The best poly kayak, by far, is the one that will get you out on the water most frequently. The type of water you choose to paddle will determine the basic design of the craft. A kayak designed for fishing will be a very different vessel from one designed to explore the Apostle Islands or to run the Colorado River. Fortunately, there are many excellent manufacturers of poly kayaks and most have a wide range of designs to cover almost every paddling contingency. Just don't expect one design to be good at all of them.
The choice of Polyethylene as a kayak material represents a choice over the other available materials which include wood, fiberglass, Kevlar and carbon. Poly kayaks are nearly always heavier, less rigid, and more susceptible to UV damage than the same design in wood or the other composite materials. Poly kayaks are also much less expensive. For rock bashing in rapids or rough landings on stony shores, poly excels. Its surface scratches but usually doesn't break and there's no gelcoat covering to get damaged. Choose poly for its lower price or its toughness but always choose a design based on the way you intend to paddle and the waters you intend to play. And always take any potential purchase for a test paddle to determine its handling characteristics--both on and off the water--and for comfort.
Touring designs are generally long and slender, the better to gently part the water, generate speed and offer increased secondary stability. Many have hatches for and aft of the cockpit for gear storage. Because of manufacturing techniques--most poly kayaks are roto-molded--the bow and stern are more rounded and less sharp than a composite kayak of the same dimensions. This may have an affect on speed. Poly kayaks are also less rigid, which means they may have more of a tendency to 'oilcan' or deform slightly under power, again affecting speed. These differences are slight, however, and under normal paddling circumstances present no real handicap.
The category of recreational kayak, which includes those designed for fishing, or just messing around on lakes and ponds or easy rivers is a natural choice for poly construction. Generally shorter and wider than touring designs they offer the increased primary stability which is ideal for angling and navigating calm waters. They are not designed for speed or efficiency. Their increased weight over composites is insignificant compared to their utility and overall toughness. If weight is a big concern, both Thule and Yakima offer excellent cartop devices which truly ease the burden of loading and unloading. Most recreational kayaks also have larger cockpit openings for more freedom of movement and comfort--at the expense of allowing more water to enter from the paddles during movement. A good sprayskirt is necessary to prevent lapfulls of water. There are many manufacturerers and models to choose from. Price is usually a good indicator of quality design and construction in such a crowded market. Several are made in the U.S. Do a bit of homework, enjoy some test paddles and purchase a design that best suits the local waterways. Just remember to store the poly kayak out of direct sunlight.
Article Written By Garrison Pence
Garrison Pence has been a midwest-based (ghost)writer for three decades, taught university-level literature, and has written articles and white papers in trade publications of the Material Handling Institute, Engineering Today, Pharmaceutical, Food and Beverage Science, and Semiconductor. Pence holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and a Master of Arts in Literature.