Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Tandem or Solo Kayak?

We had our first snowfall this week -- a wet slushy mess that's not quite prime for snowshoeing. And obviously, it's too late in the season for kayaking. But today seems like a good time to talk about a question I hear all the time from those considering their first boat purchase: Should I buy a tandem or solo kayak?

If you're a faithful reader, you know that I have a personal bias against tandems, based on our "disastrous" experience in Florida last winter. But I'm going to try to set that aside and discuss the pros and cons here.

If You're Thinking About a Tandem
Let's start with the obvious. Tandem kayaks are bigger and heavier. That means they're more difficult to transport and certainly more difficult to handle on the water if you decide to paddle alone at any time.

On the otherhand, a tandem may be a good idea if one person is far less experienced than the other or if your paddling partner is a child. It's not fun to go out paddling and get left behind or to have to constantly wait for the other person to catch up. With a tandem, you'll always be together.

A tandem kayak may also be a good option if you usually plan long kayaking trips -- you should be able to paddle further with less fatigue, since you can take breaks while the other person paddles and then return the favor.

Something else to consider before making your purchase: tandem kayaks require a high level of communication between the two paddlers. The person in back is steering, but the person in front usually has the clearer view of obstacles. So constant and productive communication needs to take place; unfortunately, that didn't happen when Doug and I paddled a tandem in Florida. I had to laugh when a reader wrote in and said in her family dubbed their tandem "the divorce boat.

On the Otherhand, Solo May Be Best
So, what are the pros and cons of solo kayaks? Pretty much everything negative about a tandem becomes a positive for a solo kayak and vice versa. Solo kayaks are lighter and easier to transport. They're easier to handle in the water on your own. They can be a drawback, as I mentioned, if you have different levels of experience and one person is powering ahead while the other person is struggling to keep up.

If there's an issue about who will control a boat, then solo is probably the best way to go. Our paddling style can best be described as "alone, together" and that's how we like it. We're together on the water -- always within sight and shouting distance -- but at any given moment, we're each off exploring different things. When we purchased our boats, we never even considered a tandem. (Hmmm....Is there someone here who doesn't play well with others?)

In the end, take a close look at your personal paddling preferences before making a decision
. I always tell people to "rent before you buy," which is what we did. (It will also help you decide if you want a sit-inside or a sit on top boat -- a discussion for another day.) When it comes to tandem or solo, think about the ease of carrying, handling, and storing a large boat. Also consider if you'll always have a partner or if you'll want to go it alone sometimes. Do you work well as a team and enjoy clear communication? Are there children or less robust paddlers involved? Once you've looked at all the angles, I say go for it! Solo or tandem, I don't think you'll regret your time on the water.


MHoffmanPhoto said...

Hi Lucie,

Great blog post! I could never paddle a tandem: I'm too much of a free spirit! ;)
For people considering a tandem, but thinking they might like to paddle alone as well, I would suggest the Wilderness Systems Pamlico 145T. As the name suggests, it is a 14.5' tandem kayak. It has a wide, stable hull design, an open cockpit, and plenty of room for a days worth of gear. Best of all, the rear seat can slide forward to the center of the boat, giving a solo paddler much more control.

BTW, there is plenty of snow in the White Mtns for snowshoeing! Even Mt. Cardigan (which I ascended yesterday on snowshoes) has enough snow for a great snowshoeing trip. Have fun out there!


Lucie said...

Hey Matt,
The Wilderness 145T sounds like a great option for those who don't want to choose between a strictly tandem or solo kayak. (I should have known some manufacturer would address this problem.)

Glad to hear you're snowshoeing already! Since I wrote the post, snow conditions have improved even here in southern NH.
Thanks for writing in -- you always have good information and I'm happy you take the time to share it.

MHoffmanPhoto said...

No problem Lucie! You have a great blog and I'm happy you let me be part of it.


The Former PK said...

Hi there! Just wanted to add my 2 cents ... we went tandem first in 2004. My husband had kayaked before, but I hadn't. We figured it would be a good intro for me. And it was. We had some great times in our tandem. Then, when we moved to NH, we bought our solo kayaks. And I will never go back to tandem!!! JK, but I do love solo. Still, I think it was a good choice for us to try out tandem first.

Lucie said...

Hi Patrice,
Good to hear about your positive experience with a tandem! You're a case in point...that proves a tandem may be a good option if your experience levels are different. Doug and I started out at the same level -- zero experience -- so solos have worked best for us. Thanks for writing! Have you snow-shoed yet?