Search for any kayak on Priceonomics and we’ll give you the fair price market price. That’s how much you can expect to buy it used or new. To kick of the launch of this price guide, Priceonomics contributor Kathryn Casey has put together a kayak buying guide below.

a person and two dogs in a canoe

Image credit: Pygmy Kayak.

Kayaking is quickly catching on as not only a great way to spend an enjoyable day out on the water, whether it be a lake, river, or ocean, but it’s also gaining notoriety as an excellent means of exercise. Kayaks, not to be confused with canoes, are small, narrow boats without motors. They are propelled using paddles. The seating area of a kayak is referred to as the cockpit, and can fit one to two people. Often times, the cockpit is covered with a spraydeck, which prevents water, or “spray,” from entering into the cockpit. You may also see that some kayaks have eliminated the cockpit altogether, and paddlers sit on top of the boat itself.

The point is, kayaks are evolving, and with this evolution comes a myriad of special features, nuances, and accessories that customize your kayak to the type of paddling you intend to do. Variations in kayak style, accessories, and even how you plan to transport it from point A to point B are important things to consider before making a purchase.

First of all, where do you plan to paddle? This is perhaps the MOST important question to ask yourself when contemplating the purchase of a kayak. If you plan to stay in the general calm of a small lake, pond, or river, the boat you choose will be drastically different from that necessary to paddle through the currents, wave breaks, and wide open space of the ocean, or even a more rapid river. Ocean kayaks are designed to hold up in the rough seas, whereas lighter weight inflatable or plastic kayaks could be easily damaged, or even destroyed should they run into a rocky shore. These models are also easier to flip and would be dangerous in the rough ocean waters.

The Different Types of Kayaks

Kayaks are generally divided into three main categories: recreational, touring/sea, and whitewater. Where you plan to paddle makes a huge difference in the type of kayak you purchase.

Recreational Kayaks: These kayaks are idea for people who don’t plan to do any strenuous paddling. Lakes, ponds, reservoirs, and slow moving streams are perfect for this. Inflatable and plastic kayaks are perfectly suitable for this low impact adventure. Recreational kayaks don’t come with as much storage as other styles, as you won’t be out on the water as long, and thus won’t need space to store as much gear. Recreational kayaks can be inflatable or rigid, made of hard plastics or other composites.

Touring/Sea Kayaks: These kayaks are generally longer, faster, and better for going long distances. They are better suited for oceans or larger lakes. Depending on their intended use, touring and sea kayaks can be longer with more storage to carry everything needed for long trips, or shorter with not as much depth and storage, suitable for overnight trips.

Whitewater Kayaks: Whitewater kayaks are designed for paddling in rivers, whether they be extreme whitewaters, or beginner scenic varieties. These boats are made of rigid materials to help maintain the integrity of the kayak, should you run into a rock or sharp tree branch, and depending on how long you plan to be out, whether you plan to pull up to a beach and camp, etc., their storage availability may be a key factor in your choice.

Another question you may consider is do you plan to have a skipper, or will your kayak adventures be solo outings? This is important for two reasons. First of all, you may want to buy a tandem kayak. While this means you’ve got to worry about your clumsy friend tipping the boat, it also means you’ve got someone to help you in transporting your new kayak.If it’s just you, bear in mind that many kayak models can be bulky and heavy, and a lightweight fiberglass model may be the best bet.

How much does a Kayak Cost?

This brings us to cost. How much have you got to spend on your new kayak? While inflatable models are the cheapest, starting at around $200, they are also the least sturdy and offer hardly any versatility. These are for beginners who really plan to do nothing more than spend a leisurely day on a pond.

Plastic kayaks are another affordable option. They run roughly on par with inflatables, and offer a little more durability, however, they are easily damaged and nearly impossible to repair, should you get a hole in your vessel.

If you’ve got a larger budget to work with, or plan to use your kayak in rough waters, you definitely want to consider a sea kayak. Though these are much more costly – starting around $1,000, and going upwards of $3,000, they offer a strong a lightweight boat that can withstand the elements. They also provide more storage space, and features, such as adjustable seating.

Kayak and such aside, you’ll also need paddles. Fiberglass models cost about $150, on average, while lighter weight carbon paddles are a bit more spendy, at about $275 – $500 for a set. And what should happen if you tip in that kayak? Life jackets are an absolute must! The list doesn’t stop there. Kayaks can come with a myriad of accessories and options – from fishing pole holders, to additional storage, to customized seats.

How to Transport your Kayak?

And once you’ve got a kayak, remember that you’ll need to transport it somehow. Obviously the inflatable models are easier to move, and if you’ve got an open bed truck, any style kayak can be easily loaded and moved. If you’re not traveling far, you can put some foam blocks under the kayaks and secure them with ropes and bungees. You can also buy kayak racks, which are more secure, and better suited for highways or longer trips. Be sure the rack fits your car, and take the extra precaution of buying one with locks, so your investment is always safe.


Out on the water in your own kayak is a great way to spend an afternoon, or an entire weekend. But before you head out, be sure to think about how you plan to use your kayak to ensure that you get the best model for your needs today, and the kayaking goals you have for tomorrow.