What To Look For
Look for a kayak that meets your specific needs. All the bells and whistles in the world won't help you if you don't get a kayak that actually matches what you expect to do with it. Both Old Town and Heritage make specialty models, like tandems and fishing kayaks, to fit particular custom needs. If you're looking for a particular color to make a personal statement, Heritage offers their kayaks in a much wider palette of colors.
Look for a weight you can handle by yourself, including getting it on and off the vehicle or trailer. Even if you have a partner that usually helps to share the load, you should be able to muscle your own kayak around, both in case of emergencies and in case you ever want to travel solo. A kayak may fit your body perfectly, but be sure it also has enough storage space for your gear when you use it.
Where To Buy
Neither retailer sells their products online or directly to consumers. Both of their websites offer customer service contact information and a list of retailers where you can purchase their products. As of 2010, REI carries Old Town but not Heritage, making Old Town's kayaks much easier to find if you live near a big city.
In 2010, REI carried the Old Town Vapor 10XT for just under $500. By comparison, REI offered the Dirigo XT Tandem Plus for $1199. In 2010 catalog listings, the Heritage 9.5 Featherlite retailed for $605 and the Redfish 12 Angler was sold for $912. Both of these reflect prices of the kayaks only and don't include accessories such as a paddle or a life jacket.
Unfortunately, beyond the standard features, the only way to truly comparison shop with kayaks is via personal contact. Most stores that sell kayaks will be happy to rent or let you borrow a model to try it out. If an accurate comparison is important to you, be sure to take the time to investigate all your options before purchasing.
A small GPS unit and a cell phone are considered essentials by many kayak travelers, particularly those who travel in the back country or who kayak on the ocean.