1. Styles – Touring kayaks come in three main types: sit-on-tops, recreational (sit-inside), and sea kayaks. Sit-on-tops are just that: Climb on board and start paddling. They're ideal for beginners and families. Recreational boats, like the Pura, are typically 10-15 feet long, with the paddler sitting inside. These are great day-touring boats for small lakes, short trips, and easy rivers. Sea kayaks are longer still, anywhere from 15-18 feet, with plenty of storage and a narrower, straighter shape for faster travel.
2. Length/Width – Generally the wider a boat is, the more stable and slower it will be. The longer a boat is, the faster it typically goes, and the harder it is to turn. Also consider Rocker: a measure of how much banana-like curve the boat has. Boats with more rocker are generally easier to turn, but somewhat slower and take a little practice to paddle in a straight line.
3. Grab loops – Handy for carrying the boat and for tying it to a car rack.
4. Cockpit – Like in a plane but with fewer buttons--this where you control your craft. A larger one is easier to climb into and may be big enough to fit a child and an adult, but harder to fit a spraydeck over.
5. Seat – Kayak seats used to be as adjustable as economy class and about as comfortable. Times have changed: Expect comfort and adjustability at the least.
6. Storage – Known as hatches on a kayak, gear is stored inside semi-dry compartments. The pictured Pura has two, including a small one within reach of the cockpit, nice for keeping valuables safe and dry. For multi-day trips, you want large hatches in the stern and bow.
7. Rudder - There's not one here, though longer boats often feature a retractable plastic or metal rudder controlled by foot pegs inside the cockpit. A rudder makes the boat easier to manage, especially in windy and wavy conditions. A Skeg is a retractable fin that doesn't steer the boat, but helps it track straight, particularly in a crosswind.
8. Deck lines – The bungee cords on the bow and stern deck keep key gear--like a spare paddle, pump, water or map--handy and secure.
9. Material and construction – What a boat is made of determines durability, weight and price. Plastic boats tend to be less expensive, tough and easy to fix, but heavy. Composites, including Kevlar, carbon fiber and fiberglass, are light, durable but pricier. Alternative materials, like the thermoformed ABS on the pictured boat, land between the two.