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Top 5 Kayak Upgrades

In this video, Ken Whiting explains the top 5 reasons to choose an upgraded kayak. Some of these upgrades will not cost that much money, while others can cost a small fortune. And so it really comes down to what you need from a kayak and what your budget is.

Foot Support System

The first reason to upgrade your kayak is the foot support system. Now there are really two primary foot support systems: footwells and pegs or foot braces. There is a third type of foot support system called a bulkhead, which is a big wall that your feet go against but that's reserved for more specialty kayaks and so we're not really going to go into that here.

What we're going to talk about right now is why you'd want to upgrade from footwells to foot pegs or braces. Now let's start by talking about the purpose of foot supports because that will help you better understand the benefits of upgrading. There are really two primary purposes for foot supports. The first is to hold your legs in a comfortable bent position without any type of foot support. Your legs will want to just straighten and sitting with your legs straight unless you have like gymnasts flexibility, that's not a comfortable position. So having something nice and firm put your feet against keeps your knees bent, much more comfortable position for paddling. The second reason for foot supports is it is something to push on while you're paddling and that provides not only more power but more comfort for active paddling. More specifically, when you're taking a forward stroke, you're actually pushing on the foot support that's on the same side of the kayak as your stroke. A lot more power comes from that.

Foot wells are the cheapest solution because there's no extra hardware involved here. They're simply molded right into the kayak. Now the downside of footwells is in this kayak, there's only three positions for your feet. And so there's not a lot of flexibility there. With your leg length, you're going to want to be somewhere in between and you just can't be there. But that really isn't the biggest issue with foot wells. The biggest issue is the fact that it provides support on the bottom and the outside edge of your foot. And so when I apply pressure, you can see the foot is rolling, the pressure is put on the ankle, because I'm not pressing straight down. Ideally, you have the pressure underneath the ball of your foot so the pressure is straight up your leg.

Foot pegs or foot braces are a nice upgrade for a few reasons. For one, they're more adjustable. You can find the right setting that is just right for you. And when it comes to support, the support is under my foot - nice and high where I want it to be. So now when I push on that foot pedal, my ankle isn't being tweaked, and that force is being put straight up my leg.

Seat Upgrades

Now the second of the top five upgrades is your seat. Because an upgraded seat not only makes it more comfortable to paddle, it makes it more comfortable to lounge. Upgrading your seat depends on the type of kayak you're using.

Sit On Top Kayaks: When it comes to upgrading your kayak seat, there really are two distinct options. You have no seat and then you have a framed seat. No seat, which most entry level kayaks have, don't have any padding whatsoever. You're just sitting on the kayak itself. And that's obviously quite hard.

The Perception Pescador has a small upgrade, it's got a pad to sit on. Doesn't change the fact that you're sitting on the kayak. The contour of the kayak isn't going to be great for every butt, water is going to pool there, and you're going to have a wet butt in a seating system like this. There's real reasons right there alone to upgrade to a frame seat.

Now the benefits of a frame seat are many. For one, you’re not sitting on the kayak, and you're raised and that does two things. It means you're not sitting in a pool of water. The second thing it does is it raises your butt higher than your heels, which is a more natural sitting position. This tends to be a lot more comfortable for people. This frame seat also is more of a suspension seat. It really distributes and conforms to your butt to accommodate different body sizes and body shapes a lot better than just sitting on the kayak itself.

Another benefit of the frame seat is that it can come off completely, and now you’ve got a camp chair. That's a nice little perk. Now some frame seats are integrated with boats in a way that you have high low seating options too. A couple of the benefits of a high sitting position. For one, it's a more natural sitting position. And so it's going to be more comfortable for spending a full day on the water. The other thing that's great about sitting up high is that you have a higher vantage point. And so for kayak anglers in particular, people who want to be able to see what's going on underwater, having that higher vantage point is huge. You can see so much more of what's going on.

Sit Inside Kayaks: Entry level sit inside kayaks typically just have a plastic seat pan, sometimes with foam on it. And that can do the trick if you're just going out for a short period of time but if you want to give your butt some extra love, then the two styles of seats we have here can really do the job. An integrated frame seat is not a super common thing yet, but I think we're gonna see more and more of this. It’s comfortable, more of a suspension seat, and it conforms to more body types and shapes. You have higher back support, and you're raised off the bottom of the boat. Typically sit inside kayaks are a lot drier than sit on top kayaks, but still if you do get water in the boat, this seat isn't going to hold water. It's a dry rot.

Now the Wilderness Systems Pungo has a different type of seat. It's not a removable seat. This is what they call the Phase 3 Airpro Seating System. It is more of a padded seat pan with a nice under leg support. It's incredible how much of an upgrade that is to your comfort on the water. I love having under the leg support. The other nice bonus about the Phase 3 Airpro seat is it has an adjustable back support.

Touring kayaks or sea kayaks: These are designed with more performance in mind, so a seat really should hold your butt in place and allow you to put the kayak on edge because when a touring kayak or sea kayak gets put on edge, that's how you deal with a wind, waves, and steering. Having good control and good edge control is really important, and you gain control from better seats. An upgraded seat would have a padded seat pan, a low back band, adjustable hip pads, thigh hooks, and under leg support. Cupped thigh hooks are important to hold your knee or leg. A good thigh hook is designed so that it's got way more support in that area. The whole kayak isn't flexing as you pull on it, which means that any power you're applying to your knees is directly transferred to the boat's performance.

Choosing Different Materials

The third way to upgrade your kayak is definitely the most expensive way to upgrade your kayak and that's choosing a kayak made with different materials. The reason to choose different materials or to upgrade the materials is really to make it lighter, which makes it easier to transport and it actually makes it feel a bit more lively on the water.

The base option is a polyethylene kayak which is basically just plastic. That's what most kayaks are made from. The great thing about plastic kayaks is that they are very durable, and can last a long time. The downside of a plastic or polyethylene kayak is that it's heavy. It also has some flex to it, which reduces its performance a little bit.

If you want to upgrade, the next step up is something called a thermoformed kayak. Thermoformed kayaks are made from a lighter thinner plastic molded to pieces of the kayak, the top and the bottom, and then they weld them together and you end up with a lighter kayak and a stiffer kayak. The downside of a thermoformed kayak is that they are not quite as durable as a rotomolded kayak. You have to take better care of them.

Now if you want to take things to the ultimate level you're getting into composites like fiberglass, carbon and Kevlar. These composite kayaks are in many cases, beautiful works of art, but you pay for them. The benefits of composite kayaks are that they're much stiffer. They also tend to be lighter. That stiffness and that lightness translates to better performance and easier transportability. Now, the downside of composite boats is that you have to take care of them. And it doesn't mean they're like these super fragile boats that you have to be uber sensitive with, but you do have to take care of them.

Replaceable Skid Pads

The fourth of the top five kayak upgrades is replaceable skid pads. The reality is kayaks are heavy and sometimes you're going to drag your kayak around. I mean, I drag my kayaks around all the time. Some people would be horrified to hear that but I do and a lot of you do as well. Don't pretend that you don't. These things make it a lot more reasonable to drag your kayak around because you're not going to be wearing the kayak itself and you really can over time, especially if you drag it over rough surfaces and wear a hole in your kayak. But once these things start to wear down, you just replace them. An upgrade to the replaceable skid pad is actually having an integrated wheel. Not many types of kayaks have this. Most kayaks if you want this upgrade, you have to get an actual kayak cart, which is a great upgrade that applies to any kayak. You don't need to buy a kayak specifically that has a wheel, you can get a kayak cart.

Portable Kayak

The fifth and final top five kayak upgrade is a portable kayak. Now, for some people having a kayak that is highly transportable and easily stored is not just a bonus, it's essential. And in that case, it's an upgrade. Transporting and storing a full sized kayak can be a major hurdle to getting out on the water. In those cases, a portable kayak makes a lot of sense, but you do pay a premium for a portable kayak over a hardshell kayak. You pay that premium in two ways. Financially, they cost more when you look at a hardshell kayak versus a comparable portable kayak, the hardshell kayak is going to be cheaper. On top of that, the hardshell kayak, as a general rule, will perform better than the portable kayak. That's the price you pay for portability. On the flip side, you get a portable kayak and portable kayaks tend to be lighter and easier to move around. A 50 pound kayak that's in a backpack is a whole lot easier than moving around a 50 pound kayak that 's 14-15 feet long. Even if it isn't lighter, it's a lot easier to manage.

Check out our list of folding kayaks, and inflatable kayaks.

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