Kayak Types: Explained

A guide to kayak options, including characteristics and best uses


Kayaking affords people the chance to explore new territory, get in a great work out and see nature in a unique way. The opportunity to travel and transport without a motor, but with your own strength and energy is a one-of-a-kind experience. If you’re officially hooked on kayaking and ready to start shopping for your own boat, read on for the guide that will help you understand some of the features and help narrow down your choices.


Recreational kayaks
Typically for beginners or those who need extra stability, recreational kayaks are made to handle calm days and mild currents. These 10-to-12-foot-long boats are a great choice for day trips on lakes, bays and slow-moving rivers, but longer trips will likely require more storage than is available in a recreational kayak. These boats are the most affordable of all kayak options and they are also the most stable.

Touring & Sea Kayaks
Designed for longer trips and more efficient paddling, these kayaks are great for advanced kayakers. They have narrow, long bodies (12-16 feet) with lifted hulls, which means these boats are quick and ready for choppy water. Most feature ample dry storage and a skeg or a rudder. The skeg helps the boat stay on course and the rudder helps with maneuverability.

The two major types of touring kayaks are day touring kayaks and sea kayaks. The day touring kayaks are shorter and have less dry storage than sea kayaks.


Whitewater Kayaks
As the name implies, whitewater kayaks are designed to handle rapids. These boats are shorter than traditional kayaks and feature a curved bottom that helps negotiate tumultuous water. They are typically designed with planning hulls, a flat front that adds stability, but some models have displacement hulls, or rounded fronts. Within the category of whitewater kayaks, there are several subcategories. Find more information on the subcategories here.

Sit-on-Top Kayaks
Ideal for swimmers, beginners and kids, sit-on-top kayaks are designed for easy entry and are very stable. They are wider and the seats are higher than those in traditional kayaks, which makes them slower, but they drain automatically, which is convenient. These 10-15 foot long boats are great in warm climates and popular among divers and fishermen.

Inflatable, Folding & Modular Kayaks
These three types are sought after by travelers and those with limited space because they breakdown and are portable. Inflatable kayaks are light, buoyant, and maneuverable, but they are also slower and less rugged than traditional kayaks. Folding kayaks offer portability in a more ridged body, but are still less durable than traditional kayaks. Modular kayaks are somewhat like Lego pieces—the parts snap together to create a kayak and they are very durable. The snap-together design allows for on-the-spot customization, allowing you to create either a single person kayak or a tandem kayak on a whim.

Additionally, there are other types of kayaks and kayak-hybrids. Fishing kayaks have recently gained popularity, featuring space for coolers, rods and some even come with built-in tackle boxes. Pedaling kayaks and kayak-canoe hybrids don’t quite fit into the above categories, but they are options too. Bottom line: when choosing a kayak, first decide how you’ll be using it and then, with this and other information, visit your local store to learn more about what will best fit your needs.

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