Buying a canoe or kayak is a big decision and choosing the right one for you is not always straightforward. Whether you are completely new to paddling or a lifelong paddler it can be all too easy to make the wrong choice and then be stuck with a boat that isn’t ideal for you.
Because it’s a significant purchase many people do their research, exploring models that they think will suit their needs and often draw some early conclusions about what they think will be a good fit. There’s lots of compelling information on the internet (web sites, YouTube etc.) that can all be very useful in helping to lead you to the right boat. However, what we often encounter is gap between what this research may suggest and what is, in fact, the best boat for someone.
We have already covered some of the specific things to consider when selecting a boat in another post (SIX KEY QUESTIONS TO HELP YOU SELECT THE RIGHT SOLO CANOE OR A KAYAK). What we will focus on here are some of the finer points that only test paddling a boat will bring to light.
For newer paddlers stability is key but “stability” is a relative term and there are a number of things that can affect it. Your research may suggest that a certain boat is “stable” but perhaps you sit in it and it immediately feels “twitchy” to you. Generally speaking, wider boats with flatter bottoms will feel more stable when you board. However, boats with rounder hulls will feel more “tippy” initially but can perform better and actually be more stable in choppy conditions as they are more inclined to rise and fall with the waves without leaning. Another major influence on stability is whether you are in the optimum weight range for a boat. If you are too light or too heavy then the boat won’t perform as it should and could feel very unstable. One thing is for sure, whatever level of paddler you are, if you are not comfortable with the stability of the boat then it’s not the boat for you. Only sitting in the boat and trying it will reveal your personal comfort level – instantly!
One of the most difficult things about choosing a boat is selecting a model that will be a good fit for different situations. A common pitfall is selecting a model that tries to do everything as you often end up with one that is not very good at anything! It’s usually better to choose a model that is good for your most common use case – and rent a different style of boat on the occasions you need it! When considering space in a boat it is tempting to allow room for things like camping equipment, kids, dogs, coolers etc. However, a boat with more space (volume) will not paddle as well as a boat designed for an optimal paddling experience. Some people prefer the utility of a larger boat and some people prefer a superior paddling experience and a little less room. The best way to know which category you are in is to try both styles of boats and then the answer will be quickly revealed!
As mentioned above, volume vs paddling experience is one way in which performance can be assessed in a test paddle. Then there is maneuverability vs tracking and straight-line speed. A shorter boat is typically more maneuverable but won’t track as well. Longer boats can track better and go faster but are harder to turn. However, go too long and you may struggle with it in windy conditions. These are all important things that can only be properly assessed by test paddling a boat.
This is often an important decision criteria as it affects the ability to transport the boat and also carry it to or from the water or between waterways. Lifting and carrying the boat on the shore is a key part of a test paddle so you can evaluate whether it will work for you in these scenarios. Weight will also affect how the boat performs in the water and light boats can be more affected by windy conditions.
This is a very important aspect that can, again, only be properly evaluated with a test paddle. You will not be inclined to spend time in your boat if it is just not comfortable for you. How easy is it to get in and out? How comfortable is the seat and the paddling position? Can you get your legs and feet in a comfortable position? A brief test paddle can give you some immediate insights here but we also recommend maybe renting a boat you are considering and taking it on a longer trip to get a more thorough evaluation of comfort.
If a boat is not balanced (trimmed) in the water it will not perform well and could be unstable. It can also be hard to assess this yourself when you are in the boat. However, someone on the shore can immediately see if the boat is not trimmed properly. Distributing the weight of the people and gear in the boat evenly is vital. Often you can re-arrange things to improve the balance of the boat but if you are not carrying much with you and it’s just the difference in people weight then that can present a challenge. In a tandem canoe a bow sliding seat option can be used to reposition the person in the front of the boat. Another tip is to use a dry bag filled with water placed strategically in the boat to help balance it. Evaluating the balance of a boat in the water is always something we assess and provide feedback on to people when they test paddle with us.
7. Relative comparison
A subtle but perhaps the most powerful benefit of test paddling is the insight you can achieve when testing a number of boats one after another. The memory of the paddling experience in one boat is still fresh and therefore the contrast of immediately paddling another instantly surfaces any differences. This provides powerful indications of your preferences and can steer you towards a good decision. We find it is important to narrow down your options to 3 or 4 boats maximum through prior discussion otherwise it can become confusing and dilutes the power of relative comparison.
For these reasons we are huge advocates for test paddling canoes or kayaks before you buy one. Our convenient location on Lake Flower is perfect for discussing your needs and testing some boats that may be a good fit for you. We like nothing more than going through this process and matching you with the perfect boat for your needs.
Call today or drop by to experience the power of the test paddle!