlike the Romany, which uses a skeg, the Looksha uses a rudder. You want to try this boat to get the feel for west-coast-style kayaks.

3. Maelströmkayak Vaåg 174 – This is a sexy sea kayak. The lines are stunning, the rocker accentuates the sweeping sheerline, and the paint job choices are unlimited. I like a red or orange deck with the back hull. The cockpit fit out-of-the-box felt comfortable to me, one of the best fits I’ve ever had in a kayak before modification. The construction is top-notch. The boat feels quick to paddle, turns fast, and is well-behaved in following waves. The initial stability feels a little touchy, but you’ll get used to it. Try this one to learn what a Canadian British-style boat feels like.

4. Current Designs Solstice GTS – This hurts me to put on the list, because I can’t stand it, but it’s a good example of generic North America design. It’s a rudder dependent touring boat that hauls a massive amount of gear. I have friends who swear by this design and have used it to paddle down the Mississippi, around Lake Superior and up the Inside Passage. You must try it to see if you like North American designs.

5. Valley Anas Acuta – Some paddlers fall in love with hard-chined designs, and you need to know if you’re one of them. The Anas Acuta is the classic fiberglass hard-chined boat and descends from the 1959 Ken Taylor boat . Although there are other hard-chined kayaks out there, this will probably be the easiest to find and try. Try it to see if you love hard-chined kayaks.

6. Valley Aquanaut – You need to try a British-style expedition boat and you have lots of choices. The Aquanaut feels a little quicker, slightly more stable that the standard-bearing NDK/SKUK Explorer. It’s a solid boat that won’t let you down in rough water, and it carries a good-sized load for longer expeditions. Instead of trying this boat you could go for the Explorer or the new Valley Etain. It doesn’t really matter which British-style expedition boat you try, because they all sort-of feel the same.

7. Tiderace Xcite – You should try this kayak to see what a playful, but long kayak feels like. Typically, playful British-style day boats measure 16 feet long, but this one takes the length out to 17 feet and still retains the playfulness. The 17-foot length seems to be my personal sweet spot, and the feel of this boat or the Rockpool Alaw Bach or my Siskiwit LV are different from British-style day boats or expedition boats. It’s a unique feel at a good length for touring. It’s billed as a coastal expedition boat used for touring where you play. That’s why you should give it a shot.

8. Wilderness Systems Tsunami 160 – This is a big boat built for a big guy, and it’s fast-ish, carries a massive load and feels stable. To me it feels like a detuned sea kayak, but I’ve used the 140, 145 and the 160 versions when guiding. It’s an easy boat to paddle for the beginner, and for the big-guys there aren’t that many options. Try the size that fits you just because. The 140 is actually pretty fun in surf.

9. QCC Kayaks Q700x – This one is designed by John Winters, which typically means efficient, fast and lean. In Sea Kayaker Magazine, when you see the KAPER/Winters resistance number, it’s his formula. This ruddered boat will get you to your destination quickly and in a straight line. Some people are really into that. I know I am sometimes, so you should see if you’re that type of paddler.

10. Epic 18x – When I tried the 18x, I loved it. This is a really fast kayak that likes to go straight, but is easy to turn when you edge it. It holds an edge surprisingly well, and it rolls easily. The rudder is built in to the kayak, so it’s not up on deck causing problems when not in use. This is for going fast over long distances or during races. I have a friend who recently used it in a pretty competitive race that he won. It feels very race-car-ish, and that’s why you should try it.

That’s my 10 sea kayak list to try before you buy. It’s different from Derrick’s, and I think more well-rounded (although it still leans towards British-style boat). There are lots of kayaks that I left off, but I stuck with the boats commonly available in my area. I’d like to hear about your top 10 list. You should write a blog post about it, or write a guest post for PaddlingLight. Maybe I’ll do a top 10 canoe list next.


Thanks Bryan.  If you’ll like to share your “10 Ten” feel free to send it along. I’m happy to publish other guest posts here as well.

Photos are © Bryan Hansel and used by permission.

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